Monday, February 27, 2012

versatility should be an asset

Ok, I am onto something. Something that has been nagging me for, oh 20 years.

When I went to art school to study to become an illustrator the mantra that was drilled into each of our heads was 'Have a Style'. All of us illustrators worked to develop a look that could be our own signature. I must admit I struggled with that quite a lot because I like exploring, experimenting and I think different problems require different solutions. And I don't mean just visual imagery, but the look of that visual imagery.

Fast forward to my first experience getting an agent. What did she want, a 'Style'. Fortunately I did pay attention in college and provided a big portfolio of cohesive work. Did she land me jobs, sure, here and there including an 'almost' with Disney.

Now let's fast forward again but in the real world of making a living. My portfolio is diverse, I have so many styles, so many types of work, that if I were to go seeking an agent now they would think I have multiple personality disorder. But, and this is big, I am making a living now, without the help of an agent. And honestly I make significantly more than when I had an agent. Why, because I am versatile.

What really strikes me about this is something I have noticed in the last week or so with other artistic industries. Here are two glaring examples.
1) Project Runway ; who is lauded on the show? The designer who can design a ball gown, AND separates. Yes they may have a style, but they aren't a one trick pony. Sure they have a look that seems to be theirs, BUT seriously they are versatile designers who can apply it to the problem at hand.
2) The Oscars ; yes Meryl Streep won again. But why? Oh sure she is amazing and is always perfect in every role (except that one crappy action movie 20 years ago). However throughout the Oscars they frequently state the versatility as an asset. That the actors can play any role. The actors don't have a 'style' per se, and if they do they are 'character' actors.

I honestly think that being a chameleon is NOT a bad thing as an illustrator. It has served me well and has helped me be a freelancer for nearly 10 years. The best 10 years of my working life too. Let's celebrate style diversity, flexibility and variety, not look down on it. Versatile illustrators unite. Sure let's organize our art by similar looks, but by no means should we feel bad that we do a variety of styles to suit our clients needs.

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