Category: advice for creative professionals

Who Do I Want to Be? Maturing as an Artist

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately talking with artist friends.  We’ve known each other for years.  Many of us know each other from way back in our college days when we’d hang out in the Student Center with piles of books and art supplies and draw together for hours on end.  Since then, we’re all able to see how we have changed from the wide-eyed artists who just loved to draw whatever struck our fancies to the more mature artists struggling with what mastery of the craft truly means, or just struggling to find the time at all outside of day jobs and other life pursuits.

I think we’ve all matured as people and as artists.  We are no longer satisfied with just drawing whatever flits through our heads.  Time is precious.  Competition, for those of us who have gone pro, means that just drawing whatever we feel like is no longer good enough to push our work to the next level.  Back in my teens, there was no pressure to sell art.  There was no pressure to compete.  It was purely art for art’s sake with little consideration for the pressure that is making a living off of art.  Back then, I had no idea how this pressure would affect my work in the future.

These days as a more mature artist, it’s a constant struggle to not place pressure and preciousness on every little thing I draw. It can’t just be a doodle, it must be a MASTERPIECE!  If it is not, I have wasted precious time on something that neither makes me money nor advances my skills in a larger way so that I can compete with the people in the industries I’m aiming for.  I talked about the fallacy of this attitude in my last post (Stuck in ‘The Gap’) and I know this is the wrong attitude to have.  Still, funny how that happens eh?  I think it happens or has happened to everyone I know trying to make a living at art.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I am much more concerned now with style than I ever was in the past.  By style, I’m not talking about a specific visual style, ie. that Quirky Thing that Angela Does that makes someone recognize my work.  Rather, I’m talking about a philosophy of art.  What do I want my work to communicate?  How do I want it to communicate these thoughts, feelings, and moods to my viewer?

Style, to me, is more about what I want my viewers to feel when they look at my work, more so than finding a ‘trick’ that makes my work unique.  A huge positive of having this perspective later in my development as an artist is that I can now focus my work on a more deep and symbolic level than I ever could as the young, scatterbrained artist who loved to draw anything and everything just because I could.

Speaking of scatterbrained, I remember also how we all loved to learn and do so much, especially in school and didn’t have a sense of how quickly time gets sucked into a vacuum of Adulthood and Responsibilities (and doing laundry, never-ending laundry!).  I wanted to be a comic book artist, a book cover artist, a novel writer, a fine artist, a mask-maker, an editor, an art consultant, video game writer, and a concept artist (I’d still like to do so many of these things!).  Greg Manchess’ post on finding one’s audience really struck home for me.  I need to pick one or two of these things and focus on getting good at them, then expand after I’ve gotten sufficiently badass at those two sets of skills.  I realize also that’s not going to take a year, but years of my life.  I have accepted this fate.  Realizing a chunk of your life will be consumed by getting good at something is one heck of a stabilizer in this industry.

Go figure, I ended up choosing book cover artist and mask-maker as my two fields, in the end.  The latter was quite a surprise!  Leather mask-making came out of the blue as a talent I discovered for fun that quickly expanded into an income and side business.  Life has a sense of humor like that, I’ve noticed.  Maybe it was in the blood? (My father was a leather crafter in his younger days).

How I wish sometimes that I’d had a clearer focus on the one or two fields when I was young, but then perhaps I would not have learned the varied skills that I have now?  Jack of all trades, master of none, as they say.  But at least I now know what SEO means, how to use an Oxford comma, and how to mold cow skin into something beautiful.  Surely, this means I can get into a trivia show at some point in my life?

Anyways, back to the present!  Now, I seem to have found a sense of myself and my ‘style’.  I have felt the first concrete thoughts about what I want my work to be like settling into the mold of the artist I want to be.  I want my work to be like James Jean’s, to capture that sense of a dreamlike reality without verging into the Surreal.  I want to tap the heart of fairy tales like he has with his work on Fables in a bold, mature way.

I want to bring narrative and emotional atmosphere to my work, like Waterhouse did with his paintings.  I want to condense the aesthetic beauty and semi-realism of Mucha and Rossetti into something wholly new.

But I still want to be me.  I want to be more than the sum of my inspirational parts, so to speak.

And I agree with Greg’s assessment that the only way we can define ourselves, at first, is to emulate those that we admire until we realize what makes our artistic voice different from those influences.  We only find that voice with time, study, patience, and creating a whole lot of work to weed out what feels right and what doesn’t.  To mature as people and artists is the only way these things can happen.

