It seems like everyone is in different steps in their creative practice. Some people are taking a victory lap sharing their new series of images that just published. Some people are passive aggressively mumbling that the sky is falling and citing different shortcomings of their industry. With these extreme attitudes that others feel (and possibly how you feel), it’s hard to emote positivity under the constant stress of what we do as freelance creatives. In this post I reflect on some things to be aware of, how to be the best possible self you can be, and draw connections to point out how everything will be ok.
The other week I was at a creative mornings talk that happened in Brooklyn on the topic of failure. Ben Pieratt was speaking, and helped illustrate my thoughts on the anxieties of working as a freelance creative and why we shouldn’t worry about it so much. He continued by saying that we live in peaks and valleys. When we are at a peak of a wave, we feel really good and when work slows down we feel terrible as we dip into a valley. In a lot of ways it is a bit like surfing – you’re waiting in anticipation for a wave to come by. Maybe a few small waves crash by to ease some tension but then a big one comes. You’re riding it and you feel like you’re on top of the world and everyone is stoked at how well you are riding that wave. Then the wave gets smaller and the ride is complete. If you know that you can always swim back out and ride more waves, you’ll be self-aware enough that the process of slow periods and busy periods will be easier to deal with because you’ll have faith that the next wave is just along the horizon to take you on another ride.
What does success mean to you? The value of success and what it means varies person to person. For some people, having a day job while making zines and selling out at cons is enough to resemble success. For some people, getting consistent freelance work and living off of the drawings you make is considered another form of success. I honestly believe that if you are making work and you are happy with what you are creating, then that in itself is a success.
A lot of times, we can get hung up when we see another creative person post about an awesome project that they are working on. You start to feel stressed out about not having your shit together to be on the level of another person’s success. Honestly, we are all walking our own paths, and will get work based on the work we made for ourselves. So comparing a new project with what you’re working on makes no sense. You are most likely doing something unique that will have its own sets of triumphs. It just takes a bit of patience and understanding that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a creative person’s envisioned path. This brings me to my next point…
We all started drawing, painting, photographing, and creating because we enjoy it. We love it. We need to say something in a visual way. A lot of us went to school to learn how to do this better, and for some reason along the way a few of us got lost. We focused on how commercially viable we can make our work, we put it into the world, and it quickly lost its spirit. It lost that honesty which existed originally, and you might even wonder if you are still having fun creating it.
The problem is that the best “commercial image makers” are the ones who know how to keep the spirit of their art and what they ultimately wanted to do in the work they make for clients. A great example is Victo Ngai and her illustration work. She is always looking to her imagination to create worlds in her images which push the boundaries of how we see reality. She is hired to make dense images that explore these themes because of how honest the work is and because of the connections her clients make to use in an abstract way. So take a bit of time to reflect on the kind of images that make you happy to create, and then find a way to sell them.
This is probably the hardest thing to do. We are so critical of ourselves that it’s hard to let go and embrace our failures. A creative career is really a creative practice. We are constantly tuning our skills, figuring out the best way to promote our work, and taking notice of the patterns that happen every month that stress us out. Having faith to trust that through hard work, self-improvement, reflection, community, and promotion, you’ll be able to reach your goals and continue riding waves for years to come.
Daniel Fishel is an illustrator and hand letterer who originally hails from the Keystone state but resides in Queens, NY. Daniel's has worked with a range of clients such as The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Nylon Guys Magazine, Arizona Iced Tea, Lands End, No Sleep Records and many others. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of illustrators and 3x3 Magazine.
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