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  • Danielle Bennignus

New Year, New Focus

Updated: May 27, 2018


The turning of the year is always loaded with expectation and fraught with pressure, typically raising their heads in unison in the form of RESOLUTIONS. We're back at the beginning of the vicious cycle, and this often ends in frustration at best, self -disappointment at worst. I propose that we approach this year with a novel theme: Fulfillment. What's your truth? What were you put here to do? What do you desire more than anything else, that self-doubt or fear have a nasty habit of hiding away? The dawning of a new year is the perfect time to shake out some cobwebs (and the sadness/hesitation/doubts that create them). Personally speaking, here's my perspective on the matter...

For years, I've been told time and again that I need to focus my time and efforts exclusively on my illustration goals. I fell into this trade entirely by accident, after moving to New York City to study theatrical costume at F.I.T. After settling into my dorm, I headed to register for classes, only to find that there wasn't sufficient interest in the program to justify a course for that semester. I set up classes for commercial fashion design, getting established in the no-guarantees hope that my desired course would be available the following semester. After a week of classes, my professors made it abundantly clear that my sewing experience outpaced what they had to offer, and that I should see my adviser, Post Haste. Thus followed the words of advice that changed my life: "Your costume designs and finished pieces are fantastic, but your illustrations are incredible. You are an illustrator, I don't want schooling to alter your design sense, and I suggest that you get out of this school and into the field - immediately". This was the last thing I had planned upon, and frankly it's still sometimes a battle of self confidence and courage to embrace my calling. But in the end, my initial expectation of two years' study in New York City turned into over a decade of freelance work, intermittently as a freelance illustrator, more frequently as a visual merchandising assistant in wholesale showrooms and catalog/product photography - and most importantly, a truly remarkable period in my life in an indescribably wonderful city. Though my late father's illness and passing took me away from New York, the city's lessons stayed with me, and have been reemerging very powerfully over the past year.

Though over the years I have done a good deal of illustration as a freelancer, 2017 brought a final determination to devote my time exclusively to the pursuit. I've had great experiences working for other creative entrepreneurs, but I knew that I could do a big kindness to myself, as well as bring the most joy to others, by putting more of my own work into the world. Financial fears, lack of a safety net, the truth that there are no guarantees of success- these had held me back for years, and I'd had enough. And so, with a deep breath I took the leap and began offering my work at local events, and pushing further via Instagram posts, and listings on Etsy. I had initially expected to make the transition to full-time illustration over the course of more than a year, but sales of prints and cards led to commissioned work, and my schedule couldn't handle both my part-time job and my client projects. The time had come, and within six months I was entirely self-employed.

Regarding our aforementioned theme, Fulfillment! It goes without saying that my love for what I do is of the eternal sort, and deeply fulfilling both personally and professionally. But one of the great joys I receive as an illustrator comes from the response of both paying clients, as well as those who stop by my traveling sales tent just for a look. "These make me so happy!" is a frequent statement, and I love to hear that customers who have bought a piece in the past are still delighted by seeing the work on a daily basis, many months down the line. I couldn't be more pleased to know that my work brings joy to others - it's a shared experience of fulfillment between artist and viewer, reinforcing my career decision, no matter how long it took me to fully commit to it. What takes this sense of appreciation even further is that I've been able to pay that appreciation back, via sales percentages, to several charities that represent my inspirational sources. These include the Coney Island History Project, the National Audubon Society and the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, among others. The creative process and the response of others nurtures my soul, and donating to such great organizations satisfies my sense of duty.

And this is just the beginning! As I push further with new concepts and goals and directions for my work, my courage, belief and embrace of this decision only continues to develop. All of the pieces shown in this post were created for New Yorkers, both clients and dear friends. And if there's anything I learned from my years in New York, it's that true enlightenment usually comes from unexpected people and experiences, but you must be fearless, when you just might rather be feckless. I'm looking 2018 squarely in the eye, eager to keep paring down the nonsense, in favor of, you guessed it, Fulfillment.


Here's wishing the same to all of you!


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