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!

Q+A: How to start drawing

Hi Amy,

I’ve only begun learning and loving illustration. But sadly when it comes to creating something myself, I don’t know where to start. I haven’t drawn anything since when I was a kid. Can you give me a few pointers please? ~ Liza

Hi Liza!

The thing about drawing, is that it can look like this big hurdle you need to overcome. But in reality, everyone can draw. The only difference how one draws from one another makes all the difference. Oh sure, people balk all the time when I say that – they’ll gasp at what I’d say – “Me? Draw?” followed by guffaws of laughter, and the insistence that they can’t. But I beg to differ.

So while the most quickest answer I can think to tell you is to just put your pen or pencil in your hand and start to move it across the paper; I know that the psychological hurdle is what keeps you from starting, not the physical aspects of it. So here are my 3 tips on how to start drawing:

Tip #1: Don’t think, just draw

I equate drawing to riding a bike, or even swimming. You need to just not think too much into it and start to put your body in motion. If you were riding a bike, you wouldn’t second guess yourself – oh wait, are my legs doing it correctly? How do I hold the handlebars? Will I crash? There’s no time to think about all that. Paper, meet pencil. Move.

Tip #2: No one gets it right the first time

Ok, so you’ve moved that pencil, now what? It’s time to let go of the need to be perfect all the time. No one does things right from the first stroke (as evidenced by Pablo Picasso in this time-lapse video up here.) If one of the most revered artist in the world doesn’t get it right from the first stroke, you better believe that you’re going to have to experience the same process (and notice I didn’t say problem – it’s a process!)

Tip #3: Don’t know what to draw? Don’t fret because you don’t have to do it alone

So once we’ve moved on from putting that pen onto paper, let’s talk about what should you draw. While drawing your cat for the first 20th time may be amusing, it can get old pretty quickly. Which is why you’ll need to head on over to sites like Illustration Friday to get a weekly topic, and then participate by submitting your artwork along with the rest. There’s a fantastic community of artists there who will be able to give you feedback! Also try 1000 things to draw – a free, often time silly topic generator (designed by yours truly) that helps you to think of weird things to draw. And what if you’re often mobile and want to participate in an ongoing challenge? Give Sktchy a try. It’s an app where you draw portraits, upload it and get some love and feedback from the community.

I hope those tips will help you out Liza!


Do you have any other tips for Liza when it comes to overcoming your fear of taking that first step towards drawing? Or perhaps you have a secret sauce that you can share, a ritual of sorts on how you get yourself prepared for the drawing process? Share it with us in the comments!

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Q + A: Should I quit my job to focus on art full-time?

Q+A illustration by Amy of Pikaland!

Dear Amy,

I’m a full-time secretary at an accounting firm, but what I really want to do is to concentrate on my art full time. I hate my job – it’s stressful and I work 50 hours a week, which leaves little time for me to work on my personal project: illustrating a children’s book, which I hope to accomplish before the end of the year. I have a husband who can support me for a few months (I’m so ready to throw in the towel!) but I’m not sure if it’s the wise thing to do since work is hard to come by. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sustain myself after I’ve completed the book as well – or if there’s going to be anyone snapping it up, which is really frustrating.

Should I continue with my full-time job and work on my project on the side, or should I quit to focus on my book full time?

~ Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I attended a talk recently, where a couple of illustrators and writers were talking about their experiences and process when writing a children’s book. At the end of the talk when it was Q+A time, I raised my hand and asked them this question: “How do you guys earn enough to do this for a living, since you only produce about 2 books a year?” The room turned to me and murmurs could be heard rippling through the crowd – they were curious after all; I just stood up and verbalized what half the room was thinking. Both of the illustrators said that they had part-time jobs in addition to working on the book. The whispers in the room got even louder, and I could see that the young illustrators in the room were a little taken back by their answer.

But I wasn’t. And their answers merely proved a point that I’ve been trying to drive home.

When you’re starting out as an illustrator, or if you’ve recently graduated as one – you’ll need to think of it as a business. And you, as an entrepreneur. The ability to draw is just one of your skill set, among many other skills that you’ll have to pick up along the way. It’s a tough journey, which is why I don’t recommend going at it full time when you’re just beginning – just like any other businesses.

For example, I stayed in my job as a magazine editor for a full year while running Pikaland – writing everyday and collaborating with artists on projects, going to the post office, coding up my blog and shopping cart (there wasn’t an elegant out-of-the-box solution back then!), and to top it off, a daily 2-hour commute. I slept about 5 hours everyday and crammed whatever free time I had into Pikaland, which meant no TV or unnecessary outings. I was also mindfully networking and finding opportunities for freelance writing commissions so that I could pad up my savings for a rainy day. Only when I felt that I had deserved it (and saved up quite a substantial amount to last me at least a year) – and that all my hard work was beginning to bear fruit – that I handed in my resignation letter. It wasn’t easy, but those small steps that I consciously took everyday helped pushed me towards my goal.

So my advice for you, Rachel, would be this: instead of jumping right away into the deep end, I recommend a slow but steady approach: get a less hectic part-time job, so that you can focus on honing your skills and work on your project. What if you can’t get another job? Then I’d recommend negotiating shorter hours with your boss or cutting back on your working days (hey, it’s no harm to ask!) without sacrificing your work performance so that you can find your audience. While this means working a little harder at the beginning, you’ll get less stressed about not being able to make money from your work while you continue to hone your skills. And let’s face it – it’s rare for artists to shoot to the front of the fame train on their first try. Persistence is key.

I’d also recommend setting a goal for yourself – just like what I did. Make a list of things that you hope to accomplish – whether it’s getting freelance clients, getting paying customers, having a book deal in hand, or opting for another less hectic part-time job – before you can give yourself the green light to dive full-time into your art.

Illustration – just like any business, is built on relationships, and the earlier you cultivate the necessary relationships that will help bring in work; whether it’s with your audience or your clients, the easier it will be when the time comes for you to take that leap and dedicate your time to creating.


Have you ever quit your job to focus on your art full-time? What lessons did you learn from it? How did you manage the transition? I’d love to hear your story, plus any other advice you have for Rachel!

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