Matthew Taylor Wilson shares his thoughts on what it takes to create often and how to get more eyes on your work.
I like what I do, and I spend a lot of time doing it. (So, I guess that makes me a hard worker? The jury is still out on that one.) There was a time early in my career when I thought hard work was all I needed. Work hard, and it’ll happen. As it turns out, that’s not really the case.
The truth is, hard work is relative. Ultimately, you have to be really specific with your goals. As the industry becomes more saturated with talent, it becomes increasingly more difficult to break through the noise. No one will see your hard work if you don’t put it in front of them.
Society6 honestly gave me a way to put my work in front of others. Through the platform, I suddenly had a high traffic hub for my personal portfolio, a way to generate passive income, and a chance to be a part of an awesome creative community.
And now I’m here, telling you that you can also make art. You can also get your work in front of people. But first thing’s first. Before you can do that, you have to…
I’m religious about this, and I’ll tell anyone who will listen. You can’t become proficient at anything without doing it ALL THE TIME. At first, it won’t be good. That’s normal. If it is good, then you’re the exception.
No one talks about practice in the creative industry. People talk about talent and being “gifted,” like we’re some sort of anointed group. And hey, that might possibly be true for a few folks. The rest of us, on the other hand, have been drawing and designing logos for fake bands since we had notebooks to doodle on. And that doodling equals thousands of hours of practice.
You’ve gotta be obsessed. I’ve interviewed kids during my time in the design industry, and I could tell their hearts weren’t in it. The ONLY projects they had to share were a handful of projects required by their professors. If you’re a person that won’t stop—like you physically can’t stop doing this art and design thing—then GOOD. You’ve got a chance.
2. Make a lot
Making work is how you refine your process and your personal voice. Making is evolving. Now that we’ve established that you have to make stuff, I want to take this one step further and say that you have to MAKE A LOT OF STUFF. Draw every day. Do it.
I know this seems elementary, but I’m serious. You’ll learn really quickly how you work best, what conditions don’t produce results, and what you love about working (and also what you hate). Honestly, learning what I hated was more of a revelation to me than everything else. I know what I love, and you probably know what you love, too.
If you have a problem with following-through (like everyone else), participate in a #dailydrawingchallenge online and get to know other people who are struggling through it, too. Find a community. You’ll be better for it.
We all have grand ideas of what we’d like to do in our career, and sometimes they’re not informed by anything real. Goals are a good start, but as you find your voice, your ideas will change, your preferences will change, and you’ll mature the more you work. Expect it.
Using the internet to share your work may seem obvious, but I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re not already sharing online, start now. There are endless tools to create a portfolio, and you may even consider building a blog around your work.
If those suggestions seem daunting, remember you don’t always NEED a portfolio or a blog. In fact, a webshop and an active social media presence can do the job just fine. (S6 is actually much more visible than my professional portfolio!)
When I initially found Society6, I was super excited. Coincidentally, I had read about S6 via Twitter (back in the day when I thought Twitter was for goofing off. Hooray for social media). At the time, I was still grinding away as a designer and dreaming of becoming a freelance illustrator. I started a daily drawing project and uploaded everything to Society6.
I was already using Twitter, but once Instagram emerged, it gave me another great platform where I could share my work. Success wasn’t instant, but I started seeing my work popping up and being shared on other sites. This was a cool validation and spurred me on.
4. Share A Lot
Making work was the easy part for me. I’ve talked to a few aspiring illustrators, and they have the same reservations I once had about putting work out there. I get it. I hate being vulnerable.
There are concerns such as criticism and art theft, but you have to weigh the pros over the cons. I’ve had my work stolen multiple times, and it’s infuriating. However, no one will see your work if you don’t put it in front of them. Share your work and share it often. Once I got over being shy and fearful about my art, I started to see results.
These days, I have a routine consisting of a whole lot of drawing and a whole lot of sharing. Not everything makes it to Society6, and not everything makes it to social media. I’ve learned to pace myself, but that first initial sprint gave me a good head start. I’ve been able to become a freelancer, and I still get job inquiries from individuals who found me via Society6, Twitter, and Instagram.