How to navigate the creative industry? Four upcoming creatives discuss
Four emerging creatives – Jahnavi Inniss, Tami Aftab, Rydel Cerezo and Luci Pina – discuss the trials and tribulations of entering the creative industry, and what they’ve learned so far.
- Lucy Bourton
- 22 July 2021
The Next Generation (formerly known as The Graduates) is a new annual series highlighting the freshest talent new to the creative industry. Whether you’ve recently graduated with an undergraduate degree, or if you’re about to this year. Or, alternatively, if you didn’t go to university at all but are less than a year into your creative career, you’re eligible to apply. Applications are open until midnight BST on Monday 2 August. We want to celebrate a diverse range of talent no matter what medium you work in. From graphic design to fine art and everything in between, wherever you are in the world, please do share your work with us. We can’t wait to see what the next generation of creative stardom has in store!
In the run-up to the showcase, we’re publishing a series of advice articles dedicated to making those first steps in the industry that bit easier. A few months ago we launched a survey calling all emerging creatives to tell us what advice they need and from who. The advice series is a direct response to this survey. It aims to answer the most pressing questions, directly from the voices that wish to be heard. We hope you find the content insightful, useful and inspiring; whatever your next step ahead.
It’s fair to say there is an unspoken pressure surrounding young people entering the creative industry. Whether you’ve been through higher education or not, it’s difficult to understand exactly how your peers appear to be scoring commissions and jobs. And, with social media often escalating feelings of imposter syndrome or comparisons, the first few years of breaking into the industry are likely to be the most isolating of a hopeful creative’s career.
The pandemic of course, hasn’t exactly helped this. Opportunities to meet likeminded creatives have diminished due to restrictions, as well as chances to head out and source inspiration. Most of all, the effects of the pandemic have undoubtedly caused additional mental pressure on daily life, understandably having a knock on effect on an individual’s capacity to feel comfortably creative.
To better understand this feeling of navigation in the first few years in the industry, we set up a WhatsApp conversation with a group of creatives currently going through the motion. Over the course of a few hours, each individual shared their personal views in an open discussion detailing their experience, sharing advice on how they’ve remained motivated and balanced, as well as pointing out the support they’ve needed, and will need, in future. The result is a refreshingly positive conversation full of helpful tips and reassurance for those of you currently trying to find your feet. In turn showing how creativity should be seen as a personal journey but also a source of hope.
It’s Nice That: Hi everyone! Thanks so much for taking part in this conversation. First of all, would everyone be able to introduce themselves and describe the work they make?
Jahnavi Inniss: Hey, thanks for having me! I’m Jahnavi Inniss, I’m a freelance designer and I make work which aims to provide visibility and empowerment for underrepresented communities. I like to experiment with different materials to find the best medium to communicate whatever it is I’m trying to share in my designs.
Tami Aftab: Hey! Thanks so much for having me. I’m Tami Aftab, a London-born and based photographer. My work is intimate, playful and performative, often around themes of family, friendship and identity.
Rydel Cerezo: For sure! I’m Rydel, I go by he/him. I’m a photographer and my work investigates the space between sexuality, religion, and race.
Luci Pina: Hi everyone! I’m Luci and I’m a freelance illustrator based in Leeds. My work is driven by a need to engage with, and celebrate Black culture. It often taps into the political, and nods to heritage with a responsive, layered and intuitive approach to drawing and media.
INT: Great, thanks everyone! So you all graduated in the past few years, how would you describe this experience?
Tami Aftab: I graduated last summer (2020) from London College of Communication, UAL. Naturally, being part of the first Covid-19 pandemic graduates, it wasn’t quite what I had expected. No degree show, no graduation, no exciting rush to make and print physical work.
However! I felt there were a lot of positives. There was so much more support for graduates in terms of mentorships, competitions and general accessibility for reaching out! This massively helped me during this transition period from student to freelance artist.
Jahnavi Inniss: I graduated last year also. I’d always thought I’d graduate and then get a full time job a couple months later, but with the uncertainty of everything it just never went to plan, lol.
