'Kicking out the Crutches' is how my friend Isabel describes the evolution of her artwork. Her work (and mine, for that matter), used to have dark lines surrounding all the shapes and giving form to her drawings. Now there's nary a dark line in her paintings - she kicked out the crutches she used in her earlier work.
I took Isabel's advice and started going from finishes where the linework was everpresent to finishes where the line is hardly there at all. The line is there, but the shape defines the line instead of the other way around.
It wasn't easy for me to let this happen. Your work is essentially a collaboration with your Art Director, and your final piece - the final product - is so immediately public. The scrutiny can be a little difficult, especially when you're trying to branch out and do something new and different.
I've had some incredibly slow periods in my work when I've felt like the phone was never, ever going to ring again. At these times, I feel like my work is uninteresting, at best. My work relies so heavily on direct feedback from clients that when the phone stops ringing I instantly go into a bit of a panic. I end up on the couch with Auntie Mame on the tv and a bag of crispy fatty salties on my chest. It's ok when this happens every once in a while, but after a few days it gets dull. It's time to get off the couch and do something with yourself, fer chrissake.
Here's a quick list of stuff to do when the work dries up: This list is mostly for myself. Because it will dry up, I promise. Best to be prepared.
1. Use this time to try something new for your portfolio - or, hell, just for yourself. Look in an old sketchbook and expand on an old idea. You already have the map to the new place you want to be. Open it and take a look. Try a completely new media. This was the idea behind my dog blog (which is about to be taken down, so look at it while you still can). I made artwork about what I loved - dogs - and worked in flat color, which I had never dared to do before. It made me new clients and gave me a 'specialty' (dogs) I really enjoy.
2. Take a class at a place like the San Francisco Center for the Book. Taking classes here introduced me to monoprinting, which showed up in later work.
3. See what happens after you drink three espressos and let loose on the pages of your sketchbook.
4. What kind of promotion piece would you like to receive in the mail (hint: it's not a printed postcard from modern postcard) ? What would you put up on your wall? Look up on your wall, and make something like what you see there. Make a handful of hand-made promotions, put them in beautiful envelopes with a hand-written notes to the folks you'd like to work with.
5. Look at something new. Do an art date - all by yourself - at a gallery or museum. Go for a long, random walk in a part of town you've never been to before.
6. Get interested in other people's work and let it inspire you. Check out Drawn! and Illustration Mundo, two sites which consistently show amazing work.
7. Start a dream journal. Yes, I know, it's hokey. These images make for great illustrations.
8. Start a blog. Just like Penelope Trunk says: if you're interested in your field, your clients will like you more. One of my favorites: Rama's Portrait Party.
9. Do the opposite of reaching out: reach in. Unhook the internets, put the tv remote away, and draw and draw and draw. Don't leave the house until you have 15 new drawings. Remember to wash.
10. Chill out, man. Been working like a crazy person from 6 months straight without a weekend? How about a short road trip? As my friend Pete says, "As soon as you plan a vacation or turn up the stereo to dance around your apartment, the phone will start ringing again."
It's hard to realize that sometimes the reason that the phone isn't ringing has nothing to do with you. Companies that used to hire illustrators are going away fast. Remember that, and make work that will make you happy and interested in your work again. A by-product of this is that you will make potential clients interested.
Here's a list of 100 art ideas by Keri Smith, who inspires me greatly. Here's another list by Sister Corita.