How do I know if I’m improving?


The obvious answer is to look back on your earlier work, and compare it to what you’re producing now. You could also ask your mom, but you know she’ll say “That’s nice, dear” (because that’s what moms do).

There are a couple of other more practical ways to measure your progress:

  1. How close is your finished piece to how you imagined it? The times when I feel the greatest unease are when this gap is large. You’ll know the feeling—when there’s something not quite right about your layout. If that “mind gap” is narrowing, then you’re on the right track.
  2. Revisit an earlier piece and compare the result. You may find you take a completely different approach to it.


Record your process

There’s a reason why scientists make notes. They need to share their research so others can replicate their experiments. Of course, this can all go very badly if accurate notes aren’t taken. Anyone remember cold fusion?

This is why I maintain a “Things I Learned” file.

This doesn’t mean you have to write like a scientist. Much of what you record will be emotional—how you felt when you worked on a piece. You’re also taking notes mostly for your own benefit. However, I do get a bit technical when it comes to tools or software. If there’s a particular Photoshop brush I liked, or a software trick that worked, then I write that down.

It’s important to write down your thoughts immediately. Don’t rely on your memory.

Here are notes from a few of my pieces:

Ray & Irwin’s

  • Don’t skimp on crafting the letters on paper. I rushed to Procreate, and things got messy, so I had to go back to the literal drawing board.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t necessarily go with your “default” design mode. Make it better.

Because it is There

  • Consider alternate angles to an illustration.
  • Is what you’re showing the best way to tell the story?
  • Does the layout make sense?

Magic Transistor Radio

  • Don’t succumb to analysis paralysis.
  • There will be no perfect concept. Pick one, and do the best you can.
  • Work the problem.
  • Let the art determine the format.

Already I can see a pattern emerging—I need to be more diligent at working the problem. Or, as a former teacher of mine would say: “Push the pencil!” There are always multiple options when developing a layout, and it’s important not to give up too soon.

Just like the scientist wanting to replicate an experiment, I want to learn from my past projects.—what went right, and what went wrong. I want to include more of the things that went right.

Time is an important factor in this. You likely won’t see dramatic results when comparing pieces weeks or even months apart. Improvement will only come after a LOT of practice.

Be patient. Keep practising. Take notes.