The Illustrator who can’t Illustrate

Care to join me while I wallow? The word of the day is Self-Doubt, that wily fog-like creature that creeps in to disrupt all creators’ work. If anyone has a deterrent spray, please let me know…
I’m not sure why, but I’ve never felt particularly confident as an illustrator. There’s something about the process that brings out all my insecurities. Something about putting my work out there that still makes me feel like that ten-year-old who was terrified to show anyone her drawings for fear of rejection. I’m comfortable enough to call myself a writer, but when it comes to the label ‘illustrator’ I’m not always certain I deserve it.
Sound a bit silly for someone who has a picture book coming out next year? Yeah, I know.
It seems to be a cycle I go through. It’s usually triggered when I see other people’s art, especially those who work in different styles to me. I start to worry that I should be able to draw like Shaun Tan or Anne Spudvilas or Aaron Pocock. That unless I can create beautiful, emotional, realistic characters like they do, I’m not a real illustrator. That my own silly, cartoon-like figures just can’t stand up next to their creations. Then I start to worry I’ll be found out to be the fraud that I am – the illustrator who can’t illustrate.
But then the cycle comes around and I realise that I enjoy my own brand of illustrating. That it’s ok to work to my strengths – everyone does. That it’s unreasonable to expect that I could work in every style or that I could illustrate any type of story. Reflecting on this, I now have a song called ‘Clockwork’ stuck in my head, which features a great sample from the ‘Windmills of my Mind’ song. So I’m back at my drawing desk, scribbling and inking in my own silly style, singing:
Life is but a cycle
Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending, nor beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Does anyone else get caught up in a negative spiral?

18 Responses to “The Illustrator who can’t Illustrate”

  1. 1 Scott Chambers May 27, 2010 at 10:59 am

    *gasp* … you mean there’s *another* world out there?? Beyond the negative spiral?? Ok, I’m off to start looking for the way out!

    Heh, heh … negative spiral? Nup, never been stuck in one of *those*

    Nice post Kath =)

  2. 2 chrisbongers May 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Kath, I know nothing about illustrating, but I do know that most writers are plagued by self-doubt, me included. I’ve found the only way out is through. So I try to keep working and let the voices of my characters drown out that that nasty little nay-sayer in my head. It’s fine to admire others’ styles, but it is the one that is uniquely yours that others will value.

  3. 3 Norie May 27, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I totally understand what you are going through. I illustrate and find that I have slowly overcome other people’s rejection of my illustration/graphic work. Not that this happens quite a lot. My first encounter was at art college when my lecturer decided, we as a class would critque everyone’s pen and ink collage drawings. He pulled my piece to bits and also let his favourite student pick it to pieces like a hyena. Inside I was guttered, but on the outside I was determine not to let these two people stop me illustrating. I also have a girlfriend artist, HJ Gillespie (check out her stuff on facebook) where people have left comments that she should stop painting and that her illustrations are hideous. I believe everybody has an artist within (no matter what the profession) and that everyone should appreciate individual talent. I think your illustrations are amazing and have a special uniqueness.

  4. 4 deescribewriting May 27, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    You know I’m totally biased about Squish (and not just because he’s a rabbit) but he is gorgeous. Having said that, I can totally understand what you mean. I think it’s because everyone has an instant opinion on what looks good so they make an instant judgement of an illustrator’s work. A response to your writing is not always so immediate. Illustration is really getting it out there – instantly! But you know the same thing is true of writing. We all write to our own style and aspire to be able to write like the authors we admire, but in the end we are just us with our own talents – and yours are considerable:-)

    I think self-doubt is the shadow of any artist, no matter what medium they work with – it’s part of our perfectionist streak – wanting our creation to be the best of its kind. Hoping that the positive spiral will take you soaring soon:-)


  5. 5 Tina C May 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Hey Katherine

    I am giving you the friends-allowed HUGE kick up the backside! Get out of the comparing yourself to others, stop being negative about your work.

    Repeat after me: You are a wonderful individual artist with a unique style! ( 10 times !!!!)

    Get out of your funk, and get illustrating and writing as the world will be a might less coloured without your characters in them!

    And another kick – just to make sure you are still listening!

    Bye 4 now
    PS I have heard that self doubt in your work goes hand in hand with success – the better you are, the more you doubt you can pull it off again! Not sure of how accurate that is….

  6. 6 Kathleen Noud May 27, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I’m going to second what Tina said because it’s hilarious and I had planned to say the same thing.

