Out of the blue two months ago I got a phone call from a high school student who wanted to come 'job shadow' me for the day. The student wanted to be an illustrator. I said yes, but warned it would be a boring day.
The day came and low and behold she actually showed up. I tried to save a fun project for her to observe since really, a lot of what I do isn't exactly sexy. The project I saved was to create the storyboards for a Flash holiday card I do for Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt. I explained my project and we went through some of the 'how to'. Afterward, she had a selection of 20 questions for me and I gave the best answers I could give but after five minutes I realized this poor girl didn't stand a chance in the real world of professional illustration.
Why did I come to that conclusion so quickly? Mostly gut feelings, and experience. She was so quiet, she seemed barely able to make eye contact with me. But mostly I could tell there was no fire. She had no passion, she seemed as though she thought 'drawing would be a fun job'. I tried to share with her that drawing is only part of the picture. But honestly, the poor girl won't survive the brutality of the business, the countless "no's" that every artist hears. Not to mention the skills that no one tells you about in school.
Being a professional illustrator isn't about the being the greatest artist. It requires a host of skills. One is the ability to verbally communicate equally as well as visually communicate. We have to be able to talk to many types of personalities, about things we don't understand. We have to ask questions, good questions. We have to draw conclusions from answers, and deliver concrete solutions based on our gathering of information. It is part artist, part detective, with a good dose of business acumen.
While hosting this student I was reminded of what I already know. Being an illustrator is not just painting a picture, it is not all fun. It is methodical, it is strategic, it is explorative, and it investigative as well as being creative. I love what I do. However it has been a long road learning what the skills that make me good at what I do.
I wish I had had a real mentor who could have given me the shortcut to where I am. Although perhaps the fact that I have had to discover all of this on my own is what makes me the artist I am.