Creative Struggles by Amy Lesko

In such a competitive industry, being a creative is a tough role. It can be hard to keep your head held high when you feel as if you're being constantly knocked back, and un-paid jobs seem to be the only way forward. So how do you keep yourself together when you're in a funk? And how do you approach the field of low-pay or none at all? We've composed an article on not-undercutting yourself and how to deal with the never ending battle of creative doubt.


Artwork by @katemoross

Artwork by @katemoross

Our good friends at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been cracking down on unpaid internships. In the design industry this practice is common and often exploitative, with it almost being a "right of passage" for you to get into the industry. Due to this somewhat crisis, HMRC has written over 550 warning letters to firms with unpaid workers, legally obligating them to pay their employees with the national minimum wage at the very least. These companies see unpaid interns as a benefit, why pay someone who will just do it for free?

This needs to be clamped down. The government now allows you to make a complaint against unpaid practice. See an unpaid internship being offered? Find out more here and read your rights. However it isn't always so easy to say no to no pay. You may need the certain role to gain experience, get your foot in the door or just have something on your CV. In-fact Dick Powell, chairman of design charity D&AD, even stated that "Offer anything, do anything, work for nothing, make tea, carry bags, and learn, learn, learn." and believes that whatever you get, you will benefit from. But doesn't this just work in the interest of those who are in a fortunate enough position to not worry about bills, working 2 jobs and feeding themselves? What about those who want to break into the creative industry and cannot physically support themselves financially? Not all of us live in central London and have parents that can lend a hand. This is where the line is drawn.

If you see something unpaid, report it. If you're working unpaid, report it. This way the bar will be raised and companies will be expected to pay out. The more of us who say no, the more of us will benefit and have worth.

Further reading:


We speak to some of our artists about their experiences taking knock-backs, unpaid work and having confidence when breaking into the industry.

Artwork by @jacquelinecolley

Artwork by @jacquelinecolley

I think creatives often have to nurture a sense of self worth especially as knock backs are so common. I like to do an exercise where I will write a bunch of emails with submissions or ideas I won't necessarily get any responses but the idea is that I almost forget who I've contacted. I've written so many that I'm not focussing on one specific one that I didn't get a response from! That's my weird way of dealing with rejection!

- Jacqueline Colley

When looking for inspiration I try to look at all kinds of art, not just art I think is "mind-blowingly amazing". It's too easy to be discouraged by amazing art — you need to balance things out and remember that what you're doing is pretty good too! Creative self-worth can be tricky sometimes, especially when you're just starting out! I think it's important to try to keep one's head cool though, and even if it seems scary to say no to an offer, if it's a bad one I'd say give it a pass. Generally speaking, I try to work with clients I respect and who I feel respect me back as an artist — after all, as creatives we can do something not everyone can do, and we should be proud of that!

- Mei Støyva

"Just because I love what I do, doesn't mean I have to do it for free"

...I think this pretty much sums up the creative arts industry... it's full of people who are arguably the most dedicated and passionate about what they do, but this isn't necessarily rewarded as such. It also highlights the struggle of trying to get clients to pay up!

- Kong-Yew Wong

It's scary first getting into the creative industries. There are so many wonderful companies out there who offer great work and fair pay but there are also plenty of places out there just looking to pounce on an "inexperienced/new creative". I've been very lucky and not experienced much of this, but I've seen too many talented creatives working for nothing and as a group we're not generally known for our self confidence so it can be quite damaging. It's quite easy to spot a chancer but sometimes hard to say no, I've been manipulated in the past against my best judgement into working for free and although it was only a very small project it still gets me to this day. That being said I've personally chosen to work on projects I've known I likely won't get paid for but these have been labours of love and the clients have been pretty upfront about it.. that's all you can ask really... it's not always about the money.

Yeah, I'd say don't be afraid to say no and follow your gut! You know what your art is worth!

- Alexander Willmore


You feel your work "isn't good enough" and that you don't have a "style" or you're being ignored. One thing after the other, these things pile up and you feel like maybe giving up. Well don't. These feelings of doubt and lacking creative self-esteem are pretty damn normal! We would say it's pretty weird if you don't feel any of these!

To combat this, use these feelings are fuel to your fire. Someone tells you you're not good enough? Prove them wrong okay! Keep on creating, keep on learning but most of all, keep on being true to you. You'll always face criticism and knock-backs, you just have to learn to deal with it in your own way.

Some helpful things when it comes to picking yourself back up:

  1. Take a deep breath, think about it, accept it and move on. How can you improve on this and how can you overcome it?

  2. Fill your world with positive messages. Social media is amazing for this kind of thing, some of our fav creative and motivational Instagram accounts are pasted below! (Click the images to view the artists feed) Our Papergang feed is also filled with postive posts this month!

  3. Post your work. I know, scary! But just do it! You'll soon realise that the world isn't such a scary place. The creative community is so supportive and are always happy to help you when you're stuck for ideas and give pointers on designs. Instagram offers polls, Q&A's and allows you to really interact with your audience for the better.


Subscribe to Gemma's box! The stationery inside focuses on mindfulness and well-being. For £10.95 you will receive a box full of stationery goodness delivered straight to your door, (it's super cute too!). Click here to head over to A little gift for someone or yourself.

Follow @thepapergang on Instagram. This month our feed is dedicated to self-love & self-care.

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