Monday, 11 April 2011

'Don't let blogs get you down!'

Today I've decided I'm going to break with my usual blogging formula and share with you some stuff i've been thinking about recently. Apologies for the length of this post. Feel free to skip this out!



Every now and again (more so around graduation time) I get emails from students asking for advice on being an illustrator, for tips on promoting and selling their work and that kind of thing. I don't mind getting these emails (I'm really flattered anyone would be interested in what I have to say) and I try always to reply (inevitably some slip through the net) and I make an effort to be honest and open with my answers. Nevertheless sometimes I can't help but feel a bit of a fraud when I send out enthusiastic 'illustration is wonderful' emails as a response. Don't get me wrong I sincerely love illustration as an art-form and I love drawing; if i didn't draw I'd certainly go mad, but the act of being an illustrator? Well thats not always so rosy if i'm honest and encouraging students to do it can sometimes feel a bit deceitful because, you know, it can be kind of tough.

 The problem when starting out, or so i've found, is the transition from working in a busy studio environment with classmates to chat with, bounce ideas off/watch youtube videos with to working alone (probably from home). Its not a particularly fun switch to make. Most of the time its not the conversation you miss but the sensation that someone else is in the room, getting on with their work just like you are. Its a kind of camaraderie I guess. So when you're working on your own you have to find new ways of keeping conversations going, of ensuring your not totally isolated. And so in shuffles the internet, and with it comes twitter, flickr, blogger, tumblr and all the others. A big friendly gang to help you through the solitude! And they do help. I enjoy getting friendly tweets from other illustrators, reading blog posts and looking at sketches and things on flickr. Its a decent enough approximation of a shared workspace…only…without the other people actually being there.

 The thing is, and here's where problems arise, its easy when reading blogs and twitter feeds or nosing through flickr accounts to felt totally bewildered by the output of others. I have had many occasions when I've been looking at the work of other artists and ended up feeling utterly wretched and incapable, as though what I do could never match up and thus why should I even bother? I think this is a common enough feeling (certainly from talking to other illustrators it seems to affect a lot of us) and its one that isn't usually conducive to positive thought. With blogs you only see the outcome, the flawless painting, or witty drawing and none of the stress that came before it. We tend not to share the struggle to come up with ideas, the frustration of those times when the pencil is just not our friend. I, for example, showed you pictures of the book (Mrs Dalloway) that I recently completed for the Folio Society but I neglected to mention the months and months of stress that went into it. The myriad drafts and re-drafts and the days when I'd cry (honestly) about not being up to the task, after which I'd find myself back in bed with Bronte and a bar of chocolate trying to forget I'd even tried. We don't share this stuff because its not fun to write about and its even less fun to read about. But as a result do we perhaps we paint an unrealistic picture of what its like to draw for a living? So when, as a reader, you try and draw something and it doesn't work out you measure yourself against the apparent success of others (rather than against your own goals) and decide that you can never match up (by the way i'm using 'you' to include me as well…i'm not talking specifically about YOU) despite the fact that you have no idea how many goes it took for them to get to that place! 

I don't know what the solution to this is. I'm not even going to pretend to know the formula for a healthy working attitude (if I did I'd let you know. Honestly). BUT I think in owning up to the fact that, sometimes, I place unrealistic expectations on myself to always create perfect finished pieces- that maybe some of you might feel a bit better about doing it yourself and I hope that doesn't sound patronising…like 'well if I do it then surely you do'. I just want to say..i do it too…its always good to know you're not the only one! 

54 comments:

Marloes de Vries said...

I know what you mean! The internet is not the best resource to get inspired by, I think. I follow a lot of blogs and at times I feel even more uninspired and stressed. I feel like: there are so many good artists, I should just quit.
And you do see the lovely end results and never the struggle! You're so right!

It actually helps when you see you struggle too. I admire your work greatly. So good to know.

Thanks for this post!

ybryksenkova said...

thanks, lizzy
i'm right there with you. it's funny how often i get major bouts of self-doubt and frustration, only to find that other illustrators - who seemingly have it all together - are feeling just the same!

y.

emma lewis said...

thank you thank you thank you for writing this lizzy.....you've just put into words what i think over on many an occasion (and yes, as you so eloquently put....i think we all do). you're so right about only seeing those polished end results on the internet (this little comic by gemma correll sums it up nicely i think- http://bit.ly/gG9S4H ! ) and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. perhaps the only way to overcome, or maybe just accept the times we feel like this is indeed to take comfort in that it's something shared by most illustrators, and that in itself can alleviate at least a little of feeling so isolated!

you've made me feel much better already.

