Confidence or Guts?

“I just need a little more confidence”.

“How can I feel more confident”?

“I just don’t have the confidence to do this”.

I’m not sure you can just “become confident”. It’s not something you can decide you will be or declare it to be so.

Confidence is earned.

The key ingredient to becoming confident (along with a decent haircut, btw) is just plain guts. Releasing your curled toes that cling to the edge of the diving board.  Making the phone call. Pressing send on an email. Showing up at an event that scares the crap out of you. Walking up to the mic and asking the question.

So where do you get the guts? We all feel afraid the first time we did something. And discomfort is all part of growth and skill-building. I mean who was completely confident to sit down with their lunch tray at the cool table in junior high except for someone who had either done it before (and didn’t die) or the ones among us who are truly fearless (or completely delusional)?

But that’s not me and probably not you either.

I remember going to an event with my sister Chrissie a few years back. I have no memory of what the event was, I only remember that neither of us knew anyone except each other. My natural inclination was to skulk along the wall, dart over to the snack table and then slip out the back door (you will notice that I always make sure that snacks are part of any plan worth doing). But no, my sister Chrissie put out her hand to the closest stranger and said, “Hi, I’m Chris”.

Now, what kind of madness is that? Introduce yourself to a stranger? What? You think you’re MOM or something? This is the kind of activity that I felt completely uncomfortable about for years. If fact, when it was Girl Scout cookie time, I actually wrote out a script to try to sell cookies to my very own aunts!

Fast forward a few decades and I realized that my best shot at making any money and fulfilling my creative dreams was to be an independent illustrator, primarily licensing my art for cute and fun products. But that required making calls, sending cold emails, and showing up in person.

How was that going to work?

I had to figure out how to go from here (broke artist with a reasonable okay portfolio) to there (thriving artist with a few royalty streams at any given time). But I figured if I had learned how to draw well enough to go pro—a task that required many hours of practice, study and sheer grit to get better at it, then this part of the biz could also be practiced and studied too. But at the end of the day, it was the “sheer grit” part that took me to the next level.

Was I confident I could do it? Of course not. Was a I bundle of fear and uncomfortable dorkiness? Of course, I was! But the actual doing of the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the thing that brought me to the thing I always wanted. Yeah, confidence.

And when you have done it enough times and by doing so you saw this thing called “success”, confidence takes over and you don’t need as many guts. You’ll remember, “oh, yeah, I did this before and I didn’t die”.

Confidence comes from accomplishment. Guts come from, well, your gut. When staying where you are no longer serves you and you’ve run out of excuses or diversions, conjure up a memory from when you demonstrated a little moxie (even if you have to go way back to our Girl Scout Cookie days)  and use that feeling to propel you to where you want to go.

I promise you won’t die.


PS. Right after I published this I started researching quotes by Aretha Franklin and this popped up:

“Be your own artist and always be confident in what you are doing. If you’re not going to be confident you might as well not be doing it”.

RIP Queen of Soul

Let’s call it a plan, shall we?

I am deep into planning for 2017.

It sounds like such a corporate-y thing to do, but I usually spend a few moments around this time to have a  look at my goals and objectives for the coming year. I evaluate the state of the market, what are the most expeditious paths to actually bringing in income and what passion projects to move forward.

But this year I am going a bit deeper. Getting help.  Having meaningful conversations. Working through a few processes that will help me negotiate where the real crossroads are between my time, talents and passions. It has been frustrating and illuminating at the same time, just like any process of gaining clarity and peace.

I also know that old saying about “the best laid plans of mice and men…”  when it comes to standing up and declaring, “This! This is exactly what I am going to be doing in the next twelve months!” Serendipity happens, new opportunities raise their hands in your direction and compelling ideas creep in and wrestle your previous ideas for space and time. I get that.

But the basics of what I do best, the cream that rises to the surface need to stand guard for the moments when I drift too far away or agree to things that are less “Well, maybe…” and more “Oh, Hell, yes!” .

I often use a “hub and spoke” graphic to illustrate concepts and you might want to use this one to help you see through the clutter and indecision as you plan the next chunk of time in your life. Feel free to [media-downloader media_id=”1119″ texts=”download it here”] and let me know if it was useful to you!

 

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And as I head into 2017 I know a few things; no matter what happens in the US Presidential election, it will be blessedly over and we can regroup and move on. (whew!) And I will have a pretty clear picture of how to move my creative interests forward, how to expand my business to include more outward focused activities and will continue to develop cool alliances with cool people while remaining fluid when it comes to opportunities that I don’t know about yet!

That’s doable, right?

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When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

RonnieInCup-WEBIf you know anything about me, you know I’m pretty positive. I try to be upbeat in the worst of situations, in fact sometimes I feel like I am cursed with a sunny disposition.

And I know how much we want to put a rainbow and Skittles® face on how super uber fabulous drawing pictures for a living is. And it is.

Mostly.

