The Autonomous Creative with Shannon Wright

Boundaries, balance, and burnout, with Shannon Wright

with your host Jessica Abel

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I can understand when people are just like, “oh, I’m posting all the time cause I don’t want to be forgotten” and all those other things, but that is also going to lead to a type of high expectation that you’re putting on yourself—and burnout that you’ll have a hard time recovering from.

Shannon Wright

At only twenty-seven, our guest Shannon Wright has already had one helluva career.

Shannon Wright's work includes: I'm Gonna Push Through! (Jasmin Wright), TWINS (Varian Johnson), Betty before X (Ilyasah Shabazz), and My Mommy Medicine (Edwidge Danticat)

Shannon’s work has been featured by outlets like NPR, The Nib, and the New York Times. She’s illustrated several successful children’s books, and her debut graphic novel, Twins, a collaboration with Varian Johnson, was released in 2020.

In this interview, Shannon breaks down how she got to where she is today, describing the different support systems and mentors that helped her along the way. She talks about her mission to pay it forward and be a guide for other young illustrators.

Shannon also describes the pressure she feels to brand herself and constantly produce content in order to stay relevant, a feeling many creatives can relate to. She explains how she learned to embrace all aspects of her personhood, and not focus solely on the work.

In a similar vein, Shannon opens up about being pigeonholed, particularly as a Black creator whose work frequently focuses on social justice issues, and the importance of saying no to work that doesn’t support her mental health or is at odds with her intuition.

More from this episode…

  • Shannon explains how she generates most of her income as a full-time freelancer, and what she hopes her workload looks like in the future.
  • Shannon talks about the motive behind her the “Super Condensed Zine: Portfolios, Websites, Pitching & Agents!” and why it’s important to empower other creators.
  • “You don’t have to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way just because it’s there” — Shannon talks about how she handled the sudden interest in her work during the summer of 2020.
  • What was the big mistake Shannon thought would get her permanently exiled from publishing, and why wasn’t it half as bad as she thought?
  • Shannon reflects on a time when her dedication to the work drove her to isolation, and what it took for her to finally see the light.
  • How did Shannon restructure her work days, and build habits that encouraged her to rest and recharge?
  • A conversation about Shannon’s family reveals ways non-artists in your life can support you, even if your work is a mystery to them.

More from Shannon Wright

Shannon Wright is an illustrator and cartoonist based out of Richmond, Virginia. Some of her clients include The Guardian, TIME Magazine, The Nib, NY Times, Mother Jones, NPR, Google and Scholastic. She’s illustrated several successful children’s books, and her debut graphic novel, Twins, a collaboration with Varian Johnson, was released in 2020.

She also teaches at her alma mater, VCU.

Connect with Shannon

https://shannon-wright.com/

TWINS

https://twitter.com/shannondrewthis

https://www.instagram.com/shannondrewthis/

https://shannondrewthis.tumblr.com/

https://ko-fi.com/shannonwright

Transcript

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Boundaries, balance, and burnout, with cartoonist and illustrator Shannon Wright

Shannon Wright: There’s just so much artwork out there and just so many great creators. And, I don’t know, like I can understand when people are just like, oh, I’m posting all the time cause I don’t want to be forgotten and all those other things, but I’m just like, that is also going to just lead to a type of high expectations you’re putting on yourself and burnout that you’ll have a hard time recovering from.

What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?

There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.

I’m cartoonist and creative business. Coach Jessica Abel.

In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.

And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the Autonomous Creative.

Intro

My guest today is cartoonist and illustrator Shannon Wright. At only 27, Shannon has already had one hell of a career. Her work has been featured by outlets like NPR, the Nib, and the New York Times. She’s illustrated several successful children’s books and her debut graphic novel, Twins, a collaboration with Varian Johnson was released in 2020. She also teaches at her Alma mater, VCU.

I first met Shannon in 2019 at an event in Minneapolis hosted by the literary group Rain Taxi, where she was featured on a panel about the future of comics in the digital age. At the time I wasn’t super familiar with her work, but I was struck by her passion and commitment, uplifting other artists, something I can’t wait to ask her about.

I’m also curious to find out what her path to success has looked like. And what support systems she may have had along the way. It’s such a pleasure to get to talk with Shannon again, and I’m thrilled to be able to bring this conversation. We’ll get into it right after this.

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Now let’s start the show.

Begin interview

Jessica Abel: Shannon, welcome. So glad to see you again. I have to say your career has been doing some amazing things in the last couple of years.

Shannon Wright: Yeah, it has. It’s honestly been kind of strange to see it all happen. It was like from the time that I met you until now. It kind of just like went really far upwards. And I wanna be real, like, it’s been um, surreal. And, I don’t know. It’s sometimes just hard to adjust and just realize it’s happening.

So that’s one thing that’s been super strange. Cause it’s kinda like night and day where I was like, oh, okay, I’m doing this thing. And then all of a sudden it’s just like, my editors are hitting me up and it’s just like, oh, your book got nominated for this. Uh, so-and-so recognized this. And I’m so bad with names and like, everything.

