sidestepping obstacles

31 Oct

Build upon strengths, and weaknesses will gradually take care of themselves. ~ Joyce C. Lock

Illustration is a tough business. Super-duper. When I teach illustrators who are about to graduate and face the real world — students who have had years to explore, practice, and hone a style — I ask them to assess their portfolios, and list their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Everybody excels here and struggles there, but not everyone is equally self-aware. Self-awareness is a sign of maturity. In a tough marketplace, it is essential for survival.

When you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses as an artist, you can become your best self.

Life coaches and business experts often instruct us to identify our weaknesses so that we can strengthen them. I prefer to spend time strengthening my strengths. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s just that I know who I am, and who I am not.

We are creative people, Class. Let’s find clever ways around our personal obstacles.

I’ve already confessed my lack of skill when it comes to color. The easy way around this obstacle is to use existing palettes created by people whose color sense is better than my own. When I use a proven palette, there is no struggle evident in my work. I learn as I go, and make fewer lackluster illustrations in the process.

Nathalie Dion told a similar story to my class via Skype several years ago; she has kindly given permission for me to retell it here.

When she was a student, Nathalie struggled with perspective drawing. As a result she all but eliminated perspective from her artwork, a decision that impacted her style in a profound way. Mme Dion found a path around her obstacle, a decision which went on to pay big dividends.

In both cases — my struggle with color and Nathalie’s, with perspective — we imposed style rules on our work. When I add color to a drawing, I force myself to stay within the palette I have chosen. This can be challenging, but the results are exciting, because the limitation forces me to make choices that wouldn’t even occur to me otherwise. The same is true for my sweet friend Nathalie, whose self-imposed challenge forces her to find interesting and clever ways to suggest depth, with limited use of perspective.

Know your weak areas and use them for good. Some obstacles are put in your way to make the path you travel more interesting.


The Big Breakup (above), by Nathalie Dion. Nathalie is represented by Anna Goodson Management, Inc. See her entire portfolio on Anna’s site by clicking here.

4 Responses to “sidestepping obstacles”

  1. stephane lauzon November 13, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    This is a great article ! Not a lot of person is whiling to admit on the web his/her weaknesses. I’m going to read all your past post ! Thanks 🙂

    • violetlemay November 13, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Isn’t it silly, Stephane? We try so hard to cover our imperfections, even though common sense tells us that no one is perfect. A wise person recognizes her weak areas and makes a conscious decision to manage them.

      Thanks for your very kind comment! You might consider sending a little note to Nathalie Dion as well…. she was so gracious to share her story with all of us.

      best wishes,


      • Stéphane Lauzon November 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

        Thanks for your answer. I already read a couple of your articles and your students are very lucky. You seem really passionate by sharing your knowledge about illustration and your articles are really well written and interesting ( I hope my sentence makes sense, because it’s more difficult for me to speak English than French 🙂 )

        For sure, no one is perfect, but the fear that someone takes that weakness and «beat» you with it is very big. How to make sure that revelation will not cause you trouble or a bad reputation ?

        Bien sûr, I will thank Nathalie too !

        Long life to your blog !

      • violetlemay November 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

        Well dear, the weaknesses are there whether we are willing to admit them or not, yes? My point, I suppose, is that each of us must be aware of our own weaknesses and then do something about them, so that we can improve as artists. Dealing with personal shortcomings (quietly… no one needs to know!) is a smart business move. A weakness that is never addressed will always be a weakness, and can ultimately hurt a career.

        blessings, sweet Stéphane, and thank you!


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