“Pursuit of Illustration” is a motivational and educational series for emerging illustrators and other practicing artists.

In my series, “Pursuit of Illustration”, I will share challenges I have faced, goals I have accomplished, and knowledge I have learned while working towards becoming a professional illustrator. I am still at the very humble beginning of this journey, but I hope that I can inspire young people and offer some helpful advice to my creative peers.

My pursuit of a career in illustration will be a long time in the making. I must master my work, find the right opportunities, thrive in a market with many competitors, and I can’t let myself get discouraged. For artists (especially emerging artists), we may have a lot of people in our lives who don’t understand our passion and don’t believe we can turn it into a means of making a living. However, what my work in arts administration has taught me is that anyone can make a living doing what they love and the opportunities are everywhere. In today’s world, you can turn any interest into a business with the right knowledge and tools.

Future topics may include overcoming creative block, designing booth displays, and marketing your work. Let this series be a source of information and encouragement that you can visit during your pursuit of doing what you love.

Overcoming your inner critic and unhelpful thoughts.

This morning, I watched Minni Small’s video “Dealing With My Inner Critic” and it made me think about the way I speak to myself. I absolutely abhor the majority of my work. Countless pages have been ripped from my sketchbooks in a moment of feverish frustration. Nothing I make is ever good enough. If I do make something I think is worth sharing online, I will end up hating it a couple months later. I eventually dislike the work because I am always improving, which is a sign of progress. However, in the moment I am not being mindful of this. Instead, my inner critic arrives in the form of a whiny voice in my head that rattles off insult after insult.

“This sucks! You’re not improving at all.”
“You’re a joke. You can’t be an illustrator.”
“Don’t bother sharing that. No one actually likes you, anyway.”

We may tell ourselves that this is simply self-criticism, but these thoughts are too cruel to be constructive.

Why do illustrators do this to themselves?

Like me, you may have received a lot of doubt from your friends and family regarding your dream to become an illustrator, potter, seamstress, or whatever it is that you want to pursue. This may have come in the form of a best friend who told you that this desire of yours is just silly, or a parent who told you that you will never make any money. Maybe despite all that, you went to school to study your passion only to end up with an instructor who had a poor, subjective opinion of your work. Maybe you kept pushing along and started your own business, only to be met with criticism from a rude customer who insulted you and your products.

These comments stay with us during our journey and come back to haunt us in the form of our own voice. This is the bad inner voice that fills our heads with unhelpful thoughts. The video below further explains the source of our bad inner voice and how to overcome it.

This bad inner voice is self-judgment. Judgmental criticism and constructive criticism differ in intent and tone. Judgmental criticism only serves those who dish it out and it is intended to cause harm or make a mockery of someone. You may have experience this kind of criticism from a high school bully or an abusive lover. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is meant to lift us up and help point is in the direction of self-improvement, not self-hate. This helpful, kinder form of criticism may come from a peer or mentor who wants to see you succeed.

How can illustrators make their inner critics less judgmental and more constructive?

First, you can seek encouragement from someone who loves you and believes in your ability to pursue your passion. Find a person who reinforces positive thinking and reminds you why you started your journey in the first place. Second, surround yourself with people who have similar interests. You may decide to start a club or collective, which is a great way to share your work and receive feedback from peers. Third, practice mindfulness. When an unhelpful thought appears, recognize it for what it is and let it go. Remember that this work requires focus and determination. You can only take it day by day, one step at a time.

In the spirit of self-love and encouragement, I’m sharing a few of my illustrations below. These have never been uploaded online until now. To me, this drawings are just not worth sharing (including the sad fox in the banner). However, I was recently reminded that aesthetic tastes differ from person to person when a retailer offered to purchase one of my designs that I did not see any value in. At first I was shocked, but then I was relieved to think that maybe my work is not so bad after all.

In the end, no matter where you are in your career, you may experience judgemental criticism or unhelpful thoughts from time to time. Instead of letting these comments or thoughts discourage us, we can simply say to ourselves, “This will not help me achieve my goals. I’m not going to listen to this.” Find encouragement in your peers, your partner, your therapist, your mentor, or within yourself. You are pursuing this thing because you love what you do and you want to share it with people who love it, too.


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