The following is my snowflakey story. I'm mainly looking for advice, but if I can help anyone else, I'll definitely try. tl;dr if you don't want to scope out this essay.
I joined this website six years ago, and within the first few days I knew I wanted to be a concept artist. Or, I did at the time. You don't really have a choice when presented with that kind of work, especially when you're 15.
I'm 21 now and attending Ringling College of Art and Design for Illustration- it's second semester of my 3rd year. Next year is the last one. I consider success having a job/having already done freelance work before graduation/ inclusion in important annuals- all of those I've looked up to have had similar successes. Francis Vallejo comes to mind immediately, of course. He was my idol by the time I got to college. His work, along with many others, made me realize what I felt about digital vs. traditional media- I now know I will never be as satisfied with a piece of digital work as I would be with an equivalent oil painting, or print, or anything else.
So I also knew by then that I did not want to be a concept artist. I did not love drawing and painting creatures, or machines, or environments, and especially not with a tablet.
My 2nd year was full of experimentation and attempting to emulate the work of my favorite artists. Each assignment was done with a different media or technique. Tomer Hanuka, Victo Ngai, Brad Holland, Sam Weber, Eric Fortune. I went down the list and tried em all out. I'd have tried much more. None of them were particularly impressive. I didn't expect them to be. The underlying reason for doing this was that I had no work of my own. All this time I still do not feel as if I've ever made a piece of work that I could call my own.
This made me very anxious- all of my heroes had, by this time, been making huge strides in their art and were developing personal and engaging work.
By all accounts I should have been and should be satisfied. I'm a fairly competent draftsman and one of the better painters at my school. But I had, and still do have, so much envy for my friends and acquaintances who know what internships to look for and know their own work- they just need to work on their work. I've been working on other's work.
And now, when I should be working my hardest on my work, I am losing my motivation, and my passion. I don't know what I'm working toward. I have vague goals like 'get into annuals', but the path to them is muddled. I feel as if I knew for sure what career I wanted and had a desire to become a great editorial illustrator or a great gallery painter, or one of the many, many other things I could be, I could dive into these goals and tailor all of my assignments towards these goals- work ferociously toward them. But right now, whenever I am given a new assignment in which the media is open, or, god forbid, the entire assignment is open, I have no idea what to do.
I've built this set of skills and now I've found I don't have a desire to do anything specific with them. I feel like a toolbox, rather than a carpenter. And I'm not sure where to go from here.
For the past 2 months or so I've retreated into self-help and motivational online resources and I feel like I've learned quite a bit about the problem I'm having but not much about what to do about it. Most advice is to get inspired, but inspiration isn't my problem- I can pump myself up to take action, but my problem is about which actions to take.
Maybe it all stems from unrealistic expectations- I can't have the success that Francis or James Jean or anyone else has had. And I'm aware that many top illustrators working today were shitty when they graduated. But I have really high standards for myself...
Sorry for the essay guys. I hope others have had similar experiences.
tl;dr: I don't know what I want to do for a career in illustration and it is wrecking my motivation and drive, and I hope others here have gone through the same thing and we can start a meaningful discussion on the topics of passion, drive, and motivation.