Creative Mornings with Nick Campbell: Tips for doing your best work and succeeding as a freelancer

Nick Campbell is an animator, photographer, filmmaker and this month’s speaker at breakfast lecture series, CreativeMornings. After working on TV commercials and title sequences at Digital Kitchen, he started BananaCameraCo, an iPhone Photo App company, and Greyscalegorilla, a personal blog that became one of the leading sites to learn about motion graphics and 3D software.

Interesting people making career transitions have always fascinated Nick. For his speech at Creative Mornings he decided to share how he successfully made the transition from a full-time employee at Digital Kitchen to a freelancer who works mainly on passion projects. 

Here are Nick’s tips for doing your best work: 

Realize where your drive comes from

“The drive to go from being somewhat satisfied to being totally satisfied in a creative career is driven by wanting to do more of what makes you happy,” Nick said. Even early on he wasn’t satisfied with working for simply anyone who would hire him. This resulted in an unconventional job for the creative 15 year old: a magic trick salesman.

Follow what you fall in love with

Nick fell in love with animation after seeing a film by MK12 on public access television. To this day he describes the film as “a mix of everything I love.” Once he found out it was created in AfterEffects he started researching the program and became obsessed with motion graphics. He spent the next five years perfecting his skills.

Surround yourself with your heros

When Nick started working at Digital Kitchen he realized he needed to study something new to supplement his newfound talent in motion graphics. “I knew everything about AfterEffects. What I didn’t know was anything about design… [like] why was my shit so ugly?”

Nick was able to master design by placing himself in the same room as his design heros. These heros taught him not by changing things for him but by “sharing their knowledge and telling me why something needs to be changed,” he said. His advice for creatives looking for mentoring is simple:

“Don’t be the best in the room—Go somewhere were you can be humbled by someone who is great,” he said. 

Do what makes you happy

Nick has found that being happy is a simple way to ensure that you make better stuff. “I didn’t get into this to make work for clients, necessarily—they just happened to be paying,” he said. So, what happens when you get to where you think you want to be and still aren’t one-hundred percent happy? Start taking risks.

Have an entrepreneurial mindset

He soon began experimenting with iStockPhoto, a site that let him upload his photos and make a percentage of money off of them every time someone bought one. This was a new, interesting idea for Nick: he suddenly realized that he didn’t have to trade time for money; you can make money over time with the work you already had. After this he started taking even more risks and, as he put it, became his own client. It was around this time that he founded BananaCameraCo, his iPhone App company.

Set deadlines

“Deadlines cure writers block,” said Nick. To help speed up long projects he began giving them short deadlines. “With long deadlines you tend to screw around. Give yourself a two-week deadline and just send out what you have. Then decide if it is worth pursuing,” he said. Nick takes a similar attitude towards freelancing: “You don’t have to do it in a big jump – try little things,” he said. Starting to make a little money on the side first will lower your anxiety about leaving your fulltime job. He also recommends keeping up good relationships with people you work with so you can always go back to a salary job if you decide that route works better for you.

CreativeMornings is a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types that Doejo recently had the pleasure of hosting. The Chicago chapter, previously run by Mig Reyes of 37Signals, was passed down to Kim Knoll and Kyle Eetmoed of Knoed Creative, a Chicago graphic design studio, during the January presentation. More information on upcoming CreativeMornings events around the globe can be found here.

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