Something that I have found which is sorely lacking in professional life is the opportunity to experiment. Back in college, we had the opportunity to spend hours in the labs tinkering with our own ideas and projects. The sky was the limit because we didn't have the pressure of client-imposed deadlines or an employer breathing down our neck. College was that petri dish of ideas, inspiration, innovation and creativity. Yes, there were classes to take, homework to do, and projects to get done--all with their own deadlines. However, the difference between college and work--for me at least--was that college was dedicated to the discovery of information, be it problem solving or just knowledge for the sake of knowledge. But when you're on the job, you're expected to always know the correct answer at a moment's notice since 'you' are the expert. That expectation may or may not be realistic. While we should always continue learning about our career choice, the opportunities to continue learning and experimenting aren't always available.
My membership with the Toronto Animated Image Society continues to pay dividends as every year they host workshops that span a plethora of artistic styles, media, and instructors. Several times I've solved a rather vexing problem on client work by doodling, mowing the lawn, taking a shower, watching a movie, basically any activity that distracts my mind from the task at hand. So, these events where I can learn a new artistic technique, bookended by a four hour drive to and from Toronto, have provided a lot of tightly focused time to experiment, learn, and reflect upon what I have learned. They basically provide that college 'petri dish' experience in the space of a weekend. And by extension, they have provided many flashes of inspiration that have solved problems that I have faced on the job.
When I was in graduate school at R.I.T., I would spend a couple hours every Saturday at the local zoo, drawing the animals and reflecting on my classes. As the Summer months are almost upon me, I think that it's time to revive that practice by renewing my yearly membership to the local zoo and drawing the animals on Saturday mornings. In the past, that weekly act of experimentation (combined with quiet reflection) provided me with no shortage of ideas, inspirations, and solutions to my problems.
As time marches on, I am coming to the conclusion that if I want to progress both as an artist/animator and in my career, I cannot neglect the importance of experimentation. Funny how we tend to forget the lessons that served us so well in the past.