Recently, I was approached by my favorite Taiwanese professional Illustrator Ariel Pang to see if I could write about my experience as a self-taught illustrator. I gladly accepted this wonderful opportunity to share my humble experience with others. I deeply appreciate Mrs. Ariel Pang for this wonderful chance. Please click HERE to go to 插畫生活 Illustration Today’s website to read about it if you can understand Mandarin (Chinese).
Then, I thought I should share this experience with my English readers as well. So, I decided to put together an English version of this interview on my blog. Over the years, I have learned so much from many wonderful artists or self-taught illustrators,and their valuable experiences have helped me overcome my low self-esteem, failures, and many hardship throughout the years. So, I am glad that I can share my humble experience this time with people who are thinking about becoming self-taught artists. I am still learning and growing as an illustrator everyday, so this interview is what I have learned through my experiences and mistakes over the years. My only goal is to reach out and to encourage as many newcomers as I can to show them that nothing is impossible as long as you work hard and be persisted with your effort and goal as an artist/illustrators.
Here is my English version of my experience as an self-taught artist from 插畫生活 Illustration Today’s Interview.
1. Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Ni Carnahan. I was born and raised in Taiwan until I moved to the United State of America. I now live with my beloved family in Northern California near San Francisco bay area. I have always loved drawing ever since I was a little girl. Drawing and coloring has always been my favorite thing to do. When I was a kid, I loved reading Children books and Japanese comic,especially Children books. I always did lots of drawing on the back of my test sheets when I was in the school. But, like many other Taiwanese parents, my dear parents wanted me to earn a business degree in order to provide myself a good life. I decided to join a comic club while I was pursuing my business degree. In the comic club, I was able to meet many talented artists and we all have the same passion toward creating arts. At that time, I was hoping to become an Japanese comic artist and create my own comic.
However, I worked as a business associate about few years after I graduated from Taichung Institute of Technology in Taiwan,and moved to America. After my move to America, I discovered Greeting Card legend, Mary Engelbreit’s unique illustrations, and many talented Children book illustrators such as Beatrix Potter..etc. Inspired by these amazing illustrators, I decided to become one.
I have always been an self-taught artist ever since I decided to become an illustrator,so I don’t have any art degree or art training background. I am currently working on how to combine real buttons with my illustrations. This is one of the styles that I have been working on. I also use my original handwritten Chinese calligraphy to enhance my illustration pieces. (You can click HERE to see my Sun Flower Button Girl and Asian Button Girl Series!)
I love being a self-taught artist because I can create freely and try different approaches in order to find my own style.
2. What inspire you to become an self-taught artist?
Many people who live in Taiwan would understand that being an artist is not an easy decision in our society. Like I said before, I followed my parents’ wishes to earn my business degree,so I did not have a chance to major in art. Because of that, I figured that I must learn things by myself. I already have experience of how to be an self-taught artist when I joined comic club,so it was not a hard decision to become an self-taught illustrator to pursue my goal. Most importantly, I have my beloved family to take care of,so be able to learn by myself and take care of them at the same time seems to be the best ways to go.
3.Can you tell us more about your self-study process?
At first, I only knew that I wanted to become a professional illustrator,but I did not have any specific goal in mind. Then, I came to realize what I wanted to become after I spent lots of time to research a variety of illustration fields. My final goals are creating my own illustration brand, licensing my greeting card designs, become a pattern designers,and children book illustrator.
I have set up many small goals daily to improve my ability as an illustrator in order for me to reach my big goals in the long round. I also try to find any opportunity to showcase my arts which is a crucial step to let people know about my arts. I have working on challenging myself to complete each illustration series of mine from beginning to end. It had always been my weakness of not be able to finish my project in time before. So, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could manage to overcome it.
Lately, I have finished many illustration series of mine in time which I was very pleased about. I also did challenging myself to sketch 365 days non-stop on my previous blog ,and I was so glad that I did it. These experiences have helped me to understand the power and impotence of challenging myself in order to strength my self-esteem and ability. Most importantly, They have helped me to better understand myself and see if I can tackle project on time as a professional artist. I believe the power of setting small goal and accomplished it one by one. The result is inevitable in my opinion.
Anyway,my self-study process is giving myself a small goal and set a time frame to accomplished it in time. I would spend lots of time research,study,sketch,and try out many different media and technique to see which one fit that project or series the most. It is a very time-consuming process,but you will be able to get the chance to try out different media and technique as well as knowing if you can accomplish it or not in time. You will fail countless times and make many mistakes during this process,but these are the priceless experiences of being an self-taught artist in my opinion. For me personally, I believe by working hard,and learning from my mistakes, I will be able to truly improving my ability as an artist.
