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Vanessa Smith

Vanessa Smith is a NZ based award winning  illustrator,  Art Director and mum of one.

For the last three years, she's been setting herself an annual deadline: create one artwork a year. Originally dreamed up as a creative outlet, Vanessa now sells the series through her website, exhibits in galleries and finds new clients through her pieces. In this Fierce Female profile, Vanessa breaks down the tactical steps she took which allowed her to create something new every year - and not let it hit the back burner.

"What started out to be a one-off promotional piece for myself has evolved into a yearly screen print project that I share with family and friends. The initial goal was to reach out to people I respected and wanted to stay connected with in the design industry.

I chose to create a limited edited screen print celebrating the Chinese New Year. Back from a stint living and working in Asia, Chinese New Year is a theme that inspires and is relevant to me, and, with this occasion falling in February my gift would be something that would arrive on people’s desks at an unexpected and stand-out time of the year."

How do you set yourself a deadline?

"The beauty of this yearly project is that the heart of the theme (CNY) occurs at roughly the same time every year. However it is given a new focus each year depending on which animal is being celebrated. In 2013, my first print was celebrating the year of the Snake, this year it is the Year of the Sheep and 2016 will be the year of the Monkey. What I love about this format for the project is that the theme is more or less chosen for me and the deadline is a fixed date in the cultural calendar – if I don’t meet that deadline, my gift becomes obviously ‘late’ and loses context. This is an excellent motivation for me to get focussed and creating."

You too can have a badass Beast Barrbarella on your wall to inspire you erry day.

What inspires you to create something each year?

"I wanted the challenge of having a project that took me away from the computer and allowed me to indulge and enjoy physical materials and processes. It’s the perfect way to flex my brain after the Christmas break, start the new year on a creative note.

It sets the tone for the year ahead and makes me feel like I have achieved something very early on, so other projects can hopefully flow from that point.

From my CNY screen print projects I’ve had direct referrals and commissions for creating similar prints, which, by far has been the best outcome from doing something I love."

Any tactical tips you'd give others wanting to do something creative outside of their day job?

"No one I know, regardless of what job they do or what stage in life they are at, is not living a ‘busy’ life these days. We all have demanding and over-full schedules, so for those of us wanting to do something creative outside of our day-to-day jobs and commitments we have to get real and ready to make something happen for ourselves. Here are a few tips I’ve found essential in getting things off the ground: 

Set yourself a deadline.

Set a deadline for your project then physically write it in your calendar or put that date and goal somewhere you will see it every day. 

Give yourself a fighting chance by carving out time 

Things don’t happen magically. So, to meet deadlines and get that goal nailed we have to consciously carve time out especially for it. Give yourself a chance at nailing your project by blocking out an hour or a night per week and make it your ‘project time’ and protect that time fiercely as a non-negotiable part of your week. Doing this will make the project 'real’ and a priority. It will help you focus your energy by not letting other aspects of ‘life’ creep in. In most cases it will mean cutting something else out of your schedule to make this time, but if we all look closely at our day-to-day there are areas of ‘fluff’ (sometimes in the form of Facebook surfing and Netflix zombie time) that we can compound and harness to make amazing things.

Tell others of your goals and aspirations 

I find telling friends and family about what I’m doing or want to do is a powerful tool to keep me on track and accountable. There’s nothing worse than meeting up with a friend who I’ve previously told about a project I want to do and have them ask how it’s going and for my reply to be in the “Uh, it’s on the back burner for ‘XYZ' reason” embarrassment basket. It’s such a sad trombone ‘wah wah’ moment. However, if/when this happens it’s a sure fire way to get yourself back in the zone and making it happen. And isn’t it also wonderful to have friends and family support you and cheer you on with your goals and to share your success with? Yes, definitely.

Just because you’ve never done it, doesn’t meant you can’t do it

Living in Singapore, I was exposed to so many other designers just going for it; doing their art, holding their own exhibitions and making products to sell like it was completely not a big deal and ’normal'. I’m not sure why I didn’t experience this or feel this in Wellington, but after being exposed to others, who were my peers, who were just getting on and having a great time doing it, it made me realise that you don’t have to be a certified expert to pursue something or be ‘allowed’ to pursue something. If you want to do a run of screen printed t-shirts, or play guitar, or decorate cakes or whatever your heart desires, yet have never done it before, that is absolutely no reason not to do it, in fact, it’s the exact reason you should do it. You don’t need permission or validation from anyone to try something new."

Love V's approach? You're not alone. Check out her work and reach out to her here.