NOTE: Make sure ya’ll click to read Cetriya’s response to the original post. This is a response to her response.
If working as an illustrator is so difficult, and if the customers expectations are so often outrageous, why did you choose to pursue a career as an artist?
I get this question occasionally from well meaning friends and family who don’t know me well enough, people who don’t…
I swear I thought I reblogged this, and I thought I reblogged it with a response. I can’t find it though, so I’m going to respond, firstly because you were kind enough to reply, and secondly because you wanted a response.
A Little Background on Me
I did not intend to insinuate that ‘illustrator’ or ‘comic artist’ were jobs that were harder than any other. As the only artist in my family, I know that to many many, what I do has absolutely no value, and that there are many jobs that are more important and more demanding. I will probably never save lives like a nurse, doctor, or medic, I will never rebuild cities, I will never have to deal with a Black Friday mob.
My father paid his way through college, and took care of his mother, working as a roughneck on oil rigs. My mother was a middle school math teacher for 22 years. My grandmother was a school nurse for 30, my grandfather was an engineer for Shell. Before I went to SCAD, I’d worked as a babysitter, a clerk at a Bursar’s office, behind the counter of a concession stand, and as an office hand/stand in receptionist. I’ve been a student teacher at several schools, including an inner city school and a TA at SCAD. I have enough job experience to not be a fool and make claims I cannot back. I would not claim, physically, that illustration is more taxing than any of these jobs, although I certainly do work longer hours each day doing illustration. I also receive less pay, and always take my work home. I think there are MANY illustrators (more so than not) who have similar work schedules to mine. I would not intentionally imply that ‘illustrator’ is de facto a harder job than any other job, ever.
I did, however, imply that for people who do not hear the vocational call of ‘artist’, it may seem like myself and others live a charmed life. They assume I should feel infinitely gratified to pursue a life like this, and are not interested in hearing about what I do for a living when they share their own career stories. That’s ok. I don’t preach to crowds with closed ears anyway. I do, however, enjoy reaching out to others like myself.
If It’s So Hard…
It wouldn’t be productive to post here what I find unrewarding about being an illustrator, it wouldn’t help anyone to publish a litany of complaints about the demands that conventions make. Any artist who does conventions knows firsthand that we are salesclerk and store manager, janitor and customer service, we are the product and we produce the product. Bathroom and coffee breaks are rare, as we often don’t have relief. Lunchbreaks are often just as rare, and long days (often as long as 9A.M. setup to 1:00 A.M. breakdown at cons like Otakon) are common. We are underpaid for all we do, and certainly underappreciated by many of our customers. I’m certain I’m not the only artist who’s been sexually harassed by attendees at cons, not the only artist who’s felt threatened and insecure. I don’t have a boss to report this to, and con staff is often unresponsive. The demands are taxing, and may make many of us wonder why we pursued such a career. Our concerned friends and significant others ask us "If it’s so hard, why do you do it?"
And artists fresh out of expensive art schools, saddled with debt they didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of their new burden at the time of matriculation, are struggling to find jobs with educations that may be meaningless. They may struggle to find the strength necessary to go home and draw after a day of working a retail job, taxed to the limit by the demands of customers who fail to see them as people. They may search job boards and send out countless portfolios and do countless art tests, only to hear crickets in response. It’s hard to keep plugging away at this with no encouragement but "If it’s so hard, why do you do it?"
And what about the industry professionals who find the comics world shifting beneath their feet, the old models gone in an instant. Before, working freelance was a tough juggling act, but now it may be impossible. They may wonder if their art is just too dated, wondering if it’s time to throw in the towel. A spouse, tired of working two jobs and tired of worrying about paying the bills, may ask "if it’s so hard, why do you do it?"
And so, so many of us, in our off time, browse Tumblr and DeviantArt and blogs. We see artists we admire and artists we don’t know producing art that inspires and humbles us. When we turn our eyes to our own art, it is often with distaste and sometimes despair. We have hardened our hearts to our work, hardened our hearts to ourselves. So so many of us struggle with undeserved self-loathing, depression, anxiety. So many of us feel like we are less than others. And the small voice chimes in, late at night when we are awake with insomnia, panicking over a vague ‘future?’, the voice asks “If this is so hard, you could ALWAYS just quit.”
These are things we chose for ourselves, whether we knew it or not. We were told it would be hard, and we believed it, but I don’t know if it’s possible to prepare someone for how emotionally hard being an illustrator can be. Constant rejection, constant pressure, many of us lack the outside emotional support to continue under our own steam. We need a community.
Insecurity and Imposter Syndrome
I’m not sure if you read some of the other responses, but two lovely ladies said that they felt like hacks. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with their work, but they are both GREAT. They’re hardworking, they’re dedicated, they never complain, but still they feel like hacks. Do doctors feel like hacks? Do teachers? Do baristas? Does anyone but a creative have a constant nagging dread of being a hack? Do they care? Does it stop them from producing new lattes, teaching new students, treating new patients? I don’t mean to demean what these people do, but it does seem that they have a confidence we lack. Perhaps it is the skillset, or the diploma on the wall, the backing of a school to say ‘you are qualified’.
If this were all it took, it would be so easy, emotionally. I already have this. I have a Masters in Sequential Art from SCAD, and I still feel like I’m a hack. And I feel like other artists think I’m a hack too. A little loudmouth who stirs the pot. A little worthless loudmouth who never produces anything anyone cares about. And despite assurances to the otherwise, I will probably always be convinced of this, to some extent. I should be more confident though, right? I know how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design, Manga Studio. I can ink with a tablet, with a tech pen, with a brush, with a nib. I can color digitally, with color pencils, with Copics, with watercolors. I understand perspective and anatomy, and I can easily copy other styles. I don’t have time management issues, I work well collaboratively, I have decent management abilities. I understand the principals of leadership. I have all these skills that illustrators are supposed to have, but I still feel like a huge hack, and I feel like I’m not the only one with a cold-comfort diploma.
Perhaps this is Imposter Syndrome? Perhaps this is why some of us have a huge hole in our hearts that may never be filled?
This is an emotionally difficult job, taxing in ways I never could have guessed back in graduate school. SCAD wasn’t a good environment to talk about these things, SCAD SEQA perpetuated the meritocracy model. Once you were good enough, you got scooped up. Eventually work would be steady, one day you’d be able to even turn away offers. This was the dream. All of us bought into it whole heartedly. I still believe it, to an extent. I just figure it’s going to take a lot longer now.
My True Intention
I didn’t ask other artists to share just what they found difficult about their vocation. This wasn’t supposed to be an opportunity to whine, and the artists who shared their stories DIDN’T whine. They were honest in a way I intensely admire, because they made themselves vulnerable in a field full of snap judgment. I DID ask them to also share what made this all rewarding, becauese my intention was to uplift others. I had hoped that we could take strength in each other’s small victories, I had hoped that this could be another step toward community building. So often we are reminded by others that what we do isn’t ‘enough’. So often our skills are boiled down to ‘talent’, neglecting hard work, neglecting years of study and practice. So many artists are viewed as ‘overnight successes’ when they’ve languished for years in the shadows. Because of this, so many artists feel shame that they must struggle. I don’t like perpetuating that fallacy.
I assure you, if I worked retail as a vocation, I would reach out to others in my position for community. If I were a doctor or a nurse, I would do the same. I have always wanted family, always needed community. But I am an illustrator, whether or not I have the talent for it, and so I reach out to other illustrators, hoping to make their burden a little lighter. This is something I can do while I hone my skills and apply for jobs, something that makes me feel a little less like a hack and a little more like a person.