Work/Life Balance

How To Finally Learn That Skill You’ve Been Putting Off

By | Wednesday, April 05, 2017

This month, TFD is partnering with Skillshare to offer our readers an exclusive deal: two free months of Skillshare Premium, which you can redeem by clicking here, or by using the code TFD. It’s the perfect time to finally strengthen your resume and stop lying about having that skill you really don’t actually have mastered — you can actually learn it. As we’ve been big users of Skillshare well before partnering, we thought we’d share some of our own experience with the platform. Here, Lauren shares a little bit about how she finally learned her skills she’d been putting off.

I graduated from college five years ago this coming May. If you told me how little I knew about my chosen industry at that point in time, I would have run into a hole in the ground somewhere, hugely lacking in confidence to do the job for which I now had a degree. Sure, I had gone through four years of schooling, but was that it?! Did I have ALL the tools I’d ever need to make a successful career for myself as a graphic designer?? After working as a professional in the industry for some time now, I realize the answer to that question was a definitive “no,” and what’s more, that’s actually perfectly OK. Basically no one comes out of school as a fully-formed professional.

Throughout the last two years I’ve spent building the visual side of the TFD brand from the ground up, I’ve learned more new skills than I could have ever hoped for. Working as a graphic designer on a small team means a huge variety of design-oriented responsibilities and tasks fall into my lap, and I don’t have the luxury of hiring people to do every little thing we need. If I can take the time to learn it, I’ve not only invested in my own professional skillset, I’ve also saved the company some $$$. I’ve come to realize that I never want to be the kind of creative professional who feels like they “have it all figured out” — that I know all I need to know, and feel secure enough to coast along. When I feel the itch to learn a new skill or tackle a project I don’t quite understand (but need to wade my way through), I thrive. Constant learning keeps me sharp and my skills marketable.

A few years back, I stumbled upon the concept of online learning when I was talking to another designer friend. She was telling me how she learned to code something for her online portfolio page — I was flabbergasted and asked, “HOW DID YOU FIGURE THAT OUT??” She pointed me to a class on the Skillshare site, and I’ve been using it ever since. What exactly is Skillshare? Well, it’s an online learning platform and community of users who can sign up for a variety of classes by paying a monthly subscription fee (as little as $10/month). They offer a HUGE variety of classes, which is one of the things that most attracted me to it. Everything from technical courses like DIY food photography, to cooking classes like how to make the perfect thin crust pizza (!). Also, for the most part the classes are taught by total rockstars in their respective industries, expertise that should be expensive to get, but isn’t. There’s a food photography class by New York Times photographer Daniel Krieger, a lettering class taught by Jessica Hische, and a creative writing class hosted by Ashley C. Ford. (And yes, all of these classes are downloadable and pause-able, so you can do them at your own pace, and while on-the-go)

You might be thinking “okay, but how do these classes actually work?,” so to give you a better sense of what it looks like down in the Skillshare trenches, I’m going to walk you through two classes that I took recently. (Again, I’m a graphic designer, so these definitely lean more toward the technical and “design” friendly, but this platform has something for everyone!)

Lettering for Designers: One Drop Cap Letterform at a Time

BAHH, THIS CLASS. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found out that one of my design heros — Jessica Hische — offered a Skillshare class about her rockstar ability to letter. She’s done work for a HUGE number of big-name clients in addition to a bunch of smaller, independent, and non-profit companies. I nearly choked on my coffee as I rushed to call Joe to tell him our evening plans were off when I first found this class because I simply couldn’t wait to plug in and go through it. Do I sound a tad overenthusiastic?? (Getting secrets from a lettering pro will do that to you.)

Anyway, I found this lettering class to be perfect for beginners like myself who are simply looking to diversify their skillset and become even more familiar with letterforms and typography. This class feels super intimate, with an inside peek at Jessica’s sketch book, studio space, process, etc. I always wondered about how these projects play out, and it felt like I was sitting there with her going through how she conceptualizes a project, draws, and plots vector points for letters. By the end of the course, the assignment had me draw and create a drop cap based on a book I loved (I chose One Hundred Years Of Solitude). Working through this felt approachable and fun, and I love that you don’t have to be a graphic designer to take it (even though it certainly helps!). A good amount happens inside notebooks and sketchbooks, so it’s very hands-on.

DSLR Photography For Bloggers

Oooff, I am not a trained photographer by any means, and when I look back at old photos I shot for TFD, I’m riddled with shame. I know everyone goes through a really valuable learning process, and it’s good to be able to track your progress, but DAMN some of those old food recipes are terribly lit. A big personal goal of mine last year was to seriously brush up on my food photography skills because I genuinely find it to be a fun and interesting process. Since I’m a graphic designer who works on the computer all day, I was surprised at how challenging it was to art direct a plate of food, set up proper lighting, and style a scene in a balanced way. It’s been a huge source of insecurity for me in the past, because I had always thought it was easy and that I’d learn quick.

I ended up taking this course on DSLR Photography for Bloggers, which is hosted by Lindsay Ostrom (the founder and creative tour-de-force behind the insanely beautiful food blog A Pinch Of Yum). What started as a way to help sharpen my photography skills for the recipes I needed to shoot for the TFD site, turned into a fun side project. I really enjoy photography for sheer pleasure — especially when I travel — and this was a cool way to just learn to take better photos. It’s the perfect introduction class to lighting, styling, and photographing food in a way that does it justice and looks professional. Anyway, this on was a great course for beginner bloggers or anyone who’s interested in taking up a creative hobby like photography!

Overall, setting aside time to take these classes and actually following through with them and completing them, felt like an enormous personal accomplishment. I feel like setting up little challenges for myself is one of the most enjoyable and affordable ways I can take control of my career and professional future by investing in myself — something I value above all else. Someday I hope to be the kind of professional who can give back to other designers by educating, motivating, and inspiring, them, and to me, taking classes is a good way to visualize exactly how I can reach that goal. If you have similar goals, and want to stop putting off that new skill you’ve been promising yourself you’d learn, take advantage of the two free months of Skillshare Premium for TFD readers — click here to get started. 

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