Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Successful Artists and Their Critics and Doubters, Part II

Back in 2015 I did a very presumptuous thing: I emailed professional illustrators and asked them to tell me sad stories. Specifically, stories about times when people had said mean things about their art, or told them that they would never succeed.

My point wasn't just to dredge up painful memories from my friends and acquaintances. I wanted to show that everyone - even those who seem successful, talented and accomplished - sometimes face discouragement. And that sometimes that discouragement can come from sources who seem very authoritative and knowledgeable.

The resulting blog post, called "Successful Artists and Their Trolls, Critics and Doubters," is one of my most popular posts, with over 11,000 views to date. So I decided to do an encore, and went hunting among friends and acquaintances for more anecdotes. So if you're an artist who's ever been rejected, doubted, or ignored...read on, and find that you are in very good company.

"I was a few months out of school, and I was trying to get my freelance illustration career going. The only job I could score was at Subway. I was so ashamed. When I finally got an interview with a design firm I was SO excited. I got a portfolio together and took the train to the interview. I waited around in the lobby for what seemed like forever and the interview only lasted like 5 minutes. Here’s basically what he said about my portfolio 'This stuff is cool, but you’re never going to make money on this. You need to try something safer.' I was broken. I called my wife on the way home and told her how crushed I was. And as usual, she pulled me out of the abyss. She told me he had no idea what he was talking about and told me all of the ways that I was kicking butt. My wife has been my consistent pep talker and I would be nowhere without her!"

Andy J. Pizza is the creator of the podcast and book 'Creative Pep Talk'. Clients include Nickelodeon, Google, Converse, Sony, Smart Car, Oreo, The Boston Globe & Nutella.

"I had two professors in college. One told me right before I graduated that I had nice work, but had no idea what I was doing and wasn’t fit for the field. The other told me that my work was 'souless.' (Ouch! That one hurt.)"

Katie Kath is an award-winning illustrator who lectures at colleges and universities. Awards include a 2016 Jr. Library Guild Award, 2014 3x3 Magazine Distinguished Merit Award, 2014 Runner-up for the SCBWI NY Conference Portfolio Showcase, and she won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship in 2013. Clients include Abrams, Blue Apple Books, Dial Books, Grosset & Dunlap, Penguin-Random House, and more.

"I was rejected from the illustration program the first time I applied at university. At first it was very hard, but ultimately, it was a humbling and beneficial experience. I redid my portfolio, feeling more determined than ever to pursue my goal of becoming an artist. I made it in the second time! It took a lot of hard work and a reassessment of my priorities. I am very grateful for that experience. I don't think I would be the same person now if I hadn't gone through that."

Miranda is a freelance fantasy artist and winner of the 2018 Spectrum Rising Star award. Clients include Abrams Kids, Tor.com, Subterranean Press, Dragonsteel Entertainment and more.

"I had a teacher who only liked styles that would fit with very traditional American comic books and game design. I had a class with him...and once he found out I was not going to work in his ideal style, he didn't bother critiquing my work. He acted as though it was a waste of his time and also did this to anyone else who fell into that category. Fast forward to about a year later, I was accepted in the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship. It was also parents weekend. I had class so my parents said they were going to walk around campus. I got a text from them saying they ran into that teacher, who was now giving them a personalized tour of the campus after they said they were my parents. Confused by this, I finally met them in the illustration department. My parents called my name and the teacher turned with a big grin to see me... and his face fell. Then I realized it. He not only thought I wasn't worth critiquing...but also thought my name was not worth remembering! He had no clue who I was and only knew my name from the Society of Illustrators announcement."
Kelly Leigh Miller is an award-winning illustrator whose clients include Dial, Penguin Random House, Cricket Magazine, Working Mother Magazine and more. She is also the author of two upcoming books from Dial in 2019 and 2020.

"The head of the illustration department at my art school once pulled me into his office toward the end of my time there. He was concerned that since my portfolio was mostly sci-fi/fantasy stuff that I needed to do a bunch of editorial paintings and whatnot because there was no way that I could succeed just painting what I was. He said 'Chris, it's like you've really sharpened the hell out of this one axe but I think you're going to need a lot of other tools.' He was very wrong, considering how specialized you need to be these days. I don't blame him as he was coming from an old idea of how the illustration industry works but it really could have sent me in a bad direction if I'd listened."

Chris Rahn is a professional illustrator whose clients include Wizards of the Coast,Valve, Blizzard, Marvel, Discovery Channel Magazine and the Village Voice. He has also displayed his work at the New York Society of Illustrators.


Thanks to everyone who responded to my emails and dredged up painful memories for the sake of my blog.

Did you find this helpful or encouraging? Do you have a story about how someone dismissed your artwork? Leave a comment!

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