So when they’re just like, oh, such and such recognized you in this thing, I’m like, oh, okay. And I’m like researching what that is. And I’m oh, dope, yeah, I know that that publication.

Yeah. Now I’m extremely excited.

Yeah.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. Well, it’s rushing at you quickly too, so it’s not like there’s been lots of preparation for it and, and planning and hoping that you would get there. It’s just sort of, um, thrust right into the middle of it, which is amazing. And congratulations.

Shannon Wright: Thank you.

Jessica Abel: So tell us a little bit about your work life today. What are you normally doing? And I, I recognize that like everyone, it changes a lot, but just give us kind of a general picture.

What is your work life like?

Shannon Wright: Currently I’m tackling a lot of deadlines I’m behind on, uh, story of my life. I know right now I’m finishing up a picture book that I had to set aside because of Twins, at the time.

Jessica Abel: Twins, your new graphic novel that came out months ago?

Shannon Wright: Almost, no. It should have been a year ago. It should, um, yeah.

So I’m catching up on that picture book. I’m also doing smaller comics on the side with some publications, um, here and there.

I’m doing other, I’m still doing editorial here and there. So my day kind of just looks the same except just more projects, more book covers, catching up on like bigger book projects that I have to schedule with.

But I’m glad that I have like my agent there to be like, “Hey, what’s your schedule looking like? Where are you right now?” And I’m just like, “Wow, great question. Um, I also would like to know where we are right now.

Jessica Abel: So, so just to be clear, you’re juggling multiple projects every day, or you’re, are you trying to get through, you know, a series? Are you, are you needing to sort of onboard new things and finish new things constantly?

Shannon Wright: It’s not, I wouldn’t say it’s daily. No, it’s not daily. More so like, my deadlines are pretty spread out. I just know sometimes the procrastination gets to me, that life gets to me and I’m just like, oh wait, I forgot this deadline that I agreed to two months ago is coming up. Yep, yep. Yeah. Or you realize, oh, November is here now.

Everything happens to be due for some reason now. So I want to say my deadlines all happen the same day or I’m busy every single day, but I am trying to get better at just like chipping away at things daily. Just so it doesn’t fall on me during like one huge week. Cause that’s the worst. That’s the

Jessica Abel: I do have a course that can help you with this.

Shannon Wright: Ah, Plug it. Plug it, Jessica. Plug the course!

Jessica Abel: Creative Focus Workshop. Join us. It is a new way of handling all of your stuff.

Okay. So the, so right now, then you’re mostly working on smaller projects where you are essentially a hired hand, more than Twins, bigger things, where you have a graphic novel that’s your baby in some sense.

You’re doing things where you’re doing book covers. doing editorial and for people outside the illustration world, editorial means, you know, spot illustrations and other kinds of smaller illustrations in the context of magazines, books, and so on. Right?

Shannon Wright: Yes. Correct. I mean, besides like, uh, the picture book I’m working on, which in some ways that feels like my baby too. But I don’t know something about a graphic novel really feels like a baby. I’m just like I spent nine months birthing this child and whatnot, where I still have that attachment with picture books, but I don’t know. I mean, those graphic novels are chonky. They’re just big, big boys.

Jessica Abel: That’s real. That’s real. Yep. So I dunno if this is a, even a fair question to ask off the top of your head, but like what percentage of your income do you think comes from various different ways that you’re working?

How do you make a living?

Shannon Wright: So I will definitely say my book work. Well, let’s see I’m in terms of percentages my book work is a majority. I would s- I want to say at least like 80% of my income, which I’m actually glad about because, um, it felt like with editorial, I was just getting these small chunks and it just, wasn’t adding up to even like a full 100%.

So now it’s been really, good for me to have that book work come in and it make up a good portion of my income.

Jessica Abel: You also teach though, right?

Shannon Wright: Yeah, but I teach during the summer, which funny you actually brought that up because we’re trying to see if that’s going to be happening this summer. I know in the summer of 2020 we had to cancel the whole, uh, summer intensive that we do at my Alma mater, uh, VCU.

And then last year they didn’t do the comics course, which I think just had to do with still dealing with COVID and the number of students that were coming into, you know, coming to the, the university and stuff.

So we’re seeing if the comics course is going to be a thing this year. I hope so because I really love teaching that course. And I love meeting all of these brilliant and intelligent and just like creative high schoolers that are doing and making a lot of things that I definitely was not . Making in high school.

Jessica Abel: So this is a pre college intensive that you’re teaching in. Okay.

Shannon Wright: It’s a three weeks course, uh, that VCU Arts host and there’s different, there’s different, departments, or I guess, focuses you can go in towards. You can go into sequential. There was like a painting class. There’s a crafts class. And it’s a five, five day course. So for three weeks, five days a week from like, I think they get there at like nine o’clock and then the, the coordinators pick them up for lunch and then they bring them back. It’s a full day. It’s like a full day of just comics or whatever focus they’re doing.

And then at the end we have a big show where we invite their parents or whomever they want, and they get to show all their work and they get to actually like work towards putting stuff in their portfolio for, um, colleges to look at. So that’s really nice.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. Very cool. Yeah. Matt taught in that program and at SVA in New York. So there’s a similar thing there.

