Link Your Life Together For
A Stronger 
Creative Mindset 

Discover useful connections in your creative and working life
and see your day as a valuable story

I imagine I am a little bit like you. I have design passions and things I would like to spend all my time doing. More ideas than time.  But I need to pay those bills so I juggle many different work commitments to make ends meet. I expect you do also. It can be too easy to think that the part time job you have to do is sucking up all your time and keeping you from doing the thing you love. If you are, then I hope you find this post useful. I'd would like to invite you  to try and reframe that perspective and discover the narrative value of your working day.
What I do when I am not in the studio
When I am not designing props, I have two part time jobs. One as a graphics and illustration lecturer and another as  a film extra. Otherwise known as a Supporting Artist, SA, or Background Artist. (I made a conscious decision to do this which I'll be going into below) It is my job to populate a film set and inject it with a little it a bit of life. I am employed to be a part of human furniture.
Since working as an SA, I’ve discovered many similarities to that of working as a graphic prop designer. Two worlds colliding in more ways than I first imagined or hoped. But before we get into that, I’d like to just share with you a typical day in the life of a supporting artist and why I do this job.
In many ways, it is a crazy way to make a living. Long hours, a lot of waiting around and in truth it can be exhausting. But I can honestly say it’s one of the best jobs I have ever had. To be part of a film, commercial or television production is exhilarating. Watching a film crew rebuild itself after each new scene is mesmorising. The whole process shouldn’t really work as well as it does. There are so many moving parts when it comes to filmmaking, but somehow all the elements connect together to form a greater whole. 
So I'll tell you the story of a typical day as a supporting artist:
Shuffle downstairs to brush my teeth so I don’t wake anyone in the house.
Brush the ice off the car windscreen.
Drive for 2 and a half hours to the shooting location.
Wonder what on earth I am doing at 4 in the morning listening to a sat nav who is not in the least bit sympathetic.
2 failed attempts to find a coffee along the way. Honestly, did no-one tell them I was en route?
Sign in at 6am.
Have hair and makeup done.
Chop up breakfast like a toddler’s meal.
Eat quickly.
Get called on set by 9am.
Rehearse first of maybe three scenes over and over.
Lot’s of takes involving surprised face, walking and pointing (my signature move).
A lot of standing around in odd outfits and ill fitting shoes.
Have a laugh at the other sa's who are returning the good natured gesture.
And that’s lunch.
I won’t thanks I’m gluten free.
Back to set.
A lot of waiting around in the holding area.
Rehearse some background action.
Lot’s of takes.
I won’t thanks, I’m gluten free.
More Takes.
More tea.
And that’s a wrap!
Leave set.
Get out of hair and makeup.
Exchange numbers with other sa's.
Sign out.
Drive home.
Get through front door at 9pm.
Bemoan throbbing feet and make sure rest of household knows about it too.
Remind myself to change my shoe shoe size on my agency profile. Again.
10pm. Head hits the pillow.
Have the same dream over and over from multiple angles until I get it right.
Every day is a new story, don't let it get away
And so it goes. That's the narrative of my day job. It's the ups and downs, the setbacks and the successes, all the ingredients for good creative storytelling. It was not until I started doing this job that I realised that just simply by going through the daily motions of my day I was writing a new story everyday and I didn't even know it. I have since started to diarize some of my days in list form and it helps strengthen my ability to see the storytelling opportunity in the most ordinary or mundane of things. It's training my creative storytelling muscles. So don't let those stories get away, I encourage you to list your day. 
So why did I become a supporting artist?
When I decided to follow prop making as a creative career path I didn’t know any graphic designers working in film. I’d never even seen graphic props up close and for real, so I thought; what’s the one thing I can do to try and change that? I know, I’ll try and get on a film set. So I registered as a supporting artist and the adventure began.
Every set I have been on since has featured graphic props which I have been able to get up close and study. I have even interacted with them many times. This has simply been the best research I could have ever undertaken. When I am on set, I can study typefaces, the feel of paper, printing methods, period design assets, colours, scale, language… If I am lucky, I get to have a chat with the Standby Art director, who is in charge of all props on set. The list is endless. So far I have seen or interacted with:

