Thursday, September 17, 2015

Follow the Money or Follow your Bliss?

-By Lauren Panepinto


One of the most interesting things about writing this column on Muddy Colors, as well as doing the bootcamps with Drawn + Drafted, and now contributing to Dear AD, is realizing what advice people don't want to believe. I always expect it's going to be the complicated things. Maybe how convoluted accounting departments can be at big companies, or what the proper way to put together a portfolio is, or what the best way to contact an AD is...but it's the simplest advice that gets the most pushback. People have an easier time believing the hard things than the simple things. I think we have a natural tendency to distrust things that a) seem too simple (though I assure you that "simple" rarely means "easy") and b) many of us - artists especially - have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that sounds too much like a self-help platitude.

A good example is the 10,000 Hour Rule. People don't want to believe it's as simple as practice makes perfect, but I've seen it proven over and over again. There's always a new article trying to debunk Malcolm Gladwell's specific version of the 10,000 Hour rule, but forget quibbling over the details and look at the big picture - there's no way to attain mastery other than intense and focused practice of your specific craft. (Which we talked about in my last post as well.)



Then there's the piece of advice I get the MOST pushback on. The deceptively simple phrase "Do What You Love." Artists ask us ADs all the time what work they should do to get hired, what pieces they make for their portfolio, what personal piece they should do, what companies they should submit to, what trends are selling, what art ADs are hiring... and the big answer is sure, be aware of the trends and what companies are looking for, but more importantly Do What You Love. If you do what you love, really commit to it, and study it and research it and practice it, I absolutely believe you will find a career doing it, or something very nearly related that you didn't even know was an option when you set out. If you love drawing monsters, then do it. If you love drawing spaceships, then do it. If you love something completely unique and obscure then absolutely do that thing and do it great, and you will find work.



So, in reality, the title of this article is a false lure. You don't have to choose between making money and what you want to do. If you figure out what it is you love doing (which is your "talent") and then brainstorm and research how you can apply it to real world needs, then you can have both. As Aristotle said:



I say it frequently that I am impressed by and then hire more artists because of their personal projects than anything else. It's because they're passion projects, and passion brings some little bit of magic to a project that you can just feel coming through. And as an AD you say, damn, that's awesome and the person sticks in your head and you keep trying to find ways to get them on a project. Those are the projects that tend to tear up social media and blaze across the internet where everyone sees it, and it collects fans (and ADs) in its wake.

Here's a new venn diagram to add to the bunch cobbled together from a few sources that really nails this point home for me:


"Do What You Love" is really just Joseph Campbell's advice to "Follow Your Bliss". Campbell is one of my favorite thinkers and authors, and I've written about him on MC before. A lot of his ideas have been watered down into cheesy pinterest-ready quote blocks or have been bastardized into things like The Secret, but look back before all the woo-woo that has been layered on top of him and realize that he was a scholar who taught at Sarah Lawrence for over 30 years and he wrote over 25 books, if not more, on comparative mythology. He wasn't some crazy out-there hippie guru.

When asked what the one piece of advice he would give above everything else he said, "Follow your bliss" and in a famous interview series with Bill Moyers he explained further:
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of... being helped by hidden hands? 
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time - namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.



Look, I'm way too much of a skeptic New Yorker to put up with too much woo-woo craziness, but what Campbell is saying I have absolutely seen proven in my own life again and again. If you follow your passion, really commit to it, then set off on that path, and it soon feels like people and coincidences spring out of the woodwork to help you. That's the "hidden hands" that Moyers is asking about above. And it's absolutely how I am able to get as much done and as many projects off the ground as I do.

Say there's a project you want to do and there's 10 steps. Too many people wait at step 1 and don't start until they have all 10 steps figured out. You'll never get anything done that way. You just have to figure out the first 3 steps, then start. By the time you get to step 3 then 4, 5, & 6 will have laid themselves out for you, and by the time you get to 7 you'll find it took less steps than you thought it would after all and you're at your goal early. Passion attracts people - your love for what your doing will be infectious, and people will go out of their way to help you, to touch a little of the magic you are creating for your project by doing something you love.



