4 creative career tips you didn't know you needed

Renowned costume designer Ane Crabtree isn't one to mince her words. In a recent interview with Creative Bloq, this legendary creative pulled on her 28 years of experience in the industry to share a wealth of insight on how aspiring designers can realise where their creative passions lie. Strong and direct, while passionate and warm, this is one woman who isn't afraid to tell it straight. 

For those of you not familiar with her work, Crabtree made an immediate and lasting impression when she created the look for The Sopranos in the original HBO pilot. Since then she has worked on a number of hit TV shows, but is now best known for being the woman behind the blood red robe and white wing bonnet costume from American dystopian drama The Handmaid's Tale. 

Profile photo of Ane Crabtree

Costume designer Ane Crabtree is best known for creating the now infamous red robes and white wing bonnets in The Handmaid's Tale. Image credit: Nathan Cyprys

Crabtree's path to Hollywood was anything but traditional, but that just makes her all the more alluring. Best seen – and heard – in person, Crabtree will be taking the main stage at this year's Design Indaba, with what looks set to be an unmissable keynote. To whet your appetite before then, here, she shares some inspiring insight on how to figure out your creative passion, plus more on what she has in store for Design Indaba attendees. 

01. Have an interest in mankind 

"I think anyone giving advice is a fool because they are always just saying what works for them, and you never know what's going to work for others," Crabtree begins. "But what I tell everyone I try to help, is the thing that helped me most in my career: having an interest in mankind is the greatest education. 

"You have to have an interest in people, in their pathos, in their journey and their interior more than their exterior. You have to learn the art of being immersed in humanity and you have to study history to know where we've been and where we're headed. And don't just do a lazy look-up on Google." 

02. Visit the places you don't want to go

Crabtree's wasn't always Hollywood glitz and glamour. Born in South Dakota and raised in Kentucky as part of a multi-racial family came with its difficulties. "I came from extreme poverty in Kentucky, and some of my really early childhood memories are of my mom not being able to just go and buy clothes," she says. "So instead she made them so I could fit in with the rest of society."

But Crabtree is a great believer of drawing on your experiences to inspire your creativity, even the ones you might not want to remember. 

"It wasn't until I was 40-something, when I worked on FX's pilot Justified that I had to research Kentucky. Up to that point, I just used to not deal with that because it was bad news for me. So it was the first time I started researching where I grew up, Appalachia in particular, and I just fell in love with it. I call these things 'ugly pretty' gifts. 

"I think the things that are the most discordant in your life and the things that are the most seemingly nightmarish have a way of karmically creatively turning around and inspiring you later."

03. Leave your home town 

"I would also say to every young person, leave your home f**king town," Crabtree advises. "I needed to because it was too much. Leave your comfort zone and go to a different school, environment or place – travel!

"Whichever you do, just get engaged in your world and in worlds that are not your own, and get engaged with histories that are not your own and apply that to the characters or designs you are creating. Put your phone down and engage with somebody and learn why they move like that. What are their fears? What are their influences? And throw that into a character. That has been the most helpful thing for me."

04. Know who you are

"Other people have told me that when I'm in a room, I'm used to sell a project," she says. "I'm used to sell a project because I'm a great salesperson, but my sales person connection is: 'I want your life to be better because of the creativity and I can give you that'. 

"You can call that ego, but I call it love, in a base form. There's definitely something in having an awareness of who you are and what that is, you know, that's going to bring something different to the table." 

See Ane Crabtree live at Design Indaba 2019

Design Indaba, Cape Town's premier creative conference, is just a couple of weeks away now, but there's still time to get a ticket and see Ane Crabtree live on stage. Here's what she had to say about what she has up her sleeve for the conference:

"The overall themes are death and rebirth and man vs nature. I'm going to try to convey a very abstract idea how the influences of nature have inspired my work and also how it's kind of been there since birth, in everybody. And how you have to go into dark places to find those answers." Design Indaba kicks off on 27 February 2019 – and we can't wait! 

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Kerrie Hughes

Kerrie Hughes is Editor at Creative Bloq. One of the original CB crew, Kerrie joined the team back in 2013 after moving from her role as staff writer on 3D World. Since then she's written regularly for other creative publications. Kerrie's work for Creative Bloq involves managing the team and the site's content, developing and maintaining commercial partnerships, and finding innovative ways to bring Creative Bloq's audience the content they're looking for.