"How to do illustration, how to make a living at it, and how to make an impact in the world with your art." If you listen to our podcast frequently that probably sounds very familiar to you. We have focused a lot on the first two points in most of our episodes but today we want to talk more about the third part of our podcast introduction that we don’t talk about as much, which is: How to make an impact in the world with your art. We go over ways in which we have seen our art impact the world and individuals, how it's impacted us, how you can make an impact with your art, and something you shouldn't do if you really want to make an impact. We also will go over some super practical tips for getting started!
What work have you done, that has had the most impact in the world?
Will doesn’t write the children’s books that he has illustrated but he feels like he really is able to bring a lot to the table with his art and is able to make the stories more clear. One of those books is Bonaparte Falls Apart, and he is working on the sequel right now and it has an anti bullying theme that is not overt, in that the story holds up on its own. He loves and enjoys working on them and because the Bonaparte books have sold really well, even though the second hasn’t come out yet, the publisher has hinted that there may be a third book.
Pretty much every kid experiences bullying and even the kids who are bullies probably get bullied at home. It’s really an important message to help kids become empowered and overcome and deal with those emotions in a positive way and overcome. The Frances books have a kid who is a bully in them.
Will had an epiphany reading those books because he used to tease his sisters and sometimes he was a bully; in one of the Frances books he remembers that the sister goes off and is crying because of her brother’s bullying and it really tugged at his heartstrings and must have been pretty impactful because he can still remember that experience now over 50 years later. He realized that he was the bad guy in the story and it really changed him. It was a children’s book that taught him that lesson. I don’t think that you can quantify the impact of your art.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember where we have shared things and if we have shared stories before, so we apologize if we keep sharing some of the same things.
Lee feels that where he has made the most difference, it was probably not with his books, instead he feels like it is the connection that he has been able to make with his one off images. Sometimes it’s a momentary thing and he strikes some inspiration and creates a fun print, and then he goes to art fairs to sell them.
One time, Lee was getting ready to close at an art fair when there was this woman who came to his booth and one of Lee’s prints caught her eye and she was holding it up looking at it. Lee was waiting for her to leave so that he could tear down his booth but he noticed that she had tears running down her face, she was crying, he wondered what he had done or what he should do. She was looking at this picture of this girl swinging really high on a swing hanging down from a tree. She shared that her sister had died when she was young and that she liked to swing just like that. Lee gave her a hug and she was just bawling and he gave her a print. It was just such a personal connection and one of the most powerful moments of his career. That’s just one experience.
On a more consistent basis, when doing art fairs, older people will come to his booth and they will stop and look around, and have this starry look in their eyes. One time this lady said, “I remember this”, not speaking of one piece in particular, they were talking about the feeling of being young. It wasn’t just one image or just one book, but the overall impression of Lee’s work.
Lee gets these ideas and likes to make images and are fun, whimsical, and capture a moment. He has seen that happen a lot, with older people coming to his booth and it gives them this shot of something they may have forgot and they leave smiling.
One of the things that Jake did that inadvertently had an impact on the world was start an art challenge called Inktober.
He didn’t set out trying to make an impact on the world but he gave himself this challenge to try and get better at his craft. He easily could have said, “I’m just going to do this challenge in ink and you guys can follow along.” However, instead he decided to make it a challenge and he invited other people to participate if they wanted to and he made some parameters or rules for the challenge: you draw an ink drawing every day for the month of October and share it online. What started out as a single person doing a self improvement art challenge turned into thousands and thousands of people.
He gets so many emails every year from people sharing how it has helped their creativity; it gets people drawing for themselves again, a lot of professionals share that they draw so much for work and Inktober helped them draw for themselves and remember the fun in drawing; people show how they improved so much from doing this and got better as an artist; others share how they got all of these new followers because they showed up and posted consistently on Instagram.
Jake had no idea what he was starting. He is trying to actively promote it more and participate more and try to make it more accessible for others.