So if you're asking me whether to follow what you want to do, or follow what you think is going to sell, then every time I'm going to say work on a project that you really want to do, and then find a way to apply that to what people need and want. That way you will be following your bliss, and the money will be following you. But it takes a lot of trust to get started.

I know it seems too simple, but don't take my word for it. Go find a successful professional artist who has "gotten away with" a career doing what they want most. Ask them how they got there. There's a long list of artists I can think of in this category — one that springs to mind immediately is Mike Mignola. He has a career revolving around his creation Hellboy - which by his own admission was a project he never thought he would get away with, and look where Hellboy is now, 20 years later.


ADDITION: it must be in the air today, because New York Magazine just posted the perfect companion piece to this post. After you read this, go read that immediately.

Gems:

"There's a reason a lot of your successful friends are 'lovely odd ducks for whom you’d never predict bonkers mainstream success.' Those are people who do the work they love passionately, who bring the full force of their personalities to every project, and the world embraces them with equal passion. Those are not people who are trying to "connect" with some imagined audience. They're fucking weirdos who are foisting their weird creations on the world without apology."
"I need you to understand that when I write "Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and do the work you love!" I'm not saying "Keep powering up that hill, Sisyphus!" I'm saying shut out all the noise of Facebook and Twitter and Oprah and the best-seller lists and figure out what you really believe in and like to do every day."
"Instead of looking up at the best-selling writers climbing upward above you, look below, to the struggling, younger writers beneath you. Reach out a hand, and pull them up. Tell them what you know. Give them a little hope, a little focus, a few practical skills." 

Holy crap, did I write that post too and not remember?

Also, a great follow-up from someone on the DearArtDirector tumblr:
Do What You Love is only Half The Equation

And it must be in the air, because this is very related (and that TED talk is hilarious):
Success doesn’t bring happiness — happiness brings success.


Dollar Bills anonymous/uncredited from the internet...but some great ones up here.

38 comments:

  1. That is a wonderful follow-up article, thanks for this! The diagram pretty nails it. That is exactly the reason why 90% of my portfolio consists of personal projects, because those are the reasons I got hired. There is an interesting notion from a podcast I recently ran across: http://rainmaker.fm/audio/unemployable/seth-godin/ The sentiment starting at minute 14:39 is very interesting (besides the whole episode): "Your clients define you. If you are going to make work that makes your client happy, and you gonna be judged by the work you do, then it makes an awful lot of sense, to choose clients who will acquire work that you can brag about later."
    I believe that brought your last 5 paragraphs into one pretty sentence;)

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    1. oh ill have to check out that video. Seth Godin has some great advice.

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    1. I have to disagree. Sure you can have more than one area of focus, but you get thru with a narrow laser than a wider beam like a flashlight. You don't get hired for doing many things well, you get hired for doing one thing well. But i'm not talking about just subject matter. That thing could be, for example, the way you paint light, or the way you do dynamic compositions.

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    2. ...for example, you have a VERY specific style. That's what you're going to get hired for. Or for your maps, which is another very specific thing. You can have more than one specific thing, but it generally has to be a specific thing to rise above the pack.

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    4. You're proving my point for me. If you don't love painting dragons, you SHOULDN'T be looking for commissions of dragons. Someone else should be doing them. You should be hired to do more of what you love doing - whether that's a subject matter or a style or technique. You can be a Microsoft (trying to be everything to everyone - jack of all trades, master of none) or you can be an Apple (much tighter aesthetic, not trying to appeal to everyone, just aiming again and again at that design-appreciating fanbase). To have a long strong supported career you shouldn't be trying to appeal to everyone. You should be figuring out who your ideal clients and super fans are, and going after them, because they respond to you because they love what you love.

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    6. Nope, still disagreeing. I don't think you can get too specific. Better to be the single best person who can do a thing than to be the 3rd best person who can do 3 things.

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    8. Tim I dont know why you're still arguing this. We can agree to disagree, but I'm not going to agree with you. Being calculated at the expense of passion is not following your bliss. Do what you love, be dedicated, do it amazingly well, and that passion attracts people to your work.

