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!