Category: advice

Thinking Long Term

It’s been a minute here since I’ve really sat down to post in this journal since I moved into my new digs (other than the short jaunt through the studio). I’ve been slowly, but surely settling into the new space and entering a brand new phase of my life and art.  A whole new balancing act has begun and the time was needed to sit back and consider this without spreading my energies too thin across the net.  I’ve fizzled out of conventions this year for the same reason.  I needed time to sit back and gaze upon my work with a long lens without the obsessive selling haze of conventions and have decided I’d rather be concentrating on producing new and improved work, instead.

Another big change for me is the fact that I am living with a wonderful, loving partner who has willingly agreed to take on the bulk of our financial burden so that I can concentrate solely on my art career.  It’s a definite switch from my previous situation, which involved barely combating my student debt with part-time work, leathercrafting, and getting by with what little commissions, royalties, and art sales I could make. Eventually I wanted to learn how to buy a house after I got some money and started my life up. Seriously I was trying to invest as much as I could and looking into investing some more with my boyfriend at the time. Some might find this surprising, but even though I’ve been doing this for a few years, I still consider myself more towards the beginning than the end of this endless journey to becoming a professional artist (or, to define this term more accurately ‘professional artist’ being an artist who makes the majority of their living off of their art).

The prestigious and encouraging Echo Chernik, whom I met at DragonCon last year, gave me the advice that it takes at least 10 years to establish yourself as an artist.  By that measure, I am only 4 years into this and only ‘middle-aged’ in my career!  If so, the last couple of years were my ‘mid-life crisis’.  I’ve been struggling, mentally and physically, with this career path and if it really was worth the heartache it caused me with my debt, neck/shoulder issues, and the feelings of failure that come with not being where I wanted to be.  Your words really hit home for me Echo!  I had to stop holding myself to the standard that I was a ‘failure’ at being an artist because I haven’t reached my predefined level of success in a mere 3 years.

I’m sure some people are wondering “Well you have someone supporting you now. What are you worried about?  Kick back and relax!”  As a proud, independent, and highly stubborn woman, it’s hard for me to admit that I have to rely on anyone else to help carry me in any sort of fashion at all.  A whole slew of guilt can result from this arrangement with one’s partner, including, but not limited to:

– You comparing yourself to your partner’s profession (and therefore measuring which one is more important or worthwhile)
–  You feeling guilty that they’re murdering themselves at work while you have ‘the easy route’ because you enjoy your job. (Thankfully, my spouse very much enjoys his work, which makes this worry easier to handle!)
 – And finally the kicker for any modern woman, the fear that you’re reverting to old stereotypes where you are the content wifey who stays at home and cooks the meals and does her cute little art thing on the side (aka. art is not a serious job that will make any sort of serious money and therefore, again, not considered a serious persuit).

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned about art, life, and love, it is a balancing act.  Before my boyfriend and I could come to this decision as partners, I had to examine my direction first, ask myself the tough questions.  Is pursuing art as a career worth the struggles we’ll have along the way?  Can it really equal any sort of serious money, in the long term?

In the end, my answer was ‘yes’.  If talking to other professionals who have ‘made it’ has taught me anything, it is that an art career can be both fulfilling and lucrative, but it hardly ever just falls in your lap!  One of the most important revelations I’ve had in the past year or so is that I needed to seriously sit and consider What am I passionate about painting and where does it line up with paying industries?  A lot of people fall short doing this (to which I highly recommend every single one of you read Jon’s portfolio-building series over at The ArtOrder RIGHT THIS MINUTE).  Then, you are in danger of stumbling into the trap of Oh I’ll just draw pretty things and someone will find me.

This is dangerous trap because it often leads to disappointment and I will tell you right now it can equal a lot of wasted years of meandering boredom with what you’re doing or opening up your portfolio one day and realizing you don’t have a single consistent example of the Cool Stuff you want to actually draw and get paid for. (This has recently happened to me. A client asked me for samples of a book cover and I had only…two viable examples. Ugh!)

I am realizing that every job and every opportunity that will come in my career is a victory not just for myself, but my partner as well. He believes in what I’m doing and knows that it is not a fancy or a phase, despite the fact many people around us are prone to think of it as such.  Most of all, he respects it as a job which requires the same amount of dedication, if not more, as driving somewhere and working for a paycheck.  These factors of understanding and respect were essential for us to agree upon before we could ever settle with our current arrangement.  I share these feelings here as a matter of posterity for those who might be dealing with the same conundrum of a work-at-home partner and any of the guilt that might be involved.  It takes balance and respect without judgement of yourself or your partner from either side.  It takes clear communication of what you both expect to achieve together.  Most of all, I know that if this wasn’t our arrangement, I would still be pursuing the same goal.  My path being made easier isn’t an excuse or a reason for success.  You gotta want it first, else you risk not just your own success, but a loved one’s as well!

For now, I’m quietly phasing out the distractions from my career goals and working towards building my portfolio as a book cover illustrator (which branches out into all sorts of fun things, like CCG art and RPG art).  I have one simple goal for this year besides that, which is to attend Illuxcon and get my name out there to a few targeted companies.  I’m keeping it simple, maintaining my balance, and already I am feeling so much better for it!

I hope to bring you some actual ART to this art blog the next time around.  Till then, congratulations for reading through my entire wall of text!

My Portfolio Building Homework Part 4a

Sisyphus – the story of my life.

Once again, I am inspired by The ArtOrder’s latest portfolio-building exercise and what I’ve learned lately about my work, my regrets, and my future as an artist.

All of my art supplies are in boxes right now and I am here sitting on the verge of a big change in my life.  I’m moving to a new area with my significant other as well as taking the first steps to realizing a strategy I have been ruminating on to re-invent my art and myself.

