Artists and Mortality

It’s that time of year again. The breezy day in November where I wake up and realize I am now a year older! 32, to be exact.  Birthdays always have a way of making me feel introspective about myself. Lately it seems everything does. An effect of getting older, maybe?

Even before today, something clicked when I was at IlluXCon where younger artists placed their portfolios in my hands and asked me about their work, trusting my knowledge in a way I suppose I hadn’t really trusted myself just yet. Giving them advice reinforced a confidence in me that had been quietly buried by self-doubt. Then, of course, I went and did the same thing putting my trust in artists more experienced than myself to give me guidance about my work. The art industry is a wonderful place like that. Everyone’s constantly growing and learning together. Everyone has a voice all their own.

Being around so many artists, young and old and in different phases of their career, made me realize I was in that sort of ‘middle child’ group. I’m not well known, but neither am I unknown. I’m in that gap where 95% of artists stop in their career at a crossroads and decide that having a family takes precedence or giving up is more prudent than pursuing that silly creative career. The clock is ticking in so many ways, biologically and creatively.

I think this is the answer to the question Jon Schindehette asked in the Women in Fantasy panel at IlluXCon. (paraphrasing here) Where do the 20 to 30 something female artists go after they’re just getting their first portfolio reviews and breaking in to the illustration jobs?

They’re making that decision of whether or not they must take the time out of their lives to do other things which society has deemed, with some exceptions, squarely in the role of the respectable woman that usually preempts having a career – specifically starting a family. You CAN come back to your career later, but it is hard and no matter whether you do or don’t, it takes time to settle into that new family structure.

All this is layered on on top of the troubles every gender of creative professional faces, a big one being the societal pressure of ‘Why are you following a career that won’t make you money or is as important/useful as a doctor/lawyer/etc.?’ In my experience thus far, turning 30 makes or breaks your determination about what you are going to be doing with the rest of your life.

Personally? I have no desire to start a family and until that desire hits, I’m focusing on a career. My experience with family comes from watching other ladies I respect in this industry deal with the trials and triumphs that comes with starting their own as well as pondering greatly on the matter, myself. I give massive props to those of you who start families AND pursue a career both at once! You must have eyes on the back of your heads…and elbows…and everywhere else! You have more strength and will than I can ever imagine having.

So then what AM I going to be doing in 10 years? 20 years? It’s easy to drive oneself mad thinking about this, but I think it’s important to sit back and do so every once and awhile.  If you don’t, you have a chance of getting trapped in that 95% of people who aren’t going to make it because they never get out of the infinite loop where they get too comfortable where they are, are so mired down by frustration, OR never know where they should push themselves to advance in their art and career.

I am 32 today and in 10 years I do not want to be where I am now. I don’t want to be the Known Unknown. The fact of the matter is when I hit 60 or 70, that’s the time I plan to retire and enjoy the rest of my years doing whatever I feel like doing just because I can. I don’t want to hit my stride so late that I am merely a flash in the pan or that I waited so late to get myself ‘there’ that I just can’t turn out what younger artists can because I don’t have the energy anymore!  What’s more, I have a lot of paintings and words in me that must come out before I die.  They MUST or I will have failed myself because no one can get them out of that colorful pit of a brain but me.

It’s not fame I’m after, but Mastery. If I happen to gain fame for being so damned badass at telling the stories I want to tell with my art, than that is the kind of fame I approve of. Earned fame, not cheap fame. Artists and creative professionals don’t get this until they have paid their dues to the craft. Till they have been rejected 100 times or more. Till they have made 10,000 failed drawings to get the 1,000 amazing ones. Meeting the various masters of their craft at IlluXCon was proof enough of this. Most are not young and took many years to refine themselves into the flawless illustrators we view them as.

So there it is!  The answer!  Time, patience, and an honest appraisal of where you are and where you’re going, but also don’t forget to acknowledge what you’re doing right!  The simple act of getting yourself into this mindset is a step in the right direction.  It is a stone in the path you are building before you.

And on that note, I am ending this post by beginning a yearly tradition of filling out this MEME on my birthday!
You should fill it out too and show me what you got.  Let’s improve together!:)
See the full image and download the template.

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