He’s done childrens books, graphic novels, worked on animated films, but everyone views him as the Inktober guy. At first, he thought, “No, i’m so much more.” But now he accepts it and if that is his legacy or how he is known, then that’s great.
What work have you done that has had the most impact on one other person, not the world, but one other person?
Success leads to Success
Will: We have all been very fortunate. You have one success, and it leads to more success. A small amount of people setting out to do the thing that they set out to do and they experience success. It’s not from talent, its from getting little successes along the way and building off of those.
Will got started with editorial but now that market has dried up a lot. He would tell his students, “You can’t follow the path I was on, the water washed away the path.”
We’ve probably had a lot of situations where we have helped someone and had someone come up and share a testimonial of how we have helped him.
The one that has been especially meaningful to him is that a handful of times he has been at a comic convention and had someone come up and say, “I have a booth over there.” They would continue to share how the reason they have a booth is because they watched Will’s youtube series on doing comic conventions. Will’s Youtube Channel. Will shared his experience with his first comic convention along with all of the failures, finances, disappointments, and successes he experienced when breaking into the con scene. He really documented his experience, both his failures and successes.
It is so rewarding to hear, “You changed my life, I’m here because of you.” It’s so rewarding, and the internet magnifies our ability to have a positive impact in the lives of others.
Doing what we do as teachers, we get a lot of emails sharing successes. Fairly frequently we get emails saying, “I got an agent”, “I got my first book deal”, it is so nice to hear of these successes and please keep sending us those emails and keeping us updated. We also get an email once a week or every other week talking about this podcast.
Success begets success. It makes it easier to be successful when you have successes along the way. What separates us from other artists just beginning their career is just the time that we’ve been doing this. I really do feel like anyone that sets their mind to anything, almost anything, can accomplish that thing. I mean you can’t grow and become an NBA player if you’re short. (however, that didn’t stop Spud Webb But there are so many things that you do have control over. I think that the thing people are battling today more than anything, if you are listening and wondering if you really can make an impact in the world with your art, the answer is that you can and you will, but you have to be willing to make sacrifices. Especially early those sacrifices are painful but later on they aren’t as bad and you are able to have more of a work life balance.
Keep Working At It
For Lee and his books, he likes the books that he has done, but he hasn’t had the impact that he wants to on his audience yet. He feels he hasn’t done the book he was born to do yet, that is what drives him to write, and he is turning down a lot of offers, and he feels guilty doing so but he hasn’t done the book that he really wants to offer to the world yet.
That’s his “First world problem” Why you don’t want to do the thing that you have set up your life to do.
Over time your career becomes more and more specific. Early on in your career: someone could ask you to paint a window, work on editorial, or on books, but now, for Lee, it has become so much more specific. You might not set out to be that specific but it’s where your career takes you.
What work have you done that has had the most impact on you, personally?
For Will working on fanart has been a game changer. It changed the style that he does even in his children’s books, the book series he is doing right now is based off of the style he developed from working on fan art.
Will before fan art: Over illustrated. This has been an evolution/maturing process, before his priorities were misplaced. Lee could add a lot more detail and rendering but he chooses not to. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Will would have editors tell him his color stuff was cool but did he have anything else, they were basically telling him that he was putting too many colors in, and was emphasizing things that didn’t need to be emphasized. It made him really reevaluate. He went to comic con and realized that that’s what every artist does they try to really hit you over the head with a lot of color, and he didn’t want to fit in. He wanted to stand out, and so he thought of a style that would stand out, and it gave him a style he could use for children’s books.
Lee was really frustrated in school and right out of school. He had some successes, but he hadn’t found his medium: he tried acrylics, pastel, oil color, and then one day he tried watercolor. Then it was off to the races, and it really started to happen and he didn’t feel like he had to force it. It didn’t happen in one piece but it was a process. It was about discovering the right medium that fit his sensibilities. It was night and day from that point on.
