When I Grow Up

My six-year-old self would be so mad at me!

When I was the same age as my oldest daughter, I remember dressing up as a painter for a “When I grow up” day at school. I had a paint splattered smock and a real wooden painter’s pallet (I might have even had a beret). But, I wasn’t too fussy on the costume because I wanted to be an illustrator when I grew up, not a painter, I just couldn’t figure out how to make a recognizable costume of that.

I thought I was terrible at painting. Given all of my experience splattering thick washable poster paint on construction paper with fat round brushes up to that point in time, I guess I was frustrated with my inability to control the paint. My father, a high school teacher, did amazing oil paintings as a hobby. So I grew up seeing lovely framed artwork on our walls, but never saw his earlier pieces, or even works in progress, since I was forbidden to set foot in his studio. I guess the result was a belief that painting was a innate skill that I simply didn’t have, but that was okay because I was still an “artist” with a pencil in my mind.

Drawing was something that I knew could be improved with practice, that was obvious to me. My older brother often took the time to draw with me. We would make up stories together, he would write the words and we drew the pictures together. I still have some of them. I loved stories. Our whole family were voracious readers. We even had a home library, actually organized by dewy decimal system! So it was obvious to me at 6 that I should be an author and illustrator.

However, life goes on. In elementary school I was known as the best artist in my class, without much effort on my part. However, in junior high I discovered that some of my peers were amazingly talented with a pencil. Most of them had put a lot of effort into learning anime style, something I wasn’t very familiar with, and I thought their innate skill must far outweigh mine. I told myself that drawing cartoons was for kids. Drawing can’t be a real career unless you’re naturally amazing at it. I lost my dream.

 

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Self portrait I did at 15 years old

In high school, I became good friends with some of those peers. I still liked to draw but not “seriously”, I just doodled for fun. I tried out anime style, I knew I could improve if I did take it “seriously” but I think that clinging to the belief that drawing wasn’t a “real job” released me from pressure to improve, and from my own harsh competitive nature. I used to do quick character sketches and pixel art for people online in exchange for in-game currency. That was commissioned artwork (technically) and I still wasn’t taking it, or myself seriously!

At the same time, I discovered that I was a pretty good writer. My creative writing teacher informed me that I had a natural talent for storytelling and I should use it. I’m so grateful for that because no one ever really told me that before. I joined my local writing guild’s youth committee as the secretary, and started attempting Nanowrimo every year. I still enjoy it a lot even though I have such a hard time finishing my stories (at least in time for Nano). But I was still only semi-serious about it. I heard somewhere that writers don’t really make much money. That English majors are useless. I dropped out of my first semester in uni mostly because I couldn’t see a “real career” path ahead of me there.

 

I had (and still have really) every intention of going back to university or college once my kid(s) were a bit older… When we could afford it… When I decided what I want to be when I grow up. What a vicious cycle of self doubt! What a waste of time! My six-year-old self would be seriously disappointed and even mad at me right now.

 

It just sort of dawned on me that the only difference between someone who writes and draws as a hobby, and an author/illustrator is not only that they’re getting paid (because that comes later), it’s all in taking yourself seriously! Putting in the effort and passion and owning that dream. Yes it puts you at risk of rejection, failure, and feeling not good enough, but if you work on it, you’ll do it. Good or bad, it’s still worth doing if you want to do it! And I do! So that’s what I’m doing. I’m putting in the work and I hope that by the time my daughters get to the self doubt cesspool that is junior high, they’ll see my hard work paying off, and they’ll know that it’s more than just innate talent. I hope that my progress is evident to everyone, and especially to myself.

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