This is the season of people embarking on the next step of their life journeys, graduating from high school, college, etc. In today’s episode we discuss ways you can move forward in your creative journey, discuss the need to be focused, the importance of craft, life experiences, personal projects, and sharing your work. Great advice for any recent grads or really anyone who wants to improve as an artist or person.
In the last few weeks Jake has been visited by a handful of high school kids and college underclassmen asking for advice on what they should do to prepare to get a job in the art world. In response to that, he asked a bunch of his artist friends at Emerald City Comic Con what was once piece of advice they had for someone graduating high school who wants to be an artist for a living. To watch that video click here.
Lacking from that video was our advice. He has some things to say to people who have chosen to walk the creative path. If that’s you, then settle in. If it’s not you, please share this with a person you know who’s going to art school, or recently graduated. You can read it too, of course. This advice is universal and it just might help you no matter what stage in life you’re at.
To read Jake’s blog post: click here. Or keep reading since this show is a mix of Jake’s thoughts with Will’s and Lee’s, that’s why we call it 3 Point Perspective, of course.
A Career In Art Is Possible.
By now you’ve probably figured out that it is possible to have a career in art. Some art careers make more money than others. Some are more stable than others. But for anyone who has the skill, the drive to improve, a healthy work ethic, and isn’t afraid of the unknown it’s possible to get to the point where you can support yourself and even a family with a career in art.
In school there are grades and personal opinion that plays into things, but in the professional world it seems to sort things out. It puts everyone where they are supposed to be, the good people get work, the average people struggle to get work, and those that aren’t so good don’t get much work. It really rewards talent and drive and is pretty fair, there aren’t too many people who are super talented that aren’t getting work.
It also depends on what you classify as success. A lot of people land in art related jobs that weren’t exactly what they were aiming for but for those people they end up loving them. There are some who have book deals and who struggle to make ends meet between book deals, and there are others who struggle to get book deals but are really good at business and are making even more than those with book deals because they are good at freelance and are business minded.
There is a combination of being business minded and finding ways to generate passive income and those who are really good at the craft and struggle with the business side of things.
There are two sides to the coin if you want to really be successful as an independent artist.
This is mostly for independent artists. There are some people who have day jobs who work at studios. This is good for people who aren’t as business minded, you show up and provide a service to the company and they pay you for that service, and then you go home, and repeat.
If someone had sat us down and told us these things as a high school kid it would’ve saved us years of spinning our wheels.
1 - Focus on one path.
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose. “ -Dolly Parton
You need to be a heat seeking missile focused one thing. A heat seeking missile works by finding a heat target and then ignoring any heat signal that doesn’t come from that target. That’s why heat seeking missiles don’t just fly straight towards the sun when they’re launched.
Picking one thing to do does not mean that’s the thing you’re going to do forever. In fact, it’s very rare to be ONE THING you’re whole life. Steven Pressfield tells us of this truth in his book The War of Art:
“As artists we serve the Muse, and the Muse may have more than one job for us over our lifetime”
That said, you have to start somewhere, knowing how to do something. So pick something and learn what you need to master in order to get a job in that discipline. Learn how other artists got their job. Study the art of people who work where you want to work. That’s the bar that you need to reach. Visit the studios, meet up with the artists, acquaint yourself with recruiters. Do internships. Insert yourself into that ecosystem. Make it so that when you finally apply for that job, it’s a no brainer for whoever is hiring, to hire YOU.
As you go throughout your career you’ll probably do a variety of things. You won’t find success until you nail one thing and get good at that one thing and then can branch out from there.
We’re not saying, become the master of drawing eyeballs. There was a discussion on the forum about this, whether you should discover your personal voice and then decide which market you want to go for or to pick the market and match your personal voice to the desires of that market.
Becoming a jack of all trades comes from going down one path and focusing on one thing and then branching out. Jack of All Trades: they can design, paint, model, animate, storyboard, etc.
Pick a style, pick a market, pick an aspect of that market.
Jake’s example: he was taking art classes at a community college, and then he got a job opportunity and decided to leave and learned how to animate for 2 years.
When you pick one specific path, there are side benefits: he had to learn to draw the figure, understand dimension, shape, form, proportion, and style, because he was focusing on one thing.
On the other hand he could have said, “I want to focus on animation, and work on a comic, and do a children’s book, and try to come out with an animated short this year..” That would have lead to a lot of wheel spinning. Rather than going shallow in a bunch of directions, choose one path and really become great at it.
The side benefit to doing this is that whether you want to go into animation, illustration, video games, film, comics, or children’s books the skills you learn to do one of these jobs has applications for other jobs. If you get into it and realize it’s not quite for you, transitioning to another job isn’t going to be an impossible feat. Go deep in one direction, then you can be more prepared to transition to another thing later on. You can find work in that one thing and then you are better able to make any necessary transitions.
Lee had this experience, he was working on children’s books and then realized that his work could work for art fairs as well, he didn’t set out trying to do children’s books and art fairs.
