We often hear stories about people who change their careers for something completely unrelated and become extremely successful in their new areas. One of my favorite examples is the business entrepreneur Sara Blakely. Sara got a degree in law but was not able to pass the LSAT test. She spent seven years selling fax machines door to door until she finally invented Spanx and today her company is worthy one billion dollars. In numerous interviews, she looks to her past and explains how being repeatedly rejected and learning to deal with failure set her up for success. I also like Steve Jobs’ journey. In a very famous speech at Stanford University, he explains why dropping college and enrolling on a random calligraphy course was essential for the success of Apple later on. Even being fired from the company he founded contributed for his success, as he used this time to start other creative companies like Pixar, today a multi billion animation company.
I’m fascinated by this kind of journey because I’ve been in a career transition as well. Although I graduated and worked as an Architect, it’s been 5 years since I decided to become an artist. During this period I worked at a coffee shop, clothes store, department store and finally at an art studio. In 5 years I got some praise but also I heard multiple times I was wasting my talent. The fact that I served coffee at Starbucks for 2 years was a source of much controversy. Why would an architect with a masters degree decide to serve coffee? How would this contribute in any way for the development of an art career?
Deep inside me I knew I was learning from this experience but since I couldn’t see the outcome, many times I got anxious or frustrated during my journey. Looking back, I can finally see things coming together and the more I work, the more everything makes sense.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.
Focus on what you can control
When I decided to become an artist, I got a part time job at Starbucks, and started classes at the Alberta University of the Arts. Every morning I wore an apron and served coffee, all afternoons and evenings I was drawing or studying. I had big dreams and was full of creativity and motivation. I couldn’t see clearly where I would reach, but I was happy and focused.
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life
People around me couldn’t understand. I remember introducing myself to a new person saying ” I’m studying arts” and some friend discreetly would add “but she has a masters degree in architecture!”. I used to get upset at these reactions because I thought my friends were embarrassed from my choices. Today I understand it was not their fault. If I couldn’t see clearly the future, why would I expect other people to be able to see? This was beyond my control. In these past 5 years I learned to focus on what I can control, that means, what I want to study, how many hours I can dedicate to my practice, how I respond when I face a challenge. People’s reactions to my choices are beyond my control. I choose to don’t get upset anymore.
Keep track of your progress
I spent my whole first year exploring the city with a sketchbook and a black marker. In the beginning I used my phone to take pictures of my work and the environment around me. After a while, I noticed other artists presented their work in a more clean way. I got a scanner and stopped sharing pictures that were not art related. All my drawings were based on the reality around me and I was afraid of colors.
Studying colors was the biggest change of all. I went from simple black and white sketches to very colorful compositions. The architectural style gave way to experiments. Acrylic paintings, pastel drawings, watercolors, pointillism, chalk markers. Animals became my favorite theme because they could be so colorful. I learned a lot. Working at Starbucks made a huge impact in my art. Since I was constantly drawing chalkboards for them, I brought the black background to my paintings and also started learning about typography. The experience of working in this huge company also taught me many business lessons, the most important of all was understanding what a vision is and why I should have one if I wanted to grow.
In the beginning of 2018 I developed my own vision, I want to make the world more interesting. Everything that contributes to my vision is given priority, anything that doesn’t help me achieve the vision is abandoned. Many times I discarded artworks because I didn’t think they were interesting enough. The vision should be something huge and abstract, not a simple goal. I’ve been following this vision since then.
Looking to the past I noticed I didn’t have a consistent style. I was all over the place. I decided to experiment again until I could find “my style”. I also wanted to understand the meaning of “interesting” for me. At this point I already knew I wanted to work with limited colors, mix them with some black and white and use more patterns. First I got inspired by fashion illustration and later for art for kids. I tried digital drawing, unexpected colors, printmaking, stamps and stencils. Experimenting and going out of my comfort zone was essential to discover what I liked or not.
Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on
I finally understood what I consider interesting. My whole life I loved to read and I have read lots of books. Many years ago I even had a blog about books and movies, I used to analyse how people tell a story. I discovered the most interesting thing for me is storytelling. All my illustrations should be part of a story or be the story on itself. The techniques and style has been compressed to just follow the story. This is what I’m working on now.
Looking back to move forward
Keeping track of my own art, constantly reviewing it and comparing with other art I like was essential to identify opportunities for growth. I archive my drawings and the process to arrive at the final piece. Stephen King expresses this idea much better than I when he speaks about writing. The same could be applied to any form of art:
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in …
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
In 2015 I simply copied the reality around me, without thinking so much. The exercise of studying other people’s art and process lead me to improve my own process and make it much deeper. Today I define my theme and start with some loose sketches and simple written notes. As I get to the first concept, I study what other artists did, as well as explore my own memories. When I feel I have a stronger visual base, I advance on my drawings and add more details, while I transform my written notes into a text. The process is a collaboration between memories, references, drawings and thinking. For me, an idea is a person climbing a narrow gap between two buildings. It departs from the pavement, made from my memories and references. It puts the feet on the wall of the first building, my drawings. Get some impulse and put a feet on the second building, my writing. It keeps climbing dangerously with the support of both building, writing and drawing, never losing sight from the floor, my memories and references. Will the idea trip and fall back to my mind? Or will it reach the top? Can my ideas fly?
