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A decent amount of work has been accomplished on the marketplace: a fruit stand, five characters and two security droids. You'll have to wait until the next IMPrint to see the progress, though. Until then...

Angst

(And Other Benefits of Being an Artist)

There have only been a few moments in my life in which I have gone through moments I would call "artist angst." Everyone knows, in the same way everyone knows going outside with wet hair will give you the purple pox, that artists have to feel angst to be great. They have to suffer. They have to have their souls ripped from their bodies, thrown on the ground, and run over by a wild herd of very large, rabid hippopotami. Metaphorically speaking.

We obviously don't mean the suffering that accompanies your favorite sports team losing or finding you REALLY need fingernails right after you've clipped them. We're not even talking about the everyman's "teen angst" period that we all go through. No, we're talking about the kind of suffering that comes from staring the hard, harsh truths of life in the face and realizing that everything is not only worthless and pointless but in fact a cruel joke perpetrated on us by a cold, cruel cosmos.

Being an artist isn't easy.

Luckily my moments of angst weren't so severe.

The first came while I was earning my degree at the University of North Texas and was told, by multiple members of their esteemed faculty and in multiple ways, that I was an artistic failure that did not deserve to graduate. I was told that I had great technical skill and could no longer be taught anything on that front at UNT, despite my knowing even then that there was much I had to learn. What they meant was that my work had no artistic merit. I was only able to graduate by accepting a lesser degree. Granted, they may have been right. They wanted to produce modern artists, not illustrators. Even with the fuzzy distinction between the two, I fall pretty solidly in the second camp.

If you read the previous issue of IMPrint and thought that it sounded angry at art school, that is a small hint at why, and hopefully an explanation of why I claim that I was actually reserved.

But this isn't about what I was told, or how I was able to graduate anyway. It's about the depth of frustration felt at the time. I almost packed it all up and left college, despite the feeling that I held then (and still hold) that a degree is an important and worthy achievement. But the professors almost convinced me that it was futile for me and that I really had no business even trying. It's a testament to my friends and family that they were able to keep me on track and saw me through the degree anyway. It left in me a bitterness that I still feel towards the school.

It would be easy to write volumes on that episode in my life. It would bore you, feed my bitterness, and only distract us from the main point of this issue.

The second period of angst came fairly recently, though it had roots in unconscious decisions made decades ago. As a child, I became convinced that I wanted to be a fantasy illustrator. I saw images of fantastic creatures and landscapes on the covers of the books I read and I knew that I wanted to make similar images.

There was little doubt that I wanted to be an artist, or that I loved mythology and the emotions we invested in the monsters and magic of our childhood. Wanting to be a "fantasy illustrator" was all wrapped up in that, and didn't seem any more in need of questioning than did the rest.

Years went by. I graduated college, moved to St. Louis, worked for several years as a computer game artist, quit to go freelance, started making inroads into the fantasy industry and moved to Boston. The many years of going to conventions, showing my artwork and taking part in panels started to pay off.

Yet as time went by, I found myself questioning more and more whether this was what I wanted. Like the original assumptions, these new questions were all wound up together so tightly that at first one could not be distinguished from another. Am I still enjoying this? Is this market what I thought it would be? If I give up this market, am I giving up art as a career? Can I stand to give up art as a career? Or am I just scared that I don't have what it takes? This is what I've always wanted... isn't it?

And on and on.

Eventually little bits of fluff started to stick out from the ball of yarn. I was able to pull a couple, tease them out further, and start to make sense of the rat's nest of questions.

I finally accepted that no, the market simply isn't what I thought it was many years ago.

Can I make it in the market as is?

Possibly.

Would I want to?

No.

Does that mean that I am giving up my childhood dream? No. It means that I didn't fully understand what my childhood dream was or how to get there.

I thought more about my childhood. I tried to remember even farther back, to consider why fantasy art had inspired me so much to begin with. And what came to mind were not the Dungeons and Dragons games that I never really played much but the children's books from years before: Where the Wild Things Are and Richard Scary's dressed-up snake hopping along in his single shoe; Mr. Toad in his red automobile and the stoic Mr. Badger; The gritty realism of the rabbits of Watership Down and their Prince of a Thousand Enemies.

Perhaps, I thought, children's publishing would be a better fit for my work.

This meant overcoming a personal prejudice, if "prejudice" is the right word. On one hand, I had admired many children's book illustrators for a long time. On the other hand, I had been offended over the years when people would look at my body of work and ask whether I was a children's illustrator. "What?," I would think, "No, I'm a fantasy illustrator! You don't have to be a child to like fantasy!" In truth, they probably saw what I was resistent to- that my work was a better fit for children's books than fantasy.

After a trip to the bookstore, I realized that children's books still offer a lot of room for genuine creativity and fun, and that you have the opportunity to inspire children before they become jaded. I recently attended my first children's publishing conference, and came back very inspired and excited about the prospect. It was incredibly enjoyable and stimulating. Ideas of projects and pictures and directions bubbled and boiled in my head. A few more lines of hyperbole might communicate how it made me feel.

It was scary, too. Making that move involves reworking my portfolio. Some pieces can be kept- mainly the personal pieces I have made in my free time- but others need to be removed and holes need to be filled. It also involves entering a new arena, returning to knowing little of how the market works and having no connections. But it is a challenge I am eager to undertake, and I have enough to begin contacting publishers as is.

This is one of the benefits of being an artist. We have flexibility in our career only bounded by the amount of work we are willing to put in. We can tap new markets at any time, markets not subject to geography. We are only trapped if we think we are. If we are willing to make the decisions and then follow them up with hard work, we are able to control our own destinies.

How great is that?

Every angst, viewed the right way, is only a challenge we impose on ourselves. When overcome, it can take us places we never could have gone before.

 


“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
--Calvin Coolidge


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This document last updated Mon Oct 2 11:00:31 2006.