I have been in the illustration biz almost longer than I have not been. I have had products that stayed on the market for years generating good royalties in some of the biggest retailers in America. At any given moment I have projects cooking, my work is under consideration somewhere and the royalty fairies are working their magic.

I have managed to not have a ”job job” despite the cultural bias that says that artists can’t be successful and we’re all a bunch of flakes. OK, maybe the second part of that can be true in some cases, but I’m not naming names. Although I could.

And of course, getting paid via royalties can involve wild swings from “I’m rich!” to “I’m broke!” over the course of any given year (or week). And truth be told, I have managed to make enough money to not worry every night about whether or not I will be eating cat food when I’m 82. I mean, I even went on vacation that one time!

So far, so good.

But what do you do if, for instance, in spite of your best efforts you never ever get that client or project you want? Or things were going along swimmingly, and then all of a sudden pulling together your next mortgage payment, or student loan–or grocery money—becomes tricky at best, or maybe scary beyond what you have previously known in your life?

What if a project that showed so much promise and consumed months of your work and talent tanked at retail? Like really tanked—even though all kinds of pretty smart, experienced people gave it the green light every step of the way?

What if you were having conversations with someone about a juicy awesome project and you shared your whole bloody hopes, dreams and unique plans with them, and five minutes after they passed on it (with you) you see that they have implemented your hopes, dreams and unique plans with someone else?

Or (deep breaths, kids) you found yourself in the middle of a (gulp) really expensive lawsuit?

Well, there! How’s that sunny demeanor working out now? And just so you know, over the course of my career every one of those things has happened to me at least once. Thankfully, not all in one year but spread over lots of years of drawing pictures for a living.

Ask anyone who has a business doing anything. The guy who owns the tire store. Your hair stylist. Heck, even your gynecologist (because who doesn’t like a bit of small talk during your exam?). They will tell you this: business is fraught with risk. And rewards. That’s why many of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners. They have weathered any number of hardships and slip-ups and bone-headed moves and still managed to stay focused on the big picture. Of course, many businesses do not make it. That does not make them horrible people or losers or any kind of “less-than”. But most of them will tell you, it’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get up that makes the difference. And knowing when enough is truly enough helps too.

Each time I was tripped up I chose to get up. To brush myself off. To absorb the hurt and maybe the anger. To make it right when I could. And forgive myself when I couldn’t.

And then I go find something funny or surround myself with the people who love me and still think I am adorable and hilarious.

And then I draw a picture. Or maybe two or three.

Sprinting Surtex

RonnieAndTheSloth-WEBSo, I’m back. I hit the ground running in New York and didn’t stop until I stretched my legs on the trip back to Florida. Oh, and I won the airline lottery on that flight—no seatmate! Now you know how much I love humanity, but after a few days in Manhattan I was gifted with a tiny travel oasis when to my delight the doors closed at JFK and I realized I had two seats all to myself. And since it was a teeny aircraft there were only two seats on each side of the plane so I did not have to negotiate for the middle seat real estate with the aisle passenger. It was mine, all mine!

So I used the time to draw, read my magazine—use the other tray table for my coffee, water, yogurt and the extra cookies that the flight attendant slipped me—there are perks to the silver hair, people!

And I had a little space to reflect back on my trip. As you know from my newsletter, I offered 20 minute coaching sessions to the nine artists who scheduled with me first (plus I added a 10th person because I’m so nice).

All of these appointments were crammed into about 4 hours. Without food or bathroom breaks. Although I did offer one person $100 for a Tic-tac. Again–I am a professional. I received two texts from pals who offered to bring me food but I didn’t see them until afterward and even so, I didn’t want to squander my “coachee’s” time (or potentially grossing them out) by stuffing my face with Javit’s hot dogs.

So back to my “mini-first class”. I took out my journal and wrote down everything I learned from the experience. This is in no apparent order nor do any of them relate to one exact person, in case you are playing along at home.

What I learned from coaching 10 people in 3 hours*

  • Scratch the surface for the really good stuff.

Lots of portfolios have “pretty good” art. The artist has taken “the classes” and has learned about typical arrangements of collections, developing a color story and presenting it a clear and concise manner. But where’s the soul? Where do you (your experience, your culture, your unique point of view, your heart and guts) fit into the equation? Dig a little deeper, honey—that’s where the good stuff lives.

  • Follow your calling.

Does the thought of patterns and snowmen and the newest “it” critter make you roll your eyes and maybe even develop a twitch in that very same eye? Then don’t do it—leave it for someone else. Do your best work and don’t worry about the rules. Figure out the highest and best use of your art and remember there is room for the square peg. In fact there is a square peg writing this blog as we speak. And she’s a doll.

  • Trust yourself.

If everyone who has looked at your book, your website, or your adorable bookmark has said some version of “hey, that’s pretty cool”, then believe them. And move it out into the world further and further until someone who can do something with your art says, “hey, that’s so cool, we’d like to develop that into something” or “naah, not right for us.” You are ready for that.