Medical reports
Street Signage

Medicine Bottles
Protest Placards

ID Cards

Film Posters
Wedding invitations


Album Covers
Political Speeches
Handwritten Letters

Luggage Tags
Train Tickets
Party Hats

Paper Bags
Wine Labels
Forensic Bags

Concert posters
Hand Painted Shop Signage

But what started off as a fairly vague plan to get near some graphic props and earn a bit of extra money has become so much more.
How does my part time job as a supporting artist serve my design work?
After doing my part time job for a while I began to analyse the professional skills I was required to have and I found that they began to synchronize almost perfectly with the qualities I am required to have as a prop designer. I now believe that synchronicity is everywhere and it presents itself if you are open to it. Once we establish this belief, we can learn from any experience to support another.  Here's what I discovered:
1. Authenticity
Working as a background artist requires a kind of patient, supportive mentality. You are rarely front and centre of the main action. You are usually deep in the background and probably out of focus. That’s providing you even make the cut of the film at all. But the job of a background artist is important and shouldn’t take a desire to be featured as a motivation.
A scene often needs background artists to bring it to life, give it texture, movement and above all, authenticity. It helps the director, the crew and the actors to visualise and craft the bigger story.
2. Iteration
A background artist is almost always required to repeat the same action or movement over and over (often all day long) until the director is satisfied with the whole scene. Those actions are often then modified slightly each time. This gives the director options, it strengthens the scene and builds with each take. Iteration gets you closer and closer to the required result, one small stage at a time.

3. Storytelling

Whether they are crossing the street, conducting a forensic study of alien bones or running for their life from an invisible mechanical tripod, background artists are telling an intrinsic part of a much greater story.
Every scene of a film contains within it a hierarchical storytelling structure; beginning at the top are the actors delivering their lines, with their hair, makeup and costume intact. Then comes the physical space; the interior or exterior. This is followed by background artists who populate it and bring it to life with the required atmosphere.
Add to this the lighting, weather, props, dialogue, sound effects, background noise and music. Each of these elements tell their own story, but when they are brought together, the overall story becomes more powerful than the sum of it’s parts.

4. Support

Much like every other member of a cast and crew, when a background artist has offered their support to a production, they are handing off on their efforts for the next department to take and craft into a new outcome. Filmmaking is a collaborative process where the efforts of many are shaped into something new.
The building blocks of great graphic prop design
Authenticity. Iteration. Storytelling. Support.
Graphic props, like many other forms of design should be authentic, iterate toward a greater outcome, tell unique stories in their own right and also contribute to a bigger one, supporting a greater need.
The qualities listed above are not just useful to pay attention to, I believe they are fundamental in finding your voice as a designer of creative outcomes. They have helped me to forge a pathway toward what I hope are more interesting, communicative and functional prop designs. You will only begin to discover your voice once you start paying attention to everything you do and explore those valuable connections between them. Look for the synchronicity.
Everyday is a new story, don't let it get away
There is so much to learn from the seemingly disconnected areas of our working lives. Once you see the narrative patterns and the qualities that can contribute to your success, you can transfer those skills and put them to use to make something else happen.  
And it can all start with storytelling.
So like the symbiosis of two worlds coming together in my creative and working life, there are almost certainly ​connections to be discovered in yours. Everyday is a new story, don't let it get away.
​What links can you make in your life?
Learn The Art Of
Graphic Design For Film

And Create Graphic Props With
Storytelling At Their Heart

Sign up for your free email training and get designing your own film graphics with visual impact and storytelling power.

← If you have enjoyed this post, please take a moment to share it with others. I'd really appreciate it!​

Leave a Reply 0 comments