Be excited about what you don’t know
Understanding there is so much to learn is the best way to discover new techniques and approaches to solve problems. My career changed in some unexpected ways, one discovery led to another and I’ve seen myself walking on paths I’ve never imagined before.
Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.
Improvement can only exist if I’m willing to see new ways of doing things. As we plant the seeds of our destiny, we imagine and plan where we are going to reach but so many discoveries on the way lead us to unexpected paths. The circle of choices is open but it’s my mind that closes its border. I’m the one who creates this invisible ceiling and says – here is where it stops. What if I could see there is no end?
Changing the mindset is the most interesting way to grow and discover value in our own experiences. Imagine how many combinations you can make with each piece of the knowledge you already have.
Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Today I feel I’m combining everything, there was no right or wrong path. Skills from all my previous jobs, ideas from all my hobbies, memories from all my travels, slowly all my life experience is getting compressed and molded into new matter and transformed in illustrations. The unexpected is great. The mystery and vastness of the future are fascinating for me.
Do you wonder what the future holds? Do you ever wonder where you will be in 5 years? If I could look through the crystal ball, I would visualize an immense maze of ways and possibilities. The maze of our destiny is so vast it simply doesn’t have an end. It’s infinite. Walking on the roads of my destiny, every single day I discover new possibilities, every single moment I can make a new choice.
All these experiences together brought me where I am now. Working with large companies and learning about business helped me understand how I should guide my own career. Being open, trying with different art supplies, techniques and ideas helped me improve the quality of my artwork. The love for reading made me understand how a good story is important for me. Being excited about the future motivates me everyday.
Would you like to see your career growing in ways you never imagined before? Here is what I see so far:
Focus on what you can control
Keep track of your progress
Look back to move forward
Be excited about what you don’t know
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Leave a comment or share, I would love to know how you are approaching your own career growth. Thanks for your visit!
Hi! How are you today? I hope great! For me it’s been a very productive week with so many insights and personal growth. I drew a lot, wrote a lot and learn so many things.
I’ve been inspired by an online game called Covet Fashion. It’s a funny online game where you dress your “doll” according to a description of a story. You need to use certain clothes or accessories to “pass” a challenge. The game is telling the story of Etta who crossed a portal and now is travelling in the sky. When she arrived in the sky everything was very weird, she saw this strange woman walking on top of the clouds and her pet was an alligator. The game challenge us to style a look using leather boots and acrylic sunglasses. Now I cannot imagine… you cross a portal, fall from the sky on a cloud and there she is, this very cool lady walking her alligator. Ha! Ok!
I decided to create an illustration based on that. I started to think about how I could show the shoes and have something dynamic with the alligator. I remember those modern paintings from the moderns times, like the Abaporu, by Tarsila do Amaral. I wanted the woman a bit in perspective, feet large and head far in the sky. I didn’t want to exaggerate too much her proportions, so I tried to remember examples in real life. Suddenly I remember this advertise from Nike from many years ago and I was so happy I was able to find a screenshot I took at the time. Nike really knows how to feature their shoes!
I got her some Miista boots with an amazing snake pattern and then all I needed was her pet. After a bit of researching I found a crocodile from an old Peter Pan book and I tried to draw it more playfully and sassy. I also added some pattern to make it connect with the boots and of course, I put it on a leash since it’s a well behavior alligator.
My idea is to create free wallpapers for iPhone and other mobiles. I started using as a background my own lock screen and it’s just so awesome, makes me feel very cool. I imagine I’m this giant woman, facing up the sun with my mind distracted in another universe. My alligator friend tells me something spicy, look how his hand is all sassy, we are full of attitude. We have hours of conversations in the sky, traveling between pink clouds, there is nothing else in the world. Life is really cool! ⠀⠀
The best thing about this illustration is how much I achieved and how well I used skills I’ve been working on. Click on the images to see some of the skills I used in this image.
Drawing on iPhone
I think it’s so cool to create art for iPhone directly on my iPhone! I’ve been drawing all my artwork with a strange (but wonderful) stylus called Pony, using Procreate Pocket. When I downloaded the Procreate app last month, I started by doing a ton of studies with just my finger. Drawing with my finger helped me keep one eye on the scale of the project and have an overall feeling of the artwork. My amazing painting instructors always taught me to start with my largest brushes. Do you know why? Because it gives the feeling of the painting, it directs the composition, fills quickly the canvas and avoids overworking or getting lost in details. Drawing with the finger is like that, your finger is that super large brush. It’s a great start, but at a certain point, you need a smaller brush. That’s why I got a stylus. Buy why this stylus is so strange?
