Episode 02: Am I Too Old to Get Started?

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Many people wonder, is it too late? Or, am I too old to start?

Will, Lee, and Jake talk about this age old question and discuss how it isn’t too late. There are many successful creatives that didn’t start until they were older. Lee shares his story and how he didn’t start art until later on in life.

We talk about ways you can amp up and make the most of your early years if you are starting for the first time, or looking to accelerate your growth later in life. We discuss some of the benefits of age and the need for sacrifice and prioritizing to create a thriving career in art.


Podcast production and editing by Aaron Dowd.

Show notes by Tanner Garlick

Am I Too Old to Get Started?

Am I too old to shift careers? Am I too old to start as an artist? Am I too old to start this big project I’ve always wanted to start working on?

What’s the average age to start working? If you grew up with an interest in art, drew all the time, and went to art school then most people start their art career maybe in their mid-twenties. Often people who get to art a little later in the game wonder, “Am I too old to do this?” Young people think, “When am I going to get that job?”

Regardless of your age, you are probably comparing yourself to people older and younger than you, and wishing you had done something different when you were younger or feeling like you are so far behind.

Examples of Successful Late Starters

Sang Jun. https://www.sangjunart.com/

Didn’t start drawing until he was well into his twenties. Realized he loved drawing, and started practicing, went to art school, ended up getting a job at Lucas Film doing character design for Episode 3, and then became a lead character designer at Blue Sky. You don’t have to start in your late teens to make it.

Lee White. https://www.leewhiteillustration.com/

Didn’t draw in twenties, or teens. Wasn’t interested until he was in his thirties and started drawing. Applied to Art Center of Design and got accepted with a scholarship, moved to LA, and graduated when he was 33. Then started getting his first books when he was in his mid-thirties, and that’s not the end, it’s just an on going thing.

Miyazaki, the Walt Disney of Japan, in animation all throughout career until 40. That’s when he decided to start his own animation studio. He did a graphic novel at age 40 for Nausica that he wanted to make into a feature film, all of his great movies were done in his post 40’s.

At age 40, you still have 25 years till most people retire, that’s a long time!

You really don’t ever have to retire.

Art isn’t like playing football, it’s not hard on your bones.

Zombies video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngZ0K3lWKRc

As You Mature, Your Art Matures

Greg Manchess was winning awards and competitions for years, and he came out to do a lecture, he had just done the cover for “Above the Timberline.“ Speaking of that painting he said, “10 years ago I could not have painted this” even though 10 years ago he was winning awards for the Society of Illustrators, etc.

If you really are serious about being an artist and creating the best art you are capable of creating, you have to make it a lifelong goal. It’s not a sprint.

You need a schedule for yourself. You need to have an actual goal, something to look forward to. Without it, nothing happens.

Don’t judge results by if you are right on target.

Say, you’re 35. 5 years will pass whether you like it or not. You’re gonna be 40 at some point. Wouldn’t you rather have done something interesting with those 5 years between 35 and 40, or and tried to do this thing? If time passes anyways, you might as well do it.

If you are starting later, you won’t be creating the same work that you would if you had started younger. You have had so many life experiences: losing jobs, family, work, etc.

Beauty of age, experience, which leads to more informed art.

If you’re older, you’ve figured out how to work and developed a good work ethic. You don’t quit until the job is done. Broader perspective, more interested in learning than instant gratification.

Gina Jane- was a student going back to school. She turned in some of the best projects in the class, she had done a lot of graphic design stuff but hadn’t been drawing for a while. However, she had the work ethic, and she worked so hard at applying what she was being taught. She easily turned in some of the best pieces in the class.

You can accelerate your learning with your experiences. Older students are more okay learning something without instant gratification.

i.e. learning perspective, having a more broad perspective and being more willing to learn.

Battle Plan

For someone starting at, let’s say, 35-36..

Phase 1 or Year 1:

  • Draw for 2 hours a day.
  • Enroll in an online school, SVSlearn, schoolism, CGMA.
  • Learn the Fundamentals: Perspective,  Light and Shadow, Figure Drawing, Composition, Color, how to use Line/shape/tone
  • Fill 6-7 100 page sketchbooks, during your 2 hours a day.
    Work on hands, head, the figure, landscape, perspective, shading, this is your your sandbox for practicing and applying what you are learning.
  • Pick 5 of your favorite artist, do 20 copies from each of these 5 artists. Each copy, you will learn so much from trying to deconstruct what these artists have done. You want to learn how that artist did it.
  • You’re gonna fail with some of them, but you try and learn from the masters by copying their work.
    Depending on what your goal is, it might change your approach.
    Jon Klassen. Does a lot more simple graphic design type work. http://jonklassen.tumblr.com/
    Craig Mullins. Studied industrial design. He didn’t like the industrial design look. Then he went back to school and did illustration. http://www.goodbrush.com/
  • Seek advice from a professional: "these are my goals, what should I do?"
    Sometimes students want to become a children’s book illustrator but don’t really know any illustrators.
  • During this first year, you need to educate yourself on this field.
    If it’s children’s books, every week maybe read 5 a week.
    If it’s comics, know what’s in comics, not just 20 years ago, but what is happening now.
    Fill your creative bank account with what people in the industry are doing.
  • State your goal publicly: and then share your progress on the social media platform.

    That’s your Phase 1/ Year 1, it might take 2-3 years.

Phase 2: Build Your Portfolio

  • Draw 4 hours a day

  • Intermediate classes, these online schools, and svs have more advanced classes. More one on one with teachers.

  • 4 sketchbooks this year, not studies, concept art for portfolio.

Illustrator: ideas for illustrations or childrens books
Comic artist: ideas for characters, your take on Wolverine, etc.

