Are you an artist? Have you always known you wanted to dedicate your life to creating art? I didn't until quite recently.
I've been extremely creative since I was a little girl. Not only did I like to draw, but I also liked to do all sorts of DIY's, collaging and writing. I wrote A LOT. I kept journals, wrote short stories and also poetry in both English and Spanish. I've always had my head full of different ideas and never really paid any mind to doing things the way others around me did them. At an early age I already knew that life is too short to spend doing things that we don't really want to do.
That said, I've also always known that it takes hard work, determination and patience to get to where we want to be in life. Most of us have to be willing to ¨pay our dues¨ and do whatever it takes to eventually get there (within reason). Of course, before any of that happens, we have to find out what our life goals truly are and make sure that they are coming from within ourselves and not external factors that are pressuring us to be specific types of people. This journey, in itself, takes time and courage. It is not easy to find out what will truly make us happy. The lucky ones are able to figure out their goals early in life and start paving their road towards success early on, others take longer. We are all different. Personally, I had to experience a lot of different things before realizing that what truly makes me happy is to create art and to feel the confidence that I can make something of this gift that I have been given.
When I finished High School I decided Graphic Design would be the best option for me because, in my head, it was Art-related and I would have more of a chance to pursue steadier job opportunities as opposed to the Fine/Studio Arts Major. I have a wonderful mother who always supported my decisions and taught me that I could achieve anything that I put my mind and effort to, but I never really saw becoming a ¨Fine Artist¨ per se as a serious option for my future. I guess I bought into the whole ¨starving artist" mentality somehow and thought of it more as a hobby than something that could actually generate an income to life off of.
I maintained a scholarship while in university and went off to work at Graphic Design and Advertising agencies after graduation. I enjoyed it and learned A LOT from very talented people but eventually I started to feel like something was missing. Though I enjoy Graphic Design and will probably always do design work in some way, I discovered through those job experiences that I didn't want to spend all day in front of a computer. I wanted to experiment with supplies, get my hands dirty and create something from scratch. And though I firmly believe that the best Graphic Design work initiates with hand-drawn sketches, in day-to-day agency life the workload, tight timeframes, and the need to use pre-determined style guidelines doesn't allow for much experimentation and creation as I would have liked. So after a while I decided to resign and look for something that would make me happier, though I was completely lost at that point and had no idea what that might be. Sure, I sketched every now and then, but that was pretty much it. I don't regret choosing Graphic Design as a major. What I learned in university and these first Graphic Design jobs will forever be engrained in my head and will probably always influence my artwork in some way. Also, what I learned regarding design software and technology will only improve my work.
After resigning, I spent several months doing freelance work just to keep some money coming in and my portfolio fresh, but I was really confused as to what to do next. Part of me felt like I had wasted 6+ years (between my studies and first jobs) in a field that would end up draining me out. I had a little devil standing on my shoulder telling me that I was never going to find a job that would make me happy and I was simply going to have to accept that work is not meant to be enjoyed.
I was running out of the money I had saved up and, out of nowhere, came this opportunity to work as a First Grade Teacher's Assistant at a great private school. I went for it and I really enjoyed it. Later on in the year I became interested in the Art Teaching position and started learning more about what the job entailed. It seemed like a blast, but I surely didn't have the experience of organizing and managing a functional Art room for over 250 students at a time. A new campus of the same school was opening in a different part of the city and, with it, came the possibility of applying for the job. So I did and that is how I ended up in the position I was in for the last five years. I honestly lucked-out big time and thank my lucky stars for the opportunity I was given!
I quickly learned that teaching Art in a school environment is extremely difficult. I have posted about it before (read my post about Arts Advocacy in the School Environment/My Ideas for Effective Student Art Exhibits here and my post about The Dangers of Striving for Artistic Perfection here). Obviously, when you are teaching its more about what your students learn and experience during your classes that what you do personally, so you firstly have to love children and education. Between class planning, grading, meetings, professional developments, communicating with parents, and organizing/mounting student Art Exhibits, there is little time for anything else. When my work days ended I felt completely exhausted, but fulfilled. I felt like I was leaving something positive in others by using my own gifts and there's simply nothing like it. I was on my feet for most of the day, using my hands to experiment with a wide array of supplies and it seemed like my mind had to be working non-stop throughout the day to solve a million things at once in creative ways.
