by Artwell Nwaila (@artwelln) Over the past couple of years, I’ve given many talks and lectures at tertiary institutions at which I am asked the same question over and over, regardless of the discussion topic: “What advice would you give young creatives who are about to enter the industry?”

I usually give a very rushed answer and leave, never satisfied with my response. So, today, I offer an arty-farty letter to a younger, skinnier, prettier me.

Here we go:

Dear young, ambitious Artwell with a full head of hair


Congratulations on graduating; now is your time to face the big creative world in style. But, first, let me give you a few valuable pointers before you go forth and create.

1. It’s not how good you are

Yes, skill will get you the job but it won’t get you to the top. Agencies have talented people at every corner and you will notice that it’s the outspoken who rise to the top. They generally have silly hairstyles.

I spent my first year learning every tutorial and attending every design workshop, and yet I remained nameless in a big creative organisation. It took one ballsy challenge to finally get noticed. I’ll tell you about that later.

2. Your hot artwork will be signed-off by someone who knows nothing about creativity. Live with it!

With that being said, start mastering your sales skills now as it will come in handy. He or she who can sell the kak out of concepts succeeds.

I’ve learnt to study my clients’ likes and dislikes, and used those insights to sell my work.

3. Design is a service

Only when you fully understand this point will you start rising up the ranks. Don’t let TV fool you; rock-star tendencies are not accepted by most clients.

4. You won’t get rich

If you’re good, you’ll get fame, you’ll get awards and the odd alcohol-poisoning incident but wealth is unlikely unless you take the big jump and do it on your own. Stay ambitious; it’s a good thing.

I take my hat off to those who have started their own businesses; I bow to those who maintain a 9-to-5 while making a good second income from freelancing. I am the latter — you don’t have to risk everything to fill up those pockets.

5. Great creatives steal

Great ideas are usually referenced form somewhere else. No idea is truly unique. Picasso said it himself: “Great artists steal”. Just make sure you steal smartly!

6. Get controversial

Demand attention by doing something crazy; once you have them by the marbles, show them how brilliant you are through your work. Just don’t get fired in the process.

My route is completely wrong but it got tongues wagging.

As a junior designer, I told a creative director from an agency I didn’t work for to go fornicate with himself (for lack of a better word) in front of his peers. It was one of those moments where the juniors where being treated like kids at an industry get-together. I used the talk around that moment to show off my skills.

7. Get comfortable with saying stupid things

Once you get over this hurdle, you’ll be the master of sharing ideas.

As a lead creative, I start with telling my team that there are no dumb suggestions. All I want to hear are thoughts.

8. Compete

Compete in every competition you come across — it’s the best way to be up-to-date with current trends.

I used competitions to get a real understanding of my skill levels.

9. Learn something new every month.

It sounds crazy but one day your knowledge of pottery might get you that awesome job.

I live by this rule solidly. All the small things I’ve learnt in the past years are not directly linked to my craft but I believe they have played a part in how I got to where I am now. The best example is three years ago, when I taught myself how to make websites. The first site I would complete would be SA Creatives.

10. Make money while you practice

Use freelance opportunities to polish your craft; most of your bosses will be happy with this, so long as it is not done during work hours.

I encourage my team to make freelance money. It benefits my agency as the team is constantly practicing.

11. Don’t eat an apple after a rough night

Seriously, don’t.

The older fatter you
Artwell Nwaila

Artwell Nwaila

Artwell Nwaila (@artwelln) is a creative director at Offlimit Communications and publisher of the award-winning creative publication SA Creatives (@thesacreatives). His monthly column on MarkLives, “Creation”, takes a look at creative work from around the world and what we can learn from it in South Africa.


— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every three work days. Sign up here!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist