Learning to make our art is a process of learning many different things. As growing artists, we have to strengthen our technique, grasp the artistic fundamentals, develop an artistic mindset, harness our natural tendencies, create an environment for growth, and cultivate the motivation to keep going.
I believe this last piece—cultivating motivation—is the least considered, but perhaps the most important. We often don’t think about our motivation for doing something, but we are all motivated by something whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. We all have dreams, goals, and ambitions.
Dreams + Ambitions
When I started getting serious about improving my art, my dream was to be a published illustrator. I wanted to win a contract with a big publisher. I wanted to see my name on a book cover. I wanted to see my book in bookstores. I wanted to see people reading my books. I wanted to read reviews of my books. I believed if I could just get published, I would feel like a real artist. I would be confident. I would be fulfilled.
Fast-forward 5+ years, and my first published book is coming out this May with Scholastic. And now, let me tell you the truth: I don’t feel any different.
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, proud of the work I’ve done, and excited for the book’s release. But on a fundamental level, I feel the same. Having a contract with a publisher didn’t make me feel more qualified as an artist. Working on this book with a professional team didn’t make me feel more confident. And seeing my name on a book cover didn’t make me feel more fulfilled.
The only thing that actually changed was my goal. As soon as I signed the contract—before the goal was even technically achieved—the goal posts moved. My mind immediately shifted from wanting to be published as an illustrator, to wanting to be published as an author/illustrator. Now it needs to be not just my art, but also my story. And that shift of ambition happened before the book was even finished.
With this mindset, I never felt the satisfaction of achieving my goal or the fulfillment of reaching my dream. My old dream was simply thrown out and replaced with a new dream.
Dreams of Worthiness
Ambition is helpful fuel to keep us focused and persistent. And there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of seeing our book on a bookshelf. But I’ve realized now that achieving my dream didn’t lead to fulfillment like I thought it would.
And that realization has led me to an important mindset shift: We don’t have to wait until we’ve achieved our dreams to be satisfied. And we can think more deeply about our dreams, and be honest with ourselves about what we really want.
I keep learning over and over, that the only thing I truly want is to draw. I get sidetracked and starry-eyed about book covers, Kirkus Reviews, and publisher respect, but truthfully, all I want is to be able to draw whatever I want for the rest of my life. That’s my real dream.
We get swept up in believing we have to have someone’s permission or recognition to make the art we want to. That we need someone to pay us to make the book we dream of making, or that we need that book to win an award or be read by thousands to have been worth making.
But we don’t need other people to make our art worthy. We can make that book just because we want to. We can draw just because we want to. We can make our art because we love making our art. Our love and enjoyment of the process is what makes our art worth making.
Dreams vs. The Pursuit of Dreams
I think it’s important for us to zoom out and think about what we really want in the long-term. Because I don’t really want to be a famous artist or win awards or have millions of readers. If I boil down all my motivations, goals, and dreams to their essence, I just want to feel fulfilled in life.
I think that may be all anyone truly wants. And we believe fame, awards, or money—respect from others—will bring us that sense of satisfaction. We believe that once we’ve achieved our dreams, we’ll finally feel like a real artist. And then, we will have the freedom to make our art.
But here’s the kicker. Reaching your dreams—getting published, winning the Caldecott, signing a 6-figure contract—won’t automatically bring you fulfillment. We think achieving our goals will make us happy or satisfied or confident, but it hardly ever does.
What really brings us fulfillment is the pursuit of our dreams.
Hopefully, we will still achieve our dreams. The difference though, is that we will have already granted ourselves fulfillment, and then, when we see our dream achieved—the book we worked so hard to make in our hands—we’ll actually be able to enjoy it and be proud of ourselves in that moment.
And then, we’ll carry on, making our art and pursuing our dreams.
What’s your dream?
What do you dream about with your art? Are you’re waiting for someone to tell you your art is worth making? What’s stopping you from making what you want to make right now?
Join the group discussion in Might Could Studiomates or comment below to share your thoughts with us!