Vier

How do you "find a voice" in illustrating when your real-life voice has been muted for many years at a time in your life when it was meant to be build up and become strong? As I mentioned before, after I had left behind the emotional abuse of my adolescence, built up my own little family and after years of healing time I was in a better place. However, the "confusing, hurtful, frightening effect {...}" of emotional abuse and that you "begin to doubt yourself, your senses, your opinions, memories, beliefs, feelings, abilities and judgement. You may begin to express opinions less and less freely and find yourself doubting your sense of reality". {Out of the Fog}  last forever in various degrees of intensity and all you can control about that is how you deal with it. If you look at that from a distance it seems to be a pretty shitty place to start "meaningful" art for children from.

For me, art has always been a relief system and so I think what happened (and still happens) is that I am finding and strengthening my real-life voice through illustrating, or moreover: Illustrating IS my voice. It's where I can be myself and also the muted "myself" from years ago. It is where I can send out the messages I find important. I no longer need to look over my shoulder to see if anyone approves of me. This not only refers to my work on its own but my entire personality as an illustrator. And I think this is my personal motivation that keeps me going and will probably always keep me going.

The question, however, is if my messages have been received the way I planned it and if I could deliver them clearly? And who should be my audience at that stage anyway? The truth is, here I was actively and eagerly posting my art publicly in Facebook groups and/or  showing it to professionals at BIG but some of it can only be described as "hideous illustrations". I'm not ashamed of this as I believe it comes with the territory of being self-taught, or as the genius Neil Gaiman would put it: 

Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes, break rules and leave the world more interesting for you being here. Make good art.

 

So I did. I was very busy making "amazing mistakes" and was sometimes blissfully oblivious to the fact my work lacked some features so that my message would actually NOT be received. In other words, no one actually got what I was meaning to convey and this stunned me.  Sometimes you are just too close to your work but it also means you are believing in yourself. Isn't that what you are here for in the first place? And yet, instinctively I knew there was plenty of room to improve and so I never stopped putting my work out there, looking for feedback. During this time I not only looked at my children's favourite picture books with a more critical, art-focused eye but also went to local libraries regularly to immerse myself with amazing. inspirational illustrations. I simply tried to learn  by looking and soaking up. I also believe that my professional background of English and German literature studies helps my illustrating work and if it's only in the choice of themes. 

However, it is a long journey and the mistakes and hideousness followed me wherever I went with my work. One of my favourite examples of failed illustrations is my little interpretation of Andersen's "Thumbelina". I felt like drawing with bold colours, I felt like drawing a girl, I felt like drawing a butterfly - and Bob's your uncle, right? Easy.

You must believe me that it was created with the most innocent and purest state of mind :) but the result was received as a giant male genital by a member of an art Facebook group and it hasn't seen the daylight out of its drawer ever again since (well up until now when I posted it here again...). I'm eternally grateful to this person for pointing it out - in hindsight. I don't think I liked hearing it back then but with a little bit of reflection I saw it, too...........

So I guess the moral to be taken from this is that critique of your work and putting it 'out there' no matter at what embarrassing stage you are is very, very important to move you forward and get better. This certainly is not a new insight. But it is worthwhile to remind yourself of this frequently, because art is such a personal thing and especially when you are self-taught and new to this industry it is easy to stay in hiding and avoid critique. In my opinion it's well worth all the cringing, though.

Sometimes you might find the criticism not so very helpful no matter from what angle you look at it. Let's rummage through my Wunderkiste next time for my personal favourites of nonconstructive criticism I have received.  Until then - please go and make mistakes :)