Adding Good to the World
Jake’s answer to the most impact on one person question:
Jake came up with Missile Mouse, the graphic novel, and he put it out into the world. He was hoping it would be a great success, maybe become a New York Times Best Seller, Pixar love it and it would be made into movies and... It sold fine, but it didn’t have the impact he had wanted it to.
One day about a year later he got an email from a woman whose son was really sick and was hospitalized with some illness that you never want a kid to have to go through, she said that the one thing that gave her son pleasure and made him happy was reading the Missile Mouse comic and just wanted to thank Jake for making it and putting it out into the world.
That really stopped Jake in his tracks and he realized he was so dumb. It doesn’t matter how worldly successful Missile Mouse or any project you put out there is, so long as it makes someone happy or improves someone’s life to some degree, just one person, that right there can make it successful and worth it. That is one of his stories.
Another thing is his Youtube channel. He’ll get emails sharing how they have really helped people.
One of the things that Jake created that had the most impact on him?
The first real perspective drawing that he did in 7th grade. That was him learning a new technique or principle of art and then sitting down and trying to make this thing the best that he could make it. When he finished the piece he really felt like it was quite stellar, he was amazed that he could create something like that and his art teacher really appreciated it and gave him good marks. He saw that piece going through an old box a few years ago and thought, “Oh my gosh, I was proud of this?” There was nothing special to it.
But what it taught him was, he could learn to do art. Art wasn’t just a hobby, this is something you can learn to do and get good at and devote your life to. That piece had a huge impact on Jake.
The reason we have gone over these three questions:
1.What work have you done, that has had the most impact in the world?
2.What work have you done that has had the most impact on one other person, not the world, but one other person?
3. What work have you done that has had the most impact on you, personally?
And the reason we shared them in that order is because there is a common thread between them. The main thing is, and the way that you will ever make an impact is you have to actually make something. You have to create something. It doesn’t have to be awesome, it doesn’t have to be good. Jake’s perspective drawing wasn’t awesome or good, it was okay.
It wouldn’t have gotten any likes on Instagram, (maybe a support like from his sister.)
The impact can only happen if you create something, if you make something and put it out into the world. Nowadays we have so many resources and ways to share things with the world.
The key is:
Learn your craft, and share it.
Create something, do something, or make something, and share it.
Teach people how to do the thing that you’ve learned.
Always be engaging with people, asking questions, answering questions, and be apart of the community that you want to be apart of.
What you create doesn’t have to be a full graphic novel, It can be a flat piece of artwork like the prints that Will and Lee would sell at art fairs and comic conventions.
You can create something that shares a message that you believe in. It can be a story that you want to pass on to people, it can be any sort of medium that you love and want to be apart of.
Lee’s Pet Peeve
The discount share: “here’s something I made, it’s not that good...”
The self deprecating share, where you are putting it down before others have the chance to put it down. It’s not putting your work on the line.
It’s the social media disease. So many Youtube videos start with: “This is how I would do it, but you don’t have to do it this way, you might think the way I do it is dumb, it’s just the way that I do it..” It’s all about acting like it doesn’t matter or you just flipped it out and so it doesn’t matter.
Instead, say, “here’s the sketch, here’s why I am putting it out there.” The sketch or the painting doesn’t have to be great. You just want to be authentic. We want it to feel authentic, and that you care about what you are sharing, how you feel about what you are sharing and your intent behind sharing it is a lot more important than if it’s awesome.
How do you avoid the terrible feeling that comes when someone comments and says it’s bad or not good. The one in a thousand voice. There is a sea of encouragement and that one negative voice can really hurt and stand out from the crowd.
Set a goal to be rejected. Lee set a goal to be rejected 50 times by publishers when he was getting started, and it made it not a big deal. “Alright, that’s number 7, on to the next one:)” Maybe set a goal to get 100 negative comments.
