On starting over

You know how when you start drawing on a sheet of paper and you’re happy that everything is going well? You’re in the flow of things – swish, stroke, draw, paint. This is the best thing ever! 

But then, oh crap. A slip up. No biggie. Let’s deal with that.

Ctrl-Z.

Swish, stroke, draw, paint. Hmmmm.

You erase, move on. Re-do. Undo. Paint over. Undo again.

Undo. Undo. Undo. Argh.

There’s a nagging thought at the back of your mind. This isn’t turning out so well. But it’s half done! It’s almost there! I can almost see it, I just can’t feel it… yet.

So you continue to throw more at it. Layers and layers of lines, paint, and paper. Until you don’t know how you got here. Everything looks like a hot mess. Crap.

Since it took you this long to flesh out the whole thing you decide to keep at it. More. Undo. More. Undo.

GAHHH.

At this point you start to sweat. You’ve done something alright, but you’re not happy. It doesn’t feel right. Or for that split second when you rationalise with yourself that hey, that’s pretty decent. Not great, but just okay. Nothing wrong with it being just okay, right? Right? Plus, look at all this time you’ve put into it! 3 hours! 10! What about the time you lost sleep over it? Surely it means you’re onto something worthwhile? No? What? No?

Listen, you’re not getting that time back. What you can do is to not sink more time and energy into something that you know deep down won’t work.

We can’t turn back time, but we can learn from it. Take your finger off the CTRL-Z button. No more undos.

Take a deep breath.

You know what you have to do.

You’ve got to start over.

It’s hard. Look, I totally get it.

But shittier things have happened. Natural disasters wiping away cities down to nothing. Earthquakes that swallow up whole postcodes. Families get torn apart. People divorce. But people rebuild. That’s what they do. They start from scratch again. Things will and can collapse, but we have a choice to rebuild. It’s not a question of do or don’t. It’s a question of when. When you fall down, you dust yourself off, and get back up.

Sure, you’ll mourn what could have been. You’ll stumble along the way. That piece of paper could have turned out great. Your time, effort and energy didn’t have to be wasted.

The same could be said of every disaster, hardship or challenge faced by people everyday. That accident could have been avoided. They looked so happy. No one predicted that the storm would be that devastating.

Today, it’s between you and that sheet of paper.

Starting again is scary. But so is holding on to something that you know can be so much better.

It’s natural to worry about the what if’s when you put aside that mangled piece of paper. It’s the fear that your work will never be the same again. Or that you couldn’t possibly recreate it again. It may not be a bad thing though. Let’s face it – your new work could go bad. Really bad. Or, it may very well be amazing. You could even outdo yourself. You could discover a completely new side to your work. Serendipity could pay dividends – but only if you’re willing to take the chance to walk through that door.

The point is, you’ll never know what will happen until you start fresh, without all the baggage that came with the old.

When we put so much expectation onto that one sheet of paper, it’s hard to move beyond the sunk costs. Darn it, I invested time and effort into this piece – it should pay off! I should be able to finish what I started on this sheet itself! It should look great!

But life doesn’t always work that way does it?

I’ve recently learned the hard way how true this is. The act of holding on to something that you’ve poured your heart, sweat and tears into, one that no longer fits – is painful. Learning to let go, to set it free and to try again takes a lot more courage than we dare to admit. But that’s what we have to do, even if it feels like conquering Mount Everest. Even if it’s letting go of a piece of paper.

So do yourself a favour – take one small step today.

Time to take out a fresh sheet of paper.

White. Empty. Fresh. New. The possibilities are endless.

Ready? Go on, make your mark.

Again.

And again. And again.

Pretty soon, you’ll realise that starting over gets a little easier everyday.

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As I write about starting over, I’m hitting the reset button myself. I’m launching a new online class in September (based on the feedback you lovely readers have generously shared with me!) More details will be afoot in a couple of weeks, so watch this space!

Illustration by Ryo Takemasa

How to promote yourself when you’re shy

One of my friends recently asked me: how was I not on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook more often spreading the word about my blog, classes and zines? I just told her that I was a very low-key person, and that posting about myself and my work wasn’t something I was comfortable doing. I have all the respect in the world for people who choose to do so, but personally for me, it would make me exhausted, because in reality, I’m a little shy.

I chose to be quiet

I was lucky that when Pikaland first started 9 years ago, I just hopped onto the bandwagon because these apps were shiny and new. I registered an account at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest just to see what the fuss was all about, and to connect with blogging buddies and online friends. I never thought that when I first signed up that these channels would become the social media behemoth they are today. I’m lucky – I’ve skipped so many others – Snapchat, Periscope, Vine, etc., because keeping up with what little social media channels I had on hand was frankly, already more than I could handle. I didn’t find the need to go into apps that I didn’t have an interest in (and most of them are long gone by now as well). Yes, there were the occasional pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out), but whatever urges I had to register for a new account for the new app of the day was overtaken by the need to keep myself sane, first and foremost.

Do all the things!

