Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.
These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.
But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.
But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:
“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”
He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”
Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.
I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.
An actual illustrator.
It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.
Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate.