Why you should stop looking at what others made

The internet is a as much a treasure as it can be a curse.

YOU shape your own life and your own future, as much as anybody else shapes their future. It doesn't happen through looking at what everybody else is doing and comparing yourself desperatly with them. Which may even discourage you in a way that you don't want to do anything anymore because "Heck, you are never going to be that awesome illustrator when you are 24, because you are already 26....

Social media can be a good tool to be able connect with like mindes artists and build your own following, it can be pure evil when it comes to comparing your life with the ones of others.

You are never to old to do what makes you happy.

people who became famous at a later age:

Samuel Jackson has been a Hollywood staple for years now, but he'd had only bit parts before landing an award-winning role at age 43 in Spike Lee's film "Jungle Fever" in 1991.

Henry Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car.

Charles Darwin spent most of his life as a naturalist who kept to himself, but at age 50 his "On the Origin of Species" changed the scientific community forever in 1859.

Julia Child is recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her subsequent television programs, the most notable of which was The French Chef, which premiered in 1963.

Vera Wang left Ralph Lauren at 40 and became an independent bridal wear designer

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997.

Jon Hamm received his breakthrough role in 2007, when he was cast from more than 80 candidates as the protagonist character Don Draper, in AMC's drama series Mad Men.

And there are many more examples out there. So whenever you think "I'll never make it. I'm too old to still get what I want from life because others made it when they were younger than I am now!" Give that stupid voice in your head a good kickin'. It's just self doubt in another dress. Never turn down because you or anybody else think your are too old or too small or to young or to unknown or something else to do whatever it is you want to do.


"You can't do that"

“You can't do that!” or “You can't do it this way!” are sure two sentences everyone got told in their lives at least a couple of times. Although this is most often well-meant advice, it is also complete bollocks. Okay...maybe not for some facts like “You can't grow wings. You just can't do that!”. But there are many moments in life when others tell you you can't do something just because they think you shouldn't do it. There are moments when these people have the best intentions, knowing that their path brought them happiness and they want you to be happy too. But there will be many moments when it's just about social and cultural norms.

norm; NOUN:
1.1 (usually norms) A standard or pattern, especially of social behaviour, that is typical or expected.
1.2 A required standard; a level to be complied with or reached.

Which is directly related to:
normal; ADJECTIVE:
1 Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Over the last two weeks I had a bunch of conversations about my work or the work of others, their paths in life, what they/I want to do and where everyone of us is heading. What I always came back to was “What makes you happy?”
Fulfilling expectations and social norms are satisfactory because we as humans like to do what other humans do. We want to be accepted into society and we don't want conflict. Disharmony and friction is irritating. It costs precious energy you would rather use for something else. That's why we just move along without current: take the same classes as our friends in school, join a prestigious university or the university our friends are attending, get a decent job, get kids at the appropriate age yada yada yada.

There is nothing wrong with that. Not if that is what you want. It's alright if that makes you happy. But what if this makes you miserable. What if you think “Man, why do I feel so unsatisfied while everybody around me seems so pleased? What's wrong with me, I should be happy!” and unless you have a depression or any other mental health issue, it may just be that this is not making you happy. So why don't you just find out what does? It may be difficult, it may involve getting disappointed and it may require some hard work to get where you want. We got taught that we can't do so much. Young kids are not yet so self-conscious that they know they should be humble, that they know they are not the best or prettiest or fastest kid in the class. They still believe that they can be it someday. We get taught that we should behave according to a social norm. As a grown up, many of us stick to these norms.

Now comes the part which may be depressing, but can also be refreshingly comforting. All these norms, all these social behaviours we got taught which keep us from exploiting our full potential and being content with who we are is: None of this matters. Everybody will die eventually, you and the people who are satisfied living the norm. To be even more radical: In the end the human race will probably go extinct and our planet will explode. It doesn't matter if you lived your life as others expected you to or not. They will not put on your gravestone “And she lived an average, normal life.”.
So why bother? Live your life to the fullest because it's the only one you've got. Don't live as mediocre as possible.

So let's get weird...

..and hopefully happy in that process.


2016 - Saying goodbye to a turbulent year

As most of those who read this, I tend to reflect the most at the end/beginning of a year. We arrange our binders in years and we tend to think chronologically. It's only natural to contemplate more about ups and downs when there is a big cut in that cultural logbook. It asks'what was before?' and 'What will come next?'

I sure as hell didn't write as much as I wanted to. Five blog posts are a measly amount of posts. There are two main reasons - though not excuses:
1) I was really really busy.
2) I am still scared that I have nothing new (or for that exciting) to add to the chorus of creators out there.

