I imagine parents all over the country hiding their kids’ computers for fear they’ll read this article. With college costs rivaling the national debt, the last thing most parents want is for their sons and daughters to come to them and say “I want to be a cartoonist!”
But I recently listened to interviews with two women cartoon artists who not only dared to consider embracing art as a real career, they went on to do it in their own very unique ways. And they’ve made a successful living doing it!
Not all of you are going to succeed in the art world of today
Making a success of being an artist of any kind is not easy. But that’s the same thing that I would say about any career. Whether it’s art or science or writing or real estate or engineering or finance or teaching or law or medicine or being a chef, there are no guarantees. It’s still up to you to figure out how to make it work for you.
It’s true that your odds of making lots of money as a cartoon artist are not all that great. Admittedly you’d probably do better handling financial portfolios than a portfolio of drawings just waiting for the art scene to reject them, which at some point it will no matter how good you are.
But if you hate what you do or long for something else, is that being a success? My guess is that if you can find a way to make enough money and get to work in a field you love, you may wind up a lot happier. And, trite as this may sound, happiness really is something money just can’t buy.
Two women cartoonists who made it work for them
I love their work, so I chose to talk about Roz Chast and Lynda Barry. But there are many other women artists out there that have found a way to make the world of art work for them, despite the many obstacles. And the secret seems to be unflagging determination and applying their creativity to finding their own paths to success.
For anyone who has seen her work in The New Yorker or other magazines, you know that Roz Chast puts her unique, charmingly neurotic point of view into every quirky pen-and-ink cartoon.
Her website tells us that she did think about taking a more traditional art career path. But she let her instincts guide her back to where she was meant to go, and has never regretted her peristence:
“Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.”
Lynda Barry created a popular alternative comic called Ernie Pook’s Comeek that continued for 30 years. She’s also a teacher and has written award-winning books, among her many accomplishments. You don’t have to do just one thing to piece together a truly fulfilling career.
What I love about Lynda Barry’s work is that she can be funny while tackling painfully serious topics. And sometimes she’s not all that funny and she’s ok with that too, as long as she gets to drive her point home.
She says that she loves teaching and gets a real kick out of helping folks find their undiscovered talent – or simply the freedom to express through drawing, something she helps bring out of non-artists. Here’s an article that speaks to that:
Why they serve as great role models for other artists
Whatever artistic direction may be calling you, it’s easy to think about how easy it is to fail and then give up on your dreams. But these women’s paths included countless closed doors and rejections. Roz Chast says that many of her New Yorker cartoon submissions still get rejected after all these years.
To succeed in the arts, you have to be talented, of course, and you need to believe in yourself. But you also have to apply your creativity to the business end of things and not just wait for your art to speak for itself.
You need to be able to take rejection and even learn from that rejection. All great artists have been rejected. You also need to network as with any career, probably more so, to find opportunities and be given chances that don’t come from just submitting a few drawings and then waiting … or giving up.
But what about my student loans?
Ah. Good question. Clearly, if you can’t pay your rent or buy food, the joy of calling yourself an artist may soon fade. If you haven’t begun college yet, I strongly advise thinking about schools that cost less and leave you less burdened. Or find creative ways to work while in school. Or go part-time.
If you already have loans and are totally on your own, clearly you’ll need to find paying work. And many people who pursue their dreams, whether artists or entrepreneurs, go through a peanut butter / rice and beans stage, especially at the beginning. There’s nothing wrong with that. It can make the end result all the sweeter.
So if this is what you want and who you are, by all means go for it. Just also be open to opportunities in related fields, as Lynda Barry does with teaching. Or come up with your own things like online sites or self-publishing or group shows that you help organize that may make you extra money, get you seen by more people, and help you connect with others.
A few more thoughts
I cannot tell you that you will become a great success, or that you absolutely should pursue a dream path, whether cartoonist or anything else. Only you can decide this for yourself.
I actually once knew two (wacky) guys who became cartoonists and wound up with a well-known early animated TV series. Then again, I had one friend who wanted to be a comic book artist and was good at it, but after pursuing it he found something else that called him even more. That’s fairly common.
What I often find is that if we force ourselves to look in other directions, not only do we miss the chance to see if we can make our passion into a living, but we miss all the doors and connections that might open up along the way. And these can point us to a wonderful alternative career we otherwise never would have known about or been open to.
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