Throughout those five years I not only developed both personal and professional skills that are extremely valuable to have, but once more I got closer to what I really wanted to dedicate my life to. I was able to conclude that I enjoyed Art more than I enjoyed Graphic Design. Of course, the art I was making was mostly for class purposes or for school events and I did little to no art for myself probably until my last year teaching. During my first few years in the position I didn't have the usual teaching vacation periods because I was studying to get my Master in Education degree during times off from work (sometimes even simultaneously), so I didn't even have that. Most Art Teachers I got to know (especially school Art Teachers), stopped making Art for themselves because they simply didn't have time to between keeping up with job responsibilities and/or taking care of their families. All of these things started to bother me more and more.
At the end of the last school year I had made the decision to get serious about my art and that I wasn't going to approach it as a hobby or something secondary. I discovered that I adored teaching but, at a personal level, I NEEDED to make art for myself. I YEARNED to have the time to experiment with different techniques, improve my skills and find a personal art style that I could eventually share with the world. I KNEW that if I made time for this, I would not only be much happier, but I would also be able to offer a lot more to my students in the future. I knew that I had to make a decision about what to do soon, especially because I was already over 30.
And thus came my decision to resign from my wonderful full-time teaching position and only teach part time. It took me around 14 years of studies and jobs to discover what is important to me and what I need to do to be happy, but I realize that those years were not lost. I personally needed to go through that time of self-discovery. I also needed to build up those personal and professional skills that will help me pave the road towards success. I can honestly say that my true objectives in life became clear to me until recently and it isn't until now that I actually have the courage to ignore other people's expectations and dedicate my time/energy to becoming an artist.
There are people that live their whole lives and never pay any special attention to what they TRULY want. Many of us are too pressured by external factors (time, money, OTHER PEOPLE, difficult situations in our living environments, etc.) that we simply give in to the idea that life has to be lived a certain specific way. We ignore that little voice in our heads that asks ¨What if I had....?" every now and then, doing what is safe and what is expected. I am extremely thankful that I finally have discovered what makes me happy and that, after a lot of hard work (and perhaps some luck), I am in a position to be able to work towards my dreams.
Thank you for reading this extremely long and personal post. I'd LOVE to hear from you! Did you decide to go for a ¨safe¨ career choice due to external pressures? Was it always clear for you that you wanted to dedicate every available moment to make art and that you wanted to make a career of it? Are you an artist that is struggling to live from your art? Drop me a line and I'll write back!
I am naturally kind of an obsessive person. I tend to put too much of myself into everything I do to the point that I have put my own health behind completing tasks to the absolute best of my abilities. And I mean WHATEVER task, not only art-related. I didn't know how to say ¨no¨ and didn't stop working until I was completely spent, always striving for perfection. This is one of the reasons why, about two years ago, I made a commitment to myself to put my own priorities and health first, before anything/anyone else. I know there are a lot of people out there like me.
I also studied Graphic Design in which presentation is a very important part of projects. I remember the first semesters were extremely tough because professors took off points for nearly non-existing pencil/eraser marks, etc. So I learned that, to be a designer, I wasn't only expected to find super creative and highly effective visual solutions to problems, but also that they have to be presented in a professional and organized manner, fully backed up by research and facts. After graduating with a BA in Graphic Design, I worked in agencies and advertising firms for several years. I was surrounded by very talented people that I was able to learn a lot from and I also learned a lot about technology/software. I am extremely thankful for that.
Then came a HUGE shift in my professional life in which, after burning out from working so many extra hours (and not being paid extra for a single one of those hours- Yay Mexico!), I ended up as an Art Teacher at a private school teaching around 250 students each semester. At the beginning, my mind kind of imploded. It is safe to say that neat freaks would not last in this kind of job. Trying to get 25 students at a time to advance their art projects in a period of 48 minutes (clean-up included), while also grading and managing behavior problems, is INSANE. Several times throughout the day, you have another group waiting outside that is expecting to come into a relatively clean and organized classroom and will be working on a project completely different from the group before it (at times I go from 5th to 7th or 8th to 6th, etc.). Those first two years, I taught art to levels Kinder all through to Middle School students with no experience teaching Pre-School and with no assistant at all. Perfectionism, cleanliness and neatness was simply out-of-the-question. There is constant chaos going on and you have to keep calm to make things work. As a teacher in general, I think you have to learn to let go of things. There is so much going on at once, that you have to learn to discern what is most important from what isn't and keep moving forward or you simply will not get through the day. All of this while being patient and always well-mannered. You are an example for your students after all.