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  4. Lauren, thank you for this! Your posts are all such a breath of fresh (realistic) air and I really appreciate them.
    As someone who skated through school on "talent", then was daunted by the actual amount of work it would take to make a career in art, I find you posts exactly what I need to hear. So, THANK YOU! I've set up a spreadsheet to count down those 10,000 master hours (my job now involves data organization) and I'll keep looking to MC and Dear AD to prod me along.
    Please do keep posting! You're invaluable :)
    Much love and appreciation,
    -Courtney B.

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  5. Thank you Lauren for this! After reading Dear AD I came to the conclusion to just do what I love. Trying to blend in, or be "similar' is just frustrating me, the work is pants and has no soul. (Not my brightest moment!) Pressure got to me and I had to do SOMETHING, was the wrong thing though. Now I've reevulated everything and Ill do my fancy vintage photography and fantasy art. It makes me so happy to do these things that they will have a soul. As long as you are cleaver in your approach, you can do what you love, in your style and still meet market demands if that's your thing.

    Funny, I trained my dog for years to a quite high level of IPO/Schutzhund. All of those 6 years I sweated blood, ripped hamstrings, had a headache thinking of tracking patters, lost almost 2 stone....all because I loved it so much! We did reasonable well because of that. However if I went to a club to train, or help people they were always under the illusion that there was a "secret" or "sort cut". It's in everything. You tell them something relatively "simple" and they will immediately say "sure that wont work" and not even try, but it's exactly what they need to do. So in my opinion 99% of people don't actually have that love needed. If you LOVE it enough, and are stubborn as a mule (ok, 99% of people are not stubborn enough to stick at it either) and keep working to improve if its in the simplest of line drawings, well then! Your making progress!

    Anyhow, I totally get it! Just wanted to say thanks. <3

    ~ Eithne

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    1. <3 Eithne your work is gorgeous! Don't doubt yourself!

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  6. This is very synchronistic for me in my life at the moment.....but no time to chat, I'm off to get busy at painting what I love! :)

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  7. Lovely diagram, Lauren! I think the thing about doing what one loves... well I agree and disagree, but I'll try to clarify. I think it really comes down to being honest with oneself. Like, I thought I loved drawing superhero comics when I was younger. It took me a long time to admit I actually did not like drawing superhero comics, that what I probably loved was the thought of being such an artist. Nowdays I can sometimes do work I love for me and me alone, and these pieces usually do end up resonating with others. It's a hard thing to do, especially in this age of Likes and Fans. So, I agree, do what you love, but think hard and answer honestly about what it is you love first.

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    1. ah well, as i said, just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. You have to KNOW what you truly love (and probably experiment a bunch) before you can DO what you love.

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  8. Fantastic write up Lauren. I did more or less what you've said to end up where I am (artist in the video game industry). Since I now do that for a living I'm pursuing other things that I love at home, and maybe one day that will become my new living. Only about 8,600 hrs to go before I feel ready to push that way professionally ;)

    This is my first time commenting on MC, but if you want to give credit for those dollar bill illustrations, at least one of them is by this guy: http://shmyah.deviantart.com/ and the others also look like his style.

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    1. oh awesome! thank you! ill add the credit...

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  9. My co-worker and I actually talk about this a lot. I’ve seen a few artists who create work, are huge entities on social networks or patreon, and they make tons of money and enjoy plenty of success from their works. It’s usually scantily clad ladies of pop culture franchises. That approach is kind of alluring: draw sexy ladies, make lots of money. In this way, it’s difficult to “follow your bliss”, especially when these pop-culture character creations have a seemingly much higher rate of success.

    There’s one thing my dad always says, “Do you want to be a good author, or a best selling one?” I think he’s referring to someone like J.K. Rowling, whom he doesn’t necessarily think is a good writer, but she did write a book series that’s extremely successful. I’m sure she “followed her bliss” writing them, however there’s appeal in trying to replicate her success, even if it’s not your passion.

    So here’s my thing: I don’t think that I could get hired by a big, AAA video games studio doing my ideal, personal-project sort of work. Even right now, I’m trying to create work that will hopefully get me a job at one of those places. I like it and It’s enjoyable, but it’s not my ideal project. That project is usually on the back burner.

