Anything we want to learn in our creative industry, we can. Software packages, animation techniques, drafting techniques, etc.—it’s all at our literal fingertips.
So how do we, as individual creatives, stand out? What can we bring to the table?
Access to information used to delineate the professionals from the amateurs—a pro learned certain workflows and software from years of working at high end studios or from years of trial and error. These avenues are still very much alive, but they’re no longer restricted to the pros: anyone with access to the internet can now gain knowledge that once took years to piece together.
This access to information has democratized creative industries. The budding motion designer now has access to the same information as someone with ten years of experience. She can take a couple courses and start finding work. Anyone with some talent can replicate the look of the latest trends in main title design. We can all learn the same software employed at the best production houses.
Information no longer gives us an edge.
All information is Googleable.
How does one stand out in this new, flat horizon?
No one can tell us how, exactly. That would be following yet another how-to and retreating into the flatness of the landscape.
What does it mean to stand out, anyway? In the creative context, it means ceasing to copy others in at least one area of our work. We don’t give up tutorials altogether—how silly—but we do need to fence out a space in which we allow something new and surprising to emerge from our work. There is plenty of instruction for the fence—build a schedule, clear your schedule, get a routine—and no possible instruction for the things that emerge in our paddock.
The new, surprising stuff we find in this space eventually coheres into works that can live and breathe on its own, and it’s these works that have the possibility of pulling us away from the crowd. These works are what we are uniquely poised to offer, given our experiences, temperament and obsessions. This is the space tutorials cannot reach.
We can’t be taught how to make this kind of work, but there are hints that let us know they’re about to appear.
When we’re in our fenced-off space, trying to make something cool and new, most of what we’ll make is noise. Fragmented, messy, scribbly stuff that doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t have any strength of its own. They don’t feel activated on the page. It’s the breathy, uncertain, feathery sketch of a line versus a stroke done with confidence and intent.
Trying first one thing and then another, the pushing and pulling eventually generates enough energy in the noise to produce a signal. Within the noise, we’ll sometimes notice a form. It’s a small signal that there’s something in the noise struggling to cohere. So we help it out—help formulate it into what it wants to be.
If we stop half way, the form does not cohere and all we still see is just a field of noise. It will continue just to be a sea of noise until the thing we noticed becomes fully formed and emerges, ready to live a life of its own without our further attention.
Then we can open the fence and release this something alive and new, pressed out of own self. This process makes our work strong and distinct. It’s a vague, difficult process, far from the clarity of outcomes from a tutorial or a course, but at last we’ll be taking some steps on our own, private road.