Rydel Cerezo: Challenging, yet truly fulfilling. I graduated in 2019 from Emily Carr University, in Vancouver, Canada. I had an amazing first year out, then after things were put on a bit of a pause, it made me reevaluate my direction and career. A lot of my post-grad experience so far has been playing around and resolving what my art practice looks like.
Jahnavi Inniss: Same, I’ve been using the time to experiment and find out what it is I want to do as a career.
Luci Pina: I also graduated last year. I finished university in May 2020 and to be honest, it’s been alright. I’m super grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way since! I didn’t really expect to have a full time job, I always wanted to go into freelance and I think the sweet thing about illustration is that it can transcend the struggles of the pandemic (or it has for me luckily) as most things can exist happily online.
INT: Definitely! I can’t imagine how it might have been but it’s great to hear you’ve each managed to find positives in a situation so out of your control. Do you mind telling me how you’ve managed to stay level headed and create work during such a mentally stressful time?
Rydel Cerezo: I feel that a lot of patience, play and self forgiveness are at work during these times! Therapy is great if you have access to it. Establishing a routine for me has worked wonders.
Tami Aftab: A lot of it has come from assessing when it’s time to not make work. During the first lockdown I made nothing, and I found it very stressful and exhausting pushing myself to create photographs when it just wasn’t working. I agree with Rydel, therapy was a huge part, and also for me, yoga.
Luci Pina: Yes to yoga! Ahah that’s one of the few forms of routine my brain can process!
Jahnavi Inniss: I agree, creating a habit of something usually helps because habits triumph motivation. During the first lockdown I was still completing my final project at university, so completing my degree and knowing I was making something that was needed kept me going.
Tami Aftab: I’m also trying not to compare myself to others’ experiences. My partner is an illustrator and he was thriving during lockdown! Full of ideas, time, and space to work. But when I accepted that not every creative deals with this time in the same way, I got some peace and ideas started to come back again.
Rydel Cerezo: I feel that – comparison is a 🤬.Also in regards to making work; I quickly learned the importance of finding a community or even a small set of people that support and champion your work and process.
Luci Pina: For sure! It’s about doing things in your own time. I think what helped me massively was to work on shifting my perspective to my own creative practice and see it more as a thing I do because it helps me. It’s what makes me feel focused and fulfilled as opposed to seeing it as this big scary thing I have to do. It’s easier said than done obviously, but I’ve been making work when I feel inspired and when I have something to say; never try to push it out of guilt or pressure!
Jahnavi Inniss: Yes!!
INT: Yes for sure. I feel that comparison is something that never goes away either so it’s a really important thing to accept and understand before it burrows away. On the point of finding a community – something I think can definitely help to offer some reassurance – are there any places you regularly turn to for advice, or ways to find a community (whether it’s online or locally) if you’re feeling isolated creatively, or just in general?
Rydel Cerezo: Hmm, I’ve struggled with this quite a bit because I always thought the idea of a community needed to be something "big". But in reality, the relationships that I found the most fruitful and healthy came from a small handful of people and realising that was more than enough. I also learned that people are a lot friendlier than I assumed – so not being afraid to reach out helped.
Luci Pina: Yeah I haven’t cracked this one either, it’s been such a change not having that set creative community coming out of university, but it’s been lovely to chat through projects with the few close friends who are also creatives, and just having little interactions with people online. Freelancing is already isolating enough so it’s that extra bit challenging to navigate finding those connections with everything that’s going on.
Tami Aftab: Mentorships have been a massive help to me! Having people that you can ask questions to and you know will have a helpful and honest answer. Weekly calls to discuss ideas and/or concerns were amazing, and something that can be hard to come by when you leave university, crits and tutorials.
I met Agnes Lloyd-Platt through Mentoring Matters (@mentoring.matters on Instagram), a free mentorship scheme for artists of colour. And Ronan Mckenzie through Redeye’s free Graduate Mentoring Scheme (@redeyetpn). I feel especially lucky that the guidance and friendship has continued post-mentorship too!
