For days when you feel like a fraud

Amy @ Pikaland

I was standing a few feet away from the podium, and getting all nervous as I waited for my turn to be called up. Some minor tinkering needed to be done for the projector settings, as I included videos in my lecture, and so I needed sound, but right now there was none. As seconds trickled into minutes, my hands felt all clammy and I could feel the trickle of sweat come down my forehead although the room was comfortably cool against the sweltering heat that I had evaded before.

As I waited for the technician to wind up their trouble shooting efforts, I looked at the audience – about 40 to 50 fresh faced students and faculty were staring at the screen eagerly – waiting for the presentation to begin. Anytime now. I bet they were wondering who the heck I was too, I thought to myself. And at that moment, I thought to myself, why me? Why did I get a chance to stand up here and deliver a speech to a batch of wide-eyed students who would soon graduate with a degree in graphic design & illustration? I didn’t study illustration or graphic design while I was in university, although I did spend most of my time in a studio, designing spaces. What I did do was to study the subject intensively though, on my own for the past 5 yearsI had no right to be up there.

I was gripped with fear all of a sudden. All the things that I wanted to reach out to students to tell them about – the fact that everything is a process instead of a one-off experience – study, exams, career, passion, life. That there isn’t a such a thing as doing it wrong. That the process isn’t a linear trajectory. I wasn’t there to tell them what to do. I only meant to share with them what I had learnt throughout the past 5 years when I threw myself headlong into studying what I was passionate about. I didn’t need a degree to prove to others that I love illustration and to share what I’ve learnt, certainly. Or do I?

Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I was certain that I had the simplest slide show on earth, compared to the other speakers who went before me.

I had slipped in to see the other speakers present a few hours earlier, and what I saw were slides after slides with dizzying effects (and music to boot!), peppered with cool animation sequences – fun to watch when I was part of the audience, but since I was looking at them before I was due to give my speech, it only made me want to curl up into a ball and slink away silently. My slideshows had hardly any animation at all. Simple big words up on the screen. Even bigger images that filled up my presentation, single ones, mostly. I felt small. Tiny. Insignificant. What was I thinking?

I could hear the emcee speak. And then I’m up on that podium. Staring. Looking. Fumbling. Forgetting. Then I began. Deep breaths.

And then it was done. Just like that. In that split second when I quieted I hoped that I wouldn’t have to hop down the stage cringing at how I sounded in my head. I had gripped the edge of the podium with my fingers, steadying myself, hoping and waiting to hear the responses to what I had delivered. I was prepared to close my eyes, because I’d dread what I’d find: bored faces of students with glazed eyes, or worse, if I had laid my eyes on those who fell asleep.

But no one was sleeping. Their eyes were fully open, wide awake. I heard a first applause. And quickly, another. And within a split second the room thundered with pairs of hands finding each other in a raucous rhythm. And all that fear inside me dissipated. Dissolved. Melted away like it never happened at all. But it did. And I remembered. I also remembered why I stood up there, despite how my tummy was filled with the wings of a thousand butterflies, and how I doubted myself and cursed my boldness a few hours before.

There wasn’t time to think. The next thing I knew, came a flurry of questions and answers. There were laughters ringing in the hall. Kind teachers and students who put up their hands and stood up to remark about how they enjoyed the speech, and they loved the fact that I “kept it real”. There were thank you’s, hugs, and even tears. Hope, love, happiness. There were bright flashes of light too – people who wanted to be photographed with me! Although I can never have fathom why (up to this day), but I wasn’t one to argue. Smile, hug, click. I certainly didn’t expect any of it at all.

I truly didn’t.

Amy @ Pikaland

The One Academy students


In the comments below, tell me:

Have you ever felt like you’re not worthy of something? Accolades, fans, praise? Or even just a nice word that someone said about your work? Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud and that one day you’ll get discovered, and then everything will come crashing down (even though it hasn’t, and you’re not really one!) How did you move past it?

If you like this article, share it with your friends by using the buttons below this article – tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or just send it around via good ol’ email!

Q+A: How to create the work you love and make money at the same time.

Q+A illustration by Amy of Pikaland!

I received a question from Kayla, a few months ago, who writes:

Dear Amy,

I am currently working full time as a graphic designer, but I what I really love is illustration. And what’s conflicting is that I am doing graphic design work with one style, while my illustration style is another. The style that I work with on my day job is very safe – a generic, vector style that seems to be able to sell well. But on the other hand, I’m having trouble promoting my personal illustrations, which is dark, graphic and moody. I told myself that I could only transition to full-time freelance if I can find a way to market my personal illustration, which seems doubly hard. I don’t want to be a freelancer and yet create designs that do not speak to me on a personal level because I don’t see myself being happier for it in the long run. How do I create the work I love and make money at the same time?

Hi Kayla!

You’re right – there are styles that are more commercially viable, and because of this fact, there are industries out there who are looking for illustrators who can produce almost the same style as another, because it’s popular. There’s no dearth of talent, that’s for sure!

