Fear can hold you back from so many things, but especially from following your dreams and becoming all who you were meant to be. How can you face those fears and move forward in your life?
‘I would love to write and illustrate my own picture books.’ This was something that I said to myself a number of years ago when my kids were small. I don’t know what it is but so many authors and illustrators discover/rediscover a love of picture books when they are reading them to children. Either their own children or someone else’s.
For me, I always wrote but never called myself a writer until recently. I always drew, but never progressed beyond feeling that my pictures were terrible. The thing is, they were not good, but I could not break through that ugly stage to get them to be any better. So I stagnated in both my writing and my drawing.
Four years ago I had a breakthrough with my writing. I started taking courses and investing in my passion for writing and telling stories. I still drew and painted but never seriously. It couldn't get any better than I was, and I couldn’t get past it, especially when it came to drawing people. I compared myself to others. I listened to the little voice, the critic on my shoulder, who had said I’d never be good enough; I’d never measure up so why bother?
I compared myself to others and listened to the voice, the inner critic on my shoulder, who said, 'You'll never be good enough. Why bother?'
Why bother indeed? Because, like with my writing, I couldn’t leave it alone; I had to pick up a pen and draw. I had to try to capture a moment, tell a story. It was a part of me as far back as I can remember. That feeling was always there but never acknowledged. My father, Pop and Nan were all artists.
Though I did not have much to do with my Pop, and my Nan died when I was a baby, their art was always around, inspiring me that maybe someday I could do the same. My parents separated and later divorced when I was 13. And, as my father was violent, we had to go into hiding. Though in years later I did meet up with my dad and have a small amount to do with him, it was not a lot and he no longer was doing any art. He has since passed away.
My big breakthrough with both my art and my writing (which I thought I was all good with) came when I picked up a copy of, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron at the beginning of this year. It was first published in 1992 and, as Ali Stewart has so aptly put it in her recent blog post, Three Important Insights from The Artists Way, ‘with umpteen reprints, several spinoffs, and numerous nips, tucks, and facelifts, the perennial title continues to unstick stuck creatives.’ It has certainly unstuck me.
I first heard Valerie Khoo on the podcast, So You Want to be a Writer, talk about the book, The Artists Way at the beginning of the year. Next thing she was going on ‘artist dates, learning the mysterious rope art formally known as macramé, Japanese Book Binding, and going to musicals. This opened a new world to her, and she seemed so much happier. Then, I read a blog post that mentioned The Artists Way, and the same week walked into a second-hand store, and there, in a stack of books lay The Artists Way. Its spine was highlighted to me and my gaze immediately drawn to it. Curious about the fuss, and figuring God had his hand in this somehow, I took it home and began my journey of healing, acceptance, and discovering a sense of play.
So, what was it that unstuck me and helped me overcome my fears? A lot of hard work and commitment for the full 12 weeks of The Artists Way program, and committed to stretching and challenging myself ever since, that’s what. Each week of The Artists Way program, especially at the beginning, you have to work through questions and activities to find what is keeping you stuck. I was amazed how the very act of WRITING an experience down and seeing it black and white could unblock something within. Do it! It will amaze, shock, and surprise you.
For me, it was a combination of having my classmates laugh at my stories. I was a shy kid with very poor self-esteem. Looking back now I can see that my stories were funny. At high school, I would write stories straight out of left field and have a totally different take on the assignment. This also caused my classmates to burst into laughter and for me to wish I could just sink into the floor and disappear.
My art was different. I had one great art teacher for three terms in year eight. But, the rest of the time my art teachers were interested in Abstract Art which I hated. I wanted to learn to draw and paint nature, people, and animals. As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t get past the ‘yuk’ stage. I didn’t know how.
About five years ago I got hold of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This was my first breakthrough. Going through the exercises and then trying to draw later I was amazed at the difference. As you can see below, there is a remarkable distinction between the two drawings.
However, I still stagnated — until this year and The Artists Way.
In The Artists Way there is a section of affirmations. One spoke to me and has made one of the biggest impacts. I can nurture my artist. Up to this point, because I felt my artwork was no good, I didn’t need to invest time and/or money on courses or good materials. Oh. My. Goodness. The change that happened when I gave myself permission to invest in good quality paints, paint brushes, paper, liners, as well as online courses was incredible.
So, what did I do after The Artists Way?
I drew. I painted. I continued to take myself on Artists Dates. I spoke with illustrators like Giuseppe Poli and Katrin Dreiling and picked their brains. You can read what they told me here and here. With Giuseppe’s encouragement, I joined the 52 Week Facebook Illustration Challenge and started putting up my work online, not just in that group but everywhere on my social media pages.
