In a previous blog post, I mentioned the phrase "illustration heroes." I felt a little silly typing the word hero, thinking of Hercules or Superman. The imagery felt a little juvenile. My "heroes" sit at a desk all day with back pain and carpal tunnel. But I'm a Super dorky word nerd, and the nuances of words can be music to my ears or fingernails on a chalkboard. (Just wait. It gets nerdier.)
I love dictionaries. (See?) Another one of my treasured childhood gifts from my parents was an unabridged dictionary. (When I was a teenager, my Grandpa Leavitt used to write letters to me using the longest, most eloquent words he knew and highlighted them in yellow so that I could look them up in my dictionary.) Now I have a dictionary app on my desktop that I use daily. I love discovering new words and I equally love rediscovering old ones. That first blog post prompted me to revisit the definition of the word hero. The first subset of words took me by surprise. (They shouldn't have, but we all have embarrassingly ignorant "ah-ha" moments now and then.) They were all words that denoted courage and bravery, and triumph over adversity, as opposed to words simply indicating protagonists, importance, or popularity as I was expecting. I suppose a little reflection on the stories of Hercules could have tipped me off, but here's how the neural pathways connected instead:
I've been listening to illustration podcasts while I work lately, and one that particularly resonated with me was the Bancroft Brothers discussing failure. Its relieving to hear the artists, athletes, or great minds that we admire talk about their failures. The skill level of their work fools us into thinking that its easy for them and always has been. But its refreshing to be reminded that they got to that level because they fought through that painful, discouraging, disorienting "phase" in the creative process that Ira Glass has to remind me of periodically. They rose to the top, not because it was easy, but because they were the ones who didn't quit fighting and didn't let their deficiencies call the game. They were still standing after everyone else called uncle. In fact, I'm beginning to notice a strong theme among the personal stories of the majority of the illustrators that I admire. It seems that many of them were far from the best artists in their art classes and subsequently felt like they had to work harder or longer or faster in order to keep up. Some of them, on the other hand, sailed through art school only to be dealt great personal or professional blows along their career path. Many had parents who were deeply disappointed in their choice of profession. One way or another, they all had to fight hard to develop their talent and for their space in the art community. They are literal heroes, whether anyone has heard of them or not. But because their triumph resulted in exception skills, we have heard of them.
Man, I love a good, heroic underdog story.