In these challenging economic times, many clients, perhaps understandably, are acting with more caution with regards to design work, and are opting for safer commissions rather than investing in the experimental. But this sort of climate tends to forge a strong landscape of personal projects within the creative industries as designers, illustrators and animators start to explore ideas that are too risky for tentative clients.

Up Creatives’ (upcreatives.com) creative director Jamie Balliu believes that “personal projects are a way of finding, re-finding or redefining your personal voice – not just creatively speaking, but at times also in terms of your values and ideals.”

Earlier this year the design studio organised an exhibition called Information is Currency (information-is-currency.com), based around the theme of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cable releases. Not only did it give Up Creatives the chance to engage with peers to produce content for the show, but it allowed Jamie and his team to experiment with ideas without the involvement of a client.

“Purging your creativity [on personal projects] makes you calmer at work and more pragmatic about doing a good job that fits the client’s needs, rather than horseshoeing wild solutions into your day job,” he says.

David Cameron by Graham Cheal, for an ongoing project with the Nabokov Theatre;

“At some point perhaps find enough demand for your ‘out of house’ approach, and then you can do less of the bread and butter, and more of the pudding.”

For illustrator Graham Cheal (grahamcheal.co.uk), personal projects help cultivate ways of thinking and an agile approach that subsequently feed back into client briefs. “Stimulating your mind creatively is quite important – it keeps you on your toes, keeps your mind sharp. It’s doing this that will help you in the long run,” he says. “When you get a tight deadline and you need a good idea fast, if you’re always thinking creatively then ideas flow so much more quickly.”

David Janes’s stab at a children’s book, The Bonaparte Bust

Play around with ideas

Montreal-based Julien Vallée (jvallee.com) agrees that an experimental personal project can be useful in informing future paid work. “You don’t know how it’s going to end or if the result will be positive,” he enthuses, “but personal work could lead to a technique, medium or an idea that might be helpful for a future commissioned project with a tight schedule where you don’t have to much time to explore.”

When working on projects for yourself, it’s important to think outside your normal discipline. Last year illustrator Kenn Munk (kennmunk.com) and artist Annabelle Hartmann set up A Secret Club (schhh.org), which provides creative workshops for children. It also blurs the distinction between personal and client projects: although each workshop needs funding from a school or institution, the creative direction lies entirely with the pair, allowing them to explore their interests.

“One day I’m building a zoetrope from an old pram, the next I’m editing an animation,” Kenn says. “I like this lack of consistency. It’s liberating.”

Although personal projects can be a welcome break from the day job, Kenn advises keeping to consistent working practices. “No matter how wild or crazy you go, it’s important to always treat it like a job,” he says. “A fun project demands the same level of respect as a job for a client. Be prepared to fail – no harm in that as there’s no client involved – and it’s a sign that you’ve tried something new.”