This week I've been wrestling with this question: which should I make my chief pursuit, making picture books for a living or helping others make art for a living?
I believe that it's of the utmost importance to have a deep sense of what it is you want.
It's true, life is inevitably somewhat a juggling act, and yes, sometimes there are unexpected pieces to the journey, however I think it's incredibly important to have a 'main thing'.
So I've been spending some time exploring this question.
Here's three things that helped me so far:
1. Talk with Peers
I lead a conversation in my 'self promo' class that I teach at the Columbus College of Art & Design. Just chatting with them, hearing their thoughts on what they wanted helped me realize that many professionals have a 'main thing' they create, but pay forward the breaks they've been given, as well as pass on the tricks they've learned. Also I realized that for many artists, they have a dueling motivation of expressing themselves, as well as helping others to do so.
2. Talk with Mentors
I spoke with one of my 'mentors' aka my dad. He's a business man, but his skills in strategy and intuition often apply to my art business quite nicely. Just through verbalizing the issues, I stumbled upon some of my own answers. Also, through speaking with someone who is removed from the situation, my dad helped me make connections that I couldn't see from being too 'in the thick of it' to notice. A 'can't see the forest for the trees' kind of thing.
Having people I can talk to who are removed from the art world has always been a help to me.
3. Catalog Euphoria
In this pursuit to decipher where my real passions lie, I had this thought: when have I felt most invigorated when interacting with the art world? I wanted to dig in to those natural, visceral, honest to goodness feelings that you can't fake.
I'm keenly aware that so many factors, like jealousy and insecurity, trick us into thinking we want things that we actually don't, and this process was a way to cut through that boloney.
The first thing I remembered was this pure euphoria I experienced after listening to this talk with Aaron Draplin for the first time. It was a total high. I remember going to lunch with a friend after and just gushing about it like mad.
This was a point for the 'helping others make art' side.
Then I remembered this similar moment last summer at ELCAF, London's independent comic festival. Seeing Nobrow's stall with so many beautifully designed / printed picturebooks and comicbooks blew my mind. I could have spent every penny I had to my name at that stand.
A point for the 'making picturebooks' side.
Life is messy and complicated. Everyone will try to sell you on the lie that it isn't. Sometimes you have to look back to connect the dots, but that doesn't mean that some level of clarity in your vision for the future isn't attainable.
This process was invaluable to me. Here's the conclusion these steps helped me find:
I'm being lazy: The public speaking / helping others thing is something that takes less planning for me and something I've already been developing for years v.s. picture books is something I'm right in the ugly middle of developing. Of course I want to lean into the thing in which I've already had some success.
These things are married: Through these chats, I realized that the 'helping others' was something that I was going to do for the rest of my career, and to fuel this pursuit, I need to be helping myself first. Without my own victories in the art world, I won't be able to be as effective in my pursuit to help others have their own victories.
I think one of the most valuable things you can do in your life is to ask the tough questions and gain clarity. If you have sense of uneasiness that there may be some questions under the surface that you need to address: get offline, take a walk, get quiet, figure out what the questions are and then start working on finding these answers.
These moments of clarity are the biggest catalysts in my own career, hope you find some of these moments for yourself this week!
Question: what do you do to gain clarity on these sorts of things?