The Secret Sauce of Janis Ozolins

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Image by Janis Ozolins

This interview is part of a weekly series that focuses on creators who live at the intersection of writing and art. The goal is to provide inspiration and practical tips for anyone looking to add more visuals to their work.

Janis Ozolins is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. He illustrates thoughts and quotes that hit home for anyone in a creative pursuit.

Like this tweet:

His audience has doubled in the short time I’ve been following his work and it’s all thanks to his approach to pairing thoughtful ideas with simple, striking illustrations. I caught up with him over email and he was kind enough to share his journey getting started as a visual creator. Be sure to follow Janis on Twitter for non-stop great visuals and sign up for his email newsletter right here.

Tell us about the creative work you do.

I illustrate various things around creativity. For the most part: creative struggles. This quote captures one of the primary goals I try to accomplish with my illustrations.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”
― Shannon L. Alder

What was your journey to get to your current visual style?

It’s been a while. In early 2016, I decided I want to be part of the Creators Economy. I tried a bit of blogging and YouTube, plus some other things, but it never lasted.
Around mid-2019, while reading this article by James Clear, I was fascinated by how he visualized concepts for extra punch.

I was hooked and started to illustrate lessons I’ve learned over the years. After a while, I found Visualize Value which made me push harder to nail down a really minimal aesthetic, but I struggled to get to a point where I was satisfied with my work.

Aaron and Andrew got me curious about drawing with hand. In a matter of days, I had an iPad in my hands, and I started to draw. I loved it, and with extra inspiration from Liz and Mollie and Tim Urban, I developed the style I have now.

Here is a thread with examples and some addition to this story.

What went into the decision to start including original visuals with your work? Do you find it helps you communicate your ideas better?

I’ve never been a big reader. I love audiobooks, podcasts and I prefer if people add visuals to their blogs as it helps to illustrate the ideas better or hold my attention for the piece I’m reading

It goes back to the good old advice: make something you would love to see yourself.
Also, I love the challenge of taking an idea and trying to figure out how I could communicate this idea so my audience understands it instantly without burning many calories.

What tools do you like to use for creation and publishing?

Step one: always be ready to capture thoughts and ideas, so you don’t end up like this.

Step two: have your constraints in place (color, schemes, fonts, etc.).

Step three: Communicate your idea within those constraints.

Another tip: it does not always start with a lesson of the message I want to deliver. Often it starts with a simple object or situation I’ve noticed, and then I figure out what message could go into that.

For example, I noticed this “Life Sucks” playlist on Spotify.

I then figured out how this could fit into an illustration, and I came up with this:

The most important tool in my tool stack is the iPad with Apple Pencil. All the drawings currently happen in the Procreate app.

Is there one image you are particularly proud of?

I find the most joy when I use analogies in my work, but one of my recent favorites is this message I try to remind myself of often.

Are there any creators who work at the intersection of writing and art that inspire and motivate you?

Tim Urban from Wait But Why. He is amazing. I love his work.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to start (or continue) adding visual creativity to their work?

Don’t be afraid to imitate others and mix things up. There were so many times where I felt like giving up because I felt like a copycat or not original enough.

In those moments, it’s important to go back to your Why? Why are you doing this? If your intentions are good and generous, it’s easier to give yourself a break and keep going.

On a final note. Feel free to arm yourself with my favorite quote from Brendon Burchard.

“Believe in your abilities to figure things out.”

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