Self doubt and the fraud police stay for tea

First: Every time I write a blog post I adopt a resolution to post regularly again! Sadly, grown up life (especially grown up life of a freelance illustrator) will teach you what is a priority and what is not.

Second: I not only made it into the World Illustration Awards exhibition, but won the New Talent Award in the category Research and Knowledge Communication. Yay!! Last month I was able to attend the private view night and it was great! I got to know so many new and great people/artists (check out: Aad Goudappel, Pieter van Eenoge, Nata Joh, João Fazenda) and enjoyed a few days in London.

And finally third: Why I didn't write as much as I wanted to is, that over the past few months I have been stuck. Stuck is not the right word, though. Lost comes close, but so does bewildered, stunned, disoriented.... and weirdly enough: shipwrecked.
One thing you have to know about me is this: I make plans. Like communist countries. I make 5 year plans. Sometimes I will make 3 year plans....or rather: I make ONE 5 year plan with sub-distributions. I think about what I want to achieve in these years and how to achieve it. Then the goals get set. Most of the time (just as in communist countries) those 5 year plans don't work out. That's okay. Just let me get out my 5-year-plan-paper and let's make a new 5 year plan!

Then I finished my MA and I made - what else - a plan. First I would work on getting settled in. Taking part in competitions, then I sent out my portfolio, got my first clients, invested the money in my business, took part in some more competitions, sent out a second batch of portfolios, got some more clients, signed my first NDA's, won my first important prize....
At tat point I started to think "Okay, that is how settling in feels like!" And it felt okay - kind of. Not only was the fraud police knocking at the - or rather trying to knock down the door with a battering ram - of my confidence castle. It also occurred to me that something felt odd. Wasn't there a constant knocking coming from the other side of the hallway? While seeing the front door bending under the pressure of the fraud police, self doubt came knocking at the backdoor. "What are you doing?" I heard him howling. "Which kind of illustrator do you want to be?" He whispered when I came closer. That was the moment I faltered.

It didn't hit me like lightening. It was more like a game of chicken. But then with myself in both cars - or rather, since I don't drive - on both bikes. You see them coming but you think "They will give way." After a few moments: "It does look like we are going to crash - but we won't!!" There were many reasons why my other me, with self doubt sitting on the carrier, would have to give way. "I just have to get settled in. Then this weird feeling will go away.", "If I have enough client work, this weird feeling will go away.", "If I get credit in form of getting in exhibitions and competitions, this weird feeling will go away."
Naturally it didn't go away. So, I got of my bike, left it there and barricaded myself in confidence castle and .... pondered.
Why did something feel off?? I know what I can and can't do and I have a 5 year plan. That couldn't be the reason why self doubt was still sticking around. (For the record: Self doubt always sticks around, because you will never feel good enough, but it is like a self-doubt-chihuahua. With a tendency to be neurotic and sometimes nasty but certainly manageable.) While I had barricaded myself in the castle of confidence (or now rather contemplation!?), life went on, until my self doubt came knocking, until I heard him hissing the particular question through the cracks...

Other professionals define it as 'finding your voice'. What is it, that you as an illustrator want to express to the world!? What is it, that excites you, moves you to tears, frustrates you, makes you angry!? What is it, that you want to show everyone!? And Why!? Because it is such a vital component in the cogs of this vast world? Or because it is not important at all, but oh so wondrous? Because there is delicacy even in disfigurement, defects and all the flaws? Or maybe because it is the other way around? Maybe because occasionally beauty will break your heart...and more often all the ugliness and monstrousness of the world will break it in a whole other way....

So... I opened the door and invited self doubt in. Then I went to the front door, made it clear that I will open for the fraud police and that they please not knock me over. While I unlocked the door, I picked up some mumbling 'that's a new one' (I think officer #1) 'yeah, in most cases they reinforce the doors....' (officer#2) 'exactly! Or we knock the door down'(officer#1)....*agreeing mumbling*.... and self doubt watched me....doubtfully...
And there we were. Actually, the officers of the fraud police were not as frightening as I thought they would be. Two small, goofy looking blobby figures with police hats and clipboards. They did their best to look stern though. But - risking they would report me to the frau-by-artists-ministry - I invited them in and made some hot chocolate and a chamomile tea for officer #2. Then we talked for a long time....


Competitions - putting yourself out there

Hello everyone! Apologies for my absence lately. I just wrapped up a big project (client work) and will soon get the time to start a couple of new illustrations! Thank you so much for your patience :)

First: I can't believe it has been four months since I wrote my last blog post!!! Time just flew by. Summer is knocking at my door and I hope to be able to write more, since summer is a time without client work. There are many subjects I would like to write about. Just to name a few: “Fake it 'til you make it”, “Two Freelancers living together...madness in a nutshell”, “Refilling your batteries”, “The imposter syndrome” .....

