How do you get ahead in your field? According to letterer, illustrator, and web designer Jessica Hische — whose myriad projects and websites have made her an official champion of the creative pursuits — you have to learn more, new, and different skills, even when you don’t want to.
Jessica doesn’t do any web design professionally — but for her own projects, she says, she does “a ton” of web design work. And more than anything, it is that ability that has freed her up to make the exact kinds of things she’s always wanted to make. Which was the idea behind her Creative Mornings talk: That creative professionals need to have a voracious appetite for ongoing education if they want to succeed.
“You have to learn the tools to make awesome stuff,” she explains. “You don’t not learn it just because it seems intimidating. If you want to make cool things, you need to learn the tools to make them.”
Web design is her prime example — for designers and illustrators, learning to code and actually build websites, even at a rudimentary level, is immensely helpful, but often seems like a necessary evil, drummed in by years of art school that make it seem both strange and also essential — but this lesson of continued education and curiosity is key to all creative pursuits, largely because it requires us to check a lot of what we learned in school. Your diploma, says Jessica, doesn’t mean that you’ve learned everything you need to know. Instead, it should be the gateway to the idea that learning is fun.
“That desire to learn is really the only thing that you should have picked up in college,” she says. “You have to really take joy in learning this new stuff.”
Unfortunately, though, as education expert Sir Ken Robinson said in his very-popular TED Talk on the subject of creativity and education, the way that students (and especially creative ones) are educated actually dulls their desire to learn more, because it feels mandatory or intimidating or just not very fun.
“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity,” explains Sir Robinson, who calls creativity “as important in education as literacy.”
Which doesn’t mean formal education as it is is a wash, but instead, that you should ensure that your education doesn’t interfere with your curiosity. As a result of the kind of education many students receive, rekindling your curiosity and creativity and putting it toward the development of new skills or knowledge on a subject tangential to your primary field may feel like an arduous (and possibly fruitless) task. But, says Jessica, it’s really one of the best ways to ensure success in your work, both professionally and creatively.
“Sometimes, it is completely unrelated to your field, but for me, I wouldn’t be able to do any of the side-projects that I do if I didn’t learn it,” she says of CSS and HTML. “But you limit yourself to making only things that can be highly profitable if you have to outsource all of your tech. But if you do it yourself — you’re your cheapest labor.”
Instead of being content with what you can make with the skills you have, consider the things that you could make if you could do more of it yourself. Education has never been more accessible than it is today — the only thing standing between it and you is your own desire to take it on.