(This partly pertains to the post I wrote last week, more of my personal brand of professional advice.)
Let me take you down memory lane. When I was in 7th grade, this was the opening to my then-comic series, The Bubbler:
Not bad for a 12 year old, right? You can tell I had promise, but also how incredibly naive the art is (well, duh, I’m 12). But here’s the thing, even in 7th grade, I was already punishing myself for not being a professional comic artist yet. I spent restless nights staring off in my bunk bed, questioning whether or not my art was ever gonna be good enough. “If my comic isn’t good enough to be published, why bother?” I wasn’t drawing for fun at age 12, I was drawing for a career, holding myself to professional standards. I started to fall into the down-on-the-dumps, self-deprecating artist trap. Drawing for fun seemed like a distant memory.
This was partly due to my brother (you all know him as Patrick in the webcomic) who is 9 years my senior. I watched my brother receive numerous rejection letters, and it wore on him. More than that, it wore on our relationship, because he projected his insecurities onto me. When he criticized my work, he would often draw over it, showing me exactly what I did wrong (this destroyed any sense of pride or attachment I had for my art). Someone who was meant to be my mentor became my competitor. I became fueled by anger and jealousy, rather than just a pure love of the art. Anyone who criticized me immediately became my enemy (in my eyes).
I pushed myself really hard, sometimes at the expense of relationships. I learned to work harder, but also smarter (which is something my brother didn’t do). To really improve as an artist, you need to force yourself to draw things outside of your comfort zone. That’s the problem I still see with many cartoonists today, they choose to HIDE their shortcomings, rather than challenge them head on. Don’t like drawing back muscles? DRAW A WHOLE PAGE OF THEM. Hate 3 point perspective? DRAW THE MOST COMPLICATED LAYOUT YOU CAN IMAGINE OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Are you happy with that last page you just finished? Good, now do something better!
Adding tons of texture on that rock or filling that corner with superficial techno-junk won’t compensate for the fact that the anatomy is off, or that the clothing doesn’t seem to fall right. I know it takes time (God knows I still have a lot of room for improvement), but you have to commit.
The past 10 years have been kind to me. I’ve enjoyed a very successful freelance career with a sprinkling of some well-received projects. Perhaps being hard on myself was responsible for my achievements. But who knows, maybe I could’ve eased up a little. I’m still worried, in the back of my mind, that the Fraud Police will come knocking on my door and strip me of all artistic credibility (thanks, Amanda Palmer).
I’ve always said, the two easiest things is to love your work, and to hate your work. When you’re a narcissistic egomaniac, no amount of criticism will matter, because you already think you know everything. Conversely, incessant self-deprecation is just a cry for sympathy and a ploy to lower expectations. Worse than that, it’s fuckin’ dishonest. You know you don’t suck. Wanna know how I know? Because people who suck never realize they suck. That’s why they suck. (See beginning of paragraph) If you’re constantly on the frontlines bashing your own stuff — I get it — your self-esteem is low and you wanna bash it before anyone else has the chance to. I’ve been there.
But the hardest thing to do is recognizing that you’re actually good, while admitting you need to improve. That’s when you can truly accept constructive criticism and grow as a creator. You eventually learn to listen, and your defense mechanisms aren’t as necessary anymore.
Work harder AND smarter. DO push yourself too hard, but make sure it’s for yourself.
Hopefully you haven’t forgotten what it’s like to draw for fun. I’m trying to remember what it’s like.