Review: Art Oracles: Creative & life inspiration from the great artists

Who doesn’t need a little bit of advice every now and then? I know I do.

Especially when it’s from famous artists, presented alá tarot cards, reminiscent of oracle decks for guidance. If mysticism is indeed and alive and well, why shouldn’t there be one in the realm of art? We look to old masters (and even new talents) for inspiration, so it makes total sense to revere the ones who has left an indelible mark on the world. If you’re nodding along to this so far, then you’ll be intrigued as I was with Art Oracles, sent to me by the lovely people at Laurence King Publishing.

Gifts for artists that are interesting and unique are far and few in between (which is why there’s so few review of them on here), but I’m very thrilled to have found it in Art Oracles. The deck has 50 cards, with a helpful booklet that details each artist’s biographies and instructions on how to use them. Basically, you select a card whenever you have a question that pertains to either life, work or inspiration, and glean what you will from the history of greatest artists, painters, architects and designers via fortune-cookie style proverbs. At a glance it may seem a little simplistic, but the more I delved into each saying, the more it made sense. Take a cue from Marcel Duchamp: “Making it look easy is hard,” or the wise words of Frida Kahlo – “Externalise your internal world.” Its cryptic brevity leaves the deciphering to the eye of the beholder. Magic!

Written by Kayla Tylevich and illustrated by Mikel Sommer, it’s a beautiful deck (gold-foiled, no less) that has the ability to be light and yet serious enough to work across all creative disciplines – a perfect counterpoint to the fast-paced, mad world of art and design. Think of it like a magic 8-ball for creatives, only more aesthetically pleasing with a whole lot more range to its answers.

Even if you’re not one for new-age mysticism, Art Oracles is enjoyable and insightful, and would make an excellent gift for yourself (or a friend). I’m not the only ones who think so too – check out the reviews and get it through Amazon.

Images from Art Oracles: Creative & Life Inspiration from the Great Artists by Katya Tylevich and Mikkel Sommer Christensen (Laurence King Publishing, 2017).

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 Mr. T 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]



On personal projects and purposeful digging

While I was in Singapore for the Illustration Art Fest, I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Raphael (one half of duo Icinori – his partner is Mayumi) on how they got to where they are today.

I was also very lucky to to learn about the works of Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud  as well as hear Louis speak about their work as they create pop-up books, apps and workshops for children.

What they had in common was their love of personal projects. Icinori continuously pushed the envelope when it came to self-publishing their ideas and graphic experiments in the form of limited edition zines, books and prints. Anouck and Louis experimented with pop-up books and pushed the boundary of creative learning by creating apps as companions to their beautiful books.

It wasn’t solely about the money (that came later), but it was a lot about quality, craftsmanship, attention to detail, creativity, ingenuity and about having a whole lot of fun while trying to find out who they were and what they wanted to do. And because of this, people started to knock on their doors. Clients didn’t tell seek them out to emulate another artist. They wanted their work. Their style, their story, and their spin on things. Not anyone else’s.

I wasn’t surprised. It was a common thread that I find come up again and again as I talk to other artists, illustrators and designers.

Pikaland was is my personal project too. It’s where I began to spread my wings by continually striving to go deeper into what I loved – illustration – and had lots of fun experimenting with wild ideas. Right now I cannot remember if there was a bigger purpose beyond it being a place where I could talk about the things that fascinate me, and where I could talk to the people who inspired me. I didn’t plan things out, and I didn’t write for others – I wrote for myself. I chipped away to create a small space in the interwebs, just for me.

Then interesting things started to happen. I met many like-minded people, and opportunities that I wasn’t even looking for began to come my way. Illustrating, researching, teaching, writing, speaking – I said yes to many of them. I created mini projects that were fun and sometimes silly. What surprised me the most was how others came along for the ride too.

I had never thought that 10 years would fly by as I go about digging and feeling my way through my thoughts. I sometimes I dig myself into a corner, and there has been many a time where I hit hard ground, unable to continue because of a setback, or because life just happened.

But I’m still digging.

Perhaps you’ll notice that I don’t come up for air sometimes – only because I’m deep underground, chipping away, even if bit by bit. It can get frustrating. It can get lonely. I’m very aware that there might be no gold, no reward at the end of the tunnel – but for me, this whole underground chamber that I’ve built is it. I’ve twisted my way around obstacles and figured out rocky bits as I charted new territory for myself (and I hope for others too).

I come up for air from time to time to share with others how my process has gone, and what new discoveries I’ve uncovered. Sharing this with others allows me to evaluate what I’ve done, what I did not get right, and what I could improve on. I come up for air to get away too. I’ve traveled more in the past few years to get away from life a little, and to take in more for myself.

But I still go back underground, every single time.

As I step back, I see a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels, pathways and passages. It looks like a map – one that I’m continuously building as I put one feet in front of another. There’s dead ends, and there’s plenty more unexplored territory. I catch myself asking sometimes: Why are you digging? What are you looking for? What’s the plan here?

I don’t have an answer.

I still don’t.

Maybe I’ll know it when I see it.

But until then, I’ll keep digging.

[Illustration: Icinori]
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