About proactivity and putting ourselves out there

  • Pro

    @art-of-b You are so skilled, Braden! It's very surprising to hear that someone as good as you struggles with this too. I think we all do, to some extent! I consider myself very lucky in a sense, that circumstances in my life made it so I didn't have a choice but to jump in, ready or not. Although they were the most stressful times of my life, if I'd had the leisure to sit and consider it then I definitely wouldn't be anywhere near where I am right now... I always wanted to be a freelance children illustrator, but after my studies I worked for 3 years in video games and didn't take more than half a step towards that goal during all that time... It wasn't what I wanted but it was safe, comfortable. But life lit a fire under my butt and 3 months later I was a freelance illustrator! All this time, if I'd known I could have done it at any time... It's crazy to consider!

  • Believing you aren't good enough even when you have proven yourself to be is called imposter syndrome and it doesn't really go away regardless of what level you achieve. I have seen interviews with a number of artists who do mind blowing work but still feel this way after being a pro for numerous years.

  • SVS OG

    Proactivity is definitely a huge part of finding success. The truth is, good art does NOT sell itself, there are many other factors.

    While my work is far from perfect, I feel that I am ready to find an agent—that’s my goal this year actually. I think a big difference between me and you is situational—you were put in a situation that forced you to move forward, whether you felt ready or not. On the other hand, I feel ready, but I have a husband with a good job, and a two year old and a baby I take care of. If I really needed to I definitely would have really put myself out there and made things happen sooner... but I didn’t need to and in fact, didn’t want to miss too much of these first months of my baby’s life. Now that they’re both older, though, I can move forward and take the steps I wasn’t taking to find work and representation.

    Your story also really reminded me of my experience with teaching drawing classes actually, which I posted elsewhere in the forum (in the thread for the podcast episodes 10 things illustrators must have) so I won’t repeat it all here. The gist is this: I always wanted to teach art classes but made excuses, most having to do with my lack of skill/experience. This year I stopped making excuses and made it happen and it went amazingly well. And yeah it was hard, but also awesome. The end. 😉

    So, yeah. Stop making excuses and start taking action. That’s the way things will start happening for you and not to you. 🙃

  • @art-of-b I think your work is definitely ready for prime time. It is very polished and has a defined style. You should go for it. You also seem to know your path. That helps. I am still trying to figure out where I want to go (stay fine arts, try comics, animal books, or finish writing and illustrating my novel I stated a decade ago, or just stay a hobbyist....) @NessIllustration I think your post is spot on. People who make opportunities happen by putting themselves out there get the work. And I think that's true of most professions.

  • Pro

    @rcartwright Absolutely! Einstein, Oprah, Maya Angelou... It's very widespread and doesn't stop with success. However, what does help is acknowledging it and also talking about it 🙂 But it's also good to mention not everyone who experiences what I described has actual imposter syndrome, for a lot of us it's simply fear of failure, fear of stepping out of our comfort zone, or classic artist self-doubt! I know getting the first few paid contracts went a long way to make me feel more confident 🙂

  • Pro

    @sarah-luann Well said! We can all take steps to make things happen... If and when we want them to happen! Obviously wanting to pause progress to enjoy life and family is a different and wonderful situation 🙂 It's so great that you got to enjoy that part of your life to its fullest and now that you're ready to move forward, I know you'll move mountains ❤

  • Pro

    @chrisaakins You're right, it really is true for most things in life!
    In the case of not having yet a goal like you, it's a different situation indeed. It's much like having a bow and arrow but not having a target yet, vs having a bow and arrow AND a target in sight, but never firing the arrow.

  • Pro SVS OG

    I think you nailed a very important element of success, expressed through both your words and your experience. The feeling of inadequacy NEVER goes away - I don’t know why it affects visual artists in particular (musicians and film-makers don’t seem to feel that way all the time...but maybe they just don’t talk about it so much...). Even my totally awesome designer colleagues often start their team presentations with “I’m not a top-designer, but....” It seems we think that either we´re the absolute creme-de-la-creme, the best the world has to offer, multiple-award-winning-whatever or we’re not entitled to contribute our creation and be paid for our skills and vision.
    A doctor (or any other profession) will not withhold practice and reduce his/her fees only because he´s fresh out of school and has no experience. With art it´s a bit trickier, I guess, because many artists are self-thought...so how do you decide when you can consider yourself ready for the professional world without an easy marker as a graduation of some sorts?
    Also, we put our own inner self out there with every piece of art. If we don’t like it at some level, that´s normal - people don’t normally love every part of themselves. But if the world doesn’t like it, it´s almost a judgement of your own worth at a very deep level - I think it’s very normal that we’re scared of doing that. Getting over that fear and realizing that even if people don’t respond to your art, you’re still entitled to do it and show it, takes a lot of hard skin.
    What helps me navigate this is Neil Gaiman´s commencement speech, the part where he talks about how you’re going to be successful if you are a) good; b) keep deadlines; c) nice to work with - but the good news is, he says: you only need to have two of those. So I try to focus on (b) and (c), and not think about a) too much.

