I am feeling kind of stuck creatively, input wanted :-)

  • I have started feeling kind of stuck creatively lately. So I decided to create a topic here and share my general ramblings and maybe get some tips or feedback (or similar stories!).

    I work as an illustrator in The Netherlands. I haven't illustrated any (noteworthy) children's books through a publisher. I now make a living solely through illustration by selling my own work on Etsy, a small part by having a Patreon account and the other part by taking on commissions. These are mainly illustrated birth announcements, wedding invitations and (pet) animal illustrations.
    I think it is super great that I am able to make a living, but I feel there's something missing. After listening to the latest 3 Perspective podcast, it became even more clear to me.

    Although I do create my own art, without taking a lot of directive, I am mainly creating the things that people like to see and purchase. This is partly why I feel stuck at a certain level. I feel I cannot develop a whole lot, since I need to keep my business running and make an income with the stuff people like to purchase.

    To be able to work on my own projects as well, I created a book that I worked on in 2017 and 2018.
    In 2018 I funded this book through Kickstarter. The campaign was successful and I felt very happy and confident. However... After all the books were shipped, and after I took @Lee-White 's Painting Secrets live class, I just started feeling very weird about my work. I created and funded a book, but it feels to me like it is successful because of the people that already followed my art, not because of my skill. I feel that I'm lacking a basic level of skills, since I never went to art school. So I work as an illustrator, but feel like a beginner in many ways and I spend most of my time on my current illustration work.

    This is some work I made in 2017-2018 (analogue):

    These are some of my more recent paintings (digital):


    I am feeling rather "aimless". With my book I had a certain end goal in mind. I think my new goal must be that I try and improve my skills overall. I would love to illustrate a children's book with a publisher.

    When I try to look closely at my own work, I would say my current pitfalls still are:
    • Composition (my paintings look very flat and one dimensional, not much variation)
    • Use of color
    • Finding a style in digital illustration (I like my analogue work much better)
    • Creating a new portfolio around children's book illustration (including actual children)

    I have a couple of questions:

    • Seeing my work, what aspects do you think I should focus on firstly (maybe certain SVS courses to follow)?
    • Do you think I could show my work to a publisher at this stage or should I make critical improvements first?
    • How would I go about keep on making an income doing what I do, but also improving my skills at the same time so I can shift into illustration work I like more?

    I'm sorry for all of these ramblings, but it felt good to write this down and maybe even get some input from you. Thank you for reading 🙂

    Love, Nadya

  • SVS OG

    @nadyart Hi Nadya! I'm nowhere near the level you're at so I don't feel I can really help you with your first few questions but in relation to your last comment on finding time to practice while working on your professional work, I feel I can maybe add some value!

    I have a full time job completely unrelated to art and it's been hard to carve out time every day to dedicate to drawing practice. What I've been doing is setting a time target for myself (at the moment it's two hours a day) but instead of focusing on getting a two-hour chunk of spare time, I will practice whenever I get some free time. My two hour practice session could be made up of lots of 20min chunks, for example. It took me a while to get into the habit of just picking up my sketchpad and pencil whenever I had some spare time but now after two weeks of making myself do it it's become automatic.

    Maybe you could adopt a similar approach around your professional art work? Maybe take a 1.5hr lunch break and dedicate 30mins of it to practice? And then do 30min practice in the morning as a warm up before you start work for the day? And then another 30min in the evening when you chill?

    Hope these suggestions help! xx

  • Pro

    @nadyart " it feels to me like it is successful because of the people that already followed my art, not because of my skill"
    Oh honey, they already followed your art in the first place BECAUSE of your skill! 🙂 You are an incredibly talented illustrator and while it's great that you're always striving to improve, I also think your work is absolutely already more than high level enough to be published. Contact some publishers definitely!!

    But also think about the reasons you truly feel bad about your art. Because to me, it is gorgeous and being able to make a living through your customers is the DREAM. I feel like maybe you have some impostor syndrome from not having been through art school and you are seeking validation from a publisher?

    I have worked on 2 books now with a small publisher and can already tell it's not ALL it's cracked up to be. The pay was CRAP and I felt stifled creatively by some of the requests from the editor, plus didn't like some of the choices of the graphic designer. All in all, a good experience but I still much prefer to make projects that are 100% my own to sell directly to the customer.

    Some things to think about:

    • There's nothing wrong with mostly creating things that people like to see and purchase. This is your business after all, it's all about creating things that people want. Doesn't make them lesser.

