What barriers do YOU place in front of your Illustration success?

As an Illustrator, it sometimes feels like the odds are stacked against us – dwindling markets, more supply than demand and all this talk that Illustration is dead.

No wonder a lot of us are insecure about our work and questioning how much we charge for our skill and talent.

But, how many of these barriers to success are we actually creating for ourselves? Do these barriers really exist or are they just excuses?

Let’s look at some of the common excuses barriers we put before ourselves and how we can overcome them…

Excuse 1: “My work isn’t good enough.”

Do you really think that the top professionals whose work you admire are always happy with everything they produce?

Could they too be plagued with self doubt from time to time? The difference is, they just get on with the job at hand and work through it.

Do you think that an Art Director is going to want to hear you moan that you’re not feeling very confident with your work today?

No, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive any more commissions from them in the future if you do.

For the longest time (and I mean years) I allowed these issues cripple me and it got me nowhere.

If I had just told voices in my head to take a running jump years ago and ploughed on regardless, I’d be a lot further on in my career today.

I still have self doubt, but now I know that just stopping gets me nowhere – as long as you take action, you’re moving forward and making progress.

These voices are in your head and you are the only person who can tell them to shut up – just get on with it!

Excuse 2: “I don’t have time.”

Before becoming a parent I really have no clue what I used to do with all the time I had – I could spend all day, every day just working away on my Illustration career but I didn’t.

As much as I hate to play the “You don’t know what it’s like if you don’t have kids” card, I’m going to!

If you aren’t a parent (or have other caring responsibilities that genuinely demand your time), then you do have time.

How much time do you spend browsing the internet every day? How much TV do you watch? How long do you spend playing video games? How much time do you spend socialising and spending, instead of improving your craft?

I’m not suggesting that you don’t do any of these things, but if you’re truly serious about wanting to be a successful Illustrator you will always be able to carve out the extra time to devote to your Illustration work.

The secret is to make your time count – use the time wisely, set specific goals for the extra 4 or 5 hours a week that you carve out for Illustration.

When time is genuinely limited (e.g. having a new tiny little screaming member of the family), it’s amazing how much you can get done with that forced focus!

Excuse 3: “I can’t afford to send out promo mailers.”

Because it’s still held in high regard as the tried and tested method of self promotion, sending out physical promo mailers seems like the way to go.

But even if you can’t afford the printing and postage costs, saying you can’t afford to market your work is just not good enough and will get you nowhere.

Although it can be a bit hit and miss due to spam filters and the volume that Art Directors and Publishers get, email promos don’t cost a penny.

Due to the cost effectiveness, you’ll be able to reach a far wider pool of prospective clients via email.

If you are mindful of the title of your email so that it doesn’t get marked as spam and if your work is a good fit for the prospect you’re contacting, you’ll probably get a reply.

The key to any self promotion (physical or email) is the follow up.

Keep a spreadsheet of who you’ve emailed (or posted promo mailers to) along with the date you sent them and then follow these up with another email at intervals throughout the year.

Don’t bombard your contacts with endless emails every time you create a new piece of work, schedule your contacts at intervals throughout the year – create a promotional calendar to remind yourself to send out new emails/mailers every 2-3 months and make sure you have something new (and interesting) to show – there needs to be a reason that you’re making contact again.

There will always be hurdles to overcome and problems to solve in your Illustration career but realising which of these are self-imposed and can quickly be eradicated with a change of mindset is the key to achieving the career you want.

6 Responses to What barriers do YOU place in front of your Illustration success?

  1. I totally agree – these are things I’ve only started to learn/tell myself in the past year and its all (starting to) pay off.

    Good point about the follow up with emails (its easy to get disheartened when you don’t get a response but it shouldn’t stop the try, try, try again attitude!)

    Really good advice!

  2. Jon, this one hits very close to home. My biggest barrier is my ability to be selfish, and say ‘no.’ This is far reaching though, and not as simple as it sounds. I too am going to play my parent card, and the fact that I’m the caregiver is a double whammy, and I have a child with autism. It’s unusual for a caregiver to become a ‘big name’ illustrator because of the simple fact that you can’t create when you have interruption. When you’re a caregiver, you will have interruption continuously. Not just from children, but from their school, your family, their friends, door knockers (I HATE) and your own well-meaning friends. The keys are having a supportive spouse, excellent organization skills, knowing how to prioritize on a dime, and seriously, the skill to say no. Why should anyone take your career seriously when you don’t? And you don’t when you push it aside every time you stop and take care of someone or something else (by this I mean making something to eat for a function when you have a postcard mailer you want to get out). You have to be selfish in order to be able to give your time fully later on. I struggle with this every day. I highly recommend watching John Cleese in this video, where he talks about his creative process and the origin of creativity: http://www.openculture.com/2010/09/john_cleese_on_the_origin_of_creativity.html

    I just put a NO SOLICITING-DO NOT RING DOORBELL on our door… ; )

    a : )

  3. Absolutely the biggest barrier I’ve placed before my own success was just not believing in myself. I didn’t believe I could actually do it, for whatever reason I pulled out of a hat — my work isn’t good enough, I don’t have time, I don’t have the discipline, I can’t talk to clients… whatever. It was all merely based on fear. I’m still dealing with those voices, but basically I’m lunging forward into action even while I am still plagued by insecurity. It’s working — I lined up my first major commission last week and I’m totally scared and excited at the same time. Woo!

  4. @Catlilest @Loni Edwards – thanks for the comments guys and glad you found the post helpful. The email follow-up thing has worked quite well for me and I even think I might drop the printed mailers and just go with email promos all the time from now on.

    @Andi Butler – You’re the queen of organisation Andi, I don’t know how you manage to get anything done with the demands on your time and the fact that you’re a successful Illustrator goes to show what can be done with organisation and focus. You’re totally right that sometimes you have to put yourself first (I don’t think that is selfish) as I’m sure the creative work and having that time just for you is important to be able to continue doing everything else too.

    @Joey B’Shalom – It’s great to hear that you’re starting to overcome your barriers and have landed your first major gig. I’m a big believer in taking action, as long as you’re doing something, you’re moving forward and this seems to be totally working for you. It’s completely natural to be totally scared and excited at the same time working on your first big job but just remember, if the client didn’t think you were right for the job they wouldn’t have hired you. Go knock their socks off!

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