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After listening to the best podcast I found so far (yes – I am saying the best and yes it is subjective, but I really love it!!) I decided to write this blog post because I felt inspired.  It is… wait for it… “Creative pep talk” by Andy J. Pizza. Also I thought that was his real name, but the man explains it is not. So – oops 😅

So, those who know me, know I went completely mad about Lisa Congdon’s books and I follow her on Instagram and I use every occasion to talk about her career among other designers. What I really love about her is that she is very open on social media and in her books. She is honest how she never held a brush before she turned 32 and how she was a struggling artist when she was 39. So what I want to say here guys – it is really never too late to start doing what you really want to do.

I don’t even know how many people read my blog, but I will still share my thoughts and enthusiasm about what I learned till now. I will share a piece of my story and probably continue sharing and you will watch (actually read) in episodes.

I was born in a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry. It is a small country in Europe and till 1992 it was called Yugoslavia. I guess that might sound familiar. We split in few countries and the one you probably know best is Croatia.

So yes, I grew up in a country that had a civil war in the 90s, so we were not really open for an art market and we were mostly open for surviving without electricity up till 1995 :)*

*I do put a smiley face here because I am that kind of person who makes jokes about this and about myself so, whenever anyone feels offended by my texts they should know it’s a joke and it is not personal.

So, we basically lived in a country that was open for art till the early 90s but then we became too poor for those luxury goods and the mentality changed forever. I think there is still a major opinion that art is not needed – everything else comes before that. This is understandable if you don’t have existential things in life. Now people have them, but they still think an expensive car is better than expensive art. Who can’t have a car, they buy the latest iPhone. I am not joking. The basic values there are twisted by now. So status symbols are – let’s say different from mine. Also my personal values.

So, to continue on my story, I decided I can’t really live in a country where something I want to do is not appreciated or needed at all. I needed to leave. So I left to study in Italy where I enrolled The Academy Of Fine Arts in beautiful Bologna. Btw I learned few days ago that Milton Glaser also studied at that same academy! And if you are guys reading this and you don’t know who Milton Glaser is – google NOW.

After my studies where I was struggling to find my voice, my style, whatever you wanna call it, I was completely lost. I WAS LOST. I realised that following an art career will be so difficult and I decided to become a graphic designer. I thought that would be an easier path, but it was not. I knew nothing about graphic design as work. I thought: “It cannot be that difficult: I studied art, I have good taste…” GUYS – it can. I didn’t know the basic principles of design. I didn’t know how to recognise why some things look better than the others. Yes, I had good taste, but I couldn’t explain why some things work and why the others don’t. Also my weapons were not the strongest. I knew only how to use photoshop, but if I put that level of knowledge with what I have right now… Let’s say I wouldn’t call it knowledge exactly 😄  So I thought: “I know photoshop, I’ll be a graphic designer”. Guys, I am laughing to my young self out loud now. But yeah – it was like that. I am writing this because I FEEL there is still people who need to hear someone else’s story to understand they are not the only ones struggling. We ALL struggled. And you must struggle! I am struggling right now because I started an instagram account with my illustrations and I put all my energies in that and it goes slowly. And I am like: “This will take million years, I will never be able to live only of illustrations” and it’s fine! I mean – I accepted the situation how it is now, but I firmly believe it will change. Why am I so sure? Because I am 35 years old and I saw ups and downs. And if you – this is a quote and it is one of the best ones – if you keep showing up (Lisa Congdon again guys) you must become better at it. Show up and do the work. And the results will come. I mean I probably sound like a motivational speaker right now, but I swear, I am not one. I am just talking from experience. And that is what I want to share with you in this post: how keep showing up was hard and how even if you show up and your weapon is not strong enough you get frustrated.

The first thing I need to share with you guys is: sharpen your weapon. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or analogue, you must be sharp and know what your weapon can and can’t do. If I now use any of my softwares, I can do the same thing in 3 different ways. That means sharpening a weapon. And you will become fast. What I now need 10 minutes for, maybe 10 years ago I’d need 2 hours because I would be figuring out what to use and how to use it before I even start.