All of this pondering on who I am and where I’m going has me realizing that there is little divide between who I want to be as an artist and what I want to be doing as a career.  I’ve looked back on my own work and realized that I’ve only started painting the things I want to paint in this past year.  I’ve made due in the past by trying to fit my art into a box (the fine art box, the licensing box, etc. etc.) just so I can be doing art and making money, ANY kind of money, so I could call myself ‘successful’ at this livelihood as long as I’m doing something creative.   My approach to being successful has been completely backwards.

I’ve been struggling in my career as an artist, unable to find a focus that I felt fit me 100% or to achieve the kind of monetary success I want.  It’s taken experimentation, a good deal of floundering with jobs I grew bored with, and a great sense of failure that I’ve had to overcome to get to this point.  I’ve struggled with the advice from others that “Not every job is going to be interesting so you need to compromise to pay the bills”.  This is true to an extent, but I realize now that if I’m bored with my work 90% of the time, there are far easier ways to be bored (and get paid better) than stagnating in a field of art that is more destructive to my drive in life than useful.

I’m sacrificing a lot to be an artist and I think where I end up in this career should justify the hardships of pursuing it, not just let me ‘settle’ because I’m doing something creative, therefore I should be happy.  I need more than monetary success, I want Mastery.  From every Master I have had the pleasure of meeting lately, this has been the constant secret ingredient. Their passion has led them to the top of their game and to monetary success.  Companies seek them out because they show drive to mastery, professionalism, and focused specialization. And by specialization, I mean that art directors think “I’ll hire this artist because I know them to be very good at drawing X thing, which fits my project perfectly!”  When you’re a jack of all trades, nobody can really identify anything with you, or they identify the *wrong* thing with you (ie. I think I’m better known for my leather masks now than my actual paintings. Funny how that worked out!)

Getting to know myself better as well as asking myself some tough questions in the Painting Drama class and the ArtOrder’s portfolio-building series have really peeled away a film of indecisiveness that I have been blinded with for a long time.  It’s no coincidence to me that both of these places didn’t jump right into ‘what are your technical skills like’ at the beginning of the program.  Instead, the very first thing you do in both is to ask intensely internal questions.

Who are you?  What are you passionate about?  Where might your passions fit in to the art industry?

It’s no wonder Jon calls this exercise “The Insanity Loop” where we do the same thing the same way and get the same results.  How many times have I written in this journal that I’ve formulated a strategy to enter a particular field of art, only to find what I am trying to do wasn’t right for me after all and then I am sent right back to square one where I’m not getting any of the kind of work I want?

The answer for me has been a simple one.  I am not presenting the kind of art I want to be doing, rather I’m maintaining a status quo of doing the work that keeps my head above water. True, we all have to pay bills, but again, I’ve reached this breaking point where I realize I could be working at a different profession and make more than I’m making now with art.  The pure act of creating is not enough to maintain my happiness and well-being in life.  The mental strain of not being successful at what I’m doing with my art or actually painting the kind of work I want to paint has made me realize that it’s make or break time.

I need to aim higher than I am and figure out a better strategy than ‘do art and they will come’. I needed specific strategic planning and that is what I am finally doing by asking the tough questions I wasn’t asking before, or accepting the answers that I was afraid to act on for lack of my own confidence.

Apparently it’s been a rather cathartic couple of months for me!  I finally feel I’m on the right path in my career.  I’ve got a strategy to paint the types of things I have always wanted to paint and I am far more confident that this simple baby step forward will help advance my career in ways that mere blind enthusiasm hasn’t in the past.  It’s taken this turning of a harsh lens inward to realize what I’ve been doing wrong.

I hope this rambling has proven useful to someone else out there who might be trying to figure themselves and their goal out.  A lot of us start out with such a broad expectation of ‘I’m going to draw and get paid for it!’ but then let our experimental nature and broad artistic interests distract us from applying a pointed strategic approach to anything.  Another important lesson I have learned recently is that there is a difference between an interest and a passion.  A passion is what my career will be.  An interest is where I will spend my time having fun without the worry of judgements or money.

Jon’s portfolio-building series has been one strategizing method which has worked for me.  Maybe it will work for you too?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings in comments, if you’ve taken on this exercise for yourself.  Share with me!  I don’t want to be the only one rambling here.

My Portfolio Building Homework – Part 3

The last assignment was a tough one where I dealt with my ‘self-assessment’ and realized half of what I currently have in my portfolio is not even in my area of interest, personally or professionally.

The next entry in the Portfolio Building series deals with formulating a strategy.  Be sure to read Jon’s original post before reading my homework, else you’re only getting half the battle!

Homework Assignment:
• Identify your “worst Image”, and share what you learned from identifying the image with someone.
• Create your “strategy” using my example as a guide
• Share what you learned about yourself, the process, or the homework with someone

My Worst Image

I still love you, Kana!
Using my portfolio that was mentioned in part 1, my worst image has to be Dragon Prince.  It’s not bad, technically, but it also doesn’t really create any kind of narrative within the piece.  My reasoning for including it the first time was part of a scattershot strategy to include RPG interior black and white images with illustration in a Single Portfolio to Rule Them All.  (Note to self: bad strategy).
I also noticed during both portfolio reviews that the reviewers passed over this image very quickly, as if they were bored by the sight of it.  It also has nothing to do with my target market of book cover illustration.
He is just kind of there…looking pretty with swords.  Perhaps if he were interacting more thoughtfully with a target?  Perhaps if he were placed in a more interesting setting to show some hint of his world to create some interest?  What story is he trying to tell? (or fellow PD students, what is the About?)  What questions are the viewer asking themselves about him? None, because he’s just there with swords with nothing to challenge him, visually or compositionally.
Like many of my pieces in this portfolio, it is one central character who is not interacting with their environment or any other characters. I have a bad habit of being afraid to venture into images with grander scales of action and multiple figures.  It is true some book covers have successful images with just one character, but there is always some element that draws us in, creates visual tension, and gets us asking “why”, like Jason Chan’s King of Thorns, for example.  

