As artists and illustrators you've probably heard it before - working on your own projects outside of client work is really important for your development.
Let's face it, working in the field of illustration can be difficult and discouraging at times. Finding client work, submitting to publishers, trying to find an agent - it's a constant grind for most of us, so it's important to set aside time to work on personal projects. This can be anything - a single illustration, a series of illustrations on a theme, a comic, a picture book, the possibilities are endless.
A personal project will be something that excites or inspires you - something you are passionate about. Working on a project that means something to you will give you the fulfillment and satisfaction you can't get from client work alone. And this is vital over the long term in maintaining your creative energy levels and personal artistic happiness that will spread out into all other areas of your work and life.
I think the importance of personal projects can be summed up into three main points:
Personal projects are a great way to build your skills and discover new techniques. When working on something for yourself you'll push yourself harder, and often find you produce your best work. Creating something that has personal meaning almost always gives you better results than something you create for a client.
Building skills with personal projects will also help grow your confidence. It's a good idea to start out with smaller projects at first, so you can see them through to completion. Completing your projects is key, because that gives you the confidence that you can see them through, and will give you a sense of accomplishment. This will in turn motivate you to start another project - perhaps bigger or more ambitious that the last.
Have a picture book or comic idea that you are excited about? Instead of submitting it to agents or publishers and playing the waiting game, you may want to consider working on it for yourself. There are many options for self publishing these days, even if you just decide to simply publish your project on the internet. There is a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing your project complete, and you may even find you can build yourself an audience along the way. I myself have published quite a few projects this way, and I have found it very fulfilling and motivating.
A Final Word
With the openness of the internet and social media right now, there are minimal barriers to getting your work out there. Of course the challenge is in getting your work noticed, but that's part of the fun in building an audience. There’s never been a better time to be an independent creator. There are so many creative ways to get your work in front of people, and many artists are already doing just that - side stepping the traditional publishing routes and building audiences for themselves. I think we will see this trend continue to grow in the future.