I've worked for numerous fortune 500 companies, Illustrated 2 games for Hasbro, big publishers like Random House & Simon Schuster, hundreds of consumer magazines, been included in the Society of Illustrators, taught high school art, teach at two Universities, published ebooks and apps, started my own online video tutorial company, an online live class, and become an avid blogger. So my question is this: How can someone who regularly received below 2.0 GPA's in Jr high and high school achieve as much as I have in the past 20 years? According to my schools I was a failure - even though I was regularly cranking out artwork and excelling at playing the Cello.
I've been told by some that the reason I did so poorly in public school is that I was lazy. I can assure you I have never been lazy. Uninspired? -guilty. Bored? -guilty. -but never lazy.
I write about this on my blog because I feel that this is an issue we must come to terms with if we are ever going to truly support artists. I write about this to continue my healing process and to hopefully help those who find themselves in the same situation I was in - unwanted. Our current system selects for a few skills (reading & math) while discarding everyone else.
Everything we aspire to buy or experience like cars, phones, and movies has a creative component yet we do not teach creativity in school. The Washington Post reports that 54% of young people want to start a business yet we teach no entrepreneurial skills in public school. To become a master at anything we must fail over and over to improve yet our public schools do not embrace a failing forward approach - rewarding those who memorize the right answers.
I think of the poor souls like me who might have turned to substances or other means of coping with the feelings of their perceived inadequacies. I'm one of the lucky ones because I had parents who supported my desires to pursue illustration. I'm lucky because they had the means to send me to school. I'm lucky because I happened to attend a university with a great illustration program. I'm lucky because I married a woman who supported my crazy dream to become an illustrator. I'm lucky because every one of the 2,000 plus commissions I've received over the years has been a pat on the back.
I write this for my son Aaron - who's self portrait was graded with a BIG red "F" by his 4th grade teacher 9 years ago - all because he drew extra personality traits into his picture...because he didn't want his art to look like everyone Else's - apparently he understood art much better than his teacher.
Some have questioned my sanity in criticizing the very system that employs teachers and librarians who make up a large portion of my children's book audience. That I might be black listed for school visits - a substantial boost to author/illustrator incomes and book promotion. (Isn't it ironic that the very people I feared in school have become a large portion of my audience?) Am I really going to bite the hand that feeds me? If you abuse a dog and it bites you back should you get mad at the dog or realize your mistake and change?
I could sit back and keep my mouth shut in hopes of earning extra income provided by the very system that ignored me -OR- I could do what I feel is right and speak up for the innocent children we feed to that machine every year. I've met parents with kids just like me who ask, "what should I do with my child who just wants to draw?" Should I turn my back on them in hopes of booking more school visits? I tell them to celebrate those passions that their children exhibit! Help nurture those skills and understand that the world may one day value their contributions much higher than the school system is allowed to for the moment.
I love presenting in schools because I feel that I might actually be able to make a difference in some of the budding artists in the crowd. My feelings towards the broken system do not prevent me from working within it's framework - just like many of the committed teachers who get up every day trying to make a difference in spite of having to teach in handcuffs. I hope anyone reading this will understand that I'm passionate about illustrating children's books, teaching, and helping people realize their potential in unlocking their talents and inspiring them to work hard to achieve their dreams.
If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about there are many great discussions online: Check out Ken Robinson and what Seth Godin has to say about this topic.