One Full Pond: The Crowded Creative Market
I work in a field that is saturated with competition. Everywhere I look I see a new crop of competitors–both budding and established. Fresh blood will happily undercut for the chance to be commissioned, novices will mimic their #careergoalz, dreamers will produce work for little payoff. These apparent drawbacks are indicative of one thing: my field is desirable! I have to sit back and marvel at how privileged I am to work as an illustrator. I get to paint for paychecks! And no matter how large or full that pond gets, I feel assured that I’ll find my people and that they’ll find me. Each one of us fishies has a style, a voice, and a platform in which our creative juices can be best squeezed–and even monetized.
But how do the fortunate ones make the dream work?
Like any of my peers, when I started working as an Illustrator, I had a limited resume and a small social media following. It began with a few followers resonating with me–my faith, my style, my expression. That’s really how anyone gets noticed, we’ve got to strike a chord in just a few hearts… and then it spreads. In the meantime, I got to work.
Ways to monetize your creativity abound! As I weighed the various online platforms, I kept returning to these same questions: Will this project challenge me to be a better at my creative career? Should I share my work with this community?
The vibe I found on Skillshare resonated with me. I had never taught online, but I knew that the process of teaching and breaking down my practice would help me in solidifying my voice as a creative entrepreneur. Unsurprisingly, my first few classes on Skillshare felt like a workout! But I was sinking deeper into my own skin as I worked hard to perfect my new skillset.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Short-hand: get busy. Opportunity on the outside looks magical, but its inner-workings is hard work.
From Skillshare to Surtex
I’ve seen my artwork grace many products from paper to porcelain, from keepsake to disposable. And yet, I never attended my industry’s largest trade show: Surtex. This was the year. My work had been present through an agency, but I myself had never stood to show what I do. Now that I was back to representing my own work, I committed to traveling to New York with mind fixed on walking the show.
I thought it was very prudent to “go and check it out” before putting up a few thousand to show. But I changed my mind. Two months before showtime, I signed up, paid for a booth and got my display ready.
I was blown away by the Skillshare students–one after the other–who recognized me and seemed almost star-struck to chat and Instagram the moment.
The three-day show marked a turning point for me. But more even surprising, Skillshare pulled the pivot! I was blown away by the Skillshare students–one after the other–who recognized me and seemed almost star-struck to chat and Instagram the moment. It was so much fun to put faces to Skillshare projects and hear their creative process and passion firsthand! I realized that my presence on Skillshare provided a platform for validation and enthusiasm for my work! The best part: it happened organically. Much of internet hype feels contrived, but sharing my expertise on Skillshare, chatting over each others’ projects, and exchanging best practices naturally turns to mutual fandom.
Towards the end of day two, I had another such, “I know you! I took your class!” reaction. This time it was from an art buyer of a large home decor company! As he introduced me to his colleagues, I grappled with the magnitude of this opportune connection. Thirty minutes later, I had a PDF to prepare to follow up on thirty-plus hand-picked images they were interested in using in their multi-level business needs!
A fellow exhibitor who had witnessed the client interaction nudged my stunned body and said, “you can go home now. You’ve had a GREAT show.” She was right. I was (as we say in Minnesota) flabberghasted at how quickly all that went… and it all started with teaching on Skillshare!
Teaching on Skillshare has unlocked a lot of opportunities for me. That group of four strolling past my booth until someone recognized me from my classes, those podcasts never rang me up until they heard some knowledge I shared in a class, those book deals that are now in talks (eep!) were not on the table until I until I had the courage to display at Surtex. These all stemmed from being seen, respected in, and trained by this awesome platform.
The pond is big and full and hungry… but hard work + placement have lead to the sort of “luck” that doesn’t just flutter away. The ripples of Skillshare success I’ve gotten to witness have reverberated into much more.
Opportunity awaits! Now get to work.
Amarilys Henderson works in her part-time play for full-time pay as an illustrator and established Skillshare instructor. Her other part-time job includes much boyish play in their midcentury home. Watercolor is her wheelhouse, design is how her gears churn.