But right now I think it is the time to give you an update about WHY I was absent for four months!!

First I was engaged with clients work which I won't be sharing for different reasons. Second: I am engaged with rebuilding my portfolio. Polishing up some of my scientific work from the last two years and *drum roll* build a new portfolio from personal work for ... eh... hm... illustration. Like....not scientific illustration. Fantasy illustration I guess. In Dutch and German you would call it 'free illustration', which makes no sense in English, since it is just...illustration...without a certain field of expertise. Third: Sending out portfolios and solicitations and finally: Fourth: taking part in competitions.

When I finished my study I made a list of interesting competitions to take part in with my final exam and for future fantasy illustrations. Back then I just randomly googled for illustration competition, design, drawing, painting etc. Now I found a really neat website who does that for you and has a broad variety of competitions for you to chose from:graphiccompetitions.com

Over the last six months I have taken part in six competitions, although I planned to take part in thirteen competitions until this summer. Three of those didn't go through with their annual competition, making it ten. Out of those ten I decided to postpone two until I have better/more fitting work and missed two illustrations due to client work. All in all.... six out of ten in six months is still good. But let's have a look which ones paid of to take part in. I didn't make the first round in two out of those six (one of these did'nt come as a surprise), in one case I made in the 'selected but not hung'-section, in another case my work got in the exhibition, one I made the short list and the last is still pending.

Some of my friends ask my why I would take part in so many competitions. So here is why: Working from home, living in a small, but artistically overcrowded city, I think this is one of the best ways to get my work out there. Not that I would purely rely on taking part in competitions. It is something you can do next to networking and sending out your portfolio. I myself think it is a good way to showcase your work and (which is maybe even more important for me) to up my game. If I don't make the selection it is either because: 1) The quality of my work compared to the other illustration not good enough 2)It is not what the judges were looking for in this competition. The first reason wants me to become a better artist, the second makes me think about my target audience (aka the judges in the competition). But there is a third reason for taking part in competitions: Developing a thick skin for the right moments. I know quite a few people who would get discouraged when taking part in a competition and not making it in the selection, or not winning. Of course I don't like it either. But it makes me realize that it is nothing personal. It is not that the judges didn't 'like' my work (or me for producing it), it is just that there may be 200 or 2000 other works and just 50 will be selected. If there are 500 mermaid illustrations 1500 various illustrations and 50 submissions will be chosen, then it is just pure bad luck that you sent in a mermaid illustration. If there are just 5 mermaid illustration in the 2000 submissions your chances are a lot higher to get in with a mermaid illustration. For some competitions you may even want to develop a good technique how you present and when to send your work, as Dan dos Santos points out in his Muddy Colors blogpost: The Strategy of Submitting to Spectrum.

For those of you who are curious about my competitions and exhibitions: I made the 'selected but not hung' catalogue of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation: The Wildlife Artist of the year with this little fella:

I made it into the biennial exhibition of modern birdpainters, the MoVo, in Halberstadt, Germany with my Ara and the Blue heron:

(I just remembered that I didn't post anything about finishing my Green-winged macaw)

I couldn't attend the official opening personally, but a dear colleague, Lisa Pannek, took a picture for me!! - and I feel honoured to have my drawings next to the painting "Montagu`s harrier male preening" made by Paschalis Dougalis!

And I made it on the shortlist for the World Illustrators Award by Association of Illustrators and the Directory of Illustration with the illustrations of my final exam:


About being scared and feeling safe

Maybe too safe...

Concentrating mainly on developing my skills I feel as if I had lost the connection to the concept part of being an illustrator. But everybody around me told me last year: "It's normal to feel of. You have been a student for 7 years and now being out there in the real world feels weird and it frightens you." and "You had a very stressful time with your final project and it's normal to feel awkward and feel like you don't fit in."

