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Artist Evie Kemp: The advice I’d give my 22-year-old younger self

I’m wary of giving my 22-year-old self too much advice, I don’t want to rock the boat or make her complacent. If I know anything about all ages of myself, it’s that given the opportunity to sleep in or procrastinate, she will.

At 22 I was finishing up my degree in Graphic Design at AUT, I had a pretty sweet gig making ads at the NZ Herald, and somehow had managed to score myself a job illustrating my first children’s book “A Dog Like That” written by Janene Cooper. I was working hard and constantly worried about where I was going with my life despite everything ticking away quite nicely. I was terrified I was going to be found out as the imposter I must be, or perhaps worse, learning that clear cutting fishing rods for a full page “Hunting & Fishing” advert was going to be the pinnacle of my career.

The first thing I’d want to tell my younger self, would be soon you’ll never clear cut another fishing rod and you’ll be nostalgic for the days of idly clicking round tiny pictures of camping gear on the world’s oldest PC. You will never again be paid for something so relaxing. You will also never again get free pizza every Friday lunchtime. I’m sorry. Treasure it.

But, seriously, I’d to tell her to enjoy the moment, and to be proud, and to learn to talk about her work with respect. You design stuff, therefore you’re a designer (when you’re not just clear cutting anway). I’d encourage her to explore every opportunity but know her worth – maybe even read a few more of those “don’t work for free” articles until it really hits home. Educate yourself on pricing as best you can, as soon as you can.

Enter those competitions and pitch for that work that you don’t yet feel qualified for – you’re actually probably never going to feel qualified, but chances are nor does anyone else.  Always say yes to things that sound awesome, and figure out the “how” afterwards. Perhaps learn how to both ask for help and delegate a little. Also, consider using a to-do list prior to 2017.

Always say yes to things that sound awesome, and figure out the “how” afterwards

I’d like her to know that she’s never going to fit in, but that eventually she’ll realise she wouldn’t even want to. I’d tell her to stop apologizing for being herself and instead, to find her voice, her space and her opinions. You want your work to be marmite – if nobody hates it, then nobody loves it either.  But, whatever else you do, never read the comments.

I wouldn’t want to tell her about the few, quite epic failures that she hadn’t yet even imagined. The business ideas (huge screen printing studio, bespoke dog collars, subscription art service) she’ll sink far too much money in to and come out heartbroken and a bit red faced.  It’s a huge cliché but she’s going to learn some important lessons, and have some good experiences there. It takes a good couple of years to get over these fails but learning to trust your gut and know when to walk away is a price worth paying.

And on the flip side of that, recognize when your heart is telling you to go for it. Your business will be 90% wholesaling art prints for almost 7 years, and then you’ll decide to pack it in to expand your creative horizons. It sounds like a terrible decision (both at the time and in retrospect) but keep your eye on the prize, and do what you need to keep that creative passion alive (even if it means a bit of a scary year – you can always sell some stuff on Trademe). When you’re working for yourself, instinct is vital – listen to it, and hone it. What’s the point of running the show if you’re still working with assholes?

Mostly I’d want to tell her I’m proud of her – that awkward, unsure 22 year old embarking on a new path and going it alone. You’ve got this.

You want your work to be marmite – if nobody hates it, then nobody loves it either.  

Though, unfortunately, that imposter syndrome? It’s in it for the long haul.

Evie Kemp is part of Art-Ache, which “delves into the studios of artists and shares the stories and treasures within”, as part of Auckland’s Artweek, at Ellen Melville Hall in the Pioneer Women’s Centre, Tuesday, October 9, 5pm.

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