Earlier this month, I found myself paying attention to the goings on at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, a conference I’ve attended for the past four years, but one I decided to take a break from this time.
It was a surprise to me that I missed being there, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, since not going was a conscious decision. The last couple of years, I’d been going for networking, socializing, and making strategic moves to further my career via different connections and affiliations. While that proved to be well worth my time, it also tainted the experience I’d had the first couple of years when I’d been taking classes and was really excited to be there.
When I first began this self-directed career, I was always hungry to become better. Having never gone to art school and starting pretty late to this business of art, I felt a need to catch up to my competitors, to prove I could hold my own, even had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing. Over time, through a lot of trial and error, I eventually found the work I love most. But during that period, I was learning new techniques from other artists, watching DVDs, reading articles, tutorials, and taking classes.
Then there came what I thought was a natural evolution. Suddenly, I’m the one writing articles, recording videos and training DVDs, doing demos and training for companies, schools and groups, and figuring that this was what I was supposed to be doing now, moving up to the teaching level. Many friends and colleagues have made teaching a large part of their businesses and some of them are not only very good at it, they really seem to thrive on the experience.
But more teaching will involve more traveling, writing scripts, recording, and less time doing the work I enjoy most. It will also involve breaking down the work I love so much into an assembly process, evaluating it to death and sucking all the life out of it. There’s still a feeling of magic in my work when I draw and paint, a connection to something else that isn’t me, as nauseatingly artsy as that might sound. It’s what I love most about painting, the soul of it all. You can’t dissect something without killing it.
The opportunity to speak and demo at the Wacom booth last year in Vegas was one I enjoyed. Even as an introvert (not to be confused with shy), I’ve got no problem with public speaking or talking with people, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it. Repeating that experience now and then is something I’m happy to do. I’ve realized that I do not, however, want teaching to be a large part of my career, at least not now. I’m fine with showing how I do it, talking about what I’m thinking, and trying to inspire others to explore their own creative instincts, but breaking my work down to stereo instructions is not something I enjoy.
I’ve written in the past that one way to find out what you want to do is to start checking off the things you don’t, then look at the choices that remain.
Over the past few weeks and months, an underlying melancholy has been lurking just below the surface, this feeling that something is missing. This week, while taking one of my regular walks up Cougar Creek, on the day I took the photo you see above, I realized what has been bugging me. I miss being a student.
When you’re self-employed at anything, especially in a creative field, fear is a part of daily life. After you’ve been in the gig for a number of years and are making a good living at it, the fear can stop being a motivator, however, and can instead keep you from moving forward, a fear of losing what you have already gained. It can happen so subtly that you don’t even realize that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.
The last couple of years have found me concerning myself with marketing moves, making connections and evaluating promotion strategies, all absolutely necessary for anyone who has chosen art as a profession. But when you’re going ninety miles an hour trying not to fall behind where you think everybody else is (a race you can NEVER win), you start missing the reason you’re on the road in the first place. That’s when it’s time for a change.
I still plan to draw the daily editorial cartoons, paint my whimsical wildlife paintings and some portraits, and take illustration and painting commissions as usual. I’ll still be promoting my work the same way I’ve always done, running my booth at the Calgary Expo in the Spring, and evaluating each opportunity as it comes along. I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I make a good living doing the work I love, and I still do have to make a living, so I’ll always run my business to the best of my ability.
But, I’ve decided to take my foot off the pedal for a little while. I’m tired of running all the time and want to slow down. There is some fear that if I stop scrambling in the promotion game, that I may ‘lose ground’ but really, what the hell does that mean anyway? Lose ground to whom?
I miss being a student, so I’m going to spend more time being one. I can’t recall the last time I sat and read an article about painting or drawing or took some lessons to become better. Lately, when I see other artists and illustrators posting teaching and training videos, I’m not thinking, “I should be doing that.” What I’m actually thinking is, “I want to learn from these people.”
When in doubt, trust your gut, and this just feels right. I’ll let you know how it turns out.