Number one is not a problem at all. It just made it obvious to me that I have to step up my game when it comes to my planning skills in the next years. But although I am a wee bit nervous, I also am confident that I will grow into a life with better planning.

Number two is a major issue. 2016 was a better year for me when it comes to social media and I learned a lot by watching how other develop their platforms and fandoms. At the same time I feel tension and hesitation when it comes to putting myself out there.
Why should anybody be interested in what I do? There is already so much stuff out there. Before the summer of 2016, I still had that idea of creating something nobody ever made before...

Which is ridiculous for two reasons.

On one hand I will never find a theme in a medium that nobody ever did think of before....but secondly...when I do it my way, just as it speaks to me, actually, nobody ever did do it like that before because there is nobody exactly like me out there. I'm still getting into this because this asks another "scary" action of myself. Getting in touch with myself and not feel like an egotistical, pretentious prick about it. I put "scary" in quotation marks because there is a shitload of really scary stuff out there in the world, like living in a war zone etc. That shows how relatively easy I feel stupid for getting too deep into own insignificant motifs why I do anything at all.

But there is another reason why I had a hard time convincing myself to write something. There already is so much stuff. Regularly I get overwhelmed by the amount of information waiting for me on social media. Sadly it works like a bag of crisps. You just can not stop until the bag is empty aka. until you read EVERYTHING that happened when you weren't online.
As much as social media can work as a tool for you it also works against you when you fledge from beginner to something more like a pro. Sometimes you need to check what is going on around you and sometimes - as I learned this year - you just have to turn it off. There is a point when you have to put theory into praxis and take a break from taking more stuff in. Letting your brain rest, create boredom to be able to be creative. Just as athletes have to take days off from torturing their muscles to give their muscles time to recover and grow. And then....you have to have balls... to stand out.

Just get out there and quit being afraid!

And with that I'll keep reflecting to myself right now and wish everybody a Happy New Year!


About being in between and getting there

So you finished art school. You are not a beginner any more. Officially - for sure compared to someone who just pursues it as a hobby - you are now a professional. But you yourself feel far away from being as professional as you would like to be? You get commissions. But you are not producing the work you would love to produce?
Then you probably in the gloomy grounds of In-between. When you are still surrounded by the safe borders of art-school-country, In-between seems a country that is far away. You might even think “Yeah, but I will just pass through In-between to get the land of milk and honey were the professionals live and work”.
Then you cross the border and get 'professional' stamp in your passport. Before you can protest - “But I am not a real professional yet” - you get shoved out of the line. There you are in In-between. Just you, your pencil and a stamp in your passport that says that you are already that what you want to be, but seems too presumptuous to actually call yourself that.

Some things that happen in In-between are weird commissions. Things you would not do if you had the freedom (aka. money) to chose in that certain moment: “Sure I do logo design....” up to: “soooo.... you want me to illustrate that book in the style of that famous illustrator who wouldn't work for you because you don't want to pay them what they are worth?” up to just plainly getting laughed at by potential clients, because they assume you are filthy rich if actually anybody would pay you the rates you proposed to them. They didn't laugh at the phone. No, they wrote the laugh in an email (“Hahahahaha....”).

Luckily - at least some wise art-hermits told their followers - you won't spend the rest of your career in In-between. There are some lucky bastards who are able to board the train which goes directly from art-school-country to the promised land where thy pencil has never to be sharpened and thy Wacom nibs won't tear down nor scratch thy Wacom surface. The rest of us have to go through In-between. Sometimes for a longer time than you have thought or you would like to. But just try to enjoy the ride! To give your arty soul some fuel to speed your travels up a bit:

Stephen Silver - "DAMN IT!!! Follow Through"

Stephen Silver - What does hard work for artists mean?


Confessions of an illustrator

Since I wrote about feeling insecure and doubting yourself I thought it maybe time to address how illustrators interact with other people. My view is of course mostly based on my own experiences, feedback by my creative friends and the illustrators/artists I've talked about these experiences. There are however exceptions, so don't think I'd allow myself to think ALL illustrators on this planet feel like this.

If you create art, you have to like spending time with yourself.

Some of us love to paint, draw or write. A big inspiration to write is the fact, that the stories you WOULD have wanted to read, are not out there yet. That's why you write them. Same goes for painting/drawing. The fact that you would rather write/draw/paint than....lets see, go to a big ass party or go rock-climbing or go hiking for days or be a marathon-runner. You write/draw/paint because you feel like it is the best thing to do with your life.
If you paint or draw and pursue it as a professional career it is because you really like doing that. You like making art so much, that you even do it although it can be hard and frustrating at times. In art school I had a time that I got so frustrated by my teachers and assignments, that a friend of mine said 'I don't get it. If you hate making art so much, why don't you stop!?' Fellow artists know what I mean when I told him 'I could never ever do that!!'