But my real problem was that I had the feeling that I lost my mojo. Okay, I can draw well on good drawing days, but to be an illustrator you have to have more skills than that. The past weeks I talked with a couple of other freelancers and...of course everybody has some issues (for example the imposter syndrome) but the best advise was: "Just let it go. Don't stress too much about it and have fun!"
That was when I remembered something from my first year in art academy. After a few months, I finally managed to make a decent painting of a still life. Everything was in balance and when my teacher asked me (when we had evaluation) which painting I liked the best I proudly pointed to it and said: "This one, because it feels like someone professional painted it." And he said "Okay. Your next assignment is to let it got. Take that painting and make something different with it. Paint over it or rip it up, cut it up and make a collage." Of course I got upset. I felt cheated. Being proud of it was going to be the reason why I had to destroy it. That is why I refused and was ready to get a bad grade for the next assignment. But then he said: "Why are you so upset? It's just a painting. You are going to make a lot of paintings. You have to learn to let it go. You are scared right now to let it go. Don't be scared. You can't be dragged down by that one good painting. You have to learn to dare to make something great, let it go and make something new, which may or may not be as good. Don't hold on to it because you will get scared of making something new, because it might not be as good as your last piece." He looked at my stubborn expression. "But I can't force you to do it. The only thing is that you are scared of letting that painting go and I think you should not be scared by that."
It took me a few days before his message came through and I felt kinda stupid about my childish behaviour...

And now, thinking of these words again, I noticed that I am very scared. Not only of being a freelance illustrator, projects and clients but also about making non-scientific/non-realistic drawings. Let's be honest. I like to draw realistic. I like to draw birds. It keeps the skills I learned in my masters programme alive. But I want more and just don't dare to let it go. To take the risk and maybe create very crappy illustrations at first because I don't know what I want or how to do it. Being scared that they will look worse than the scientific/realistic stuff I make....

But I have to let it go!

PS: I finished the blue heron:

Sketch as I posted it in "A new year begins".

Finished illustration. (Drawing birds calmes me down! :D)


Time and productivity

Time is a big issue, as is 'style' Which I also hope to cover in the next few weeks. But for now: Time. Making time. Having time. Spending time. Wasting... time.
Time is something everybody has in the same amounts. But today I think even more than any time before there are plenty of ways to 'waste' time. You can not really waste time, since you don't own time. Just as much as you can not make time. But these are just expressions we used to express something else. Wasting time = execute activities in a certain amount of time which are not thought of as productive. Spending time = execute activities which are seen as (socially) important. Making time = postpone or drop certain activities to do something else instead in the same time. Having time = not having any activities in a certain time.
Of course these are no official definitions, just mine. These definitions are also the reason why I stated that you can't waste time. You can however 'spend' time (execute activities in a certain amount of time) which we see as wasteful as surfing in the internet, hang out on facebook way to long, play computer games, sleeping in etc. etc. It's not as if you don't now what I mean. You just want to have a look at your facebook news feed and when you check the time it's two hours later. There are also activities which we quite enjoy and although being just a hobby, are not seen as unproductive as the examples I mentioned for wasting your time. Like reading, enjoying time with your friends or loved ones, gardening etc. This would be the category 'spending' time. I think 'having' or 'making' time are self-explanatory.

So this year I want to blog more (and not just dump some pictures, but talk about things I consider interesting), be more healthy (hehe ;) ) aaaand.... be more productive. Although for some friends I already am quite productive I always look at others and think 'Oh my, he/she did paint so many paintings this year... and what have I done!??' For a moment I can become a little discouraged, but shortly after I get motivated. (A good example for one of these moments was, when I read 'Taking' stock' on Muddy colors by David Palumbo. But in the last weeks I started to feel that I have to make some changes if I want to be more productive. One of these changes would be to spend less time on unproductive things!! Which is why I am going to have social-media-free days in which I won't visit facebook, instagram, deviantart, blogger or behance. I hope that I will be able to hang in there and to not fall back into old habits.

Since social media can be an important tool, there is also an important reason why I want to do that. I follow many artists I admire. So when I just login to check on one of my platforms, I can sometimes get overwhelmed by their work. Not only how good they are but also how much they produced in a time in which I didn't even get close to finish as many pieces as they did, not even half of what they made.... And I would beat myself up for that. Why couldn't I be just as productive as they are, not even talking about why can't I be as good as they are....
Da LuVisi wrote a great article about how his life changed for the better when he left social media. Although I don't intent on leaving it, I think I just need more discipline and stop looking at everybody else's art and start enjoying drawing again ;) or as Bob Ross would put it:

PS: For the ones who are wondering what I am up to. At the moment I am very engaged with several projects and taking part in many contests AND started to work on my new website (with some help by my lovely boyfriend ;) ). But I hope that I will soon be able to show everything here!!


How to stay motivated

As you can see I try to keep one of my new years resolutions - blogging more - up and running. But not just that. So far I mostly posted or blogged about my illustrations. But today I wanted to talk about artist talks, streams, blogs, podcasts, interviews etc. I read many blogs, listen to and watch artists talks, motivational videos and livestreams. The reason is not just to learn how to illustrate better, but also to master the creative business and sometimes...to hear that others were/are struggling as well, having the same problems. Being an illustrator can get lonely. As an illustrator most of the time you work alone and a lot of the people you feel connected to don't live in walking distance. Listening to streams while working gives me a big motivational push to work through the frustration you sometimes get from working alone all the time.

