One Hard Month
This has not been the easiest month for me. I moved in with my in-laws, finished a job I had been doing for the past 9 years – basically all of my adult life to this point – and explored the illustration freelance market.
To Freelance or not to Freelance?
After a half-hearted effort at several different websites, the most important thing I’ve come away with is that I need to improve my art a lot more than I have before I have even a chance of making it. The truth is, I’m not ready to be a freelance artist. And one thing that has contributed to this is that I have had too many hobbies for too long. In addition to illustration, for the past few years I’ve been doing shodo, calligraphy, penmanship, kung fu/tai chi, and studying for the kanji kentei. While I have been diligent in every area, my progress in each individual skill has been minimal at best because there’s really only so much free time in a day. And this was even with a job that allowed for a LOT of down time.
And now I don’t have that job. I don’t have any job. My wife has graciously awarded me a month to try the freelance gig, but I know where I’m at with that and it seems unproductive putting in hours and hours and hours trying to win a $50 gig when that time could be spent either mindfully improving my art or even looking for a full time gig that makes use of my Japanese ability – the only actual marketable skill I possess. Being in this situation has given me ample opportunity to rethink things and also given me a different perspective on how I lived my life up until now.
Master of None
I have a lot of flaws. But I think one of the biggest ones I’ve been struggling with for a while now is my inability to do just one thing. When I studied for the JLPT, I spent 8 hours each day for months on end hitting the books. Before then I had never once pursued anything with any amount of authentic seriousness. But through these months of hard work I forged myself into a new person, one with focus. The most important skill I developed from that experience was diligence. But when I finished my JLPT study, I was hungry to learn more and more, so I ended up picking up hobby after hobby until basically you got what you see now: a jack of all trades, master of none. That was great when I was employed at a job with a ton of free time and my hobbies were just that – hobbies – but now I am in this position where I have to start thinking seriously about how I use my free time if I ever want to land a job doing something that I find genuinely satisfying.
Simplify Your Affairs
There’s a quote from the Tao te Ching that I think about often that describes an ideal that I never seem to carry through with:
“Bind your self-interest and control your ambition; Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.”
I have been thinking a lot about my hobbies and why I do them. The truth is that I like art. And I considered penmanship, calligraphy, and shodo to all feed into the category art, so if I cheated how I thought about things, I could technically say I was doing art for quite a few hours each day. But the truth is that while all of those things are art in their own right, at my current level they don’t really congeal into anything meaningful. I read an interesting book called Mastery where the author Robert Greene underlines the importance of first mastering one skill before moving onto other skills that synergize and enhance the first. Well, the problem for me artistically is that I haven’t yet mastered a single skill and instead amtrying to build multiple skills at the same time. I may accomplish something years down the road, but it’s unlikely.
In short, I need to focus. On one thing. So I needed to look at my hobbies and be brutally honest with myself.
To tell the truth, penmanship, calligraphy, and shodo have some disturbing commonalities: people praise me for them and I have an image of myself excelling at these things. It’s difficult for me to explain but I think that part of me likes doing these out of some sense of pride. It’s relatively unique and rare to do these kinds of things. I get more praise for them than I do for my regular art. and its cool and attractive to think of myself as a calligrapher. They’ve given me confidence.
But while I do also legitimately enjoy working on these things, if I had to be honest, I would say that these external factors have weighed heavier on my decision to continue than my love for them does.
On the other hand, illustration is something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. I was actually enrolled to go to a game design college for art before suddenly changing the entire course of my life and applying to UT to study Japanese. I’ve tried multiple times in my life to start a comic and art is one thing that has followed me my entire life. I just lacked two important things that I happened to pick up in my JLPT studies, and those were the aforementioned diligence as well as the knowledge of how to learn. I have those now as well some other character traits I’ve developed over the years and I feel like an idiot because I’ve led too cluttered a life to make the best of these skills in the context of my art.
It’s really difficult after all the time I put into shodo, calligraphy, and penmanship, and after all of the compliments, support, and esteem I’ve gotten from others, but I’m going to lay down my brushes and oblique pen and focus solely on my illustration for now.
The Remainder of the Month
Well, this month was kind of bust in a lot ways. I haven’t made any money and I’m definitely no closer to being a freelance artist than I was, but I think I’m alright with that. I have a refined focus in my life, and I’m thankful. For the time being, my goal is to finish up building thecoopkids.com website so that my creative partner and I can start throwing The Ballad of Cawnye and other content on there. Starting next month I’ll probably pursue translation work and then spend time with the kids, and work on the comic and my kung fu in my free time. Hell, I may even play a few vidya games and relax from time to time.