“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” - William Shakespeare, Measure For Measure
There are several challenges that illustrators deal with so I’ll start with one that tops the list: self-doubt.
The worst enemy for any illustrator is constant disbelief that our work is not good enough. This nagging skepticism kills more creative careers than failure ever will. It’s like a heavy anchor that can last a lifetime or present itself during our latest project. We all experience it at some point and we hate it when it comes knocking.
Maybe we should stop answering the door when it comes to town.
Self-doubt comes from too many places. Social media, burnout, rejection and lack of support are typical things that challenge any illustrator. Nothing unusual but they all feel huge when while we are dealing with them. I think the real question is: what doesn’t cause doubt? We are human and we put ourselves out there every day to be judged and often times, ignored. Yeah, we all hate those crickets. It’s not easy because this career was never designed to be simple.
I often tell my kids this: make sure your worst enemy is not living between your own two ears. As I say that, I’m also thinking we should all kick self-doubt in the ass and never look back.
“Let go or be dragged.” - Zen proverb
Our work will always be challenged by others which make us challenge our ideas. It’s a fight. It’s a struggle to like what we create. It’s hard to let our work just float out there online without controlling how others see it. Since our ideas won’t stop, we can never let our guard down and succumb to the doubt that will inevitably creep in.
When we decide to like our work, its like going to a party that you thought you’d never be invited too. It feels weird and suspicious at first. Once the initial shock wears off, this new feeling is like a rebellious stance against the perplexity and stereotyping we often face as artists.
When I woke up one day and realized that I really liked my work, I knew I finally progressed to some odd new level. I have no idea where that level is or what it will lead to. I now have a higher standard for my work that I thought would never happen for me. Nice to know that I’m now getting out of my own way.
Better now than never!
We live in a free world of open and negative opinions. It’s so easy to let it get us down because these things are hard to ignore. Opinions are thrown around too easily and end up being nothing more than distractions without the meat to back them up. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I do not give “two figs” (I’m being polite here) about what others think. It does not mean I do not care about others. I do care very much. I have decided it's now time to care about my work and spend less time focused on the negative online junk that floats around daily.
And still I stay and draw on.
As I was working on this, I was also working on the illustration above and I ended up disliking it. What? This whole post is about liking the work we make! This is true. I didn’t say it would never happen again. Illustrations can still go wrong. I don’t expect all my work to be fabulous every single day. The important difference now - I focus on looking for the lesson, not the frustration. The lesson for me is to get better at what I make. I can honestly say that I cannot illustrate everything well but I am willing to learn as I go along.
Shockabuku: A swift spiritual kick to the head which alters your reality forever.
Loving your work has nothing to do with ego or narcism and has everything to do with acceptance. Sometimes it’s just a much-needed kick in the head so you can change your mind about what you do. Liking your work isn’t something we always talk about. Typically we hear about what we are struggling with and the issues we face as illustrators. We cannot all go viral or follow all the trends either. Liking what we make is an unorthodox way of thinking. It all comes down to trusting our ideas and paying attention to the value our work has.
Value is an overlooked subject when we educate upcoming visual communicators. Because it is not tangible; it is based on a perceived benefit. To confidently go about promoting our value starts with believing in what we do. Clients don’t care about how long you’ve been an illustrator. They do care about what you can offer them in a visual way. They care if you can deliver work on time and if you can communicate well while offering something you believe in. If you believe in your work, others will too.
It’s not about getting big or breaking the internet. It comes down to appreciating your skills and abilities. Keep it simple. Focus on getting good at what you do instead of worrying about getting big.
Google how many things utilize creative work from artists, illustrators, designers, animators, and writers. You will notice that everything we use, read, watch, sit on, wear and cook with is created from talented folks just like you and me. All of this is valuable and needed.
Life is too short to be constantly fighting with your work. It reminds me of the old fashioned thing that parents used to say to their kids, “You’re going to eat it and you’re going to like it!” Sounds pretty harsh but those were different times. I can do you one better, “You’re going to illustrate it and you’re going to like something about it.” And maybe that’s all it takes. Maybe we need to stand back and look at what we made and force ourselves to find one good thing we like about it. Does it have value? Does it communicate the message? Does it inspire? Does it make others feel good? Does it tell a story? Does it make people laugh in a good way? Maybe if we do this enough, in time, we might eventually like the whole picture.