Titled Don’t Get a Job… Make a Job, Gem Barton’s book is packed with first-hand accounts from those in the creative industries who’ve carved their own path to success. Here, Barton gives three examples of strategies to make it as a creative graduate, which might just inspire you to try these approaches too.
Go It Alone?
After years of instruction, direction, rules and regulations at college or university, for many, the thought of now being your own boss, making your own decisions/mistakes and taking charge of your own future may be preferable.
Barriers to entry into the creative industries have never been so low, this means entering this market as a new graduate can be smooth, a good thing for young entrepreneurs and collaborative groups. In order to take that step, it is important to carefully consider your options, but at some point the thinking has to stop and the doing has to start, which is exactly how State of Play was born.
Like many other ambitious young creatives, Luke Whittaker was unfulfilled by the post-university work experiences he had gained. Whilst happy to climb the ladder slowly, at the same time Luke wanted more control over his own career. So he leapt into the world of freelancing and has never looked back.
He entered the world of videogame design, during a time of economic downturn. Even potential investors questioned his timing, but this was not something that concerned Luke, perhaps because the videogames industry is one that has continued to grow regardless. Being aware of the world around you, understanding your chosen market and your position within it is key to surviving. Being a sole trader, with minimal overheads can be a big plus here, you can react fast to changing tides, being free of the restraining costs and worries associated with running a large firm.
Early growth as an individual or small company is of course important but growing too fast, taking on too many jobs, contributors and commitments can be very dangerous. As incoming fees and payments may be staggered and sporadic, yet outgoings regular and expanding, many young firms that grow too fast can find themselves in trouble financially. Be aware of your trajectory, choose your projects carefully (it is OK to turn down inappropriate work) and don’t run before you can walk.
Luke remains focused on his early decisions; he continues to enjoy being independent and not answering to others and steers clear of hierarchical structures that can be damaging to development and happiness. This has worked well for Luke (and now his wife/colleague too) and State of Play: his game Lumino City won the coveted Bafta 2015 Artistic Achievement Award, Best British Game, and was a finalist at the Game Innovation awards.
Or Team Up?
But what about the risks involved with going it alone, of sole responsibility and having no one to share the stresses with? Could teaming up with like-minded individuals be an option? Strength in numbers, feelings of warmth and support, bubbling excitement from being deep inside the hubbub – together you can achieve anything, right? Well, you just have to ask the dynamic group, Assemble.
Assemble is truly unique, with (at the time of writing the book) more than 15, equal directors with an average age of just twenty-two. This non-hierarchical, fun commune really is a clever approach to making dreams come true, and proves, contrary to popular belief, that experience isn’t everything – if you work hard, trust in each other and follow your noses, that true success really can come your way.
There is no pre-determined recipe for such a foray into design and business, having life goals, a business plan and company manifesto are all worthy productions, but when you are stepping outside of the atypical freelance/sole trader box, there has to be some feeling-in-the-dark first. For the first year or so, (now called) Assemble were not registered as a company, did not have a bank account or even have a name!
For some, being involved in forward-thinking design is their dream, for others being innovative is embedded so deep in to their genetics that everything they do becomes a new and exciting experience. The Assemble-rs would not have been content working for somebody else, in a traditional setting, format and structure – for them this would have been too restricting. They need to have choice and control, luxuries that conventional employment cannot provide them with. This cocktail of freedom delivered them with a Turner Prize win in 2015 – the first ‘non-artists’ to win the art world’s most coveted award: not bad for a team of architecture graduates.
To deviate from tradition takes that special something. It takes passion and drive, and the balls-out determination to take risks and do things differently simply because it would be harder to live with the ‘not knowing’.
Don’t make the obvious decisions, choose the least travelled path, and surprise yourself in all ways. Life will always throw you curve balls; these ‘unexpecteds’ are the deviation from the norm, the happy sprinkles of oddity that transform life into lively. The trick is not just to be aware of their existence, you need to seek them out, taunt them even, and challenge them to find you.
Have big ideas and don’t be afraid of them, in fact nurture your weirdest ideas, feed them, water them and let grow into wild and wondrous things no one else could ever dream of. Arbuckle Industries did this and they did it well.
Ian Harris, co-founder of Arbuckle Industries left the practice of architecture after three years because he believed there to be a great void in how the public views and engages with architecture. This realisation left him feeling unfulfilled by the professional practice so instead he stepped back, and turned his attentions to creating a positive change. He found a passion for the use of film as a medium to make this impact through storytelling and create something that lead towards this goal of engagement and awareness. Along with ex-colleague David Krantz, Ian set about making a film about architecture school called Archiculture, hoping to help close the gap between public perception and the realities of becoming an architect.
The pair saw a genuine niche in the market, with a potentially real social gain. They put everything on the line; they gave up jobs, borrowed money from family and took on any work they could find to build up a folio of projects to showcase. In the early days you may have to take on work that may not live up to your dreams – but remember that momentum is a very powerful force … starting slow and building up pace will surely see a natural and more sustainable growth. Arbukle Industries is now a fully-fledged mixed-media video production company based in New York, working with notable subjects such as Bill Clinton, Robert De Niro, David Byrne, and Pritzker Prize winners Renzo Piano, Thom Mayne, Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier and Shigeru Ban.
This is an extract from Don’t Get a Job … Make a Job: How to make it as a creative graduate by Gem Barton, which is published by Laurence King, priced £12.95. More info is at laurenceking.com.