Why I Treat Every Project Like a Passion Project
3 animation students from Indiana visited me during their recent spring break trip to Austin. I gave them a piece of advice which seemed to resonate with them, and I thought it was worth sharing.
One student said something like, "How will I find time to work on projects I'm passionate about on the side while I do the work I have to do to make money?"
I totally understood the sentiment and we went on to discuss that topic, but a little flag popped up in my head. This is the advice I shared with them, which I've heard other artists say before:
Treat every job like a passion project.
Don't be a diva, of course - listen carefully to the director or client and respect their wishes. But once you know the parameters, get excited and make the best version of what they want. Ultimately, every job is an opportunity to impress your client, contribute real value, stretch your artistic muscles, and expand your portfolio.
You know the difference between how you felt when you made that one awesome animation for no reason in just a weekend vs. that time you begrudgingly churned out a web banner for a client after putting it off for 2 weeks.
Tap into that feeling of excitement!
That faucet logo you're supposed to design for that plumbing company? Get invested in it. Get into the research (What kind of faucets even exist?), the ideas (How can I integrate the letters and icon in a cool way?), the craft. (Here's my chance to make the vectors sing!) And think about the rewards for a job well done: you might help the plumbing company win more business...and you'll help yourself with a great portfolio piece.
If being an artist/animator/designer is an RPG, then client projects are the battles where you get your experience points. And beefing up your portfolio/reel? That's how you level up.
I used to think certain jobs were somehow "beneath" me, or not worth spending my creative energy on, or were just a boring chore I had to do to get money. Those projects were usually the most painful, and I wasn't doing my best work. After about 2 years of that, I tried to update my reel, and realized I had very little I actually wanted to show. I wasn't proud of the work I had done, and I knew it wouldn't impress the people I wanted to impress. It was a bummer.
So I changed my tune. Now I make every project into a passion project, and I'm proud of what I do, and clients are happier with the result.
It's not hard to find that excitement. After all, somebody is entrusting you with something that matters to them. You have the opportunity to be a hero - and get paid for it!
That's not to say you should kill yourself burning the midnight oil on every project. Work within the project's scope and budget, and don't go overboard. It's more about having fun and caring about the result than showing off.
Think of the awesome designers you follow online. Their work is amazing, but most of their work is for clients, right? Because they invest themselves in every project, they have these eye-popping things to show, and that gets them more clients, and they put their passion into the next thing, and they get a little better each time, and the loop continues.
This is your life, and these are the projects. The only projects that are beneath you are the ones you phone in.