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THE JOURNAL

An artist's take on everyday creativity

Instantly recognizable for his vibrant and playful work, Australian artist and illustrator Karan Singh describes his career path as a “personal project that just got out of hand”. But for Karan, personal projects are a helpful reminder that you can be in control of your own creativity.

What began as “daily quickie” – completing one- or two-hour projects at the beginning or end of the day – soon turned into a full-time freelancing career for the self-taught artist. Now he spends his days balancing personal projects with client work for the likes of Nike, Porsche, Instagram, IMAX, IBM, Converse, Airbnb, the band OK Go and more.

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    Artworks by Karan.
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As a self-taught artist, Karan knows intimately that creativity stems from experimenting, making mistakes, and embracing imperfection.“Sometimes it might fall flat and that’s okay. Pushing forward is what's important.”

“All these amazing things are happening at the same time,” he said. “It’s a crazy adventure.”

With stints living in New York, Malmö, Sydney and Melbourne, Karan now finds himself in Tokyo with his partner of 10 years, photographer Ash Leech.

Constant experimentation with his own work process and creative projects propel his interest in his craft. Yet even with an artistic profession, Karan applies a very broad definition to creativity.

“We tend to apply the term ‘creative’ to only artistic fields, but I think creativity is much broader. The way to feel creatively fulfilled is to do something for yourself every day.”

Whether it’s posting a new work to Instagram, cooking a meal for yourself, or trying a new café, as Karan puts it, “it’s all relative as long as you’re feeding your soul.”

As a self-taught artist, Karan knows intimately that creativity stems from experimenting, making mistakes, and embracing imperfection. “Sometimes it might fall flat and that’s okay. Continually pushing forward and experimenting is what’s most important.”

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Finding color on the streets of Tokyo.

“Some people would define art as knowing when to stop, so if I’m working on something, one of the things I really like to do is sleep on it, let it breathe for the night, and then look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.”



A DAY IN THE LIFE

First thing

Usually Ash wakes me up around 7am. It’s great because we have this portion of the day that’s just for us while we get ready, cook breakfast, have plenty of coffee and check in before we both start our day. When we were living in New York, and even in Melbourne, we didn't necessarily have that luxury, but being in a new city and not knowing many people has brought us closer together and I really cherish that time in the morning with her.

Morning

What has helped me as a freelancer is getting out of bed as soon as possible. My goal is to be at my desk by 9am every morning. When I first started working for myself, there was a honeymoon period where I was waking up late and enjoyed not being accountable to anyone else. But I think that catches up with you.

Having a routine and structure is really important – you have this obligation to the clients who put their trust in you, that sense of responsibility is really important to me. Reading an email that someone needs a reply to, I suddenly forget that I'm tired and think, ‘someone needs something from me’.

So I start the day going through emails and get on top of them, otherwise they will sit at the back of my mind. Many of my working habits have developed from working in studios. There are little things that go a really long way to keep you in check.

From 11am to lunchtime is when I do the bulk of my work. The morning is when I feel the most creative and productive, and then after lunch I need to regroup.

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Karan likes to balance his life between work, exploration and Japanese snacks.

Afternoon

I try to leave the house for lunch and just zone out. I might read the news, go on YouTube, or just scroll social media.

At the end of a day, I'm not a machine. I think it's better to be conscious of that, and feel like you've achieved something in the morning, at least, so that you account for the time spent when you slow down. Sometimes I have to force myself to have a break. I think that if you go hard at something for too long, you lose sight of whether it's actually effective.

I try to work regular hours, so will aim to finish by 6pm. It seems unreasonable for Ash to walk in the door at after work, and for me to say, "Hey I'm about to start working!”

Evening

Ash and I will spend time together, cook at home or go out for a meal with friends at an Izakaya.

After dinner, if I still have juice in the tank, I’ll go for a second run with work. We don’t have a TV and we're both creatives, so while Ash is processing photos, I’ll make something until I go to bed.

I feel like I’m really struggling with switching off at the moment, so I try to force myself to get to bed by 11pm. Some people would define art as knowing when to stop, so if I’m working on something, one of the things I really like to do is sleep on it, let it breathe for the night, and then look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

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Getting the business card exchange down pat.

THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MATTER

Business cards (for more than business)

If you’re meeting anyone for the first time in Japan – even if it's just a social gathering – having a business card is really valuable. There's a very specific way that you hand someone a business card – two hands with your name is facing the recipient, and when you receive a business card, you receive it with both hands, and you study both sides. You don’t put it away in your wallet, you leave it on the table.

A phone for capturing ideas

I use my phone to take a lot of notes for random ideas. I either make a voice note or I type it out in as much detail as possible. I think it's really helpful to have a tool that synchronizes with other devices and keeps track of all your ideas, too.

A portable work setup

Because we travel a lot, it’s important to have a work set up that’s very lean. I don't have a desktop computer, just a laptop and a tablet so I can set up wherever I need.

Check out Karan’s work via Instagram: @madebykaran.
Interview by Madeleine Dore. Photos by Ash Leech.