8 great creative hobbies to start in 2018

05. Photography

Shona Cutt captured this stunning shot of Gary Numan at Bristol’s Colston Hall last year. © Shona Cutt

Shona Cutt captured this stunning shot of Gary Numan at Bristol’s Colston Hall last year. © Shona Cutt

Not every hobby remains just a hobby; for some it can become a useful second source of income. Any they include Shona Cutt, a freelance graphic designer based in Bath, for whom music photography has moved from hobby to a parallel career. 

“I first started getting into music photography in 2006 after I was taking a small point and shoot camera to the gigs I was going to,” she recalls. “I was also obsessively reading music magazines, and seeing other photographers’ work published gave me the hunger to do the same.”

She finally took the plunge, buying her first DSLR in 2011, and ended up going on a mini-tour with a friend's band across the central belt of Scotland. “I loved it,” she recalls. “I hadn’t had any photography training, but it's something I've just always had a passion for.”

Practise makes perfect

With live gigs, she says, practice makes perfect. “You start to develop an anticipation for what the performers are going to do next, and learning how to deal with almost non-existent lighting is essential. And it’s great fun. I love the challenge of capturing the energy of a live performance and working with constantly changing light, to create memories for the audience and the musicians themselves.”

Her experiences with music photography has shaped her day-to-day design work too. “The editing skills I've developed help to get the most from an image, and being a photographer myself has given me more confidence in being able to art direct other photographers – especially on the occasions when it was over the phone,” she explains. “And overall it's helped shape my eye for spotting a striking image.”

For anyone wishing to get into music photography, she offers the following advice. “Start with photographing bands in pubs, open mics and so on. Some smaller venues will let you take a camera in; I would always ask first. Just get out and shoot as much as possible, not just gigs: everything. Also, save your money on the higher-end cameras to start with and get as fast a lens as you can afford: I found out the hard way!“ 

“There are more blogs and websites around now than when I first started,” she adds. “Matthias Hombauer runs a great workshop programme and community with How To Become A Rockstar Photographer and Todd Owyoung's website helped me enormously when looking to buy my first DSLR.”

06. Painting miniature figures 

Painting miniature figures might sound like a creative hobby that’s strictly limited to children. But grown-ups can get a lot out of it too, says Stewart Ainslie, one half of Don’t Walk in Stirling. 

He’s been painting miniatures since he was a child, but it was renowned illustrator Steve Simpson who encouraged him to continue his passion as an adult and share his love for his “geeky hobby” with others. 

For Ainslie, this hobby offers one clear benefit to the modern-day creative: total escapism. “Sculpting and painting such small figures can take hours, so it requires your full concentration, and that’s really important to me,” he says. “It takes me away from screens, notifications and the pub. I will often switch my phone off, or leave it in another room entirely; crazy, right? Also, you can’t really paint well if you’ve had one coffee too many, and obviously alcohol doesn’t help much either.”

Sculpting and painting such small figures requires your full concentration. It takes me away from screens, notifications and the pub

“There’s a current trend for meditation and mindfulness right now,” he continues. “And that’s all very well and good, but often it still involves a phone or some kind of app. Miniature making, and painting, is removed from all the noise that clouds so much of our professional and personal lives. Did I mention the lack of constraints or clients? If I think Orks look better with yellow skin, then so be it!“

“If you really want to do something unique: pick up some modelling clay and sculpting tools,” he concludes. “It’s pretty cheap and surprisingly clean to use. Nothing beats painting a miniature that you’ve sculpted from nothing!”

07. Gardening

Craig Minchington’s garden offers him a way to switch off from the modern world

Craig Minchington’s garden offers him a way to switch off from the modern world

If you ever want to feel creative and alive, then what better pastime to pursue than gardening, where you’re actually creating and nuturing living things? 

Craig Minchington, an award-winning graphic designer living and working in Bristol, has always been a fan. But since moving in with his girlfriend last December and having their own garden he’s recently become, in his own words, “slightly obsessed”. 

“For me it's still a creative channel but away from computers, TV and phones,” he explains. "Somewhere I can switch off, zone out and give my eyes and brain a rest. Sometimes I go out thinking I'll just repot a few plants, then next thing I know, I'm out there for five hours.”

Make it up as you go along

And while some might see gardening as mere drudgery, Minchington sees it as “totally creative. I had a blank canvas of empty pots and flower beds, so I've planned out colour combos of flowers, placement of tall growing shrubs with small bushes, and so on.” It’s also a way to ensure a good work-life balance. “I have had to take time off from work in the past through complete burnout,” he explains, “so gardening was a conscious effort to amend past mistakes.”

For anyone thinking of taking up gardening, his main tip is: “Just go for it and don't be afraid to mess up. I literally have no clue what I'm doing. I went to a garden centre, bought some plants and pots, and started from there. I'm making it up as I go along, and that's half the fun. Just buy easy growing plants: they all have labels on them explaining the conditions they need so you can't go wrong. And even if nothing grows, then at least you got outside, away from screens and had a bit of a workout.”

08. CGI art 

For many readers of Creative Bloq, CGI art will be their full-time profession. But for others, like Mark Dearman, creative director at Bristol agency True, it’s a hobby that takes them outside of their normal day job. 

“I started to experiment with CGI around seven years ago,” he explains. “In part this was to allow me to create assets and motion for commercial projects. But I also wanted an outlet for ideas that weren’t necessarily linked to business objectives.“

What it offers him is the freedom to explore ideas and techniques without any commercial constraints, he continues. “When you’re working to a deadline, you don’t always have the luxury of time to experiment. Experimentation and reflection are key to personal growth. I try and do a bit every day, even if it’s only an hour. Usually over lunch or early evening. I render through the night.”

I believe creation is an act of discovery; if you want to come up with good and new ideas, you have to put in the time

And over the years, it’s become an invaluable part of his creative process. “I believe creation is an act of discovery; if you want to come up with good and new ideas, you have to put in the time,” he reasons. “Often, the idea I start with has become something completely different and unexpected by the end of the process. I use my Instagram feed as a digital sketchbook and reference it in my day-to-day work.”

For this reason, he’d always encourage his fellow designers to take up a creative hobby. “It doesn’t have to be CGI, it could be photography, illustration, video and so on – they can all be personally rewarding and the positive impact on your work can’t be overstated. It shifts your perspective and broadens your creative abilities.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing: you have to think carefully about how to sustain your efforts. “When you start to learn something new you pick up a lot, fast. Once you’ve got all the beginner stuff out the way, you become painfully aware of how much more there is to learn and how long it will take to master. Progress becomes slower and it can become disheartening. That’s where you have to build it into your routine, otherwise it can fall by the wayside. Make it part of your day."

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