For creatives who have long been working from home, the new world of lockdown has been relatively easy to adapt to. But that doesn't mean it's been without its problems. With everything to deal with from cancelled contracts and lost income to isolation and loneliness, it's not surprising that designers, illustrators and artists have been looking for new places to link up.
There are so many virtual communities springing up right now, often on a local or regional basis, that it would be impossible to list them all. But in this post, we've collected together eight online meetups that you may not be aware of. Some are long-running but have recently been made free, while others have been launched specifically in response to the lockdown. All of them offer a place to find like-minded souls and get support, advice and encouragement to help you through the crisis.
01. Just Us Collective
Set up in 2009 by freelance graphic designer Mark Luke Grant, The Just Us Collective (opens in new tab) is a non-profit community of illustrators and designers, formed to showcase creative talent and encourage networking and collaboration. They are currently building a community on Slack (opens in new tab) with past members, and have opened submissions for new ones too.
"Since lockdown, a lot of us are talking about what we've been doing to keep occupied," says Grant. "It’s a mixed bag, really: some are still quite busy; we have seen a lot of editorial illustration being commissioned, whereas others have been fairly quiet, taking the time to work on portfolio, passion projects or just taking some time out. We’ve also been talking about ideas to create an online exhibition and actively sharing inspiration and ideas."
02. On the Side
Launched last summer by web designer and podcast producer Si Jobling, On The Side (opens in new tab) is a collaborative community aimed at helping you focus on and finish your side projects. "It's slowly growing traction and has some lovely people who motivate each other with work, life and side projects," he says.
"The group has been specifically helpful over the past few months, when many people are lacking capacity, energy or enthusiasm; even uncertainty with their jobs," Jobling adds. "We seem to have bursts of conversations around these things, but tend to come back to our daily, weekly or monthly goals on side projects."
"Since the lockdown, we've seen an increased number of new members and messages going up," says DevChat's Mustafa Abdelhai, "as well as an increased interest in working/meeting remotely."
And it's not just been about chatting, but also doing. "We've always wanted to organise a community hackathon," adds Abdelhai, "and were more motivated to do it after the lockdown began, to get people to communicate more and have something to do in their new downtime. We had more 250 participants and 19 submitted projects (opens in new tab). In general, it is impacting our virtual life positively. Of course, Covid is a horrible thing, but I think we understand and embrace the value of the internet more than ever before because of it."
04. Studio Anorak Slack Channel
Studio Anorak (opens in new tab) is an independent kids' publishing house founded in 2006 by Cathy Olmedillas, formerly of '90s lifestyle bible The Face. At the start of lockdown, Olmedillas decided to set up a Slack channel, where every day from 4-6pm GMT, artists and illustrators can chat about their day, their fears, and share happy thoughts.
"I created the group to support the creative community, because although many of us are used to working from home, this forced isolation can make it feel a lot more lonely," says Olmedillas. "We meet every day from 4pm and each day has a theme, which could be anything from 'we love pens', to 'dressing during quarantine times: pyjamas? same dress, day-in day-out?'"
The group has also been involved in portfolio reviews and guest appearances, including children's author Chris Haughto, artist Dave Buonaguidi, and a child psychiatrist talking about the effects of lockdown on kids and adults. "Plus we've been sharing kids' vintage books, podcasts, and just generally chatting," adds Olmedillas. "To register, just email us with a link to your portfolio here (opens in new tab)."
05. Corvid Community for Digital Artists
Yes, you read that right, and no: the Corvid Community for Digital Artists (opens in new tab) is nothing to do with COVID-19. In fact, it was launched over a year ago by The Jacky Winter Group (opens in new tab), a global creative production and artist representation studio based in Melbourne, and 'corvid' is another word for crow. "Yeah, we know the name is not ideal at the moment," the group admits, "but we're already in too deep with Google Apps."
What is ideal, though, is that while you previously had to pay a monthly subscription to join the group, since March 27 it's been made free. And many visual artists have been taking advantage of the opportunity to network, socialise and get help and guidance.
"The discussions at the moment are really varied," says Jeremy Wortsman, director and founder of Jacky Winter and Corvid. "I think what people are enjoying most right now is our advice channel, where everyone is talking openly about pricing and negotiation and other sometimes thorny issues. It's a way for artists we don't represent to get direct access to me and the rest of our agents. It's a great way for us to be able to contribute at this stage, while also a way to demonstrate our skills for our other Corvid offerings: Companion and Consult."
06. Slack channel for agency owners
While there are many places for designers, illustrators and artists to meet up online, groups dedicated to company heads are a little thinner on the ground. Back in March, this prompted Ben Steers, the owner of Fiasco Design (opens in new tab), to set up a Slack workspace for design agencies owners and directors to share information and resources, as well as new work opportunities for businesses who are struggling with impact of the pandemic.
"We’ve currently got more than 250 members," says Steers, "all agency owners or senior management. And it’s turned out to be a really positive space where individuals are able to have open, honest conversations about issues and challenges surrounding subjects such as remote working, team management, furloughing, and redundancies. As well as sharing resources – government policies and support etc – and new business opportunities, it’s a great illustration of the strength of the creative community and the willingness of people to pull together in these exceptional times."
If you'd like to get an invite to join the group, contact Steers via his Twitter account. (opens in new tab)
07. Slack group for illustrators
Back in March, illustrator Ben O'Brien, aka Ben the Illustrator, asked illustrators to join a private Slack group on Twitter. And as we reported at the time (opens in new tab), within 24 hours he had gathered together a big community of illustrators from all over the world.
"I set up the group quite early on during the lockdown," says O'Brien now, "because I felt people needed a community to lean on; something focused on their profession to find answers and support from likeminded peers. There was a huge response to my first tweets, and the community has grown to around 650 illustrators as it stands.
"Ironically I personally haven't had as much time to use it as I'd hoped, mostly down to family time, home-schooling etc," O'Brien adds. "But I'm pleased to say that's it's growing organically, so no-one needs to direct the conversation, least of all me. The conversations are varied and positive: people looking for help with bureaucratic processes – applying for funding during the pandemic etc; showing and critiquing work; and sharing opportunities. If anyone is interested in joining the group then they just need to send me their email address, either by a DM on Twitter (opens in new tab) or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org."
08. Booooooom! Slack workspace
Based in Vancouver, Booooooom is a global arts and culture platform fostering a community of tomorrow’s talent. Back in March, they decided to make their private Slack Community free for all, for the foreseeable future.
"For the past couple years the Booooooom Slack (opens in new tab) has been a place for our paying members to ask for advice, share things that are inspiring them, and get feedback on work," says editor-in-chief Jeff Hamada. "I'd love it if all of this self quarantining and social distancing ended up being the catalyst for an explosion of vibrant creative communities and support networks online.
"There have been all kinds of discussions happening on the group since lockdown began," Hamada adds. "A lot of people are obviously sharing their work, but also random creatives links they find. The big discussion I started was about good simple recipes as we're all stuck at home a lot these days. Got so many new ones to try out!"