I was asked to deliver a session on multitasking to a group of illustrators at the SCBWI conference in Winchester last week-end. Jack-of- all-Trades: How to Have Multiple Careers as an Illustrator looked at choosing the right activities to complement and benefit your core practice as an illustrator of children’s picture books, getting the balance right and recognizing the boundaries? I also ran a hands-on activity where illustrators flexed their creative muscles in a mini workshop combining pop-up design and illustration.
I think multitasking is inevitable when you’re a self-employed creative, especially when dealing with the day-to-day running of your business. However, is it a good idea to diversify creatively, to expand your activities in different directions or even to add to your skill set. It does encourage thinking outside the box, leads to cross pollination of ideas over different disciplines and helps create new income streams. However, does diversifying stretch you too thin and can the problems outweigh the benefits?
For me, what started out as a plan to be an illustrator, turned into an ambition to illustrate and write books. This was followed by the desire to add paper engineering to the mix as well author visits and family workshops.
Something that was quite simple to begin with, turned into a practice that has encompassed schools visits, talks and workshops on how to create your own pop-up books, editorial illustration, card design, pop-up picture books, public art trails and other collaborations with artists, not to mention co-creating a number of children’s theatre productions. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s all done as a joint business with an artist wife with a great deal of crossover between both practices.
I think problems arise when one strand takes over and dominates to the detriment of everything else. It can be very easy to lose sight of your initial goals and to forget what’s really important. It’s also possible to become so immersed in a project that you fail to measure what you’re actually getting out of it – it’s not always a good thing to let your passion get the better of you.
I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you hope achieve from your activities and what proportion of your time you want to spend on each thing. If one area becomes neglected, it’s time to address that. Always place your projects in order of priority and importance. With each one, you need to balance the equation: does the time, work and money spent equal the income received plus other benefits. Think about soft benefits – recognition, exposure, does it lead to other opportunities, are you gaining valuable experience?
With collaborations, sometimes you need to tread carefully. Before you start illustrating (or writing) your best friend’s story, think about whether a publisher is likely to accept the whole package. If not, would you be happy with that and is it worth losing a friendship over? With any collaboration, be clear what it is you want from it and what should happen in any given scenario – then get it all down in writing and signed by all concerned.
In my opinion most long-term collaborations have a finite lifespan; the key is to know when it’s time to stop. The ones that continue past their sell-by-date risk creating negativity and spoiling any residual benefit that continued contact and friendship generate.
Dream collaborations do happen – those rare situations where two or more people speak more highly of each other than they do of themselves in an atmosphere of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency. Egos and glory-hunting take a back seat in an arrangement where no one’s bigger that the whole picture. These are the ones you should definitely embrace.