I instantly want to know “Why are all those people dead?” “How did he survive whatever battle just happened?”  “Why does he look so damned pimptastic?”  “What is that thing in his hand that looks magical and important?”

In fact, all of the covers for Lawrence’s trilogy achieve what I believe to be a pretty successful one-character set of simply AMAZING covers that make me want to read more.

My Strategy

I chose Tor Books because many of the artists whose work I enjoy (Dan Dos SantosJason Chan, etc.) have worked for this company creating the kind of art I would like to be creating.  Most of the work they produce that I enjoy tell the kinds of mature and mythical stories with subversive characters I would like to be painting more of.  Specifically, I want to specialize in covers with characters, instead of the more abstract symbol covers.
I need to be creating work in the mature, character-centric, and fantasy vein, therefore I need to create images with the following:
  • Engaging characters in covers. (Preference to tattoos, mythic themes, capable females, swashbuckling males, and roguish figures, all which are luckily trending and marketable right now!)
  • Easily readable compositions with areas blocked off for text, but that still feel ‘finished’ without the text.
  • Semi-realistic style, which suits more dark and mature fantasy stories.

Specific Goals List (The Short Version)

You can view The Long Version for specific image briefs, deadlines, etc.

I am narrowing my specific paintings to character-centric fantasy book covers.  Starting with a realistic set of FOUR paintings, which gives me seven months starting in February till August, when I will be attending Illuxcon shortly after.  That’s nearly two months per image, which should be plenty of time!

1.  Kushiel’s Dart Cover – Creating my own rendition of the cover of one of my favorite fantasy novels.  Covers meets my need for tattooed AND elegant ladies in a decadent mature fantasy setting.
2.  Song of Exile (Ramah Cover) – A tentative cover from my own original fantasy story featuring Ramah, an exiled warrior prince.  This would allow me to show a warrior from a desert setting for added portfolio variety.
3.  Song of Exile (Melakim Cover) – A tentative cover from the same setting as Ramah, except featuring my demon-hunting, vampire slaying tattooed Hunter, Melakim.  She would fill my quota of capable female, gritty action scene, the challenge of multiple figures, AND swashbuckling figure.
4.  Persephone Cover – To cover my need for mythic.  I plan to revamp my old Persephone Queen of the Underworld painting with a more narrative spin.

What I Learned:  

I didn’t learn anything new, rather, I learned more specifically what I’ve always known.  I had never been quite sure what it was that I could be drawing that made an image not just a portrait, but a book cover, which fulfills very different needs than a character simply existing in space (which is what my current portfolio is riddled with).

This exercise also got me thinking more specifically about what paintings I could put in my portfolio that aren’t just what I really enjoy drawing, but also which show that I am capable of a wider variety of subject matter beyond graceful tattooed winged women, which is what I am currently known for.

I didn’t have a strategy for the book cover industry yet so this was exceedingly helpful and much more focused than my previous attempt at putting together a strategy for the art card CCG industry.

So far, so good! The strategy is there, but can I bring it into reality???  I suppose we’ll find out!

Back to Part 1
Back to Part 2
On to Part 4 (coming soon)

My Portfolio Building Homework – Part 2

Continuing my portfolio building journey from TheArtOrder’s blog series.  The last assignment asked me to think deeply about what my portfolio was currently comprised of. The next in the series is the self-assessment and asking the tough questions.

Don’t forget to read Jon’s original post before reading my homework assignments here so that they make sense!  Otherwise, you are only getting half the lesson.

Question #1   What are you passionate about?

Imaginative realism, high fantasy, alternate history, world mythology, folklore, subversive characters, art nouveau.

Question #2   What do you want to bring forth in the world?

Paintings and stories about my favorite kinds of mythical and subversive figures.

Question #3   Who do you want to be in your life?

I want to be the type of person who is completely immersed in their passions because I firmly believe that if I am not living a life that does not fulfill my inspiration and passion for art that I am unfulfilled, emotionally.  

I need to create and I do not want this act of creation of art, writing, etc. to be a small part of my life.  I want it to BE my life and that is the type of person I want to be.  When I die, I want to be happy that I was true to myself and my drive to create.
Question #4   Where do you derive your inspiration?

Everywhere, culture, human nature, flora and fauna, movies, stories, video games, folklore.  It is my job to make the connections between any and all things, no matter how mundane they might be.

Questions #5   Who do you want to be for others?

I want to be the person they turn to for tales of the imaginative, immersive, and elegant variety.

Question #6   What is your favorite content/subject?

The content I enjoy depicting the most range from roguish character types, characters who walk between the lines of morality, who charm us with their edge of mystery, to the mythic archetypes present in the subtle magic of folklore, particularly figures who visit the underworld and otherworldly realms.  

I also have an affinity for angelic and faerie figures who represent an otherworldly beauty and mystical presence.  I am also fond of illustrations of characters at the passionate partings and meetings that drive their stories, usually tragic or romantic in nature.

Question #7   What is your favorite medium?

Color pencil is still my favorite even though I am trying to work more digitally.  I also enjoy the mix of the luminous translucency of watercolor with the texture and precision of color pencil.

Question #8   Who is your favorite painter/illustrator?

It’s so hard to choose when there are so many illustrators I admire!  If I have to choose just one, it would be John William Waterhouse because of his powerful storytelling, mastery of texture, and his whimsical mythic subject matter. He paints the subject matter I want to paint with the kind of mastery over texture and atmosphere I wish I had.

