I want each new book to be my best yet, but any career worth earning takes time. - Ashley Spires
Pursuing a new career requires patience and a back-up plan. This is particularly true for those of us in the creative field.
When I graduated with a degree in fine arts and scattered my portfolio to the wind, I balanced my time between anxiously awaiting a job offer from a publisher and preparing my safety-net job at teacher’s college. My first contract miraculously arrived just six weeks before I was to start school, so, naturally, I backed out of university and focused all my attention on illustrating my first picture book.
But that wasn’t all I was doing. I was working part time at an office job to pay the bills because, as most artists will tell you, first gigs pay peanuts. But you have to do the work if you want to get a second gig and so work I did. I was drawing on my lunch breaks and late into the evening after putting in an eight-hour day at the office and my weekends were dedicated to meeting my next deadline.
That’s pretty much how my life worked for the next six years. When I wasn’t working at the office, I was working at home on an illustration project. Or I was at the local dress shop where I also worked part time. Or I was making little hand felted finger puppets that I sold at boutiques across Canada. I was working all the time but most of the time it didn’t even feel like work. Okay, the day jobs felt like work, but the artistic jobs were bliss. I had no trouble- and still don’t- staying up until the wee hours pursuing my dream because it was just that, my dream.
By the time I was seven books into my career I was down to balancing just the office day job and my illustration contracts. Bit by bit I was able to let the other jobs go as they were replaced by more (and better paying) picture book contracts, magazine work and various other illustration based jobs.
It was a big leap to quit the day job and jump into being a full time author/ illustrator five years ago. A bit like hurling yourself off a cliff with an untested newly redesigned parachute. Thankfully I didn’t land with a splat. I have cultivated wonderful relationships with numerous publishers and my work is borderline hectic at times! I’ve reached a place where I have to turn work down, which is wildly difficult for the starving artist that still lurks within me. I’m still working into the wee hours pursuing my passion and now I don’t have to worry about getting up early the next day to get to the office on time.
Interestingly, despite stepping away from my path as a teacher, I now spend a good amount of time visiting schools across the country and speaking to students of all ages. I am invited to share my creative experience and encourage children to pursue what they love. I love telling young ones that, even though I was told I wasn’t the best drawer, I am drawing for a living. This is proof that, while my skill level may not be as high as some other illustrators, my love for what I do is apparent in all my work. I think that love is what readers respond to.
That’s not to say that I have met every one of my career goals. I still feel like I have a long way to go, but that’s why it’s still fun. Each project is another opportunity to create something new and expand to a larger audience. It’s a struggle to stay patient. I want each new book to be my best yet, but any career worth earning takes time. Onwards and upwards.
Ashley Spires is an award winning children's book author and illustrator. Visit www.ashleyspires.com for more information about her works. The Most Magnificent Thing is her most recent publication.