Constant Inspiration, Constant ResearchI recently had a speech at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, speaking to their freshmen class - incoming bright eyed students eager to enter the world of media development. These are the tips I came up with for anyone starting out or seeking inspiration.
Reading, writing and arithmetic were the foundations upon which most of us were taught when we were kids. Learn the 3 "r's", your teacher says to you. Well, I have found it extremely important to continue this sort of approach with my continued learning of multimedia and web technologies. But instead it is School, Books, Forums and Tutorials, Blogs and User Groups and Conferences. Parks and Art Museums can be added into that too, for just general inspiration.
School. Your schooling is the foundation of how you build your work. I got my foundation at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where I can say I "learned how to learn programs". Taking a project from start to finish is hard enough from a book, it is nice to know that if there is a new program or interface you need to learn to get a project done, you can learn it quickly. School taught me this valuable skill. I got my business base and background from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY., which has proved to be valuable. I never work on a project without keeping the clients needs first. You can never have too much schooling or too much base knowledge.
Books. If you don't like to read, learn quickly how to. When I was growing up, I read slow. I still do. I find myself struggling through many of my computer books, or at least getting through them at a snails pace. But its of paramount importance that we learn from them. It gives an added dimension of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in the world. The more books you cross reference, the more extended your knowledge.
Forums and Tutorials. When you are in a pinch it is of the utmost importance to get an answer and get it quickly. This is why it is important to enter into many different and varied forums that you can. Start out by just reading them and getting a feel for them, eventually you will notice which entries get responses and which don't (Just a hint - if you post 200 lines of code you are likely going to get 0 responses - hone in on the problem before you post). Tutorials are the opposite of forums - usually this is a longer term solution to a problem or area of expertise you want to master. But again, it will help cultivate your skills. I have found Kirupa, SitePoint and Ultrashock to be outstanding forum sites. It should also be noted for those of you trying to keep up with ActionScript 3 these days, there is a great forum post on Kirupa - ActionScript 3.0 Tip of the Day.
Blogs. Well since you are reading this, it is probably a sure thing that you know about blogs. Or at least you are starting to get exposed to blogs. In any case, they are the best way to keep up with the latest going on an ever changing media field. When things happen, like Adobe acquiring Macromedia - you are the first to know. Keeping away from blogs is turning your back on the technology that is happening today. Every blog links off to other blogs, so for brevity, I will recommend starting at Rob Hall's blog, A List Apart and Full as a Goog. A really outstanding tutorial reference is not free, but very solid: Lynda.com. If you are looking for free tutorials, check out gotoandlearn.com.
User Groups and Conferences. It is of the most important that you get out and interact with the community at large. Get into as many speaking engagements as you can. Go to as many speaking engagements as you can. Those are two great pieces of advice, because the more you talk through your problems and successes the more success will follow in the future. Like Kevin Nealon said in Happy Gilmore "It is cyclical, feel the flow". The more you interact the better you become. Here are a list of conferences and user groups I have attended: Philadelphia Flash Platform AUG (what you thought I wasn't going to plug it?), Art Director's Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Area Computer Society, AIGA, Cold Fusion User Group, Flash Forward, Flash in the Can, Max, Semi-Permanent. As you can see, there is not a lack of reasons to get out and participate in person and not just over the computer.
Inspirational Resources. We all need inspiration. It is hard work staying on the cutting edge. Heck its hard work even coming up with a single idea on most days. That is why it is so important to get outside. It is so easy to stay in and do work all the time, that we often forget to interact with the rest of the world. Parks are a great way to see and be seen by nature. Some of the most inspirational moments are when we are interacting with nature around us. Heck, that's why we get pets, to stay more in tune with animals around us. They teach us, as we teach them. Here are some great parks to check out: Fairmount Park, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Brandywine Creek State Park. In addition it is equally important (especially if its a rainy day) to hit the museums. The best art in the world will always inspire us and these are some gems of museums, some of which are in our backyard: Philadelphia Art Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Brandywine River Museum, MOMA. It should also be noted that inspiration is far from limited to these sources. Inspiration is all around us, you just need to know where to find your own inspiration. Each of us are individuals, and as such we each are inspired by things around us in different ways too.
Summary. Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My! If you are starting out in media, you may be overwhelmed at times, but it is important to keep focus on what you are doing, and always strive to do your work a little better each day. If you follow that rule you will be successful. It is important to love what you do everyday. When you do, you can be more creative day in and day out. Keep researching and keep inspiring yourself in the world around you.