Question #9   What is your favorite texture, piece of anatomy, basic shape, color to paint?

I enjoy the textures of flowing satin cloth, graceful necks, and jewel tones.

Question #10   What do you get out of painting?

When I successfully create a painting that I feel gets a viewer interested in learning more about that character or story, I get a great sense of joy and accomplishment out of their need to know more.  If they are an artist and want to create more art after viewing my paintings, I consider this the highest form of joy.

Question #11   What are your strengths in creative thinking, drawing, painting, problems solving, color theory, composition, perspective, visual narrative, and design?

My strengths lie in creating memorable color schemes and colorful characters.  I am particularly strong in depicting character expressions and faces.  I have a great love of diving into character personalities and discovering what makes them tick, which in turn feeds into my problem-solving, as far as painting these characters in a scene.
Question #12 What are your weaknesses in creative thinking, drawing, painting, problems solving, color theory, composition, perspective, visual narrative, and design?

My work lacks the quality of atmosphere and realistic lighting that would make it truly immersive. While my color choices are generally strong, I have a problem altering these colors to create various moods in my pieces.  All my pieces generally read as the same ‘serene’ atmosphere, which leads to a lack of variety, overall.  

My compositional structure is usually static and uninteresting.  I have trouble populating my backgrounds with interesting objects, architecture, and other things that would give them a truly narrative quality.

Question #13   Pick one company or product that you want to work on. (We’ll come back to this, so chose wisely).

Tor Books.

Question #14   What specific skills are REQUIRED to acquire work with the company or product you identified in #13, and what levels of proficiency are required in those skills?

The ability to create an image that would inspire a reader to want to learn more, and therefore buy the book, product, etc.  One must be a master at composition for this enticement to work.

Question #15   How do your skills align with the company or product you chose in #13?

They don’t.  The lack of immersion in my pieces really makes them too weak to carry a narrative or have the visual impact the book covers at Tor require.

Question #16   What is the skill that needs to be a priority for development to attain your goal of working with the company or product chosen?

Creating interesting and provocative narratives in my work.

Keeping in mind the company or product that you chose in #13:

Question #17   What specific problem does your company or product need solved visually?

They need to entice people to buy a book or product with just ONE image.

Question #18   What design challenges need to be solved visually?

Characters (and their situations) need to be clear and interesting.  Colors need to be striking.  Compositions need to allow for all of this action, while still having room for text which does not clutter the entire painting.
Question #19   What issues of  “user experience” need to be solved visually?

Prospective readers of the Tor Books brand need to be able to instantly identify an interesting book from a sea of other books.  They need to be instantly fascinated by the narrative of the cover and to have their desperation to learn more to be so bad that they must buy the book to find out the whole story.

Question #20   What one image in your portfolio shows that:
• you have ALL the skills required
• you have the level of skill proficiency for all skills required
• you understand the problems that needed to be visually solved
• you can do the job better than an artist they are currently working with

I don’t think I have any one image that asserts all of these skills.  The closest one would be Blacksent: Book of the Umbra.  

It’s an old piece that’s not a part of my current portfolio and there are several things wrong with the anatomy, perspective, and atmospheric mood, but it’s the only piece in my body of work that gets the viewer asking ‘why?’.  Why are those characters so distant and seemingly helpless?  Why is the main character so distraught?  A pity this piece is so dated now, or it would be in my portfolio.  It was the first book cover I ever created.

Personal Revelations:  

Just one.  I need to do MORE work!  Looking at my body of work, I hardly have anything that even lines up with what I list as my inspirations or even what I enjoy drawing.  For as much as I am passionate about characters and storytelling, I have few pieces that depict the kinds of things I enjoy drawing OR want to get hired to draw.I think at some point I was trying to focus my career on drawing what other people wanted me to draw, pretty things that looked good on lunchboxes and journals so that I could get paid and still live as an artist.  

It hasn’t been until recent years that I’ve had time to analyze the various professions and realize that my passions and interests line up more firmly with book cover illustration and character design.  My previous attempts to get into licensing only left me feeling bored and unfulfilled.

I’ve already come to this revelation in the past, but this self-assessment only cements my dedication to this new direction!

Back to Part 1
On to Part 3

My Top Ten Posts of 2012

Hard to believe we’re finally in 2013!  It sounds so futuristic. I remember when Scifi movies would say ‘In the year 2015’ and it would sound so far, far away!  Well now here we are and it’s the 4th year in operation for this little art corner of mine on the internet.  I thought I’d continue the tradition of rounding up the most popular posts of the year every time we ring in a new year.  I calculated popularity by seeing which posts got the most views in Google Analytics.
Have a rundown of my art from 2012, while we’re here!
Yay! Images make my text posts less boring.

1. Review: Noah Bradley’s The Art of Freelancing

This was my very positive reaction to Noah Bradley’s helpful and revealing video about what it takes to be a successful freelance artist. It is not a motivational video. It is pure facts and the truths of this business. Worth every penny paid and I’ve gotten some of the best advice from other freelancers in Noah’s Facebook group, which is only accessible to others who have bought this video.

A wonderful dialog between myself and other artists discussing my personal health issues and other issues common to artists, including weight gain, neck aches, etc. Some great advice shared in comments, all around!
An in-depth look at the creative thought process and info gathering that went into my painting, Persephone Queen of the Underworld.
A review of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s beautiful and inspiring compilation dedicated the Minors in her Tarot deck and why I thought it worth having in any artist’s collection.
My first ever Critique Corner post! I hope people will send me more to crit, as they are quite good practice for me.
A moment of angst and reflection on my part. I talked about everything I wish I had known before I got into this biz in hopes that it might help you guys out.
My experience in shopping for that holy grail of art tools, the Wacom Cintiq. I talk about everything from how to get a cheap price on it to a good bag for transportation.
A discussion of why it’s important to turn your artistic eye inwards to truthfully access your art and your career goals.
Talking about how to say ‘no’ to a job and why it makes almost every artist feel like crap.
10. DragonCon 2012 To-Do List
A run-down of all the tasks that go into preparing for a huge con like DragonCon!