In the last post I talked about having a good mindset and being in a good place to make (good) illustrations. One of the things helping me through tough illustrating times are these mentioned blogs and artist talks. That's why I want to list up some motivating and helpful resources I mentally lean on many times (and many times to come).

Muddy Colors a 'fantasy art collective' with Dan dos Santos, Donato Giancola, David Palumbo, Terryl Whitlatch and many amazing artists as authors. They cover many fields. E.g. explaining steps of their own illustrations up to FAQ's and tips how to enter certain competitions.

Chiustream by Bobby Chiu in which he regularly discusses a variety of topics about becoming an illustrator and working as one (with many motivational tips). You can stay up to date via his facebook page: Bobby Chiu Art

One Fantastic Week with Samuel Flegal and Peter Mohrbacher is a weekly web show in which they talk about art, illustration and the business side of it. Often they invite fellow illustrators with a long career in this field and ask them about how they got there. They are also going to do a workshop called 'One Fantastic Weekend'!! Check it out!

The blog and streams listed above are happening on a regular basis, but there are also some good interviews out there. If you like a certain artist or illustrator you should follow him/ her on social media, because you never know when one of these gems pops up. In the last weeks many interviews with one of my favourite illustrators, Karla Ortiz, were published:

This is a podcast by Synstudio:Podcast Karla Ortiz
and another interview by Creative Trek with Sean Daniels: Importance of balancing art and life
and a third by Bobby Chiu for Schoolism: Karla Ortiz for Schoolism

and a while back Dave Rapoza and Daniel Warren (you may know them from Crimson Daggers) had a freelance talk (what you would now call a hangout I guess) about being 'in the middle'. The weird point in your career when you aren't a newbie any more, but also didn't reach the point to be one of the great (and with great I don't just mean good, but rather that your name stands for your style and that you are known for your work) illustrators yet: Getting through the middle

There are more interviews I listened to over the last years, but the listed sources give you a wide variety of themes.

Next to these digital resources I have one big not-digital resource of motivation: Nature! Sitting inside, working with the computer, drawing (hunched over my table) can get hard. A good walk or working in my garden (particularly in summer) always gives my a good energy boost and is a good balance to my illustrating work.


A new year begins

...or...has...nearly two weeks ago. Everybody knows how time just seems to run through your fingers, right?

In the last post I told you guys about my 'Happiness jar'. It is not just there to end my year in a good mood, but also to start the new year in a good mood too.
Of course there are the new year resolutions...BUT if you think 'Oh my, what a failure the last year was - I hope this new year is finally going to change some things' or 'I HAVE to work harder/more/get better, because last year was so terrible' it already puts you in a negative state of mind. I confess I am quite a negative person myself. The glas is mostly half empty and not half full. There is always this catastrophic chain of events in the back of my head of what COULD happen... although nothing has happened yet and nothing will happen and even IF something is going to happen...it is certainly not as bad as my imagination makes me believe.

For me it is very important to be positive. That's when I make good illustrations. That's when I will end up 'in the zone' while illustrating. Otherwise, I will not finish anything. There is always something to change, always something to do better and I didn't even start about taking big decisions. When you are in a negative place, you restrict yourself. You tend to be more aware of bad strokes and every tiny little 'mistake' is a failure. In the end you get so frustrated that you want to give up on this illustration. Maybe you don't even want to be an artist or an illustrator in that moment. Maybe you start to think 'All this is not for me, not when it is so hard to do it.' This is restricting, being to aware of what you are doing.

In my case, when I start with a positive mindset and I make a 'mistake' - or a happy little accident, as Bob Ross would call it - I just let it go. Maybe that stroke is not as you wanted, but let's see where I go from there. In the end it maybe fits in better than you thought. If it is really heading a direction I am not comfortable with, I just get a new piece of paper and start again, take the parts of the illustration I do like and then go on from there. Nobody knows and if you just let it go, it won't restrict you. The more you draw or paint, the more you practice, the better you will get.

'Talent is a pursued practice. In other words, anything that you're willing to practice, you can do.' - Bob Ross

So when I look at my notes from the 'Happiness jar' it makes me aware of all the forgotten tiny but precious moments. That puts me in a good place. Being in a good place, makes me free.

Ofcourse new years resolutions are still allowed! :) Such as: making more illustrations, being more active, losing a little bit of weight, drawing A LOT MORE, learn spanish, draw more and never forget: to be more positive!!

PS: That's what I am working on right now:


A year is ending

Not just any year. It was a quite exciting year!!

