Your Reputation Precedes You – imaginary walls we build by labeling an artist ‘popular’

This is for everyone too afraid to gush or geek out to their favorite artist (That means you and me. We’ve all been there.)

Every artist (from the hashtag popular to the unknown) has to start somewhere. We’ve all followed our share of impressive artists that are practically legendary in the fandom. Artists that inspired us to improve our craft (whether it was their intent to inspire or merely a byproduct of their professional success) leave their mark on us from afar thanks to the internet and social media. When faced with the opportunity to meet one of these influential artists in person, we could be caught up in our own preconceived notion of how they’d see us: insignificant, forgettable, a nobody. But it’s important to remember that artists of all levels of skill or popularity aren’t all-knowing, all-powerful masters of their craft, as if they were equipped with skills, followers, and their portfolio at birth. Additionally, artists aren’t creating in a vacuum; as a supporter of artists, you are an important part of the process. Artists are people that express themselves through their creativity and they crave connections just like everyone else.

I’ve been drawing for 3 decades but a professional full-time artist for less than 5 of those years. Although I’ve been on this path of artistic improvement for such a long time, I’ve made my greatest strides only recently (thanks in part to my experimentation and use of references as well as constant commission work.) Sometimes change comes so easily, and my life has been so busy with conventions and commissions, it feels like my journey is less like a strenuous climb and more like the landscape changed around me. I look back on my progress and it seems like I’ve gone so much farther than expected in such a small amount of time. With the change of scenery, I am starting to see that the thoughts and impressions of those who observe at a distance (and the quantity of those observers) have also changed. Imaginary walls have started to sprout up around those who have followed me. I am still the same warm-hearted, grateful, adventurous traveler but some may see me as an intimidating conqueror.

Some have started to label me a hashtag popular artist. I have always felt that the label is fairly arbitrary – popularity is relative. As far as I know, Crazdude is not a household name; I still get people that think I sprouted up in the fandom overnight. The label of popular is usually based on follower numbers and (in my opinion) seems to be a way for followers to express their feeling of the divide between themselves and the influencer. It’s an imaginary wall that gives an uncomfortable and unnecessary feeling of “us” versus “them”. Maybe I’ll never see how the popular label fits me because, at heart, I’ve been the same Crazdude that I’ve always been. My art skills improve, my follower numbers go up and down, I grow my business. But I’m still here to entertain, inspire, help, and educate fellow artists! When it comes down to it, I want to help people build imaginary bridges not imaginary walls.

When you have a large following on social media, it is difficult to give everyone the attention they deserve. Each person has their own imaginary wall; some are bigger than others. I’ve never wanted there to be the illusion of distance between myself and those who look to me for inspiration. I consider myself approachable but that pesky invisible wall seems to get in the way; online and in person. I enjoy making connections and I love when people ask questions. It always means so much to me to hear when I’ve made some positive impact on the life, hobby, or even the career of others. 

Thankfully some walls are short enough for the follower to comment or DM me, which gives me the opportunity to reply and possibly change their wall into a bridge before it’s too late. I’m a visual person as well so putting a face to the social media name helps me connect better with you too! (This is why I love replying to “I’ll be there!!” or “I’ll stop by to say hi!” comments on my upcoming convention posts! I want you introduce yourself to me at the con!) I want to treat everyone with the same kindness they have shown me over the years. So whenever I hear that people are too intimidated by me to talk to me (when they’ve built an imaginary wall too tall to overcome), it makes me feel awfully sad.

I never want followers to be afraid or shy about meeting me but I admit that I have the exact same struggle with hashtag popular artists. At Anthro Northwest last weekend, there was a long-time established creator in our fandom who was also selling a mere table away from me in the den. I was too shy to even try talking to them. I got up the courage to make connections with some fellow vendors that I was shy about meeting… minus one. I regret not talking to all of the vendors that have left an impression on me in the past 10 years in this fandom. I’ve made some incredible connections in the past by talking to artists I looked up to. At ANW, I failed to show one fellow artist that they’ve succeeded in influencing a silent admirer such as myself; the power of their creativity has touched me and it’s something that they deserve to be proud of. At the very same con, when artist alley artists tore down their displays Sunday night, someone told me in passing that they admired me but were too intimidated to say anything. My heart sank. It was a connection we both missed out on. And it made me even more aware of how my shyness, intimidation, or whatever it was got in the way of a connection with the fellow dealer that I looked up to; one that I may never see until I make another west coast visit. It stings just a little bit more that I’ll only be able to go to west coast cons once or twice a year, if that.

Art is emotionally charged for artists who create and those who admire it. Those who create art and inspire us have a power in our hearts and minds. But this power isn’t something to fear; it’s made for sharing! When I meet someone who says they’ve followed me since my days on DeviantArt, found my blogs insightful as they started their business, or love tuning into my Instagram live streams, these sentiments are powerful. The power of love, inspiration, and support is a power beyond words. We are all just people in the grand scheme of things. We all strive for connection or we wouldn’t be posting on social media or sharing our work cons, right? We want to share with you and it is heartwarming to hear just how many people are touched by our words and our creativity.

Shyness has always been some bit of a problem for me but I’ve worked on overcoming it by seeing how it can brighten someone’s day. I used to feel shy about complimenting people on their jewelry, their fursona, the color of their hair, etc. Eventually I learned that we all could use a little dose of positivity to balance out the negativity. There are too many people willing to go out of their way to say something hurtful, it’s up to each one of us to go a little out of our comfort zone to express positive thoughts. The more positive we think and speak, the happier we are. The happier we are, the better we feel… and from there it just gets keeps growing and spreading. It’s contagious!

After the recent experience of missed opportunities, I aim to be better about talking to influential artists in the future (understanding that these emotional connections aren’t one-sided or self-serving.) I also hope that I can help everyone who ever wants to ask me a question, talk with me, meet me, art jam with me, take a selfie with me, etc will feel comfortable enough to GO FOR IT! We’re all just people sharing our passions and we love hearing from you! You may feel like you’re nerding out but I LIVE for nerding out! You’ll smile, I’ll smile, everyone wins! I’m jazzed to be at cons and I love when social media followers can chat with me in person for a rare opportunity. Life is short and we all need to feel a little happiness and validation especially when given the chance!

If you found this post informative, feel free to share on social media!
If you have experience or suggestions to share, I would appreciate your comments below!

Much LORF!

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