The Joys and the Struggles in the Creative Industry

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Reyna with West Ventures team

Ever wondered what it’s like to work in the creative industry? Reyna Clarissa, an emerging graphic designer from Indonesia, shares her experience working as a graphic designer in the US.

When I told my high school teacher that I was going to study graphic design in college, he gave me a confused look and said, “But your biology score isn’t bad, is it?” It wasn’t indeed. I didn’t know what he was expecting to hear so I said nothing.

Growing up in Indonesia, some people may think that being an art student or pursuing a career in the design field means that you didn’t do well in maths, science, or the humanities. The creative industry now began to look promising, thanks to the rise of social media and technology in the last decade.

I graduated this year, in May 2018, from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. MICA is one of the top 5 graphic design schools in the US. In my last semester, I took a class in Business & Marketing at the neighboring school, John Hopkins University. Throughout my time at MICA, I’ve worked at a makerspace, branding studios, a venture firm, and a real estate startup in Indonesia, NYC, and SF.

Reyna as Commencement Speaker
Reyna as Commencement Speaker

I received commissions doing a variety of design work, including book illustrations, logo work, editorial, branding, and packaging. I now work as a designer at Nooklyn, a real estate startup in NYC and launched my own studio, Studio Nana, with a good friend and now business partner.

The creative types usually start out very early in life. It could be drawing, writing, coding, acting, and so on. Something about the act of making. If they are persistent, driven, and supported, this hobby or so-called passion can turn into a career. And with it also comes the joys and the struggles. They come at different stages of one’s creative journey and can look very different from person to person.

For me, they come and go.

Struggle is when I don’t know where to start. Joy is when I am in the zone and I just can’t stop creating. Joy is when I realize for the first time that I get to do what I love — however cliche it may sound. Struggle is when I am feeling stuck, uninspired and I don’t like what I see. Joy is when I know there’s always room for improvement. Joy is when I get to reset and start over. Joy is when I can see my own growth — the clear difference between my work 4 years ago versus now. Practice is all it is.

Reyna’s collection of works
Reyna’s collection of works
Reyna’s illustration exhibition in Jakarta, Indonesia
Reyna’s illustration exhibition in Jakarta, Indonesia

Struggle is when I feel like I’m not good enough and when jealousy kicks in. Joy is when I stop comparing myself to others. I measure my own success instead of using other people as a indicator. I look at others for inspiration and healthy motivation. Joy is when I know my own strengths. I begin to understand that the creative industry is a big world and I can’t do everything. I learn to accept that just because I like something, doesn’t mean I have to be good at it. Struggle is when I’m too idealistic when designing. I instead became practical and realistic but still strategic.

Struggle is when I get too attached to my work and I feel very offended when receiving critiques. Or when I get into a situation where I disagree with the person I’m working with. Joy is when I communicate, listen, share ideas, and we can be on the same page. Art and design-related comments are subjective and I am always learning how to navigate them. Joy is when I realize how fruitful teamwork and collaboration can be. Especially in the creative world. I know that I bring something to the table and other people will fill in the gap.

Joy is when I get recognized and acknowledged for a piece of work I put my heart and soul into. Struggle is when people, very often, say that my work is cute. But I realize the word cute is a positive one, and if I can make people say that, I should embrace it. It’s unique to me and I should own it. Struggle is when I overthink. Joy is when I stop working, then come back with a fresh pair of eyes, finish, wrap up, and let the world take the work. Joy is when I know nothing is original. The creative world is forgiving.

Reyna presented to MICA President
Reyna presented to MICA President
Reyna’s mural in progress
Reyna’s mural in progress

I’ve received a lot of amazing advice from my mentors and teachers but here are two that I find the most helpful — to trust the process and to master your craft. The creative world isn’t full of theories, hypotheses, equations, arguments, and evidence. It’s a world of empathy, practice, patience, experimentation, and collaboration.

For Indonesians who are thinking to jump into this field, now is the time. According to The Future of Jobs, a report by the World Economic Forum, creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. This can mean you become a designer and get formal training, or learn the basics of design thinking, or catch up with designer friends and ask what they are up to. Who knows a little collaboration might happen!

All photos were provided by the author.