My illustrations aren’t great. But, the very act of having to come up with a new piece every week is a wonderful discipline. These were my Artist Dates as well as going to the art store for art supplies. And I can see the improvement already. I often sit in amazement of what I just completed. I also signed up with Skillshare and started taking Nina Rycroft’s illustration courses, as well as any other courses that I felt could help me learn how to use the different mediums.
For me, putting up my art on public display is about conquering my fear of not being good enough and feeling afraid of never measuring up. I have changed my thinking. I no longer compare myself to my friend Ester, who is an amazing artist, and an incredible illustrator. Nor do I compare me to anyone else. I am me. I look at the world differently to anyone else. I am discovering my own style. And, most of all, I am having fun. I experiment all the time. I now compare myself to myself and how far I have come in such a short time.
And do you know what has surprised me the most? This release, this freedom I have found in my art has found its way into my writing. I play with words. I have fun with them. I have fun in my stories. I especially noticed this in the Sci-fi/fantasy novel I just finished. I had an absolutely thrilling time writing the last part of my novel. Each time I sat down I felt exhilarated.
As for my art, I have signed up to take Nina Rycroft’s illustration Masterclass e-course. And my friend Ester is taking it with me. We’ll be doing it together. How cool is that?
So, what about you? What can you do to become all that you can be and start understanding your fears, overcome those that hold your back?
Valerie Khoo is now getting commissions for her rope art AND her artworks. Katrin Dreiling has just had her first book come out. It’s written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by her. It's called, The World's Worst Pirate.
As for me, people are liking my illustrations and watching my journey. One day, I will realise my dream and write and illustrate my own picture book.
You can find out more about Julia Cameron and her book: The Artists Way
Betty Edwards has a website. Find out more here and read her book and do the exercises. It’s amazing.
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Michelle Worthington is an international award winning children's author. She released her first children's picture book in November 2011. Since then she has released ten picture books, two within the last six months. Michelle is also the founder of Share Your Story Australia.
Persistent and tenacious , Michelle joined me for a chat about overcoming rejection, what’s her ‘why’ and how that impacts all she does, and how now she is available to help and mentor aspiring, and emerging authors .
Megan: Can you give me a brief overview of you journey to publication of that first book in 2011?
Michelle: Goodness me, that seems like a million years ago. After ten years of trying, I had all but given up on my dream of getting my picture book published. I had made every mistake, got a contract that was cancelled during the GFC and not had any clue there were people out there that could have helped me.
It was timing that got me my first contract in the end. I found a local publisher who had just finished an Australian animal book when I emailed my manuscript and were looking to use the same illustrator. Timing and luck, I'm not sure how much talent had to do with it, but I hope a little bit too!
Megan: I'm pretty sure talent had a lot to do with it. So much has happened since then. What publishing experiences have you had over the years since? What publishing experiences have you had over the years?
Michelle: I have had the absolute pleasure to work with some amazing publishers and illustrators and learned so much along the way. I'm still learning. I think you always do as a creative in such a dynamic industry. I love working as part of a team so the publication process suits me, both traditionally and independent. I am mostly traditionally published, except for The Pink Pirate.
That makes me what they call a hybrid. I really don't like that term. It shouldn't matter what pathway to publication you take, as long as you have something to say that makes a difference.
Megan: That's so true. Do you think that it is because for a long time self-publishing had a bad name because of a lot of not well made books were put out? Though that has changed so much now. These days you often can't tell traditionally published books from many of the self-published books
Michelle: I think so, but times are changing. Opinions are taking longer to change but the focus has to be on quality and author branding, no matter what publishing channel you choose.
Megan: You have had your share of rejection letters and emails. What have you learnt from those experiences?
Michelle: Over 300 to date. It showed me how passionate I was about doing this. Each rejection was an opportunity to learn and improve my writing or figure out what sort of writer I wanted to be. I still get down about rejections, especially when I really thought my story would be a good fit for that publisher, but it won't stop me. My motto is, "not this story, not them, not now" and move on.
Megan: And that is the key to the whole journey in the end, isn't Michelle? Digging deep and discovering and articulating your 'why.' And your passion for what you believe comes out in everything you do too.
Michelle: Absolutely, if you don't know your why, stop right now and figure it out for two reasons. to keep you going when times get tough and to make your life so much easier when it comes to marketing and promotion, a very tricky element of being an author.
It’s easier to market your why than yourself. I don't like talking about myself, but I can talk about my books until the cows come home. I think a lot of authors miss the point when it comes to marketing, especially via social media.
