I’m creating this post for the struggling illustrator, you can Bookmark it for future use – a letter of encouragement for when you are having a dark night of the soul. This is an artist-to-artist shakedown in case of emergency. I’m Kirbi Fagan – illustrator, writer, maker, and for today, your very own hype girl. So if you need a bit of encouragement when art-making has gotten a little too serious, read this.
What is it this time? Revisions got you down? Your well of ideas suddenly dried up? Is a client ruling your life? Maybe you’re having one of those days (or years) where nothing looks how you see it in your head and more like a turd with legs? I hear you.
Maybe it’s a challenge in your personal life bringing you down. Boulder-sized problems, stacked sky high, in your way. I know it feels like you’ve only now just got back on your feet. Maybe it’s all these things at once.
Have you taken a break? Like a real break. The kind that you don’t nag yourself about what you “should” be doing. And while you’re rejuvenating your deeply profound artistic soul, don’t think for a second that everyone else is cranking out the next big thing. It’s useless, did you hear about the robots making art now on the internet? Just spitting the stuff out. Take your time. You’ll finish that one thing when you finish it. All this time will be worth it if you just give yourself the chance.
I know what you are going to say. Getting work in front of the right people at the right time is impossible. You are not wrong to be frustrated. Instagram is freezing over, portfolio sites are a distant past and the algorithm is hell-bent on ruining artists’ lives. Are we doing postcards? Emails? Not even the most seasoned artist can tell you how exactly to promote during these “unprecedented times.” There’s a deep pressure to be a performer but that’s not what you set out to do. It’s hard to know where to go or how to get there. This career “path” does not have brick paver streets, it’s a heavily wooded back forty with poison ivy and you don’t have the proper shoes, but don’t call it impossible, you’ve barely begun.
You are only just getting started. Trust me when I tell you, you can bear another rejection. You will survive and you will keep making because making is what you do. It’s who I am and who you are. Don’t talk yourself out of trying to do this art thing. I know it seems like everyone is 20 years younger and better. This small town industry can feel like high school and you don’t know who the mean people are yet. Or maybe you did happen to find The Means along the way and they poked at your holes and made you feel small.
Do not let the cold art world make you give up. Do not let that empty book signing get you down. We don’t do it for a book signing line that wraps around a convention center. We do it because of the way drawing the first lines of an idea feels exciting. Instead of a “fake it till you make it” what they really should say is bear it. Grimace through the awful and disappointing. Bask in the part of the process where you flow, that moment you are flying. You know the one.
Don’t drop your pencil fellow artist. Don’t sell your art supplies. Now, get off the internet. Right now, run from this intriguing and frightening place and do your work.
With my deepest empathy,