This was the first winter I truly hibernated. Hauled up in my office, I worked through precious sunlit hours of the day, learning the ropes of business and cranking out images. Summer came overnight and so did the end of my workaholic lifestyle that I tricked myself into thinking I needed to live as a freelancer. I learned so much in this first year and it’s been nice to take the summer to reflect, organize and dig deeper into the world of illustration and finding my place in it.
My first jobs were a whirlwind and I felt totally unprepared for every single one. I started with low confidence when I quit my office job because I hadn’t really illustrated in 2 years. I was rusty and pictures didn’t flow out of me like they used to, before I started to dissolve under the pressure of professionalism. Two of my first jobs were from big publishers and I felt obligated to give them masterful, high caliber work like the stuff I saw on the bookshelves and online. I wished I was able to ease into the business with some smaller jobs even though I was thankful for being given such momentous opportunities. It felt like a mistake that these publishers were hiring me at all. I felt unworthy of these jobs and the perfectionist in me made it very difficult to enjoy the process of doing art professionally (let alone allowing myself to play and experiment in my sketchbook to get my mojo back.) I had made the commitment to full time freelancing but, I hardly felt comfortable calling myself a professional.
illustrating each page felt like running a marathon after not having trained at all for 2 years.The sketching process was fun and easy but, when it came time for color I was blindsided. I had never really studied painting, not like I should have. I wanted to capture light and emotion like so many of my idols but upon reflection I realized I had never done master copies or plain air studies or anything that would help me to build the muscle memory I needed to call upon to bring these books to life from imagination. I needed time to take my paints out and discover what my painting style was and get comfortable with color and mark making again. But, I didn’t have that kind of time. I had 4 books on my desk and whatever knowledge I graduated with at my disposal. I tried looking at other artists which only confused me more. I realized even though I was a fan of their work, trying to emulate their techniques was much harder than trying to convey the world as I saw it, through my own eyes. I needed to walk my own path to be efficient and find joy in my work again.
The artists work is never done, we will never achieve mastery and perfection is an illusion. When I’m feeling inadequate, I read the Van Gogh letters. A true tortured artist. Tortured, because he felt he would never have the skill to convey the beauty he saw and felt in his heart. High expectations can be toxic to creativity. You may have heard;
“Life is not a destination it’s a journey.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
It became clear to me I had to kill the perfectionist. She was slowing me down, stealing my creativity and adding fear to an activity where it didn’t belong. I listened to other artists, of all ages and levels, talk about their first books. All of them said that, when they finally see the first print of a book, they always notice a few glaring things they wish they could change. But, the book is done and instead of ruminating on all the things they did wrong, it’s time to celebrate a piece of physical art, made real, in print, that would change someones life for the better.
Van Gough tirelessly and obsessively studied new techniques and experimented with new ideas in order to communicate more clearly with each new painting. That’s the best part of being an artist. You GET to spend the rest of your life discovering how to share your joy and stories with others so that we can connect on a deeper level and understand a bit more of what it is to be human. And it’s important that we do share. Because, each unique story will help someone out there, learn something new, feel less alone, or spark inspiration.
“Do your best with what you have and that is enough.”
I started meditating on this mantra I wrote in a journal after beating myself up so badly with thoughts of imperfection, my heart physically hurt. I was so hard on myself my boyfriend asked me: “Would you ever say these things you think to one of your friends or a younger artist? The realization that I needed to treat myself with more compassion and support struck me. I always tell my friends to be themselves, have fun and don’t worry about making bad art because no matter what, it will connect with someone somewhere. I was intimidated by the magnitude of my opportunities and my ambitious, self competitive side got the better of me. The humility I felt in the shadow of all I didn’t know, crushed me. I needed to have confidence in what I did know and be at peace with whatever I made, knowing that I gave all I had, and I would do better tomorrow.
There is a LOT they simply CAN’T teach you in art school. You just have to do your best and learn as you go. I recently took a trip to the library to do market research for my new book. I grabbed a bunch of books that were hardly winners in a technical aspect but, the stories gave me lump in my throat. Why do we torment ourselves over technical aspects of art? Because that’s what they teach you in art school. They teach you how to draw like Davinci, mix colors like Monet and know anatomy like Michelangelo. But, they don’t teach you your purpose or style or reason for making art in the first place. That’s up to you, to learn with every filled sketchbook and piece of art you make. While you need to learn the rules before you break them, it’s important to understand that the technical aspects of art are not the most important part of the picture; It’s what you say that matters.
Seeing my first books in print have made me finally understand. As I watch people pour over the pages with smiles on their faces and inspiration in their hearts, I realized that nobody was seeing the nit picky flaws I did, or saying she should have done this or that, they are seeing the whole picture, the purpose. I finally feel again the warmth that flows from my heart to my hand when I draw. I’ve rediscovered the self validation that is stripped away after you graduate by the pressure of proving yourself, living your dreams and paying the bills. I thought that getting an agent would be that validation, or signing my first contract. But, the realization of these books was the affirmation I needed to bring my feet back to the ground, hold my head high and believe in myself again. I’m not here simply to draw pretty pictures, I’m here to tell a story that will contribute positively, in some way, to the world.