Megan: That is so true. One of the first things I did before I set up my website, and my Facebook pages was to articulate my why. This helps steer every conversation, and everything I get involved in. It has certainly helped me avoid some nasty virtual reefs.
Speaking about being able to talk about your books... as authors, we often put aspects of ourselves in our characters who we write about. What character do you identify with the most out of all the books you’ve read, and those you’ve written?
Michelle: Of the books I have read, I am Anne of Green Gables, Laura Wilder, Silky from the Far Away Tree and a hobbit, but the only book I have ever written with myself as the character was Hootie the Cutie. It was the trickiest book to write. All my books have elements of my upbringing, my beliefs, and my experiences in them. That is what children connect with, authentic stories.
Megan: I love Hootie the Cutie. One of my fav's.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times about you as an author having something to say, and finding a way to say it. How important is it for us to share our stories with the wider community?
Michelle: It is how we have passed down knowledge from generation to generation from the beginning of time. It is what makes us human, the ability to share stories with each other in order to teach, inspire and create. Everyone has a story to tell, and sometimes you have to show real bravery to tell it.
Megan: Telling stories is a wonderful way to communicate a message, to pass on a story that happened long ago, or yesterday. All sorts of things. You’ve recently started Share Your Story. Can you explain what it is, and how it came to be, and why you started it?
Michelle: It started out of my desire to help aspiring authors have an easier journey to publication than I did. There is so much amazing talent in Australia right now and so many stories that can inspire change for the better in our community.
But with the publishing industry becoming more and more daunting, I wanted to create a tribe of new writers and experienced authors who could work together to bring a new voice to the Australian arts scene. We are not a writers group. We are an organisation aiming to educate, inspire and empower writers to publish their stories and grow their author business. My goal is for authors to outgrow us and come back as guest speakers and mentors.
Megan: Wow! That is amazing. I love your heart Michelle. And you are right. It is daunting these days. I find it difficult in that, for someone unpublished like myself, I hear so many conflicting bits of advice. It is wonderful you have someone, like yourself, being willing to show and to guide aspiring and emerging authors, to help them grow their brand, their business, and to grow as a writer too.
You’ve been so giving of your time today. Thank you so much. Are there any final words you have for any emerging authors that are looking to get published?
Michelle: If you know in your heart that your story matters, never give up. I'm always here to help if you need me. My email inbox is always open.
I think that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for today. I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat.
Michelle: Thanks for having me.
3 fun facts about Michelle:
I love wearing old socks
I'm allergic to dust
My next husband will be Jamie from Outlander, that's why my current husband won't let me go to Scotland
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In the second in my series of conversations with authors and illustrators, I am pleased to welcome illustrator, Katrin Dreiling.
Megan: Hi, Katrin. I just wanted to say that I am so pleased to have found you on social media. I think I first saw your illustrations on Facebook. I love your quirky, fun style. And I am rapt to have met you in person at KidLitVic2017 this year too.
Katrin: Oh, wow thank you Megan I'm very happy I have met you personally and online, too. It's always fantastic to meet the people behind their profile pics in real life...
Megan: So true. So, maybe we should start at the beginning, as that is always a good place to start.
Has art always been an influence in your life? If so, in what way?
Katrin: It certainly has. Since I was really little I would always draw or craft things. I have always been very interested in music, too. Not so much making music myself but listening to it and trying to understand the musician's mind and his/her work.
Megan: I have been reading your blog. In your first post, Eins, you shared briefly about your childhood and teen years. Would you share just a little bit with me, and what has helped you overcome your fears of following your dreams?
Katrin: My teens and even twenties were marked by emotional and some physical abuse by my parents and sibling and they pretty much had planned out what was accepted for me to do and what not. Even regarding my job choice. I broke free from most of that when I moved out, and later on moved to South Africa for three months to help teaching English at an orphanage.
The wounds of such abuse last for a life time, though. To various degrees. I also stepped away from that past in a big way when I met my husband who helped me become 'myself' again. But it still took me a long time to come back to art because in my mind I still listened to what my parents wanted.
Megan: I can understand that, especially the emotional and psychological abuse. It can take a lifetime to change your thinking, and is certainly a work in progress. What would you say was the catalyst, the reason that you turned to art again as an adult?
Katrin: So, it was always there but very much in the background. My children then brought me back to it and my husband encouraged me to keep going.
Megan: It is wonderful that you have had the support of your husband. It is so important to have a cheer squad cheering you on and encouraging you. I read on your blog that you were a teacher. What made you give up teaching and go into illustration?
