Before today I hadn't heard of cartoonist/illustrator Phil McAndrew, but my pal Patricia Storms linked to a blog post of his titled "Super-Obvious Secrets That I Wish They'd Teach at Art School" that I found very worthwhile. Here are the bullet points:
* Draw Every Day
* Challenge Yourself
* Be Nice to People
* Have Fun
* Goals and Deadlines Are Important
* Breaks Are Important Too
* Don't Limit Your Influences
* Don't Trash Talk Yourself
* Art Ruts Are For Chumps
* Draw Awesome Stuff and Put It On the Internet.
Phil has nice comments and examples for each. If you have any type of creative aspirations--not just cartooning but anything: writing, music, competitive hamster grooming--something in his post should strike a chord. Two points that I especially liked were "Don't Limit Your Influences" and "Don't Trash Talk Yourself."
On the first point: I think too many people find a style that they like and works for them, and they go with it--not realizing that a million other people are doing the same. We're all the product of our influences; one problem with cartooning is that a lot of people have the same small list of them. What I most object to when I see how pervasive the manga style is among a generation of young cartoonists is less (what I consider) its stylistic limitations than their stifled individuality. How much more could you offer if you knew enough art history to bring some Monet or Dali, or even some Hal Foster or Jack Kirby, to the table? As Phil writes, if your only influence is (cartoonist) James Kochalka, you'll never be anything but a bad imitation of James Kochalka . . . and who needs you when we've already got him? Cast your net widely. You'll have more interesting things to say and more interesting ways to say them.
On the second point: I'm not high-profile enough to get very many people asking my opinion of their work. But on the rare occasion I do a signing or something and a young person brings me their sketchbook or portfolio, it's amazing how often they open with an apology. "I could have done this better," "I didn't have time to color this right," "This one isn't quite finished." First, if it's not your best stuff, don't put it in your portfolio. Second, show some pride and backbone! (But not arrogance!) So many creative people are their own worst enemies, and I understand the psychology: criticizing your own work pre-empts the anticipated sting of someone else doing it, and you can both agree that you stink. Well . . . don't do that! If the first words out of your mouth indicate that you don't like and respect your work, why should anyone else?
But now I'm repeating Phil. Go read his post, maybe you'll get something out of it.