So when we met in Minneapolis in 2019, I wasn’t familiar with your work that, and you were, you were really, you were so great on that panel.

It was just really fun to watch you. And then you showed me cause we were in a bookstore, you showed me your then fairly new picture book, My Mommy Medicine, that you did with Edwidge Danticat. And it was your first picture book. It was amazing. It was just, you know, like you just blew me away with all of these things.

But then on top of that, what really caught my attention. And this is why I brought up teaching is that you would also make this little mini comic size guide to, guide to publishing? Working with an agent? What is that?

Not being a gatekeeper

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Uh, so it’s, um, it was a mini, like zine that I made. It was like the con- it’s it’s called like The Super Condensed Zine for Websites, Publishing, and Finding an Agent. And it came to me due to my friends at the time, helping each other, trying to figure out publishing, and finding an agent and all this other stuff.

And so, when I did SPX one year, uh, Small Press Expo, me and my friend Shevana at the time decided to just really help, um, primarily like, creators of color, figure out how to structure their websites, how to pitch to an agent, and do all the other stuff.

And it just felt fun to make a zine because I mean, that’s where I got my start from. And I feel like a lot of comic artists got their starts from just picking up a zine at a convention that had information in it. It was either like super serious or just super goofy. And I remember just like,

you could just like collect a bunch of them. And they just were so jam packed with information. And I wanted to make something like that for up and coming creators. And also just like for any artists who needs it, because I definitely got the help from folks older than me, folks that were already in the publishing game.

And they gave me that information for free. So I was like, I’m not going to gatekeep this information. I mean, here’s a zine. It’s kind of goofy and it’s super condensed. That’s the name of it. And I was like, y’all can just have it, like, I don’t care.

Jessica Abel: I thought it was great. And it, I really recognize that impulse because when I was starting to make comics, and this is now in the very early nineties, late eighties, early nineties. So pre web, but message boards and stuff. There were places where you could start to find this information, but there were no soup to nuts textbooks. And so all of the information that I was getting felt, cause I was really an outsider to the comic scene. I didn’t have any friends who were doing this.

Shannon Wright: Yeah.

Jessica Abel: It felt very hard won all of this, these little dribs and drabs information and starting very early on in my career I had this DIY section of my website, where I would post information about what kind of brushes to use and how to lay out pages and this kind of and I just, I see that in you, I see that need to share and to let, you know, bring in the next generation of people who might also feel, um, lacking in resources and lacking in connections and so on.

The thing that you, you say to you’re talking about trying to make sure that this is available to cartoonists of color. Um, and that’s something that I saw a lot when I was doing research, preparing for this, that you it’s it’s, uh, it’s kind of a mission it sounds like of yours to open those doors.

Opening doors for cartoonists of color

Shannon Wright: Yeah. I mean, I’ve talked about this with some like close friends, just friends in general. To me personally, I don’t see the point in doing all of this if I just don’t like give it forward and stuff like, I want to see other people succeed.

That’s just how people get ahead. But yeah, at this point it does feel like a mission in a sense where I enjoy what I’m doing, but I also know that there’s gonna come a point in time where I’m just going to get tired and I want the next generation to be prepared. And then I’m hoping my generosity or my resources will spark them to be like, oh, let me just pass this down. And we just keep it going. I mean, that’s how civilization and humanity has made it this far.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, no, I mean, I think it absolutely makes sense. And I think that there’s a certainly in the comics community, there’s, um, a strong ethic of sharing and paying it forward and helping people out, helping out younger artists.

But I did see a theme in other interviews that I’ve read of yours, of feeling particularly challenged in, in feeling at home initially in the comics world, illustration world, as, from your background, not just as a person of color, but also somebody who’s not necessarily from a family where everybody did this, you know, that you had different kinds of ways in which you had to make your way into the world of visual art. Was your family supportive?

The importance of being supported by her family

Shannon Wright: Oh yeah. My family was very supportive. Uh, it’s actually funny cause my mom’s like here right now, she’s just downstairs doing her work.

We’re just chilling today, but my parents, my family. I was fortunate enough. Like my teachers were all super supportive and that made, um, a world of a difference. My parents went out of their way to, you know, try to help me best way they could.

They, I mean, they weren’t putting me in like art institutions and stuff like that, which I was like, you have two other kids and you guys work full time. I understand that. But they, you know, if I was out at the bookstore and I was like, oh, I love this drawing book and stuff. My parents were just like, oh, is this a way that’s going to help you and stuff, let’s get it.

And whatnot. You know, getting me, art supplies, when I needed it for school and whatnot. You know, just trying to figure out like what I might need to like help me along and stuff. And it didn’t have to be like, oh, we’re going to send you to this prestigious art institution and stuff. It, it came in the form of just being supportive.

Letting me have joy and excitement in drawing. Showing off my work, telling their coworkers and other family friends that, oh, my daughter draws. She’s so good. We’re so happy for her. She can draw anything, blah, blah, blah. She’s the artist of the family.