    Of course, you know this feeling will pass and you’ll be in good spirits again soon enough. I think all artists need to have highs and the lows in their process to keep them passionate and grounded about what they do.

    Hugs to you and Squish :)

  7. 7 Joanna Gaudry May 27, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I love your illustrating style, Katherine (and I used to be a secondary art teacher and graphic designer). It’s simplistic, cute, and uniquely your own. Very sweet. It reminds me of ‘Miffy’ style illustration, except they are more humorous and fluid. Yes, you definitely have your own style–love it! No need to doubt your talent, Katherine. You are a superb illustrator and writer. Joanna :))

  8. 8 Carol Warner May 27, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    You are a unique artist, Katherine :) Let Squish, squash those thoughts of self-doubt.

  9. 9 Katrina Germein May 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Hi Kath, Tell you what, I’ll come over and draw alongside you, maybe some stick figures or a square house with a triangle roof on top – bound to make you appreciate your talent.

  10. 10 Jeffery E Doherty May 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I certainly know how you feel. I’m more than happy to call myself and artist but I balk at bandying the illustrator lable around precisely for the same reasons. I can’t do what Shaun, Anne or Sara Davis and so many other brilliant illustrators do.

    I have to admit, there are some picture books out there that I cringe at and think – ‘I’m better than that’ but I still won’t give myself the lable – Not yet anyway.


  11. 11 Katherine Battersby May 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

    You’re all wonderful. I certainly felt that collective hug, and kick up the backside! I think I needed both :)

    So I’m back at the drawing desk and, as advised, just pushed through it. I’m already starting to feel better and am enjoying dabbling once more. And around the spiral goes again…

  12. 12 Karen Tyrrell May 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Katherine,
    I love your Squish rabbit and all your other cartoon characters! They exude so much personality and emotion. Seems like self-doubt is the scourge of writers (and illustrators) and we must find ways to overcome it. Cheers, Karen :))

  13. 13 Trudie Trewin May 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Self-doubt can be our friend too, Kath. Without it we’d think we were great, and never strive to do better. And we’d probably be a tad unbearable too!
    Still, that said, Self-doubt is the kind of friend we don’t necessarily want to see all that often… a little bit goes a long way kind of friend!

  14. 14 Susan Bonaci May 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    I couldn’t believe the title of your post and had to read on just to be sure. *Phew* it was just your inner critic paying a visit. Here I was thinking you were hanging up your laptop and drawing tools.

    I adore your rabbit illustrations. They remind me – both visually and emotionally – of the floppy bunny I have that was given to me when I was born.

    Simple they may seem but that’s a child’s world and one they relate to.

    Happy scribbling…(and singing).

  15. 15 Katherine Battersby May 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Thanks Karen!

    Trudie, so true. Self-Doubt is the kind of friend that challenges me to do better, but that I wouldn’t invite to dinner :)

    Susan, you are incredibly sweet! Thank-you. I never had a flopsy bunny toy, but always wanted one – maybe that’s where my love of rabbits comes from?

  16. 16 anna s May 31, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Hi Katherine,

    I had been thinking about emailing you after I discovered your blog recently. I find it really interesting and can relate to a lot of it myself. I love the look of Squish Rabbit and can’t wait to read it and a lot of the other art on your site: the splashes of colour, the mixed media and the way the characters move. (Not sure who loves picture books more, me or the kids!)

    What I had been wondering, but didn’t have the nerve to ask, was whether you ever do work for other people? I write and get frustrated I can’t draw at all! I would so love to share my stories properly with my own children even if I can’t get them published. Lately I’ve asked a local artist to paint something for me so I can at least stick something on the wall alongside a story.

    I’m sure you’ll go well!

    (Personally, I thought I’d try the CYA comp and see how I go, which is where i found your link)


  17. 17 aaronpocock May 31, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    -What THEY said…

    Katherine, I’m sure we creative types (no matter what we do) go through this… Comes with the territory I reckon. I still get the jitters every time I sit down to draw. Often I just draw upon (pardon the pun) the technical know-how I’ve picked up and hope it’ll get me through.

    And everyone’s right, your wonderful art is uniquely yours… Keep smiling….

  18. 18 Katherine Battersby June 6, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Anna, thanks for your lovely words. I’ll e-mail you about some of things you asked.

    Thanks Aaron :) It certainly does seem to come with the territory, and is a bit unpredictable which is what bothers me. But today I am enjoying things and not doubting myself, which is lovely!

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


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