Don’t listen to people who tell you that there isn’t a market for your work. I always tell my students that an illustrator’s style isn’t the problem.  The market out there is HUGE. There are niches, and sub-niches and sub-sub-niches that it’s wild. The internet and globalization has created an infinite category of niches, and you need to capitalize on it! There is no such thing as wrong work – the main reason why you’re not getting any clients or paid work is because you’re aiming for the wrong market.

So, here’s what you need to do:

Step 1:

Take a long, hard look at your own work and answer these questions.

Describe your work as much as you can. Is it dark, scary, moody and yet uplifting in some way, etc? Where do you see it belong? Books, stationery, clothes, bags, as a children’s book, etc? What age group do you think you’ll attract? What is the message you’re trying to send out?

Step 2:

Find brands/companies/people who would benefit from your style, and an audience that mirrors the information you come up with at Step 1.

Who do you think would love to work with you – so that they can achieve their goal and yours? Let’s be honest here – if your work isn’t what most people are after, then don’t go after these people. Never mind if it’s Target, Anthropologie or Marks & Spencers. You don’t necessarily have to market to the masses to be successful. Carve out your own way. Find these smaller markets that would need your help and your work, and grow with them. And I will say this – this part is the hardest part of your research, because you need to be open to different possibilities and stretch yourself beyond what you know. How do you do this? Ask your friends/families, and yes, consult the search oracle – Google.

Go where you’re needed, instead of forcing your style on others and you’ll find that it won’t be so much as an uphill struggle when it comes to making money doing the work you love.


In the comments below, tell me:

What’s the single most effective strategy you’ve used to make money from work that you love creating? I’d love to know what’s worked and what hasn’t for you — so please share as many specific details as possible!

If you like this article, share it with your friends – tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or just send it around via good ol’ email! Want to ask a question of your own? Send me an email:

** And pssst, I’m going to dig pretty deep into this topic and a few others in my new online class, coming up in September 2013. So click here to sign up for the newsletter to be the first to know the details when we have them!

Copying other people’s art technique or style? You’re copying the wrong thing.

Anna Lomax

Every other day I hear about how an artist gets their work copied by another artist. It could either be a popular artist who has her work plagiarized by another, lesser-known artist (which we’re going to discuss about here), or they’re being ripped off by big organizations.

Now, I’m no fan of plagiarism – particularly when big organizations take advantage of artists and do not give them their dues. I believe that there’s a bit of miscommunication in there somewhere, and ultimately the chain of command is long enough that the blame falls on an individual, rather than the entire corporation itself, but then I’m digressing. Copying is wrong, especially when profit is being made off of another person’s hard work.

But over here, I want to talk to you – the ones who copy others. We’ve all done it sometime or other before – copying another person’s style or technique; all in the name of learning. I know you don’t want to profit from another artist’s work (unless you do, in which case you might not exactly be the person who would be interested in what I have to say), but it was all done without a mean bone in your body right? It’s not meant to bring attention to yourself (even if it did, it would be the wrong kind of attention, I can guarantee you that much). So here’s a little advice for you – stay away from putting these sort of learning exercises online. Don’t put it up on your blog, or Instagram it, or put it on Flickr. Let it reside in your sketchbook, where it will only see the light of day when you will it. And that the only pair of eyes that it will ever see is yours.

Besides that though, if you’re merely copying the style and technique of an artist, you’re not learning much at all. You might learn something new that you can include in your repertoire of skills, but it’s not all there is to it. You see, there’s an even bigger take-away from all of this. A more important angle that you’re missing. One that you might not have even thought of before.

Stories, ideas, concepts, process.

Now those are the things you need to watch out for. They’re the most important elements that you can learn from an artist – the way they see, and the way they process their stories make for even bigger lessons than you’ve ever imagined. Because the biggest challenge when it comes to drawing isn’t so much about the technique – a big chunk of it has to do with the content. A pretty picture may arouse a few seconds of interest, but if you go beyond and find that it’s merely a hollow shell, you won’t remember it at all. Once you’ve set your sights on art and illustration that makes you think, or one that informs you about an idea, or a piece that delights and surprise you – it changes the game completely.

Taking with you the process and ideas of another artists will only strengthen your vision, when you make it your own. Look at it through your own eyes – filter it, digest it, and recreate things that hold your vision true. Don’t just take in things visually. Learn to listen instead – and you’ll find yourself learning about the true meaning of art. And you’ll never be second best if you do.

[Want more stories about plagiarism?: Check out issue #7 of the Good to Know series!]


I’d love to hear from you – what lessons have you learnt by looking at other people’s work? And if you feel the need to confess, then by all means it’s time to let that burden go – tomorrow’s a new day!

If you like this article, remember to send it to friends who need it (know anyone who copies someone else’s work?) – use the social plugins below to spread the word, or just send them an email!

[Image by Anna Lomax]
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