Why side projects are essential for creatives

Gavin Strange
Gavin Strange (Image credit: Jamfactory)

There comes a point in most designers' careers when the question of how to balance passion projects and client work becomes pertinent. While the former can provide invaluable creative fulfilment and inspiration, it's often the latter that pays the bills. But as much as possible, designers and artists should try to keep their personal projects alive.

In an inspiring talk at this year's OFFF Festival in Barcelona, Bristol-based designer and director Gavin Strange stressed the importance of creative side projects, and making work for yourself. (Inspired to get creating? Check out the best laptops for graphic design.)

Gavin Strange on stage at OFFF Barcelona

Gavin Strange on stage at OFFF Barcelona (Image credit: Future)

Working as a director and designer at animation studio Aardman by day, and under the moniker Jamfactory by night, Strange is a passionate advocate of the side project, and "indulges in all manner of passion projects from filmmaking to illustration, toy design to photography and even making music". Onstage at OFFF, Strange emphasised how personal projects are not only essential for creative satisfaction, but can also lead to client work.

"You don’t stop having ideas as a kid," he said when explaining his impetus for starting Jamfactory. "It's where I can make anything – something nobody has asked me to make." He adds, "You’ve got to fundamentally be happy that you create for both other people, and yourself."

While fitting personal projects around professional work can be difficult, Strange explains how he has found a routine, or "loop", that works for him. "I have a job – a day thing – and I do my stuff at night. I’ve done this for 20 years and realised this cycle works for me. In the day job I can learn, grow and be a good team member. At night, I can go and do everything else. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to make sure I am creatively satisfied. And ultimately, as a creative, you're hired based on what you create – whether you made something at 3pm for a client or 3am for yourself because you couldn’t sleep doesn’t matter." 

And almost as important as creating your own work is creating your own space in which to do it. "I find it really important to carve out a space to be creative and be me. It facilitates me being creative. You need ammunition to be happy and creative, and for me, a huge part of that is my space."

Indeed, after a difficult few years thanks to the pandemic, this year's OFFF showed that the creative community is as alive and inspired as ever. For more inspiration from this year's festival, check out the awesome opening film by Framestore, and get a behind-the-scenes peek at the design of some of your favourite Spotify playlist covers

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Daniel John
Senior News Editor

Daniel John is Senior News Editor at Creative Bloq. He reports on the worlds of art, design, branding and lifestyle tech (which often translates to tech made by Apple). He joined in 2020 after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more.