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The power of personal projects

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When was the last time you sat down and did something just for you?

If you’re struggling to remember that far back, then this is one is for you! Graphic Designer and Illustrator Jane Bowyer explains the importance of fitting in those personal projects you’ve been itching to get started and how it could turn into your next paid job.

When juggling work commitments, life admin and fitting in that Netflix series everyone’s been talking about, taking time out to dedicate to a personal project can seem like an impossible task. However, stepping away from big brand work or corporate campaigns to create something you’re passionate about can produce the most powerful outcome.

Personal projects are a great way to make work with purpose,” says Jane.  “They help you to explore what it is your passionate about and I think when you find your passion you find your purpose, which is really important for our well-being.

“I think over the last decade people’s consciences have shifted. Designers perhaps don’t get the same pleasure or buzz from working on large campaigns for famous/cool brands as they once did. I think people want to be making work that they can see make a difference and have a positive impact.”

It’s these personal projects that allow for the type of playfulness and creativity that you’ll often see littering the Instagram feeds of your favourite designers. For instance most of the roster of speakers at the recent Birmingham Design Festival admitted “it’s not the work that pays the bills we post out.” However, it’s from cementing your style and interests in this way that can open the door to new opportunities. For Jane, this came when her project Women In Print was picked up by The National Trust.

Women in Print

Women in Print was born out of Jane’s activism around the No More Page 3 campaign, wanting to be part of something that was challenging the way women were being portrayed in print.

“The exhibition was my way of shining a light on the less-known histories/stories of women from Greater Manchester or who had in some way contributed to the area. I also wanted to put on an exhibition of work by some of the incredibly creative, talented women who were working in Manchester to address an industry gender-imbalance.”

She invited sixteen designers, illustrators and printmakers to create a piece of work about an iconic women from Greater Manchester and put those works on display, selling a limited run. All proceeds raised from the sale of prints went to Manchester Women’s Aid.

“I never intended the exhibition to be more than a one-off show but momentum quickly gathered around the project and the exhibition went ‘on tour’ around several venues in Manchester including The Pankhurst Centre and The Co-op’s new headquarters.

“Last year I was approached by the National Trust to work with them as part of the centenary celebrations of some women getting the right to vote. I pitched the idea that we put on a Women in Print exhibition to tell the stories of the women who have lived and worked at Dunham Massey –  a National Trust property south of Manchester.”

Through this collaboration Jane was able to commission five artists to create unique pieces of work which are now on display in the Great Gallery at Dunham Massey Hall.

“I feel very proud that a personal project has grown to a point where I’m able to commission, through an organisation like the National Trust, designers and artists to create work which not only tells the hidden histories of women but also helps raise the profile of the talented, creative women we have working in the north of England.”

And Jane’s work on Women in Print hasn’t come to an end just yet, with the exhibition at Dunham Massey running until November 4th 2018, workshops on the project planned across the city and a plan to increase the projects digital presence.

Making time for your personal projects

So, how does a graphic designer and illustrator running an independent studio in Manchester find the time and motivation to tap into your creativity even when you’ve clocked off?

1) If you really want to do something, you simply have to make the time to do it.

Even if it’s just an hour a day a few days a week. I find breaking the project down into manageable, smaller chunks and writing small ‘to-do’ lists helps you to delegate time more efficiently.

2) Reach out to people

I find discussing the project with other people makes it feel more ‘real’. My good friend Laura Boast has recently launched a magazine. A couple of years ago I told her my theory that if you tell someone you’re going to do something then it makes you do it because those people will check in with you about it, she was the first person I told about Women in Print and I was the first personal she told about her magazine. It’s also good to reach out to people because you might find someone who you can collaborate with.”

As tempting as it can be to simply switch off after a day at work, it’s important to set yourself challenges and tasks to grow both personally, exploring your style and passions, as well as potentially growing your client base.


Feeling inspired to create something for yourself? Discover over 650 custom products waiting for your design.

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