    That said, I think @Sarah-LuAnn makes a very crucial point. “Need” is a key driver of overcoming all your second-guessing yourself.
    I do make a decent income with illustration (or, at least, I did this past year), but it´s not enough to live in my part of the world and it´s only a fraction of my part-time art director salary (which, I have to admit, is horrendously well-paid).
    I could definitely make a lot more if I hustled more - be more pro-active, target advertising agencies, establish a licensing portfolio, go back to doing some animation, etc...but I don’t NEED to. I still - surprisingly - get paid well simply for choosing and briefing other artists. I often dream about what would happen if I quit or lost my day-job, and I think a kick like that would definitely help me be more successful as illustrator. Comfort is a double-edged sword....always has been. And when you have a family and a standard-of-living you’re used to, it becomes unevenly sharp....

  • SVS OG

    Ness, you're absolutely right! I truly don't think I'm there yet, because I'm still figuring out how to finish pieces, but "chutzpah" or whatever you want to call it is definitely a needed skill for success. And sometimes chutzpah is born of the uncomfortable choice between putting yourself out there or not having toilet paper.

    And I really like the point that there are all levels of work, and some things you learn on the job. Good to remember.

    Simona, just thought I'd add that my daughter and her husband are ex-Baroque musicians/aspiring filmmakers and I can tell you that there is plenty of insecurity in both fields. The one thing that might be different for musicians is that they so often perform in groups that there's a bit of a herd mentality that sets the tone. (Honestly, the pay is abysmal and late for everyone, at least in Italy.) And for filmmakers--it's like trying to get into the NBA!

    I think one special problem that visual artists have is that they tend to work alone. There's way too much time for your insecurity/paranoia to grow while you're holed up in your studio drawing. We have to do something to counter that.

    Along those lines I still think there's a missing feedback/confidence link in the "finishing pieces/consistent style" phase, somewhere between basic education and portfolio review. But that's another topic.

    So, those of you with a portfolio, get out there and do something for yourselves today. You never know! 💪

  • I agree that you need to just go for it!
    I'm self taught so I do sometimes lack confidence and I have told my self I have a year to get better before I actively go looking for work/commission (I'm only looking for small things).


    One night I had a wee glass of wine and I decided to send some art work my favourite rapper and I actually got work from him!

    This lead onto 5 other American(I'm from scotland) rappers asking me to do work (currently working on one now).

    Guess it comes down to....You don't ask, you don't get.

  • Pro

    @smceccarelli It's so hard to overcome, for all of us! You're expressing so well why artists feel that way and it's really interesting to think about. There's no clear cut path to art.. For a doctor (which is a really good comparison to me personally because my sister is a doctor actually!) it's simple: you study, you do your residency, you pass your exams, then you get your diploma and you're a doctor. You even get to change your name and call yourself Doctor! It's a very clear path with mandatory milestones and a clear goal at the end. For artists... when do we become artists? We are one when we decide we're ready to be, which is a lot trickier!

    I agree with you and @Sarah-LuAnn that need is a very big aspect of this. It will definitely lit a fire under you to get moving, but that said I can't say I necessarily recommend it. There's definitely something to be said for taking your time, keeping your day job and building your network and experience project by project. Building those systems takes time and having to expedite that process and have to become a freelancer in 3 months was the most stressful time in my life. It worked out, but easily could have not worked out... At the beginning of the summer, the stress had strung me out so much that car noises on the street would make me jump my heart would start racing for almost no reason. It got to the point it had been going on so long I didn't know if I'd ever feel like "myself" again and if this would be the new normal for me. That's not really a big endorsement for a healthy practice!

    That being said, I just hope more artists take the steps at their own rhythm to get the career they deserve 🙂 Whenever I see these amazingly talented people who aren't doing what they want to while I of all people get to every day, it makes me feel sad! There are so many people who deserve it so much and I hope they get the confidence to go after it!

  • Pro

    @lauraa That's a really good point you make about working alone! I have noticed it when I was working on a webcomic with my boyfriend - he wrote it and I drew it. The fact that it was not just my project but his too made it a lot easier to stand behind, to show off, to be proud of. No matter the doubts I can have about my own art, I didn't have the same doubts about his writing and the work we were doing together. It can be a lot more difficult to get to that point about our own art! But I hope more people are able to overcome this and send out their work even if they don't feel confident yet, because there is no shortage of amazing artists who aren't getting all the success they deserve... Because they are stopping themselves

  • Pro

    @craig-imrie That's amazing, Craig!! All the power to you, and congratulations on those amazing gigs!
    I'd be curious to hear who is your favorite rapper? (I may not look like it, but I'm actually quite a big rap fan hihi)

  • SVS OG

    So easy to get caught up in the negative self talk especially when you are isolated from a community of like minded peers.
    I think you are spot on @LauraA - there is a void out there between learning basics and portfolio review. I think mentors can help with this but finding mentors when you are already outside the art world circle (never been to art school, have no networks etc) is super tough. This online community helps but a more formalized structured relationship could be really helpful. Maybe something SVS could consider offering - could be unique in the online art class space.

