Creativity, culture and side hustles

Name: Ava Senaratne
Location: Melbourne
What do you do in your day job?
Concepts, creative, strategy, project planning and management. 
Job Title:
Freelance Art Director and Editor-In-Chief at TCK TOWN

What were the last three books you read?

1. Almost Everything I Know by Mark Tredinnick. 

I met Mark at the NGV Typography Symposium a few weeks ago and we started chatting about our interests in writing and multiculturalism. He promptly pulled 'Almost Everything I Know' out of his backpack and handed it over. This particular book of poetry is half English and half Cantonese thanks to his collaboration with poet Isabelle Li. What are the odds that you'd have so much in common with a stranger sitting beside you at a conference?

2. Work-life by Design Mind
3. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 

What were the last three websites you visited?

What do you listen to whilst you're working?
Lately, Work On It, on repeat by Alicia Keys. Best love song ever!

What does a normal day look like for you?
What's a 'normal' day?

No, I'm just kidding. Despite how airy-fairy people may think a creative freelance career is (my parents included) you have to be extremely disciplined to cram all that work into a healthy lifestyle. Honestly, I think I just got the pattern down a few weeks ago.

I wake up at 8am and if I get dressed quickly enough (or if I'm sleepy) I'll grab a matcha latte from my favourite cafe.

I've been off coffee for a few months and it's been awesome! 

I'll jump on a tram until I get to the edge of the free-tram-zone, because it gives me enough time to regram for the Humans Of Purpose Instagram account.

From there I'll head down to work at Tank by foot and try to practice mindful walking while tripping up as few passing cyclists as possible. The length of my day at Tank varies, but it always starts with making sure my emails are filed and I've scheduled the right amount of time for my jobs.

If I have spare time, I attend to my side hustle TCK TOWN—where I write the first round of edits for our articles, schedule all of our Facebook posts, write our newsletters, upload finished articles into the blog and liaise with the remainder of our team and any interested new writers and collaborators.

It's a lot of work, but I love it. 

I usually work until about 9 pm and try to slip a Barre class in at least three times a week.

9:00 pm-9:30 pm is life admin time and from 9:30 onwards I yoga-out my poor muscles so I am not hobbling too awkwardly to work the next day.

I work most Saturday's too, but on Sunday's I switch off my phone completely, grocery shop at the local market, clean up my apartment and stay away from anything digital.

Tell me about your career journey, the good, the bad and the ugly.

My career has been ridiculous.

While studying at RMIT, I would fly back and forth for an internship at Lowe MENA, which was a "shit hot" (my then Creative Director's words) agency in Dubai. My first approved ad campaign concept was for the iPod. My amazing mentor Mark Lewis taught me that passion about great ideas doesn't wear away with age and that a concept can be found in even the "smallest, skinniest brief."

I loved working for a big, multicultural agency.

After I graduated I was offered a role as an Account Manager at Venus Communications. I had been interning for them as a Junior Art Director, and even though that role became redundant, they wanted to keep me in the team. My Lowe colleagues in Dubai were gutted that a creative was 'going over to the dark side' but I had always been a methodical, strategic thinker and wanted to try the role out. I was also not confident enough about my skills to look for something else. The job ended up being awesome—my Account Director taught me the value of taking initiative and being proactive to add value for your team and for your clients. I learned to work lean and mean under insane deadlines and timeframes too.

Then I moved to Tokyo!

I was doing so well at work and I knew I had a tendency to take myself too seriously. I could see myself getting promoted quickly and becoming obsessed with my career. I wanted that, but also — wisely some might say — I realised I was young enough to take time off to travel.

I was curious about teaching English — coming from a family of teachers — so I lived in Oomori doing just that, plus a few freelance projects on the side. I absolutely adored Tokyo and my students. My presentation skills shot through the roof and I learned that patience, encouragement and positivity can take you very far indeed.

