Artists, writers and creatives who hope to earn a living and / or receive recognition through their work often operate in a state of tension: their work requires (1) a creative process that will (2) result in a marketable product. Unfortunately, trying to focus simultaneously on these objectives can prove to be counter productive to the ultimate goal.
According to Mark McGuinness’ article in Manage your Day-To-Day : Build your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn Glei, “There’s quite a bit of evidence that extrinsic motivations – such as money and reputation – have a negative impact on creativity. It’s only when you’re focussed on intrinsic motivations such as your fascination with the material or the sheer pleasure you take in creating it – that you do your best work.”
Thomas M Sterner, in The Practising Mind says, “Focus on the process not the product that the process was meant to achieve. It’s a paradox. When you focus on the process, the desired product takes care of itself with fluid ease. When you focus on the product, you immediately begin to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration and impatience with the process.”
So the rule of thumb seems to be to keep your focus on doing what you love : creating passionately and wholeheartedly. Don’t let yourself get too distracted by what’s going on outside in the marketplace, especially while you’re still in the creative stage. In doing so, you will produce your very best, most authentic work with greatest satisfaction. This will then, in turn, maximise your opportunities and sense of pride when you do eventually share your work with the world.
In her wonderful book, The 7 Secrets of the Prolific : The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer’s Block, Hillary Rettig notes the way many writers equate publication with legitimacy. She considers two articles, written by Seth Godin and Jennifer Crusie, both of which are discussed here.
In “Reject the Tyranny of Being Picked: Pick Yourself,” Seth Godin suggests that “it’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked.” This makes sense given that even in the earliest years of school we are waiting to be picked for the sports team, listening to the teachers tell us and our parents exactly how we are progressing in our education, and generally being told by older, ‘wiser’ people around us how we are comparing to their expectations. We prepare for the world according to the rules bestowed upon us: get a good education, find a good job, and be a good contributor to society. We read the books and listen to the ‘experts’ tell us what kinds of hoops we need to jump through to ‘fit in’ just enough to stand out and be chosen by the ‘right’ people.
So, as writers and illustrators, we do our best work and then we wait. We read and attend conferences. We work through our to-do list and we do all the ‘right’ things. And then we wait . . . to be chosen. But chosen by whom?
Jennifer Crusie, in her article, “A Writer Without a Publisher is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle : Writer’s Liberation and You,” explores the popular goal of getting published, and uses a great analogy of women in the sixties feeling incredible pressure to be married by a certain age, good match or not, in order to be deemed worthy by society. She reminds us how much we give up our power when we make it our goal to conform to the wishes of others and bestow upon them the right to choose us (or not), be it for marriage, or to get published.
Maybe it is just our own insecurity that causes us to look to someone else to reassure us that what we have created is ‘good enough’ and deem us worthy of acknowledgement; a sort of proof to us and those around us that, yes, we have been picked to be on the team so we have now moved up on the social-acceptance scale.
Intuitively we know this doesn’t make sense, and that we do have the final say. We’re not in school anymore, and we do get to choose what we do with our own power, whether we give it away to another or hold it with dignity and pick ourselves. Nevertheless, a lifetime of habitually thinking one way, despite acknowledging its unhelpfulness, is not changed in a day. But we can make it a daily decision, no matter who else does or doesn’t pick us, to stay true to our own dreams and pick ourselves.
I love the quote by M. Thomas Inge in his introduction to My Life With Charlie Brown, (2010), where he says:
“Any piece of art that endures, no matter the form or medium, draws on the cumulative traditions that have preceded it, and in turn reshapes and invigorates those traditions with new life and relevance for the future. Schulz did exactly that in Peanuts.”
Trying to develop one’s unique voice, whether as a writer or an artist of any kind, can sometimes feel like a daunting task, particularly when observing the brilliance of those creators who have gone before us.
In Steal Like an Artist, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, (2012), Austin Kleon provides some relief when he considers the notion that no idea is truly original, and all creating is influenced by that which has preceded. He encourages us to collect many good ideas to be influenced by, and to see ourselves as “part of a creative lineage” in order to feel less alone as we begin our own creating.
Thus we are given permission to draw upon and embrace all the beautiful influences we are passionate about, and to combine them from our own personal perspective, in order to create something ‘new’ which is uniquely our own.
I find this particularly inspiring and freeing, as I pursue my own quest for authentic voice and style.
Creating a portfolio which will grab an editor’s attention is perhaps one of the most important tasks of the would-be children’s book illustrator. This important subject is addressed in countless articles on the web, as well as in popular books on getting published.
Given that an editor or art director will probably only spend a few brief moments observing your portfolio, whether presented in a paper form, or in an online digital form, it is a good idea to revisit the contents often, to ensure that it is an up-to-the-minute representation of your style and best work. Demonstration of progress and growth is also valued by clients who may check back to see what you are up to at a later date.
This is a list of key recommendations for portfolios of children’s book illustrators:
Include 10-12 pieces of your best work (online portfolios are more flexible) and use good quality prints or photocopies, but never include originals, which may be lost or damaged. Ensure that each page is labelled with your contact details.
Rather than demonstrating how versatile you are, it is better to let your unique style shine. ‘Style’ is a whole other topic for discussion, but focusing on your preferred technique, medium, palette and way of rendering characters and scenes will help you to develop that certain ‘something’ that is unique to you and hopefully appealing to your audience. Given that there is a plethora of technically competent artists, your job is to show your unique way of seeing the world, and to make the editor feel excited by what only YOU may be able to create for them.
The technique and medium chosen must be well executed.
Ability to present a character within different scenes, poses, and with various expressions should be demonstrated, ideally by illustrating 2-3 sequential scenes.
Ability to create individual pieces of art is not enough; illustrators must convincingly show that they can tell stories visually, demonstrating narrative ability using sequential scenes.
You need to show your ability to render children and animals – which are key subjects in children’s books – in a way that is fun and interesting for children.
Passion, vision and creativity should be evident in your work, and I suggest that studing the work of illustrators of the children’s books that you most admire will go a long way in helping you to understand what this looks like in practice.
Have fun and good luck!
What a wonderful challenge to see the good in everything and everyone, even when it seems so hard to find. The thing is, when we do this, we find that the day isn’t so blue after all.
If you are looking for an extra special baby gift that is vintage-inspired, take a look at My Vintage Blankie. There you will find the most adorable embroidered baby blankets, pillows, bibs and a host of other quality and lovingly-created items at very reasonable prices. The lady behind the business is Amy, a super-nice person with whom I have recently had the privilege of working. Amy is in the process of converting some of her designs into sewing and embroidery patterns, and asked me to create some drawings for the pattern covers. You can see a sample and read more about it here.