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Perfection is futile: The dangers of Ctrl-Z.

As an illustrator I have sometimes been asked if I can draw or paint something in a particular style (and my answer has often been “yes” to get the job!) but a client will usually choose an artist for their established style.

My style began to develop in secondary school. Being an introvert and a geek and I spent my free time drawing characters from films and TV. My favourite pencils were Karismacolor (now Prismacolor). I was influenced by film poster illustrators including Drew Struzan and John Alvin, the artists behind iconic posters such as “Back to the Future” and “E.T.”. The next step was learning how to airbrush and experimenting with mixed media in college. This was also when I learned the difference between illustration and fine art, and how I could actually make money as a creative.

By the time I started my degree course the industry had shifted to digital, so I had to switch from my airbrush and acrylic paints to a Wacom tablet and Photoshop. My current tools of the trade include an iPad Pro & Apple Pencil, Fresco and Procreate. I still work in coloured pencils on pastel paper occasionally and recently used Prismacolors to retouch a Giclèe print of my digital artwork for a portrait commission.

None of this has been easy or a smooth journey. In my early 20s I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and generalised anxiety, most likely caused by childhood trauma including a house fire and caring for a parent with mental illness. At my lowest point I would spend hours each day performing compulsive rituals, any stress would cause a panic attack and I struggled to live a normal life. This is now under control after years of therapy and family support.

As a student I would agonise over every brushstroke aiming for an unrealistic level of perfection, with every numeric setting in Photoshop having to be set to a whole number. It was too easy to press Ctrl-Z and go back a step whenever I had that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and I would miss deadlines as a result. The worst part was disappointing friends, family and tutors who believed in my talent but not my invisible illness. Their frustrations made me question whether it was a real condition or an excuse for a lack of motivation.

It did take motivation and self-discipline to get my OCD under control and I now think of it as an advantage that gives me an eye for detail as I craft every element of an illustration. Other parts of my life have fallen into place like Tetris pieces the last few years and I’m now in a much happier place to be creative than where I started.

We all have inner weakness that we can turn in to strengths with hard work and a good support network. What are some of yours?

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