Q+A: Should I follow my heart or my head?

Hi Amy!

I’ve recently seen a lot of similar styles out in the market (especially the mid-century style illustrations that seem to be very popular) and I’m wondering if I should just give in and give people what they want, instead of pushing my cute-sy, female illustrations instead. I’m torn between wanting to earn more money by doing the popular thing (which will eat me up inside) or keep doing the style I love, but doesn’t get me the recognition (and the money) I’m looking for because it’s just not what people want right now. What do I do?

~ Sandra J.

Hi Sandra!

I get this question a lot, and I want to let you know that you’re not alone in thinking about this!

While yes there might be certain styles that are more popular right now (also called trending), it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for your style. There’s a lot of reasons why you might not be getting the opportunities that you want. Right now off the top of my head the most glaring reason might just be that you’re introducing yourself (or even showing off your work) to the wrong market.

Going after clients who may only like a particular style will undoubtedly make your work harder. I’d suggest going off the beaten path here – instead of going after a company who might carry a variety of different styles (and unfortunately yours isn’t one of them), you would get better traction by being very specific in who you’re targeting. Instead of sending your resumes and portfolio en masse to every potential clients you come across, really know who their target audience is and make sure that your stuff works for them and helps add to their existing line; because otherwise it’s going to be an uphill climb for you, no matter how great your illustrations are.

Doing something that’s not your style will only crush your spirit in the long run, and that’s not healthy for any artist! You’ll end up jaded and confused, and not to mention lost when another trend comes along. It’s a vicious cycle that will only be doomed to repeat itself. So it’s not something I’d recommend to any artist – especially when your heart tells you that you should be doing something else.

Remember, just because you keep seeing styles that are more popular out there doesn’t mean that there isn’t a demand or room for your style. It might just take a bit more digging to unearth some cool companies that are looking for a someone like you! Sometimes it’s also helpful to put aside your dreams of working with big companies who are clearly not into your style right now too. Just because you’re not picked right now doesn’t mean you’re a failure! Don’t underestimate the pressure that you’ve put on yourself this way. You can always re-visit the idea again when you’ve worked with smaller, niche companies – you’d then have more to show, along with proof that your work sells. Those dream clients might just tune in after that, so don’t give up!


Have you ever harboured the same thoughts as Sandra – wanting to give in to what’s trending right now instead of just pushing through with what you believe in? I’d love to hear your story and any advice you have to offer for Sandra!

If you think this article is helpful, there’s more coming your way! Just sign up for our free and fun weekly email newsletter to get notified when a new post is up – precisely because I know how busy life can get!

8 Replies to “Q+A: Should I follow my heart or my head?”

  1. candace says:

    I love how so many articles here on Pikaland seem to hit home with me.

    Here is my personal predicament (in relation to this article):

    I currently *work for* a company that acts as sort of a “middle man” between artists and big box stores. They license artwork to manufactures so art can be printed on a multitude of products and then sold to the retail market. Plates, towels, calendars, rugs, aprons, you name it. They also sell printed art to framers, who then wholesale mass quantities to retailers as a finished, displayable product. A top-selling artist with us can collect double-digit royalty checks every quarter.

    Initially I thought: “this could also be an in for me. I work for the company (need the job anyway), eventually I show them my stuff, then we work out a contract and voilà! I collect royalties!”

    No such luck. See, Current Employer has a particular style of art that they offer, and “Candace” stuff just doesn’t fit in. Sure, I could change my ways and mold some art to their liking, but how frustrating would that be? I can’t imagine sitting in my room crafting (forcing) something in a way that someone else wants it to look and not let it be natural. Organic. The from-the-heart “Candace” way.

    I realized my art wouldn’t work here after a couple of months and therefore never presented. While it was a little discouraging to just accept, it’s also a bit freeing. I know there is someone else out there that wants stuff that looks like mine, I just have to find them. Then they’ll love everything I produce because it’s from “me”, and I’ll love making everything I make because it isn’t forced or adapted. It would be too hard to be tied into making things for others the way they want them versus making things for those that love what I do originally.

    It’s like a companionship. Don’t take who is standing right there– who is “acceptable”– and make changes to suit them, leaving you unhappy. Find someone that likes everything about you, and work together to make a great relationship. Everyone will be on the up and up in the end.

    Making art is supposed to make you happy. Not just money.

    “Doing something that’s not your style will only crush your spirit in the long run”.. no truer words!

    1. amy says:

      Candace, thank you so much for sharing your story – and your incredibly light-hearted back story as well (I’m sure many readers can identify with what you were thinking too, LOL!) I also love how you’ve mentally and emotionally freed yourself from your own expectations and are going after people who love your work and what you stand for instead. Creating shouldn’t be an uphill climb – it’s finding a balance that works for you and one that gives you joy!

  2. Nicky Ovitt says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the Work/Art/Play course so far because great questions like this keep coming up. Thank you, Amy! For me, I’m still working both sides of the equation. Like Candice, I once worked at a company where we presented designs in huge range of styles for apparel and accessories for private label. Whatever was trending.

    Now I freelance for Speedo and still create most of my work in a variety of styles but I see it as good practice. For concept, to keep my skills fresh in different mediums, and to see what sells.

    My ultimate goal is to sell/license my pen and ink style that unfortunately often takes a back seat to paying work but I’m determined to keep that one going and continue creating art in that look to submit to buyers and have ready for product. I’m working towards making pen and ink my main income and other styles the support income.

    1. amy says:

      I think it’s a great mindset to have – that whatever you’re doing is practice for the future. Nothing is ever wasted really, as long as you keep your positivity and curiosity intact! You go Nicky!!

  3. Jesse says:

    Ah yes…. I’ve been doing school book illustrations for the last 20 years. When I started, it seemed to be understood that illustrators would be able to work in any style required. Fresh out of art school, I was a bit horrified (and terrified) but did it, because I needed the work. And it does suck the life out of you.

    So much of your own style is intuitive and even unconscious, and working in another style means having to very deliberately plot your way step-by-step through every illustration, being careful not to let your own methods slip in. Revisions are even more soul-crushing: trying to figure out how to remove yourself completely from the work and give them what they want.

    The end result is that I’m now trying to do very little illustration, rather making my money printing textiles, and trying to rediscover my own drawing style. I feel as if I’ve lost 20 years of work!

    With hindsight, I would say that it would be best to stick to your own style, and get better and better at it until there’s no-one better at that thing than you are; you’ll have more confidence in your drawing, and find it easier to sell.

    1. amy says:

      Jesse, your work is beautiful, and thank you so much for sharing your story – and it’s so true about revisions – I’ve done it for a client and I wanted to tear the whole thing apart. You’ll know when something isn’t working when your heart dies a little bit each day.

  4. Jessie says:

    Don’t do it! I was recently hired to create some of my style illustrations for a company. When the art was presented they began to change and nit pic everything. Worse than normal job changes would entail. They changed my drawings so much that they did not resemble anything I have ever created. They did not know what they wanted. And then they wanted me to copy an other artist’s style. I decided it just wasn’t worth my time or dignity. Stay true to yourself. The right person/company will notice you. That being said from the Art Director side of me.

    1. amy says:

      Jessie, thanks so much for sharing your experience! Especially coming from a viewpoint of an AD, this is gold!

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