Staying Ahead as a Designer


This is a small sketch I did recently on my Ipod using a program called Brushes and my new Bamboo stylus from Wacom

Took me about 20mins to get it done. I used a reference shot of the 1909 Blitzen Benz (very cool race car)

I ask myself this question all the time. How do I stay ahead of the game in the design world. There are so many ways to approach this question. I know that as an artist and designer I never feel that I can say that “I am ahead of the game”. I feel I always will need to improve my work. Through the years it seems the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. Now another approach might be to look at your “momentum”. As you go through life as a designer or artist your projects will tend to get better and better as you improve. Your responsibility will become greater.You have to work hard and take the hard task head on. Even if it means you might fail. You will learn. Believe me I have failed so many times when it comes to clients and jobs but I have to press forward and learn from that experience and not give up. After doing that several times I start to learn what not to do and what to do. You start to build what I would consider momentum. I have been a professional designer for the past 13yrs and I am feeling like I have momentum only in the last few years. I receive jobs from big corporations and they are usually pretty darn cool. It has taken me several years of hard work and failing. I have always viewed myself as one of those artist that has had to work really hard to become talanted. Most of my classmates at Art Center were so much more talented than me but I was like a pit bull when it came to my skills. I pushed myself hard to produce good work. I would do that and my stuff still would not hold up to their work. But I have been relentless on improving myself and by doing that I have been able to build momentum through the years. So to say the least I never take it lightly when somebody tells me they enjoy my work because I realize it has taken me years to get to that point and I never gave up along the way. I heard this quote recently from the Dave Ramsey podcast “Momentum is not an accident it is created”

So please share how you have built momentum for yourself by leaving a comment below. Remember I will send out some original artwork to people that participate. But I will never know your name if you don’t leave feedback.



    For me, it’s just doing many different things but keeping a common thread somehow. For example, I picked up knife throwing a few years ago and found it overlapped design when I started to make my own knives and designing logos etc.

    I also stopped comparing myself to the people I admired. I found I had experiences I could bring to design/art etc that others didn’t and that’s what made my stuff unique. I could never be like anyone else because they brought their own experiences to their work. It took a while to learn that but it was very liberating and gave me a lot of momentum!

    • Dwayne Vance

      Great point!

  2. James mundy

    I’m never ahead of the game there is always someone’s work which I feel is way better then mine I’m glad im not ahead as it’s that work that inspires me to keep going and up my game , I’ve been freelance since university 4 yrs as a designer and I’m happy at the position I’m in I always push for more and look forward to the future one thing I don’t want is to think I’m the best as believe I’ll have nothing to aim for. Keep up the good work dwayne !

    • Dwayne Vance

      Yep I agree. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jeremy Lacy

    Dwayne, Thanks for sharing and being so open.


    I totally agree and can relate to this post. I’m 38 and have been in the design field for about 18years now. I feel like it’s a constant battle and push to better myself and my talents (and sort of keep up with the pack!). Especially with how much great talent there is out there these days and how visible this field is now. Somewhere along the way I got side tracked from following my passion (transportation design) and ended up doing environmental design. One year turned into 10 then 18. I had a tough choice to make about 15 years ago – stay with my reliable job or take a leap and join Ford’s clay modeling department, the invite was there I just had to go. Fear held me back… Now, I’m tied down with responsibilities and taking those risks is even harder. I wish I could’ve seen that back then.

    2012 has been a year of change for me though. I made a conscious decision to change things, step out, get uncomfortable and make myself more visible. It wasn’t a new years resolution but more of a commitment to my dreams & passions. I’m still holding down my day job as a lead designer for a small environmental design company and am very thankful for that. In the evenings I’ve started doing freelance work for the first time. My own thing, taking ownership. It’s going really well and I’m slowly building up my client list. Like you said, It takes patients and time – I’m still in the early stages but it’s satisfying and fun. I’ve also focused on my passion and, thanks to you and Masters of Chicken Scratch as inspiration, I’ve been focusing on what I really love to do, sketch & design hot rods and motorcycles. I’m also a firm believer in the “garage built” revolution and finished building my first cafe racer and have moved onto my next cafe project. I’m not doing this to get famous but more because it feels right, it’s the right time. Sketching and wrenching in the garage are the only times that I get into the “zone” these days and feel totally at peace. I’ve pushed out more of my own stuff in the last year than I’ve ever done. I started a front page called Lacy Rods and Bikes to give my passion a home, still a work in progress but it’s more than I had a year ago. Gotta keep pushing if it’s learning a new piece of software to stay current or solving a problem in the garage. Who knows where I will end up but, like you, I’m not giving up. Keep pushing, momentum… It’s an exciting time…

