And now, on to the story about how this all came about! I warn you, it's about to get wordy, but I think it's important to share some of the ups and downs of being an illustrator. It's not all just drawing pretty pictures.
You might remember way back in 2012, I illustrated a book with Chronicle Books, the first one I'd ever illustrated. It was a huge deal for me and I thought it might be a big change in the direction of my career. It was so exciting, and working with Kristine at Chronicle was a magical experience, so magical that I signed on to do a second book soon after the first was finished. I was on a roll!
Except then I wasn't. I was still happily running my Etsy shop, but other than a handful of illustration and licensing jobs here and there, silence reigned. I was disappointed and down on myself, down on my art. And I lost interest in even trying to build an illustration career. It was a sad time for me, that lasted until the end of last year.
Even though I was down in the proverbial dumps, I kept drawing every day, kept plugging away at improving my skills, and revamping my style. The dream was still there, buried deep down, even though I was afraid to chase it again, or even acknowledge it.
In the meantime, I was still plugging away at my Etsy shop, less happily, having reached the point where I needed to scale back or expand and hire some help. Spending the majority of my day shipping orders and dealing with all the other aspects of running a shop was really running me down. Not having much time to draw, that's not a happy place for me.
After another exhausting holiday season, I knew it was time to scale back on the shop and jump back into focusing on my illustration career. What a terrifying thought it was, as big changes always are. My first big move was to discontinue boxed stationery sets in my shop. Getting rid of my most popular item was nerve wracking, but it felt right because boxed stationery sets were also the most time consuming items for me to make.
Taking that first step, making that first big change, made the rest feel more manageable. Now I needed a big change in mindset as well, to start thinking about making art for the illustration markets instead of just making art for my Etsy shop. I needed to find the balance between the two, and I needed to focus on getting my work in front of the right audiences again. No more shy illustrator, hiding in the corner, hoping someone would notice her.
The next big step for me was signing up for a Marketing Kick Starter session with Holli Conger. Holli is a children's illustration phenom. How she manages to create such a prolific amount of work, I'll never know. I suspect that she doesn't sleep, has some hidden superpower, or has somehow acquired a time turner a la Hermoine Granger. And on top of being a busy illustrator, she takes time to offer career consultations too.
A month of career consultation with her was money well spent for me. We worked on polishing some already known but long dormant social media skills, finding clients, designing promos, and improving my portfolio. Holli was an open book to me for the month of January. Even after out first week of consultation, I was refocused and ready to jump back into illustrating on a regular basis.
Working with Holli confirmed that for the work I wanted to do, I'd be best served to find an agent, especially for work in the educational market, which is largely dealt out to agented illustrators. In addition to working on a client list, I was also working on a list of prospective agencies. The Bright Agency was my top choice for a variety of reasons. Bright felt like a good place for my work to fit in while also standing out. I knew many Bright artists to be cheerful, friendly, and generally, quite busy with illustration work. And I knew that Bright agents were always working to promote their artists and help them build successful careers.
My portfolio didn't feel quite ready yet though; I wanted to finish a few more new pieces of art before I started approaching agencies. I'd already constructed the email I wanted to send to Bright when I was ready, at least I'd constructed it in my head, and I went so far as to make a few notes so I'd be ready when it came time to make contact. But I didn't want to pull the trigger just yet.
Imagine my endless and enthusiastic surprise when two days later I checked my inbox to find an email from The Bright Agency, offering me representation!
I won't lie, there was a bit of screaming, and a bit of jumping up and down, followed by some dancing, and rushing off in a daze to tell my husband what had just happened.
After chatting with a few other Bright artists, to find out about their experiences with the agency, I signed on, and am now feeling pretty at home among the other Brightlings.
This time last year, I was contemplating putting up my pencils for good, and heading back out to find a “real” job. What a difference some time and a large dose of hard work can make!
I think that so often with social media, it seems that everyone is just living a life filled with sunshine and daisies. We tend to share only the good stuff, and I'm not knocking it, but every now and then it's nice to know that others are struggling like you might be, which is why I wanted to share this story. I've struggled a lot over the last two or three years, quietly and in the background. I've cried, doubted myself, doubted my work, doubted my ability to achieve any sort of success as an illustration. I've been *this* close to quitting.
But I hung in there. I worked harder, honed my skills, revamped my approach, and already it's paying off in 2015. I'm creating, and I'm happy, and I'm looking forward to the new artistic adventures I'll be taking.
If you're struggling, don't give up just yet. Change your plans. Revise your focus. Rethink and reimagine your dreams. Work even harder. It will get better, or as I so succinctly lettered it early this year, it can't possible get any worse ;)