  • Complete the Draw 100 Somethings Challenge: boats, trees, flowers, gummy robots, dinosaurs, robots, etc. Teaches you to not be satisfied with first 2-3, or 20 designs. Teaches you that true creativity comes after you have drained all the low hanging fruit. Jake did 200. Just to prove that there is no end to the ideas you can do.

100 Somethings, Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxa01j9Ns7o

  • Continue Studying. If you’re aspiring to do childrens books- keep studying children’s books. concept artist or animator-reading every word in the “Art Of” books. Comics, keep studying comic books.

  • Social Media- post your 100 somethings. Post your sketchbook studies. Can start growing a following, cause you aren’t just practicing but sharing your own unique ideas and what you are bringing to this field you are entering.

  • Choose your heroes. Educate yourself on what you want to do. i.e. children’s books, comics, animation.

  • Post regularly, share your work, journal chart progress, share what you’re learning.

  • Keep Studying
  • Start to pay attention to stories. At the end of the day this is what will separate you. See what the story is about, not just the details, separate that.
    Eventually everyone will be able to draw and paint, and story is what will separate you.

Ultimately, Star Wars is all about a family. It’s a family drama, that’s what it is about. Be able to see the broader view, what’s the story about, and how did they tell that story. You can really get some great insights to storytelling, story building, and how to tell your own stories.

You don’t want to just be a vapid artist who isn’t saying anything.

Key: Ultimately, it is your stories that you tell that will separate you from the others.  Be observant of stories in your life and all around you. What the story is all about, what is the broader view? How did they tell the story. Look at it separate from the details.

They’re not saying anything, or they’re saying the same thing that has always been said.

  • Be conscious of the style that you are developing.

See "Uncovering your Style", https://courses.svslearn.com/courses/uncovering-your-style

Phase 3: Make a Product.

  • Kickstart and Create your comic, illustrate your book, concept out your idea. Create something that works for you.


  1. Teaches you to Start and Finish a project.An actual product, suggests a finality to the project. Not just a project. Finished not perfect.

  2. Learn Marketing

  3. Learn Production

  4. Learn Salesmanship.

  5. Learn who prints things, and how to get things printed.

  6. Learn about how when things get screwed up how to fix it?

You’ll be more educated and understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

Year 3 is all about taking everything you are learning and create something with it.

  • Enter contests, put yourself out there, step up to the plate, try it, and get work out there. This is the best that I have got, this is what I have to share. Helps propel you to a new step. Do your best, and then move forward.

You need moments of finality and stair stepping, then you can ask, “Where to go next?”

  • Keep finishing things, then you go on to the next thing, and keep doing your best, then you can decide where to go next.

Don’t just keep a bunch of unfinished things in the drawer.

Ultimately, we want you to teach yourself how to finish and present something.

  • This will also help you flesh out a network. If you want to be successful, you need to build a network. People above, next to, and below you.You’d be surprised at what jobs and opportunities will come.

Someone above may like your work and throw you a bone.

Someone next to you may recommend you for a job. 

Someone below you has opportunities too.

Start building that network by building things and putting them out into the world.

Get into the network/world that you hope to enter.

Project creates a connection with people in that world, starts a network.


  • Study a film a week, a graphic novel a week, etc.

Will used to have though that “If I look at other people’s work I would be copying.” Originality comes from taking and combining, and studying. Will wishes someone would have grabbed him and told him that. Keep feeding yourself.

All creativity is, is connecting dots. Connecting dots that other people wouldn’t haven’t thought to connect. In order to connect dots, you have to have dots in the first place if you’re not filling your brain, then you have no creative capital to work with, you have no thoughts.


How Can I do This?

You have 4 hours in a day. You work for 9-10 hours. You have 14 hours. Maybe you shave off an hour of sleep, maybe you stop watching a TV series.

It really comes down to what you want to sacrifice. You shouldn’t sacrifice family, or your job. But there are some things you need to sacrifice to go down this path.

Need to discuss this with your spouse or significant other.  I.e. “This is something I feel really passionate about, let’s work out a plan, maybe Thursday Friday nights are spent doing this, and you get me Saturday and Sunday.”

Maybe it’s not 4 hours a day, and it’s 2. You can get a lot done in 2 hours. If you don’t prioritize it, it will never happen.

Come up with a schedule. Maybe it is Thursday or Saturday.

Early to Rise.

Jake gets up at 4am to work on Skyheart.

Lee wakes up at 5, works from 5:30-9:30 or 10AM.

During that grouping of hours, stuff happens.

You can get a ton of work done in that group of time.

Pursuit of Happiness. The main character would drink less water, so that he didn’t have to use the restroom as often and could therefore make more calls.

You’ve got to ask yourself, how bad do you want something? It comes down to that.

I really want to play the guitar, but I didn’t sacrifice for it, I didn’t prioritize it. I said that I really wanted to play the guitar, but if you don’t sacrifice and prioritize it, then you don’t really want it.

You can’t have good things without some sort of sacrifice or some sort of skin in the game.

Yuko Shimizu, http://yukoart.com/

She had a full time corporate job, and kept her job until eventually she hit the tipping point and she quit her corporate job, and now is an incredible illustrator.



Jake: Skyheart, 60 Pages left to color, it’s coming along well!

Lee: Working on illustrating some different subject matter.

Do rough sketches, then Find 3 key beats or difficult passages, and does an illustration of those passages, cause that will set tone for the rest of the book. Not just page 1, 2, etc. and does those pages and then it influences all the rest of the pages.

Will: Wrapping up Texture Painting class, Finished up the Alice in Wonderland series for Comic Con, and just finished a children’s book.




Jake Parker: mrjakeparker.com. Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: willterry.com. Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: leewhiteillustration.com. Instagram: @leewhiteillo

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