Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hopes & Fears (& opportunities)

Where to begin?... Those of you who know me will know that I have a tendency to worry and to stress out about every little detail, so I shall start with my fears and lead up to my hopes about after graduating.

The main problem I think I’ve had all year round and in previous years is that I compare my work to others too much, I worry that I should work in Illustrator and make everything vectored or that I should use a particular style as my own is too cartoony and childlike… but being out of the studio I have felt like I’ve been let loose to follow my own way of drawing and experimentation, I don’t have 3 different tutors suggesting different things that I feel obliged to do and put into my work… Don’t get me wrong I’m going to miss their input and advice – they do know what they’re on about – but I sometimes feel like when I take their advice, the work is no longer mine. I’ve always tripped myself up by worrying too much about how I physically make my work but recently I’ve gained the confidence to use my actual drawings. I’m still taking too long to get to my final outcome sometimes… my mind just doesn’t switch off from drawing or design, I can imagine the same idea but in at least 4 different styles and I never know which one is the right one to choose, hence the delay.

I’ve seen a few people adopt another artists style of work and I’ve also had this confirmed by art directors and the like, but I don’t think I’m ever going to solve my dilemma of having confidence in my own approach and execution. If I take on the style of someone else then I will just disappear into sea of clones all producing the same work in the medium. One of my strong points is that I can actually draw, so it would be stupid not to use it in my work and rely on the computer, yet talking to the same art directors… they prefer work to be made in vectors as it allows for scaling up.

I find using the computer just makes my drawings dull and flat, where they once had character and charm in sketch form. As an example, my light bulb character is successful in its vector form but has more appeal to me in its original pencil format but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a completed image if I just use the sketch. I used to think everything was being produced digitally until I looked back at some of my favourite artists, seeing how they keep an uneven line in their pieces and maintained some of that personality that digital just doesn’t have. I think I ‘Like’ vectors and the aesthetic but they’re not necessarily for me, I will need to practice combining more of my hand drawn and digital work in a more even balance for future pieces. After all, that is how we progress, by taking at least 2 of our influences and infusing them into a new original piece and way of working… the problem I have is that too many different things inspire me.

Anyway, my biggest fear is that ever since winning the D&AD award, I will never be able to surpass it… and that it was all down to luck anyway. I know I haven’t done anywhere near as well as I have done in previous years but I have started to claw my way back to where I was at. I have a habit of leaving things in my head instead of getting them out onto a page, or blog post or email earlier… thus leaving everything to the last minute… I wanted to achieve a first in my degree.. but I realise that I don’t actually need a first. I know I could achieve the mark if I had really put my head into it… but it only really matters to me, at the end of the day it is my folio that people see and NOT my degree. It’s about networking, talking to people and making contacts… I have done this before I even came to the course and I’m not going to stop after today. I was commended on my ability to talk to people and get involved in a group – it’s just the way I was brought up –but I don’t think I will ever have any confidence in my own abilities … at least that will stop me becoming a cocky arsehole at least! I already know I won’t just sit about and fall into a boring job, letting my dreams of being creative for a living just die. I’d have just wasted another 3 years if I do that, but I haven’t had enough portfolio visits yet I don’t think… I mean I’ve had some good feedback on my work so far but even I’m getting bored of my own stuff…

In the next few weeks I have a couple of other projects that I sourced myself and I also have a tonne of sketches that I want to use as a way of improving my working method and hopefully finding a quicker way to the solution. As I said, I don’t really know how to shut off from work so probably won’t take a break from working just yet, in fact a few of us have already spoke about grabbing a studio space together in Manchester (or even a flat), just so we have somewhere “proper” to go and work and so we don’t just sit at home all day. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with illustration, it’s not like I want to do editorial work but it does seem to be the main way in which I will be able to make any money.
Let’s not beat around the bush, as the old saying does… if you’re good at something… don’t do it for free… I do want to make a living from illustrating and creating after all but I don’t want to be stuck designing the same old crap with little or no creativity just to earn a living but I don’t know any way I can be paid to just do the design jobs I want such as creating a toy, character design, graffiti/painting on various objects and surfaces and printing t-shirts. I want to do it all, hence why I thought I’d fit in with a design studio, but now I really want to form my own collective/join a collective who just enjoy working and creating artwork… the only problem after that is relying on our work to get us commissions. In the next few weeks I’m also going to receive parts for my own self promotion, I’m going to put together some little packs that I can mail out to clients/agencies in order to raise awareness of my work but also just to get a foot in the door in case they are looking for an in house illustrator. Ideally I would like a stable design job rather than a freelance lifestyle – not knowing where my next pay cheque is coming from – but the main advice I’ve been given is to freelance whilst I’m young… so… where do I start?

A freelance illustrator friend of mine, Jamie Roberts, recently realised he too needed to start some self promotion but also to realise his own short term and long term goals and how to achieve these. He is hoping to spend 2011 setting himself up as a freelance illustrator but in the next 8 years he wants to establish his own design studio and produce an animated series. Because he now has these goals laid out... he can set about reaching them. Stolen from his own blog...

You need lots of money to be able to network, travel, buy tools/equipment/reference, pay collaborators.
Wrong. The internet makes networking and reference easy. Tools are an expense but you can write them off against tax, build your tools gradually or adjust your style to suit what you do have. Collaborators are people, and if you don't talk to them, you'll never know if you can afford them. Besides which, a skill exchange might be an option.

Nobody's hiring illustrators.
Ha! So all those illustrations you see everywhere just appear? True, nobody seems to list job ads in the newspaper asking for a full-time illustrator, but think about it for a second and you'll kick yourself for ever expecting that to be the case. Illustrators are freelancers for the most part, so you find your work or make enough noise that it finds you.

I'm not good enough.
For some things, sure. Right now, maybe. But it's up to others to tell you that. Success stories rarely start with "I applied for my dream job and got it first time". Far more common is the story of the guy who was knocked back by everyone and persisted anyway. While you're persisting, you're growing your skill set.

I'm not cut out for the freelance life.
This is the big one. It may be true. But you know what? YOU HAVEN'T TRIED IT YET! It just so happens that necessity is the mother of invention. It's not by accident that the phrase 'sink or swim' is widely used. Sometimes you surprise yourself. Maybe the very thing holding you back from making a success of yourself is the safety net of a secure income (in a job you hate) and home comforts like TV to help you forget things aren't how you wanted them.

I also know Alan Wardle who has set up his own brand and collaborated with illustrators for t-shirt designs - admittedly he had already formed half of these contacts through his previous job, but it still involved taking a risk, thowing some money at it and jumping in feet first. I know I want to produce t-shirt designs, screen printed posters, make my own toy/vinyl figure and do at least one more large painting on a wall but I still need to find a way of working/style that I am 100% comfortable and happy with. Only then will I be happy to put myself and my work out there.

As I mentioned before, I have 2 other projects that I am working on now which could lead to future work from the same client, so I’m looking forward to actually finishing these pieces but these both came from my own proactive approach and friendly nature, there’s no reason I can’t repeat this with other clients. Sadly there needs to be a point where I stop working for free for friends and only accept paid commissions. So, once these 2 are out of the way… I will begin workin on my own goals, having fun with what I create and producing something I am happy with… the collective formed by a few of us illustrators on the course will actively look into getting a studio space so we have somewhere we can all meet up and work together… I wont have anyone to answer to with what I create but I know I will miss the experience and advice from the tutors… I find I don’t question my work enough.. I have an idea and then try executing it, I don’t take the time to look at if my work answers the brief or if there was something I could do differently to make sure the meaning behind my work stands out… this is something I will have practice also.

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