Rydel Cerezo: I also saw Mentoring Matters and wish there were more programs like it!
Luci Pina: So true! Most people are so down to chat and appreciate you replying to stories and posts! I know I do!
Tami Aftab: 100%, there are so many wonderful people out there who want to help and engage.
Jahnavi Inniss: Yeah I’d definitely say reaching out to different creatives and sharing ideas and concerns has really helped. Also keeping in touch with people from my university course as it all ended so abruptly.
INT: Definitely! I am a big believer in always just telling people you love their work, or telling them how it makes you feel. It always has such a big impact even though it only takes a minute or two.
With this is in mind, are there ways you feel like you could have been better supported by the industry, or your education experience when entering the industry? Are there resources you wish were more widely available perhaps?
Tami Aftab: I think there could definitely be more transparency on how much money there are in certain jobs, and how much to value yourself at. I feel it can be easy for recent graduates to be taken advantage of because of this!
Rydel Cerezo: Yes to this!
Luci Pina: So true! It’s so hard to figure out numbers when you’re first starting out! Definitely wish people spoke about money more openly.
I personally feel like it would have been nice for my uni to have made more opportunities for our graduating year, considering the circumstances in which we graduated. Like, something as simple as letting us come back and use facilities during the summer, or checking in a little bit more as an institution? I feel like a lot of us have felt left to it once the course was over, which is a shame really!
Jahnavi Inniss: Yeah when I was approached for my first freelance commission I had to find my old tutors email and ask them for advice as I had no idea about pricing. I also think universities could have been better with letting us use the facilities after graduating. Also, I think it would have helped to know the different roles within the industry. I’m still seeing jobs and people doing jobs that look amazing, but I had no idea they existed.
Rydel Cerezo: Agreed. Alumni support should really be talked about more in institutions.
INT: Yeah it’s a shame as you say, especially when it’s likely facilities could have been sitting empty – and had been empty while people were in lockdown!
Tami Aftab: What I would do to have free processing and a free colour darkroom again!
Luci Pina: Ahahah literally, I want to see the photocopier one last time 🥺.
INT: Do you each work on your creative practices full time at the moment, or are you currently working in another capacity too?
Tami Aftab: I’ve worked part-time since I was 14, and all throughout university and graduating. I’m still currently working in hospitality, but have finally pushed it down to one day a week (🎉). I also assist alongside my own practice! Both to help pay bills, but also to keep learning new things.
Luci Pina: Oh definitely! I’m working at a cafe at the moment, spent ages trying to find something part-time to pay the bills.
That’s the other side of doing well with creative stuff, but still not being able to afford the rest of it! I think it’s good to keep in mind that people will most likely have other avenues through which they make money, especially in those first few years. It can look quite glorious online when you see someone landing commissions etc, but there can be a lot of other stuff going on behind the scenes.
Jahnavi Inniss: I’ve worked part time in a supermarket for just over four years now, I’m still working there and also get shy about admitting it due to seeing others getting jobs.
Rydel Cerezo: Yes! Previous to the pandemic I was working as a server/waiter to support my practice for years! A silver lining that came from it was that it forced me to finally go freelance and thankfully, through grants and commissions, I’ve been able to work full time on my creative practice.
Tami Aftab: That leap to fully freelance is one I’m balancing on the fence of, after so long with a monthly income from a part-time job it feels like a very scary step to take – especially during the pandemic.
Jahnavi Inniss: And also, due to the pandemic, whilst working in a supermarket I became a key worker and so in a sense I had job security? Which made me reluctant to leave and get a job because I feared I could be made redundant as I was seeing so many job losses within the creative sector during this time.
Rydel Cerezo: Also, a quick thing, I think job security is so important and I hate the way we feel shame for prioritising it. I think securing an income can allow freedom and less pressure on your practice which is great.
Luci Pina: Yup! And it’s so unrealistic to set these standards anyway, when you’re starting out on your own, this is most likely the reality of it and there’s nothing wrong with that 💫💫💫.