If you’re an artist/illustrator/designer/maker, there’s so much pressure from everyone to do everything you can for your work. Start up a blog! Email marketing! SEO! Master flat lay for Instagram! Share process videos! Pin, pin, pin! Again, if that’s what you want to do, that’s perfectly fine too. I can understand how marketing can be seen as an evil necessity; it’s the job that you have to do to get out there to get people to notice you (unless you really like it, of course!) But from my personal experience, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be the only way, especially if like me, you’re uncomfortable with bombarding your readers, fans and family with updates about your work. I mainly promote what I’m doing through email, and only then will it trickle down to social media by way of auto-pilot. Pikaland is like a secret club where my readers get first dibs on everything.

“I’m not just doing this for you”

I suppose one can say that I’m selfish. Everything I did was to further my self-education into the realm of illustration: I started up this blog to keep track of amazing artists and illustrators. I dug deep to learn about their thinking process and trained my eye to recognise what worked and what could be improved on. I enjoyed going to illustration conferences, learning from generous teachers and meeting like-minded friends. I discovered I love teaching more than being an illustrator. Heck, even my online classes were selfish endeavours – they were based on topics that I was curious about, and were summaries of what I’ve learnt throughout the years. Putting the class together in a cohesive fashion was a way for me to remember what I’ve learnt along the way so that I wouldn’t forget them myself.

I haven’t gone down the whole social media route because I preferred my work to speak for itself. I am of sound mind – of course I know that having this mindset will keep me from growing. But here’s the catch – I don’t want to grow big. Not yet anyway. I like being small. I like interacting with my readers one-on-one. I love teaching in a small group. I don’t want to oversell and overestimate myself. I’m not in search of “likes”, and I don’t keep score. I want my students to walk away from my class with a clear purpose and a plan they’re excited about. And if that doesn’t happen, I’m happy to go back to the drawing board to do it all over again until I get it right.

It has to be a bit of a balance, I suppose.

Everyone’s different

If you like being on social media, good for you. For others, it’s okay if it’s not your cup of tea. Some people like sharing stuff. Others just like to see what others are sharing. And there are those who use social media as a self-promotion tool. Yes, there are people who were discovered through social media, but let’s not discount the fact that there are also others who get discovered the old fashioned way: blogs, newspapers, magazines, competitions, word of mouth, etc. There isn’t a one-route-fits-all solution.

Personally, I’m a very private person, and I like to process a lot of what I’m doing on my own. I find that I rarely talk to my family about my work, and instead I talk to my friends who have the same interests, or my community. I prefer to keep things private and close to my heart, so it’s not hard to understand why I usually prefer doing my communications via email. This is then followed by Facebook, and trailing far behind is Instagram and Twitter.

However you feel about self-promotion through social media, I’ve listed down 3 recommendations on how you can choose what works for you:

Be consistent. Take some time to think about what you’ll be comfortable doing for the long run. Spreading yourself thin trying to be everywhere at once will knock the wind out of your sails before you even get going.
Be selfish. Do what you want to do, not what people expect of you. That way, you can have some fun, colour outside the lines, play a little and let people see the real you, and what you stand for.
Do great work. I cannot overemphasis this enough – if people put in more effort into doing great work as opposed to the time they spend on social media, then perhaps they wouldn’t need to use it so much. I may be wrong, and some people may genuinely love being on social media – but hey, there’s no harm in doing great work too, is there?

There are no hard and fast rules about using outlets like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Sure, there’s lots of things you can do to help it along – hash tagging, commenting, posting at a certain time of day, etc – among hundreds of tips out there that will hopefully help bring you the fame you’re looking for.

Just don’t forget to do the work first and foremost – you’ll realise that it’s the one thing that won’t go away ever, even if those platforms disappear one day.

A guide to email pitches (for shy artists)

This topic has made me think a lot in terms of how differently people approach self-promotion these days. But I’m also keenly aware of how a lot of things still stay the same. In spite of the popularity of social media, I think that emailing is still a very important form of self-promotion. I deal with email a lot, even before I started this blog. I used to work in publishing, and as an editor you get a lot of emails and letters, pitching an event, new work, or a launch. I know that even with the rise of social media, email itself has not changed much.

It’s a pity that this form of communication hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because it’s one of the best ways to get your work out there. When done right, it can open doors, make people notice you and bring you opportunities you might not even know of. So it would stand to reason that emailing blogs, magazines, news portals, etc., should be a piece of cake right? Turns out, not really. I’ve met many artists who were uncertain about the best ways to write an email, and it’s a nail biting affair. When’s the best time to write? How should I sound? What should I do if they don’t reply? ARGH! I’d roll up my sleeves and listen so that I can help them formulate a plan.

A friend came to me about this problem recently, and I’ve come to realise that my advice is pretty much the same each time, and that I should probably start to just compile my thoughts in a proper manner. So if you’re shy, introverted and unsure of how to write in a way that will allow your personality (and work) to shine, I’ll be writing a guide that on how to pitch yourself via email. It’ll be ready within the next couple of weeks, but if you’re interested to know when it comes out, just click the button below and enter your details when prompted so that I can send you a note to let you know when it’s ready!

What about you?

Do you have a particular preferred channel or method when it comes to promoting your work? I’d love to hear from you – leave me a note in the comments or send me an email to share!

