As my illustration business turned one year older recently I was thinking about all the things that have happened since I started, all the opportunities I’ve had so far, all the things I want to achieve still and all the ways I have grown. This includes the mistakes that I made. I’m sure there will be a few more along the way and I’m not suggesting that what happened to me would necessarily happen to you – everybody’s experience is unique after all – but I decided that I’d share my mistakes in the hope that maybe you can avoid some of the traps that I fell into. Here are my five biggest mistakes to date. Some of them are really cringe-worthy. (You’ve been warned!) Continue reading
When I started my business I had this idea that since I was my own boss and able to choose my hours I would end up working a nice 9 to 5 and use the rest of the time doing whatever else I wanted. I was wrong. Continue reading
I remember how not that long ago I was obsessing over finding my style as an artist. It was always at the back of my head. Not only that but I was seeing so much great artwork online that I wanted to be like those artists that I felt were more successful than me (note the contradiction here: I wanted to find my style / I wanted to be like other artists).
I spent a lot of time looking at every piece of artwork I was creating and asking myself ‘Is this my style? Is this unique? Is this innovative?’
These questions were putting me under quite a lot of self-inflicted stress and often I felt like I didn’t know who I was as an artist.
In my personal life something similar was happening. When I became a freelance illustrator I was faced with the fact that I didn’t have to dress according to a specific dress code and where I should have felt freedom I felt confusion instead. I had been dressing for other people for so long that I didn’t know how to dress like me anymore. In fact I didn’t know what ‘me’ would wear.
So I didn’t know who I was as an artist and I didn’t know who I was as a person.
In a way this could have been overcome fairly quickly if I hadn’t been so darn stubborn about focusing on what I felt I should do instead of focusing on what I wanted to do.
One baby step at a time I progressively let go of the shoulds, both in my art career and in my personal life. I opened up to what I liked, what was making me happy, what was making me laugh and little by little I started doing more of that until it snowballed.
My art started becoming more like me when I started becoming more like me.
Recently I read that “all art is autobiographical” and I believe it is true.
About being unique and having a unique style, the title for today’s post is borrowed from Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. In that book (which I really recommend reading by the way) I read a quote that really struck me. It said: “[…] let’s not waste a second worrying because we are not like other people. You are something new in the world. Never before since the beginning of time, has there ever been anybody like you; and never again throughout all the ages to come will there ever be anybody exactly like you again.”
Man, this quote feels good every time I read it!
So much time spent worrying about wanting to have a unique style and here it is, and it had been there all along:
“You are something new in the world.”
So if you ever wonder what your artistic style is and how to find it, my advice to you is: make lots of art, draw the things that you want to draw, be yourself and it will soon become obvious to you what your style is.
Same if you wonder who you are as a person. Do things that make you happy, do things that make you laugh, do things that make you feel excited and you will soon find out who you are.
As long as you are not imitating somebody else and that you are being you, then you are unique and so is your artistic voice – yes I said voice. Because your style might be similar to someone else’s (and as long as you are not copying that’s okay by the way!) but your voice, well your voice is your own take on whatever you’re doing.
I will leave you with two things:
1) A quote from Kung Fu Panda 3 (this film franchise is full of pearls of wisdom!) where Po says: “Your real strength comes from being the best you you can be. Who are you? What are you good at? What makes you, you?”
2) I made this ‘What makes me me’ illustration a few months ago and I thought that it would be fun to fill in the boxes again every year or so to see what changes and what stays the same.
You can download and print a version of this illustration with empty boxes here.
(For personal use only, no commercial use. If you’d like to use this for commercial/non-personal use, contact me here.)
Have a lovely day and enjoy being yourself in life and in your art!
CARNEGIE, D., ‘Find Yourself and Be Yourself: Remember There Is No One Else on Earth Like You’, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. London: Vermilion – an imprint of Ebury Publishing, 1998, pp.168-176.
We all have different ideas of what makes someone successful.
When I started illustrating professionally, I told myself that I would be successful when:
- My work would be published by a renowned publishing company
- My illustrations would be sold on products
- I would have thousands of followers on my social media (basically when I would be famous)
- My art would be my sole source of income
Quite quickly I started feeling like a total failure because despite all my hard work none of that seemed to happen.
Do you know that saying that goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”?
Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. The universe, seeing that I was ready, threw a bunch of talks, podcasts and articles at me which helped me realise that I had been thinking about it all the wrong way and that I had dismissed every little good thing I had already achieved because it wasn’t ‘enough’ according to my high standards; because it wasn’t the ‘big thing’.
At that point three things happened almost simultaneously:
1) I remembered something that I had read in a few different books: that it is good to celebrate even the smallest successes, and failures too because it means that we tried something that didn’t work on this occasion but we tried, and we learnt.
This was a sort of epiphany and I realised the amount of stuff I had been dismissing up until that point. And I made a contract with myself: from now on I would record everything, successes and failures alike, no matter how big or how small. Keeping track of these turned my world upside down and I realised how much had happened since I had started my illustration career.
2) I also changed my definition of success, which became “I will be successful as an artist when:
- I create art consistently
- I make art that ‘looks and feels’ like me
- I make genuine connections thanks to my art”
Some of these things I was doing or were happening already!
3) I accepted the fact that there was no shame in having multiple sources of income and that I wasn’t less of an artist for it.
I still dream of being published by a renowned publishing company and to see my illustrations on products and I am working on it. But it doesn’t define how successful I am anymore and if that level of external recognition never happens then I will have at least enjoyed the journey and every step of the way.
I am happier with my life and with the person I have become now than I have ever been before. And that, to me is what really matters.
So how can you become a successful artist then?