The time has never been better than now to really push my work and see what I can create as the artist I am now, an artist honed from those years of exploration into a keen observer of what I like and don’t like, what I want to be and don’t want to be.

There’s something coming with my work.  I can just feel that bud of potential ready to blossom, if only I continue to nurture it!  I’m so excited to see what happens next and that makes me extremely happy!

Thanks for sticking with me through all my ramblings, dear readers!  I’ve been introspective of late in these entries, but perhaps they will help someone out there?  They certainly help me.  I can see the stepping stones on my mountain of Mastery becoming clearer the more I have these kinds of conversations with myself and with you all.

Here’s to the exuberance of youth and the discerning wisdom of maturity!  Two essential ingredients to being the people that we want to be.

Critiques, Portfolio Reviews, and Consultations for Artists

This week I tentatively rolled out a section on my website for Creative Consulting.

What means this ‘consulting’?  Well, some of you might remember my Portfolio Reviews and Critique Corner articles here on this blog where I was able to provide direct feedback and helpful resources to artists wishing to improve their work.

Sadly, these sections of my blog have faded away after I realized I just don’t have the time anymore to do them.  I’ve been increasingly busy dedicating myself to my own portfolio work as well as nurturing commission work on a grander scale than I ever have before.

However, I really, really hate to see these columns go and I stand behind the way this kind of direct interaction and critique can help other artists in a profound way.  As such, I am still offering portfolio reviews and critiques for modest fees, which you can view the rates here.  If you have a surplus of deviantART points, I also take payment in points for the red lines and paint overs here.

This is a way for you to work with me directly without having to catch me in-person at a convention.  We also won’t have to worry about your subject matter, which I would previously have had to censor if it was going to be featured on this blog, which I try to keep Safe for Work.

An example of a paint over and critique featuring the art of Kim Ravenfire.
You can read the full critique here.
An example of a red line featuring the art of Judith Mayr.
You can read the full critique here.

For more examples of my critiques, read on here.

I still plan to participate in critiques online in places like the GoldenCritique-Club on dA and WiPnation, but I will only be able to do so when my schedule, interest, and projects allow.

In addition to paint overs and portfolio reviews, I am also tentatively offering online art marketing consultations.  I’ve always wanted to do this, but felt I could not until I was at a point in my career where the methods I have studied and experimented with have yielded tangible results so that I can be confidant and justified when advising other artists.

E-marketing and its potential for artists is a passion of mine which I have studied professionally in the Arts Administration program at The Savannah College of Art and Design.  There, I earned my MA after the completion of my thesis focusing on the evolution of audiences and patrons via the expansion of the internet and its social venues.

I’m excited to finally be able to apply what I have learned on a grander scale! I have previously only provided advice via panels at conventions, blog posts at this journal, and private interactions with artists I know seeking advice on expanding their business.

These sessions are meant specifically for individual artists and will focus on their current e-marketing strategies, filling the gaps of their e-marketing knowledge, and discussing which online venues might work best when considering their work.

For those who are new to my work and don’t know my history in being able to critique art or speak on the topic of e-marketing for artists, you can also read about my credentials and experience with these subjects on the Creative Consulting page.

I’m excited to foster this new way of connecting and helping other artists!  I look forward to what amazing work you guys might send my way and the trust you might place in me in helping to improve your future work.

Wishing you all inspiration!

Staying Informed in the Art Profession

A conversation with a fellow artist spurred me towards writing about this topic.  This particular friend was curious about entering a new field in art, in her case, concept art for video games.  She was really curious about it, but the idea of absorbing so much of the unknown concerning this entirely new field was stressful for her!

I can definitely relate!  I felt much the same way when I was first considering concept art as a career path before I went to college and again when I thought I might pick it up again as a career a couple of years ago.  I eventually turned back to illustration for a multitude of reasons (ie. not being able to relocate, not wanting to divide focus, etc.), but changing fields is something constantly on my mind.  As such, I always try to stay informed for my own personal career goals and because regardless of whether I will work in concept art or not, video game design and concept art remains something I highly enjoy.

So the question remains – How do you inform yourself before you enter a field and how do you STAY informed, once you work within that field?

