Pierre Kleinhouse
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Firecamp Blog

Firecamp Blog: A blog about illustration, design & being a freelance creative.

The One Reason You Are Not a Master, Yet


It’s has been a long time since I posted here, but I have a good excuse: I became a dad!

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So yeah, a lot have happened and I was super busy during last month... I didn't write anything for a while. But this blog is not dead! and I hope you will find this post interesting.

*From now on we’re going to have a recommended links section with the help of my good friend and designer Polina. So make sure you scroll all the way down.

OK let's get started!

The one reason you are not a master, yet

Being the best, and becoming a master in your field must be awesome: all the best clients will line up to work with you, students will come to study from you and fans and followers will come to your exhibitions. So yeah, who wouldn't want to be a master?!  I know I do. But how? 

I just read a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers: The Story of Success. It’s a really interesting book! Gladwell writes about people like Bill Gates and the Beatles and shows how the road to become the best in your field is totally different then the stories we tell ourselves. He is basically saying we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from, what they did, and the opportunities they had.

The 10,000 hours rule

In his book, Gladwell says that it doesn’t really matter if you have talent or not. You are not supposed to be this genius kid who already have amazing skills at the age of 5 - that’s just the cool stories people like to talk about. It turns out, the most important thing you need to do is practice! a lot.

To be more specific, Gladwell says it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field and become “world class”. Fuck, ten thousand hours is a long time. It means that if you can spend your entire day (say 9 hours a day) practicing, it will take you about 4 FULL years of practice. If you can’t do it for 9 hours a day, say you have a regular day job, so you can only practice for 3-4 hours a day, it will take you 8-10 years to become a master.

Feeling depressed yet? Don’t, there is hope:

Since Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hour rule, there have been quite a few who opposed his theory. A Princeton study, for example, suggests that practicing has only a 12% effect on performance in different fields. They also claim that in every domain, training has a different level of importance. In domains such as Tennis, Chess or Classical Music, the rules are constant and do not change, so training has great significance. But in fields like entrepreneurship, Modern Art or Pop Music there are no defined rules, everything is possible, there is a lot of value to creativity, innovation, being different, so practicing is still a factor but it is not the most important thing. It’s something worth thinking about, sometimes you might already be pretty good at what you do - and all you need to do is zig when everybody else zag.

Another encouraging point: Even if you are not a master in your field just yet. I bet that after 5,000 hours of practice you will probably have some capabilities and chances are you can make a living doing what you love. Even if you are not the best there is.  

But maybe that’s the problem: since once you are already good enough to work and earn a living in your profession, I think a lot of people simply focus on their job, or clients and stop practicing. They will still improve and sharpen their abilities, but they are no longer in a state of pure practicing, trying new things and taking risks. So they pretty much get stuck somewhere along the way with 6,000 hours or 8,000 hours of practice. I think that might be the hardest part in getting to these 10k hours.

So basically, if you want to become masters, you just need to save as much time as possible for practicing, even if you’re already kicking ass and working as illustrators and designers - are you really pushing you skills and trying new things in every new job that you get? 

I tried to calculate my number of practice hours, I guess I'm somewhere between 5k-7k now. I mean, if I count every single project and job I did as an illustrator and designer I might already made it to 10k, but I think a lot of what I did in the past was just the same thing over and over again, and not really practicing. So nowadays I always have some sort of a personal project going on between work, so I can push myself and try new things. And I also try to take only interesting projects that will make me work hard and do my best, this way most of my work day counts as practicing hours.   

Oh, and if you're already investing 10,000 hours in something, I think it's a good idea to find an area that really interests and inspire you. Perhaps you know this quote from Jessica Hische: "The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life" - I love this quote! Because doing something that you hate for 10,000 hours sounds like a bad idea. If you can find a specific area in your field, that is difficult and challenging but also interesting and fun for you to do - it will be much easier to push through your 10k hours. No one will be able to compete with you, because in that little niche you will be on your home turf.

If you can find this niche that will make you jump out of bed in the morning, because you want to keep working and practicing - you will be unstoppable. And then it's only a matter of time. It might take 10,000 hours, maybe more, maybe less, it won’t matter anymore.

Worst case scenario: your 10,000 hours start now :)

Some Personal News

  • I finished a new painting recently!

Most of my work today is digital, and actually, only a year ago I painted my first acrylic painting. It has been so much fun that since then I try to continue painting by hand, whenever I have time. So I finally finished my third painting. Hope I can do more soon! It's a much slower process than drawing in Photoshop, and there are some pretty exhausting parts, especially at the beginning when you have to sketch all the lines with a pencil... but most of it is just so fun! It's like therapy, I can listen to music, have a cold beer and just draw for hours! I think this good feeling comes from being in s state of flow. And I think the final result of painting by hand is better: because I work really big and I can add a lot of details, small lines and dots. Maybe it does not pass through the picture on your screen, but trust me that the physical result is so much better.

  • I visited China for a week for an exhibition opening.


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It has been such an amazing week! so many awesome people, cool places and crazy food. I guess I'll write about it in my next post. 

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Recommended Links

Polina Sogolov is a graphic designer based in Berlin (and a good friend!) Here Here are a couple of links she sent me:

Polina: I was watching this one live and it really got me thinking. In my experience in companies who work on one product there is never a talk about beauty, and if there is, it's always gets dismissed. I think that Stefan talks about a very important point here, Beauty is as important as functionality and there is no shame in that. As designers, we should stand up for that because it's clear that all of us would prefer to have a beautifully designed chair or a stylish apartment instead of a simple functional one.

Polina: I agree with a lot with Ran that today a designer is not only a print or web designer, especially if you are a freelancer. Break free from the standard frame that the industry dictates, go see some art, go to design events, be inspired and learn new skills.

Thanks for reading!

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And feel free to send me e-mails/comments if you have questions or ideas for other topics which you would like me to cover?


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