Fiona Purves said...

So good to know that others feel like this too. I was just thinking the other day how much work I have to produce to get one thing I am pleased with.

I don't know if this is useful or not, but I always find the best thing when I am feeling useless (which is A LOT), I close my eyes for a bit, then open them and look at my work and pretend someone else has done it. It totally changes the way you see your own work.

I really miss our old studio dynamic, maybe we should start a 'picture-fight' monthly meet up...

gemma correll said...

Oh, I think I can relate to everything you said there Miss Stewart!

gemma correll said...

ps. Just saw Emma's comment :)
^
That comic is about how I feel 99% of the time. I often feel like giving up, to be honest, but it's that 1% that makes it worth it ;)

EMILY MAY said...

I was indeed one of those annoying illustrators that emailed you when I became a graduate, but with a definite negative attitude right from the start, from our tutors constantly telling us how difficult its going to be, which I think you noticed straight away and found distressing. So it was so relieving when I got your email which was brutally honest and held what I still consider the most important advise for an illustrator (pretty much what you've written about, plus great portfolio tips). So just wanted to say again just how useful your help was!

I get the exact same worries, and like Fiona says its so important to take a break from a drawing you can't get right, just to come back to it with fresh eyes. If theres anything I could say to other illustrators to help them with these worries, its sometimes more beneficial having a day NOT doing work (rather than giving yourself eye-frazzle from working too hard). I've struggled from really bad cabin fever since freelancing at home, you need to see your friends, see the outdoors and keep your brain healthy.

Rebekah Leigh said...

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful post. I am not working as an artist full time as I have always felt I would not be up to scratch and am trying to get over that thought. (mainly due to my perception of how other artists must be through their blogs etc) It is good to hear how people who are working at it full time really feel...Anyway..Thanks!

Chantal Marie said...

I fully sympathise, I get that feeling too where everybody seems to illustrate better, more original more contemporary or whatever it is that is better than my work. But to keep my spirits up I try and tell myself that it is not about being better, it is that they are all different. All of us illustrators have our own different styles and methods of illustrating. Not one is better than the other, they are just different. (I think)

Emma Black said...

I think so many illustrators can relate to this! I don't think its seeing awesome work by others that bothers me, more when you see someone who is your age/younger than you and it seems like they have achieved so much more... and your like oh :(

I always hate it when you see sketchbooks and they look amazing and flawless, even though I'm sure everyone only ever puts the best pages online! I always hate people looking through my sketchbooks, and feeling like they are going to judge you on those few HORRIFIC drawings in there that you forgot to tear out haha :)

I always find if I get that 'I can't compete' sort of feeling, its best just to shut the computer down and go out with a sketchbook and draw... just forget all other artwork that has been created before and do some nice first hand studies, which usually give me a new idea for a project of painting :) I find that always helps.

Anke said...

It's always good to remember that absolutely EVERYONE who has ever achieved anything worthwhile has produced crap, made mistakes, doubted themselves and received countless rejections in the way.
I have started to take all these things as a good sign. ^_______^

"If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate." Thomas J. Watson

Miss Moopette said...

I think it is probably the same within all the different arty ways of making a living. I wouldn't really call myself an illustrator but I can't always really pinpoint what I do do, as I seem to fleet between them all (random maker). I do love sketching though and often have/do. I do feel like giving up and self-doubting quite a jolly lot... and as I do so many different things, I do often think I should refine down to one thing... but then that wouldn't be me.
It's difficult when it's just you, talking in our little brains to ourselves, about what the right decisions are. Just carrying on is the key I guess...

Heidi M said...

i can't thank you enough for this post, i can relate to so much of what you say.
Going from the bustle of a studio filled with people bouncing ideas of each other to the solitude of working alone. I have radio 4 and my two cats for company and try and full conversations with them which for one is very one sided and 2 a little crazy. I too look at the immense talent out there such as yourself and can feel dishearten and that combined with how hard it can be.But i compelled to draw its not an option to do anything else, it my dream, my passion, my heart ache and ambitions all tied up. Your post is so good as it can be hard but its always worth it.
Great post

Dawn M said...

Great and timely post, thanks Lizzy, Dawn x

Line Refstrup said...

