Discover the Challenges of Entering the Illustration Industry | My Journey and Aspirations

Gain insights into my journey and aspirations in the competitive illustration industry. Discover the challenges I've faced, the jobs I've secured, and my strategies for success. Learn about where I...

Steve Bentley

5/19/20244 min read

Learning to call myself an artist.

Life takes you down unexpected roads. Some of them lead to adventures and evoke laughter and wonder. Others are darker paths, and we all at one time or another get to walk both. I’ve done my miles on those highways both good and bad. Eventually I have found myself here, exactly where I belong. Working as an illustrator.

I started out like many of us creatives do, I suspect drawing on walls making marks and being that kid. A little quiet, a little reserved and living in my own little world. If I wasn’t reading, then I was drawing and as it turned out I had some ability. I vividly remember at a young age always wanting to add illustrations to my stories at school. I was always more interested in that part of the stories much to my teacher’s exasperation. In the end I think they gave up telling me to stop and just accepted it was going to happen. My exercise books were covered in doodles and every page usually had something scribbled in the margins. It was (and still is) a compulsion. I don’t mean this as a negative thing it’s just a part of me, I MUST draw. Like I must eat and drink.

This carried on through school and I had ambitions of going to art school and drawing and painting book covers or movie posters this was back in the 80’s when I think the art of the illustrated movie posters peaked, I have a framed and signed print of The Thing poster by the great Drew Struzan ( still one of my favorites).Hanging in my work room. While my dad was supportive and said, as he always did, “Make yourself happy.”” The opportunities just didn’t happen. I lived in a small Mining town just outside of Leeds in the north of England. Career choices were limited to you either worked in the mine or you didn’t. Consequently, I moved away and ended up following a very different career path which while has served me well. It has not been fulfilling. I always had at the back of mind that itch that I couldn’t scratch. That old compulsion was still there.

Eventually the chance came along, and I took it I went to art school and learned the tricks of the trade but still couldn’t quite bring myself to call myself an artist. I just wasn’t ready. Some people are there right out of the gate this is what they are and can say it loud and proud. Not me. I needed the time, and I took a lot of it, years, and years.

At some point I stopped making art and for a long time I gave into the pressure of what the world said I should be. I sort of felt like it was pointless to keep trying I was getting nowhere and decided I should just try to just knuckle down and concentrate on my “proper” job. But it felt like a piece of me was missing or locked away. It’s hard to describe the feeling adequately. I did other things I was happy but there was always that feeling of being incomplete. I don’t even remember how I started drawing again, I probably never stopped 100%. I was doodling or something all along and it just crept back in. So, I embraced it and stopped fighting it.

I had entered the Illustrators of the future competition many years ago and had managed to get an Honorable mention the first time and then was a finalist the second time. I stumbled across the certificates buried in my file cabinet last year when I was doing a purge of paperwork and thought to myself, why not? So, I did I’d been back at painting for a few years, so I put together 3 paintings and submitted.

Life went on. I was used to the idea of I paint for me now, and it makes me happy (The best reason of all for making art) and I was OK with it. I picked up the odd freelance commission, but it was more of a hobby than a vocation. When I got the phone call that I was a finalist. I was thrilled and thought great but never expected to be a winner. That call came a few days later leaving me at first in shock then amazed. I had six months until the awards show and workshops and I spent a lot of that time evaluating myself and painting. Maybe I was an artist, and maybe that was alright.

I think for me the point that I was finally able to say Yes, I am an artist was when I was surrounded by the other winners. When I realized there were other people who think like me. Maybe it was validation a combination of being a winner and finding my tribe. Maybe it was just that I was ready. Whatever it was I’m there I’m ready. I finally am comfortable calling myself an artist or more accurately and illustrator, (there is a difference). It took me a while, maybe longer than most. I‘ve walking down that road for a long time. I took a few side streets and wandered off the map, but those side quests all helped me. Without them I might never have been ready. All I can say with any certainty is I got there in the end.