And it came in forms of just that and just forms of praise, uh, forms of support and just, you know, patience and just like them pulling their money together to be like, if this is something you really want to do, we know that you are going to give it your all, so we’re going to be in your corner.

And that made, like I said, that made the world of a difference and stuff. And I can’t thank them enough. And they still support me today. They’re like my biggest fans. They will tell literally anyone, “Yeah. My daughter made that book. Have you checked out this book? She, I saw her in target, or she has some books over here and yadda yadda yadda.

My mom, my mom is like the best salesperson ever. Like she could sell fish water, like she could do that. And, and she does that with my work too. She’s just like, well, you need this blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s been recognized this and that. And someone’s like, well, let me check it out. And I’m like, thanks mom, because I am not a salesperson.

I, if someone is just like, oh, I don’t need it. I’m like, okay. Yeah. She, she, she will sell, she will sell, she will resell you your house. And that’s just her. That’s her.

Jessica Abel: And I love that she’s so enthusiastic about that. That’s so amazing. And I think that the thing that you’re saying that it’s, it’s more about feeling trusted and loved and cared for that, you know, they’re feeling their pride in you. It’s not necessarily actionable tips or something like that. It doesn’t need to be, I think that’s a lesson, I guess, in some ways, for people in the families of creative people is you don’t necessarily have to know anything to be helpful.

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Like I didn’t expect my parents to sit me down and teach me perspective cause that’s not what they know. They don’t know any of that stuff, but them just being like, Hey, I saw this cool anatomy book. Is this something you would like? Or like, Hey, I was out and about, and someone gave me this art book, is this something that’s useful?

And that’s things that they would ask. They would be like, oh, are these pencils that someone gave me something you could use? And I’m just like, Yeah, they are, thank you.

Or they could be like, Hey, I got some extra paper from the office. Do you want this? And I’m like, yeah, I do. And so I, I, you know, I went through so much computer paper.

Jessica Abel: Computer paper’s good stuff. Very useful. Very useful.

Shannon Wright: It’s such good stuff, reliable. Hasn’t let me down.

Jessica Abel: So one of the themes I see in these interviews for the Autonomous Creative is the importance of relationships, and that’s what we’re talking about here with your family. Have there been other key relationships in your professional path though?

Other key relationships on her professional path

Jessica Abel: That have been more, um, what I want to say actionable. You know, things that have- relationships that have opened doors for you, or that have changed things for you.

Shannon Wright: Yes. I’ve actually had quite a few, uh, relationships like that. Going back to the teaching, one of my professors at VCU, um, I was in communication arts, which essentially is in line with just illustration, uh, commercial arts and whatnot.

Kelly Alder. He was my comics teacher, my sequential arts teacher. I met him and I took his class. I had never, I may have made like a few comics here and there when I was younger, but I didn’t know like how to make a comic, the language of comics, any, anything like that.

My, I had older friends that were making comics and I was just nodding along, but I took his class. And then I took another one of his classes and then took another one of his class. I was like trying to get into every single one of his classes. And he ended up becoming like a mentor of sorts and essentially like a second dad. I like hang out with him and his family. I call his sons my brothers and stuff like that.

I went to his son’s wedding. They always invite me over for dinner. Um, they pretty much call me their daughter

and he opened the door and asked me if I wanted to be his TA for teaching. And I said, yes. And I didn’t realize how much I liked teaching until I taught under him.

And we did this course together. And that has opened the door to be like, oh, I do like helping students. I do like giving back. I do like providing resources and having lessons and seeing what the next generation has to create an offer.

So he definitely, that relationship with him and his family definitely opened doors in terms of just mainly my comics career.

Um, I made my first like actual comic in his class and then from there I just kept making comics. And then I started teaching too. And that was definitely because of him. So if he ever listens to this, cause we’ve used your books before in our classroom before, um, we actually use it to teach and stuff.

I love you, Kelly. That’s my dude. He’s the same age as my actual dad too. So now I have like two dads.

Jessica Abel: Bonus dad.

Shannon Wright: I know, bonus dad. My punk rock dad, and then my dad who’s like black Santa Claus and stuff. So it’s fun.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. That’s very cool. So yeah, I mean, I guess that, uh, carving that path for you and helping you figure out what you liked and what you didn’t. I mean, that’s, that’s amazing.

So part of the trajectory you’ve been on since 2019, when we last saw each other, has been about, you know, having a great picture book out and then getting more work that way.

But also I feel like there’s with the big, with the George Floyd protests and so on, things like that, you’ve talked a little bit about feeling like you were getting all this work thrown at you that- well, let, let me let you describe it.

Being pigeonholed as a Black creator

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Um, definitely during like the height of the protest for, uh, George Floyd, and a lot of black artists spoke out about this. I can definitely say there was people hitting me up that I had either never heard of, or like I had like wanted to work with before or, or whatnot, you know, silent, never heard of them.

And then all of a sudden my inbox was like full. My inbox was just like, “Oh, we have always loved your work. And we would love to work with you. And us, we at so-and-so company, uh, is fascinated to see what you have to do.

