A few years ago I attended my first Hutchmoot as a guest illustrator. The strange part for me was actually being treated like one. With me that weekend was a portfolio of largely unpublished work and a handful of Wingfeather sketches brought to convince the hoard that I might be worthy to illustrate the final chapter of the saga.
Despite the respect shown to me by all who stopped to talk, inside I was still just the packaging engineer who had struggled for years to get noticed in the field he adored: children’s books. I never referred to myself as anything other than a packaging engineer who had other artistic hopes, even though I had work published and a Wolf King on the way.
That Sunday morning in Nashville I stood at the counter at a Starbucks, ordering my coffee, when the barista asked a simple question. A question that changed my perspective.
“What do you do?” That’s all he asked.
What do I do? I thought. And I said something crazy.
“I’m an illustrator.”
It felt crazy coming out of my mouth, like a lie. But it wasn’t a lie at all. It sparked no further conversation with the barista, but as I found a seat I felt good inside. It felt real. It felt like the truth. And just a moment later my Facebook messenger popped up with a message from the AD at Abrams Books, who I had visited a year or more before.
The message said, “I’ve got the perfect manuscript for you!”
That manuscript became Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, which releases today.
What an amazing morning that was. I hope through this story to encourage you to embrace the real you–the you that you might be struggling to believe in. Maybe no one around you believes in you. Maybe they think your creative hopes and dreams are “cute” or unrealistic or even trivial or irresponsible. They are not. They are yours, and they are a part of you, and maybe all it takes is saying that scary, risky sentence out loud for all to hear.
“I am a…”
1) Names are so important.
2) i love your illustrations.
3) Now i want this book—any chance it’ll show up in the Rabbit Room store?
Good word, Joe. I know exactly what you mean. These are encouraging words. Congrats on the book. May there be many more.
I love this so much! There’s just so much power in saying things out loud. Congrats and blessings on the new release! Keep up your beautiful work!
S. D. Smith
I’m super proud of you, brother. You are an incredibly gifted illustrator. I was “in love” from the first mouse I saw on your table at that first HM. Turns out you are an even better dude than artist, whish is saying a heckuva lot. Love you, man.
Congrats on the release, Joe.
Now go celebrate.
Congratulations on the release of Dr. Critchlores School of Minions. I have always admired your talent. You are an illustrator! I am so proud of you.
You have put into words exactly how I feel! The fear I feel in saying, “I’m a songwriter. I’m a musician. I’m an artist” is akin to what people in Harry Potter feel when they say “Voldemort.” Like someone is going to jump out and scream, “LIAR,” and then proceed like a town crier to list all the ways in which I’m NOT those things… Holy crap. That rhymed… Totally unintentional. (Incidentally- do people at the Rabbit Room say, “Holy crap” ???)
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