August 2, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Independent Designer Coleen Baik’s Storylines and Illustration Series

What are you working on—on the side?

I recently wrapped up my #100DayProject, #100DaysOfStorylines. Every day, I created a simple line drawing and titled it based on a story it evoked. The point was to focus on the joy of making and engagement of imagination rather than painstaking labor toward a predefined end. I took the project on at the last minute on a whim, but it quickly became something I looked forward to every day. There really is a story in everything. I loved how much it gave back relative to how little it took, how something so easy and minimal could evoke so much laughter or contemplation, how participatory it was, how fun for both maker and audience. It was a powerful learning experience for me, realizing that making things worth sharing doesn’t have to be arduous. The project lives on at, in industrial and print incarnations, and upcoming exhibits.

Another project I’ve been working on is called “Ithaca” (from Part I below), a five-part illustration series which I’ve been releasing slowly on Medium. I’m working on part four now. The last, fifth part, will not be published online. The exercise is a foundation for a larger project which I would love to see published in full, in print. Ithaca is a story about a queen who’s lost at sea, seeking a way back home. It asks a lot of questions about the meaning of home—which I’ve tackled before—and features a strong female character who’s intentionally obscure of face (it could be anyone). It also challenges the idea that we should avoid unsettling narrative in storytelling, especially with children who are so naturally attuned to mystery, struggle and darkness.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I’m an independent designer, so I’ve a bit more flexibility around how I compartmentalize my time. It’s the positive tradeoff to all of the uncertainty that comes with freelancing, and so far, it’s been worth it. I try to schedule a certain number of client projects per year, spread out over the months. I try to travel, read and learn as much as possible, while jamming on personal projects, in between. Though I’ve succeeded in juggling both client and personal work simultaneously, what’s worked best for me is to give myself the space and time to get fully immersed in one or the other.

Why have a side project?

I actually don’t think of these as “side projects” so much as priorities. I enjoy client work a lot; I love working with other people, contributing to projects I care about, and obviously I have to pay my bills. But above all, it’s important for me to prioritize happiness, and it makes me happy to make art, write, tell stories that connect with folks. That’s pretty much my goal in life—if I had to sum it up in a sentence: to make things that move people. So I make labor of love a priority.

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Images courtesy of Coleen Baik.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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