Tu Ha An - Dreamlike & Multicultural Illustration

Finding a balanced, authentic hobby when you (already) have a creative profession

The pressure to choose the right hobby: the challenge of a professional illustrator

All through 2023, I’ve been stressing about finding a hobby.

My favorite thing in the world is drawing. And that’s why I became a professional illustrator.

And since I started my business, there’s one piece of advice that comes back to me every week, whether from friends, or experienced entrepreneurs or in the medias I follow: “You need to find a hobby other than drawing, now that drawing has become your profession.”

Indeed, cultivating a hobby outside of creative work maintains balance by recharging our mind, and offers a useful escape.

But truthfully, even though I’m aware of the benefits of a new hobby and grateful for the kindness of my friends, this advice only puts monstrous pressure on me. In my head, an alert was running on a loop: ” Hurry up, I’ve got to find a hobby to avoid falling into burn-out!”

And so I tried out several activities in the hope of finding a new hobby that suited me.

I’ve tried sports. It seemed the ideal choice to fight the sedentary lifestyle associated with my illustrator job. But I don’t really like sport and each session was an obligation that I had to respect with discipline. It’s clearly the opposite of the definition of “hobby”…

I’ve tried creative activities like sewing, linocut, pottery… I’ve had a great time discovering these new areas. I do like to spend an afternoon creating with friends from time to time, but I don’t feel any desire to maintain these activities over the long term, on my own, when I have free time.

I’ve tried baking and cooking. But I’m not even a foodie!!! So where’s the fun at the end of the activity? Certainly not with me!

The point is… every time I force myself to try a new activity, with the aim of finding a new hobby, I push myself even closer to the edge of burn-out. Because I was forcing myself to do even more activities outside my already full schedule.

And after all, all that was left in me was the guilt of not finding a hobby.

The unexpected hobby: how I turned pressure into passion?

But surprisingly, as I finished 2023, I realized that I’d been maintaining a hobby for 1 whole year!

And this hobby, which came naturally, is:

Drawing in a beautiful sketchbook.

As I write these lines, I can already hear the voice of J., a close friend, shaking me and yelling: ” But!!!! An, it’s still drawing, it’s too close to your job! It’s not a real hobby!”

The funny thing is, though, it was thanks to him that I found this hobby.

The birth of the “living sketchbook”

For a long time, I used to cringe when I was offered pretty sketchbooks..

I was afraid I’d start with images that were too neat and then never finish them.

I was afraid that people who opened these sketchbooks would think my drawings were ugly.

I was afraid of ruining a beautiful gift.

Until J. and his partner gave me a sublime Paperblank. And as I didn’t want J. to be sad if he found out that his present had fallen into oblivion on a shelf, I immediately doodled inside it. I also asked J. and his partner to do a little drawing inside.

Since that day, this beautiful sketchbook has been filled with sketches, other people’s lines, pretty drawings, other failed drawings, unfinished artworks, stickers, flowers, pencil tests…

It’s no longer perfect as the typical artist’s sketchbook, as it was in my imagination or on social networks. It is no longer the sublime, perfect Paperblank.

Then, one day, I read a passage in Effortless, where the author Greg McKeown found himself with plenty of his dead grandfather’s belongings, without being able to retrace his life. As an example: the address book is full, but it’s impossible to know whether a dear person was important in the life of the deceased or not…

That was when I realized that the day I disappear, this sketchbook will remain a witness that will continue to recount my moments of happiness, my banal moments, my living moments.

Why drawing in a beautiful sketchbook is a great hobby for an illustrator?

1.      For freedom

There’s a difference between my style in my professional illustrations and the styles present in my “living sketchbook”.

When I saw this page recalling the sunset I was lucky enough to enjoy with 2 friends in Canada, Jo, my chief editor, first thought it was 2 drawings by my 2 Canadian friends, because the style is so different from mine.

But that’s the freedom that was missing in my creative profession. When you’re a professional illustrator, you have to show your clients that you’re reliable and recognizable, and that your style is consistent and stable.

So with a totally personal sketchbook, I’m free to test, make mistakes, and enjoy drawing like a child again.

2.      For diversity

We can put whatever we want in this sketchbook, whether it’s labels, tickets, stamps… We don’t even have to draw all the time to fill the pages.

3.      For flexibility

We can drag the sketchbook along anytime, anywhere.

I don’t have to set a date, block a time slot, or make an appointment for this hobby.

I can spend a whole afternoon just filling the pages of my sketchbook, I can sketch live at an event, or I can even do 2 minutes of sketching between two drinks during a party, if I feel like it.

Here is a video made when I was drawing in the living sketchbook in Toronto this year, after saying goodbye to a dear friend, waiting for the carpool for a new chapter of the trip.

4.      For anchoring in real life

By filling the sketchbook with memories, we are even more anchored in reality, in the moments of life, far from professional projects.

Forcing a hobby is NOT the answer

Right now, drawing in a beautiful sketchbook is the best hobby for me.

I think it’s also because despite my love for drawing, I’ve had to draw in secret for 20 years, so today I’d like to live fully and to enjoy my passion openly. This hobby came naturally from my need, my wish, my desire.

Maybe, years from now, I will feel the need to find another hobby that has nothing to do with drawing.

But the year 2023, with the full living sketchbook, taught me that it’s a bad idea to force yourself to find a hobby in order to find balance in life.

Sometimes, a balance is created naturally.

Even more well-balanced than a hobby? Taking a break!

Another important thing for balance in life, on which everyone agrees, is to take breaks.

After the year 2023 with 18 blog posts, 9 YouTube videos, 30 YouTube shorts, and for the first time, 8 monthly Creati’letter newsletters, all this content in 3 languages, I’m giving myself: a one-month break on the blog.

Blog articles will be back on February 15, 2024.

It seems interesting because in the first article of 2023 Hi 2023 & keep creating! I announced exactly the same thing: a break. I have a feeling that it will be our annual break ritual.

If, just like me, you haven’t yet determined your resolution, we can revisit the two January 2022 articles together and establish a SMART resolution that guides us through this year, sound good?

What to do so that your creative resolutions won’t fail this year (1/2): The reality behind creative resolution and how to define it in a smart way

What to do so that your creative resolutions won’t fail this year (2/2): The big trap and the ultimate obstacle that prevent us from changing our life with our creative resolution

Happy New Year and…

Keep creating!

Tu Ha An

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