“I am an children’s book author and illustrator.” That’s all I have to say. Why is that so hard? When I am brave enough to admit I’m an illustrator I get two kinds of reactions. Some people’s eyebrows go up in surprise. They say, “Oh really?” They are impressed. They have all kinds of questions. Are you published? What made you decide to go into illustrating? How long have you been illustrating?
Other people just nod and move on to the next topic of conversation. They show absolutely zero interest. It’s as though I said I worked at Walmart or a fast food restaurant.
No matter what reaction I get, I always feel incredibly vulnerable. Illustrating is deeply personal. I’m sure other creatives out there know exactly what I’m talking about. Musicians, artists, writers, dancers, etc. You put your heart and soul into your work. It is an expression of yourself. That is why it is terrifying.
D. W. Winnicot, a famous pediatrician once said, “Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.” This is exactly the way I feel. The urge to share my work is overpowering. I crave praise. I long for admiration. I am desperate to be noticed. But my heart beats furiously whenever I prepare to push those post, publish, or tweet buttons on the computer. It’s not that I’m afraid people will openly criticize me or anything. People are always very kind. It’s just that I feel so utterly exposed. I put myself out there for people to judge. This scares me.
As hard as it is to share my work online, it is even harder to share in person. I recently illustrated a picture book for my Aunt Linda. I spent hour after hour working on it. When it was finally finished over 30 people bought a copy, including a friend who came to game night at my parent’s house one evening.
He said, “Hey! I got your book in the mail!”
“Oh yeah?” I said. I was starting to blush.
“Yeah! It’s great. You are so talented.”
“Thanks.” I said. “I’m so glad you liked it.” By this time my face had turned completely red. I suddenly became very intent on the game I was playing and put my hair down to cover as much of my face as possible.
Why did I react this way? I’m still trying to figure that out myself. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my work. I felt that it was decent enough. I guess I was just taken by surprise. I wasn’t prepared to talk about it. I don’t know. It’s the kind of thing you have to prepare yourself for mentally.
Vulnerability. This is the price we artists pay to do what we love. We put ourselves out there. It is hard. It is nerve-wracking. It is absolutely necessary. To be successful at this job I have to be willing to get hurt. I have to take risks. I have to go out on a limb. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.