Art + Design

11 Illustrated Pep Talks from Today’s Leading Creatives

Everyone needs a little pep talk now and then—luckily, pep talks can come in book form. Enter Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller: an inspiring tool and beautiful art book in one.

The pages are filled with illustrated words of wisdom from 50 of today’s leading creative professionals—people like Aaron James Draplin, Oliver Jeffers, Lisa Congdon, and Mike Perry. Get a taste of the book with this excerpt, which will hopefully put some (creative) pep in your step.

Creative Pep Talk

Why a pep talk? Because thriving as a creative person isn’t about luck or talent. It’s about blood, sweat, and tears. Putting in the hours, staying motivated on a daily basis, and staying dedicated to perfecting your craft over a lifetime. The world isn’t ready for your creativity because it didn’t exist until now. There’s no cookie-cutter shape for you to fill in; you have to make your own space and mold it to your unique form.

Oh, and all the while, all sorts of people will be trying to stop you. Enemies, friends, and even your family will try and “save” you from your creative path. To be honest, it’s an uphill battle. But you can do it. It takes clarity and strategy, discipline and grit. Sometimes it even takes long nights and take-out pizza. Joking aside, I hope this book acts as your personal pep rally, cheering you on in this creative race.

1. Kate Bingaman-Burt

Creative Pep Talk: Kate Bingaman-Burt

Everyone Has a Story to Tell

“It’s easy to forget that we do. It’s easy to get caught up with trends. It’s easy to lose our own voice. But it’s worth remembering and repeating: Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?”


2. Jon Burgerman

Creative Pep Talk: Jon Burgerman

If You Can’t Be Good, Be Different

“It’s tough being the best, mainly because there’s not really any such thing. There’s always someone you perceive as being better. We shouldn’t get too wrapped up in all that because it makes us and our work boring. I believe it’s better to focus on being different, or in other words, being you. Being interesting and offering an unusual point of view through your work is more valuable than being technically proficient. So don’t worry about being as good, or the best, just be interesting and different!”


3. Tad Carpenter

Creative Pep Talk: Tad Carpenter


“There is great value in feeling a part of a team. As humans, we want to be part of a group that is larger than ourselves, whether that’s family, a sports team, or even a profession, we want to be part of a group. As a designer, at times, it can feel like a very isolating profession. It’s as if we woke up on Christmas morning, and the entire McCallister family has left for Paris, and we find ourselves home alone. For me, the best work I create is always when I make an effort to collaborate with the others involved in the project and the others in my studio. As designers we are not just little Kevin McCallisters, working all alone. We are collaborators, colleagues, and team members working together to make our place a better place.”


4. Lisa Congdon

Creative Pep Talk: Lisa Congdon

It’s Always Worth It

“I spent much of my life until my late thirties lamenting mistakes and harboring regrets. Somewhere in there, I learned that what made me feel better each day was embracing everything about my life, including the things that didn’t go well. This simple perspective shift changed everything for me and made it much more possible for me to feel happy every day. It also helped me take more risks, because even if I failed, it would be worth it since I would learn something new that made me a better, smarter, more compassionate person. I came up with this phrase to remind myself and others of this way of thinking. This is the fourth piece of artwork I’ve designed with the phrase since 2008.”


5. Erin Jang

Creative Pep Talk: Erin Jang

Make Work Play

“Having fun when I’m working, looking at a project in a playful way, and making things with my hands have all been successful approaches to design for me. Some of my favorite projects have come from a place of play. Experimenting with collage led to some award-winning designs at Esquire. Fooling around with food faces with my son turned into a column for Lucky Peach and a fun project with Disney. Making and designing gifts for my family and close friends led to being approached to write a craft book. Making your designs playful and bringing that joy of creating and experimenting into a project can make your work sing.”


6. Oliver Jeffers

Creative Pep Talk: Oliver Jeffers

Create Curiosity

“This was created as a charitable endeavor to support education. It’s a mixed-media piece with drawn, painted, and collaged elements, which is fairly common across much of my body of work. I have always found curiosity to be among the most important elements of any child’s growth and development, especially within the context of education, and I hope that my work has been able to inspire a curious spirit within growing minds.”


7. Erik Marinovich

Creative Pep Talk: Eric Marinovich

Live Big By Appreciating All That is Small

“Learn how to turn work off and wake up to a moment. Be open to those fleeting conversations, use a Sharpie on your favorite shirt, play an instrument even if you don’t know how. These small moments can inspire you in surprising ways and might even lead to an idea of a lifetime.”


8. Debbie Millman

Creative Pep Talk: Debbie Millman

Between the Creative and the Logical

“In an essay I first wrote for Steven Heller’s book Design Disasters: Great Designers, Fabulous Failure, and Lessons Learned, I reviewed the myriad of failures I’d experienced over the course of my life. I decided to write about my biggest failure of all: the complete lack of belief I had in pursuing my dreams. Over the years, I’ve expanded the piece into a visual essay for my book Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design, a commencement speech for San Jose State University, and a graphic film for Adobe, I hope this piece resonates with those who fear failing, wonder if they’ve compromised their own creative dreams for security and stability, or have a hard time choosing magic over logic.”


9. Chris Piascik

Creative Pep Talk: Chris Piascik

Stay Weird

“Embracing the things that make me unique has proved to be invaluable throughout my career. Over the years, I’ve found the work I do that resonates most with my audience (and art directors) is the work I am most passionate about. Any time I’ve tried to do something that I think might be ‘marketable,’ it’s usually a flop. So embrace what makes you different and stay weird!”


10. Carolyn Sewell

Creative Pep Talk: Carolyn Sewell

Pleasing Everyone is the Shortcut to Beige

“Nobody likes design-by-committee, except maybe the committee. Trying to please every committee member is guaranteed to produce a boring design and an unhappy (and exhausted) designer. The end result is a plain pair of khakis. Nothing offensive, but nothing interesting either. A forgettable piece of beige.”


11. Sarah Walsh

Creative Pep Talk: Sarah Walsh

Wake Up and Dream

“This is sort of like saying ‘dreaming isn’t just for sleeping.’ I feel like having dreams (goals) is imperative for creatives, or for any human for that matter. Having a dream or goal is something to work toward. Dreams give us a reason to put our best self forward, and from there we get energy. Dreams also give us hope when things aren’t going great. I think the coolest thing about dreams is that we can nurture them and keep them close to our heart ‘til they grow big enough to become a reality. That’s magic to me.”


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You can find Andy J. Miller’s Creative Pep Talk here. May you make great things!

Creative Pep Talk

Andy J. Miller

Andy J. Miller is an illustrator, author, and host of the Creative Pep Talk Podcast. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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