major directions for approaching the gap year as a creative 


take online classes

work on projects

learn from your favorite artists, musicians or writers

ask for opportunities

freelance / collaborate with different kinds of people

journal / document your journey

if possible, do an artist/writer residency

Take online classes

There are a lot of classes you can take online, especially because of covid. Even though this may seem like it’s not any different from staying in college, but the very fact of being free to choose how you occupy your time and the possibility of diving fully into creative work will inform you a lot about your creative direction. 

Examples of online programs:

- School of Machine Making and Make-Believe  upcoming programs:
making personal games, speculative design, transmedia storytelling, smell, crafting food experiences

- School for Poetic Computation
code art

- Gnomon School of Visual Effects
game art, VFX, animation

- Brainstorm School
concept art 

- Vertex School animation bootcamp, game arts program
Examples of self-paced online classes:

- YouTube

- Udemy

- Udacity

- Skillshare

- Schoolism

painting, drawing, concept art

- Domestikagraphic design, illustration, architecture, etc etc

I recommend doing one or two online programs for the start of the gap year. You are still operating within a certain structure if you participate in those programs. Within the context of 2020, this fall is also an important time to understand what options could be available for you in the spring.

Take this time to build up your skills, while looking for opportunities that will allow more independent work! 

Work on projects

Duh. Obviously. Why am I even writing anything here. 

This is great for any point in the gap year. When you conceive an idea you want to test out, just go for it! It’s never too early or late!

Learn from your favorite artists, musicians or writers

I’ve discovered from really cool artists or designers on Instagram that they’re running classes online. Depending on the kind of creative work you love, you may have to do your research on different platforms. But the essential idea is to discover a bunch of creatives whose work you really admire, see if they run any personal programs.

For example, I discovered that Javier Ruiz, a senior teaching fellow at The Bartlett School of Architecture, has webinars and offers 1-on-1 tutoring  on his website. 

Also, you could just reach out to artists/writers/musicians/singers you admire, ask them to be your private tutor, and find a price and study plan that work out for both of you! I learned this from Eli Berman and I thought it was such a genius idea. They just reached out to sound artist/ experimental musicians they loved and studied under them for a few weeks in the summer. Create your own opportunities!!

Ask for opportunities

When you see cool organizations whose mission really align with yours, just reach out and see if you could create an opportunity together! A year ago when I discovered the Human Metrics Lab, I emailed them and I asked if I could be some sort of intern there, even though they didn’t and still don’t have an official internship program. After reading the essay I submitted to Centre for Conscious Design, which is run by almost the same people as Hume, they decided to create an internship position for me.

To be honest, I believe individualized opportunities like this would be much more rewarding than any official programs. You have greater freedom to approach your work, or even create your own project under the name of an “internship.” For a creative, your portfolio is always more important than the institution names attached to your experiences.

Obviously, opportunities don’t have to be internships. Especially towards the second half of the gap year, just reach out for collaborations! Or perhaps some people might ask you first about collaborating. I really feel that creative careers are all about gradually building a momentum for yourself. You have to build up your portfolio with work that represents your skill level and interests well. The more special your portfolio is, the easier it is to attract the particular clients/collaborators you would enjoy working with. 

Freelance / collaborate with different kinds of people

I personally haven’t really freelanced because foreign visitors are not allowed to freelance when they are physically in the US. I did spend a lot of time looking at freelance platforms, and I have been recommended to use Upwork

For different creative industries the story is still very different, so please do your research on the specific industries you’re interested. I do think that overall, besides the obvious benefits of earning an income, it’s great to have some experience of working with clients, and learn about how you feel about working this way. Do you enjoy working with others to help achieve their marketing goals with your creative talent? Or do you feel you have a lot of your own vision you want to externalize? Or do you enjoy working with other *creatives* to help achieve each other’s creative vision through different projects? 

That helps a lot with understanding how much business element you want to carry into your future career planning, what kind of people or industry you want to work with.

While a year isn’t long enough for figuring this out, I definitely feel like the various collaborations I’ve done in my gap year helped me gain a decent understanding of the ways of working I enjoy. Working with Damian on his music video made me much more curious about further collaborating opportunities with musicians and singers, which I actually didn’t expect at all before. Right now I really look forward to meeting more musicians and singers in the near future, work on music videos with them or doing projections for their live shows.

If you’re like me--you don’t understand a particular direction you want to go into, I highly encourage you to do some “speeddating” at some point of the gap year. Collaborate with different kinds of people and try out different modes of working. Filmmakers. Musicians. Scientists. Cooperations. Small businesses. Historians. Writers. Painters. Architects. Work on something where you’re mainly externalizing your collaborator’s idea with your skills. Work on something where you’re working with others to externalize your visions. Work on something where you completely equally collaborate with others and none of you knows what exactly will come out of the collaboration. 

Journal / document your journey

Write in a literal notebook. Start an instagram account. Write a blog. Email your friends. Whatever way you feel comfortable. 

I used a combination of writing in a literal journal and writing a blog. Journal was for dumping my thoughts, and the blog was to have some organized records of what I was doing or thinking at a certain point of the gap year. 

Some artists run a formal newsletter for sharing their career updates. Some use their instagram accounts to professionally exhibit their work and/or processes. Sharing your process matters a lot more for creatives--it tells a bit about your personality and work style, and is fun for other creatives to see and learn. If you want, you can make your documentation a part of your journey to build a creative career for yourself.

If that sounds too much work or pressure for you, simply writing for yourself and maybe your friends and family is rewarding in a lot of ways! Especially if you are exploring different creative spaces, your continuous reflections help you organize what you learn and feel from each experience, which will inform your later choices.

If possible, do an artist/writer residency

If it certain travel bans are lifted later during this gap year, I highly recommend doing an artist/writer residency. Contrary to a lot of people’s belief, many residencies are open to people who aren’t fine artists. Graphic designers, educators, writers, musicians, curators, researchers, are more than welcome in some residencies. You just have to do your research. 

For example,
the Arctic Circle residency I got into earlier this year is open to scientists and educators, too. The Arquetopia residency I did in Mexico also offers a separate writer’s residency. 

Another example is Poco A Poco. It’s based in Oaxaca, and it says on its website that “Previous residents have included writers & journalists, musicians & fine artists, architects & designers, researchers & Ph.D candidates, chefs & botanists, arts administrators & social workers, as well as lawyers, educators, performers and others.“ 

SO, do your research. There are some really exciting opportunities out there! And please believe in what you can do as a college student, too. I thought the Arctic Circle would be possible a few years after I graduate college, and applied because I thought I needed to try more things and possibly fail more. Their offer really came as a huge surprise.

To search for residency programs,
Transartists and Res Artis are two wonderful starting points. They allow you to search for programs by countries and themes.

Additionally, subscribe to
A&E Newsletter at the start of your gap year. Its daily email lists major open calls for programs, exhibitions, schools, workshops and other opportunities for artists. Most of their emails won’t be of use to you. But very occasionally certain programs or open calls it mentioned really caught my attention. This is a lazy way to not miss out in your research.

Also, just google. I’m pretty sure I found out about the Arctic Circle expedition by searching something like “the weirdest artist residencies” on google. 

They all say having a unique set of life experiences is a big plus to being a creative. I definitely think residencies could be a great opportunity for throwing yourself into a very new environment, feel, and create.