After five years on this beautiful roller coaster, I have learned many things at both professional and personal levels. For one, I learned that perfectionism is not as good as I initially thought it was. It is not good because, in life, one of the most important things is to keep moving forward and perfection hinders our progression. Think about it. Life goes by fast and, once we have decided what it is we truly want, we have to use our time wisely in order to get there. Perfectionism comes together with anxiety and fear and, in my opinion, is a complete waste of time. Whether something is perfect or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we are learning and improving. Once we understand that and the fact that EVERYONE else is also a work in progress, it becomes easier to put ourselves and our creations out there for the world to see, even if it is scary. I think this is an essential part of being an artist.
I am also extremely thankful for having the opportunity to teach Art because I have learned that I love Art and Illustration perhaps even more than I like Graphic Design. Throughout these years teaching, I have drawn, painted and experimented with different types of media much more than I ever did before. I have discovered my passion for traditional media and working with my hands. I have learned that we, as humans, are imperfect and it would be, therefore, ridiculous to expect constant perfection. Finally, I have learned that we should embrace life as an opportunity to progress towards who we want to be and what we want to create, always remembering (and not being ashamed of) the work we put in to get there.
Yesterday I attempted to paint a watercolor face and, after trying three times, I gave up and decided to go to sleep because I had an appointment in the morning I had to wake up early for.
Here are two of the three sketches I made on good watercolor paper which I then painted and ruined. At least I got in my face drawing practice for the day (silver lining!).
I'm usually a pretty stubborn person and think (maybe naively?) that I can accomplish whatever I set out to accomplish. However, when things simply don't turn out the way you want them to by the third try and two hours later all you have to show for yourself are three pieces of ripped, crumpled paper, it's easy to start second-guessing yourself and your abilities.
Yes, I got a little frustrated and mad at myself for wasting my good watercolor paper. Nonetheless, I took a breather and reminded myself that the time I put in was not wasted at all. In fact, I learned many things from my failures that I will be applying the next time I try this out again. I also reminded myself that, I cannot expect myself to create a masterpiece after having only dedicated a short amount of time to this particular technique applied to this particular subject. I reminded myself that every artist has his/her own strengths and weaknesses and that this is a good thing. This is what sets us apart from each other and gives us space to grow and explore. We are also human beings and every single day has its own set of variables which may be affecting us mentally and/or physically.
If you ever have what I call a ¨Bad Art Day¨, give yourself a break. This doesn't mean you are a bad artist or that you should stop altogether. Don't let yourself be consumed by your frustrations and take this as a sign to do other things that are important in life as well. You could clean/organize your workspace, play with your pet, get a workout in, prepare some healthy food, spend time with loved ones, watch a good movie, etc. All of these activities will affect your work in a positive way when you get back to it later.
As a creative, what brings me the most fulfillment is probably the act of producing something that started in my own brain and was made with my own hands. The sense of elation that I get from creating is something like a drug to me. I get obsessed with this feeling and wanting to improve in order to create even bigger and better things. I am also an introvert and have no problem spending my entire day indoors working, so I have to make an effort to stop and do something else. It is important to remind myself that I am not a machine and more areas of my life need attention. What's more, it is the experiences we have in life that bring us the strongest inspiration. Think of how much better your art would be if you dedicated time to your mind and body and actually made time to enjoy what life has to offer!
If you ever have a Bad Art Day, take a breather. This is normal. Don't be so hard on yourself and think of how far you have come. Nothing great comes easy and/or fast. If you are anything like me and you like constantly stepping up to challenges, congratulate yourself for even trying. Stepping our of your comfort zone is an act of bravery and will ultimately lead to growth. If you are putting in the work, trust that you are getting better and keep going after having taken a mental break. If you know in your heart that this is your passion, don't ever give up.
Hey guys! Journalist Frank Lee asked me if I'd be interested in co-producing this very interesting infographic describing 10 of the things we designers dislike the most when working with clients. I've definitely experienced some (if not all) of these problems when working at agencies as well as freelancing. Wouldn't our jobs be so much more enjoyable if these things didn't happen? Check these out and leave a comment if you think of any other issues that aren't mentioned!
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