When starting SVS, we were introduced to Chatbooks which wasn’t an overnight success. Their original concept was you take the best pictures from your phone and you would get scrapbooks made of your best photos sent to you monthly or semi monthly. Basically people take pictures but they only see them online, and the owner was was trying to solve that problem. This guy developed the first generation of chatbooks and people said that it was a great idea and then no one showed up and it flopped, generation 2 came and he got the feedback that it there was too much work involved then generation 3 was him trying to make it as easy as possible. So they automatically print your pictures from your instagram. You have already curated the best photos and periodically they can send you a photo album of your best and favorite photos. It failed twice before they were able to get it right.
We have all done things that have failed and it’s the person who keeps going, they are the people who are going to succeed.
People criticize everything. It can be the most perfect thing ever, and someone would still say something. For evidence of this, find something you love and read the Amazon reviews for that thing.
Even our perfect podcast got a one star review a little bit ago. “For people who talk about being so organized, these guys aren’t organized at all.” It’s actually so true.
We all like the media and we consume different things. Some people may look at a show you like and say they hate it but for you and for others it’s perfect. That’s the same for our podcast. If we tried to make it so that everyone liked it it would fail, because we’d be trying to cover too many bases.
Our podcast is for people who want to listen in on a conversation between 3 people who love to draw and paint.
Failure: Jake was doing Inktober for 3 or 4 years before it actually took off. It was just Jake showing up year after year trying to stick with it and keep going and because of that, along with the timing and the rise of social media and artists starting to use Instagram, it helped Inktober become pretty big.
Do you make images to change the world?
The best way to not change the world is to make an image to change the world.
Lee was apprehensive about this topic, because he doesn’t think about how the rest of the world will be changed by the art, he is just thinking about the art!
Will’s author friend, the late Rick Walton, said something along the lines of: “If you set out to teach a moral in your story, you’ll almost always fail. You should set out to tell a really fun or interesting story, and if it teaches a moral then thats a benefit and you can use that moral to market it, but if you set out to teach a moral, almost always your story structure will fail.”
It makes it too didactic and predictable. It will feel like you
If you start out with a question, or statement, or proposition to get your story started then that’s fine. I.e. I just want to talk about money is the root of all evil, then that can inform your story but that doesn’t mean that it is your story.
Some Practical Tips for Getting Started
What do you need to do as a creator to make impact?
Don’t set out to make an impact. Just by creating, by sharing who you are, your stories, your experience you will make an impact.
Here’s a list of things that you can do:
Work towards being able to do an art fair or a comic con. You learn so much from doing this. So much work is shared online, and there is this digital wall separating you from your viewers. But when you are face to face with people you get a lot more genuine response to your work, and you will really learn how people respond to your work.
Start your own personal art challenge. Not with the idea of it taking over the world, but just to improve and learn yourself. You could even invite another friend to also take on the challenge and then you’ve already benefited another person. Maybe you try and do a drawing a day for a month, or a drawing every week/52 drawings for the year, or maybe you try and do a painting every day for 30 days, it could be a portrait challenge, etc. Start some sort of personal art challenge and share that with other people.
If you learn something about art, actually set up an appointment or get together. You could invite friends to come and you’ll teach them how to draw perspective.
Art Drop Day, one day out of the year, the first Tuesday in September. You create something and leave it somewhere with a note telling the finder that they have found your art and it’s theirs to keep. It’s a fun way to engage anonymously with the community around you. If you want to make some sort of impact, then do a little Art Drop, and leave it in your favorite book at the library or tape it onto the window of your favorite restaurant. And share some goodness with your community. It’s going to brighten someone’s day.
If you reverse engineer someone who is super successful and is changing the world. Keep in mind that they had to start by learning their craft and doing the mundane stuff that wasn’t changing the world. Think about doing the the basics and fundamentals as your preparation for doing something that will change the world.
Now go and start creating and make an impact in the world with your art.
Alex Sugg: alexsugg.com
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