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Illustrator Tips: Work vs. Ability

I read a very interesting article from 99u a while back on the concept of praise, specifically in the context of a manager / employee relationship ( http://99u.com/articles/19442/the-key-to-great-feedback-praise-the-process-not-the-person ). The article basically talks about the dangers inherent in praising a person's natural ability as opposed to their problem solving, process, and approach. Definitely give it a read because it was very enlightening. 

One thing I realized, however, is that this idea of focusing on 'natural ability' is something that has negative consequences in our personal life as much as in the context of business relationships.  When I focus on my natural abilities, I'm essentially focusing on something outside of my control. I slowly fall into thinking that if I have natural abilities, I must be able to do something... naturally. That means drawing shouldn't be a struggle and illustrating should be effortless.

But guess what? That is NEVER the case with me. 

Drawing is ALWAYS a struggle and illustrating is NEVER effortless. There are so many challenges I face when starting or continuing a piece that if I were to truly believe in 'natural ability', I would be left with the simple conclusion that I have none.   That is the problem with focusing on natural ability. As soon as there is adversity or challenge in the projects I'm working on, I feel like my natural ability has either left or was never present to begin with.  And it seems no matter how many times I go through this, I always end up in that same broken place, wondering what I got myself into.

Here's how I solve it: I work.

When I'm scared I've lost my abilities or questioning if I ever had them, I sit down and begin to draw. I focus on my process, not my abilities. I start simple, working on my rough sketch for the overall composition. I focus on a mood of the piece that I want to convey as I'm working and try to make decisions that will emphasize that mood. I focus on creating compelling shapes and details which make the piece bold as well as interesting. I concentrate on colors which will push atmosphere into the background and bring objects or characters to the front of the piece to create depth. I focus on textures and brush strokes which add dimension, movement, and nostalgia to the piece.

Before I know it, I have a fully finished illustration piece in front of me which shows me this wasn't a result of natural anything. It was simply a matter of work.  

Focusing on work and process instead of ability is of critical importance because it forces you to work with the things you can control of and let go of the things you can't. It gives you repeatable steps which you can fall back on and use to solve problems which is vital because, lets face it, each illustration comes with a host of new challenges. Your process, approach, and willingness to work is ultimately going to be a more stable base for confidence because you can control that. You don't get to decide how much natural talent you have (again, assuming that even exists) but you can decide how hard you're going to work.  

So that's the advice I have today for anyone interested, and for myself (because I promise I'll forget all this the second I start a new illustration). Focus on your working method and your process, not your natural abilities.