Contrary to the popular bromide, practice does not make perfect.
Practice makes more practice easier.
In a similar vein, as an artist you never really become an artist, you are always in the process of becoming one.
As a student in college, I always had the hardest time calling myself an artist. I think this was because as a student, my job was to learn from the best of history, modernity, and the contemporary scene, all the while trying to nurture my own skills. Constantly keeping an eye on the ideal and the heroes of the art world can be as exhausting as it is inspiring when your own work is so inferior. It's so much easier to hide that inferiority behind the title of student rather than the high and mighty term of artist.
Even after college, when my focus turned from graphic design and studio art towards illustration, comics, and storytelling, to call myself an artist would have been to suppose myself in the same category and under the same mantle of artist as the ones I so idolized. That's the way it seemed to me anyways. It felt snooty and pretentious. So instead of accepting such a weighty responsibility in claiming to be an artist, I often settled for the term creative, or aspiring artist. What I ended up being was worse.
Though I never would have admitted it, I was a hobbyist.
It wasn't the title that was the problem, and for that matter it wasn't my occupation either. The one major thing that kept me from owning up to the title of artist was accountability. Specifically accountability to other artists who could be honest with me about my work, ambitions, and choices.
If I were a half-decent bank robber, I would do well to surround myself with other thieves who could say of me, "Who him? He couldn't couldn't crack a glass safe if you gave him a hammer and chisel!", or conversely, "High security vault? Fuggetaboudit, send him in with scotch tape an a paper clip and he'll come out with more paper than you can shake an inconspicuous unmarked envelope at!".
See, the fundamental part of being any kind of artist is that you never just become one, it's a lifelong pursuit, and owning up to that title means taking steps to ensure that you're constantly in that state of becoming. A key ingredient in that is surrounding yourself with people who can look at your work with matching passion and honest eyes and tell you what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right. That's not just an art lesson or a flippant bromide either, it's a life lesson too. A proverb, actually.
"Iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens another." - Proverbs 27-17.
It's something that all the practice in the world can't account for - being able to glean from what others see in you that you could never see for yourself. That goes doubly for those who share your passion for a common craft.
It's something that I didn't realize how much I had been missing in the four years since college. Back then the accountability was easy because it was built into the environment. After graduating, though I didn't realize how much, it had become easier and easier to narrow my field of vision, play fast and loose with my artistic goals, and become a hobbyist. It had all just become practice and more practice. Practice became the goal in and of itself. It became busywork - a hobby.
Though this new leg of my artistic journey has been, and continues to be hard, it has been an unbelievable breath of fresh air to find myself in a place where other artist have similar goals and passions as I do, and to make my work accountable to them as peers.
This was a bit of a departure from the storytelling side of these episodes, but I'll bring that back around with the next episode.
In the spirit of the saying that "it's not the destination, but the journey that's important", I've titled this series "Getting There." While I appreciate this saying, the journey would not exist if not for the destination, therefore the title "Getting There" is a reference as much to the destination as it is to the journey. The "Getting There" series is a collection of brief, episodic articles describing my ongoing journey into the animation industry.
By Alex Esbenshade