How experimenting with new creative skills can lead to bigger and better ideas
We hear from some of Skillshare’s artists on how learning new skills has benefited their practice, and could help yours too.
Over the coming months, It’s Nice That will be partnering with Skillshare, an online learning community for creatives. In the first of the series of articles, we sit down with three artists who each believe learning new skills and creating in new ways is a vital practice in becoming a stronger creative, whatever stage in your career.
Chip Kidd, by all accounts, is a successful creative. One of America’s most well-known book cover designers, his work has graced everything from Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, through to concepts for Donna Tartt and Haruki Murakami. He’s also a published author himself, has edited graphic novels, given a TED talk, and won an AIGA medal – he even has a Wikipedia page.
Yet for Chip, the practice of learning, both about his medium and the creative sphere as a whole, has never stopped being relevant and vital: “Oh my god, YES,” he shouts when we ask if he thinks the act of learning is still important. “Never, ever stop learning, no matter who you are. Why? Well for one thing, the more you learn, the more you empathise with other people, and that makes you a better designer and a better person.”
Often when navigating the creative industry it’s easy to forget that everyone is learning – or is practising a skill they have taken the time to learn. When faced with the large amounts of projects that are released by the creativity community, it can often feel like everyone around you is naturally gifted, churning out one boundary breaking project after another. But behind the scenes there has been copious amounts of hard graft, usually years of it, built up from a willingness to try something new and practice a different skill set.
Despite his flourishing career of 34 years “and counting”, Chip’s want to try his hand at a new creative approach has never faded. In fact, within Chip’s Skillshare classes – both on how to make an art poster and an introduction to book cover design – his continued love for the medium is palpable in his instructions and advice. Yet around ten years into his career, “after reading dozens (hundreds?) of manuscripts for books I was designing, I decided to have a go at actually writing one,” he tells us.
A totally new way of channeling creativity, it took Chip six years to complete, “every now and then along the way I felt like giving up, but it was totally worth seeing through,” he explains. Success as a writer soon followed, proving how chipping away at a new venture over time, and taking that time to learn, can lead to a new avenue of creative fulfilment.
Although it was a totally different way of working for him, with his connection to writing as a book designer, Chip’s creative leap seems logical. Shantell Martin, however, a renowned British-born, New York-based illustrator and artist, likes to purposefully jump far away from her chosen medium to learn about other creative processes; which in turn teaches her new things about herself.
For instance, music is a consistent inspiration for the artist, or “other creatives who work in fields that are completely different from my own,” she tells us. Taking the time to learn about other processes has been vital for Shantell to develop her own tone of voice, and ensuring she looks deeply at herself is a consistent piece of inspiration for the artist, a technique viewers can discover via her Skillshare class on finding your creative voice which has attracted over 16,000 students. “I feel like when you stop learning,” she continues, “or when you stop putting yourself in positions where you have to be courageous, brave, vulnerable and honest, you just start to exist… but that’s not living.”
A recent creative leap the artist has taken is her work with the New York City Ballet, an unusual collaborator for an artist. Interviewing over 20 dancers from the company, the conversations she had filtered through to her own work: “It’s one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had as an artist,” she says, despite its vast difference from her usual practice of putting pen to paper. “The work I created there has all these nuances that I know were because of creating in that way, and in that space.”
Next on the cards for this ever-evolving artist? Photography, she thinks. “I feel like it’s a really meditative way of capturing time, experiences and details that you tend not to pay attention to.”
Multi-hyphenate creative Bee Grandinetti – director, designer, animator, illustrator and Skillshare teacher are all job roles she owns – displays another completely different approach to learning, trying to soak up as much as possible, to the point where she jokingly admits she “might be a bit of a compulsive learner.” Bee’s formal education includes graphic design, motion design and an intensive character animation course too.
Having this as a backbone to her creative approach, Bee still continues to try to learn as much as possible from the world around her. “We have so much around us that is wonderful and magic,” she tells It’s Nice That. Absorbing “inspiration from everywhere” as a result, Bee’s decision to purposefully flit between creative media feels natural to her, describing how “creative solutions are literally everywhere and we can trace parallels between the world and our crafts in multiple ways.”
An example of this is New Years, a collaborative project Bee worked on with her husband, a creative technologist. Together, they hacked their 3D printer into a drawing machine, after which Bee then placed her animation hat on, using the technique to print each frame of an animated loop. Now, it’s leading to more unforeseen possibilities: “animation and coding have so much untapped potential that I’m curious to explore!” Having so much at her disposal creates a palpable energy both in Bee’s personality and her work, leading you to be excited for what she might try her hand at next, even if it’s one of her current hobbies of “bread making, basket weaving and trying to learn how to play the piano at home with online classes.”
While each of these creatives and their differing practices showcase alternative approaches and benefits to learning, Chip, Shantell and Bee are all in agreement that opening yourself up creatively is always a positive. So, whether it’s moving into a new part of your creative discipline, learning the practice of a different creative group to further your inspiration, or just trying something entirely new to build a new skill set, it’s never too late to jump in.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more stories of creatives who’ve done exactly this; learning how to turn illustrations into animation, learning how the rules of graphic design can benefit your practice (especially if you break them) and learning how best to photograph your work to showcase its full potential. In the wise words of Chip Kidd: “Learning a new creative discipline will open up your mind, and inform what you’re doing. It can only be good for you, and remember that everyone starts out as an amateur at anything, that’s nothing to be afraid of.”