Onwards to 2013 and another year of great discussion on art, inspiration, and all the rest here at this journal!

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

I think I’ve only just today recovered from the sleep deprivation that was last month’s flurry of creative writing called NaNoWriMo.

For those who don’t know it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which you attempt to write a 50,000 word draft in 30 days!

Some folks have even moved on to perfecting their draft from this month into actual novels.  Winners get the self-satisfaction of having met such a goal, as well as a 50% off code for the incredibly useful novel/screenwriting/etc. literary organization software, Scrivener.

I didn’t manage to make it to 50k words (more like 18k), but what a learning experience it was!  Here are a few things I learned during this wild writing ride:

1.  Refreshing the Creative Well – The most important thing I learned is that having an outlet from your main craft which you can pursue without too much expectation can really refresh your inspirational well!  I’ve been feeling so tired and overwhelmed lately and participating in NaNo was just the shot in the arm I needed to find my motivation again.  Thankfully, the characters I’ve been exploring for NaNo have given me the right kind of urges to illustrate my own scenes, draw concept sheets, and much, much more!  It’s an amazing cross-pollination of inspiration.

If you’d like to read some snippets from my NaNo Novel, you can check them out here to see what I’m talking about. (WARNING! Unedited raw draft stuff plus some cursing. Melakim is quite the foul-mouth.  I love her.♥)

–  A Ceremony for Creative Thought – I was made pointedly aware that I have an actual ceremony for my creative process when it comes to writing.  It requires doing something to transition my brain from ‘work mode’ to ‘writing mode’ by resetting it with either exercise and/or an episode of something brainless (like One Piece) to empty my head of work thoughts.

I must then have coffee and something sweet before I sit down to keep me going the whole time, lest I stop and have to retrieve a snack partway and ruin the flow.  I also must write after everyone is asleep because any interruption throws me out of my flow.  Music was a particularly powerful tool for keeping me in the ‘mood’ of the story. I began my nights almost every night by listening to Song of Exile for Ramah’s scenes and What the Water Gave Me for Melakim’s scenes. (I’ve got a whole playlist for novel writing, if anyone’s especially curious what I listen to)

Getting immersed is important for me. All e-mail notifications and social media outlets are banned from my sight while I am doing this.  I need to apply this to my art time too. I have a bad habit of hawk-eyeing my e-mail, messengers, and other things while I work and it probably does  make me less productive than I could be.

– Sleep Deprivation is Unproductive – I haven’t done this many late nights in a row since college.  I can’t say that pushing myself this way really ended up making me more productive, in the end. Maybe it is for short term bursts just to get words on paper, but I think I prefer to be much well paced and less sleep crazed as I continue to write this draft in the future. Not sleeping does not help my mood or creativity, but rather causes me to doze off in the middle of trying to think of the more mundane details of a story while I’m writing.  It needs to be a balance of keeping our bodies healthy AND being properly productive.

– Routine Equals Productivity and Accountability – By the same token, scheduling myself to write almost every night really gave me a sense of accountability for doing this activity.  It made me look forward to it each night and set a high bar that something, ANYthing needed to be done at this point in time, or I am returning to old habits where I’d convince myself the tiny accomplishment wasn’t worth it because it would never amount to anything.  I think I need to push my art and drawing time the same way if I really want to get to the next level in my skills.  Those tiny studies and sketches are going to equal improvement, no matter how insignificant they might feel, at first.

All in all, it was an amazing experience!  I am hopeful that by the time the next NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’ll have a full draft to be editing.  Or maybe I’ll use it as an excuse to write the adventures of that immortal Gypsy vagabond that’s been chilling in the Neglected Characters Bar in the back of my head?  You never know!

So did any of you do NaNoWriMo?  What did you learn about yourself from this experience?  How has this informed your other creative habits?  Share with me in comments!

Entering Oatley Academy

I was awed and amazed recently when my family pitched in to help cover my tuition to join in at The Oatley Academy, specifically the “Painting Drama” class.  For those who don’t know him, Chris Oatley has done character designs for Disney, as well as taught in the animation and concept art industry for some time.  His website contains some very handy guides of pointed advice for concept artists and animators that I highly recommend.

Prior to this class, I discovered Chris through his inspirational posts, which had been whispered here and there by various artists on my Twitter feed.  Although he may be more focused in animation, something about Chris struck me.

He seemed to know exactly what was on my mind and what fears I was struggling with at the time I was reading his short and sweet newsletter emails.  His posts seemed to aim at the heart of what holds artists back, rather than echoing the emphasis on techniques that most classes and art blogs do.

I learned about Painting Drama after attending one of Chris’ online portfolio parties, in which he blitzed through various portfolios offering advice.  He spoke of his class during the party and how it focused on what it takes to really and truly tell a story visually.  I was intrigued once more because that is exactly what I believe is missing in my own work.  When it comes to telling a story with my art, I am that person that doesn’t know how to tell a joke.  I get it all out of order and then mess up the punchline. Ironic, because I can’t tell a joke in real life either.  Ask me to tell one if you ever meet me and hilarious fail will ensue.

So here I am nearly at the end of week 1 of Painting Drama and I have to say it’s exactly what I wanted, so far.   Chris’ lessons are like a motivational course mixed with thought-provoking discussions of what creates drama within paintings in the first place.  As an example, lesson 1 threw me for a loop by asking some important questions –  What fears are blocking me from succeeding and what are my strengths, if I were in my ideal state as an Illustrator?