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    1. It's not easy to make the time for passion projects, but all I can say is to check out Dave Palumbo's great recent post on that: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2015/08/why-personal-projects-are-worth-your.html

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  10. Wonderful post, and literally it could not have been more timely in my case! Just earlier this week I got some feedback on my portfolio from an art director in the games industry. This was exactly one of his main points: focus on the thing you love, focus on the company you want to work for....

    And just as you mention, that was the one thing I felt a nagging need to push back on (well, actually just politely ask for clarification on). I feel this is for two reasons. 1) It doesn't necessarily feel intuitive to narrow one's scope that much when phrases like "he put all his eggs in one basket" come to mind, and 2) the artists (living or dead) who are our heroes seem to have tackled such a wide variety of visual stories. How does one reduce, say, Greg Manchess or Dave Palumbo to a 'laser focus'? Or as mentioned earlier, Middle Earth may be Donato's bliss, but clearly he found and applied passion to quite a lot of other subjects as well, and we would all be a lot poorer for it if he hadn't. Maybe the answer to this question is obvious and I'm just not seeing it, but it does go a ways to explaining why it's not necessarily obvious to people (such as myself new to the industry) that a laser focus is the only or best strategy.

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    1. You are intepreting "do what you love" as subject matter only, which is too narrow a way to look at this. I would say Greg Manchess's love is his unique Manchess-style brushstrokes, and doing the most with the least physical painting. That his love is his style. That you can apply to anything.

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  11. The aristotle quote explicitly contradicts the graphic. He says that wher "what the world needs"" and "what you are good at" meet lies vocation, whereas the graphic defines that as profession Doesn't really matter but I thought I would be the pedant and point that out.

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    1. Is your passion missing the forest for the trees then?

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  12. After years of thinking and had no focus I realized I always had and it should have been obvious. My original new year goal for my career was to get a magic card commission but after I had my epiphany and realized exactly what my happy place was I ordered 20 books about ancient goddess religions, feminism, etc and have been meeting the coolest authors. I'm basically giving myself an unofficial degree. It's also nice because the subject foods very neatly into a lot of charity work I'm looking to get involved with...women's shelters and such. It feels amazing to have finally realized what I want to do and to be so in love with it. I would second Laurens insistence on laser focus. It's only helped me, never hurt. I've had people come to me because they loved my "hook" but then commission me to do something outside that scope so I haven't felt pigeon-holed. I would add a bit of advice to that...besides being technically amazing as an artist research the crap out of it too, academically. You'll love learning about it, people will know from talking to you that you're knowledgeable about what you do, and they'll hire you for not only your art skills but the conceptual heft you bring to the table as well. For example, people hire me for my ability to create images that empower and appeal to women (and not piss them off), as well as my knowledge of mythology. It's been really invigorating for me to because I have a purpose and project to do during the time intensive years when my kids are young that will pave the way for my career in the future and pay off. I definitely recommend focusing as narrowly as possible and making it blatently obvious to everyone you meet...I literally wrote "feminist fantasy artist" on my business card and I'm thinking of also adding a short list of the subjects I specialize in as well. Why not? A cardiologist wouldn't write "doctor" on her card. Haha haha. And this may sound cheesy but I've also found it helps to bring the passion to everything in your life and get your head into it. I think of it as branding. I bought some cool jewelry with ancient goddesses on them. It's started a lot of conversations with people and gives me the oppertunity to segway into what I do, plus it just reminds me of my goals whenever I look at it. Ok, I've been blabbing. It's just I've been very excited about this! Especially now that I just feel like a milk machine most days (got a baby).

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  13. I've read several articles before mentioning the "do what you love" advice is flawed. Is that true?

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  14. Many of the people I have talked to over the years have confused "Bliss" with "Enjoyment".

    They may say "you talk about your art like it's so difficult and you have to fight uphill the whole way, why don't you do something else if it's so hard for you?"
    To which I reply: "Because it's the only thing that gives me any kind of real fulfillment." (or something along those lines).

