Free as a bird: a case for pursuing passion projects


You might think that when I close my laptop after a long day I simply switch off. But, as I’m sure is the case for many creatives, outside of work I often find myself thinking about ideas for side projects and not always devoting enough time to bringing them to life. But I think we owe it to ourselves to make time to express our creatively.

It’s because of this I decided to dedicate more time to one of my own passion projects this year, Birds by Rose. As a designer, I know there are always new skills I could learn to hone my craft and novel ways that I can express my creativity outside the office. As well as enriching my skillset, Birds by Rose gives me a creative escape from the sometimes-rigid constraints of client briefs and agency life.

Good for what ails you

Photograph of a bird drawn into sand. Visualising that creative projects are good for your health, happiness and wellbeing. Passion projects are good for you. By indulging your appetite to create and pursuing your drive to bring your ideas to life, you will feel energised, happier and satisfied – a feeling the professionals call “flourishing”.

And, as this project is guided by your individual ownership over the work, self-driven processes and your own curiosity, you will naturally find joy in the work you create. The product becomes something that belongs to you – something you enjoy and something you are proud of.

“Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it.”

Seth Godin

Mutually beneficial

I have found that pursuing my own projects benefits my day-to-day work. By experimenting with my skills in the wild, I have been able to learn which approaches work, which don’t and how far my creative abilities can stretch. And sometimes when researching for my own projects, I’ve stumbled upon techniques and references that link to the tasks I am working on back at the office.

Side projects can also boost employee engagement. A few weeks ago, our in-house screen-printing extraordinaire, Saxon, hosted a T-shirt printing workshop in our office. It was a perfect example of how his personal interest became a collaborative – and inspiring – workplace activity (check out how we did over on our Facebook and Instagram). Personal projects like these enable inspiration to be reflected back into the workplace, which creates a fun space to work in.

Companies are recognising the benefits. Google encouraged its engineers to spend 20% of their working time focusing on company-related things that interests them personally. It’s led to many of Google’s most successful innovations including Gmail and Google News. 3M launched a similar initiative; it generated 22,800 business patents – one of which is the post-it note. People performed better because they were working on projects they were passionate about and they could flex their creative flair.

Think: about new lessons

Photographs of our designer experimenting with multiple mediums in a creative way. To create drawings of birds. In many cases, creative pastimes kick-start your brain into tackling new challenges and learning new skills. They encourage you to tap into new talents you never knew you had or, rediscover ones you forgot about.

Birds by Rose allows me to produce work in different styles and formats. It gives me the means to produce pieces that I might not get the opportunity to create for clients. Sometimes, this leads to new ways of working and thinking or even, in some cases, learning new crafts. I’m currently trying to get to grips with video editing software. Now, I know I won’t be walking up to claim my Oscar any time soon, but learning this in my own time will give me a new skill – and that benefits myself and The Frameworks.

Frame: the problem

As with any project – personal or professional – there’s always a problem to solve. And cracking them in your own projects teaches you new ways to think about obstacles and how you want to overcome them. Whatever your profession, we all have to solve problems, and the more we practise this outside of work the better prepared we will be for the next challenge.

Passion projects also force you to train your creative muscles and think up solutions to problems you might not have encountered before. There is no exact science to idea generation, but by practising with your own projects you can ensure you’re better placed to tackle them in the workplace or day-to-day life.

And here’s some food for thought:

“Nobel prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.”

The New York Times

Albert Einstein famously used his love for music (both playing and listening) to shape his thought processes when he faced difficultly with work. He even insisted that the theory of relativity occurred to him because of his childhood violin lessons: "My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception". For many, their artistic hobbies have led to flashes of brilliance allowing them to solve complex riddles that may have otherwise left them stumped. Perhaps indulging your own creative endeavour could lead you to make a breakthrough in your own field.

Make: mistakes

“To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Joseph Chilton Pearce

Often, with client work, there isn’t heaps of time to experiment or get things wrong. Clients are paying for your time – and they want results. Side-projects provide an opportunity to play around with ideas and embrace mistakes so you can understand what works and what doesn’t.

Mistakes are important. They allow you to improve. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. Having an arena to experiment, where everything doesn’t have to be perfect, can allow you to create work that strengthens your knowledge and experience.

Work: hard (and together)

Illustration of flamingos by Rose. Nothing worth doing is easy. And passion projects are no different. Christoph Gey, freelance art director and illustrator, has managed to squeeze his project, “Type Hype”, into his lunch break. By committing an hour or so every day, he has managed to create an extensive portfolio of original work that has now been featured covered by numerous media outlets, providing him with a platform to showcase his work.

Personal projects can also encourage collaboration. By engaging online (for example, on Instagram) and in collaborative workspaces you can meet other professionals that share your passion. These communities provide a space for you to bounce around ideas and gain important feedback. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is all you need.

Collaboration breeds innovation. Communities can provide you with fresh material and individuals who engage with your work will spur you on to continue creating.

We are all creative

Of course, being creative doesn’t need to be so black and white. I express creativity in my illustrations, but you might express your creativity differently – such as when you cook dinner, support for your favourite football team or even when you go fishing. Because, all of us can be creative.

So what are you waiting for? Pursue your passions and let your ideas soar.

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  • Creative