Why I’m not a professional illustrator

more drawings - cute is growing on me, though I wish I could be more edgy.

I can draw. You’ve seen me do it. I do it for friends, family, and the occasional client. Ever since I was young I remember people around me patting my head and telling me “Good job Amy!” whenever I handed them a doodle.

I love drawing. I love how a brush feels in my hand as I bring it around a sheet of paper. Most of the time, I draw quickly; I doodle for fun, and when I’m thinking of ideas, I have pauses that are punctuated by a little drawings in the nook of a note.

My name card has me pegged as an illustrator and a writer. But I still feel slightly uncomfortable whenever people ask me about my drawings. I even blush a little sometimes. It almost feels as though I don’t deserve the title although I’ve been commissioned a few times. The truth is, while I love drawing, I’m not able to see myself illustrating professionally. And when I say professionally, I mean I don’t see myself making money primarily from illustrating. I make ends meet through other means and right now I illustrate for fun, especially for friends or clients who know what to expect.

Some people (mostly relatives and well-meaning friends) don’t get this. They tell me “but you’re so good at it” (their words, not mine!) and gush about the fact that they themselves can’t draw to save their lives, so they don’t see the reason why I am not putting my skills to full use; i.e. profiting from it.

When it comes down to profiting from your skills, I think you need to be able to love the process as much too – and in this case, when you’re illustrating, it’s about loving the process of communicating with your client, as well as the revisions that will inevitably crop up during the process. Writing is like that too, but only for me, the process of writing feels a lot more effortless than illustrating (not drawing for fun, mind you.) Even when it came to revisions, if an editor told me to change words, phrases, etc – I’d do it in an instant. No hard feelings or emotions attached. When it comes to my illustrations, sometimes it feels like I’m holding a broken piece of glass between my fingers instead of a pencil when it was time to revise a drawing. Maybe because it feels more personal? Or maybe because pressing an undo button (or a backspace) seems a whole lot easier to me than erasing parts of my drawing and starting over.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m better off concentrating on what I’m good at. Writing. Editing. Organizing super secret fun projects with other illustrators. Etc. Although I may not be a working illustrator, I can feel my heart skip a beat whenever I see the works of art of others; whether they’re displayed in books, on walls, or just about anywhere else. Illustrations light me up.

You guys light me up.

And right now, I feel more at home spreading that light around, instead of trying to shine as one.

And I’m starting to think that it’s not all that bad.

Happy Monday folks!

Improving your workflow

St Sebastian /  Mammoth Collection

Some of you might know that my laptop has gone AWOL for almost two months. I’ve been sending it off to the workshop for repairs three different times, only to bring it back with the same recurring and very annoying problem of having it hang on me while doing the most urgent of tasks.

But there is a silver lining behind all this; and for me it’s about making sure that I remain as nimble and flexible as I can when it comes to work.

I’ve compiled a few tips for those who might be facing this sort of situation that will stand you in good stead (though I’d never wish for it to happen to anyone!). These are just a few things that managed to keep me sane and organized, and I have to say that having this workflow has allowed me to regain some semblance of sanity while my workflow and schedule was shred to bits.

Have your most important files within easy reach
I use Dropbox’s free service for putting my most recent files up in the cloud. Anything that I’m working on gets filed up there so I can retrieve it on my phone, laptop or anywhere else that has an internet connection. I’ve tried other services too, like SugarSync, but I’ve always gone back to DropBox (just test out the both of them and see which one you like better!)

Use a web-based email service
I’m using Gmail as a catch-all email since I am no longer have confidence of accessing my email via the Mail software on my laptop. I’ve gone through three re-formats and a hardware change and having these things happen to you throws a wrench in your workflow. So I make sure all my correspondences are now easily accessible, no matter where I am. I’m planning to implement Google Apps pretty soon once I iron out some kinks.

Google Documents
Ever since the scary laptop incident, I’ve moved a lot of my working office documents over to Google Documents – spreadsheets, articles, documents – I now edit them all at one spot, so I won’t have to worry about having different versions of files around (crucial and often overlooked when moving files about). Once a document is finalized, I download it so that it can be archived.

Back up your data
I back up religiously after I had my hard disk fail on me a few years back. Back then, the last backup I made was 6 months ago – before the hard drive decided to take a nap and never wake up – and I found myself high and dry (and very upset at allowing it to go as long as it did!) So now I use Time Machine, a software built into Mac that made incremental back-ups so that I had different versions of my files for safekeeping.

These are very simple tips for you to get started – not only when you’re having problems with your computer, but I’ve found that I’ve gravitated towards solutions that will allow me the most flexibility so that I’m more prepared if a nasty surprise ever springs up yet again!

St. Sebastian print by Juan Chavarria Jr. from the Mammoth Collection

Selling your art and thinking big

I stumbled on Rena Tom’s blog, and I absolutely loved this post of hers. She helps brands and creative businesses with their retail strategy; and in the article she talked about how adding art to their space will help the artist and retailer, and I couldn’t agree more.

If you’ve spent most of your time selling on Etsy or just via your own shop, it’s time to think a little bigger. If you’re selling your work on these online venues, it’s most likely that your marketing has been passive, instead of being active. It’s a lot harder to track sales from passive efforts such as blogging, product placements, front-page listings, etc; so I really want to see more artists go out there and put their works out there front and center. So when I say active, I mean proactively searching for clients and pitching your work out there to those who you think might benefit from your work and your style.  Only this time it’s not just in the hands of buyers – aim higher and envision your work on a bigger scale. Think out of the box and see how you can work with retail spaces, corporate offices and beyond and infuse them with your art!

Here’s what you can do right now:

  • Take note of the retail businesses around you – are you a good fit with their aesthetics? How can you help them jazz up their brand by injecting your work into theirs?
  • Send their marketing people a polite introductory email, along with a couple of low-resolution images (I cannot stress this enough – I get inbox rage when an artist sends me a 30MB email that blocks all my incoming mail, which promptly leads me to delete the offending email without even wanting to look at it (inbox rage, remember?) Tip: Anything less than 3 MB and you’re safe). Ask them if they’re the right person to talk to about this and if not, ask them to refer you to someone who is.
  • Follow up with a brief phone call to check if someone did read your email (don’t get offended if you didn’t get a reply – people can be just busy!) If they like your work, schedule an appointment so that you can come in and discuss what you can do for them.
  • Remember, there’s a fine line between following up and being a nuisance. Be polite, professional, and brief when discussing your work and collaboration possibilities, and don’t take it personally when you’ve been rejected. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right!

The notion of the starving artist should be long gone and dead. It’s all up to you to take matters into your own hands – you shouldn’t just sit back and wait for the phone to ring or your inbox to be flooded with commissions. Take a proactive way to spreading your art around and you’ll find that you’ll regain control of your work and life.

Photo: Esther Coombs’ London Fashion Week window display for Nicole Farhi

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