Since two years, I have something that I call my 'Happiness jar'. I write down all the little and big things that made me happy in at some point and put them in that jar. Each year a new glass. I started this new tradition in 2013 because I tend to lose track of all the things I did or experienced and always feel disappointed when a year ends because I wasn't able to fulfil everything I intended to fulfil - or even if I did everything I intended to do - I still think I could have done more or could have done these things better....
At the end of the year I open that jar... and I get a warm fuzzy feeling that this year wasn't so bad after all ;) .

It is something I can just highly recommend!! I just have one rule: I don't put things in which I don't know how they will end. For example: Somebody contacts you for an awesome project and it even seems that it will be a very good paid job. You love the project, you love the client. But... first talks are not always how a project will turn out. The bigger the project the bigger the risk that it will in some way turn out totally different from assumed.... So this is a thing I would not put in my jar. If I would put it in e.g. in April and it gets cancelled shortly after I will feel stupid reading the note at the end of the year that I was so happy about it in the first place. I try to keep a lot of the small daily happy moments in it. A nice talk with someone you look up to, a good meal, something you did you never thought you would have the courage to do so, a perfect day, somebody on street telling you that you look nice etc. Even if you read about it months later it will instantly take you back to that moment. It is also good to mention that I mostly put in events and memories of experiences and not possessions. The later does not make as happy as the first things.

So there were many many things going on this year. I finished my Master with a masterthesis about birds, made some new friends, reconnected with some old nearly lost friends, grew my own vegetables in my own garden, was the maid of honour at my brothers wedding, moved officially to another country (with all the bureaucracy involved...), made my very first progress video, presented at a Behance Portfolio review which had a live connection to New York, visited Paris for the first time in my life and got myself an allotment garden for next year and re-opened my Morlo-shop... :) And these are just the big things... there were many small things which made me just as happy. Of course there were also lows but for me it is better (and I honestly think that is true for everybody else) to highlight the highs to have the feeling of a fulfilled live.

And for next year...

... ahh... I think of next year tomorrow ;)


Under the sea - Little mermaid II

So in the last post I showed you the process of the 'Under the sea' illustration.
One or two days later I realised that it was just not working the way I wanted it to. The face wasn't right in any way, althoug I worked with references. I chose a model which I thought beautiful and changed the lighting. In the pictures the lighting cam from top right corner and slightly from behind and for the illustration I decided I needed light from the lower left corner and more from the front. THAT was the biggest mistake I could have done....and second: Always check if the model shoot works for you illustrations!!! Even if you think the person looks very beautiful it may just not work for an illustration. Or to say it in a different way: Is the model a pretty person or is he/she also photogentic AND will it work the same in an illustration??

This is the last stage before I decided to change it.

So.... after thinking about it for 1-2 days I got my got my collection of erasers to get of all the layers I allready had put on, which was nearly a half day of work. Got some new and good references ....and....started all over again.

I sketched the new face firs on paper and layed it in photoshop over my illustration and emphasized the big lines to see if it would work. It does! ;)

And finally the finished piece:

For the first time I actually worked with beaten gold. But you can't really see it in the scan which is why I took some pictures to show that aspect:

...and you can vote for it on Infected by art since I am taking part in the competition for the next annual


Little mermaid

So in between I am working on some other illustrations than just scientific ones. In september I already posted the black and white sketch for a portrait of a mermaid.

When I was a kid I used to watch many fairytale films made in eastern countries e.g. Poland, Rumania, USSR, Czechoslovakia and later Czech Republic. Many of them inspired me when I was younger and still do.
I always have the picture of a mermaid from "Malá mořská víla" (The little mermaid - 1976) in my head. Not the Disney version of the little mermaid.

This year I wanted to make my own version of the little mermaid:

Black and white sketch

Black and white sketch but with digital values...

...and the same sketch with some colours...

...and the first layers in my real drawing!! :)

Since the drawing is pagefilling and not - as many of my scientific illustrations - with a lot of white space this will be one of my biggest colour pencil drawings I ever created.
It is 51x45cm - which is 20.1x17.7in!

PS: You can also follow me for this illustration (or others) on Instagram!


Polly wants a cookie!

I think parrots are very inspirational birds. Obviously because of their intense colours but also because of the pure variaty of them. Plus the go through big changes in their looks from hatching to being an adult parrot.
That's why I am at the moment busy with an illustration of a green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus), also known as the red-and-green macaw.

Black and white sketch.

First colour pencil layers to give it some generall shape.

Details in the head are nearly finished!!

PS: You can also follow me for this illustration (or others) on Instagram: http://instagram.com/ankatsart_insta