I came back and rejoined Venus as an Art Director and then switched to Account Management as the company restructured. When they finally closed their doors a few years ago, I stayed in Account Management at another agency called Creative Results. It didn't take long for me to realise that my strategy of "working in a steady job that I was good at with a solid salary" didn't fit my thirsty brain's constant need for new knowledge. Plus I was crazy passionate about great ideas and incredible design. 

Working at Tank over the last year or so helped me realise the importance of meaningful creative projects.

Now I can't go back to traditional advertising, nor do I want to! 

What are you most proud of?

How far not compromising has taken me.

I'm often told I'm an overachiever and that I'm being unrealistic about my goals. But when I see that I'm working for good clients in my day job, and I go to bed buzzing because I'm also running a magazine that I am beyond proud of — I shrug and smile at their critique.

Tell me about one of your failures — how did you deal with it?

This may sound odd, but I don't really believe in failures or regret in the traditional sense because there's always something you can learn from it. "Failure" suggests that you've lost, but I don't think it's ever that black and white.

Who are you inspired by? Why?

Adele at the Grammys and Beyonce for writing her Lemonade album. I have a stack of names. I so admire people who are authentic enough to empower others to be themselves.

What are you inspired by? Why?

People who aren't ashamed of their pain or "weak" moments. I think it helps break down this idea that we need to be 'happy' or 'perfect' — when in reality, being self-aware and having self-love is far more important.

How do you keep your skills sharp?

By staying in the industry! The best way to learn, for me, is by doing.

I didn't know enough about publishing or social media so I started TCK TOWN. Working in context, I find, makes your skills more relevant.

How do you ensure you keep learning?

I am constantly exposing myself to new things, even if I'm strapped for time.

What will the role of the Designer look like in ten years time?

Hopefully, communication will continue to become more authentic and provide genuine value to their audience. I love that we're moving away from traditional mass advertising and cookie-cutter approaches. Maybe UX design will become more widely practised — I'd love for more customer touch-points to be considered in campaigns, instead of just looking at the communication aspect of the relationship between brands and their clients.

What's next?

Art directing for an amazing, purposeful brand, like maybe Ben and Jerrys or Lush, in one of their international offices! Only a matter of time 😉

If you could give an emerging Designer, young or experienced, three pieces of advice, what would they be?

1. Age is just a number:
You do not have to become more jaded the longer you work in the creative industry. You don't have to become exhausted, fatter or a chain smoker either.

There is room to be passionate, energetic and to keep learning.

Don't make the mistake of thinking your best years are now so you can churn and burn until you're one of those black, turtle-necked, old creatives who now owns a gallery because they've 'done their time' in the industry.

You can love and learn from your career until you're ready to retire.

What's the easiest way to keep learning? Go out. Eat food you haven't tried before. Say yes to that weird play your friend is in. Go to a house party where you don't really know anyone. Go to those free talks that are all over Melbourne on subjects that you're kind of curious about or only slightly interested in. Play on Instagram and Youtube. It is unreal how often these seemingly 'random' moments pop up during agency time, when you are pulling ideas together for clients, and end up adding to fully-formed, legitimate concepts. 

2. There's no 'me' in advertising

Sometimes, being a shit-hot creative is all you need, to do well. But most of the time you will be part of a team that is relying on you to get your job done — and you won't have to rely on your rockstar status.

You will be representing an agency or a brand in front of their key stakeholders. Respect your team and work with them as a professional to achieve the targets that were agreed upon way before the creative brief was even handed to you.

In an industry where technology is exponentially bettering itself and new skills and styles are continuously blossoming into existence, being a reliable team player never stops being relevant. Pure talent will get you somewhere, but it will only get you so far, for so long.

3. Writer's block doesn't exist.

Believe in yourself and in your abilities and take that with you to every job. Your creative talent won't suddenly run out. If you treat creativity as a business tool that you flex whenever you have a brief to crack, instead of a divine flash of greatness that you have no control over, you'll be able to produce relevant, meaningful and exciting work again and again whenever it really matters!

Check out TCK Town here.

My StoryJim Antonopoulos