    I have found that using sports or music analogies can explain it more clearly to some folks.

    Such as: "Do you think a pro sports player actually enjoys years of constant painful practice? What if they are injured and must struggle back through months of rehabilitation? All the pain, all the practice, all the drudgery, all for a dream of winning that may never be realized?
    They don't "enjoy" getting up at 5am to run laps any more than I may "enjoy" improving my skills as an artist through years of practice and study. They do it because they LOVE it. It's their bliss. Not because they "enjoy" every painful second of practice, every heartbreaking moment of defeat or injury.

    The same goes for professional musicians.
    I've watched enough VH1 behind the music episodes and Rock Documentaries to know that life as a professional musician is more often than not rife with defeat, pain, bankruptcy and heartache.
    That those people on the stage often spent thousands on thousands of hours honing their craft before they ever played to a big crowd or cut a record.
    Yet they keep doing it.
    They keep playing, sometimes through decades.
    Why?
    Because it is their Bliss.

    Bliss doesn't mean (at least in my personal experience) doing what one "enjoys", it means doing what one "loves".
    Bliss is doing what you simply "must" do, because doing anything else just feels dead and hollow in comparison.

    Following ones bliss may involve sacrificing other parts of your life. No one ever has it "all". But if you follow your Bliss, "having it all" won't matter, because you don't WANT it "all", you want your Bliss.

    For instance, I like long distance hikes in the mountains, as in weeks at a time.
    But doing that would disrupt my work to such a degree that it is impractical to do it to the extent I would like. So, I sacrifice what I "like" to do on the alter of what I LOVE to do. And it's worth it. Every single time.

    For me Bliss is that feeling of all your hair is standing on end in a lightning storm, that feeling that makes you shake your fists in the air while you dance around your studio, grinning like an idiot because you finally drew a nose just the way you wanted.

    Bliss is like a perfect note struck from a crystal bell. A resonance that echoes through your very bones. A deep feeling, a soul feeling, a distant rhythm that matches the beat of your heart.

    When you find your Bliss (and you will find it, if you go looking), I recommend you ride it like a surfer rides a wave, find that groove and just GO, as far and as fast as it will take you.

    It will require sacrifice, it will take years of your life to be any "good" at it, it will be painful at times, it may require you to move across the country or even the world. It will shake you up, it may even calm you down. Your Bliss may say, "Give me your stiff necked pride at never having failed, give me 50,000 hours of your life, give me your focus, give me your dreams", and you will give them.

    But if it really is your Bliss? Your THING?

    It will all be worth it.




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  15. Great article... Looking back, I've used this practice to have a successful 40-50 year career in Music and Chemistry... I started taking art lessons about 15 years ago, as I need to shift into a vocation / avocation less physically demanding... been worried about going in too many directions... think I'll stay with portraits and see where that leads... Thanks

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  16. @Lauren Panepinto
    I have a question. What if you're like still learning, around 1 year, and still don't know what you really want to do yet? Is that the same thing what the author of following your bliss speaks about?

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    1. Keep looking. Explore...Try things until you find it.

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  17. I didn't know what I wanted to do until recently, 8 years out of school. I made better art once I paid attention to what I enjoyed in life, rather than just art. Also life experiences help you figure out who you are.

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  18. I used to work as a counsellor and therapist and have written in my email signature "Be yourself because everyone Else is Taken". I worked with clients holding this as my guiding principle, both for myself and for what I hoped my clients would find within themselves. I think this really fits the art world too. I'm sure AD's get excited finding new styles and voices.

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  19. what a brilliant article. Have read it a couple of times now - Ive been a freelance illustrator/comicbook artist FULL TIME now for nearly 9 months, after 20 years in the video games industry (I was an associate Art Director for 3 years - which pushed me to go freelance...).

    This really reinforces how I felt BEFORE making the jump. I was able to make the jump as I had a good gig, and Im getting paid to draw all day :) Couldn't be happier - next on my list though - creator owned - the passion projects inside me are bursting out.

    Thanks for writing this.

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  20. thanks for sharing..Amazing stuff continues the good work.
    prosperity

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