Being an self-taught artist is indeed not easy,but you will gain so much through your experience in return. I believe it is the only way to better understand yourself as an artist as well as finding your own style in the process.
Even more, I also use online learning resources and lessons to improve myself. For example, I attended Freelancer conference back in 2009, many conferences of SCBWI, Nina Edward’s one-on-one consulting lesson, and studies many self-learning/how-to books. I especially love reading other artists’ biographies or visit their websites and blogs because I can learn so much from their value experiences through their creating process.
The most importantly, you should form a support group in your online community or locally to meet up regularly. I am fortune enough to have met so many talented artists and illustrators, such as Ariel Pang, Nina Edward, and Antoana Oreski (3rd Winner of the Epicase Illustration Competition last year.)..etc. They are all my role models,and I have learned so much from each one of them. The point is that I have come to realize that I can MAKE IT by being with them.
Anyway, this is my self-study learning process. Everyone is different,so my way is just an example for your to discover your own way that will best fit you. Try it out and see if you can find yours.
4. Have you encounter any hardship or difficulties through your self-learning process or do you have any wonderful experiences?
Being an self-taught artist, I often encounter many hardships and difficulties. But, the crucial step is to never give up on your dream or goal no matter what. I have learned this priceless lesson from my previous experience.
I remember I attended 5th SCBWI Illustration Day with my artist friend. There were many professional people, such as art directors, professional illustrators and authors, Associate professor of San Jose University,editors….etc. I was so excited about this opportunity to showcase my art portfolio and be able to get value critic about my artworks.
My first mistake was bring my original artworks without any professional knowledge of how to prepare it. Even worse, I did not know how to select my artworks properly in order to present myself with the best result. So, I failed deeply with my first critic experience. For me, this turned out to be a horrible experience for me because it completely destroyed my self-esteem. I remember I could NOT create any thing because I kept thinking about all the negative critics that I got from that conference. I then spent over next week trying to study how all the self-taught artists and illustrators overcame their obstacles. I have concluded my research with the fact that they all have one crucial character which are no matter what they never give up on their dreams and goals and always keep going. So, I decided to learn from this terrible experience of mine and those artists,rather than getting discouraged from it or giving up on my dream of becoming an illustrator.
Through this experience of mine, I realized making mistakes and failed on your missions are all the valuable experiences that I can behold.
5. What are the main keys of becoming an self-taught artists?
Like I said before, forming an art support group locally or on social media, be persisted on your dream and goals, believing in yourself and never give up, setting small goals and finishing them in order to gain your self-esteem, improving your ability in order to compete in this field, educating yourself with current information or trend, taking lessons or classes,attending open house of galleries or reading artist biographies in order to learn from their valuable experiences, and never be afraid of making mistakes or failing from your actions.
It is never easy to set up a proper schedule when you have family to take care of or in your daily busy life. But, as long as you know how to set up a schedule that work best for your and fit your life style, you will find a way to make it works. I attended one of Creative Life classes, professional time manager taught me how to design a personal schedule that was best to fit my life style.
I will share this experience with you. First, I learned to document a week of my schedule with detail. Then, I figured out how much time I have to create my arts per day. With this exercise, I was able to come up with a schedule for myself. I also did a priority lists where I put down the most important things to finish daily first. Then, I could tackle the secondary things on my lists afterward. These exercises have helped me came up with my schedule to finish up my small goals lately.
I always sent up one small goal at a time and give myself enough time to finish it. For example, I sketch about 15 minuets daily and give myself one hour to finalize my art. My secret is never overbooked my schedule and give myself enough time to finish each project or series of mine. I always start with short period of time with small project,then adjust it along the way if I need to. In this case, I won’t overwhelmed myself.
Try this method and see if you can find your own schedule that best fit your life style. If you fail a couple of time, please don’t get discouraged. I actually failed many times until I found the system that work for me.
6. Can you share some of online resources for self-taught artists?
Ariel Pan illustration classes in Taiwan.
Nina Edward professional illustrator/one on one career consulting class.
SCBWI website for all around the world children book illustrators.
Illustration Today 插畫生活 professional illustrators and artists website
Creative Live Online classes
SkillShare online learning website
Will Terry online learning tutorial classes
Matthew Archambault online tutorial classes
North Light Self-learning books shop
7. Can you give some suggestions to those who want to become a self-taught artists in Taiwan?
It doesn’t matter if you live in Taiwan or not (or where you live), if you have art degree or not, or what your parents or others told you what to do instead. The most important thing is what you want in your life and what your talent is. Discover your talent,and pursue it persistently is what you should do in my opinion!!
Even more, if you want to become a self-taught artist,you need to have the strength to carry on your journey with great determination. You must work very hard to improve your ability and build your self-esteem everyday. The most important thing is to enjoy the journey of becoming a professional illustrator or artist.