    Sorry for the long-winded post, I don’t usually leave comments but this topic parallels with what I’ve been hammering through personally lately…

    • Dwayne Vance

      I love long winded post. It means something to you and I appreciate that. Thanks for putting your story out there for others to read.

  4. Hasan Ahmed

    Dear Dwayne,

    Thanks for sharing your core experiance, it gives me ambitions from the early morning, as well as motivate me to draw forward and to do what ever I am dreaming to do, I am sure more after I read your words that I will succeed.

    Once it came to drawing, I’ve start focus on drawing improvement at 11 years old. I feel that I’ve improved my work but still I am looking for the best till I create my own designs.

    Your art works help me a lot in improving my level and chaning my drawing directions from systematic to creative and dynamic art works, as you said in one time, Hot Rood cars is great because no one is similar to the other one. and this what keep us improving and being creative.

    Please keep us updated with any sketches and articals.

    Many Thanks

  5. Brett

    That’s funny. When I see your work and instructional videos, I always think “He makes is look so easy!”. It’s obvious your hard work has paid off. Your skills are incredible. Thanks for sharing the encouragement.

    As for momentum, it’s something I struggle with. I’m interested in a lot of things but the days simply don’t allow me to invest in all of them. I’ve spent a lot of time dabbling in a lot. And I have improved some in all those things but I’m I haven’t excelled in any of them. The proverbial “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. My wife and I discussed my frustration the other day and we both mentioned that I should really pick one or two things and really dig in. Concentrate, focus, and really improve. I’m known that but it’s difficult to limit my interests but time has forced the issue.

    Kudos for mentioning Dave Ramsey. He has a lot to say about momentum and I think there are a lot of parallels between his financial advice and learning a skill. With finances, it’s too daunting to just step in from nothing and attack something huge like a mortgage. Ramsey works you through the “Baby Steps”, starting with small things (a small emergency fund than debts from smallest to largest). While doing that, you’re making progress and building your confidence. That confidence leads to intensity and momentum. Learning a skill has been similar for me and it’s why I’ve loved your instructional videos. Getting a grasp on one thing drives me to learn another.

    Thanks again!

  6. Matt

    One way I keep the momentum is to switch media from time to time. When it’s not so much fun to pick up the brush, I go from watercolor to oil, or to digital, or to something new. Or, I might draw or paint a subject I’m not that good at, stretch some different brain muscles by solving problems I don’t usually confront on my drawing board. Getting uncomfortable is a great way to break out of a rut.

    I think it’s also important to stop occasionally and get my bearings. Get out of the studio, go for a walk or have a coffee, and figure out where I am now and where I might be headed. Momentum doesn’t mean much if I’m just going round in circles.

    • Dwayne Vance

      great suggestions Matt. I love changing media myself. Makes you reanalyze everything, I agree

  7. Alexey Golovin

    You know, i have almost the same thoughts about skills and my successes and failures. Sometimes i do scare because there are a lot of “more talanted” guys around me! But if i take my breath back i start pushing forward again.

    By the way, your are the one of that great persons who motivates me the most! Please, keep doing what you do because it’s so important for guys like me.

    • Dwayne Vance

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad I can inspire you a little.

  8. Lincoln

    Some great points Dwayne, and some great points by fellow commenters.

    My current place in the universe is a little different to the others though. I’ve been working in surgical (orthopaedic) instrument design for four years now, after coming from a design consultancy. I’m good at what I do, fast, and my strike rate for getting designs to work first time is pretty high. This has come mostly from trying things that didn’t work and learning from those [sometimes very expensive] mistakes.

