Story, Work

What I would draw if I wasn’t worrying about market and social approval

When I first thought about writing this post I had another title in mind: “What I would draw if I didn’t have to worry about market and social approval”. Have to. I had written it down not to forget it and it stayed there on the notebook for days on until something sounded suddenly wrong. Have to. Has anyone ever obliged me to worry so much about external approval? Nope. Why do I feel obliged then? It’s because of me, only me.

The idea for the post comes after a disappointment. In the past months, I’ve been working non-stop on my portfolio and on a couple of illustration contests which I had put a lot of hope in. I felt ready to give a boost to my job and I worked hard to achieve the goal: finishing personal projects, creating a book project, updating my website to show it to potential clients. I focused on what, according to my thinkings, could bring me more (and better) work. Sometimes even pushing my style a bit to get a more “marketable” version of my illustrations. Everything was ready by the beginning of February. I sent my emails, published the best things on my Instagram account, and then I waited.

 

 

By mid-February, I was still waiting to see the results of my strategy. Neither via email or social network things were moving as I had expected. By the end of February I had received a couple of feedbacks, none of which followed by a commission. I kept waiting – “waiting for Godot” my boyfriend told me one morning – and, in the meanwhile, I tried to do new things. But the less feedback I had the less I felt like drawing for a new project. I desperately needed an external approval and this was not coming. I waited and then I got completely stuck.

 

 

 

It’s impressing how external approval has the power to change the opinion we have of the things we do – and to give or take away the energy and passion. To even change the opinion we have of ourselves. I wasn’t getting any positive feedback and this made me think that nothing of what I was doing was worth the time and the effort. Even worse, I – the mind and the hand behind these creations – wasn’t worth anything. Day by day the passion I had put into my works drained and the energy left to continue, to improve and make new things almost exhausted. It’s at this point that I took the notebook to write and, after some days, I realized I was the one obliging myself to please others with my work. I was the cause of my own frustration.

I don’t know if caring about external approval is wrong. What I know is that it’s not good. And it doesn’t make any good to us. When I started drawing again without thinking about anyone to please but me, joy and ideas slowly came back. I drew whales and lines, and things that don’t make sense but that helped me get back on track. Now I’m still in the process of recovering but what’s important is that I’m back in my priorities. Here in the post, you see some of the things I actually drew the moment I stopped thinking about market and likes on social media. They appeared on the paper sheet and I felt light and free to do as I pleased.

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Story

Becoming an illustrator without an artsy background. Some piece of advice

Health issues have a silver lining: while forcing you in bed for days they also force you out of the working rush in which you’d been putting yourself for months. They come right in time – the body knows, they say – right when you started wondering whether you still had things under control, right when you started feeling bored and urged to recalibrate.

I was in bed reorganizing my hard disk, filling my new Behance profile (I read I should have one) and that was already feeling like playing Marie Kondo with this past year’s jobs life. Then came an e-mail: someone was asking me (me?) for advice. It was an email asking if I could share my experience – and, if I had, some advice – as an illustrator not coming from an artsy background.  

I’d never thought about it. My background – a bachelor in Italian Literature and a post-grad Journalism School, plus some years of experience as a freelance journalist in Italy (I’m telling you more about it here) – for some time has been something to set apart, not to mention but to hide shamefully like a past mistake you don’t really want to talk about. Then I made peace with it but still, I’d never thought it could be interesting.

This said I can assure you starting life as a professional illustrator wasn’t easy nor fast. I’m not even sure it fully started. There are still moments in which I wonder if I should take an extra part-time job to pay the bills when commissions are slow to come. It takes a long time to build an audience – meaning people who are interested in what you do, who even appreciate it and might want to collaborate with you eventually – and a lot of very hard work. Especially if you come from a different background.

For instance, I’m not someone who’s been drawing her whole life. I loved drawing when I was a kid. But as I started high school at 14 I dedicated less and less time to it. I drew during summer vacations, mostly copying others’ art or comics. Then I stopped for ten years, from 15 years old to 25, just a week before enrolling for the illustration school. So when I blame myself for not being good enough at what I do I also think that I’ve dedicated my whole self to this activity for only five years. Five years in which I had to learn everything – even how to hold a pencil.

Hence if I had to give a piece of advice to someone entering this field without any artsy background that would be: be indulgent. Don’t compare yourself to the others. Don’t compare your timing with others’ timing. If someone is already successful and mature at 21 or 22 it’s probably because he or she has a different story and 10 years of serious practice and research in the background.

Then I would say be honest with yourself. I remember when I’d just finished illustration school I was so eager to send my portfolio to publishers and newspapers. I spent days fixing my website, trying to look as professional as I could. I hadn’t realized what lacked professionalism wasn’t the website but its content. It took me some time to recalibrate my goals, looking for simpler jobs, privileging door-to-door promotion, studying potential customers.

Last but not least: keep going. Never stop drawing, creating, experimenting even when commissions don’t come, even when you feel invisible. It’s the only way to get more experience and self-confidence. Two things that will allow you, at some point, to go for more highly rated clients, to dream a bit farther.

This job needs a lot of time. A lot of patience. A lot of hard work. And I’m addressing this advice to myself as well.