  • Ideas are cheap—focus is everything.

We all have mountains of sketchbooks, paintings, notes on grocery lists, church bulletins and tiny slips of paper tossed all over our desks. Idea generation is usually not a problem for us—but moving them into something that can be received and evaluated and understood is the hard part. Some (most) ideas fall apart during the process—but you cannot know which ones are the winners and which ones just need to live in your sketchbook until you test  them against a process to see if they have “legs” in the market. (hmmm…that sounds like another blog post—or a Periscope)

  • Right rock, wrong hill

Each step of the process of getting a collection closer to actual numbers on a bank check can feel like pushing a rock uphill. Some of the hills are smooth and gradual while some end at the edge of a harrowing cliff. Some of the rocks you can kick along in front of you while others require Herculean (or Sisyphus-ian) strength. Sometimes you have amazing artwork that will not be appropriate for the market as we know it. Hey, it happens. So you need to march that rock over to that other hill which might just be the exact right one for your designs.

  • Narrow your focus.

We are not all things to all people. We are not even some things to all people. But by golly, we are the exact right thing for some people. Find those people. Tighten your story, find your audience, be okay with responding with, “yeah, thanks, but that’s not me.”

And—I met ten of the most interesting, vibrant adorable artists that I am so excited to see blossom on their chosen path! Oh, and the rest of the time in New York? Super fun!

 

*actually I knew these things before but boy, did they become crystal clear to me with that kind of intense activity. Even without the hotdog.

 

Buh-Bye Barriers!

©Ronnie Walter
©Ronnie Walter

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about barriers to success. I’ve talked to lots of artists over the years that put up roadblocks for themselves and for any number of reasons they actually block their own potential.

Bummer.

Often its things like;

“Well my family never encourages me.”

or

“I have no time.”

Or

“Did you see Game of Thrones last week?”

Sometimes these are real obstacles and you have to decide whether or not you can get around them. Or find some creative way to climb over.

Things like:

You have no talent. Yes, I said it. Maybe, just maybe you don’t have what it takes to do what you are dreaming about doing. But all is not lost—you can fine tune your dream, you know. More training, or a mentor or you can practice practice practice –or realize that this really isn’t your thing and you can try something else until you find the thing that you do have the talent for. Own it and move on. It’s OK.

Maybe you are basically lazy. Yes, I said that too. And I’m not talking depression or other real issues here. I mean when you convince yourself that watching 11 hours of TV over the weekend (while eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch right from the box) is “relaxation” and “staying abreast of popular culture so I understand trends”. And I haven’t met an artist yet that doesn’t procrastinate sometimes.  Maybe you’re mulling over options and just aren’t ready to make a commitment to where you’re going on an idea. Yeah, let’s go with that. But procrastination means you are at least moving forward in your head, if not physically. But if you do find yourself in that position–sheesh, at least have a sketchbook next to you!

You have an educational deficit. We hear tons of stories about artists that are self-taught; they had no idea they were capable of this kind of genius and then one day they picked up a paintbrush and poof! a lucrative art career was born! Well, sure, that can happen! But a really good drawing class, or a teacher/mentor who really understands color theory or composition or proven business principles can usually move you forward faster than you can on your own. Unless you are that latent genius unicorn we’ve all been looking for. Do the fundamental work.

You have minimal emotional support. A biggie for sure. If the people in your immediate world do not understand what you are doing or why you would ever want to pursue something creative, I hate to tell you this– but you need to find additional people. Your current people may not support it since it’s not part of their world view or they might not see your vision or commitment yet. Maybe they will come around later, but in the meantime (either online or in real life) find some people that grasp the creative process and all the weirdness that comes with it. You can move forward without your people’s full support and then one day you’ll overhear them tell the neighbor “you know she decided she was going to be an artist—and you should see the most amazing work she’s doing!”

You have an organizational problem. Become a list maker. As my Aunt Marie would say, “immediately, if not sooner.” The only way you are going to see progress is to see all the steps ahead of you—and checking them off as you go. If you are not a list-maker try it for two weeks and get back to me with your results. This is how you go from the “I really want to do this” whine to “Wow! Look how far I’ve come!” happy dance. Make a date with yourself once a week. Sunday night. Wednesday morning. Don’t care when. Write your list for the week. Reward yourself. Wine. Doughnuts. Private jet. Don’t care. And don’t worry about complicating it with long term goals, short term goals, visualizations and affirmations (unless you want to, I’m not the boss of you—I just act like it). Just a simple list of the things you can do this week to move you closer to success. Tiny baby steps.

Forward.

 

Catch me over on Instagram where I am currently working on #100 Days of Advice–as of today I am on Day 65–that’s a lot of fun and heartfelt advice!

How Artists Get Their Groove Back

I’ve stolen a phrase from fire fighters about how to put out the flames if you happen to be on fire. But what if you want to start a fire–like your creative fire for instance? Funny! It’s the same three little words! Soon you’ll be smokin’ hot–creatively, I mean!

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