    • Nothing prevents you from creating personal illustrations on the side to push yourself. You can also post them to your social media and see how your audience reacts: you never know, they may love it and want to buy it too!

    • I've seen many illustrators much less skilled than you get published. A lot of the time, the only reason they get picked over more skilled artists is because they went for it and kept trying. Doubt and inaction are your worst obstacles.

  • SVS OG

    @nadyart I think I know what you're going through at some level. I recently decided to re-enroll in SVS because I felt I needed to increase my art skill—I'm lacking a fair amount of fundamental knowledge.

    But I want to say that I love your work. It has a charm and softness that drew me in. Even though you may feel stuck creatively, I hope that you keep creating. And I'm sure many others hope the same!

  • Firstly, I think your work is ace! Also, if you are making a living as an illustrator then you are certainly skilled enough to... make a living as an illustrator 😉

    I get what you are feeling but in a way it's a good thing that you are unsatisfied as it will make you strive to improve.

    I don't know any particular courses, but it may help to break out of your usual drawing style, practice the sort of things you want to learn, i.e. adding depth/more colour to a drawing and then letting it naturally feed back into your usual work. Even if at first it feels too different and you think it looks rubbish, i'm sure you'll learn something along the way

    Good stuff! keep it up 🙂

  • Your work is so beautifully charming and it always makes me smile! I love that you still work traditionally (don't stop doing that if you don't want to, there are still loads of traditional illustrators out there) and your digital work is so unique and eye catching that I think you'd have absolutely NO problem getting work either through a publisher or applying to some agencies.
    Initially your digital work looks like it would suit art licensing (cards, packaging, editorial, advertising etc) so if you enjoy producing that sort of work then there's no harm in having two portfolios - one for this sort of work and one for children's illustration.
    I would totally buy products with your work on them! And so would many other people 🙂

    If you can put some time aside to work on some narrative pieces and compositions etc, then you'll have a childrens book portfolio in no time. But take your time with it and enjoy the process!

    I know how you feel though, I've been in a bit of an illustration meltdown for the last 18 months, but this year it all seems to have turned around and I finally know what sort of illustrator I am and what work I want to produce. So you have to make sure you enjoy the work you're creating and you're not just doing it because you think you have to, or you don't know what else to do!

    Have you listened to the latest podcast about what to include in your portfolio? Really great list from the guys, so that's a good starting point for you as it's a daunting thought when you want to create a portfolio from scratch - it's what I've been working on lately and sometimes I want to tear my hair out!

    In my opinion, you don't seem to have any pitfalls with the work you've already produced, maybe it's just not the market you want to aim for, but honestly, your work is fab so please don't doubt yourself!
    If you like your analogue work better then maybe try incorporating the two by scanning in your sketches and playing around with them digitally? There's lots of possibilities!

    Good luck with it all, I hope you'll share some of your new work with us all so we can see how you're getting on and help in any way we can 🙂

  • I adore your work Nadya, you're always one of my favourites on Instagram.

    I can't offer much help really I don't think, as I'm still very much at the start of my lil journey, but I do 100% agree with @ShannonBiondi … chunk it up!

    I chunk my time up too, and I would say, if you really want to improve your skills, do that first. In other words, say you decide on 2 hours to practice new skills … do that first before anything else that day. When the timer hits 2 hours, do the other stuff you need to do. I say that, because, at least for me, if I don't do the study first, I've found everything else will overrun and I'll end up not finding the time.

    One of my personal battles for a while was trying to study every day, but I realised it wasn't possible at the moment as on a Sunday/Monday/Tuesday I work two part time jobs and so I ended up accepting on those days, I just sketch if I can and that will be good enough. So I would imagine you will have to play with it a bit, you may think, I can do a 2 hour chunk every day, but when you start doing it you realise it's not possible.

    Just play with the chunks, rearranging them until they fit into your life nicely allowing you to level up, while still producing the income work. You can than start sprinkling into your feeds what you're working on, and before you know it, it will all come together 🙂

    I feel like I want to add ... you said

    @nadyart said :

    Although I do create my own art, without taking a lot of directive, I am mainly creating the things that people like to see and purchase. This is partly why I feel stuck at a certain level. I feel I cannot develop a whole lot, since I need to keep my business running and make an income with the stuff people like to purchase.

    than asked

    • Do you think I could show my work to a publisher at this stage or should I make critical improvements first?

