Saturday, September 24, 2011

Playing Second Fiddle

Most days, I feel lucky to be surrounded by such gifted friends. When you're surrounded by greatness, a little of it starts to rub off. Certainly their hard work ethic has, although frankly, I've always been pretty decent at self motivation. Inevitably, when you're constantly with brilliant people, you start to doubt yourself, just a little. It's hard to see your own shine when you're in a sea of stars. Second fiddle is a hard part to play.

We can't all be the best all the time. Sometimes, we can't even be the best at what we want to do just once. We can strive to be the best, we can put in the time, effort, love, and money that it would take to become the best, and sometimes it just doesn't happen. That doesn't mean you should give up. It means you need to try harder.

Be Gracious- It's hard to smile when you've gotten a harsh critique, and it's even harder to smile after a day of really poor sales at a convention.  It's going to be hard to choke down your complaints while everyone else is singing praises, but it's something you've got to do if you enjoy their company.  Consider it your opportunity to pay your dues, take notes, and swear to do better next time.  Sometimes it's better to play your cards close to your chest, they don't need to see how miserable you are on the inside.
Be Tenacious-  You're going to take a lot more falls than your friends will.  You need to be prepared to get back up; the faster, the better.  If you waste time feeling sorry for yourself, you're not improving.  Turn that frustration into motivation, spend the pity party hours studying.
Be Hardworking- You need to be willing to go the extra mile to make things happen.  There's no such thing as good luck, but there is such a thing as a great opportunity, and you need to be prepared for it.
Be Patient- You're eventually going to make it work, if you stick at it long enough.  One of my favorite mottos is: "Some eggs take longer to hatch", and it's true.  Some people take longer to really hit their strides as artists.  Instead of sitting around, twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the day internet popularity is yours (protip:  It doesnt work like that), use your time productively and work on making contacts.  A great personality goes a long way, as does a professional demeanor.
Be Smarter- You can't rely on the tactics that everyone else uses, you've got to find your own unexploited markets.  Do your best not to brag when things go well, you don't want to give away a hot tip.  Research market trends, check out stats, and talk to people.
Diversify your influences- You don't have to like everything your friends like, it's better for you if you don't.  Seek out new experiences, it'll help you stand out from them as an artist.

When your talented friends take a day off, work double time at sketching. When they slack on an illustration, work twice as hard. Some of my friends can skip perspective entirely and fake it like a rockstar. I can't. Some of my friends can draw the roughest of roughs, but on critique day, they have amazing inks. Its not in the cards for me. I am slow and my eyesight is failing, and it takes longer for concepts to sink in. I spend my free time reading other comics, taking notes on said other comics, drawing, and reading books about drawing/writing/comics. I don't play videogames anymore, I don't sew anymore, I don't craft anymore. I've had to sacrifice those things. Remember what I said about not fearing your goals and living up to your own standards? These are crucial skills. While you're working on your drawing and storytelling skills, you need to also work on loving what you do. You can't rely on praise from others, because when you're second fiddle, a solid contribution to the orchestra is far less noticable than an outstanding solo performance by the first. Loving your own work isn't easy, as artists, we're often trained by our audience not to do so. Why admit that you feel like you did something right when someone is waiting just to point out the ten you've done wrong? Why feel excited when you finish a piece, when you're just going to get torn apart in a critique. Sometimes you have to step back from what others say, and honestly ask yourself how you feel. Did you do your best? Did you try something new? Did you learn anything? Stop expecting perfection, sometimes 'good enough' is indeed good enough. When you're lost in the glare of someone else's spotlight, you need to find new avenues to succeed. I have found that marketing to other artists is a failing venture for me. Why hire me to draw for them when they can do it themselves? Some of my back home friends consider this defeatist, but it's just being realistic. If artists don't want me to draw for them, I need to find people who do. Don't do what other artists are doing, you're only damning yourself to a small pond mentality.

These friendships have been humbling. No matter what compliment my friends may pay my work, I regard it like a sparrow regards breadcrumbs. "You can afford to be kind, you have so much". It's a feeling I try hard to choke down, but I'd be a liar to deny it. This blog isn't intended for the artist who has made it, it's inteded for the hopefuls like I am. I want you to know you are not alone. When my friends disparage their work, I'm not the one quick to rebuttal, I'm the one worried that if they feel that way about their handiwork, what sort of ugly things do they think about mine? When I see them struggle, I fret twofold: If they can't find work, what kind of fool am I to think I can?

If you find yourself harboring similar feelings, you should try to root them out as soon as possible. The longer you stick with anything, the better your chances of improving and eventually becoming successful. You can't give up before you try. These friends who dazzle you should provide inspiration, not intimidation.  Keep in mind that there is always someone better than you, no matter who you are.  You don't have to do everything they do, you don't have to win the accolades they win, and you shouldn't try to copy their success. You need to forge your own.