“Unknown” – A personal painting communicating the feeling of fear and hesitation you feel before walking into the unknown.
If you’ve ever been with a kid during a meal, there’s a good chance you also had the wonderful experience of encouraging them to try new food, because “you’ll never know if you actually like it unless you try it first!” A child will assume (with unabashed certainty) that whatever new food they are about to eat will absolutely kill them. It’s different so it must be bad!
We know, as adults, that the food, with almost 100% certainty, will NOT kill them, and that there’s a fairly good chance they may actually enjoy the food, if they give it a chance.
Although it’s easy to have this perspective as an adult during mealtimes, it’s often more difficult to recognize when it applies to bigger problems in our careers.
I had the opportunity to attend Illuxcon this past weekend. It’s a wonderful show, and such an amazing experience to network, get feedback on your portfolio from industry professionals, and also make friends and connect with old ones (my personal favorite aspects).
While I was there, a friend and I were talking about his career path, and where he had started versus where he’s going. He mentioned all the things he had tried up to that point and how he’s finally been able to find the right path for him after exploring all those options. The most fascinating aspect was how it was not the industry he had expected or assumed would work (probably why it was one of the later options attempted).
Within the illustration field, there are many different paths available for you to explore. Whether it’s concept art, children’s books, editorial, book covers, conventions, galleries, online sales, or animation, there is something for most everyone. Some people try just one thing and it works out great. For others (aka, mostly all of us), we need to try a variety of things before we find what works for us. And oftentimes, there’s a specific combination of multiple options that fit our individual personality and lifestyle, like the specific combination of hills and valleys inside a lock that allows one key to fit perfectly, while preventing other keys from being successful.
It’s important to remember, there’s a big difference between what we want to work for us, versus what actually works for us. Sometimes we like the idea of something, but the reality of it turns out to be quite different.
When I was studying illustration at college, I wanted to go into children’s books, so that’s what I prepared for. I thought plein air studies were a waste of time, as were a multitude of other assignments. I wish I could go back in time and give myself a good wake-up call!
Turns out, children’s books are most definitely NOT a good fit for me. After I finally figured this out, I moved on to editorial illustration, as many of the illustrators I admired worked in editorial. I was 100% sure that this one would stick. I even had the opportunity to go to New York and meet with the art directors at the New York Times, my dream client! But after one meeting with them, I realized that the actual process is not as glamorous as I thought, and the idea of trying to make very short deadlines is actually very stressful, especially for my slow and methodical approach.
After graduating college and still not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I got lucky enough to have art directors of book covers find my work and contact me. It wasn’t a field I had purposely sought, but, lifestyle-wise, it has really worked very well for me. Long deadlines, good budgets, and appealing subject matter got me hooked.
And even after seven years of doing covers and freelancing, I continue to experiment with alternative paths, learning more about myself in the process with each attempt. I learn what works for me and what doesn’t work and why.
So even when it feels like we know exactly what we want to do with our art, try keeping your mind open to the possibility of trying something new, instead of jumping to the conclusion that it just isn’t for you. Just like the child who discovers that they actually do like the taste of a new food, you might be pleasantly surprised by your experience, and learn so much more about yourself in turn.
Thanks for the post, this was pretty helpful for me right now. Started out in graphic design and digital media, then got a job in web design, but recently I’m drawing a lot more and hoping to get into the more illustrative side of art. Haven’t quit the web day job yet but practicing and training a lot so I can do that someday. Peace and thanks for the post again.
I suppose it’s a truism that it’s always the last option we try that actually sticks. More rarely, that might also be the first option tried as well. Always good to hear and understand the variety of failed attempts that may precede a highly successful career in art, though! For so many of us, it’s a long and scenic route before it arrives at anything sustainable, much less successful by other metrics.