Case Study: Self-Efficacy

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Image courtesy of UAL

Robbie Porter – self-efficacy

Illustrator, Robbie Porter has worked with high profile clients from the New York Times to New Scientist, from Esquire to Wired. Here, he explores the complexities of self-efficacy, from putting on a brave face to creating work that portrays confidence to tips on how you can be more self-effective.

‘I worry about things like pensions and security but I have to balance that with the incredible freedom and lifestyle I get to enjoy by being my own boss.’

Robbie Porter

There’s a difference between portraying confidence and being confident

I would say that most illustrators portray themselves as quite un-confident, it's almost a bit of a trope in the industry, strangely. What I think though is that the confidence should come across in the work itself.

If you have a strong body of work that is cohesive and smart then I would hope the portfolio would seem confident even if the personality that created it didn't. 

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance - in my correspondence with clients, for example, I wouldn't want to come across as arrogant but I would try to sound polite and up to the job.

Often, I don't believe in myself at all, but you just have to grit your teeth and push through. I think that's something everyone struggles with, but when your work is also a personal expression, it can make you extra sensitive. So, when I feel incapable I simply just keep going, keep on working. Sometimes it's just the experience of being persistent or stubborn that allows us to succeed, but there are a lot of bumps along the way. Maybe it isn't about standing out from the crowd as much as not giving up - I've thought about giving up a lot, but the act of continuing has brought opportunities to me that otherwise would have gone to someone else.

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Responding positively to challenges

The challenge that I find most persistent and difficult is trying to marry my personal work with my client work. Ideally I want everything I make to be some sort of self-expression, but when the client wants something very specific that gets tricky.

Sometimes there is a middle ground where you both compromise a little bit, and sometimes you just have to create something you don't like very much. But, if you're really lucky you get to make something that you love and the client loves too - that's what I'm always aiming for.

I'm a freelancer and it is really hard at times - I worry about things like pensions and security but I have to balance that with the incredible freedom and lifestyle I get to enjoy by being my own boss. I have to seize opportunities which means I often end up working on things that aren't what I had in mind when I became an illustrator, but nonetheless support my career. To explain that a bit further - sometimes I take on jobs that don't really interest me but will help pay the bills, or, sometimes I do a bit of graphic design on the side, and I also sell prints and greetings cards. It means there are more strings to my bow than 'pure' illustration and that definitely helps keep the wolf from the door.

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Becoming self-effective

If you want to be self-effective, just make a lot of work, and I mean a lot of work! It really is the only way to get good and build confidence.

With social media there is a lot of noise now and it can be hard to get your voice heard, I would say the best way to be noticed is to collaborate. It's much louder if you shout together and the audience will be larger too. Whether that's doing group exhibitions, being featured on blogs, applying to be in publications or competitions - if you're part of a group it makes it a lot easier to be seen.

I would also add that although the competition is huge, now that we live in this inter-connected world, it also makes it far easier to do things yourself than ever before. There are more resources available and the opportunities are more diverse - it's up to you to seize them all and make the most of them.

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‘If you want to be self-effective, just make a lot of work. and I mean a lot of work! It really is the only way to get good and build confidence.’

Robbie Porter