You want to try and overlap your personal interest and what the market wants, this will give you a greater chance of success. You don’t want to be chasing a market you aren’t interested in, or be creating your own personal work in a vacuum oblivious to what the market desires.
The more you focus on one thing, the easier you are to hire. As soon as you get a job in art, that leads to so many things, because then you are working with people for 40, 50 hours a week who are just as good as you and better, and then you get to learn from them and with them. The sooner you can start getting work at something, the sooner you can insert yourself into that world.
A market is a semi-broad field: i.e. children’s book illustration.
2 - Learn your craft.
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” -Archilochus
It’ll take you about 4 years to learn the fundamentals of art and then a full lifetime to master it.
Learn the fundamentals, and most importantly learn how to learn. It’s going to take a lifetime, therefore, it’s so important to learn how to learn, because the most successful artists we know are continually pushing the limits of their abilities. They understand that the levels that can unfold in art are inexhaustible. They aren’t content with the art style they learned in their twenties.
Draw things you’re not comfortable drawing. If you’re bad at drawing people, draw people. If you’re bad at drawing environments, draw environments. If you are good at drawing hands but not good at drawing heads, draw heads.
Learn everything you need to learn about your one focused path.
Read books on the subject. There’s an amazing amount of information stored in these relics.
Find a good school that can teach you these fundamentals. You’ll know it’s good if the work coming out of the school is good. If not the school, then find a teacher who knows her stuff. Your focus at school isn’t grades or a degree, it’s skill, portfolio, and friends. Those are the three things that matter and are going to stay with you as you leave the school.
Learn from your peers. It’s not who you know, it’s who you help, so look for ways you can help others succeed, and in return you’ll be made better for it as well.
[Find a mentor](https://www.mrjakeparker.com/blog/2019/4/8/how-to-find-a-mentor). A mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you, just someone more experienced than you. Again, see how you can help them, become a linchpin in their system, so that they need you as much as you need them.
When you get into that training mode, you need to treat it like something that is actually interesting. Some people go through it like it’s eating their vegetables and it seems like they don’t really want to be there. Sometimes they put numbers on it (i.e.draw 100 heads), whereas if you really are interested in something, you’ll naturally want to learn more about it.
Train your weakness. But you don’t want to only train your weakness. Be interested in it and find a way to love it, don’t just do it because you are supposed to. It makes a big difference in the result. Someone who is really interested in drawing the head will have much different results than the person who just draws 100 heads to try and check it off. Don’t just draw things to check things off.
When you get really interested in things it takes you on great paths. Lee feels really comfortable in value and it’s a strength of his, and he’s experimenting to see if you can create interesting images that when the color is all gone it’s just a grey square meaning, trying to push the boundaries and deliberately not lean on value.
Avoid contentment. Of all of the artists that Will knows that gave it a go and then gave up and became a realtor, the main thing in common is that they became content with their craft. Will knows this because he was guilty of that and felt like he had already achieved his style years ago. Art is about taking risks, if you aren’t taking risks and challenging yourself, then you will be stagnant or worse, experience art atrophy.
You need to be very forward thinking. Every drawing you do, every project that you finish should be better than the last one.
Carve out R&D Time. Jake would try and carve out R&D time each week to draw something new, a new character, vehicle, etc.
Recently Jake had been doing a lot of contract work and hadn’t really taken time to push himself creatively and he got out of shape from character design because and he sat down and it took him over twice as long to come up with a character in an interesting pose compared to how long it would normally take him. He had become rusty.
No matter what is going on in your day and week, you need to carve out some time each day to keep your skills and your creative muscles sharp.
He came up with a character and wanted to put them in a cool pose, it’s not that he couldn’t draw, it was that his instincts were rusty.
Even when you’re a pro, you still have to carve time out to train yourself. Sometimes there is a relief that comes when you can sit down and draw because you spend so much time taking care of contracts, emails, and administrative stuff.
The Batman Bruce Wayne principle, we went over this last episode, but to review: There’s no Batman without Bruce Wayne. There has to be a head in the real world and someone managing finances to support his night time crime fighting. The same is true here, you need to train and learn so that you can have fun creating.
3 - Get a life.
“It’s more important that you go off and learn what to make movies about, than how to make movies.” - Advice given to JJ Abrams from his father
You’re going to be learning your craft, and you will never “arrive”, maybe something that’s even more important is what you are going to use your craft to do.
Sometimes as illustrators we become so focused on beautifying things and making things beautiful but can make the story and the content take second priority. Some people fall in love with rendering. We can be in love with the craft and not with telling stories.
What to tell stories about? That’s why you need to have a life! You need to have experiences and live life to help inform and fuel your drawings. Don’t be shallow and vapid. You want to have some tooth and some depth to your work, when people leave they are changed and they are engaged by it.
Jake just drew his take on Darth Vader. If he just copied exactly how Vader looks in the film, it would be contributing nothing to Vader’s story, people could go online and look up a picture of Vader if they wanted to.