Tami Aftab: I also felt happier working in the cafe than doing a full-time photo job, that would’ve used up a lot of creative energy and perhaps diverted me. Sometimes being a barista can use no thought at all! Which saves space for my own practice.
INT: Definitely – I think those jobs teach you so much that often gets completely ignored.
Jahnavi Inniss: Yes, working in customer service has made me a much better communicator and given me more confidence.
INT: This is the first year we’re opening applications for what was previously called The Graduates to be open for anyone entering the creative industry, whether they’ve been through higher education or not.
I was wondering how you feel after going to university for a creative subject and what the benefits or negatives were?
Tami Aftab: University really helped me to think critically about my work, contextualising my ideas, confidence and also learning practical qualities such as shooting on film, hand printing, using the studio etc.
However, I believe success mainly comes from hard work, and perseverance (and as we can’t ignore it, for many artists, nepotism and good luck.) But hard work can definitely be done out of the university context. I also learnt a lot from assisting, probably more so than I did from university when it comes to the avenues I want to pursue now. It’s something I’d recommend to any photographer!
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Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea (Copyright © Rydel Cerezo, 2021)
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Rydel Cerezo: Am I a Sea (Copyright © Rydel Cerezo, 2021)
Jahnavi Inniss: I think the benefits of studying a creative subject at university is that your craft and creativity is challenged, which helps you to develop. You begin to learn exactly what it is you like/don’t like and why. Also I think while responding to briefs set by uni, you begin to notice patterns in your responses, which is what happened for me.
Rydel Cerezo: As much as I have certain problems with the university I came from, it would be difficult to imagine myself in the position I am in now without going through it. That being said, I made my education my own to get the absolute most from it.
Jahnavi Inniss: Also it’s the facilities at university, just being able to experiment with different creative methods. Being surrounded by creative people usually at the same stage as you is really reassuring. But then this could also be a negative because people feel pressured and begin to compare their work to their classmates and being surrounded by creative people all the time where everyone is making stuff doesn’t help lol.
Luci Pina: Agreed, I only figured out my practice and what it’s about through going through all of these stages – for me, it wouldn’t have been the same without going to university. But I also agree with the point that it isn’t entirely necessary. It’s such a personal thing it really depends!
Rydel Cerezo: Yes! I had to get over this and still work on it presently. For me, it helps to think that our relationships with peers are made healthier when we realise it’s more of a “horizontal” network rather than a “vertical” hierarchy.
INT: Agreed and all very balanced points! I think there are definitely pros and cons, and many changes that the system could benefit from too! In terms of getting your work seen then, I guess a more practical question I’d love your thoughts on is what’s been the best approach to get your work in front of people? Do you mostly use Instagram or do you have a website/portfolio?
Jahnavi Inniss: I mainly use Instagram. Use hashtags or tag pages that are relevant to what you’re posting. Also, I know of a photographer who would take photos of artists at concerts and other stuff and tag the artists and big brands. Advice to people breaking in would be to put yourself out there!! Promote your work. Someone, somewhere will see it and engage with it.
Rydel Cerezo: Entering competitions helped me massively, also having a website and absolutely editing down to showcase your best work is 🔑.
Tami Aftab: Instagram is great, if it works for you! It doesn’t suit everyone. I think also, talking to people frequently – reaching out and putting yourself out there via competitions, folio reviews or general chat. Word of mouth is key too! So many opportunities have come from someone telling someone telling someone about my work, which is always nice to know.
Luci Pina: I have both Instagram and a website. I think it’s helped me to apply to as many things as possible, email people when it feels appropriate, and keep all platforms updated with what I’m doing! There have been times I haven’t got the thing I applied for but got other stuff as a result of applying!
Rydel Cerezo: Back of My Hand (Copyright © Rydel Cerezo, 2021)
Rydel Cerezo: Back of My Hand (Copyright © Rydel Cerezo, 2021)
INT: Definitely agree on applying for as much as possible! I think the process of just filling in those forms and generating ideas is a huge help too. You each mentioned wanting to know more about the commissioning process / fees when you first began freelancing. What’s the advice you wish you could have given yourself back then?