Katrin: It's really tricky to pinpoint a moment when that happened. I think I stopped putting more effort into building up my teaching career and increased working on my art simultaneously. It was a gradual process. I guess I could feel how much illustrating fulfilled me and that my work steadily improved... it was going somewhere and that encouraged me to keep going. At some point, I actually had three jobs - mum, teacher and illustrator and one thing had to go.
Megan: Woah! That sounds full on.
Katrin: Interestingly enough the money that I earned as a teacher versus the complete lack thereof in illustrating didn't stop me. It's an import message to my children, too, I think. My husband had the same idea unfortunately. Just around the same time when I stopped working actively as a teacher, he quit his job as a university professor and founded a tech startup. It's going well and somewhere, but in the middle of it all we sometimes look at each other and think we are completely nuts—with three children, a dog and a mortgage.
Katrin: We still like to think that we inspire our children… even if finances are tight sometimes.
Megan: I don't think that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, it might teach them something about what it takes to follow your dreams, do what you are good at, and what fulfills you.
So, at some point you decided to go into illustration. What was the first thing you did?
Katrin: Do you mean career step wise or the kind of illustration I focused on first?
Megan: Good point. They are both different. Let's take your second question as I was going to ask you about the style of illustration you do. I love it. How did that come about? And did it come about before you decided to make illustration your career?
Katrin: I'm glad you like it Megan, thank you.
So, I've always had this thing that I would 'outline' things I drew first with a black pen. It's still how I work mostly. I use ink fine liners for outlining and then I fill it with any kind of paint or even (digitally) with paper collages.
When I was young, art teachers at school, or especially an 'artsy' friend of mine back then tried to convince me it looked 'wrong' and that in reality things are not outlined like that.
They only made me more stubborn I think.
I admire everyone who can draw things realistically so that it looks like a copy. But it's not for me. If I wanted that I would use a camera. I'm interested in the things one cannot see and that tickle a child's imagination. The results are often wonky and quirky but I'm working on this idea and hope that it will be obvious to see and get better every day.
Megan: I'm with you on that point. Realism is amazing, and I also admire people who can do that. But, I'm the same mind when it comes to illustration. I like how you say that you are, 'Interested in the things one cannot see, and that tickle a child's imagination.' Beautiful. Okay, I've said this a few times, but I do like your style. It makes me feel like I don't have to be perfect and realistic in developing my own style. I can make things a little wonky, a bit different. You have inspired me.
Katrin: Yay! (Cheering Minion)
Megan: So, what was the first step you took in making illustration your career?
Katrin: First, I've created a picture book 'on the side' while still teaching. It's called 'How to get a fat fairy flying' and I self-published it. I think the 'true' moment of making it a career, though, was stepping into the 'public' with my work - posting it on Facebook and joining the Brisbane Illustrators Group. Both set a machinery of things into motion. You meet people and hear and learn things and everything just 'grows'.
Megan: That's true. It's not something you can do alone.
'I'm interested in the things one cannot see and that tickle a child's imagination.' Katrin Dreiling
Katrin: Then I started going to conferences. I did the CYA competition and won second place in 2015....I think? (I'm so bad with dates and numbers).
Megan: Wow! Congrats on the win. Conferences are great for connecting with others. You have illustrated a book written by Michelle Worthington, The World's Worst Pirate. Can you tell me how that came about?
Katrin: I met Kathy Creamer and later on her husband Peter on Facebook. They run Little Pink Dog Books and Kathy approached me about submissions for their brand new publishing business. They were also my first ever clients who bought an original art piece from me and I really appreciate all their support and that they believed in my work from an early stage on.
Megan: That is so wonderful. Your experience really shows the importance of getting to know others in the industry and getting your work out there.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add? What advice do you have for an emerging illustrator, such as myself?
Katrin: I think the most important thing is that your illustrations 'tell' something that goes beyond just the visual. Have a message. The rest will follow
(I hope this made sense...)
Megan: Can you elaborate? Do you mean that each illustration tells a story?
Katrin: Ideally illustrations in a picture book don't just show what's in the text but tell their own little tale. They also carry an emotion and atmosphere that adds to the story told. At least that's the kind of illustrations I always go back to when I look at picture books.
Megan:That is what I have learnt too. Thank you so much for your time today, Katrin. I think that about wraps it up.
Katrin: It was a pleasure Megan Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work!
Three Fun Facts about Katrin:
1. I'm scared of birds. If they swoop me or come too close to my head it sets off a ridiculous presentation of running, screaming, and arm-waving...
2. I can't get enough of watching Golden Retriever puppy videos.
3. I love to recycle art supplies and use the tiniest scrap of leftover paper for my work.
If you want to find out more about Katrin, or would like to follow her on social media, head over to her website. www,katrindreiling.com
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On my blog you will find:
You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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