Your early work vs. the work you want to be doing

I tend to be very hard on myself, which goes against every practical advice on art or life I've ever received. I can go on hypercritical mode, and when I am in this frame of mind, I can never get anything done because nothing's good enough. But what is "good enough?" And haven't we been taught that "good" is never enough and we should strive for "great?"

This way of thinking often delays my process. Case in point: the launch of this portfolio site. I've always thought I needed a website so I would be taken seriously as a creative professional. This time last year I started putting a site together; I even hired a web designer to do all the backend stuff for me, but that website never saw the light of day because I didn't have any work to upload. At least I didn't think my works were good enough to put them on display. This predicament reminded me of a popular quote by radio personality Ira Glass:

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

He goes on to say that the only way to combat disappointment with our early work is to keep at it. Now a year after I started this website project, I look at my art again and am glad to see some progress. It just goes to show that when we evaluate our art from day to day, it's difficult to see improvements and this can be frustrating. But over time, the incremental adjustments we make to my work add up to, hopefully, a more refined style. 

Let's take for example my lettering work. The images below are notebook covers I designed almost two years apart. There are similarities, like the color scheme (I really like yellow) and the general style of the pieces. But looking at them more closely, I see that the piece from 2014 has a lot of monoline details while the more recent piece leans toward a dimensional style. The 2016 version is also more conceptual, while the older cover is just straight up text.

What's even more exiting for me is the changes I see in my illustration. Although my drawing skills are not yet at the level I want them to be, it's surprising to me how much I have gotten better at detail work. The patterns below were made only six months apart, and considering I didn't pick up my pencil enough for the latter part of last year, I am thrilled to see where my art is going.

So what am I driving at here? Many people who want to pursue artistic endeavors give up way too easily. The creative process is not easy; it is a daily struggle against doubts, dreams, questions, intentions, anything and everything we tell ourselves to stop us from making art. It means showing up everyday in spite of laziness, illness, internal conflicts, and external critics. The only way to get better is to respect the process and not demand too much from it, especially if we don't intend to keep our end of the bargain and actually produce something. Making art is not magic; it is work. And once we put in the hours, one day we will be rewarded with art we can be proud of.

Another excerpt from Ira Glass's longer quote, with can be read here.

Another excerpt from Ira Glass's longer quote, with can be read here.