Flop in public
When I find an artist or illustrator I really like on Instagram, I’ll often scroll very far down their profile to see their early work. When did their current style emerge? What mediums or techniques had they tried before?
I always feel so encouraged seeing a retrospective like this, whether unofficially through the internet or at gallery exhibitions. No one starts out fully realized in their style, yet there are seeds of subject materials or ways of rendering that remain constant throughout the years. Seeing Julia Rothman’s 20 years of sketchbooks on her Patreon was a great example of this—there are slight shifts in style and more confidence in her line, but she has constantly been drawing people and portraits with pen and paint.
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As much as I love seeing “bad” older artwork from others, seeing my own makes me cringe lots! As an early illustrator who has been doing this for less than 2 years, I am sometimes tempted to stop sharing my art publicly until I can consistently create in a style that I’m happy with. In this dream scenario I would emerge as a dazzling butterfly, wow everybody with my archive of works and have clients and book deals falling from the sky without ever having felt embarrassed by others seeing my bad art.
Fortunately I am aware that this is just a dream. I love the learning and community that comes with sharing, even if that means sharing work that I later dislike.
I’v been sharing my daily Peachtober paintings over on my Instagram this month. The painting below was for the prompt “field.” I struggled my way through painting these women farmers in the green tea fields of Boseong, Korea. There are little bits of the piece that I like, but it mostly reads as an embarrassing mess of greens with incorrect tones and values. I shared it anyway.
If I make a painting I’m not proud of, but I’ve given it my best during the time allotted, why not share it? Can it be a small step to show people that we’re not always at our best, and that sometimes we flop in public? Isn’t that a good message to spread?
In her blog post on 5 toxic habits that are bad for your art, Nicole Cicak recommends against removing old work online. This was the first time I’ve read advice from this angle. Usually the standard is to keep our portfolio up to date and to remove traces of anything you don’t want to be hired for. Perhaps it’s different for illustrators selling art online vs. those who work with clients?
Either way, I really agree with the point she makes here: “Not only does leaving old work up set a good example for other artists, but it also helps you gain traction. Think about it - your old work has been online for much longer than your new work. It’s been pinned on Pinterest, liked on social, and has risen through the rankings.”
So there you go! This is your permission slip to flop in public. Share work that you’re not sure you’ll like in a few years, or that you like even now. Share it to document and remember. You’re building up a life’s amount of work—this is just one piece in a frame on the walls of your retrospective.
Have you thought about revisiting one of your earlier pieces and maybe recreating it? Would be fun to see a side-by-side of your progress.