And, and I was like mmmm this is a little, um, not giving me- not rubbing me the right way. Um, and it was so apparent. It was just very apparent that a lot of these companies and a lot of these clients and stuff were using the death of a black person to kind of web their way into the lives of black creatives and being like, we’ve always been here, we’re here to support, and whatnot. And it just felt very demeaning. It makes you question your importance and also just like your humanity in the eyes of people.

And it wasn’t a good feeling. And I definitely got like a lot of followers on Twitter during those events. And I know a lot of other like, uh, black creatives and black, um, individuals the same happen to them. And it just felt like a lot of eyes were on you from guilt. And that’s kind of not a great feeling to have like attention be brought to you from guilt.

That never feels good because I’m just like this isn’t genuine. And I don’t know, it was a hard thing to navigate because by that time, um, by that time I was getting like emails and like this attention, I was exhausted.

And even if I wanted to take on these dream projects or like talk to these people who had never mentioned my name or cared that I existed, I just did not have the mental or physical energy to do so Because I was just racially exhausted.

So it was, it was tough. I’m definitely in a better place now, especially talking about it more and making my feelings known and just knowing that I can say no. And knowing that like, Hey, all attention is not good attention. And also like, you don’t have to say no, or you don’t have to say yes to like every opportunity coming your way just because it’s there.

Some of it is, uh, what we found out a lot of them were scams and stuff, so, yeah. I’m glad I listened to like my intuition and just like listened to my friends. And we were just like, let’s sit on this. Let’s, let’s just focus on our mental health and do what we’re doing. And the genuine people will come. And they eventually did. And I feel like it always happens, um, eventually. So I’m glad I just waited.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, well saying no, following your intuition about, you know, bad actors and that, that sort of thing. And then, and saying, no, really, always important, but especially in a case like that, where the situation like that, where the world’s situation is going to kind of bring them out of the woodwork.

Shannon Wright: Yeah.

Jessica Abel: But I sort of wonder too, you know, a lot of the work that you’ve done has been focused on the Black American experience, intersectional experiences.

Does that complicate those choices for you? You know, does it complicate knowing what the right projects are when you have so much to kind of sort through, I guess,

Shannon Wright: Yes and no. It complicates things because I feel like what you present on your website, you know, people hire you for what’s on your website, what you, what work you’re posting about and whatnot. And I am very well aware that a lot of my work deals with social issues, or intersections between race and gender.

And so it makes sense that people would reach out to me and be like, “Hey, is this a project you could do? Or are you available to do this?”

But at the same time, I’m just like, I don’t know, give me an opportunity to just do something.

Maybe something dealing with fantasy, something dealing with sci-fi, something just dealing with not such heavy, mentally taxing issues and stuff,

Jessica Abel: Right. So saying that your history as a creator, you have lots of different, you know, way pre-2020, lots of material that deals with social issues of various kinds. Therefore, it makes sense that people come to you for that, but then you’re like, well, just want to do that?

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m just like, well, I’m capable of doing that, but do I just want to? And the answer is no. I just think, you know, I’m a multifaceted person. I have many an interest in just like random things, um, and whatnot. And so that’s something that’s like, I would love to explore those things. Like, uh, I’ve been learning about the deep sea via a YouTube channel. I know about squids now and, and, and sharks.

But yeah, no, I just, I’m just like, yeah, just, I want to do more things and I know I’m probably like way, like far away from the answer in question now.

Jessica Abel: No, I mean, I think that it’s, that and, and I was going to ask you too about building your audience cause I know you have, you know, have an engaged social media audience and that kind of thing.

It is sort of the complexity of building a quote unquote brand, you know, that you have, very engaged with social justice issues, but you also have these other things you’re interested, your whole person. You’re not a brand, you’re not a company. It doesn’t have to be single note. But on the other hand, people come to you for certain kinds of things. And that encourages you to do more of those things either because it’s being paid for, or because they’re asking for it or whatever it is.

Right. It’s self-reinforcing.

Branding, marketing herself

Shannon Wright: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, it’s tricky. It’s definitely tricky because it’s like, at the end of the day, I don’t want to be a brand because I’ve seen the fallout of people branding themselves and just, that’s it. They’re just like, I am so-and-so and that’s it. And you know, you don’t have any room to do anything else, but at the same time, it’s just like you brand little parts of yourself, so you can get work.

And it’s just, it’s tricky, especially as a creator now, living in like the digital age, it’s like hard to maneuver, especially with just like, there’s just so much artwork out there and just so many great creators. And, and I don’t know, like I can understand when people are just like, oh, I’m posting all the time cause I don’t want to be forgotten and all those other things, but I’m just like, that is also going to just lead to a type of high expectations you’re putting on yourself and burnout that you’ll have a hard time recovering from.

So I don’t know, there, there definitely needs to be that balance where, create the things you want to create, do your client work and whatnot, but also just, you don’t have to be so rigid all the time.

You can, you can talk about like, Hey, I liked that one Netflix series and, you know, uh, and whatnot. And go outside and enjoy yourself. You don’t have to be strapped to your desk. You can go and have other hobbies and other interests. And that’s one thing that I’ve, as I’ve gotten older and stuff, and I’m not like super early in my career where I’m just like, I have to do this 24/7. I have to make art.