Your post was very nice and true. I am educated from a designschool in Denmark, and it was first the last year of my study, that we had a workshop where everybody had to talk about dreams and wishes for their future. I was surprised how many of us, that was insecure. But why we not adress these thoughts earlier is beyond me. I went to my school 5 years, always wondering when I would be padded on the back by someone saying "well you don´t actually belong here".
I guess it would be good for all us illustrators to start posting our frustrations too, our real sketches - I have so many drawings that look like they were drawn by a 4 year old. And these are the things from which we probably learn the most. Process are often more exciting that the finished project.
Thank you for the wonderful book I bought from you last week (Toska), and thank you for your nice blog. Line.

Quaint Fancies said...

I could hug you right now (*tries not to sound like a weirdo, yet fails*). I was, and still am, advice seeker. I am a solitary sort of worker - I can't seem to focus when other people are around, so the Internet is my connection to other people and inspiration. Being alone means that I rarely have any sort of feedback. Blogs, such as yours, fill me with dual emotions - the inspiration/motivation feeling, and the oh-no-I-should-probably-give-up feeling. I don't know whether it is the same for other people, but I find it so hard to see value in my own work, so I am always looking for reassurance. I am totally in awe of your work though. Thank you for this post.

Clara said...

Thanks for this post! It's awesome to see that people are human and that we all struggle. It also helps to know that sometimes you feel this way and that it takes time, because it makes others feel better about their own mistakes. I guess it happens with everything! I love photography and writing songs, but lately I've been unable of writing anything... Then I know it happens to almost everyone, so I just patiently wait and keep trying!
Your work is wonderful, so never give up! Take care.

Lizzy Stewart said...

thanks for your comments everyone! good to hear that so many of you get this from time to time.
recently i've become better at dealing with this stuff...but i know it'll never go away (part of the artistic temperament i guess). I find that a walk, a film, a book, coffee with a friend are all a good way to get out of this kind of way of thinking. Cut yourself off from pictures for a day, or even a week! Fresh eyes and all that!
Thanks again for all your lovely comments. Keep 'em up! I think its good to help one another out by holding up our hands to this stuff.

David Galletly said...

Completely agree with your post. I've recently had a big re-evaluation of my 'illustration career' after a lengthy period of not-feeling-up-to it, being miserable and putting out sub-standard work. It can be really tough - deadlines are like a never ending exam-anxiety and kinda ruin the thing you love.

ps. your (& your fella's) output gives me that 'bewildered by the output of others' feeling. you're two of the biggest culprits actually, so nyeh :p

Esti said...

Great post. Seeing other artists' struggles definitely would help not to feel so put down by the amazing creativity out there. It's funny to think that as blog-readers we want to poke into the process but as makers, we don't want to share our deceptions and frustrations.
I love your work, by the way, and it never ceases to amaze me.

Emily MacKenzie said...

Hi Lizzy,
Thanks so much for posting this, whilst I'm not a graduate, I'm taking the plunge to go full time freelance as of next week and since making the decision to give full time illustration a shot, I've been hit by a wall of anxious inadequacy! Since handing in my day job notice I've been regularly dreaming that I either suddenly have no hands to get creative with or pick up a pencil and can barely muster up a stick man. Rather alarming! :) Whilst I know that its just a blip, there's comfort in knowing that other illustrators go through similar tricky patches too.
Thanks again Lizzy!
Emily
Looking forward to receiving my copy of Toska soon!

Lydia Monks said...

Lovely blog, Lizzie.

I think it is important to mention the hard bits, you know. I actually think they are the bits people want to hear about. Makes us feel that we are not the only 'useless' ones!

You are obviously doing something right though - your work is so beautiful!

Ingrid said...

I really liked this post, I feel the same when looking at blogs sometimes, feeling like the things I do don't match up to others but you're right, they don't tell you about how things are only achieved by hard work and some days are good and some days not so good. Thanks for this honest and thoughtful post x

presley said...

I feel like I can absolutely relate to this entry but in another medium. I'm studying English Literature/Creative Writing in London, however, I have not had the sense of camaraderie from my peers as I had back at home at my uni in the states. Usually, people perceive writing as a solitary exercise but sometimes it's no fun if you can't share your writing or your frustrations with others. And I love drawing and thought about becoming an illustrator, but when I look at your work I think, "I can never be as good as Lizzy!" and tell myself that I should just draw as a hobby haha. It's nice to know that you also get frustrated with yourself. I've always admired your work! Everything you make is BEAUTIFUL. x

andrea said...

I think everybody who does some sort of creative thing, regardless of whether it is music, art, writing or whatever, feels like that a lot of the time.

These are the random things from my mind that must get out before it explodes... said...

