Where do you find support and encouragement when you work alone? I signed up to attend a SCWBI event for illustrators. I would love share some of my work for ‘peer review’ (when I’ve figured out what that is) but honestly, after ten years of working as a professional illustrator, I’m not sure I’m ready for that!

Unsurprisingly, I work at home. Recently it’s become a very pleasant co-working space with my husband and uni-student daughter, so now I have people to chat to in my coffee breaks. But for years I’ve communicated with other illustrators just through the occasional social media message or comment. It’s an isolated work existence but I like it and if you look for support and encouragement it can be found easily.

Winding paths.

My path into a career in illustration has been long and meandering through various obstacles and achievements. I’ve raised three kids during it for a start. But the biggest lumbering boulder to overcome has been ‘self confidence’. I was told in school that I didn’t have enough confidence. I had no clue what it meant then or how I could get it. I’m not sure I know now. It’s a mountain I’m just not equip to climb.

Just keep climbing.

I first dipped my toe into the world of illustration 23 years ago when I naively took my portfolio to to be reviewed at AOI (Association of Illustrators) in London. It didn’t go at all well. I was clearly wasting the reviewers precious time. She didn’t tell me outright that my work was rubbish but she may as well have. When I told her our plans to move to Australia she said ‘ mmm, try showing your illustrations there. If you’re competing against just a couple of sheep you might have a chance’. Nice. I didn’t do any form of artwork for 5 years after that. I had a similar experience after completing my illustration diploma here. Fortunately it didn’t stop me from sending my work to publishers!

One of my first picture books. Published by Hachette Children’s Books

Not so healthy competition

Now though, I don’t have to look to others to crush my self belief. I can do it all by myself! With a certain mindset whilst looking through artists instagram accounts. The one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel useless is looking at other peoples work as if we’re competing with each other. I can see their work as inspiration or I can compete. The second I start to see it as better or worse than mine all the good stuff disappears. I no longer want to comment words of encouragement, praise, love or appreciation. In fact I don’t want to comment at all.

A little metaphor.

I’m a cyclist. Not a particularly committed one these days but I still really enjoy a good long cycle. Yesterday I passed a woman around the same age as me and said ‘hi’. She shot past me and made some comment I didn’t hear because I’m hearing impaired. Then she sped up the hill in front of us. So, no connection or encouragement between us. I’m glad I spurred her on and I hope she enjoyed her ride as much as I didn’t mine, but we’ll probably never come across each other again.

During my dog walk this morning I watching Doug bound about through the trees and I thought “No one competes in dog walking” It’s just a meandering wander through the trees and muddy paths. You could turn it into a competition but that would take all the joy and discovery away.

I have a lot of work to do this week to deliver the finals for two books. I’m going to try and see it as a dog walk. An enjoyable ramble putting one foot in front of the other.

Some more pearls of wisdom on the subject.

Ok, I’ve tried articulate how I feel about my own journey through art and creativity and my relationship with competition. Madonna made a glorious speech 20 years ago (and no doubt upset a few people) about the nature of competition in art, when she presented the Turner Prize at the TATE in London.

But for some fantastically inspiring words on creativity you have to watch Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech. Thank me later.

Posted by:Karen Erasmus

I am an illustrator and surface pattern designer. I have illustrated 18 picture books. I live in Melbourne, Australia with three kids, two dogs, four chickens and a mad husband. Life's busy. I also love to sew and cycle and visit galleries whenever I get the time.