This post is part of a series on student fears, addressing real concerns from real illustration and design students. Feel free to browse other posts in the series.
I’m fresh back from a vacation in Mexico, and I’ve been looking forward to writing about this topic for a while. You see, I’ve taught, I review portfolios, I interview, and overall I talk to a lot of students, and it disturbs me how often I hear variations of “I’m worried/afraid I’m not passionate enough to continue.”
My short reply to this fear is pretty simple. If you’re afraid you don’t have the passion to continue… then stop.
Whether you’re in art and design school, learning underneath someone as an apprentice, or self taught– you can learn the skills you need, you can practice and hone your skills, network and find similar people to help push and give you feedback, and more. What we can’t teach you in school, and what you can’t rely on others to give you, is passion.
If you don’t love this, enjoy painting, drawing, or designing, then why are you doing it?
The long answer
Now, “passion” is one thing, but what if it’s something else that’s going on?
If you’re struggling with depression or other mental issues that interfere with your motivation then it’s not really fair to say you should give up if you’re lacking the passion. If you think you have depression or another mental illness seek help, and keep doing what you love. Do not give up.
Likewise, if you’re just in a rut, or struggling through personal issues that are interfering with your work, then it’s also not fair to say you should give up, and the issue may not really be your passion so much as your organizational skills and requiring some stimuli.
One of my biggest pet peeves when reviewing student work is when I ask them what sort of things they created during the summer break and they respond with “uhh… nothing, I was on break?” An admission that’s usually paired with a fairly lacking portfolio in comparison with their peers who are a bit more motivated. It’s even more frustrating with those students when they seem confused about why they aren’t improving as quickly as their classmates who are putting in more work.
Do not expect something for nothing.
This is not an easy career. If you went to art school because you thought it would be easy and your heart isn’t really in it, then stop now or get your head in the game.
It doesn’t have to be much, but you will get rusty if you don’t practice, and you also can’t expect to improve if you don’t practice either. Personally, I like to go to figure drawing every week, especially on weeks that have had more meetings and planning to them than art and design work. When I was growing up I did tons of personal work. I was always drawing. When I was in school, obviously I was always drawing, but I also kept up a sketchbook and was self-critical of myself, continuing to try and improve on my weak points through out the summer breaks.
Finding the momentum
Are you too awkward and introverted to feel like you can draw in pubic, at a café, or around family and friends? Maybe you need to break through that barrier so you can keep up your momentum. I’ve known a lot of people who are incredibly talented but they need momentum to keep going. If something breaks their cycle they could go weeks without creating anything worthwhile. Apathy runs rampant these days, and one of the best ways we can combat the distraction it brings is by finding a good routine and sticking to it.
Maybe you need a break
It’s possible that you’re just burnt out and being a bit harsh on yourself.
When’s the last time you took a vacation? Hung out with friends? Tried something new?
It’s easy to get so caught up in work because you’re trying to do a good job, you care, you’re trying to make others happy, or you’re trying to move up in your career. But we all need a break. Yes, we need to keep up with our skills, but if you’ve worked non-stop for weeks… take a freaking break. I just got back from Mexico, and aside from taking pictures I can guarantee you that I did not do anything overly creative while I was there. The purpose of the trip was to help me recharge. I kept finding myself working longer and longer hours and I was burning out. A vacation was the best thing I could do, and I’m trying to make time to recharge more often and in different ways.
Find the right stimulus and support network
Two things that may help keep you motivated are finding the right people to surround yourself with, and getting some stimulus.
If you’re trying to stay motivated but your friends keep trying to pull you away from your work then maybe they aren’t as supportive as you need. That doesn’t mean you should get rid of your friends… that would be mean. But maybe you could make a few more that are along the same wavelength. Either way, try not to let people distract you too much, and there’s a lot to be said about surrounding yourself with inspiring and encouraging, like-minded people.
It’s also important now and then to make sure you’re taking in new stimuli. Watch movies, listen to music, read a comic book, go to the park, whatever you need. Personally, I consume media like crazy. I read comics, have a tumblr just for collecting inspiration, read the news, listen to the radio, watch movies, and so on. It’s important to make sure you’re feeding your brain or what it outputs may start to become repetitive or more and more derivative.
Was it a hobby?
There are also those people out there that art was a great hobby for them, but that doesn’t mean it would also double as a good career. Some people cannot mix their passion and their career and feel like it saps the life out of it. This is fair, and in that case maybe you should consider if it’s worth turning something you love into a job or just keeping it as something you can appreciate on the side.
Take breaks. An entire summer is too much though.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t expect something for nothing.
Keep up momentum.
Stimulate your brain.
Ask yourself if it’s just a hobby to you or a job as well.
Surround yourself with like-minded people.
If you think you have depression or another mental illness seek help, but keep doing what you love and please, please do not give up.
And finally, if you’re just not that into it and you truly don’t have the passion…
maybe find something else.
This post is part of a series on student fears, addressing real concerns from real illustration and design students. Feel free to browse other posts in the series. For more information on how the series came about, see the first post, here.