Talk to Working Artists

For me, the learning process began by first talking to an artist I know who actually works in the business.  Talking to a working artist is the fastest way to separate the glamorous impression of the job from the realism of the job.  Concept artists, for example, face everything from difficult clients, corporate bureaucracy, long hours, low pay, and extremely high competition, to a lack of a guarantee that their project might even see the light of day, in some cases.

I’ve found my fellow artists to be some of the most friendly and pragmatic people I’ve ever met.  Most artists want to see other artists succeed, so never be afraid to ask!  They can also oftentimes provide you the honest feedback you need about your work that family members and friends might be too nice or simply uninformed to give you.

The Outside World

While the internet is great, sometimes escaping that warm fluorescent glow can provide you with more accurate and up to date information than the online world.  For instance, as an illustrator, I like to keep up with trends in book cover designs by going to the bookstore’s Fantasy and Sci-fi section and scoping out the competition. I take note of trends in art styles, popular subject matter, and the names of the publishing houses who publish books with covers that seem similar to my own design sensibilities.  My hope is that when I’m ready to market my book cover portfolio, I’ll have some viable targets to contact, rather than having a portfolio with no idea of where to send it.

The same can be said of concept artists for video games.  Go to game stores. See what the bestsellers are. See what new games are coming out.  Check out the trends and who is working with the kind of style and characters you particularly enjoy.  Chances are the developer of that game has a particular design sensibility that you would fit in with at some point.

Online Communities and Groups

With the internet at our fingertips, you can find so much information at online groups like CGhub, CGsociety, and  Many of these sites have previously published articles about everyday practices in the industry that are invaluable primers for artists at an entry level. and CGhub are especially useful places in that they cater to both digital and traditional artists, unlike CGsociety, which generally caters to digital artists.  All three of these sites have job listing areas, which is icing on the cake!  Another perk of all of these sites is that all of them host art challenges where you can get experience creating a piece of art, which can be handy if you’re not sure what to put in your portfolio.


There are three blogs that I frequent moreso than others because they provide information relevant to me as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy and freelance artist.  They are:
Muddy Colors – A blog ran by a collective of some of the top artists in the fields of concept art, illustration, and sculpture.  They share everything from business practices to technique tutorials from tried and true professionals.
The ArtOrder – A blog ran by Art Director, Jon Schindehette.  Jon is an invaluable resource not only for having an AD’s perspective on portfolio building and professionalism, but he also has a passion for inspiring other artists.  He hosts frequent art challenges with prizes that are highly worth participating in for your own skill building and for the exposure your work might receive from his well chosen challenge judges.
SurLaLune Fairytales – This blog is maintained by Heidi Anne Heiner, an expert on fairy tale studies who has her finger on the pulse of fairy tales in past and modern culture.  She posts very often with the latest news about modern revisionist fairy tale movies, books, etc. and about her own compilation books of fairy tale motifs.  Definitely a must-read for you fairy tale illustrators out there!

(EDIT can’t believe I forgot this one!) – How could I forget to mention Chris Oatley’s blog? Chris Oatley is a character designer and the spearhead behind the Oatley Academy, where I am a student of Painting Drama. His blog posts and Artcast cut right to the heart of my concerns as a freelance artist and tend to inspire me when I need the boost most. It’s a new one on my frequent reading list, but an invaluable one!


It hurts having to pay subscriptions, but I consider my subscription to ImagineFX an invaluable connection to the Sci-fi/Fantasy and concept art industry.  While the tutorials and free Photoshop brushes are hit or miss sometimes, the real value to me as a working artist are the reviews on current technology and art books.  Reading these reviews helps me make better decisions about my purchases so I can spend my budget wisely.  
I also enjoy their profiles of accomplished working artists which gives me a valuable glimpse into where these artists came from as people and how they are succeeding in the industry.  Reading about their journeys inspires me to continue walking my own and that kind of motivation is priceless! They also host contests, post articles about new online art projects and communities, and gather other odds and ends of information that help inform me as an artist.
This list could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here!  Long story short, the best way to keep up, in my opinion, is to know who the working artists are in your field, know the companies that are active and hiring, and never live in a void.  Staying informed goes hand in hand with staying inspired!

What are some of your favorite places to keep up with your field of art?  Share in comments!