Maybe all you have to do is change the way you look at it and go back to the essence of what really matters to you and of what makes you happy. Maybe you are already successful and you just haven’t realised it yet!
After last week’s post on Five Benefits of Sharing Your Artwork I got a few people asking what I thought the best places for sharing were so I thought that a new blog post was in order!
When it comes to sharing your artwork, you can take baby steps or jump all in. There is no set rule and it depends on what you are comfortable with. For example you don’t have to show your artwork to art directors or publishers straight away! Although if you feel brave enough to do it, go for it!
- A good place to start is with people that make you feel good about yourself like family and friends whose opinion you value and who are supportive (these guys are so awesome that they will love you no matter what!).
- Why not try to find a group of illustrators or creative people in your area who you can meet with regularly? Note: it is important that you feel comfortable with the people you choose to meet with since you will be talking about things that really matter to you and you want to be able to speak openly and feel supported so you might have to try a few different groups before you find the one that’s right for you. You want to find the right balance between support and constructive criticism, not people that put you down constantly in order to make themselves look better (you are not a punching bag!).
- When you feel confident enough I think that the internet, and especially Instagram and/or a blog, is a good place to be too. If your intention is to become a professional illustrator you will need an online presence anyway so the sooner you start building that online presence the better. Don’t necessarily show absolutely everything and keep in mind that the number of followers that you get – as flattering as it can be – isn’t an indicator of success – or failure (but that’s for another post!).
- If you hear about any events where art directors and/or illustration agents are happy to review and criticise your work, this is also a good thing to try too. It sure is scary because all of a sudden you are talking to people who could potentially hire you, but I find that it helps to realise that they are people too and not deadly mystical creatures. Plus you can see how potential clients react to your work and ask questions like how you could improve your work to make it more interesting to them.
I hope you found this post helpful! Don’t hesitate to get in touch to share your favourite places to show your artwork, we would all love to hear about your experience!
One of my friends who recently graduated and was very shy about showing me her final university project inspired me to write this post. Because I know she is not the only one that feels shy about showing her artwork. Because I’ve been there myself.
Sharing your artwork can be scary for various reasons.
However, instead of keeping your work to yourself I strongly encourage you to be brave and to share your artwork with others.
This is why:
- Sharing your artwork frees you from the fear of what people might (or might not) think of it. It helps with learning how to receive and handle criticism which is a great skill to have, especially if your intention is to be a professional artist. The more you hear people comment on your work and the more you get used to receiving criticism, the easier it gets because it is not such a new thing anymore after a while.
- Sharing your artwork frees you from what YOU might be thinking of your work, good or bad. It helps to put things into perspective and to detach yourself from your work. I’m sure that your artwork is very personal to you but don’t let it become too precious, don’t let it become sacred, don’t let it stress you. Instead let it free you, let it be fun, let it be exciting!
- Sharing your artwork is great for testing ideas. If you wonder how your ideas would be received, whether they would get any attention and interest, and whether they are worth pursuing further show them to people! You can often pick up interesting things from hearing what people have to say and it might lead you onto new ways of treating your subject that you wouldn’t have thought about yourself.
- You may notice that you start producing better work as a result of showing your artwork to people (see point 3).
- Sharing your artwork may lead to new ideas and leave you feeling inspired and excited (see point 3). What’s not to like about that?
Sharing your artwork can also benefit the people around you. Have you ever heard of the ‘butterfly effect’ (the concept that something small in appearance can have a big impact)? Seeing how brave you are might just inspire a friend or a family member to start something that they felt unsure or scared about.
I hope this post helped and I’d love to hear about your experience. Have you become more relaxed as a result of sharing your artwork or do you still struggle? Have you noticed any other benefits than the ones I pointed out?
As an illustrator I often get asked what my top tips are so I thought I would share some of them here. Obviously they reflect my own experience and if you ask me about my top tips again in a year time I’m sure I will find another thing or two to add to this list!
Distance yourself from your work
I used to be very shy about showing my work to other people (my parents included). I was afraid of what people might think of me as a person when they saw it. At the time, you see, I didn’t differentiate myself from my work and I believed that when my work was being looked at and judged I, as a person, was also on the hot seat. I am not sure how and when it all ‘clicked’ in my head but somehow I came to realise that I was completely mistaken and that when people see and comment on my work, they are not commenting on me as a person. Them liking or disliking one of my illustrations doesn’t mean that they like or dislike me. This tiny change in the way I perceived my work made a big difference: I stopped seeing my work as something precious and sacred – sure it comes from me and is very personal to me but it is not me – and this in turn enabled me to feel more detached and more relaxed about my work. That was liberating! I am afraid I cannot teach you how to switch that button in your head but understand this: no matter how much of yourself you pour into your work, you are not your work!
Make things happen
I do believe that there is an element of luck in creative careers but luck is not all. There is also hard work (obviously), persistence (it’s not a race, it’s a marathon) and… well, your ability to make things happen. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some big companies and amazing people so far but I also know that some of the opportunities I’ve had I owe entirely to myself. Sure, it can be super scary to contact people and put yourself out there but it is also so rewarding and you will feel very proud of yourself when you get results! Ask yourself what types of projects you would like to work on and who you would like to work with, and take action today!
Even when you feel that you are finally getting good at your craft, don’t feel like it’s where it ends. I have always been very curious and I love learning (this actually caused some confusion when I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life because I was interested in so many things!), and I can’t praise highly enough the benefits of learning new things and exploring what makes you curious. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with your craft at all (that’s the beauty of it!). Beside the fact that I find learning new things fun I have noticed that it makes me feel excited, motivated and it often leads to new ideas that I can then use into my work! So try new techniques, experiment, read books, watch tutorials, listen to podcasts, take a class, go to the museum,… But whatever you do, keep learning!