Amarilys Henderson is a watercolor illustrator and surface designer. She is a licensed artist and an online instructor on Watercolor Devo App, listed as a top teacher at Skillshare. She is the author of the book Drawing and Painting Expressive Little Faces.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My childhood was scattered in a few places. I moved about every three to four years since the age of three. I’ve lived in the D.C. area, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and landed in Savannah for college. My birthplace, Puerto Rico, was a constant place I’d return to every summer to have time with my father. I learned to make friends quickly and observe the ways to adapt to a new place, a new group of people. I think this has helped this introvert learn how to engage with others and appear comfortable well before my feelings have entirely caught up. Conversely, I would never come out of my cozy shell of my home studio if I waited to feel ready. I’ve come to understand that much of life is throwing yourself into uncomfortable waters and learning to swim as you go. Being self-employed requires having a working knowledge of several areas that are not your strength, and having enough competency to move forward. We often discover things we enjoy in those foreign waters.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I think we all walk around waiting for someone to award us a medal, a title, a trophy. I’d appreciate a nice, big banner over my desk that reads, “you’ve arrived!” or a video game screen to appear on my computer at times stating, “you’ve achieved passage to the next level!” I struggled so much with imposter syndrome earlier in life, the mocking thoughts questioning, ‘who do you think you are?’ It is no one else’s job to tell you that you’re ready, good enough, doing well, or even killing it. And even when we receive such accolades, the same inner critic will cause us to doubt it. And yet, I always knew that I was headed to a life of making a living from my creative work. I was blessed to have been raised by an entrepreneurial mother who never left much room for doubt that the arts were simply another area of careers.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
We artists have a notion of being discovered. Perhaps you hope you’ll attract the attention of a big-time client or a popular blog will want to collaborate. Maybe you’re awaiting the knock of a large media outlet that wants to feature you. We hear such stories, and so… we wait. We feverishly try to get better and try to make ourselves more prominent on social media, and while both are worthy of some time and attention, neither are likely to do the work for you. The magic is in the follow-up, in our rubbing elbows and making the hard calls and over-delivering on work. The irony, of course, is that even if we were so lucky as to be discovered by a giant of some sort, they pay little or you may find that the notoriety can only reach so far. It’s your marketing efforts and your work ethic that will provide all the lucky breaks you need.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I give all the credit for my successes to God. How could I give myself the talent and come across the right opportunities at just the right time? If there’s anything else that I see helping me stay the course and see progress it is this: I have no plan B. I remember asking myself, “what if this doesn’t work?” Our first son was three and I needed to help supplement our income. I thought about other jobs, but I couldn’t picture it; I figured that if one creative avenue didn’t work, I’d try another, but I would continue to make my craft my career. I am resolved to have my art be my work, whether I get paid or not. Aside from it, I see no other lifestyle.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
My greatest heart cry is in getting my heart in the right place by placing first things first. Morning reading, prayer, and worship set the proper perspective for everything else to fall into place. My greatest strategy for making money is to multiply my efforts from a single task. A painting could be recorded for teaching, sold as a print, or licensed for commercial work, and it can also be used to promote these in marketing efforts. And my greatest goal throughout the day is to focus my efforts and guard my energy levels.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
This year has really thrown us for a loop! I’ve lost my daily hours and have had to opt for strategies I had given up on before. For instance: working evenings or answering emails amidst helping the kids with school. But despite these seeming setbacks, I find that I can still use bits of wisdom from having worked on my productivity this long. Focusing on to many priorities is still king because going to bed knowing that I maintained small upkeep-type activities just doesn’t cut it. Grouping tasks by their kind (as in running all my scans or Photoshop work or marketing work) really helps me move through tasks quickly. And one thing holds true: my phone is a powerful tool but a dismal boss. Brain fog and frustration are my great enemies. Have you ever tried to dig yourself out of those ditches? Emotions and enthusiasm are powerful and I’ve found that courting my phone like a needy puppy absolutely exhausts my energy. Ficus is the name of the game! We must be ruthless in cutting the distractions.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I’m a big believer in understanding ourselves, and so after discovering my strengths through personality tests like Strengthsfinder and the Enneagram, I’ve noticed a theme in my reading style as well. It can be summed up by this book title: Good To Great by Jim Collins. Being exclusively interested in how to maximize my natural abilities, I enjoy reading books like You, Inc. by Harry Beckwith, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace . I also enjoy biographies such as Wild Swans, The Remains if the Day, and Suffer Strong. Present Over Perfect has also helped me balance what it is to be a mom that’s present rather than wrapped up in her work.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I have a little piece of paper I intentionally “come across” often. It’s placed in a trinket dish I designed for Dayspring (Hallmark) where color swatches, hair ties, and binder clips fall. It has two words on it doodled in watercolor: dream, calling. The word “dream” is crossed out. Dreams come and go and can often be based on flighty or desire that spring from envy or as we like to call it, “fomo.” But calling is particular to each person, it’s special, it’s unique and it’s rooted in the purpose we were each designed for. I want to focus on that. We creatives can often get distracted and excited about all of the possibilities we see! We truly believe in the power of being able to do anything and we become stimulated when we see fresh ways of fulfilling our wishes. I reel in these distracted desires by reminding myself to focus on calling. This also keeps me from doing little tasks that are not bad, but of the course that God has laid out for me.