    Due to a huge amount of rules, regulations and very rigid specifications from nurses and surgeons, being creative and pushing these limits is a pretty tough gig. And I’m at a place where I want to stick with what I’m doing, I love it, but am ready to step up my game again. That’s the problem though, I can’t see how to improve my current skill set. Sure, I can add other skills, but I can’t see how that would benefit what I’m trying to strive for. I’ve kind of hit the rev limit.

    I guess now that I’ve recognized where I’m at and what I want to do, I’m at least in a better position to find that next gear than I was before.

    Also want to say thanks Dwayne for the astounding work you put and the passion with which you do it (which itself is as inspirational as your art).

  9. Bastián

    Hi Dwayne im just getting started into this , im a 2nd year Design student from Chile and im full of questions in my mind , even sometimes that wanderind becames fear , but I read words like yours and i get excited again about this race im just beginning . Thanks for being an example , I love your site 🙂

    • Dwayne Vance

      Thank you very much!

  10. Nico Lezcano Jung

    Amazing story, and a really motivating one. I’m a student from Argentina and i’m about to finish my studies. But I feel that all my mates are better than me and that depresses me a bit. But reading these words, made me realize that skills can be replaced with hard work and passion. I love what i do and this text brings me back to life a little.

  11. James

    I always wanted a creative and artistic career since school. I’m 26 and I haven’t got my ideal job yet. I find there’s just not that many jobs available that I really want, competition is fierce, and the pay isn’t guaranteed. I have felt pushed towards engineering jobs and away from art and creativity; there’s far more job availability and less competition. It seems freelance is the only way to go to be an artist, but I’d have to quit my job with regular pay, and live off savings for a while. It’s fear of having no money and being unsuccessful that’s preventing me from changing. I think you freelance guys are amazing, I don’t know how you got to your situation. I still consider myself a work in progress, and probably always will be ’till I die.

    My ideal job is to be an artist / inventor kind of like Leonardo Da Vinci, but it seems like nobody is looking to employ any Da Vinci’s, they just want specialists rather than people who bridge the artist-scientist/engineer gap.. I’m also out of practice and my drawing ability has degraded since it’s not really needed where I’ve worked (you got to use it or lose it). Some of my job is enjoyable, and I get to design things some of the time, and I know the stuff I’m learning will help in future. It’s easy to lose sight of the dream and feel down, but I find inspiration is all around, you just have to look for it.

    When I think of something cool, I keep my ideas for inventions in a notepad, inspired by your chicken scratch books. Sometimes I find someone else has gone ahead and made my idea into a real thing, but I shouldn’t see it as a negative – if anything I should use it as motivation that I was thinking on the right lines, and keep improving myself to stay ahead. One day I might have the right financial opportunity and get to make one of my ideas become real.

    OK, on to the subject of momentum – I think it’s just a matter of time, patience, practice and making your goals a part of your very being until you don’t have to think about it any more – everything you do just becomes another positive step towards living your dream. I think it’s best not to dwell on failure or worry about possible future failure, just do your best and make the most of your strengths in the here and now, and good things will happen.

    Allow yourself to be happy and don’t be too hard on yourself or on others, or you can get depressed, focus on yours and other people’s positives. Do other things outside art/design or you gan get stale – the more varied and more stuff you get involved in, the fresher your art will get – go for walks in nature reserves, try evening dance/yoga/martial arts classes, go jogging occasionally, try something scary like sky diving, learn to play a musical instrument, be a part of something bigger than yourself. Life’s what you make of it, nobody’s gonna change it for you, you have got to get out there and make it happen.

    Draw your motivation from wherever you can, and don’t let anyone take from you the things you love. Your sense of well-being belongs to you, and you don’t have to compromise it if you don’t want to – other people require your permission to take it from you. If you spread positivity to others, there is no need to feel hostile to anyone – everyone can be happy without anyone needing to be sad as a consequence. Helping others and showing compassion is the easiest way to get happiness, and happiness is contagious.

    Ok that’s enough ranting, I’m done now. I hope this helps someone 🙂

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