[Illustration: Jon Klassen]



Caitlin Keegan’s The Illuminated Tarot: From personal project to being published

Today I want to share an interview I did with Caitlin Keegan, author and illustrator behind The Illuminated Tarot. We’re focusing on how Caitlin took her idea that stemmed from a personal project, into one that’s published by Clarkson Potter (available on Amazon).


The Illuminated Tarot is beautiful! You mentioned that the idea behind it stemmed from an interest in learning about tarot symbolism and archetypal imagery. Could you tell us a little more about how your project began?

I’ve been interested in tarot since I was a teenager because I felt drawn to the imagery, but I always felt skeptical about the “fortune-telling” aspect. Much later (in my early 30s) I had a therapist who suggested discussing images as a way to ease into bigger conversations. That led me to think of tarot in an everyday, non-psychic context and inspired me to learn more about it. I read about the parallels and historical connection between playing cards and tarot and decided it would be an interesting challenge to make one deck that could be used for both purposes.

Since a playing card deck has 52 cards, I realized that I could create one card per week and have a fully illustrated deck by the end of the year. To make it more fun for myself, I randomly drew a card to illustrate–so every week I would have a surprise “assignment” to look forward to and I would learn something new about tarot.

 

 

Having worked on the Illuminated tarot cards as a personal project – what would your advice be to other creatives who are looking to take their personal project to another level?

Be very realistic about how much time you’ll want to spend on something. I’m amazed and impressed when artists do daily projects because I know I could never accomplish that on top of other work deadlines. I would feel stressed and that would remove any enjoyment I was getting from the project. Then I would give up and feel bad about giving up– and that becomes a vicious cycle! For me, a weekly project is ideal. For others it might be bi-weekly, monthly, etc.

My advice is to know yourself and your work habits and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. You want the project to stay fun because that’s the best way to stay motivated and do your best work.

How were you able to take the Illuminated Tarot from a personal exercise in creating something new every week, to the deck of cards that you now have for sale? How did it go from a personal project to one that’s now publicly available for purchase?

I originally thought that at the end of the year, I would pull together the card images into a book proposal. But I was lucky that Jay Sacher, who I was in touch with through his work for Chronicle Books, saw the illustrations as I was posting them to Twitter. At that time, Jay was an editor at Clarkson Potter, the imprint of Penguin Random House that ultimately published the deck. I’m thankful that he liked the project and could see the potential in publishing it, and I’m thrilled with how the printed deck turned out.

My advice is to know yourself and your work habits and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. You want the project to stay fun because that’s the best way to stay motivated and do your best work.

I’ve noticed that you’ve used different mediums in your work – colour pencils and digital renderings. Could you tell us when you use one or the other, and why did you opt for creating digitally when it came to the tarot deck?

This is kind of a boring answer, but it has a lot to do with timing! It’s quicker to work digitally.

A less-boring answer is that I was really inspired by a book I have about E.A. Seguy, a textile/pattern designer from the early 1900s whose work is often grouped in with Art Deco. I just love the use of color in his work and I thought flat, bold color would be a good look for this deck. It has the look of a printed textile and also seems semi-psychedelic, which I see as a nod to the 1960s tarot decks I liked as a teenager.

I’ve since figured out a half traditional/half digital way of working and I’m excited to do more work like that. It’s a less time-consuming way to partake in one of my favorite pastimes: obsessive pencil shading.

How important are personal projects to you as an illustrator?

For me, they’re essential for staying motivated and inspired.

Has working on the project impacted your work in any way?

I think because tarot deals with universal themes, it’s particularly challenging to try and do something new with it. Modern tarot decks very often are reinterpretations of the imagery in the Smith-Waite deck–probably because those images are so ingrained in the memory of anyone who is familiar with tarot. I really wanted to break out of that as much as possible and find my own way of communicating.

Working on The Illuminated Tarot was like a lot like having a weekly editorial assignment. I would break down the card meaning into the simplest possible terms and then illustrate that idea. The process of doing this every week–while also trying (for the most part) to avoid traditional tarot imagery–really pushed me to develop my vocabulary as an illustrator.

I personally think that it’s a very exciting time for artists and illustrators, as they are able to take their ideas and run with it as opposed to waiting for others to collaborate with (which is how a lot of illustration jobs are like). What are your thoughts about that?

Certainly, with social media, it’s much easier to get your work out to an audience. That’s why I hope that we (especially we in the U.S.) will be able to stop those who want to privatize and further corporatize the Internet. Net neutrality is essential for the open exchange of ideas–for culture in general, not just for art. In terms of art and illustration specifically; right now almost anyone can be published online and I think that’s a good thing. The culture moves forward when more of us can be heard.

What’s next for you? Are you taking this project any further?

Right now I’m working on something involving dream symbols and interpretation. I’d love to do more tarot or oracle decks in the future too. I’m also keeping up a weekly surface pattern design project I started in 2016. I post a new repeat pattern every week to Instagram and many are inspired by my visits to museums and botanic gardens around NYC.

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You can check out more of Caitlin’s work on her website, and you can get a copy of The Illustrated Tarot on Amazon

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