Awesome post! Dont worry you're not alone. I used to feel that way too. That is the exact reason I started my blog and try and post something pretty much everyday, just to show my DAILY progress and how some things are working, others aren't, and what they eventually turn into. I did this because I've never seen ANYONE do that, and I've always wanted artists that I admire to do it but NOBODY DOES. Ya it sometimes feels like maybe I shouldnt and no one cares anyways, but maybe someone reading it one day like yourself will find it interesting. Be fearless. Let the process through! Since I started it I have found it immensely therapeutic. Part of it is I can see how cool stuff came to be from lowly beginnings. Sorry for long post.

www.dethrum151.com

Caitlin Shearer said...

Lizzy,

It is encouraging to know that other illustrators go through the same woes in their heads. Thankyou for the enlightening and honest post.

x

Cat said...

A very honest post. I have to say, I may not be an illustrator but as a creative person, I definitely have periods of feeling somewhat inadequate at times... and I really do miss that studio environment when I studied for my textile degree - it's funny, we sometimes don't realise how valuable such things are until they are no more! I also agree with taking a little time out - doing something different like going for a walk or listening to music can work a treat.

Daniella Germain said...

Such a lovely (and timely) post to read. Thank you! I am just starting out as a freelance illustrator. Sometimes I am so plagued with self doubt I literally crawl into bed and hide under the covers. I love reading blogs (such as yours) for inspiration and motivation, but they certainly can be the very thing that sends me under the covers. To hear such a talented illustrator such as yourself also has these bouts of self doubt is very reassuring. I do often think that many illustrators are able pick up a pencil and create something brilliant the first go. Thank you for setting the record straight... The next time I head for the doona I will remember your post.

Tracey Potter said...

Great post Lizzy. It can be difficult to sustain a practice, as you know it's not all shinny and breezy, It's hard, but if one can stick at it, keep improving and challenging ones self then it can be worth it. It does take a strong determination, doesn't it?

www.rose-blake.co.uk said...

I 100% agree, i feel like i've had a creative block for about 2 months now.

nice to meet you at pick me up!

kimsmithhappy said...

SO true. Illustration is not for the faint-hearted. haha. [: Thanks for posting!

Andrew said...

Great post, it describes how I've been feeling since study finished and I've been on my own. With the internet there's so much good, and bad to it. I get lead astray style wise by seeing great work, and de motivated sometimes. I have days were i'm afraid of doing something crap that I do nothing at all, as work that fails really demotivates me. Looking at the work of others makes me want to produce masterpieces all the time, but I know it's not possible. Maybe an internet holiday is called for.

katey jean said...

Great post Lizzie. I too take comfort of knowing I'm not the only one who feels like this! I have weeks where I dare even introduce myself as an illustrator, because if I don't have any 'real work' on at that time I feel like a total fraud.

With every picture I make comes the usual wave of 'woe is me' style behaviour..overly dramatic scrunching up of papers and early nights at 8pm just so the day is over sooner.

I agree that removing yourself from the whole equation for a while can make things seem brighter. But yeah, you are certainly not alone! x

simon said...

That's refreshingly straightforward and honest of you to share your perspective on life as a freelance illustrator. You are right other people do get the same feelings and they are difficult to share because that is the nature of difficult feelings.
I think these problems are an integral part of the creative cycle. That cycle does not involve a constant high of creativity and fun in my experience it also involves reflection (even depression) rest, recharging, research, wasting time, starting over, and over and if you are lucky some inspiration that comes out of all those things.
Good luck to you and thanks for being so direct.

Coen Hamelink said...

Hi Lizzy,

thank you very much for your courage to write this realistic view on this matter. I totally agree and recognize your feelings and thought about it. Once a while I clean up some of my rss-channels to clear my head a bit. I stopped Facebook a few times, trying to have a No-Twitter-week and yet... Regularly it's a struggle for me to stay focused on what I would like to do and develop.
And most important: what satisfaction I get from creating in the end. I haven't found any solution but to stop with social media totally, but I think (I'm not sure if it's true) in these times we're dependened on them to get jobs out of it. Good luck finding your way. If you or anyone has a solution, please let me know! Best, Coen

Petra said...

Hi, very recognizable what you've said (even when I'm just starting out as an illustrator and am still a student).
Admiring other people's work is not bad itself, it is bad if we don't see it in perspective. Every one of us is different and as an illustrator you have to motivate yourself and be happy with what you do. Don't compare your work and just do the best you can so that you can assure yourself that whatever you make is good enough. For you.

On using other social media...I've gotten used to it, but I still miss the crowded classes that gives me that lighter edge on working. I don't know how I will cope with that once I will be an illustrator fulltime, but I'm probably going to do something social besides my job.

