You don’t get to decide what’s good



Here’s the thing:

You’re not always going to know what’s going to work, what’s going to resonate with your audience and what’s not.

You might think you’ve just made the most amazing painting/poem/story/comic in the whole world, but you don’t get to decide that. THEY do. Your audience. You put that little gem out there, and it might take flight, and it might fall flat.

Your little slice of genius that you worked for weeks on might not resonate. And then, the next day, you’ll take something you quickly made in your sketchbook and share that, and everyone loves it. What the heck?

This has happened to me soooo many times.

“You people don’t get it!!!” you’ll think to yourself (Pro tip: don’t share these thoughts publicly.)

Here’s an example in my own work:

When I first started sharing my art online, it looked like this:


These are just two of the many pieces I was making at the time. I loved these – I put every idea I had all at once into each one. But the response was lukewarm. I was putting them mostly on Flickr (this was back in 2006), and no one gave a damn.

Then I started playing around with office supplies, and began drawing on post-it notes, like these:


People really responded to the post-it note drawings. They loved them. They shared them on their blogs. My audience started to grow quickly. I should have known that something so simple, with a bit of humour now and then, would be so well received.

I still enjoy making both kinds of drawings. But my audience decided which ones resonated best.

That’s why you need to keep doing your best work, experiment, and keep sharing, so you can see how it resonates, and pay close attention to how it connects with people (or doesn’t).

If it’s not going over well, then you can try something else, or go find a group of people who will better understand your work.

If it does go over well, then great! Time for a happy dance! Enjoy the feeling you get with connecting to your audience. Now do it again… but there’s still no guarantee that it’ll work a second time.

It’s not about changing your art to suit what’s trendy. It’s not about pandering. You need to be true to yourself (it’s corny, but it’s true). You are capable of making so many different kinds of images, stories, illustrations, etc., that are genuine and in your own voice, why not pay attention to the ones that really connect with people?

Over time we find our voice, refine it, and get a better feel for what resonates. We figure out how to make work that we are proud of, work that connects with people in a genuine way.

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  1. Dear Mr. Marc Johns
    I really appreciate you share all those experiences with other artists. I have been a freelance illustrator for more than 10 years. Sometimes I can earn enough, sometimes not enough. I am not good at letting people know about me. I read this site, thanks to you, I fell like I can challenge more.
    I love your work! I found you on internet two years ago. I recently found this web articles. I am looking forward to reading a new article.
    Tako Hirai from Tokyo

  2. This is such a strange but true phenomenon, Marc! I’m getting better at noticing what resonates best with people in my own work, but it still amazes me how the stuff I think is brilliant can get a “meh,” when the stuff I just “throw online” gets everybody talking. Thanks for the reminder that this is normal and that you have to just keep sharing!

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  4. YES1! So recognizable! But I must say: I REALY LOOOVE the drawings that you started with and didn’t get much attention for! (I also make a lot of those talking drawings, but never share them.) I was wondering: when your audience is growing, do you get more attention for the ones you worked harder on and you thought would get more attention? Or are they forever in the shadow?

    • Hi Eva, sorry for a very late reply!
      The drawings that did not get much attention in the beginning are still in the shadows. I thought that people would ‘discover’ my earlier work and enjoy it as well, but that didn’t happen.

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