The second thing is also very important, and I will combine it with Andy J. Pizza’s advice: you must have good taste. Yes. But if you already have good taste, can you define why the things that look good, look good? Why some typography posters look better than the others? Why some colours look better combined with some other colours? There are answers for all that. Sometimes is kerning, sometimes font pairing, sometimes is made for web, sometimes is made for print, sometimes is proportions.. But you should know it when you see it. And that – that comes from showing up and doing the work. If you see so many posters, web sites, brochures, pick any – you just learn why some things work. But you must ask yourself that. If you just do your work automatically, you won’t move forward. Take pieces of someone else’s good work and analyse. Why that works? Is it colour? Is It shape? Try to apply it on your work. That is how you learn.

I will continue on theory classes if you are interested to learn from me, but this was not the main topic of this post. The main topic is about sharing what happened to me and maybe happened to all of you at some point in life.

Six years ago I was at the very beginning of my career (even though I was already trying to do graphic design work for 2 years, but nobody told me how). I can say that now because I was really bad at it. My saw was not sharpened, I was still using photoshop far from a pro and I was using illustrator to do illustrations for my own project I later killed. I will talk about this project in my future posts.

So in the beginning of 2014 I was really a newbie. Obviously I didn’t want to hear I was a newbie – I was a graphic designer and I had studied arts. In Italy! Country of arts! Lol. I’ll just say lol.  So I prepared a nice portfolio of works, most of them were personal projects and some were as a freelancer for an agency. So I had maybe 10 works I presented very well. My portfolio looked clean and nice. “How?”, you ask yourselves, if I didn’t know what I know now. Well, I went on the internet, to be precise issuu and found the best portfolios and chose to copy the style of the one I liked best. Of course I didn’t copy it literally, I took elements and spaces and made my own that looked similar to the one I liked. There I really studied why some things looked better than the others. And it worked, I got the job! You now think: “Yeah, that’s how her creative career started and look at her now!” Hell no. I got the job and it seemed I will learn everything there. But no, they thought I already was way more advanced because my portfolio looked really professional. They thought I was a mid-level graphic designer and they wanted to hire someone with that level of knowledge. They didn’t want to teach me. I should have been fast and furious. To skip to the point – I wasn’t. I needed hours to find the way how to execute some things in Photoshop. I wasn’t good in InDesign (basically the easiest software ever – but I just didn’t use it before) and after a month the owner of the agency told me: “I took a risk to hire you, but I was looking for something else. Maybe it is my fault, maybe I should have seen you were more junior. But actually I think you should switch careers. I am not sure you will ever be a good graphic designer. You might want it and like it, but for me now, I think that is not your path. I told that to another person I know and I was right. That person is not a graphic designer now.”

THAT MADE ME CRY. People that hurt like hell. Everything I wanted in that moment was to become a graphic designer. In an agency. That was literally my only wish at that time. I went for drinks with a friend and I was crying and he was telling me that the dude was a jerk and it’s not like that and that I really need only a technical knowledge (a.k.a. sharpening my weapon) and I will soon be better than this guy imagined. It didn’t seem like that to me, and I saw a long ride ahead. But guys – it was true. Fast forward next 3 years, I was learning and working all the time. I learned from everything  and everywhere – looking at designs on dribble and behance,  graphic design books, I looked why magazines look good – I took aesthetics from everywhere. And you know what – it worked. Now I am working as a graphic design team lead, shoulder by shoulder with a great art director from whom I learn something every day (hopefully he learns something from me too 😁 ).

But what I wanted to say is – you will have hard moments. You will hear things like this and cry. But it is fine. Because now, I started this instagram quest (yes it is a side quest, not a side project) because I want to design home decor items for Slowdown studio, for Urban outfitters, for Anthropologie. And how will I do it if nobody sees my illustrations? So yes, I am doing it slowly, but patiently. I know that things take time, but this works every time: sharpen your weapons and keep showing up. So guys, if you don’t think you’re gonna make it, just repeat those words.

Also if you are not yet following @pigsandpencils on instagram – do that right now!

Have a nice day full of inspiration!

Yours truly,


Author Tamara

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Tamara Kramer
Vienna, Austria

All rights reserved Tamara Kramer.