So far, telling people that I am an illustrator is going well. I expected a lot of raised eyebrows, queries about my sanity and put-downs about art’s relationship with money, but instead was delighted to discover that people are enthusiastic about my decision.
People respond in the way we set them up to respond. It’s easy to be self-deprecating, or to make out like things aren’t a big deal. One of the books I’ve been reading, Breaking into Freelance Illustration by Holly DeWolf*, contains an assortment of sugary tips that make one feel like an eager girl guide rather than a bad arse artist too busy being outrageously and provocatively cool to waste any thought on practical matters, but a key message that shines through all the sweetness is this: Think highly of yourself, and your confidence will inspire others to think highly of you.
Says Holly (p. 71): ‘You are an illustrator. You are talented and motivated to get work. Let that enthusiasm show in how you write [or talk] about yourself. Put yourself in the spotlight the best way possible.’
It’s daunting to announce that you’re an illustrator when you’ve only been at it a few days. On the other hand–you’ve been at it, and you certainly haven’t been doing anything else. An illustrator isn’t defined by the clients she has or the money in her pocket, but by the act of illustrating. I think this is obscured by the common claim that you’re only an artist once you’ve exhibited and / or sold artwork. Until then, the general public considers you a hobbyist. But an illustrator who sits at her desk all day, studying colour theory, reading up on running a small business and dabbing away with gouache is working as an illustrator, and can rightly claim that title.
While Holly’s advice verges on self-help for illustrators–‘success breeds success’–her book is so damn positive that you can’t help but feel good about yourself even though you get to stay home all day and draw pictures. She reassures the illustrator that this is a legitimate career, like being a public servant or a plumber, that problem solving and artistic skills are valuable and valued, and that though success may be less clearly defined than in a job with designated hierarchies, promotions and pay scales, as an illustrator one can feel satisfied with the effort one has put in.
* DeWolf, Holly. 2009. Breaking into Freelance Illustration: The guide for artists, designers and illustrators. How Books: Cincinnati.