Not only is the grass not greener in Berlin, but there is no grass
After 24 years as a graphic designer, I had developed a bad attitude towards my work over the last few years. I would feel underchallenged if my clients went for the safest and most obvious idea, or disrespected if they weren’t choosing my preferred approach, or affronted if I felt they behaved unprofessionally. The recession starting in 2008 didn’t help. With many laid-off designers desperate for work, suddenly design clients were shopping around for the cheapest deal and calling all the shots, basically getting away with murder.
But I realized in Berlin that my career as an independent graphic designer/consultant is not so bad after all. I befriended some artists there and learned about their struggles to get by. I saw that they welcomed commercial work in order to support their art, which gave me a new appreciation of my graphic design work and my loyal corporate and institutional clients — clients who pay me professional billable rates and don’t mind when their designer takes off to live in Europe for three months. I was able to make a shift in perception this year where I see art as my main activity and my paid design work as financially supporting my art. I may not be working any less than before, but seeing art vs. work in this different light has been liberating.
I am also getting better at saying no to projects that don’t seem to be either interesting or well-paid (I don’t require both criteria at the same time, although it’s nice when that happens).
So I am not going to give up my design business because I don’t want to feel pressure to make money from art, not that I even could. It would just make me uptight if I felt I had to “deliver” by a certain time, in a certain style, to appease art buyers. It would be much like what I do now, which is to work for clients. It’s OK, maybe even desirable, to be a bit OCD and goal-oriented as a designer, but I don’t want to have to be that person when it comes to art.
And in hindsight, it may have well been my own creative stagnation which caused my professional slump. It’s too easy to blame it on bad clients. Now that I am constantly working on personal creative projects, my client work is more inspired as well. And I got rid of the bad clients, leaving me with only fantastic ones, of course ;), and more time for art.
P.S. One year ago today I left for Berlin, woohoo!
(Check out the tumblr When You live in Berlin that I borrowed this animated gif from — it’s pretty funny. More so if you’ve lived in Berlin.)