So I was looking through some of my records and couldn't help but notice what a short-sighted moron I had been in 2008. I completed 338 commissioned illustrations (296 of which were icons) and worked about 470hrs between my concept art gig and art director job. I would say it was like I was trying to keep my head above water by making lots of small frantic movements in no particular direction. It wasn't and isn't something that can be prolonged. I should have been making a few, bolder, focused movements to get myself to dry land. My portfolio hardly improved at all that year. I made some nice quarter-pagers but didn't work as much on the kind of work that has potential to be awesome.
It's difficult to see students with very little work but still manage to have some pieces much better than mine despite also having some work that is absolutely awful. It's one of those benefits of being a student where there's low risk and lots of time on individual pieces. I somewhat regret that I chose a school that wasn't geared towards exactly what I wanted to do because I ended up working extra outside of school to create the work I was interested in. Sort of missed out on that great portfolio building time and instead created a habit of working on a million things at once.
IT WOULD ONLY TAKE 2 PIECES A MONTH FOR A YEAR TO HAVE 24 AMAZING PRINTS/PORTFOLIO PIECES.
Anyways, back on topic. At GenCon I couldn't help but look at some other booths and think,"how do they have this many print worthy pieces?" Then the wheels start turning and my brain begins to run the numbers. It would only take 2 pieces a month for a year to have 24 amazing prints/portfolio pieces in a year. There I had been throwing away probably 7 months of 2008 and then creating an illustration every 3 or 4 days and that's not counting contest entries. My head swims with all of the ambitious and awe inspiring work I could create given two weeks per piece. Ofcourse another part of me,my stomach, swims at the thought of how little money I would make in that year. Technically my wife would probably be willing to support such a bold move and I'm sure Iv'e told myself repeatedly that I'd commit to making fewer pieces but I was never able to factor in self-esteem. I was never able to anticipate just how soul-crushing it is to only make $100 in a week and willingly put in so many hours that I've effectively dropped my hourly rate below minimum wage, while knowing I could satisfy the client with a quarter of the time.
It's very easy to lie to yourself and persuade yourself that the well paying jobs are helpful. "If I do a million icons for an MMORPG then I can say I have work XP on an MMORPG and I can get into the game industry without leaving northern Kentucky!"
"This AD job will get me a higher profile AD job down the line," or "this AD job will show I'm responsible and larger companies will trust me enough to take a risk on me as an illustrator!" That last statement is especially ridiculous considering I never mention being an AD in my submissions to companies.
"This concept art job will put some sci-fi and turn-arounds in my portfolio and that'll really help me with the game industry."
The harsh truth is that what really helps you get bigger and better work is making bigger and better artwork. Right now I don't feel like my portfolio represents my abilities so I really need to stop lying to myself about the work I take and suffer through the low self-esteem from making very little money for a while.