P.s.: Talking about hard work and time, here’s Lady Gaga’s very inspiring speech at the Oscars. I liked it very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Work

A New Website to Get out There

Yesterday I sent my portfolio to a list of publishers and magazines for the first time. Today I’ve got a headache, I’m checking emails every other minute and I’m pretending to be working on something important while I can’t even concentrate. I should just call it a day off. So far I got one answer: “Thank you very much!”. I spent the next 15 minutes asking myself whether that exclamation mark had some deep meaning in it I needed to encrypt. Was it a hopeful exclamation mark, or just a kind one, or, even worse, a bored one? Of course, there’s no answer to it. I’m just feeling vulnerable and I guess it’s time to cope with it.

When one week ago I started building my new website from a blank webpage, the first thought I had was: “I’m not ready”. My work seemed a confused set of drawings I had no idea how to organize. “I’m not ready to get out there”, I said to myself.  And “there” meant the foggy yet fascinating book and editorial market, a place I hadn’t dared to ask myself in so far. 

It’s a place I’ve always looked at from the cozy protection of my studio (that is, my living room), wondering if I’d ever been good enough to work there. I’ve worked and studied and worked on myself for the past year always aiming at that goal. Criticising my own work like I thought an art director would do; slowly feeling more self-confident, surer of what I was doing, happier with what my hands were able to produce. So happy that at the beginning of February I thought: it’s time.

 

 

 

 

I wanted to build a new website with a portfolio that could look professional and show that I can handle longer projects, that I know how to deal with texts and images. And I wanted a coherent portfolio, not a scary mix of styles and personalities. That’s why as soon as I started working on the website and had all my illustrations opened on the computer screen a part of me thought “Not yet”. Not yet because I don’t have only one style. Not yet, because there are things I like, but in a couple of months I know I could do better. Not yet, because I might receive a lot of “no” and it might be painful. Not yet, because there are always a lot of good reasons for keeping you inside your comfort zone.

I took my time, I looked at a lot of online portfolios. I looked back at my illustrations and found again the reasons why I thought I was ready: they represent me and I wouldn’t feel bored nor scared if someone asked me to work with one of the styles I was going to present. In the end, it’s always me. I could be waiting, but no one forbids me to update my portfolio with new work whenever I want. There’s no harm in getting started.

 

 

 

 

Hence, I built the new website – which is here, by the way. All my last illustrations found the right place in it: some can already be seen on the static homepage, where I had fun (yes, in the end, I had fun!) creating a coherent yet manifold composition, some only in the projects. I thought this was the best way to present my illustrations without forcing them into style limits that don’t belong to the way I work. With this online portfolio, I presented my work to publishers and magazines yesterday. Each email I sent felt like jumping from a trampoline and endlessly waiting to reach the water. I’m sure tomorrow it’ll all be fine – with or without answers. But for now, let me and my headache refresh the inbox a little bit more.

 

 

 

 

P.s.: The illustrations you see in this post were my entries to Hoppipolla‘s Christmas Cards Competition. The last one was selected and became part of December 2017 surprise box.

 

 

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Story, Work

36mountains, or Falling in Love with a Sketch

I’m starting this blog with the story of a mistake.

It was last summer and I was working on a project for 36mountains exhibition (here all the information about it). I had been asked to fill a concertina notebook with black and white drawings about mountains – free interpretation, free media. I took some days for sketching and deciding what I would be drawing. Then I started.

My sketches looked like this.

 

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I had overlapped different layers of paper – I didn’t mention it had to be tracing paper, like the pages of the notebook – and I used paper scotch tape to be able to move every part as I pleased. The goal was to recreate the flexibility of Photoshop, a software that I had been working a lot with those days, while dealing with the fact that the notebook had to be “the” original: no prints were allowed on it and, most of all, no mistakes.

I designed my sketches with extreme care, calculating the exact position of each element: nothing had to change in the final work, it would have been just a matter of relaxing and copying. Then something happened.

Has it ever occurred to you that, no matter how much energy and precision you put in the final work, the sketch always looks better? My teacher at the illustration school used to call it “falling in love with the sketch”. It’s a kind of love, I think. It’s probably the lack of pressure, the fact that the sketch is yours and potentially nobody can see it; or it’s the feeling you have when you’re sketching. However, the sketch is special, it has a magnetic roughness and, unfortunately, is irreplaceable.

And here comes my mistake. I convinced myself that I could actually reproduce my sketch. The secret, I thought, is in the paper cuts: it’s this way of mixing drawing and collage that makes the sketch so powerful. I bought a very expensive spray glue and, proud of my discovery, I started drawing and then pasting paper cuts as in the sketch. The result was, of course, terrible: it had nothing of the plainness of the sketch, it was just a bad collage.

I hurried up to remove all the paper cuts but the glue was still there. It took me three days to dry it under August’s sun. The pages were still sticky though. I closed the notebook and put it in an envelope, hoping my addressee would be able to open it. Luckily she did.

Here are a couple of pictures of the exhibition (in the second one you can see people actually looking at my notebook, a photo that honestly made me feel relieved).

 

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The notebook looked like this.

 

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Needless to say: if you’re in Rome and you need spray glue hit the “contact” button and I’ll reach back.

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