Artists and Schedules – Maintaining Creative Flow Without Going Insane

As is usual with any time that I’m forced to sit on my duff with hours of free time, I start thinking of a thousand ways to strategize what I’m going to work on next, how I’m going to improve towards my career goals, the meaning of life, etc.  Gallbladder removal has been a massively introspective and motivating time for me.  The whole year has been, really, as constant road blocks have forced me to slow down and think of my physical and mental health more carefully.

I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my schedule hasn’t been the healthiest.  I have often ended my work days feeling anxious and unfulfilled.  I never seem to get enough done!  I would often find myself working late and fretting, which in turn, worried my partner on multiple levels.  That constant feeling of ‘not getting enough done’ made me unhappy, just as the constant nagging feeling of ‘you should be producing more’ made the times I should have been relaxing with loved ones a nerve-wracking experience. I always wanted to ‘escape’ and slink back to the studio to work because if I could just get one more thing done, I could finish and be at peace and enjoy myself during downtime, guilt free!

Enjoying myself outside of work and even simply doing art for fun became a distant memory.

I never could put my finger on why this always seemed to happen to me until I sat down and wrote an hourly work schedule representing my work habits as they were.  I split my time between leather crafting in the mornings, illustration client commissions after lunch, and finally, the rest of whatever’s leftover of my day, should I finish client work, was spent trying to cram in those precious portfolio pieces and studies that are so important to the long term development of my career.  Broken down, I was only getting a couple hours dedicated to each thing and that’s barely enough to enter any kind of ‘flow’!  I define flow as that creative trance you enter which usually takes me more than two hours to achieve since I have a very particular work space I have to set up, which usually takes some of that precious time to arrange.  I don’t work well in spurts, it seems.  Discovering this about myself has proven so very useful!
The solution?  Schedule myself and train my brain to be satisfied with what gets done in a day.  It helped to start thinking of my leather crafts as a part-time job, which it has become, much to my surprise.  Leather crafts make up a good chunk of my income when art sales are low.  The schedule is looking something like this now:
Monday to Tuesday – Work ONLY on leathercrafts!  That way I can take time with my craft projects and look forward to those days coming later in the week when I can return to my true love, illustration!  I’ve noticed delegating these days for only crafts has actually made me more inspired to do this kind of work because I don’t mentally associate craft-time as ‘the time I take away from doing art and rushing to fill every order before arttime’.  I actually have had time to create new patterns and have some exciting new product lines to release in the near future thanks to the simple switch of days!
Wednesday – I update my website first thing with the rest of the day dedicated to art at the coffee shop.  I noticed my website was constantly falling behind because I had no set time I’d update it, so I’d just forget!  Including website updating on my weekly schedule has helped me to keep it updated, which is important for any Art Directors who might have their eye on me or others who need to see that my site is updated and I am active.  If my website is already up to date, I spend that time posting to other neglected galleries online because goodness knows there’s enough of them!  Behance, FurAffinity, Epilogue.  The list goes on!  As much as I wish I had a personal webmonkey to handle all of my website updates, I’m still only a one-woman show, at the moment!  Forsooth! I’ve even managed to fit in time I actually leave the studio in this schedule!  A little fresh air goes a long way when you start seeing faces in the proverbial yellow wallpaper of your studio walls. 
Thursday to Friday – Glorious 2D art-only days!  I’ve decided to start my art-only days with warm-up exercises, either life drawings or daily prompts (ie. Spitpaint).  Then the rest of the day can be spent in creative flow, rather than split up trying to do a billion different things, which just hasn’t proven conducive to my sense of satisfaction and frankly my productivity as an artist!  Trying to do everything has given me a year in which I’ve not produced much at all, for as much as I scramble and am ‘busy’ all of the time to the point of nervousness when I am not working.  I also know if I don’t make time to do studies, I’ll just skip right to trying to solve the ‘masterpieces’, and that’s a fast ticket to frustration since I’m not stopping to learn what I need to learn to attain the level of Mastery I need for the kind of work I want to be doing.
Saturday and Sunday – I try not to work these days unless I am behind or have a rush deadline.  It is incredibly important to me that I do not work every day of the week!  Everyone needs the downtime and these are days I’d rather be spending time with loved ones.

