Category: motivation for creative professionals

Confessions of an Artist: Embracing Defeat

This post needed some humor so here it is!
This post needed some humor so here it is!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a personal/art career post here.  The main reason for that has been the absolutely disastrous year I’ve been having.  Rather than continue putting on a happy face, I thought an entry of candidness might be more helpful.  After all, I started this journal because I wanted to talk about my journey as an artist and I want to stay true to that instead of let this place devolve purely into WIP’s and self-promotion.

This year started with my partner nearly dying from heart complications from bronchitis.  Nearly dying being terrible enough on its own, the ensuing mentally draining recovery topped with an icing of medical bills made a perfect cake of disaster.  The funny thing is, we were more prepared for this than most and those savings got us through a difficult time, including the time immediately after his recovery where my partner was let go from his job.

I’ve said in the past we’re a single income household, with my art bringing in some income, but not a lot.  There followed another extremely stressful and depressing period where we both weren’t sure what was going to happen next.  Even still, my partner reassured me that it was okay to continue trying to do art as my living (because he’s awesome and so, so loving).  We had enough to live off of and emergency measures in place.

But I had something to prove.  I didn’t want to be a money sinkhole when we were in such a period of turmoil.  Here I was in my own little dream world trying to squeeze every penny out of my art, which only made it harder to create anything with that pressure to make everything I made worthwhile and profitable.  I spent more days tied up in a lack of motivation and depression than producing anything at all.

As this year wore on and other medical catastrophes and setbacks happened, I hit a low point.  I gave up for the briefest milliseconds on the notion that any of this struggling to be a professional was worth the suffering it was putting me (us) through.  It felt like everywhere I went, people I respect were bombarding me with the fact I was especially failing this year, that I should be farther than I am.  I needed to be stronger!  My insistence that I could never show weakness and should react by working harder and beyond my limits only worked against me because I turned all of that stress inwards, causing my own physical and mental health to decline.

In a strange way, finally accepting defeat this year has been freeing.  I have become increasingly aware of the long game and the shortness of life here on this earth.  Entering the IP Development Mentorship with Robot Pencil earlier this year was a game changer for me.  I have a lot of ideas I’ve always discredited because they weren’t producing results RIGHT now, but here were several professionals telling me my ideas are “F**king awesome”.  I’m not sure I would have entered this mentorship otherwise if I hadn’t been in the place where I was just so tired of struggling and really wanted to give those unacknowledged passions a chance they would not have gotten otherwise while I was obsessing over proving myself.

It’s funny how we need permission to just do the thing we always wanted to do…

Luckily, we’re doing much better now.  Kev has been making leaps and bounds with his recovery and has also found employment.  We continue our game plan to let me build my art career.  And while I feel guilty for having this privilege when so many other artists don’t, I’m not going to squander this opportunity with guilt anymore because I’m trying to impress those who quantify success as merely money, when success in life is so much more than that.  That path leads to elitism and becoming the kind of person and artist I don’t want to be.  With our income stable for now, I have also started saying no to a lot of jobs that I feel aren’t going to advance me as far as my personal projects might.

I’m still terrified of the unknown and of waiting for another bad thing to happen, but I’m hoping that surviving one terrible year means we’re better equipped the next time.

I suppose if there’s any advice for other artists to take away from this, it’s that sometimes you have to embrace failure because it’s one of the best ways to learn how to do anything right, that other artists who you admire more often than not are projecting a self-image of success (even when it’s not true), and that doing so doesn’t make them any less of an artist.  Also, try to save up backup funds for those rough times because they are waiting to sucker punch you in the gut when you least expect it!

Meanwhile, I’m still here…a little older and a little wiser.

Book Club: Artist as Brand Part 1 – My Core Virtue

It’s been an introspective week for me while I ponder my current re-branding efforts and enjoy a much needed vacation after the convention/Halloween rush.  I’ve been enjoying the time off to clear my mind and to start reading Greg Spalenka’s book, Artist as Brand.  I thought it’d be interesting to write about my journey as I read this book and (hopefully) learn a little more about myself and my art!

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

This book really called to me thanks to recommendations from other artist friends and for the fact Spalenka is also an artist himself.  I’ve read a fair few marketing books, all which read like dry instruction manuals.  Artists, however, are a different breed of business.  We are in the business of passion and vision.  There’s an undefinable element to an artist that can’t be quantified by marketing and price tags.

Spalenka has a unique insight having worked in publishing, entertainment, genre art, and fine art.  Artist as Brand compiles Spalenka’s advice as given in his workshop meant for artists seeking to define their vision and business and also offers person to person workshops on the matter.  This book is the self-paced version of his workshop.

An example of Greg Spalenka‘s dreamlike art.

The preface of the book addresses Spalenka’s experiences moving between various industries as an illustrator, all which seemed to keep an artist’s visions at the whims of a larger machine at work, none of which seemed to satisfy his own creative instincts.  It wasn’t until he saw artists selling well for themselves at conventions that he realized the potential of micro-businesses, or artist as self-representing entrepreneurs.