Those simple initial prompts were far harder to answer than I thought they would be.

Already, I am facing my fears as an artist head-on, but also learning what my strengths really are, as well as what my goals are.  I may have been able to discover these things on my own, but it’s always helpful to have someone asking the tough questions we might be afraid to ask ourselves.

If there’s one thing that’s being cast in sharp relief for me lately with this class, it’s that nearly all fields of storytelling involving Creative Professionals are connected.  In literature, we ‘show’, we don’t ‘tell’, in creating an artistic composition, it is just the same. We show the narrative, we don’t just cast a boring, straightforward angle of the action.  We create emotion through composition.

To think, I paid twice as much for college courses that never touched on these vastly important topics.  That makes his class even more of a good deal, in my eyes. ($488 total tuition, or 3 monthly payments of $188).

Soon there will be a referral link for each student so I can invite you all in and also get referral bonuses to help cover my own class tuition (as I fully intend to come back for some of Chris’ other courses in the future).  Once the referral links go live, I will definitely be posting mine here for any of you who might be interested in joining up, but who also wouldn’t mind helping me make back tuition either.  In my eyes, this is so well worth the money and I cannot recommend it enough!

Expect more personal revelations posted here as the class goes on.  For now, onward to my ‘audacious accomplishment’!

Inspiration Dies a Slow Death

I was having a discussion with a dear friend of mine recently and she said something that really struck me.

“The less I read and sketch and talk to people, the less urge I have to draw.”

It struck me because I notice I’m having, and have had, this problem for while now. I’m quite certain I’ve even talked about it in this journal before so some of this might sound like a broken record.

There was a point in time where I had this incredible need to draw or I would just get antsy and feel completely worthless.  The ideas were bursting and they had to be let out, or ELSE!  Of course, this urge was strongest before I started attempting to do art professionally and I suspect most pro artists deal with this problem as they transition into the craft.  Nowadays, the Need to Draw is nearly gone, but the feeling of worthlessness when drawing doesn’t happen hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the fact I know bloody well that I’m not worthless.

Thinking on it, I was the most productive while I was in school.  I hung out with other artists and we sketched in mad hazes of creativity in the lunch room.  We had life drawing sessions, assignments, and access to a large library to encourage us to draw all the time and never stop.  Even all those seemingly pointless assignments led to more productivity after hours as I let it inform my personal work and bring it to new heights.

I think that’s one of the best lessons college taught me, despite my reservations about the need for college in a previous entryOnce you’re out on your own, it’s easy to let yourself slip out of the habit of keeping your mind (and body) active with inspiration.  There’s always work or time with family or just wanting to stare into space and watch the TV because you had a long day.

I used to read a book a day.  Now, I’m lucky if I read a book a month.  It’s tough and I have to force myself by holding that next art book hostage. No more books till I finish what I have! This is tough for an art book bibliophile like me.

I used to travel to gardens and paint by creeks. Nowadays, I make excuses that I can’t afford the gas or the parking or the food.  It’s partly true, but the fact remains I need to get away from the computer, the monotonous routine that deadens my inspiration, and the environment of distraction that is my current household.

Another particularly hairy problem when it comes to the decrease in that urge to draw is this sense of being rushed every moment of the day.  If the art isn’t going to be a successful piece I can make money off of, my motivation to do it goes way down.  This dying motivation to draw is at cross-purposes with the fact that I need to do studies, sketches, etc. to keep my skills sharp and to improve to the next level of technical skill I need to get the kinds of jobs I want to get.  There’s a sense of urgency I know I need to learn to shake because every piece I make can’t go in a portfolio and that is a hard fact of the industry!  We have to make more than the minimum if we even want to dream of being successful.

I’m learning to accept that drawing a lot of bad art is a natural part of having one or two great pieces to include in any good portfolio.  This fact has been harder to digest than I thought it would, especially after my most recent portfolio reviews where I was informed that only 5 out of my 20 or so pieces were really worthwhile.  That is one hard pill to swallow, for sure!

I’m working on a few solutions for myself, the big one being the creation of a blog called Artist Ambition.  I started it to house all of my own little assignments for myself, like Draw 100 Heads or Paint with a Complementary Scheme.  It’s open to other artists too, since I figure I’m not the only one who wrestles with this gradual dying of the Creative Urge or the lack of motivation to draw those boring things that need to be drawn to increase our skills between those masterpieces.

(Drop me a line if you want to join!  It’s completely open to everyone right now, no matter your skill level).

Next up, I am hoping to make a monthly trip I’m calling The Inspiration Vacation.  Once a month, I’m going to get myself out of the house to go to a museum, a park, or a garden and just sketch, paint, or otherwise focus solely on things that inspire.  I can afford a small outing once a month.  There will be NO guilt of ‘ohh I should be working instead!’ attached.  Being inspired  IS an integral part of my job and I can’t ignore it, even if spending money on something as intangible as inspiration may seem like a waste to everyone else around me.

Finally, I have to say what an incredible burst of motivation I’ve had with actually doing something else creative instead of drawing.  Recently, I’ve been taking part in my first ever NaNoWriMo using my own original characters as a spring board and I have got to say that I have not felt this motivated to actually draw in a long time!  I find myself wanting to do concept art for their tattoos, armor, etc.  I find myself wanting to do story boards of the dramatic scenes I’ve discovered in this flurry of writing. Something magical is occurring here and I’ve found there’s a fertile ground here in my own intellectual property that can certainly be milked for my own devious needs.  I think also pursuing a craft outside of your work can really help refresh that creative well.

