Your Dream Project

I speak to people all the time about what you should look for in a creative project from a prospective client. The best way to determine what kind of work is best for you to look for is to make your own "dream project" and see it through to completion.

Much of the work I show to prospective clients is self-promotional for a couple of reasons.

First, most of my recent paid work is confidential, so it’s difficult to show off what I’ve done on a project that’s not public yet. Next, work that I’ve done in the past at my corporate design gig was done in team environment, so my contributions are often distributed between many different people. Other designers worked on it before me, and many work on it after, so all I can really show are my incremental contributions to the final result. And last, although I’m happy to receive any projects a client wants to give me, very few of those projects are what I would call a “dream project”.

What is a dream project? As I mentioned in a previous blog post, a dream project is something that you would very likely do on your own for free; but it would still be super great if you got paid for it! Nevertheless, as a creative person, you should always have a few ideal projects of your own to work on in your spare time. They keep your creative juices going and your skill-set sharp!

The hardest part is starting

I’ve always had a few things going on the back burner, but the hardest part about making your dream project is to get yourself going in the first place. It takes a very disciplined mind to make time to work on a project with no immediate benefit. What’s great about an unpaid dream project is also what’s bad about them; there are NO parameters and you can do whatever you want. The unfettered freedom of this kind of project is often paralyzing to a lot of creative people. We’re used to the natural limitations of our paid work; it has to look & feel a certain way, you have a limited amount of time & budget and it needs to be approved externally. The final sum comes out of those parameters, so we can feel confident that we did “the best we could” in that set of limits. When we remove those limits, it gets VERY tricky to figure out what the project SHOULD be and then make our best effort to get there with no guidelines. I can assure you that the best way to get started is to START. Take out a sketchbook or a blank sheet of paper and pretend you’re 5 years old again! Just go stream of consciousness on the idea until something takes shape. Trust me, the mental block of starting goes away after you start!

Getting the idea going is difficult

Once you’ve started shaping a rough idea of your dream project, you should have some idea of what it can be. Next you have to make it into what it will be. Estelle and I started a dream project of our own that took us almost three years to develop. This project as many of you might know is our line of children’s books called Ari’s Play Lab.

This is the original sketch of Ari from my sketchbook.

Estelle and I came up with the idea and roughed out what it should be on a long car trip. As we rode down the highway, I took vigorous notes and drew sketches while we spoke about Ari and her family, how we could publish the books and market them. When we returned home, I took my notes and sketches and started drawing what would eventually become our first book: How Do Airplanes Fly? I took my pages of sketches and taped them to my office wall. It helped me to see them all at once and create the much needed builds:

Very soon after that, I added and removed pages over and over again until the concept was clear. This dream project soon evolved from a “wouldn’t it be cool if we did this…” conversation into the beginnings of a thing that now exists. I started drawing model sheets of the characters and of the Play Lab. Suddenly the rough idea was a more concrete one.

It took me almost a year to finish what would be the first book while I was working on paid stuff. What kept me going was that this ideal project represented to me what I aspire to do as a creative, which is to educate and entertain kids. I’ve been drawing cartoons all of my life. It’s great that after 20 years of being a professional brand designer I can do something that uses those skills, but hopefully will give children across the world some knowledge that will inspire them for years to come. We worked very hard on our own developing the content of two books; they are available on Amazon.com (shameless plug).


Waiting for inspiration? Don’t.

Inspiration is currency to an artist. Once you have the urge to create, it’s very hard to resist working it out until its done. When you have a dream project to work on, the lack of inspiration is your only real obstacle. Here’s how you work on it even when you’re not inspired...


That’s it. There’s no other special advice to give, other than stop waiting for your muse to tell you to do it. Your muse works for you, not the other way around. Also, don’t work on your unpaid dream project when you have paid work to do. That’s pretty self-explanatory, right?

Waiting for the money to do it? It won’t come.

That’s right, you will NEVER be paid up front for the time to work on your dream project. Sucks to be you, right? You have to make it so on your own. If you have a dream project that requires a monetary investment; i.e. a film or animation project; THE MONEY STILL WON’T COME UNTIL YOU CREATE SOMETHING TO SHOW FOR IT!

Investors don’t believe in your dream, they invest in a business idea they think will be profitable. If you think your project will one day make them money, you have to create a business proposal that proves this eventuality. Otherwise they won’t give you a dime. Furthermore, starting a crowd-funded project online still requires a pitch that proves that the investment is worth it. Don’t just ask for money with a vague project description and a few sketches because you can’t be bothered to invest the time in creating those assets. Your time spent is an investment that proves the worth of the project in the first place. Make sense? OK.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

This section should really be called “when to STOP working on your dream project and make it public”. The truth is that there will ALWAYS be something that could be done better with anything you create. Every drawing could be better. Every font could be better. Every line, shape, color & tone could be better. Perfect is the enemy of good. Once your project is “good”, start showing it off. You can then work towards “perfect” at a new interval. Striving for perfection makes you a damn good creative but it’s tricky to know when you’ve hit the right mark and you’ve done enough. Like I said earlier, you have no parameters so YOU have to make yourself the client and get it out the door. I’ve see many great creative people who will never their own great project out because they think someday the “perfect” version of it will present itself to them and only they can release it to the public. The public is interested in unique ideas that seem like a good purchase, they are not interested in perfect.

I hope this blog post makes sense to you and will inspire you to get your dream projects going. Please hit us up on our social media and let us know; the links are @brandedsucess on twitter and fb.com/brandedsuccesscinci.

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