Tortoise, Hare, We Don't Care
Your timeline is not theirs and that's okay.
Harrison Ford was just a few months shy of 35 when Star Wars hit theaters. This was his first starring role and it was in a movie that was, by no means, a guaranteed blockbuster. Even George Lucas feared it would be a flop. Until Han Solo appeared on big screens, Ford was grinding it out in mostly small or forgettable parts and working other odd jobs (including carpentry) to stay in the game.
The legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield gave up entertainment altogether just before turning 30 because he couldn’t catch a break, was in debt, and saw no hope. It was only after returning to the stage in his forties (while still working as a salesman) that he caught a break on the Ed Sullivan show in 1967.
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Yuko Shimizu, one of my favorite illustrators (and perhaps one of yours) only started getting illustration work in her mid-30’s after working for over a decade in a corporate PR job. She’s practically a living legend in the field now.
Andrea Bocelli (his first hit came at the age of 37), Morgan Freeman (52), Lucille Ball (40) … they are household names, but it took them many years to become so.
I believe their career paths are the sort we should emulate. Forget the people who became world famous before they could legally order a Screwdriver; their stories are the exceptions to the rule. It is NORMAL to put in years of work, inching forward, step-by-step towards something bigger.
Hoping for lightning to strike is no way to keep your spirits up and stay the course. Be kind and allow yourself some space and time to get there.
We are all on different timelines. I didn’t have an illustration printed in a national publication until I was 30. And I didn’t have steady work with national magazines, publishers and papers until I was 36 (12 years after my first “real” editorial assignment).
As I started out, of course I admired artists like James Jean (drawing DC Comics covers right out of university). Who wouldn’t marvel at his swift (and I would argue, well deserved) ascension to the top of the illustration world? But to spend my time striving to hit the same notes in my career as a megastar like James — and on a similar timeline?! — would be hopeless and foolish. He had more drawing ability in a single fingernail at the age of 22 than I will likely have when I turn 75.
Instead, over the course of roughly a decade, I simply drew every day with focus and intention. I tried things to see what hit or missed. I learned from those around me. Slowly but surely, I went from smelling the pie outside the kitchen door, to eating crumbs, to enjoying a modest slice … and then ultimately scarfing the whole pie with KyleBrush.
It took a while.
We live in a youth-obsessed world and I sometimes think this is hardest on the youth, themselves. They see teenage YouTubers and pop stars making millions (and of course, they do NOT see these stars navigating homework and zits, which makes it all the more intimidating). If any of you reading this are in your teens or twenties and feel like it’s already too late for you to make a career as an artist or creator of any kind, I promise you it’s not. Your timeline is yours alone and the healthiest thing to do is focus on your own development as an artist. Celebrate your growth and mini-milestones and stay on your path.
Presented below is what I believe to be a reliable formula for real growth:
Do your work, daily, with the intention of getting better, and set small goals (i.e. “get better at drawing hands,” as opposed to “get better at anatomy.”). Look back every six months and acknowledge your progress. Limit your time spent looking at other artists’ work, especially online. Develop your own voice and focus on making the art you love to make (*not the work you think everybody else wants to SEE). Every time you feel like you have leveled up a notch, update your portfolio and call attention to it.
The majority of people you see out there who are successful and doing the creative things you are striving to do (picture books, novels, plays, video production, music, etc.) — they most likely followed some version of the above formula. Granted, the intensity with which they applied themselves mattered; they wanted it. And perhaps you can match their intensity if you wish, but remember this: it must come from a place of joy and excitement.
After all, we create because we love the act, itself; as long as you are enjoying yourself, you’re doing it right.
Thanks for reading. Know someone who might like to read this? Please share it with them.
👇Resources are below.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other, remember to be kind, and I’ll say, Ciao for now.
Kyle (who can always find here)
Need proof it’s never too late to find success? Enjoy 75-year old Shibasaki’s soothing watercolor demos. He has nearly 2 million subscribers.
Lines of Zen, my meditative drawing app is still on sale for just $14.99 for a full year of zen-y goodness.
I’m a longtime fan of Dorian Iten and his clear teaching style. If you are looking to really improve your understanding of proportion, light and shadow in your drawings, he has amazing classes and resources.
Check the bottom right corner of the Accidental Expert homepage for recommendations for some of my favorite Substacks — show them some love!
The Accidental Expert is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.