Most creatives live in a bubble. It can be hard to grasp why you do what you do for people outside of this bubble. Especially friends and family who have a normal day job have a hard time to understand working freelance, let alone working as a creative freelancer. Sometimes there will be days (or weeks) when things go slow. You finally have a lot of time to work on your personal projects or your website OR to tend to some other things (spring cleaning the house). And then there will be the crazy times, working several client jobs at once, calling non-stop, sending out emails non-stop, being stuck to your phone because you wait for important calls, short nights and ordering take away because you just don't feel like cooking on top of everything else. Sometimes it even means working through the weekend or holidays. Sometimes you will have to cancel a night out with friends because this commission is juicy but sadly has to be done in 2 days (in editorial it's even shorter). Sometimes friends don't understand because 'Your client just can not ask of you to work those crazy times!!? Right!?'
This is only part of it. Living a modest life, so that you don't get into trouble when a client drops you, or working a day job next to your profession are other parts people tend to forget. Not taking part in sports or activities that might endanger your hand/arms/eyes is another consequence of wrapping your life around the fact that you make art. Instead of pursuing these'dangerous activities' you do boring exercises against the inflictions of working as an illustrator.
And although this might sound horrible or weird to some and although others might not understand why you go through with all this when you could just have a normal nine to five job and enjoy holidays and nights/weekends off, you still just LOVE what you do. More than regular work times, more than weekends off, more than being outdoorsy, more than a sport you would like to pursue but is too dangerous for your hands.

(That's me being outdoorsy....)


A lifetime friend - S. Doubt

Everybody has that special friend. For some of you this friend is a big part of your life. Spending waaaayyy too much time with him. Sometimes he starts to creep you out because he just seems to know which are the nights you can't sleep and pops up to keep you company. Some of your other friends don't like him so much. They give you advice, that you don't really need him, that he is just dragging you down, making you feel bad about yourself and that the friendship, you two have, is more of an abusive relationship. But there are other friends who introduced you two by giving well meant advice about what to do differently in your life.

Self Doubt:
1. Lack of confidence in the reliability of one's own motives, personality, thought, etc.

Everybody knows him. Even if you don't belief me because the CEO of a big company can't possibly be uncertain about his business, or the doctor who helped you so confidently in the hospital, or the bus driver who is nice to everyone, or the kind primary school teacher or....
Of course they all have their own Self Doubt. Some are greeted by him in their homes where nobody else waits on them, but him. Some run into him when they least expect it (mostly at nice dinners with a group of friends) and he just sits there, whispering in their ear that everybody else is doing better. Some sleep next to him and he gets up with them, when they are going to make coffee, following them around for the rest of the day. Self Doubt is a good friend, always there when he thinks you need him. Right?

Since Self Doubt is not someone to chase away easily maybe it is a solution to embosom him? Use your relationship to get an insight in your way of working, to get an insight into why you would react as you do. Spar with Self Doubt:
Why are you scared to talk in front of a crowd? What is the worst that can happen? Make Self Doubt clear although he tries to convince you that you will drop dead the moment you mispronounce a word, move weirdly or if you lose your thread, that it won't happen. You won't drop dead. People won't point their fingers. Hack, most people won't even notice and even if they did, they will forget about it.
If you are scared you could mess something up just think about how it could impact your life a month, a year, five years from now. Think about moments when you doubted yourself because of something embarrassing that happened in the past and if anybody now (besides yourself) still cares about it. It will show you how your anxiety fuelled imagination differs from reality. It will put Self Doubt in his place.

Or another example: Why do people give you advice how to do things in your life? Most of them mean well. They want to help you to go down the right path. The problem is that everyone - especially in the creative business - has their own path. There is no recipe to success. Why does Self Doubt show up, when you get that well meant advice? Does he whisper: “They think you are doing it wrong! Everything will be better, if you would just follow their advice.” Do you get confused or angry because you start to doubt yourself after getting that advice? Or because you get the feeling that maybe your friends or family doubt you because they think your life needs some tweaking in the right direction?
They probably just feel that you are not quite there yet. Not there where you want to be, or where they want you to be. Doing well and leading an independent, self sustained and happy/prosperous life. As soon as you realize that most comments about how to do things, are - although not very thoughtful - meant to help you. Self Doubt will not be able to use these comments in his advantage.