    Maybe I'm confused, but I would say wait, only because, if you go to them with your current work, won't that result in you doing more of the same work that you say you want to start moving away from?

  • Have you put together a 'Dream Portfolio' yet? If not, I think it might really help.

  • Hi @nadyart, I don’t have any advice of my own, but perhaps you will find these words on self doubt - from author/illustrator Shaun Tan - comforting:


    Your work is so lovely and to my eyes already at a very high standard! Maybe it is normal to feel in a creative rut now and then

  • First of all I want to thank you all for reading my story <3! It is so nice to feel supported here and to read all of your comments. I definitely helps me a lot!

    @ShannonBiondi Thank you for the valuable tip! I definitely need to devote more time to personal drawings. I usually try to set aside some time, but in the end I end up prioritizing the other tasks (like shipping orders, painting commissions, doing bookkeeping). But you're right: I should make it a priority too. And kudo's for you, keeping up that regimen next to your day job! I saw your skull practice on instagram, that is just great!

    @NessIllustration I just agree 100% with everything you said, it is spot on! Thank you so much for your lovely compliment as well (and you know I adore your art too)!! That is just too kind :)! Now that I read what you said, about it being the dream, I kind of feel silly about moaning about this in the first place! I am very grateful I get to do this, for sure! And you're so totally right about seeking validation. The fact that I haven't been published in a traditional way (and I'm kind of scared to even send in work), makes me feel like I'm not a "real" illustrator. Because I do not know if my work will be rejected, and if it gets rejected, my fear may come true. "Doubt and inaction are your worst obstacles.": this is so true! Thank you for the motivation and inspiration. I like the fact that I can have freedom in creating my own projects. I think I would learn a lot from art direction from a publisher, since I would do my own projects (like my book) all on my own and I miss the feedback. But in the long run I think everyone want to create their own art mainly. So maybe I need to rethink my doubts and situation. Thank you for your input!

    @shinjifujioka Thank you so much for your kind words! And the fundamentals are so important, I notice just how much a certain new insight can change the way you draw and paint! Good luck to you on SVS as well :)!

    @AndyIllo thank you for your encouragement! The first sentence made me laugh. I may have been worrying about this too much and need to take (more) action :)! So I'm glad I posted here.

    @hannahmccaffery I love working traditionally! 😃 I will definitely keep doing it (and digital work as well). Thank you a lot for your kind words and suggestions! I will definitely try to work on a childrens book portfolio. I'm positive I will find all of the resources I need right here on SVS. I feel so motivated after reading all of your comments :)!
    I am glad you found your spark again with illustration! Such a meltdown feels very frustrating. I have listened to the latest podcast, it was brilliant again! I do have a portfolio: www.nadyart.me/gallery but it needs much work when I would contact the childrens literature publishers. I believe there is not one kid in there...yet! I would love to see your portfolio! "If you like your analogue work better then maybe try incorporating the two by scanning in your sketches and playing around with them digitally? There's lots of possibilities!" --> I do not do this often yet, but it's definitely a good idea to play around with - thank you! Good luck to you too!!

    @Sophie-Lawson Hi dear Sophie! Thank you so much, I adore seeing your work and following your journey on instagram as well! It's a good idea to start with the dedicated time for study and personal work every day - as I replied to @ShannonBiondi as well: I easily get taken in by the other tasks. So it would be lovely to prioritize this; and I do have the time for it when I plan wisely. Thank you for the great advice!
    About the two points you quoted: I currently sell my work to a certain target group. They are mostly owners of pet rodents and decorate their homes with my art. They for example have pet rats or a hamster and like to purchase a cute print with that animal. This makes me keep drawing those certain animals.
    With the publisher comment I meant taking my work to a publisher now, so not the costumers I currently sell my work to. I hope it is clear what I mean, otherwise just let me know :).

    @sketchbook I did! I followed the Painting Secrets class by @Lee-White and I created a dream portfolio on Pinterest. It is still up in the air: https://nl.pinterest.com/nadyart/inspiration-painting-secrets-course-nadya/
    It was a very insightful exercise and I should look at the board more often and adjust my course. Thank you for your input!!

    @SarahF Thank you for your kind words and the article by Shaun Tan is very inspiring and motivating! Thank you for sharing it with me, I have bookmarked it for any future doubts :)!

    Thanks again everyone!

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