As an Arts Admin MA, I studied the potential of the internet to allow artists to connect directly to their audiences for my thesis and I couldn’t agree more with this emerging trend.  Artists are now more able than ever to nurture private collectors through the interconnectivity of the internet and other opportunities outside of the expected ones.

But that means so many of us need to figure out what it is that we can offer when we don’t have a business calling the shots.  What is our vision?  What is that special something that we have that no one else does?  This book is all about that discussion.

After Spalenka’s bio, the first instructional section deals with defining what your Heart Virtue is.  This doesn’t even relate directly to what you like to draw, which I found interesting, but also somewhat confusing.  What core defining value dictates your emotional reactions to the world around you?

I found this offputting, at first.  Wasn’t this something only fine artists really needed to think about?  As a genre artist, I’m not too concerned with political or emotional statements in my art (if that was where this book was headed).

But the more I thought about this section, the more I realized just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  It’s not just any ol’ fantasy art that appeals to me.  Most of what I enjoy and what I’m passionate about creating is fantasy art that makes an emotional statement, that says something beyond the surface prettiness of glamorized and idealized figures that most fantasy art portrays.  Fantasy art and literature, after all, are a mask with which we can tell the spiritual and moral stories that pertain to humanity as a whole.

Spalenka guides this introspection with several questions which help you to figure out what your heart virtue might be. Mine ended up being this, which I suspect will change and be refined as I go along:

I am devoted to unlocking the potential of creativity in myself and in others through self-discovery and acceptance.

How this pertains to my art, I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out!  I’m purposefully leaving some of this discussion vague so as to not give all of Spalenka’s knowledge away for free.

This book has been an enjoyable revelation thus far and I hope you will go show him your support, if you find my journey with his book interesting and helpful!

Next: My Core Virtue’s Emblem

Stuck in “The Gap”

DragonCon jury time is upon us and it’s around this time of year where I have that yearly freak out about whether I have enough new stuff, why I’m not producing more, the paralyzing fear of rejection and inevitable downfall into self-loathing, etc.  I want all the masterpieces I’ve been attempting to be done now!  I want all of the studies I’ve been doing to pay off now!

I know the most logical, sensible advice is “Just wait. Everything comes in time after due diligence.”

But I’ve honestly just been impatient and anxious this past month. I don’t want to wait for that magical moment where it all just clicks together and makes sense!  I want it all, and I want it now!

My portfolio reviewers keep telling me that my stuff is “Good…but…”.  There is always the ‘but’.  My current development as an artist is that I am just one small hop between being good and being great.  My portfolio reviewers also echo the same impression of my work.  There’s just the slightest gap between my story-telling abilities and just the slightest bit of funkiness to my anatomy.

In fact, I feel I am in the very definition of “The Gap”, as Ira Glass calls it.
I know this quote is geared towards writers, but it’s applicable to artists just as well.

I wholeheartedly recognize this and I’ve been asking myself some tough questions of late:

Q:  Am I producing enough work to improve in a timely manner?

A:  No.  I need to be producing way more, at least one fully fleshed out painting a month is my goal and I haven’t met that.

Q:  Am I studying enough?

A:  No.  I want to warm up every day with studies, but I’ve only managed to do studies every other day or so.  I hate that feeling that I have nothing to show people that’s polished, other than my notebook scribbles. Makes me feel unproductive!

Q:  Moreover, am I studying the right things instead of drawing the same thing wrong over and over?  

A: For once, I feel like this is the only thing I have managed to get right, lately!  It took me a long time to find teachers whose methods made sense to me, particularly where anatomy is concerned.

I found Bridgman’s methods to be more scientific while Hampton and Proko‘s emphasis on emotion and mannequenization make more sense to the way I learn things.  Chris Oatley’s Painting Drama course has also opened my eyes about narrative considerations in composition far more than any Art History course I’ve taken has.  Finding a teacher who speaks your learning language is so important!  What works for one person may not work for another.

I tend to agree with what Jon Schindehette described in his Intention of Mastery post.  If you’re practicing something wrong over and over again, you’re only going to learn the wrong way to do things.  Going beyond this, if I can have a specific goal in mind before I pick up the pencil, rather than just mechanically drawing more, I will learn more and be more inspired!

I feel like I will only be out of this ‘gap’ when I reach the point that Jon mentions.

At some point, the pencil will stop being a mechanical device that I use to make marks on paper, and will start to become the extension of myself that expresses itself on paper through marks.

I am realizing that my expectation of a ‘magic moment’ of understanding is also a false and debilitating one. There isn’t going to be one click, but many small clicks over time.  I also have to realize that knowledge is impermanent.  My mind is not a computer and can only retain things if I am actively studying them and refreshing my knowledge.  Anatomy, lighting, narrative, value, etc. etc. There’s just too much information for my mind to retain everything without losing others!

But I’ve clung to that notion that there will be that Big Moment of realization and suddenly my paintings are better and that’s just not how this works.

I may not have too many answers by the end of this entry, but I am hopeful that at least I’m asking myself the right questions!  How about you guys?  Are you stuck in ‘The Gap’ with me?  What are the questions (and answers) you’re struggling with?