So here’s to my continuing education and the end of this long ramble!  Do you struggle with this lack of motivation to create art? How do you deal with it?  If you take inspiration vacations, where do you go?  I’d love to know!

I Wish I Had Known

A detail of Da Vinci’s contribution to
Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ

I’ve been in a rather introspective mood lately with the move coming up.  We’ll soon be in a new place with new opportunities and so much to explore!  I’m also turning 31 next month, which has led to the inevitable ‘feeling old’ mindset.

I can’t help but ponder on things that I wish I had done differently when I first started seriously thinking about being an artist.  I’ve spent a lot of time discovering things myself the hard way and if I can save anyone else the years of heartache that can be wasted in the limbo of the Unknown, than I consider this an accomplishment!

I wish there had been a person there to tell me these things and that is why I am going to tell them to you now.  Disclaimer: These are all from my personal experience so I’m sure not everyone will agree.

I wish I had known…


…that I didn’t need to go to college to be a successful artist.

Not to say that you cannot learn much in college. I had wonderful teachers who taught me the fundamentals of life drawing, composition, etc.  I expanded my horizons and knowledge base in areas outside of art.  I made some friends that are friends for life.  I experienced the independence of being self-moderated, which is valuable for any person growing up.

But if I could go back now and do it all over again? I would either attend a program in an atelier or I would skip college all together and attend specialized workshops at The Art Department, Illustration Master Class, etc.  These classes offer the kind of specialized training I would need to make a career, whereas college courses of the traditional focus tend to avoid the business side entirely.

In the end, college left me with student debt and degrees that look nice on paper.  Sad fact is most AD’s hiring right now aren’t going to care what degrees I have. Portfolio is King in the Land of Illustration.  Having a degree is a must if you want to teach, but if you don’t (which I currently do not have the desire to), then it is not very useful.  If you do attend college, check your curriculum carefully before you sign up!  Make sure they are teaching the kinds of courses you need to succeed as a business, not just in creating art.

…that there is more to the field of art than Fine Art Galleries.

This stems from the last bit of advice. I went to a very traditional college that focused on the creative side of art.  We learned how to draw ourselves as shapes and how to curate gallery shows, but we did not learn how to manage clients, file our taxes, or run an art business. Illustration was a dirty word. Getting paid to do art and make a living rather than do art purely for art’s sake?  That was ‘selling out’.  So many options were blacked out for me in college that I only discovered when I graduated and started talking to pros directly at conventions.

There are scenic artists and concept artists, matte painters and graphic designers, the list of creative professions goes on and on!  There are many ways to make money AND do art rather than accepting the so-called badge of ‘honor’ that is ‘the starving artist’ whose biggest ambition is to sell a piece for thousands at a gallery.

If you want to do this, go for it, but keep your options, and your mind, open.  Money does not equal selling out, it equals ‘paying the bills’.  If you think money is selling out, than do your research.  Da Vinci was painting the faces of cherubs as an apprentice before he moved on to doing portraits and commissioned pieces for the church, as was common for many of the great masters.  Living entirely off of art we do for fun is a quality of the lucky and the hard-working.  It can happen, but you have to work hard for it!  A little serendipity doesn’t hurt, either.

…that listening to negative people wastes time.

 When I first started to plan my future with the anxiety of that graduation ceremony hovering over my head, I was bombarded by voices telling me ‘you’ll never put bread on the table with art’. Growing up, I have discovered this to be true in some respects.  I am not making a living off my art alone yet, with my current work supplemented by a Day Job and online art business.  I spend a lot of time keeping my head above water right now and trying to get my work to a level which I can compete for better paying jobs.  Like any profession with a specialized skill, there is a lot of competition and you have to be willing to get your work to that polished level if you want to make it a living.

However, I have to wonder if I had spent more time on the things that called to me in life if I would have spent less time meandering about Majors in college trying to find a slot I could fit myself into?  “MAKE MONEY” they said, so I was a Business minor for awhile.  “HAVE A FALLBACK” they said, so I became an English and Studio Art double major.  I wasted so much time (and money) moving further from my goals because I let other negative people dissuade me from even investigating other options.

 If you don’t know what you want to do, don’t be afraid to ask professionals about their work!  Learning about what is expected of them can help you learn more about what your preferences might be as a professional (and save you on some college bills).  As for having a ‘fallback’? That is a personal choice everyone has to make.  A ‘fallback profession’ can be handy, but I found it ultimately to be a distraction that personally hasn’t done me much good.  Getting a part-time job, internship, or apprenticeship could be handy to help keep you afloat and to earn valuable job experience while you are pursuing art, if you don’t want to pursue dual professions.

Again, so many options were blocked for me from the start because I let other people dictate those choices.  Parents can be a particular block here.  My best advice for handling them is to try to educate them on the options that are out there.  Do your research!  There is more to the profession of Artist than the starving artist living out of a tiny apartment selling work on the sidewalk and living off hopes and dreams, which I fear is the most common mental image that people have.  Talk to people working in the business right now. Ignore the people who say ‘don’t do it’ when they are not informed enough about the industry to give you such advice.

Surround yourself with positive and inspiring people because they are the key to maintaining focus and inspiration! Find sketch groups, art societies, and other people on your wavelength to counterbalance the negativity. Negative people only waste your time and break your focus.

As for me? For as much as I wish I could have done differently, I’m thankful for the skills I’ve learned and the people I’ve met along the way.  I’ve not given up yet and I feel that this move is going to equal a bump in productivity and positivity for me.  I can’t wait to share the fruits of my new found focus.  They are germinating as we speak!

For now, wishing you all inspiration and hope!

Con Report: Dragon*Con 2012

Sporting a leather Magpie feather
made by the multi-talented
Brenda Lyons!