I have to talk about the art. I have to be super engaged and stuff. Now I’m just like, I did my work. I’m going to go out with some friends. I’m going to go up to the mountains with my parents. I’m going to hang out with my cat. I’m gonna just watch this movie I’ve always wanted to watch. I’m just going to go have some like me time and unplug and, and play video games and whatnot.

And that’s how I tend to recharge. And remember that, Hey, I’m a person. Yes. I make art. Yes. This is my full-time job, but I also do other things. I have other interests and qualities, and I’m really cool. And, and I have people in my life and friends in my life who think I’m cool. So I’m going to try to hold on to that.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, hold onto that for sure.

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Okay. Back to the show.

Jessica Abel: Um, so that brings a question up for me, which is was there a time when you felt like you needed to be on 24/7, creating all the time? Like, what did that look like for you? And how did, was there a moment in which you, uh, saw the light, shall we say?

Realizing she didn’t need to be creating constantly.

Shannon Wright: Yeah. I will say maybe my last year of college? And then that first year out where I was just art all the time. I was like inside. I was like not really going out. And if I did, I was always thinking about work and how I had this assignment due. And I want to say maybe for a good two or three years, I was just like, I have to be on it. I have to be making art. I have to be posting.

I gotta be working. If I’m not working, am I really dedicated to this? And I think I saw the light when I saw like, relationships get affected by that. Like, I wasn’t hanging out with my friends in the way I wanted to. I would just be like, oh, I can’t, I got this thing to do.

Or I was just like missing out on things in my like early twenties because I was like, I have to grind. I have to grind. I have to go to this show. I have to be a part of this scene. I have to be a part of this show and if I was going out with friends, I was just too tired. I was like, I don’t, I don’t want to do anything. Um, you know, I was just so reclusive, which that was weird for me because I’m such an extroverted person to a certain degree. And I just didn’t like that about myself. I didn’t like missing out on opportunities. I didn’t like missing out on moments with people in my life.

And Also when like COVID happened I was like, I was like, wow, I really can’t see people in and it really got to me.

Jessica Abel: Was there an event where you’re like, oh my God, I can’t believe I let myself miss that. Or was there, was there something like that?

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Um, I think. I think 2019 was that moment, where I wish I had like, traveled to like New York more cause there was some things I wanted to do there and hang out with some friends. That, yeah. Moments like that, where I was just like, oh. I really, cause I was, I was working on Twins at the time and I was just like working.

I was like, I’m going to work on this book. I’m not going to do anything else. You know, I had some friends doing some things and I just completely said, oh, I can’t travel because I’m working on this book. I have this deadline. And I missed out on a lot of things that I wish I didn’t miss out on. And I think that’s when it, I think that’s when it hit me.

But it didn’t hit me until like months later when I was like in quarantine and I was just like upset. I was like, Why did I do that? I was like, why didn’t I just like, take that time? You know, I’m sitting at my house, can’t go anywhere. And I was just like, I should’ve done this. I should’ve just, I should’ve just gone out.

I think that was, I think that was the moment. I think my deadline for Twins was the moment. Well, not the deadline for Twins, but after I had finished the book, I was like, I don’t want to do that again. I was like I really just had my head deep into this graphic novel, and I don’t want to do that again.

Jessica Abel: This is like the book got turned in and then some period of time and then lock down.

Shannon Wright: Yes. Oh, it was like immediate. So like the book I turned in and I’ll never forget this because a part of me was like, did I cause the uprising of the pandemic? Cause I finished the book and I remember it was around the time when Animal Crossing was coming out.

I was just like, I’m done with this book. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I’m going to go and be isolated. I’m going to play Animal Crossing. And no one talk to me for like a month or two. And then it, and I think Animal Crossing came out in like March. And then the lockdown happened and I was like, I didn’t mean like isolation like that.

I just meant like, I, I just didn’t want clients. I was like I just don’t want to do work for a little bit. And I was like, oh my God. Why did I say that? I literally talked about how I just didn’t want anyone to talk to me. I was like, I was like, no one talk to me! I just want to be alone. And then I was like, oh, got your wish. Now you’re alone. And I like dang.

Jessica Abel: Ugh, yeah. Did you during quarantine and, and after, having it all hit you and having big feelings about being alone and not being able to see other people, did you make conscious decisions about how you want to spend your time as new projects arise and you have new opportunities? And what were those, how did you reassess.

How did they reassess after overworking?

Shannon Wright: One thing I did was I wanted to talk to my friends more. We got on to discord, and we like chat all the time. Another thing that I started doing, and I had tried to practice this before, but another thing I started to do was I set like a hard work schedule for myself. Like, Hey, we’re going to work during this time. And then we’re going to check out, we’re going to like clock out and I’m going to watch a show.

And so one thing that I was doing for a while was I had started this new series and I was just like, okay, I’m going to do my work. And then once, you know, six o’clock rolls around, let’s just say six o’clock. I want to stop.

