Why Personal Projects Create Priceless Value

I always try to have at least one personal creative project on the go. It started years ago after feeling stuck in a very rough spot in my work life, when I realized my job did not leave me creatively fulfilled. I enrolled in a weekly Open Life Drawing Studio class at the local art gallery, and found it fit the bill. Keeping up with my drawing skills kept me going until I got my work life straightened out, giving me the creative outlet I need to remain refreshed in ways my work life fell short.

Eventually my professional situation improved, but I still make it a point to continue with creative projects on the side. Read on to find out why I do so, how I overcome the difficulties of this commitment, and how I come up with new ideas – in case you’d like to consider the same type of personal project!


In the business world, everything involves risk. The higher the stakes, the less likely you, as the creative person, will have a say in what goes – especially when all the other opinions begin to weigh in. With a personal side project, there’s only you. The purest creative endeavor you will ever do will be the one you do for yourself, by yourself.

Another factor in making personal projects low-risk is money. Most likely, your project won’t make you a living. That’s a good thing. With income coming from elsewhere and no money pressures on the project at hand, you can be totally, freely creative – without worrying whether its success means food on the table.

No Pressure? No Problem!

Speaking of removing pressures, your personal projects shouldn’t have any real deadlines. It’s more important to set meaningful goals, such as learning a new skill or pushing your creative comfort zone. Without time pressures, you will be free to explore these possibilities, and it won’t matter if things don’t quite turn out or take longer to come to fruition. Sometimes, personal projects will be ongoing (like my life drawing class in my example at the start of this post), and might not benefit from a deadline.

The good news? No deadlines! The bad news? It STILL has to get done!

Labor of Love.

This is the most important part: you have to really want to do this! You won’t be making money and no one is breathing down your neck for results, so you need passion to keep yourself going. Pick something that really speaks to you, or you’ll find yourself giving up.

And Now for the Hard Part!

This one won’t be tough to guess: time, for most, is the biggest hindrance. Life gets in the way. Family commitments fill up your schedule. Or, work (the one that’s paying the bills!) becomes hectic, leaving you exhausted. Or, worse, maybe health issues or other personal crises have stalled your progress. The real trick will be separating legitimate reasons for not working on projects from excuses. (And you will come up with excuses!) Instead, focus on creating a routine that creates time for your project every day. Start small, even 5-10 minutes a day. Before you know it, it will become a habit, and you’ll easily be spending a good chunk of time working toward your goal.

Coming up with new ideas is always tough!

Idea Time!

Coming up with new ideas can also be tricky! Finding something you really love to do will take a lot of soul searching, but here’s a few ideas to get you thinking in the right direction:

      • Learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to paint or draw? Learn Photoshop or the violin? Cross-stitch? Cooking? Whatever itches you, consider giving it a scratch.
      • Push your creative comfort zone. So drawing is a breeze for you, but you haven’t written a word outside of your grocery lists. Consider starting a blog – it may open a whole new creative door!
      • Try a 365 challenge. These are popular with photographers, where you have to take a picture every day for a year. However, it’s adaptable to any art form – pick whatever you like, and practice it in some way every day for a year.
      • Combine forces. Can’t decide on a specific art form to pursue? Start a project that fuses them together! For example, beginning a web comic or graphic novel combines both drawing and writing, which would be extra stimulating and fulfilling.

After nearly twenty years as a graphic designer, I have taken on many personal projects. While they rarely paid me money, they paid me personally by expanding my creative horizons and keeping me going when times were rough.

Are you working on a personal project? Share them with us in the comments!

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Steven Downie

Steven Downie has been a Graphic Designer and Illustrator for almost 20 years. When not blogging, he can be found cycling, jogging, spending time with his young family, and speaking about himself in the third person.