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Keep Looking For Your Artistic Dreams

Alex Rowe
Illustrator & Children’s Book Artist

When I was an art student, and even a year or so after I graduated, I had a very rigid idea of what my work and my life as an artist would look like: I would illustrate books, and only books. End of story. Spoiler alert to all of you young artists out there: this is not the best course of action. Pursuing a specific dream, like book illustration? Totally fine! Limiting yourself professionally and creatively? Not so much. I fell into the trap a lot of young artist fall into: limiting my work by keeping my dreams too narrow. Whether by not taking some classes because they didn’t fit with my goal, or even not drawing some pieces I thought of because they didn’t work with the portfolio I wanted, I was limiting myself as an artist.

The problem with staying focused on a goal is that we sometimes ignore the directions that our work is trying to take us, and when we stray too far away from our true work we lose focus on why we make art in the first place. A career in art is not a simple trajectory. There are many turns and surprises that it can take us that we don’t even expect!

In my case, some of my jobs out of school were t-shirts and logos for local bands. I had to learn a lot of things about design that I neglected to learn earlier, but this work brought me more and more joy as I completed projects. The key is to be open to these surprises. Let go of your dreams in order to find them again. Ask yourself, why do you make art? I think you’ll find the answer is much more broad than any specific goal that you’ve set.

Alex Rowe, Illustrator & Children's Book Artist

How do you avoid being trapped in a goal that’s too specific? Simply be mindful of your artwork, of what brings you joy, and what your artwork is trying to tell you. Don’t try to make your work fit a specific goal, but try to find a goal that fits the kind of art you enjoy. In my experience, as I let go of the assumption that I knew what I wanted to do, I’ve been having so much more fun making my work again! And you know, that reinvigorated love has made me still work on a portfolio for book illustration – as well as other things.

Fear not: as grim as the career of an artist may look at times, there are more ways than ever to get your work out there and make it work! I found little success when I was just looking at book publishers – but now that I’ve started meeting local bands, interacting with small businesses, and even joining a gallery (trust me, the last place I thought my work would fit!) I’m slowly finding people who I can work with as an artist. Be honest with your artwork, and the right venue for it will come.

5 responses on "Keep Looking For Your Artistic Dreams"

  1. Another thing about being too strict on artistic dreams and goals- a lot of the time, your big goal is similar to everyone else’s big goal. Like Prof. Lieu’s poisonous checklist, I’ve met a lot of people that want to be represented by a NYC Chelsea gallery or want to be a tenured professor.

    There is -a lot- of competition for very few positions that sometimes don’t even end up being that glamorous anyway. But if you keep an open mind, you’ll acquire opportunities and positions that are maybe off the beaten path, but make a path unique to you which is a lot more important!

  2. After graduating college, I finally allowed myself to start trying out various methods of printmaking. Printmaking was always something I loved doing and was really interested in exploring further. I took one class while a freshman in college, and although I LOVED it, I never took another because it seemed irrelevant or unrelated to my animations. As I now allow myself to explore more, I realizing how wrong I was!! The process and results are getting my mind racing. I’m discovering all these new links between two things I absolutely love, yet thought could never coexist! I’m glad I’m finally just going forward with what brings me joy as an artist, and discovering in the process. Great advice Alex!

  3. Another benefit of being flexible in your vision of yourself as an “artist” is that you also get a better understanding of your limits. I had a similar experience after graduation and took on a lot of different kinds of work that were out of my comfort zone. I really pushed myself to try everything that came my way, and sometimes the results were surprisingly successful, other times really embarrassing… But the embarrassments only allowed me to see clearly aspects of my art I’d previously neglected but were worth exploring and improving – Or, in some cases, avoid entirely! Experimentation is the best way to discover new interests, or reaffirm – and sometimes re-contextualize – old ones.

  4. The comment regarding finding joy and paying attention to what brings you joy is so important. I absolutely love that you mentioned that here, Alex! I think the more you check in with yourself, and ask yourself what makes you happy, is when you can really make proactive, healthy choices in getting closer to figuring out what your goals and dreams are. Thanks for sharing this with us Alex!!

  5. I completely agree that there is such a thing as being TOO set on your goals. I know that when I finished my MFA, I had this checklist of goals that I wanted to achieve, and it wasn’t until a many years later that I realized that those goals were actually holding me back in a poisonous way. I was blind to other opportunities around me, and once I let go of those hard goals, I started to see that there were many other options I hadn’t been open to at first!

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