These are just two examples how to deal with Self Doubt or one of his friends and family (...auntie anxiety anyone?). Don't ponder too much and confront your Self Doubt why he showed up in that specific moment. It can show you that people want to help you with their advice because they feel your dissatisfaction that you are not yet where or who you want to be. And when you ask him "But I am not that unhappy!? I know it takes time to get where I want to go. I know there is no shortcut. Hack, maybe I never arrive. But that is no reason for you to spoil my ride!"

So F*** you Self Doubt!


First illustration of the year

To get into the mood I started 2016 with this small illustration of a european robin! There is one of these little fellas visiting and living our garden every winter.


Something old and something new.....

So.....its this special time again...

In the neighbourhood I live and work in it is impossible to miss that the end of the year is close. The frequency of early fireworks (although illegal before New Year's Eve) increases with every passing day in December.

With every pop of firework outside my window I get more conscious about this yearly fix point in time. Unintentionally I start to reflect about the ending year and to ponder about the beginning year. What happened? What were the good things? What were the not so good things? Would I do something differently with the knowledge I have now? How will these things change my behaviour in 2016?

At the end of 2015 I followed some good advice from Vanessa Lemen and Laura Panepinto from Muddy Colors.

"Your art as your voice and mirror" by Vanessa Lemen is a more reflective post and helps to get a new, different view on your art/your life. By looking back on what made an impact on you in 2015 helps you to determine what was/is very important. Writing it down and reading it again after some time gives you a clearer image of events. At the same time you will be challenged to ask yourself some questions to get a totally different view on things.

"How to Get What You Want: Know What You Want" by Laura Panepinto is not only for 'New Year's Resolutions' but you can use this throughout the whole year. It is a good method to concretize your goals. On the one hand will you end up with some workable ambitions (e.g. blog once a week/start an instagram) in contrast to a vague goal (e.g. have more online followers). On the other hand you will get a clear picture what is really important and what is not as important as you always thought it would be.

A third method to end the year on a high note and start the new year very motivated is my 'happy 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 ;).

All in all 2015 was a good year. Probably even a very good year! My very first year of working full time as an illustrator and I can't say it was a bad first year!
Taking part in competitions was a big part and although I took part in about 10 bigger competitions/judged annuals/judged exhibitions I won one of them and got into two exhibitions.

Through that I got to know some awesome artists and I hope that I will be just as successful as they are, enjoying my wonderful job together with my loved ones. I got to travel and went on holiday for the first time in 8 years! I grew a shit load of vegetables on my 100m² allotment garden, learned to crochet and to knit...and started a new secret hobby which will stay secret so that nobody can ask me to show them how good I got. Something that I greedily keep to myself, hrhr.

Happy new year to everyone out there. May 2016 be a magical year!


One day out with the fraud police

So in the last post I told you about the infamous fraud police. These guys existed probably ever since the first being decided to paint on the wall of a cave. But they got their name by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. If anyone knows anyone else who gave that particular feeling a name before, let me know in the comments!

One thing is for sure, anyone in the arts and other occupations experienced the fraud police. Some people hear them knocking, some people live in the constant fear that the fraud police will show up in the form of nagging fans, friends or family, while others have wild nightmares of officers coming to their door (with clipboards) and explaining "We found you out and it is time for you to get a real job."

In my last blog post I wrote about my very own, personal fraud police incident. After inviting them in and having hot chocolate/tea with them, we decided that we can get along. That they wouldn't report me to the non-existent fraud ministry. That I would work on my constant fear of them. That I would work on my relation with self doubt and that we would have dinner some day and maybe even visit the zoo or go for a walk in the park, if the weather is nice.

One part of this relation-therapy between them and me is keeping a journal/sketchbook/diary. These three things can be one book. When J.A.W. Cooper talked about this special sketchbook on One Fantastic Week, I immediately knew that this was the help I was looking for. Something to help myself, since nobody can make the fraud police go away by snapping his/her finger. When I was in London, I got out my crappy sketchbook/travelling journal and started analysing what I liked around me and why I liked it. It helped. I'm not there yet, but it is a start. It is like getting to know someone, slowly, because you don't want to spoil all the surprising moments when you feel a connection falling into place. The "We are friends, maybe great friends and maybe even more than that, as long as we don't spoil it by moving to fast"- kind of getting to know each other. So ... that is where I am right now. While trying to figure out, how to cope with self doubt and the fraud police (who, nice as they are, let me know that fear of failing feels left out, although he did just exactly what they did a while ago) I figured that constantly looking at everything that everybody else does and works on, is not the best thing to do. Right now it is time to figure out how I can reach common ground with all my fears. (okay, not all my fears....haha)


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....