Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don't Let Them Define Your Success!

Too often I hear up and coming illustrators, animators, and comic book artists say, "Hopefully I can make it someday and get freelance work." This is a self defeating way of thinking...if you never get hired does that mean you didn't make it? Is there a such thing as all or nothing as an artist? Is this easy for me to say because I make a living with my art?

I don't think so because I remember those very discouraging times when I wasn't getting work. But more importantly I would be creating art even if I wasn't getting hired to complete freelance assignments. I don't create for my clients - I create for myself. My publishers get to publish my work. I own it and stand behind it and even though I work closely with them they don't own it - I do. I take responsibility for the quality of my work and place a higher standard for myself than my clients demand - therefore - it's mine.

The problem with thinking that assignments equal success is that you let forces outside of your control define your value. It's a dangerous game to play because at what point to you throw in the towel and say, "well, time to quit - nobody hired me." Success can be defined in many ways and I understand the need to generate income with your craft. I think it's important to remember that some artists start earning a decent income within a year after school. Some might take 1-5 years. Some much longer.

I once had a student who stated, "I need to start earning money with illustration right after graduation." I didn't know quite how to answer that and I failed to give a good answer at the time. What I would say today is this: "So, what if you don't? does that mean the past four years was a waste of time? What if you could see the future and you are able to generate more money than you could imagine but it takes you 10 years to get to that point - is that worth it? Do you have the commitment to make it through the 10 years of below expected income levels? What if your experience was like my friend who struggled for 4-5 years after school and then was asked to illustrate: "A Series of Unfortunate Events"? Would that be worth it?

The tendency is to want the rewards with little sacrifice. If you really truly want it you will have to dedicate your life to it - this is good news for most because you're in control of it! You have many years ahead of you of hard work! Embrace it. Fall in love with it. Cherish the time you have with your craft.

If being successful means being chosen to work for someone else - you might be disappointed if your work is easily good enough but you aren't being seen by the right clients.

If being successful means earning enough money to pay your bills - you might be judging your potential before your work is marketable.

If being successful means winning awards - you might be creating art that is unappreciated by the trend police.

If being successful means selling a certain quantity - you might be disappointed if the right audience never sees your product.

The previous is inspired by Seth Godin who says we're now living in a time where you can't afford to wait for someone to pick you - rather you must pick yourself.

Nobody hired me to make ebooks but I picked myself and published them.

Nobody hired me to make video tutorials and online classes but I picked myself and created them.

Nobody hired me to run my youtube channel but I picked myself and publish videos every month.

Nobody hired me to write this blog but I picked myself and now I have a place to share my ideas.

If you set attainable goals you can be successful every day, month, and year. It starts with a commitment to excellence and improvement. It ends when you die. I can promise you that I will be creating art until that day. I don't work -I create. I live and breathe knowing that I have much more to give. I am successful because what I create makes me happy.


  1. Hey.....this is remarkable! I almost gave up but this is just what I needed not to do so....

  2. This is to Yve: I want to point out that age does not matter in this prospect - I am almost 63 but my future :) is in illustrating (at least I hope so). The good thing is that I do not have to live on it as I have an income already but I am just as driven and have just as many ups and downs...

  3. "because it's just what I do, what I AM, whether someone pays me or not." - perfect!

  4. An illustrator friend told me he was paid $600 last month from self licencing on Zazzle. You can bet he doesn't wait around for commissions!

  5. Thank you Will for always inspiring. I actually heard Brett Helquist say it took him 7 years after school to get A Series of Unfortunate events. I've never forgotten that, and it has kept me motivate. I have the problem of getting work, but low quality stuff which I hate. I am glad you talk about not letting this define me. It doesn't mean that I'm a bad artist. It doesn't mean I'm unsuccessful. I will just keep Climbing the mountain, and finding the passion in doing my own successful personal projects. Thanks so much for always keeping me stay motivated!

    1. You're welcome Shawna - I thought it might have been longer but didn't want to over-estimate :)...also he's a private person and I didn't want to bother him by asking :)

  6. Will one of your best blogs yet. You inspired me many months ago. I've had some success (two small book illustrations jobs) but because of your inspiration I decided to take the plunge. Currently I am working on an ipad app that should be done early September. It may or may not be successful but the experience is turning out to be priceless. Thanks for the kick in the behind!!

  7. Thank you Will, finally some good news and great advice over these past sad days for me. A huge pick-me-up!

  8. You inspiring me lot. I will follow your advice. A big thanks for sharing with us !!

  9. This is a great post, Will.
    It has taken me a lot longer than 7 yrs to get going, & I while I've gotten some great freelance jobs, I still don't make enough to do my illustration work FT. But I never stopped thinking of myself as an artist first, & my FT profession second. A large book deal that I landed in 1997 fell through after I completed the work & it was approved, & really discouraged me, but last year, 15 years later, that book finally went to print. I felt like it sort of "legitimized" me as an illustrator, but there was never a time when I felt I wasn't one. Your post really struck home here. Thank you!

  10. awesome post! I recently graduated as an illustrator, but I am also a mom with a very busy one-year-old. Truthfully, I don't have as much time as I would like to spend on making art, promoting myself...etc, but I am doing my best. I consider myself very successful because I am spending the most of my energy caring for my husband and son. I am confident someday I will be able to dedicate more time to my art..but for now, I am being patient and trying to give 100% at my current adventure.

  11. Another great post Will. I think this is relevant for most of us at one time or another. You provide so much support and encouragement. You're the best. :D

  12. so bang on Will!
    I was sensing that feeling from many people in the SVS class as well...putting the focus on getting a job rather than mastering their craft and enjoying the journey. I have a full-time job and continuing to work on my art as I enjoy it...sometimes doing what you love and having the pressure to make a living at it takes away from the pure pleasure.
    Thanks for all your great advice and sharing from your experience.

  13. Thank you so much, this is a very uplifting and motivational post. I was starting to forget why I changed my career to art, because it is what I love and what makes me happy.

  14. Thank you. Not only is this true for creatives as a group - it happens to be JUST what I needed to hear today. It's solid advice at any stage in our careers, isn't it?

  15. Hi Will! Thanks for all your inspiring posts and videos! I live in Greece and after a long career in industrial design, I 'turned' to my first love which is illustration.. The thing is that adter I turned in 2008, work has been sparce and very low paying ( 600 Euros for a book and 100 Euros for book cover art!!!) one can give up easily living in this country.. I haven't though.. I've tried reps in the UK and still have gotten nothing.. I've sent postcards to publishers in the US and the UK and still have nothing... However, your words light a fire in my gut and I'll be damned if I let them get me down.. Here's to you bud!!!


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