Nobody ever reached their goal without taking risks.
Nobody ever knew there were risks worth taking until they realised their goal.
Seems obvious now I've typed it out, but it took me three decades to understand it. Even now, I'm fighting the urge to just disregard it, but that's just my nature. For years, I thought the will to create art and the belief that I'd make it would carry me through to a successful career. To a certain degree, that can work for some, but merely the belief that you'll succeed without an actual goal is a fast track to nowhere. You can end up as just another of the many 'aspiring' guys who just keep ploughing through the work in front of them, with a vague plan, but no real direction in which to aim.
I thought I had a goal. Many people do. What I had was an ambition. I imagine many people make that mistake, too.
An ambition is "I want to be a race car driver."
A goal is "I will be driving in Le Mans 24hr by the age of twenty-five".
It's a definite point on which to focus. There's also no rule to say you can't amend that goal, but it should be sufficiently implausible that it constantly inspires you to try harder. Now, say you get to the age of twenty-three and haven't won a local stock car race yet. You might feel disheartened by this, but it's essentially dream-chasing and how many people achieve their dreams? The fact that you're stock car racing is a direct result of knowing the route you needed to take to get to your goal.
If you had stuck with having an ambition, you might still be spending weekends getting pulled over by the cops because you love to drive fast but can't apply it in a productive way.
That's not to say it's always the case, but look again at the two sentences at the top of this entry. Would you feel better about spending a pile of money on equipment, repairs, workshop classes, advanced driving lessons; hours/days/weeks/months of your spare time, sacrificing social activities and potentially a 'normal' life if you didn't know that when you reach your goal, it will all feel worth it?
Well, that's me. I come from a working-class background. Truth be told, I've never really had any money. I've always wanted to make a career from art, but I thought the reason I got to my fourth decade and still haven't made the leap to full-time artist was because of one of the following excuses:
You need lots of money to be able to network, travel, buy tools/equipment/reference, pay collaborators.
Wrong. The internet makes networking and reference easy. Tools are an expense but you can write them off against tax, build your tools gradually or adjust your style to suit what you do have. Collaborators are people, and if you don't talk to them, you'll never know if you can afford them. Besides which, a skill exchange might be an option.
Nobody's hiring illustrators.
Ha! So all those illustrations you see everywhere just appear? True, nobody seems to list job ads in the newspaper asking for a full-time illustrator, but think about it for a second and you'll kick yourself for ever expecting that to be the case. Illustrators are freelancers for the most part, so you find your work or make enough noise that it finds you.
I'm not good enough.
For some things, sure. Right now, maybe. But it's up to others to tell you that. Success stories rarely start with "I applied for my dream job and got it first time". Far more common is the story of the guy who was knocked back by everyone and persisted anyway. While you're persisting, you're growing your skill set.
I'm not cut out for the freelance life.
This is the big one. It may be true. But you know what? YOU HAVEN'T TRIED IT YET! It just so happens that necessity is the mother of invention. It's not by accident that the phrase 'sink or swim' is widely used. Sometimes you surprise yourself. Maybe the very thing holding you back from making a success of yourself is the safety net of a secure income (in a job you hate) and home comforts like TV to help you forget things aren't how you wanted them.
Well, how about that? I just got angry with my past self and his whiny attitude. If any of it rings a bell with you, I can only say that I'm coming around to the idea of taking risks that are worthwhile and I will keep this blog (and/or jam-wah.com when it goes properly live) updated more regularly so you can see how it all goes.
I have a goal. In fact, I have a short-term goal and a long-term goal.
Short-term: I will be working exclusively as a freelance illustrator by the end of 2011. I can't tell you how much that thought scares me. I'm about to up sticks and move house, which will cut down my finances by a huge margin and the last thing I expected to do was think about this as an option, but because I have a goal, I know that I need my online presence to be more regular, I need to spend money on materials, promotion and products (prints/posters, buttons/badges, stickers, t-shirts etc) in a way that is manageable. I need to take on more work that I know I can deliver quickly and with maximum quality. I need to build my brand. If I miss that goal, I'll move the posts further away. It ain't cheating if you keep to the plan.
Long-term: Jam-Wah will be a cutting-edge arts and media studio before I turn forty. This gives me eight years or thereabouts to develop the brand, learn new skills, form relationships with clients and fellow artists and generally make the best damn artwork, designs and products that I/we can muster. I know I can do this, and having the goal makes it something I can plan for accordingly. I may get into debt, lose my hair (what precious strands remain on my poor bonce, anyway) and end up sleeping under my drawing board in my pokey, ice-cold studio (at this point, non-existent) but damn it, when I land that massive contract and that Jam-Wah-produced animated action series premieres on Cartoon Network..
...that'll be a risk that was worth taking.