And there you have it!  My prototype of a schedule.  I’ve tried it for a week already and I must say I’m already feeling ten times less stressed out!  There’s no telling how this schedule will be upturned by conventions, rush orders, and other such things, but I can say from experience thus far that discovering what my tolerance for a creative flow has been a life-changing experience.
So my advice to you and any other freelance creative professionals is to learn what your ‘flow’ threshold is, especially if you’re like me and have to work your art time around other activities.  The excellent book Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art really helped me as far as figuring out how to get the most out of my day.  Artists from all walks of life, married, with kids, full-time, part-time, etc. give their best advice for how not to go insane keeping your ‘creative flow’ strong.

How do you maintain ‘flow’ throughout your day?  Share your tips in comments!

A bit of shameless self-promo before I go. If you do end up getting the book, you can use my Amazon referral link to buy it and give me a nice little earning from your purchase! I’d appreciate it very much and the book is well worth adding to one’s library if you are a creative professional.

How to Take Criticism

I’ve been talking with friends and artists a lot lately and this topic keeps coming up.  There have been many blog posts about how to give criticism (see my Guide to Criticism), but how does one receive criticism?  Why should we?  Is there a right or wrong way to take it?  Better yet, is taking criticism essential for being a creative professional?

I remember the very first negative criticism I received way back in the days of Elfwood, where I housed my first online gallery ever.  (You can see my old crappy Elfwood galleries here that I’ve left up for nostalgia’s sake).  Sharing art there was the first time I ever received any kind of negative criticism concerning my art.

My young artist ego was shattered by the brutal honesty of some people who weren’t shy about telling me a piece was ugly or not well done.  It was only later that I realized that most of these comments were not valid criticism, they were abusive and destructive.  Some of their comments were honest about the piece’s effect on them, but hardly any solutions were provided to fix what might have been wrong with the piece.  Frustration and self-doubt ensued!  Silly, I know, but back then I was way more sensitive than I am now many years later.

Therein lies the first lesson we must learn as budding artists about criticism.  You must become an expert at separating destructive criticism from constructive criticism and judging the validity of the critic.  Not all critics mean well and some just want to troll you while others are honest but have no idea how to describe a solution to help you.  The former should be ignored while the latter can help you to think about a piece in ways you may not have before and should be accepted as an opportunity to delve deeper into a new perspective.

I had far better luck bringing my work into a Circle of Trust formed of artist friends who were not afraid to be honest, but who could also provide constructive solutions to the problems in my work.  I encourage young artists to do the same, especially during that tender beginning of your art career where a single bout of negativity can be destructive to your potential.

Epilogue’s forums were my old critique stomping grounds.  Lately, CGhub and CGsociety are pretty awesome sites with helpful communities.  Despite the CG tag, they both allow traditionally painted pieces in addition to digital.  Facebook Groups of artists are a good place to participate as well with a select set of skilled people who are more apt to give you constructive criticism.  You can start your own group or join one of the many already in existence.  Another idea is to start a mailing list exclusively for your Circle of Trust.  Mailchimp is a good free solution for doing just that.  Mailchimp also lets you keep multiple mailing lists.

But then what happens when you move into the work force?  That’s certainly no place to have a thin skin or you won’t last long, especially on a project requiring multiple people on a team where you’re required to collaborate.  If you can’t share ideas and take suggestions, your work will stagnate and you’ll become known as that person who is difficult to work with or produces sub-par work because you aren’t improving.  Sure, maybe you can come to some conclusions on your own after a long while, but chances are you won’t or it will take you far longer than other artists who are more dedicated to sacrificing some ego for the sake of improvement.  Other times, we are just unable to see the flaws in our own work because we’ve been staring at it too long!  I’ve always found seeking outside critique to be a good medicine for the ‘This Feels Wrong, But Don’t Know How to Fix It’ syndrome.

The cold hard truth is you are only setting yourself up for frustration as a creative professional if you cannot take critique.  Thicken that skin early on and you’ll have a far better time of it.

Of course, some days you are just a human being and criticism hurts!  That’s the time you should step away from a piece and take a break from seeking critique for it.  You most likely aren’t going to take it well while you’re frustrated.  Come back the day after with a renewed sense of dedication to making the piece the best it can be, even if you have to change it!  Don’t get caught in the trap of self-doubt that might come with an unsatisfactory piece.  Change, grow, create!  Chances are you’ll end up with a piece you love even more than you did at the beginning.

Do you all have Circles of Trust?  Are they public critique groups anyone can join?  Share in comments!  One of the coolest things about working in the Arts is that nearly all of us rejoice at the chance to help other artists succeed.