  • Pro

    @missmushy What you're talking about is exemplified by Will, Jake and Lee saying they constantly get artists coming up to them asking them "Am I good enough to be an illustrator? Am I good enough to get paid work?" or any variations of that question. There's really a hole in the middle of this path to an illustration career where we don't know if we're there yet and it's so easy to fall in and not get out. But I'd suggest to anyone reading this: make a portfolio, send it out, and see what happens! You may already be there and you don't know it yet! Even if there are still flaws in your work, you can still be hire-able. At any rate, if you don't know if you're "there yet", sending out your stuff is the best way to know 🙂

    And on that note... I know it can be more intimidating to send postcards, for many reasons and it's also a upfront cost to yourself. But if you're not ready to do the postcards, emailing is still a great way to start. I know lots of people have found success with the postcard, but this isn't an all-or-nothing, "go big or go home" situation. I started with postcards, but when I ran out of money I switched to just emailing out my portfolio. Well... every single job I've gotten so far has been from my emails!

  • SVS OG

    @nessillustration I hear you. if you send out your stuff and get no feedback other than silence, it is easy to fill in the blanks as to the reasons why that might be with all sorts of negative things that sound true to you. A good mentor can help give constructive feedback in that blank space and move you forward, I think.
    There is also that first impression thing - one chance to make a good one and if you put out crap work in front of gatekeepers that’s the chance blown. Who knows if you’d get a second one. I think this holds a lot of people back too. Not saying it is right, but it is a consideration.

  • Pro

    @missmushy That's an interesting point! And you could argue for it, like it really makes sense in a way, although in my experience that's not really how it really is. If anyone who is reading this has this fear, hear this: no art director is sitting there laughing at you or judging you! They want you to succeed, to improve. Even if your work is not the best the first time around, they will see the improvement and that means something to them. They see that you keep working at it, improving, that there is potential there, that you are consistent and a hard-worker. Those things are so important, almost as important as skill! You may also be surprised by the feedback you get 🙂

    The first time I sent, I got a lot of interesting feedback! People took the time to point me to resources and make suggestions about what to add/change in my portfolio. When you come back later with the changes that they suggested implemented, that is the BEST impression you could make!

    It is scary, it is uncomfortable, it is stressful.. Especially since we artists are very sensitive creatures and our art is such a big part of our identity and self-worth. But everyone here is talented and amazing, and you ALL deserve to succeed! I hope you all give yourselves the chance ❤

  • @NessIllustration Thank you for starting this thread. I feel like just hearing other people talking about this stuff releases something, gives me confidence.

    Someone earlier said something about working alone that makes it hard for visual artists, it's too easy to get in this self defeating dialogue and only with ourselves. We don't even realize how irrational it is.

    Yes, we can always improve our skills, no one has reached the end of their journey, if we did, I think art would cease to be interesting and we'd move on to something else. So, is there ever any real reason why that should stop us from showing our work?

    I guess that's my question, is there ever a good reason not to send your work out or share it? I struggle with this a lot, and after reading this thread I'm kind of thinking... there probably is no real good reason. Not a single one. The main reason we come up with is that we're not good enough, but that, if you think about it is NOT a reason to not send out our work. In fact according to what you are saying, it's a reason TO send it out, so that we can get better feedback and improve more efficiently.

    It's human nature though that we just have to fight against. It's just natural to resist change, even if we think it might be good change, especially if there is any perceived risk involved. The thing is to just find whatever way we can to get past that, make our work, and put it out there.

  • Pro

    @robgale Well put, you're absolutely right! There IS no downside, except that it's really scary. It's not really even our fault, our brains are made this way. Our brains are designed to act like "Look we're alive now, that's pretty good, let's just stay here and keep doing what we're doing!" Any change, any perceived risk, it is a struggle with our own minds because our brains don't want to step out of our comfort zone. However, being aware of this and consciously ignoring it is the best way to overcome it ❤

  • I have been an absolute failure at life because I don't believe in myself. I still don't think my work is good enough to send to a publisher. I heard Lee say that if other students and the teachers don't notice your work you're probably not cut out for an art career, and I don't think any of my college professors cared for my work, and other than my final animation class I don't remember any students commenting on my work. Although come to think of it, the design instructor said I was the most improved and that I should continue with design because I would be a good designer. And the painting professor wanted me to switch majors from animation to painting. So maybe I'm not completely hopeless, idk. Maybe I was only hopeless at animation. Which is ok because studio life as my one professor described it sounded terrible. I couldn't handle sleeping under my desk.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Just venting, I guess. I wish I knew how to believe in myself. If it wasn't for my husband's cheerleading and a random stranger from Facebook taking a chance on hiring me for book layout, I would probably be stocking shelves at the dollar store now. And honestly sometimes I still think maybe I should just give up. But I know I won't give up because I can't quit creating.

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