Last month I had the incredible opportunity to teach a workshop for Apple at their World Trade Center store in NYC. I was asked to present my story as to how I became an illustrator. For the presentation I also came up with a list, of things that I wish I had been taught while was studying art and illustration. I'm keeping this post simple. I hope it will be helpful to those who are thinking about making the leap to following their creative dreams. Many of the lessons are universal and can be applied to just about anything, but these are the things that stand out to me most. I get a lot of emails from students thinking about studying or are studying illustration who are afraid of pursuing it or just don't know how to wrap their heads around how to go about landing work. I also get emails from those who have a full time job not in the arts, and wondering how they should go about pursuing their dreams. Although I can't tell you what to do, and what works for me might not always work for everyone else, this list of 10 things are little pieces of knowledge that I usually end up saying and passing forward. So...enjoy the list and I hope it will inspire you!
1. Be Resilient. This is important. It is NEVER going to be easy. The more hits you take, the more rejections you get, the more ignored emails, it can be easy to just give up. To feel like no one may never care, or that you may never get anyone to buy your art. The list of discouraging things you can feel, can add up. And I am here to say, it happens to everyone. Especially in the beginning when you are green and you have a lot of growing and learning to do. I have found that the people who are successful are the ones who are resilient and keep going. That stay in the fight for their dreams.
2. Follow Your Enthusiasm. This is important to students and those trying to find "their style". Odds are you know have a style. You have a voice. Try to only create what lights a fire inside you. What inspires you, and enthuses you. Because that will always translate to better work. Period. IF you try to paint what everyone else is painting, because you think it will sell and your heart is not it...good luck. That's a recipe for flat, stale art. Be true to your world and what honestly keeps you excited about creativity. I promise you, that is the best way to make sure your work has a spirit to it that otherwise it would not have.
3. Stop Comparing. This is a lesson that sometimes I am good at, and other times I am not good at. It sounds easy to do, but we all know how hard it is. Especially in this day and age, when we are on our phones it can be easy to see everyone else doing such amazing things, posting perfect shit constantly that you start to compare yourself to it all and think negative thoughts. I try hard to do posts where I share my struggles or imperfect work. And I know that helps break down those walls. The best work I do is when I stop looking at what everyone else is doing, and look inward. When I get back to the basic things that excite me and keep me passionate and in love with the process of creating. That's when the magic starts to happen. When you realize you don't need to be like anyone else. You need to be you! Because you are irrrrreeeplaceable! (Insert Beyonce Giff).
4. Make What You Can Make, Well. When I was in school, studying art, I remember learning what I was good at. Things that came naturally to me. And the other things that did not. Some lessons and projects I could not do well. And some I just excelled at. As I have been professional now with my artwork for about 6 years I have discovered more and more my natural abilities and also what I struggle with. You can make things that no one else can. Remember that. It goes back to the comparing thing. Focus on your abilities and strengths and really use them to your advantage. And odds are you will get better with your weaknesses over time. But don't kill yourself over what you can't make. When did anyone ever think, "Wow I wish Matisee painted realistic looking people more". People loved Matisse because he did only what he could do, and it he did well.
5. Winners are Losers Who Got Back Up. It's pretty simple. You want to win. You're going to lose sometimes. The only way to get that win, is to take that risk of losing and falling flat on your ass. Remind yourself that it takes courage and give yourself credit for doing something, rather than doing nothing. Get back up!
6. It Takes Four Hours of Painting to Get One Good Hour In. I read this in David Lynch's book, and it was such a lightbulb moment for me. And its' so true. I easily forget how important warm ups, and getting into a rhythm are to executing good work on days where I feel rushed or distracted. Now it certainly doesn't guarantee the best work of your life every-time you sit down, but it certainly is a good reminder that the discipline of sitting down and working will allow the creative flow to happen. Allow yourself the time to create good work. It's worth it.
7. Be Authentic. Because of the way our world operates, we can easily start to see artist's who are authentic and those that aren't especially on social media. I have a hard time seeing this happen. And I try hard to make sure I am staying true to myself and being authentic to my own life with what I create and share. If you're busy trying to produce work that you think will sell, or caring too much about what other people are doing...you may fall into this trap. When I created artwork during dark, hard times in my life...my best work came forward because I was being authentic. And the same is true when you get inspired by something that excites you and creating what you see in the world around you. I have had people rip off my Etsy shop for years and paint the same subject matter in the same style as me. I just want to tell them...be authentic. I'm pretty sure your world is interesting and you can find things around you to paint that would produce much better work than by looking at what I'm painting. Sorry to sound a bit negative, but I think it's insightful and helpful to share that part of my line of work.
8. We Only Lose By Not Creating. I know so many people who want to do more creative things in their lives and are just so scared. I try to remind people that we can't make choices based on fear. And also to not be so hard on yourself when you make things that you wish were perfect. You are making something. And that is better than sitting in the sidelines and thinking about what you would make. Just make it! Do it today if you can!!
9. Failure & Rejection Are Part of Following the Dream. Use negativity to fuel you to become better! I have always admired people, especially athletes who go through such a battle of losing and then use that to fuel them to just work on their abilities to come back and win. I have used negativity to push forward, and a way to just say to the universe, "I am going to keep going! I don't care how many times I get knocked down!"
10. You Can Make A Living As An Artist! One of the most discouraging things when you decide to study art, or follow your dreams to become an artist is you can feel like the world is against you. I had teachers who projected onto me that it's not possible to do it full time. I meet people all the time who ask me, "So you do this full time? Do you have another job?" It can be hard for me to hear these messages of discouragement often. And it can make many people decide not to pursue this or study art. I am here, as are many artist's I know, to be an example to show you it is real and is possible! I wish I had more examples of people to encourage me, I did have a few though. And when I moved to Atlanta I met an amazing group of kick ass women artists who were doing it full time. I hope you know that you can do anything! It's a lesson I have learned and try to share with anyone who asks. So I like to pass it on!