It just reminds me of a sentence from a poem I once read: 'Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself'.

red-handed said...

Nice post. I think the stress is unavoidable (a little stress is a good thing, after all). You're doing wonderful work. I just got my issue of Toska!

Kerri-Ann said...

Lizzy,

Really great post, I know other illustrators are in the same boat as me but it's good to see it written down, I don't feel so alone!

I just need to keep trying but it is so hard, I think leaving university has broken me, none of my friends are creative and my creative boyfriend lives across the country so I feel very alone and turn to the internet for support. Although most of the time I just feel awful seeing everyone's shiny new illustrations! But if I don't come online I feel trapped in my own little world with no inspiration, I can't win really. Chin up though I guess! Sorry for rambling on your posts!

Big fan of your work.

Kerri-Ann xx

littlemithi said...

Thank you for such an honest post Lizzie. Been there, keep doing that (on top of the "I'm too old to be starting this now" feelings).

Although I know deep down inside that even the most celebrated of illustrators feel this way sometimes (if not always) ... doesn't make it any easier for those of us who haven't even managed to establish ourselves yet though ...

inkcaravan.com said...

What a fantastic, heartfelt post! Thanks Lizzy, you've made me feel better. And you've made me feel like it is worth the effort. x Alisa

Clare Owen Illustration said...

Perfectly put post Lizzy.

I talk about this with Rob a lot. It's amazing how upset I can get over my work, so thanks for putting this up. What a relief that all my faves feel the same. :)

Antii Sullivan said...

Oh I permanently compare my work to other. I feel that's my downfall, then I'm constantly reminding myself - why do I draw, it's not to be the best, or to be flooded with fan (which would be nice!) but it's about expressing yourself and having fun. There isn't any rules really! Your a beautiful illustrator and you inspire a lot of people!

Magic Jelly said...

I know exactly how this feels! This pretty much sums up those bleaker moments... http://magicjelly.tumblr.com/post/3234258187/i-know-the-feeling-heyoscarwilde-art-by Ha! But then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, & start all over again.

I see other people's work ALL the time that I wish I'd done, could do, thought of... You can go crazy fussing about that stuff. I just try to make a conscious effort (not always successfully) to regroup & continue on my own little journey. I try to focus on what's meaningful & inspiring to me & pretend I'm doing it just for me, like I used to. There's so much joy in that.

tschitschi said...

thanks for sharing!

Melanie said...

Awesome post. There really needs to be a place that reflects the joyous/awful struggle that comes with creative work. I've been craving a process blog that documents this—not just the step by step process of an illustration, but the particular *headdesking* moments, the emotions that go into that process. If someone wants to co-start a blog like that, or if one already exists..let me know.

Sarah Melling said...

So well said! I'm only an illustrator as a hobby, but even so, I struggle with the dichotomy of solitude vs the Internet community. I've had a lovely experience as a whole with the gang at Illustration Friday... Such a supportive group. Love your work, by the way, glad I found you via Christine Pym's blog!

Caitlin Bently said...

Thank you so much for this post, I can relate to it so much!

Sarah J Lee said...

Thank you for touching upon a topic that is rarely, if ever, shared and discussed. Discouragement often does comes with inspiration (ironically)! But it's good to know that there are others who go through what you described..and your post and everyone's comments here is really encouraging! :)

Sheena said...

Oh my god, it's all so true! I finished my MA in October and since Christmas I have really been struggling with the final artwork for my first picture book. My output is a fraction of what it was when I was on the course because I feel isolated and have an evil inner critic on my shoulder who is castigating me at all times and telling me I'm useless! But I am trying to force myself to reason that if everybody listened to their I.C., then nobody would make any work and the illustration world would be a very sad and empty place. I've had to curtail my consumption of blogs, Twitter etc. because seeing everyone's (seemingly impossible) output was so depressing. It's so comforting to know that great illustrators that I admire struggle too, thank you so much for this post.

ekta perlor said...

thank you for writing this! i feel the same way so often and it's such a draining feeling. it's good to know others go through the same struggle every now and then. i guess it's part of the process.

Morena said...

Excellent post and I think it's the kind of topic illustrators should talk about.
I hope you don't mind if I translate this entry and I give you credit.
It would be a perfect advice for illustrators :)

Hellagoodbye said...

Great post!

James C Trujillo said...

This really is an awful truth that more people need to realize. I think part of the problem is that we also use our blogs to represent ourselves and our progress to potential employers, and therefore we only ever want them to see our best work at the time. I like to believe that for every beautiful piece of art is about 10 drawings you don't get to see that got it to that point.