My brain has finally returned from Dragon*Con 2012 (some days after it officially ended, I might add)! It was a haze of cool costumes, reunions, and meetings, as it usually is.  This is going to be a LONG entry, so grab a cup of tea and get comfy!

The Con

This year was an odd duck for me. I spent most of my time selling at my table in the art show, running to panels in the art track, and riding on the train since we commuted in. I didn’t get a chance to see many costumes or really leave the Hyatt.

I did, however, brave all three dealer’s rooms to hunt down amazing artists Michael C. Hayes, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, and Echo Chernik to buy their books, which I had been looking forward to doing for a long while! There’s no better feeling than to shake an artist’s hand and show them you support their work by buying a book directly from them at a show. This probably worked against me as I suspect I spent all my profits doing just that!

I also met several cool folks I have known online for ages, but had never met in person. So many folks came by to say hello and show their support!  It really made me feel special this year and I have no words to express how this warms my heart. Thanks, you guys!

The Selling Experience

As always, the Dragon*Con art show is a well oiled machine!  Set up and break down went smoothly, despite the fact I had three times the stuff I usually do this year.  I sold decently at the art show and hit my selling goal to break even, plus a few hundred.  My best selling work at the show was The Lotus Dancer, which I sold out of at my table, while none of my masks sold from the 3D table, which I’ll probably be dropping next year.  People seem to buy more masks right off the gallery bay, so I suspect that’s where I’ll be putting my masks from now on.

What I  Learned About My Display

For the first two days, I had nothing but older watercolor work of mine up on the panels arranged in very symmetrical grid patterns.  I have Death the Kid level obsession with symmetry, which works against me sometimes when I put up art for display!  My boyfriend tried an experiment of arranging a whole new selection of my digital works in asymmetrically balanced patterns and we noticed this seemed to grab the attention of con-goers far more. Lesson learned. Gotta dump my old work, get larger pieces for max eye-catching capability, AND stop being so symmetrical!

Other Stuff I Learned About Displaying Art

  • Tiered wire magazine racks make for great mask displays!
  • Instead of stretching canvases on stretcher bars, I want to try affixing them to masonite and covering them with gel medium. Annie Stegg used this to beautiful effect!  Her prints had the texture of her original paintings after applying the gel medium.
  • Offer more sketches and/or sketchbooks.  A lot of artists have been doing this and it seems like a smart way to get a little added income from your sketches!  Instead of rotting in my art pads, I could sell my doodles in bins or baskets.  Got to break my sketch hoarding habit!
  • Start ordering things wholesale. A couple of the other artists looked at me like I was crazy when I told them I hand cut all of my mats myself.  It’s time consuming and I can save a lot of time finding places that sell mats, backing, and bags all in one place for cheap at a bulk rate. (Anyone know any suppliers? I have been looking into
  • Mitch Foust had an amazing looking display that folded up into little collapsible panels AND included its own lighting setup!  It also costs far less than my Propanels and seems to take up much less space.  It’s called The Original SMART Exhibit and it is lovely and professional looking!  It may not work well for my outdoor shows, but it’s a good choice for the inside ones.

My First Portfolio Review

This year was the first year I worked up the courage to ask other pro artists to review my art at length.  I talked to both Justin Gerard and Dan Dos Santos, two illustrators from Muddy Colors with amazing work who gave me some stellar advice at my review and during their painting demos, which I will paraphrase here:

  • Use more reference. They knew instantly where I had fudged anatomy and it really brought down the overall believability and quality of my work where I didn’t use it.
  • Relates to the last one. Do more preliminary studies and thumbnails. Both Justin and Dan did an alarming amount of planning until the next step in their production was merely  to copy the preliminary to their final format. My planning phase has always been short and rushed and that needs to change.  They did whatever they had to, from taking model shoots, to photomanipping in whatever props and faces they needed in the prelim phase.
  • NO PHOTOMERGED TREES! *hangs head in shame*
  • Cut out ALL of the old mediocre work from my portfolio. Out of 20 pieces, only 5 were really viable to show to an art director.  This means I better get cracking on new work!  If I’m not producing at last one polished piece a month, I am not being serious about my career nor will I get the amount of high quality images I need in my portfolio in a decent amount of time.
I’ve already emailed the both of them with my sincerest thanks!  I suspect the advice they gave me is really going to change my career in the best of ways, plus they are just two wonderfully nice fellows!  Don’t be afraid to chat them up if you see them at a con.

Photo and Video Stream

I only took a couple of photos this year while I was hurrying through the Marriott to the dealer’s room, but you can see them here.  I also gave a panel on leather mask-making, which you can watch the video walkthrough here.

Here’s a preview of two really awesome cosplayers who had built their costumes around my Red Dragon and Seraphim leather masks. You look stunning, ladies!

The Red Dragon and Seraphim masquers. More of my masquers
can be seen at Angela’s Masquers.

What’s Next?

I have been debating back and forth if I will even attend Dragon*Con next year.  My budget is very limited and while I always have a blast at this con, I really want to try attending other conventions geared for artists, such as Illuxcon or Spectrum Fantastic Live Art, where art is the focus and I can make more career contacts.  If I can do them all, I will, but it’s time to venture outside of my comfort zone, meaning that Dragon*Con will be prioritized beneath these others.

But this also means I have a whole new journey ahead of me to produce new, improved work so that I’m not just showing the same old tired pieces to people.  I also need more subject matter relevant to the gaming industries in my portfolio, if I am to seriously pursue the kinds of jobs I want there.  This probably means less floofy angels and more Elves, which I can’t argue with!  I have an action plan for doing this, but I’ll save that for next journal entry!

Thanks for joining me for my Dragon*Con wrap up. See you all next year, maybe?  If not, remember me when you see cosplayers in leather masks and/or wings. Take a photo for me!