And I’m going to watch the series that I’ve wanted to watch. And that’s kind of. Not even kind of, that kind of just kept me motivated. That did keep me motivated to be like, okay, I got my show reward and now I’m going to do my work. And at the end of my work, I’m going to go to my show and I kept that up for a little bit.

And it really helped because I was just like, it’s Shannon time. It’s me time. I’m going to get dinner. I’m going to put on the show I really like. I don’t even remember what show it was at the, at the time. And I was like, and I’m going to relax. I’m going to take a shower and put my feet up. And that’s what I’m going to do.

And I did that and it helped out a bunch. I was like, friends want to hang out in discord, play games, X amount of we, or X amount of times a week? I’m going to do that. And so now that’s what I do. I will finish my work and I’m just like, okay, I want to spend some time with my friends. I want to talk to my friends. I want to play games with my friends.

And that in a lot of ways has kept me like recharged and ready for like the next work day. And that’s, that’s like not something that I was doing beforehand. I was just like working odd hours, sleeping in, or staying up super late. Going back into some college habits that was just like working into the night.

And I was like, I cannot do this anymore. I think I tried to do like a quote-unquote all-nighter with some assignments, maybe like a few months ago. And my body was just like, girl, we are not 18. And I was like, and I was like, oh my gosh, we’re not 18. And you know, I think my friend was talking about how they had, had, tried to do an all-nighter now.

And she was like, it felt like I was hung over. I was like, why did I feel like I was hung over? And I was like, we just can’t do it anymore. I was like, we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t do it at all, but we do not have that in us anymore. Now I’m just like, I’m ready to go to sleep.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, it sounds like you’re in that sort of first big transition, you know, there’s a, there’s a post-college transition where you have to figure out how to just run your life day to day. And there’s this big kind of post post college thing where it’s like, no, I actually want to have daytime hours and regularity and know, what has come, what’s coming next and not be freaking out. And that’s kind of that kind of thing.

Shannon Wright: Yeah, it feels really good. I mean, there’s definitely still moments of uncertainty, but I have a better handle on things where I’m making lists. I’m just like, I need to go grocery shopping. I need to clean up. I will say having a cat and having like a pet has helped that a lot because he has a schedule and he knows the schedule and does not let me forget that he has a schedule.

And so I’m just like, oh, it is this time I got to do this. And I got to do that. And he will meow away to be like, mom, it’s breakfast. And I’m like, you’re right. Time to get up for work. And then, you know, dinner rolls around and I’m just like, oh, I should eat too. Also I should stop working. Let’s let’s do that. Um, and so

Jessica Abel: So habit building.

Shannon Wright: Yes, habit building has been something that I’ve actually like learned, during my career and just like through the years and I’m glad it happened. Do I wish it happened a little sooner? Sure. But we’re here now and I will celebrate that.

Biggest mistake

Jessica Abel: For sure. Um, what do you feel like is, is there something that you look back on and you think that was a really big mistake, but something interesting happened as a result.

Shannon Wright: I do have one. It was definitely early on in my career where I was, you know, I was taking on picture books and I had agreed or was going to take on this one picture book and I just completely dropped the ball.

I just like completely either. I was just like super overwhelmed or I just forgot. I can not remember for the life of me what happened. I think I was just overwhelmed and just forgot and never responded. And they had sent me the contract, I didn’t sign it. I think I found years later it was under my bed and I felt really bad about it.

Uh, super young. And I was just like, wow, this is the end. I really messed up. I like have severed probably all my chances with publishing and whatnot. . And that ended up not being the case. Uh, and it’s funny because they, like, they had hit me up, like years later after I had an agent to like, they’re like, Hey, we’re looking wondering if Shannon could do this project.

And I didn’t know how to tell my agent. I was like, Hannah. So, uh, I didn’t mention this when we first signed together, but this is the book that I kind of fubbed on and I just dropped the ball with. And I don’t know if they remember me. And she was like, oh, okay. And stuff. And I mean, I ended up not, like they ended up going with another artist and stuff, which, whatever.

It was probably for the best, but I was like, I was like, oh my God, maybe everyone just forgot. And then it just came into my life again. And I was like, oh, they kind of went and told my agent this.

And, and my main concern was like, I’m afraid that she’s going to like find out that I like completely dropped the ball and maybe like ruin ties and maybe this is going to create a bad name for her and stuff like that. And that’s not what happened at all.

She was just like, oh, okay. It happens. And I was like, what? And you know, 20, early, young twenty something Shannon thought it was the end of the world. I thought I had really like, you know, people in publishing, we’re probably going to talk about me and how I was just like a disgrace or something like that. And nothing like that happened.

Jessica Abel: Right. I guess the lesson for you at the, at the time, what you thought was happening is that it would be the end of your career. And everybody would know, and somehow it would just be a black mark forever. And I guess what you learned from it is that contract negotiations and these kinds of things are just not, it’s not as personal for the person on the other side.

Shannon Wright: Yeah. And, and I found out, you know, they just needed an artist, like at the end of the day, like they were just going to find someone else either way.

And I guess also another thing I found out from that whole interaction and that whole moment in my life is that like, apparently books can get moved around because here I was like 2018, I was just like, I’ve ruined this book for like this publication for this book for forever. And then here it comes years later.

