Four leading creatives on how to protect our work-life balance
During an online event last week hosted by Wix Playground, our panellists discussed mental health, the importance of slowing down, and their hopes for the future of the creative industry.
- Matt Alagiah
- 13 May 2021
What have been our biggest takeaways from the pandemic? “The main thing I learned,” said Lawrence Agyei, “was how to be still.” This was how the Chicago-based photographer summed up his experience of the past 12 months during a virtual Q&A event hosted last week by It’s Nice That and Wix Playground. “As creatives,” he went on, “we want to jump from project to project, but sometimes it’s OK not to do anything at all. It’s good for your mental health and for your body to rest.”
Lawrence was speaking on the broad theme of “Creative Revival”, along with the graphic artist and designer Anthony Burrill, the film director Anna Ginsburg, and the graphic designer Shamma Buhazza. Each of these speakers were invited to talk candidly about how their work and lives have been affected by the lockdowns and self-isolation, but also to look ahead at what the future might hold for the creative world more generally. Despite the fact that the pandemic is clearly far from over (particularly in certain parts of the world, such as India, where it is still raging), we wanted to take the opportunity to cast our gaze forwards as well and try to predict what might be over the horizon for all of us.
As Lawrence’s reflection suggests, mental health was a major theme across the four discussions. As Shamma recounted, she also had a challenging start to 2020, as a scholarship to a US university she’d been hoping to receive stopped accepting applications. She decided to move from Germany back in with her parents in her home city of Abu Dhabi. “I’m bummed to not be able to go to uni,” she said, dialling in from the UAE, “but I’ve learned a lot through freelance projects and prioritised my mental health.”
The change of pace and location were actually a blessing. Shamma has been taking on freelance projects and enjoying the opportunity to work with creatives around the world. The disruption has also allowed her to reassess her values and career choices. “Life isn’t just about climbing the graphic design ladder,” she said. Some of the aspects of the design industry that have in the past perhaps been seen as non-negotiable are now finally coming under much-needed scrutiny. “All nighters should not be a thing,” she said, explaining that she is now more forthright with her clients: “I’ve realised that some things are not possible within the timeline and I didn’t have the confidence to say that before the pandemic.”
Anthony also talked about enjoying the disruption that the pandemic immediately brought about. “I’m a natural self isolator,” he said. “When the lockdown began, I was still on that treadmill that I’d been on those years, but then all those pressures were instantly taken away – I didn’t have to travel and it was like a new time with more headspace.” He ended up spending much of this newfound time lost in his archive. “I’ve been reassessing the things I’ve been making, rethinking, and getting inspired by things I made years ago.”
Meanwhile, for Lawrence, the pandemic not only allowed him time to slow down; it also gave him the opportunity to discover new forms of inspiration. He started going back to his local library and also bought a host of photobooks. “There’s a totally different energy to getting inspired by photobooks as opposed to Instagram or Tumblr,” he noted.
Anna Ginsburg was more equivocal on this subject, however. Because she works in animation, the pandemic did not afford more opportunities for calm and reflection – quite the opposite, in fact. “To be honest, the animation industry has been absolutely booming,” she explained. With filming forbidden and countless photoshoots cancelled, illustrators and animators have picked up a lot of work, she said, because “you can do the entire process in isolation”. This has led to a lot of exciting projects, but also to some real challenges around over-work and burnout. “In animation, I feel like bad habits have come about during the pandemic,” she said, “particularly when it comes to work-life balance.”
Our four speakers in this way reflect a wider trend that the pandemic has brought about: a chasm between those in work, doing longer hours, speaking for hours on video calls and experiencing burnout, compared to those without as much work as before, either due to furloughing or the shuttering of entire industries. Looking ahead, then, what were our four panellists’ feelings about the future?
Despite her worries about work-life balance, Anna was very positive about the prospects for change within the animation world. “I feel lucky in my industry that I can make high-production pieces of film from anywhere in the world,” she said. This has of course been true for many years, but the pandemic has forced everyone to realise this. “I hope things change in the creative industry being less London-centric,” she added, “and, being a woman director, I hope that there will hopefully be some flexibility around having a child.”
Shamma has not only reassessed what’s important to her in terms of how she works; she’s also reflected on the kind of work she wants to continue making in the future. “My work before was aesthetically pleasing, but it wasn’t as functional,” she said. “Now I’m interested in the function of helping something. I realised I enjoyed making things that are useful and that can make a change.” Looking ahead, she believes her work will increasingly move in this direction of “helping out and giving back”, as she put it.
This was something Anthony also felt had changed for the better, and for good, in the design industry. Alongside dipping back into his archive, he has spent much of the pandemic year speaking with university students on creative courses, offering up advice and words of encouragement to them as they prepare for entering the creative industry. In his Q&A, he reinforced Shamma’s point and urged young designers: “Think about what your work means and how it connects with people from different social and cultural backgrounds.”
Meanwhile, Lawrence ended his Q&A where he began, stating that the pandemic had taught him a vital lesson about prioritising your mental health. This was something he hoped to carry with him into the future as well. “It’s totally OK to be still for a moment,” he said, “and not to be on the go all the time.”
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