Starting out as a newly graduated illustrator can be incredibly intimidating. Especially if you spend a lot of time looking at features of other creatives online. 'Wow,' we say to ourselves, 'there sure are a lot of talented and dedicated illustrators out there. How am I going to compete?' This early habit of constantly comparing ourselves to other illustrators is not good for us at all! It tends to foster a depressing feeling of being an impostor and being lost in a sea of more talented rivals.
When the gap between being a new graduate and a successful freelancer seems so insurmountable it is easy to feel disheartened. However, you have to remember that all of the other artists you find online were once in the same position as you. It's also essential to realise that the way people represent themselves online is very rarely an accurate depiction of their success. For many freelancers (especially other new-starters), social media is an essential business tool and therefore the way they represent themselves online has to be both positive and professional. This means that the version of a person you see online is often very much an edited highlight. Even if they are struggling to find new clients or pay the bills, they are unlikely to talk about it openly online for fear it will harm their chances of being seen as a successful and professional illustrator by potential clients. This applies to meeting other illustrators in real life too!
This can lead to a false impression that everyone but you is leading a glittering high life as a freelancer and, in many cases, that they've been dedicated to their art since childhood. In fact, many illustrator's features contain these very lines; 'I've been drawing since I could pick up a pencil,' and 'I've always wanted to be an illustrator.' The idea of competing with someone who has been destined for their craft since childhood is rather daunting, but is it really likely that every successful (or even not-so-successful) illustrator out there has actually known their whole life that this is what they were going to do?
I think not! It's certainly not true of me.
In reality, these lines tell you next to nothing about the illustrator who writes them beyond the fact that they (rather obviously) like to illustrate things. Regardless of how successful each of them is now, every illustrator out there will have had to work very very hard to gain new clients, get an agent if they want one, promote their work consistently and then maintain and add to their acquired client base. The key thing when starting out is to stay positive, work damn hard and keep putting your work out there. Remember, some of these illustrators you are comparing yourself to will have had ten years longer than you to develop their skills and their client base, so a comparison is never going to be realistic. Being new to the scene doesn't mean that you don't have anything of value to add, nor does the quality of another persons work devalue your own.
So if you find that browsing through other artists work leaves you feeling intimidated rather than inspired, remind yourself that it is our differences that make us special and our failures that make us human. It doesn't matter if you have been an artist from birth or if you spent the first 15 years of your working life thinking you were a plumber, we all work at different paces and that in no way diminishes our achievements. In fact, I believe that varied experiences and interests are essential to being a successful illustrator. Diversity in the industry is the key! Discover and follow your own personal passions and eventually you will find your audience!