Thursday, January 26, 2012

STOP LOOKING FOR THEIR APPROVAL developing self confidence as an artist


MichaelWade said...

Elgin.Elgin,Elgin!!!!!! Man you have got me dead center buddy, this is me. you described me! I draw out at functions and people love my work and give me compliments and stand in line to get drawn by me,but I still sometimes suffer from the I am not good enough syndrome,because I do look for approval sometimes thanks for posting this.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Michael, I can't tell you how trilled I am that you got something out of this.( which sounds pretty silly since I AM Telling you! LOL!
The need for approval is sooooo hard to shake ourselves loose from. Some artists stay handcuffed for years waiting for "someone"to "tell them they're good" trust me, I KNOW I've waited on the "approval line" myself, for years, waiting to get a pat on the head, and a doggie biscuit!

After a lot of research online of various artists of all kinds including writers, dancers, musicians and visual artists, I've discovered a common thread that exists through out, which is, the majority if them stuck their fingers in their ears to tune out the haters and naysayers, and went full speed ahead with less than perfect skills, most of the time.

As corny as it sounds, "believing in yourself" really is the only "magic" one needs to succeed, however they define success. We need to NOT let go of the things that we really want to accomplish as artists, and have the faith enough in our own abilities to realize the stuff that we think we "don't know" we either don't really need, or will pick up along the way as we move forward.

I remember my verrrrry first paying freelance job was $700.00. I drew it using CRAYOLA markers and regular typing paper! I didn't have the sense enough to know how to make a proper presentation, but there was something about the work the client loved, and he paid me!

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Michael, once we realize that we have something fresh and new to contribute to whatever creative work we are involved in we will no longer be slaves to approval seeking.

I don't know if you are a comic book fan, but there's this story about forner Marvel comics artist, Todd Mcfarlane who the new guy assigned to draw Spiderman, and Johnny Romita, one of the company's established artists, was giving him advice. As the story goes, Mc Farlane refused Romitas advice(something unheard of!) a d insisted instead to draw the character with HIS OWN particular flair, instead of being an imitator.

Needless to say, Todd became a fan favorite during his years at Marvel, and went on to even challenge the company itself by creating his own line of Image comics, and from what I understand, a MULTI million dollar action figure company. all this, because he believed in himself, and didn't seek approval.

Pag said...

I feel the same way when it comes to exposing my talent. Thanks for the post. I enjoy reading/watching your posts.

Thomas said...

It is an interesting subject, almost delving into psychology of promoter vs. that of the creative.

Often, you hear about the talent-ego gap(cutting both ways). I have not spent a lot of time thinking on it, but have run into many practitioners in almost every creative applied arts specialty and have observed a few things along these lines.

Being ready or not can be a thorny question. The hash is usually settled quickly. You promote the stuff you want to sell and if you're informed on your markets and the work is to acceptable standard, something breaks for you. If the work isn't where it needs to be results are less encouraging, but instructive. I always took failure to mean, trying harder is in order. examining weakness and making it a strength. The biggest failure I can think of isn't failing, but rather not learning from said failure.

Out of grad school, I developed a portfolio of work that was reductive (simplified) graphically and aimed at the editorial market. Showing my book around, I got tons of positive, glowing notes, personal praise and kudos. I also got no work. The portfolio--in and of itself--wasn't deficient, but it was edgy, visually strong and pointed (in terms of content). No amount of positive spin was going to get that work where I wanted it, which was--namely--on the oped pages of America's major newspapers. I knew my ideas and drawing ability were superior to those who typically appeared on those pages, but why no work? So, I ended up reworking my folio, still tapping my skill set, but pulling the horns in a bit. Within a week I became a regular on the OpEd of the NY Times. From there, the Washington Post followed and then a litany of papers, commissioning almost daily, editorials from my pen. Awards soon followed, and you'd think I would have been in the cat-bird seat, but that was not to be and if it ever existed, it was only an illusion. In the last years of my free-lance practice despite my increased experience with national clients, work ethic, awards, the revenue dropped. Not a ton, but significant. like an annual pay cut of 5% a year. As the soul bread winner in my household, I had to figure a way to keep the boat a float at least until I could figure out what was going on. Around that time I was offered a full time teaching post based on my career to that point. An odd transition at first, but I adapted.

What was the problem with the freelance? Unknown to me, editorial budgets at the venues I had established my work had begun to dry up. The NY Times cut from 2 million to 1 million. My annual revenue from that paper alone dropped 30,000 dollars in one year alone. I later found out that there were others whose revenue dropped triple my losses! Print had begun it's circle of the drain.

I've had time to appraise and reassess my career as an illustrator. Now, I only take work if I want to and now spend time working on personal projects that will not be hatched until I feel they are ready. Creatively, it is the best place I've been in a long time.

I don't know if this adds to your "believe in yourself" approach. I certainly did and still do, but I thought some of my last quarter century's experience in the visual arts field might add to your discussion. Keep on with your posts.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Thomas, not only does your answer qualify for "believing in yourself" but its also an extremely sobering reality check about the real world according to a professional artist, and a testimony to your resilience.
Interesting how your exceptional career opened the door to your current position, and there's a valuable lesson here in doing your absolute best in your current position. You never know what will happen down the road.

Thomas said...

Hi Elgin,

Yes, it is true that doing the best you're capable of does pay dividends. There if a faith component in believing that preparation will translate on some level to a satisfying result. I eschew the term success as it implies monetary reward and while paying the bills are a reality, making a good work of art, one that really holds up--even if it is a sketch not meant for sale--can brighten a day.

I've been fortunate, it is true, but as you've noted, it favors the prepared. As it turns out, I've seen real diehards working to make the old editorial free-lance model work, but year to year, despite experience, skill and promotion, the work is drying up.

Today, content is king. Not only should you be a talented artist, but the author of your own content too. You've already done some of with your bullying book. This is where I encourage my students to aim and for that matter any illustrator/cartoonist I know. Owning the content is the only way to go. Selling objects can work, but depending on price structure it can be a drag, being "up" all the time hawking work one thing at a time.

It is too bad though, newspapers used to be amazing places for young artists to forge skills and knock about with fellow artists. Though I'm loathe to use the term, "back in the day" I must use it to recount what it was like at the Times. The ninth floor at the old building they had on 43rd was surrounded with art directors offices with a large open area in the center dubbed unofficially as the artists bullpen. On any given day you could observe, firsthand, cartoonists and illustrators plying their trade for what was the leading editorial page in the nation. Ideas were sketched and tossed around like confetti. A art director would come in and toss down copy on a story and ask, "Who wants it?" Heady days where I learned more in a week than I did through most of grad school. I miss that. Any double column editorial would pay that month's rent! Add a letter spot and the power bill was covered too.

Students of the field today have to come to the game more fully developed than we did in those days and they didn't manage to connect with other artists. I jointed United Media with a bunch of them and started to syndicate my work. Hadn't it been for that bullpen, I'd have never met them. I suppose social media does compensate somewhat, but there is nothing like the questions, answers, and general interplay that face to face interaction has going for it. As a matter of fact I've got an exhibit opening in Frostburg MD in Feb with a nice color catalog with about a dozen of my offerings all due to those connections.

Summed up, I guess confidence is related to skill. If the work holds up to the great work that is out there and adds to work that proceeds you there is much to crow about, but these days, keeping an eye on content is important too. Perhaps that will make a good subject for a future post by yourself.