Jessica Abel: It was literally the same book? It wasn’t the same publisher it was the same book?

Shannon Wright: It was the same book. I think It was the same publisher too. And I was just like what happening? I was like, did they just never publish this book?

I was like, why don’t they just find something? I don’t know. Anyway, it was wild. It was wild.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Well, that’s the, that’s the big, the big lesson, right? It just wasn’t as bad as you thought and you’re going to survive. It’s going to be okay. Your relationship with your, with this publisher is okay. Your relationship with your agent is okay. Like it’s all going to be okay. And we can weather these things, you know?

Shannon Wright: Exactly.

What do you wish your younger self knew?

Jessica Abel: Yeah. All right. Well, I want to wrap up in a second here but, um, speaking of early twenties, Shannon, what do you wish early 20’s shannon knew that you know now, other than resting

and not working all the time?

Shannon Wright: Um, Hm. What do I wish early 20’s Shannon knew? That’s a good question. Um, I wish early 20’s Shannon knew that a lot of your relationships, and I know this is just like general advice, but a lot of relationships are going to change and that’s okay. Sometimes things, a lot of things aren’t forever. That applies to relationships. That applies to jobs. That applies to just opportunities.

It applies to literally everything and that’s okay. I will say early 20’s Shannon. You were a ball of anxiety and it’s going to be, okay. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. I think that’s what I want to tell her because good God she was just nerves.

She was just nerves, hesitation. Just it’s going to be okay, girl. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. And um, oh, I guess another thing I want her to know is time really does help heal everything. It really does. And you know, you might be impatient in your early twenties, but time really does help a lot of things.

And it’s just going to take time. It might take a few months. It might take a few years, but time and you know, other resources and whatnot, but time really is something that helps you through these years, you know. It’s just time.

Um, oh, ask for help. I think that’s what I want to, I think that’s the main thing I want to tell her. It’s please. Don’t do it all yourself. Please, please, please, please, please lean on some people and ask for help. And create boundaries. Create boundaries. That will help you significantly. Um, yeah, I feel like these are just like life, life lessons, but yeah, boundaries.

Jessica Abel: What do boundaries look like for you?

Shannon Wright: Boundaries look like for me now is just being open and saying like, Hey, this doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t have this going on in my life. Also boundaries for me also means just stepping away and just like. Just stepping away and just letting things go. Sometimes boundaries just come in the form of just stepping away and just like putting your hands up and saying, this is out of my hands and just doing something totally different.

So yeah. That’s what boundaries look like for me.

Jessica Abel: I mean, it feels like it dovetails with the end of the day, Shannon time, like

that. it’s a similar.

Shannon Wright: Yeah. Boundaries in a lot of ways, boundaries also just me and like a hard, no. Like boundaries are just a hard no. And even if it’s not a hard no, even if it’s in my gut saying like, eh, that should be a boundary. That should just be like, we’re not really feeling this. Let’s, this is a no. This is maybe, maybe quiet no, but it’s still a no.

Jessica Abel: No to projects or no two?

Shannon Wright: I would say no to projects. I would s- it’s, it’s in regards to no to like social interactions that you don’t want to be a part of. I know there’s this need to just like always be involved and like, be going and stuff like that, but it’s okay.

A boundary, a good boundary has to be like, I am socially taxed out. That’s okay. That is something that I wish I had said sometimes. And just been like, girl, you are socially taxed out. You do not have to extend yourself further to people, to either please them or to not upset them or to, you know, make them feel this this way while you’re like suffering on the inside. You do not have to do that. It’s a lot of things I would have told.

Jessica Abel: If only she had you in her life.

Shannon Wright: I know only if she had 27-year-old Shannon in her life who had gone through an ongoing pandemic in her life. And a cat.

Jessica Abel: Okay. So list: go through a pandemic, get a cat. These are the,

Shannon Wright: Yes. Yeah. Go through a pandemic! Get a cat!

Jessica Abel: Well, fortunately everybody who’s listened to this has done one. So we just have to look at number two.

Shannon Wright: I know. I didn’t make bread, so I failed there.

Jessica Abel: Well, maybe people who had sourdough starter use that instead of a cat in their life

Shannon Wright: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re

Jessica Abel: You gotta feed it. care for it.

Shannon Wright: Yeah, exactly.

Jessica Abel: All right. Well, Shannon, thank you so much for talking with me today and sharing all this really interesting inside information about your career and how you got where you are today. Appreciate it so much.

Shannon Wright: Thank you for having me, Jessica. It’s always great to talk to you. I have been looking forward to this for a while. I honestly can’t wait to hopefully see you in person again and just like chit chat and get some good food and, you know, just be goofy. I, that’s what I like most. We don’t even have to talk about art. We can just talk about our favorite shows that we either like or dislike.

Jessica Abel: I’m very down for that. So let’s look for an opportunity.

Shannon Wright: Yes.

Jessica Abel: All right

Shannon Wright: All right. Talk to you later.

Jessica Abel: guys. See you later.

Outro

Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.

Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.

You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.

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