It’s been about a year since Thane and I self-published A NEW HEART, the first children’s book that we wrote and illustrated together. (Get a PEAK INSIDE OF THE BOOK if you haven’t seen it!) Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on what creating a picture book from scratch entails, I can say with total certainty that the experience is QUITE formative. It required an incredibly daunting amount of work, and there were lots of long chunks of time when it stood at a standstill. I constantly struggled with the thought that it was an impossible task, that I might as well give up while I was ahead since it was never going to get done anyway! But, by the grace of God, it did eventually get finished. And now, with the advantage of hindsight as well as the inevitable learning curve of taking on a project like this, I’m so thankful for the experience. It grew me tremendously as an artist. I’m not just referring to growth in talent (though that does inevitably happen in the process). Rather, I’m referring to the difficult work of pushing through a challenge that feels insurmountable; of confronting the hurdles you’re forced to wrestle with and overcome along the way.
“A perfect product is an unfinished product.”
I’ve heard other illustrators say “a perfect product is an unfinished product”, and that it absolutely the truth. Here’s the deal– I’ve spent a lot of time plagued with a mindset bent toward perfectionism. Not just towards art, towards everything. I’ve tried to perfect parenting, house cleaning, academics, exercising, diet, blogging, photography, social media, bible reading. I have tried, at one point or another, to apply perfection to literally E V E R Y T H I N G I care about in my life. And through many failures, I’ve learned that when the rubber hits the road and you see what it really takes to start and finish a big project like a picture book, you learn pretty quickly that perfect just doesn’t exist. Not even your own brand of personal creative perfection, whatever you fancy it to be. It’s all a ruse! A debilitating, progress-killing ruse that only gets you hung up on minor details that really don’t matter as much as you’d like to believe. A robust work ethic and the ability to tend to the details is important, yes. But when I put too much pressure on myself to get every single detail right, I’m boxing myself into a kind of creative rigidity. I’m losing sight of what it is to make art with joy. I’ve forgotten that it’s possible to freely create, just because I was made to create. So, in the middle of illustrating A NEW HEART, this was what I had to wrestle with. I had to learn how to let go of any notions of making it flawless and just get it done and out there.
“So, in the middle of illustrating our book, this was what I had to wrestle with. I had to learn how to let go of any notions of making it flawless and just get it done and out there.”
When it came to getting our book done, I didn’t like being in a spot where I felt like I had to release something that “wasn’t an accurate representation of all of my potential”. It’s funny how seriously we take ourselves, isn’t it? But here’s the truth; 1) If I’m a dedicated artist I will naturally have an ever growing and evolving skill set. 2) I will almost never be totally happy with my work, because as a visionary I will ALWAYS be able to envision work that is just a little bit beyond my present capability. Therefore, 3) If I don’t embrace an attitude of freedom (and maybe even some sloppy whimsy) in my work, I will exist perpetually in a state of stagnation and discontentment.
So, when I’m tempted to doubt myself and give up as an illustrator, I have to remind myself that no artist realizes his full potential overnight. No masterpiece happens in a day. It takes slow, consistent, dedicated practice. It takes grit. It takes putting one step in front of the other, even when I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I’m going with my work.
Thanks for reading!
So, if you’re a creative and you find yourself stalled, unmotivated, or in a rut for perfections’ sake, you’re not the only one. You have an empathetic friend in me, and I’m honestly writing this out for myself because I need this reminder constantly. The reminder that it’s more about the process than the end product. That if you’ll just allow yourself a bit of patience and grace and let yourself have FUN, it will make all the difference in your endeavors!