Tu Ha An - Dreamlike & Multicultural Illustration

Minimalism and creativity

Edited by my beloved friend K.L

The maximized life of a minimalist

Few years ago, when minimalism wasn’t yet to become a trend, I was always met with … dissatisfaction every time I read a blog or magazine article about it. These articles on minimalism back then were just … minimalist! Which means, they were very short and not very informative. They answered the question “What?” but rarely “How?” nor “Why?” and left me always rather unsatisfied, until I discovered Chi Nguyen’s blog The Present Writer.

Unlike other articles at that time, Chi’s articles are quite long (more than 2000 words per article), precise, and well developed. This might sound strange for a minimalist writer, doesn’t it? By the way, since 2020, she has also started to create videos, podcasts, workshops … while maintaining her blog and her regular presence on social networks. All that, in parallel with her full-time job as a data analyst, then a professor, not to mention her role as a mother of a young child. This lifestyle seems to go against minimalism, right?

The answer is no. We tend to associate minimalism with the cliché of white living rooms with a single table and a single chair in a neutral color, holding no wall decoration and a maximum of empty space. Minimalist people in the imagination of the grand public are often distant and austere, dressed only in black and white. However, minimalism is not just about lightening up on material possessions or living a strict, cold life as commonly thought of.

In one of her podcasts, Chi explained that she manages to do so much through holistic minimalism; that means, the application of the minimalism in all aspects of life and managed to save a lot of her time thanks to it. Having applied minimalism in everyday life, I also found that I saved more time, but that didn’t allow me to do “more”. There was something else. And I started to get a hang of it when I also applied minimalism in my mindset …

A illustration style that is not minimalism at all

If you’ve been following my creative journey on social networks, you’ve probably noticed that my latest illustrations are much more colorful and detailed compared to my old creations.

Isn’t a minimalist supposed to make a clean and simple creation? Having tested the minimalist style in 2019, following a tendonitis that limited the movements of my right wrist, I can tell you that the answer is no.

My minimalist illustrations

If you are also illustrator, there is a good chance that you have already asked yourself this question at some points: “How do I find my style?” This question comes up most often when we are confused between multiple choices that cover many techniques and many ways to create.

During teenagerhood, I was quite sure that I didn’t want to put myself in a box with only one style! Since my styles were so diverse, people around me (who were not involved with art) were fascinated. And just like The Vain Man in The Little Prince, compliments meant a lot to me. But the reality is that I was afraid of choosing the “wrong” style and getting stuck, I didn’t want to give up the other styles that seemed to work well either. So every time I wanted to create a new illustration, I would spend hours or even days thinking about which style I would use. With or without lines? In realistic mode or in chibi mode? With or without color?

My old illustrations in different styles

I stopped messing around the day I realized that the principle of minimalism is not “to eliminate”, but “to choose”: to choose what is important.

To start with, by choosing what to focus on, I make place in my brain, which allows to go deeper into each drawing idea. I discovered that what means the most for me in a drawing is the color. So I chose to develop my skills in using colors. I also discovered that what fascinates me about a drawing is the details. Therefore, I choose to work on the details in each of my creations.

My illustrations of 2021 with a unique and coherent style

Since then, when some people say: “I liked your mangas (or your doodles on Velléda, or your calligrams…) It’s a pity that you don’t continue in that direction!”, I don’t feel frustrated anymore. I know I’ve made the optimal choice that could amuse me with every stroke.

From minimalism to time maximization

Let’s get back to the issue of time management.

Few years ago, I was leading a crazy life! I had a full-time job, a busy community life, a show to organize or to participate once every two months, several video projects in parallel, and of course, drawing! Quite frankly, it was obvious that I ended up feeling overwhelmed.

As you can imagine, with minimalism, I waste less time looking for my stuff (since I own less of it), I also decreased drastically the shopping trips. With the beginning of the application of minimalism to my mentality, I also waste less time making decisions, as the case for the style of drawing, but also in all the decisions that we have to make every day (for example: Which outfit to go to work? What to eat for lunch? What to do this Sunday? …)

It’s clear that I have gained more time compared to before, but oddly enough, I don’t feel like I’m doing more, particularly little in creating more things I enjoy.

I found that my newly freed up time slots were quickly filled with requests that I reluctantly accepted. Basically, I was a “people-pleaser” (the kind of person who is “too nice” and says YES to just everything and everyone). I realized that even before I came to minimalism, the lack of time was an acceptable reason to decline an invitation. But as soon as I got free time, I felt unable to explain that I didn’t feel like coming to a party, nor making a birthday video for a friend, nor doing a photo shoot for another friend’s newborn…

Minimalism forced me to focus on the essentials and get to the source of the problem: I was afraid of offending the people who were kindly enough to include me in their activity, I was afraid of hurting their feelings, I was afraid of being perceived as selfish, I was afraid of getting into conflicts … And the icing on the cake: I had FOMO (Fear of missing out).

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

Greg McKeown

So I started to fill my free time with activities that are important to me. It was not easy to say NO to others, especially when it comes to the people that we grew fond of. Even today, this is still a guilt-ridden task for me, especially when I have to explain that I have plans to work on a personal project (like writing this article) or to test the paintbrushes, or to just stay home and read book on the couch. However, after several painful but timely “no” moments, I feel in control of my time again. I can finally get more works done and feel less overwhelmed.

And I think this is it, the most reasonable application of minimalism in a creative career. Being a minimalist creator is not about “doing less”, but “choosing to do only what is important”.

The magic of minimalism

Yes, you might guess that most of what I’ve built over the past few years is based on the minimalist approach, including my new life as a full-time illustrator (which is my childhood dream).

But no, I’m not trying to convince you that minimalism will magically give us the life we want. Actually, I just want to tell you another story of mine, an incredible story (at least for me)!

As you read in the first paragraph of this article, I have been following Chi Nguyen’s contents for years. Last March, I made an illustration with the elements of Chi’s universe, with my freshly consolidated style, and I sent it to her as a gift. I believe that drawing must had done a nice job on my behalf that a few weeks later… she made me a proposal to do the cover of the new edition of her book … on minimalism.

If you’ve been reading through far, you must have guessed now that I immediately accepted this opportunity, which is only right, as a matter of me having learned how to prioritize my life ( 😉 ) I immediately accepted this opportunity.

As I’m writing these lines, the book is being printed and will be released very soon. I’ll see you on March 5th, 2022 for the new article in which I’ll tell you the stories behind the creation of this cover, which was for me a dream collaboration.

* For some reasons related to the sanitary situation at the publisher, the publication of the book has been delayed. The release of the blog post has therefore been rescheduled to March 15th, 2022: Designing cover for “A Book about Minimalism”, or a story of luck.

Keep creating!

Tu Ha An

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