Jahnavi Inniss: Everything always always always takes longer than planned so include extra time into your budget when you’re telling people your rate.
Tami Aftab: To be more confident in myself. Something I definitely still need to do more of. If you show you’re proud of who you are and what you’ve created, others will see that too!
And to have patience, you might meet someone and assume you’ve bagged a job but then nothing happens. Wait six months, sometimes a year, and that opportunity can still come around! Potentially at a better time too.
Rydel Cerezo: You have to champion your worth and fees! The money is there. I’ve witnessed too many bigger companies and institutions taking advantage of emerging artists.
Jahnavi Inniss: Also, you don’t have to say yes to every opportunity. Rest is really important and ensures that you don’t get burnt out. More opportunities in the future will come, they may even be more worthwhile. Basically, if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed don’t continue to accept work/opportunities out of fear of missing out.
Tami Aftab: Definitely! So important to also do things you want to do, don’t feel like every opportunity has to be the right one for you.
Luci Pina: Charge more than you think you deserve!!! I think it’s embedded in creatives to think they’re work doesn’t deserve as much as it does. The sad thing is people will take advantage of this! Even if I feel unsure about a number I’m asking for, I put those doubts aside and go for it because if someone is asking you to make something for them they will accommodate and try and work with you on the fees/budget!
Jahnavi Inniss: Unless it’s a charity or really small new independent organisation, there’s usually more than enough budget to pay for your services, so don’t sell yourself short or accept work in the name of ’exposure’.
Rydel Cerezo: Truly – if they can’t pay for your work/time, question if they are worth working for! The power of refusal!
Luci Pina: Yup, it’s kind of a “read the room” situation! If it’s a massive company and they’re paying you nothing, don’t take it because they can definitely afford it. I only lower fees for organisations I really believe in and know don’t have the budget.
INT: It’s very important to set those boundaries with clients and not ever think that knowing your worth might scare them off – if it does, it’s not the right fit for a collaboration!
Jahnavi Inniss: “Why would I want to work on anyone else’s stupid ideas for free when I can just work on my own” – words from my tutor that have stuck with me.
Rydel Cerezo: ^mood.
Tami Aftab: Hahaha, actually so true.
INT: The last thing I’d love your opinion on is, given your experience in the past few years, how do you feel we can create a fairer and more inclusive industry for those entering the creative world in the next few years? Is there a responsibility we each have to do this? And what would you like larger companies, or platforms like It’s Nice That do to better support upcoming creatives?
Tami Aftab: I think a huge part of creating a more inclusive industry is having it inclusive team-wide. Not just the two mixed-race models on a shoot to tick a box, with an otherwise all white team.
A way this could also be done, is to sometimes turn down certain opportunities and suggest someone who’d be a better fit. For example, if a white male photographer is asked to photograph something about being a woman in South Asia. Ideally, it would come from having more diversity in positions of power, so that the right people get the opportunity in the first place!
Jahnavi Inniss: Yeah, I think more diversity at higher levels as well as across the team. Also acknowledge everyone’s cultural differences and the difficulties they might have faced by entering the industry.
I think as creatives we have the responsibility to be critically conscious of the work we’re making and how it can influence attitudes towards different communities. In general the work should be reflective of the diverse world we live in and not regurgitate discriminatory or prejudice attitudes.
Rydel Cerezo: Yes to this! I think championing and supporting marginalised and racialised collectives and artists is so important for this to happen. It has to be a collaborative action as well. Part of me wants to ask whether we are able to create a system in which “positions of power” can be decentralised so that we aren’t perpetuating an already broken system... but maybe that’s a different convo lmao.
Jahnavi Inniss: I think larger companies/platforms should have more transparency in the ways that they operate and how everyone got where they were within the company.
Luci Pina: Yes, a more diverse team at a higher level is so key because, from then on, more opportunities for all sorts of creatives will start emerging more naturally. It’s so obvious when companies and institutions are doing all of these things for show vs when it is intentional, heartfelt and coming from a place of wanting true change.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.