Instead, Jake thought, “Who is Darth Vader? He is mostly machine, he is mostly heartless, he is very intimidating and foreboding.” So Jake did a version of Darth Vader and really pushed those qualities and made a more exaggerated more comic book like version of him.
If the goal of mastering your craft is to be able to show the world your vision, then the goal of every artist is to have a vision that’s worth showing. In order to do that you need to live life and have experiences worth building off of and sharing.
Cut the fat, and live deliberately. Live less online, and more in life. Make friends. Date people. Get married. Go places. Whether it’s exploring the south side of town or the southern hemisphere, there’s something to be gained from every excursion outside of your home.
For more on this, be sure to check out our “Work / Life Balance” Episode.
The purpose of this is to fill your creative bank account with enough creative capital that you can barely contain it.
4 - Do one personal project a year.
“You make your place in the world by making part of it.” - Art & Fear
Just by creating something and putting it out into the world, you become a creator who creates. You can’t be the noun without the verb.
Every year, try and create a physical something and put it out into the world: i.e. a comic, a book, a new website, a print, etc.) Something tangible or something that someone can experience in the world.
The great thing about a personal project is that it encapsulates focusing on one thing, mastering your craft, and sharing from your own life experiences.
The way to get work is by creating work, by creating personal projects.
We often get asked, “My work is great, why won’t anyone hire me?” (which is also the topic we covered in our very first episode. If you aren’t being hired, you need to start creating that thing that you want to do and fill your portfolio with that type of work or even create a project or product that you can sell of the work you want to do.
Job offers from books that you’ve done on your own.
Take all your pent up creativity and use it by putting out a finished product at least once a year. Something tangible. Something you can point to and say, look, I made this thing.
Pump all your experiences, the craft you’ve attained so far, and your passion into this project.
You only become known for your projects you make, not for the craft you’re privately learning. No one will know the experiences your privately having unless you share them through your projects.
Oftentimes if you are a professional artist you will have people critiquing your work, asking you to make revisions, and everyone has their 10 cents to add. Personal projects can come to your rescue. Personal projects can help you hold onto your sanity.
A group in Singapore saw Will’s personal fan art, then they looked for him online and found his Youtube channel, then looked him up that he is a children’s book illustrator, and they are having a conference for children’s books and they are having master classes and they are having talks about maybe flying him out to Singapore.
Your personal project is going to give you a benchmark for yourself. This year I made this, and this is the best thing that I can make. This will give you something to aspire to beat with your next project. This will also be a calling card and something that other people can point to and say “look, this person made THIS.”
Some ideas for someone, maybe just out of high school. If you want to do comics or a children’s book, you don’t need to do a full 32 page story. Maybe just do a short story, with just 5 pages that tells a simple story.
Back in high school, Jake didn’t have energy and had a 20 page comic and so he just made it into a 5 page comic and at the end it said, “to be continued…” He printed it and gave it to friends.
Start out small.
5 - Share your work.
“An artists job is not to be perfect, but to be creating.” - Jeff Goins
The students we’ve talked to are a little afraid to share their amateur work. If that’s how you feel, quit thinking of social media as an art gallery with wall space reserved for your best work. Instead, think of social media as a peek into your studio. Invite them in, give them a glass of water and a comfy chair, and show them what you’ve been working on. No pressure there. Use twitter, facebook, or instagram as a way to document your progress online. Think of it as a public journal of your development as an artist.
Don’t make your social media a monster that you have to feed with only your best most perfect work.
Don’t be shy, share your work.
Put out work, even if it’s a struggle.
Create daily, then use social media to document that. It will help turn some people into fans as they see you work, learn, grow, and struggle. Be honest, tell people who you are and what you’re about. Tell them what you’re going to be someday, and invite them to watch your journey.
What will happen is your audience will grow as you grow. They will be your online cheerleaders sharing your work with others, and first in line to buy whatever you make.
The SVSLearn Forum are such a supportive place, and you will find a community that is generous and always trying to help lift and encourage each other.
Be sure to check out SVSLearn.com, it’s the place to go if you are interested in learning to illustrate children’s books or to learn art fundamentals.
Focus on one path.
Improve your craft.
Get a life.
Do one personal project a year.
Share your Work
Lastly, I just want to share this quote from Bob Dylan:
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.”
Remember, life is too short to be stuck doing something you don’t want to do, and it’s also too short to waste time doing something that isn’t working for you. I hope these five things give you a head start down that path of doing what you want to do in life. As the [good doctor](https://amzn.to/2W6Fqns) once said, “Your mountain is waiting. So...get on your way!”
Lee’s favorite quote, from a fortune cookie, “A good beginning is half done.”
Spend time being interested in the early part of an image and doing studies and sketches and stuff. Don’t rush to the finish. Start slow, build it up, and the nice finish and the portfolio piece will be a byproduct of that.
Alex Sugg: alexsugg.com
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