by Alex Rowe
When I was an art student, and even a year or so after I graduated, I had a very rigid idea of what my work and my life as an artist would look like: I would illustrate books, and only books. End of story. Spoiler alert to all of you young artists out there: this is not the best course of action. Pursuing a specific dream, like book illustration? Totally fine! Limiting yourself professionally and creatively? Not so much. I fell into the trap a lot of young artist fall into: limiting my work by keeping my dreams too narrow. Whether by not taking some classes because they didn’t fit with my goal, or even not drawing some pieces I thought of because they didn’t work with the portfolio I wanted, I was limiting myself as an artist.
The problem with staying focused on a goal is that we sometimes ignore the directions that our work is trying to take us, and when we stray too far away from our true work we lose focus on why we make art in the first place. A career in art is not a simple trajectory. There are many turns and surprises that it can take us that we don’t even expect!
In my case, some of my jobs out of school were t-shirts and logos for local bands. I had to learn a lot of things about design that I neglected to learn earlier, but this work brought me more and more joy as I completed projects. The key is to be open to these surprises. Let go of your dreams in order to find them again. Ask yourself, why do you make art? I think you’ll find the answer is much more broad than any specific goal that you’ve set.
How do you avoid being trapped in a goal that’s too specific? Simply be mindful of your artwork, of what brings you joy, and what your artwork is trying to tell you. Don’t try to make your work fit a specific goal, but try to find a goal that fits the kind of art you enjoy. In my experience, as I let go of the assumption that I knew what I wanted to do, I’ve been having so much more fun making my work again! And you know, that reinvigorated love has made me still work on a portfolio for book illustration – as well as other things.
Fear not: as grim as the career of an artist may look at times, there are more ways than ever to get your work out there and make it work! I found little success when I was just looking at book publishers – but now that I’ve started meeting local bands, interacting with small businesses, and even joining a gallery (trust me, the last place I thought my work would fit!) I’m slowly finding people who I can work with as an artist. Be honest with your artwork, and the right venue for it will come.