IPhone surfaces are designed to react with your finger, a wide surface that transmits energy to the screen. You can try a stylus with a sharper tip and they won’t work, your iPhone is not capable of understanding. So Pony found a great solution, this style with a transparent disk! The disk is wide enough to transmit the information for the iphone, and is transparent, so you can see what you are drawing. It’s connected to the pen by a flexible piece, allowing you to incline the pen while you draw. I love my Pony stylus! People who are familiar with the iPad pencil might get a hard time with a Pony. It’s definitely harder to make precise lines or really express your strokes with that tip. But I got used very quickly and I just love the freedom of making art anywhere at any time. Can you imagine changing all art supplies, tons of brushes, pigments, pencils, papers, canvas, sponges, easels, boards, all that volume of things for something that you already have in your pocket? I love my traditional art materials, but I’m seriously hooked by the digital art and all the freedom and possibilities I see here.
Dreaming about hidden worlds
Imagining different realities has been an amazing source of inspiration. While I was thinking about clouds and sunglasses and strange new things, I started to retrieve memories from a long long time ago, when I was about 7 and my mom hired a girl to help her babysit my sister. This girl was a very funny and was always dreaming about having the perfect boyfriend. She would spend all the free hours of her day looking at gossip magazines and admiring all these guys from the movies and advertisements. This happened during the 80’s and the standards for men were quite different from today, their faces were quite angular and their presence felt a bit distant, sometimes even robotic. In one of her magazines there was an advertisement from RayBan where the guy was standing there, very masculine, with all these clouds reflected in his sunglasses. It was so cool! When I thought about sunglasses and clouds, that was the image that came to my mind. I decided to use this reference and mix with something more current. After searching how people advertise sunglasses today, I found an ad from Lanvin that I liked, the girl was cool and the composition was simple but well done. I especially like the plant on the right side or the picture, it brings a bit of mystery to the story and softens her expression.
I choose to base my drawing on this picture because it is somehow connected but opposed to the energy from the RayBan ad and it was fun to play with these concepts. The guy was facing forward, outdoors in the sun, nothing in front of him. The girl was behind a plant, indoors and in the shadows. But both look distant and in another world. Mix and match with a bit of line drawing and here it is, this designed a cool lady ready to escape to new hidden worlds.
I found it funny how I mixed an online fashion game with memories from the 80’s and advertisements and got here. I love thinking about the creative process and all these associations of ideas.
Multiplying an idea
Every time I create an illustration I want to create a set of other illustrations that are inspired and related to the main work. It’s an exercise I’ve been doing to multiply my art and transform one concept in many interconnected works. I love the idea of collage and during the quarantine I discovered an app called PicCollage. I stayed hours and hours creating silly collages with any image that attracted my mind, escaping to a world with no limits and full imagination. The main purpose of the app is to add a frame and stickers to your picture, or use it like a scrapbook. There are thousands of backgrounds in all colors and textures, and the stickers are designed by many illustrators around the world, in all kinds of styles and themes. There are also fonts and other features I didn’t discover yet. I started to use the app everyday just for fun and then I wanted to have my own stickers and backgrounds to make even more collages and create compositions with my own works.
While studying how to represent snake pattern, I drew over the boots design by Miista. Then I thought, hey, I can transform these boots in a sticker! So I mix some stickers from other artists and my own and create a silly but awesome PicCollage. Is this a masterpiece? For sure no, but it’s so much fun and helps me release the power of my own imagination!
Creating a collection
In the same idea about multiplying my art and getting more out of the same theme, I’ve been creating simple patterns that brings happiness and hope for those who see them. I plan to design those patterns fast and don’t worry too much about details, but in reality, I actually struggle. The pattern for this collections was particularly challenging. I started with the idea of drawing a swamp full of alligators. I chose my colors and composition, searched for references and started drawing. The more I drew, the less I liked the results. It’s not that the drawing was bad, but it was not communicating what I wanted to tell. After 3 days working on the same idea, I had an “A-ha!” moment. I finally realized my mistake was placing the alligators floating horizontally on the water.
Although that was a fine image, it had nothing to do with my theme, it was too static and realistic. Looking at my own works I saw that I needed to keep the composition more dynamic and that the theme was all related to the clouds and imagination. Alligators on a swamp is common place, what is new is alligators on clouds. The concept was wrong and I was telling the wrong story, no matter how good was the drawing, I would never get the result I wanted.
I spent so much time thinking and researching about alligators I started to see alligators everywhere! I’m very happy about what I was able to achieve and this was important to stay within the concept.
Drawing this collection was just so much fun and I feel I’ve been travelling with Etta in this strange new world. If you loved the concept and would like to travel too, you can use one of my wallpapers on your phone as well. Send me a email requesting the image and I’ll be happy to send you. Just choose one or all of the 3 wallpapers below
The joys and challenges of this art process were immense and added so much to my life. I feel I’ve been to a real journey. If you enjoyed learning about all this adventure and had fun while reading, leave me a comment, push like or share this post. I want to know more about your dreams and what makes your head get lost in the clouds. Thank you so much for reading and see you in the next adventure!