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First commission: paralysing nerves


#1
Hi, I have been looking for the right place to ask this question...apologies if there is somewhere more appropriate, please signpost me!

So, I have been working on my first commission as a children's illustrator for around six months. The pictures are for a friend's book, so I won't get paid unless it makes money, but that's not so important to me because it's such a good opportunity.
I have always wanted to draw, but my life has been marred by cripplingly low self-esteem (resulting in depression/anxiety) - I never thought I had the talent to pursue a creative career. Now I am approaching my 40s and have realised that I will regret it if I never try (yes, sometimes this is referred to as a mid-life crisis!).

The problem is that drawing doesn't seem to get easier as I go along. The self-doubt, uncertainty and stress each time I begin a picture feels just as strong as when I first started. Each picture is a slog of researching, sketching, drawing and redrawing. I want to devote a decent amount of time to the project because it's such a brilliant story, but it just takes so many hours (weeks and weeks) to get something finished. Once it's completed, I rarely feel proud of what I have drawn, even though I've had positive feedback from the author and the family members who have seen my work.
So, I would like to know if others feel the same panicky dread when starting a new illustration: is this something that will fade in time, or is it an indication that I shouldn't be doing this? Does it seem like I am letting my lack of self belief hold me back?
Sorry about the long post. All (constructive) responses appreciated.
 

Levi

Moderator
Staff member
#2
The problem is that drawing doesn't seem to get easier as I go along. The self-doubt, uncertainty and stress each time I begin a picture feels just as strong as when I first started. Each picture is a slog of researching, sketching, drawing and redrawing. I want to devote a decent amount of time to the project because it's such a brilliant story, but it just takes so many hours (weeks and weeks) to get something finished. Once it's completed, I rarely feel proud of what I have drawn, even though I've had positive feedback from the author and the family members who have seen my work.
So, I would like to know if others feel the same panicky dread when starting a new illustration: is this something that will fade in time, or is it an indication that I shouldn't be doing this? Does it seem like I am letting my lack of self belief hold me back?
Sorry about the long post. All (constructive) responses appreciated.
Welcome to the wonderful world of design basically. Unfortunately you'll likely experience this 'doubt' over your work with every project you do, clients now expect so much for so little due to 'my next door neighbours pet dog has photoshop' mentality that many have attached to design. In all honesty, imo, if you don't doubt your work at least once a day then there's something wrong with your 'creative side' because to me being creative means asking questions as much as coming up with solutions.

IMO how you react to this doubt is what makes you a good designer, first off you don't let it get you down, you use it to drive your progression. Now I would expect I'm like every other designer on here, I look at other people's work for inspiration or ways to improve my own work and from time to time I come across a piece of work or a designer where I just go 'wow' that's some good work and then question how did they do that, is that something I could do etc. But I don't let it get me down, I use that as something to 'improve' my own work and I'd like to think that other people seeing my work do the same.

Another thing to consider is that design is always going to be subjective, you might love your work but the client might hate it or vice versa, there is ALWAYS going to be critique of your work. The main thing if you want to do this as a job is ensuring that your client is happy with the work you do (contracts, make sure you have written contracts even if it's a friend) and you ultimately get paid.

In your case it seems like your friend (client) and family like what you are doing so it's a good start but, and I don't mean this to be harsh in saying this, family members and friends are often kinder on their feedback so if you are able to feel free to upload some of your work here and I'm sure we'll be happy to give you honest feedback about your work.
 

Wardy

Well-Known Member
#3
It is completely natural to feel anxious if this is your first commission. I've been a freelance illustrator for twenty-odd years and regularly feel nervous and panicky before starting
some jobs, specially if it's a style or subject I've not done before or not particularly confident in producing. Researching especially can be a painstaking process, seeing the hours tick
by before you've even put pencil to paper. All I can say is it DOES get better. You'll get quicker and more confident with each job and yes, I too am not proud of some of the work I do,
but as long as the client is happy, that's all that matters. I think back to when I first started out and some jobs seems to drag on for ages, so don't get disheartened. Maybe next time, try
a different style or way of working. Like Levi says, feel free to post any work or PM me if you wish and I can give you a critique.
 
#4
Sorry you feel this way, but you'll be happy to hear that it's something every illustrator - successful or not - goes through at some point!

Here is some advice that might help. First of all, you need to realise that you are doing a fantastic amount of work and research and it's clear you have great passion for the product, they couldn't ask for a better person than that really. Especially considering you aren't getting paid unless they make money - they are incredibly lucky to have you, not the other way around!

As for making sure you're on the right path: Instead of showing your work to friends and family, show it to people who don't know you as well. Water mark it and put it on the internet for strangers to compliment or critique. Every bit of positive feedback will boost your confidence, as these people don't know you and have no reason to be especially complimentary. And every piece of criticism will steer your work in the right direction.

I've been freelancing for almost 10 years and I still get insanely nervous when showing off my work,mostly with personal commissions like what you're doing. You will always get criticism, there's no way around that, but you will also get praise. In your case though, as I mentioned, these people are very lucky to have someone who cares as much about their product as you do. I really hope you are compensated in some way for all of your effort.