For this project, I created an illustration for the BuzzFeed News article, “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” that tries to capture its overall feeling of being overwhelmed. I did this through the use of simplified shapes and flat, mostly muted colors in order to create a figure slumped over at her desk while she thinks of all the things she still has to do, visualized by a cloud of papers expanding from her bulletin board.

Out of my original sketches, I chose to go with the first one because I felt that it best fit the mood of the article in general, while the spot illustrations could illustrate more specific parts of the article. When I began my first draft, I decreased the size of the figure in proportion to the papers and also drew the papers more outward to the side because I felt this would further exaggerate its message. For a color palette, I was originally thinking of incorporating a lot of blues and greys to get across that gloomy, drab feeling of being so completely overwhelmed by the work you have to do. However, I also wanted some contrast and variation within the papers themselves, so I did that and also added the signature yellow of post-it notes to further communicate that these are tasks to be done.

My first draft featured a much lighter color palette, but I realized that a darker background color would help bring out the contrast and negative space of the papers much more clearly. In my final draft, I’ve darkened the background to achieve this, but I had to sacrifice some contrast in the desk and chair to do so. I hope this wasn’t too big of a sacrifice, though I wonder if it still could use a bit more contrast. I also got rid of the lineart in the final draft because I felt that the piece looked more clean and polished with just the flat shapes. In the final draft, the piece ended up with more purples and pinks, but still greyed out to communicate that drab emotion. A couple people suggested using more bright colors like red to suggest the urgency of the tasks, but to me this piece more feels like the exhausted, resigned mood of letting things pile up because you don’t have the energy/mental capacity/time to deal with everything. You know there’s a lot to do, but you’re tired, so you just want to lie down and ignore it – but your responsibilities still hang over you like a dark cloud. I also tried to suggest this a little bit by orienting the papers almost in the formation of a thought bubble, coming together near the figure’s head as if she is imagining this explosion of the tasks on her bulletin board.

Lastly, my six spot illustrations are as follows:

  • A crossword with clues such as “how to stay relevant in the work force” that references the article’s point about millennials being problem solvers – yet the spaces in the crossword aren’t numbered and are random lengths, hinting at the difficulty (or impossibility) of actually finding a solution.
  • A bowl of soup where the noodles form “Call Boss” to reference the idea that millennials often aren’t even free to sit down and eat without thinking of the time they’re wasting and the things they have to do.
  • A yellow smiley face sticker with the word “FOOL” on its forehead to be placed near the section of the article that talks about the foolish optimism of growing up as a millennial – how they wanted to “win” the system.
  • A phone that keeps buzzing even after it is broken. This could suggest the incessant nature of notifications that comes with being available to people at all times via your phone, and how this can be damaging. This could also relate to millennials themselves because they have to keep working and moving on even long after they feel worn out.
  • A stereotypical sleeping mask with eyes drawn on it to relate to the idea of performing the self for the public and that millennials may look okay, but underneath the surface, they’re incredibly tired.
  • A stereotypical town sign that reads “Welcome to Burnout! Population: Every Millennial” to be placed near the article’s discussion of burnout as the permanent residence of millennials.

It was a bit of a challenge working entirely digitally in such a clean and graphic style. Usually when I have done digital work before, I just use the brush tool and approach the piece more like sketching or painting. For this one, however, I had to adjust my approach and use a lot of techniques that I don’t usually need. For example, I “drew” most of the figure with the lasso and bucket tools. The only times I got to use my familiar brush tool was for the face, minimal lines on the figure, and the writing on the papers. While this piece was a definite departure from my usual process, I still think it fits in with my other work and style, particularly with the use of pinks.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this piece. I like the look of the flat colors, especially on the figure where I also included minimal lines of shadow to further define her clothes. It was also a bit hard to simplify things to this extent, as I usually lean towards realism, but I really like how it turned out, especially the simplified figure. There were a lot of challenges I had to get across while making this, but I think I managed to overcome them and put everything together pretty well in the end. However, I’m not quite satisfied with a few of the colors, mostly the background and the color of the floor/desk/chair. I couldn’t make the background too light or I would lose the contrast between the papers and the wall, with all that negative space. But when I made it too dark, there was almost no contrast between the wall and the desk/chair. I think I’ve managed to find a decent enough compromise, though. In the end, I think I’ve managed to successfully capture this all too familiar mood.