Good Advice

I was at a bit of a loss this morning for what to talk about. Perhaps it's the migraine I've got brewing in my head, being overworked at the office, or the chaos of the coming holiday season. Whatever the reason, I was roaoming through my emails and happened across an old email I had recieved from John Stanko. John is an artist, and educator. I've known John for many years and have watched his work develop over the years. We kept passing each other at IlluxCon, and I was sad that I never made the time to sit down and chat with him, he's a great guy. Luckily, in one of our trips sailing past each other (as I was dashing off to yet another round of portfolio reviews) John handed me his latest portfolio book. It was a joy to see his latest batch of work. Of course, I recognized a large number of the pieces since they came from D&D, but there were a number of pieces that were new to my eye. It was really nice to see his work mature even further, and become more cohesive. Why do I bring this up? Not just to have a big lovefest over John, but to set the stage for the email that I'd like to share. John was sharing some thoughts on the subject of what info might be useful to an artists...from an artists point of view. It's short and to the point, and has some nice kernels in it. I hope that it means something to you. "We have all read Jon's posts about how to get his attention from his perspective. All of which is great advice. I would like to offer a different take… one from an Illustrator's point of view. Keep in mind I am not a big star, nor do I have all the answers, but I have been blessed to work with fantastic ADs at WoTC such as Jon, Jeremy, Richard, Kate, Keven, and Mari. 

These are just a couple of things that have stuck with me over the last few years and my hope is this post gives you some things to think about when it comes to your career, especially to those who are just starting out. 1. Be honest about your work to yourself. All the advice from Ads is to be super confident when showing them your work, and rightly so. Remember though that needs to end when you close your book. In other words when you are alone in your studio with no one to impress, really look closely at what you have made, and ask yourself how could it be better. Then create a road map on how to get there. Compare and contrast your work with others that are doing what you want to do and try to figure out what makes their work better. Is it better references? Different color palette? Better drawings? Etc. The key is not to buy into your own BS when you are trying to get better. 2. Decide what it is you want to do. One thing that has been eye opening for me over the past 5 years has been the difference between all the venues in fantasy coloring pages. Decide if you want to do, then create a portfolio targeted for that field. Is it concept art, finish illustration, gaming, book covers, etc? No matter what don't have a "shot gun" approach to your book. 3. Face time and be cool. Jon has covered all sorts of email techniques, web page designs, how often to send postcards etc. but nothing has the power of actually meeting the AD you want to work for. I have found face time is critical to making those first few breaks into the industry. Every time an AD gives me a job, they are betting their reputation on my work and sometimes even their job. So ask yourself if you were an AD would you bet your career on a couple of cool postcards and a quarterly email? Probably not. That's not to say you will have met every AD you work with in person, but chances are the AD has a friend or another artist they have worked with that has met you if you get work from them. Where do you met ADs and other artists? Cons and workshops are the best from what I have found. 4. Don't get jealous. If someone is more successful than you are then they are doing something better than you, and sometimes it's not just illustration.

When I first got out of college I gave a half hearted try to break into fantasy illustration. At the time I thought drawing was illustration. Since I could draw pretty good, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting work. After I matured I learned that the field of illustration is a lot more complex than simply drawing and at times more than illustrating. So you might be a "better" illustrator than someone else but if they are getting the work then they are doing something else better than you are. Don't get jealous or bitter, just ask yourself what are they doing different / better than you and try to add that to your game. And keep in mind sometimes getting work is just good ole fashion luck… being at the right place at the right time. 5. Once you get the work remember everyone is trying to help you. We all have times when we get frustrated with restrictions or revision. The key is to remember that every one involved in your approval process is trying to help you make the best art possible for the product. Don't see it as a hindrance rather see it as a blessing. Think about it, they are paying you and giving you free advice on how to make your work better. 6. Finally once it's published… you are part of a team. Remember that even as a freelancer you represent that company that hired you. In other words when I go to a Con, I see my self as an ambassador (to a degree) for DnD and all the other companies I create art for. I am always aware that when I am talking to a fan or an aspiring artist I am representing myself but also my client. So don't be arrogant and don't be a jerk".

Black Clouds, Silver Lining

Portion of a new work on paper in progress. Some days the practical aspects of being an artist can seem a never-ending trial. Having had years of dealing with the issues that come up, I'm usually able to deal with what comes my way and move on. Every once in a while, the mental and financial gymnastics one has to go through sometimes are enough to leave a black cloud the size of Texas dangling over my head, like this morning. Once again, I was able to get by, but it still left me in a foul mood for a while. Luckily, I had things to do before heading up to the studio, so I had some time to distract myself, reflect, figure things out and ease out of my bad mood so that it wouldn't affect me creatively. Once I got up there, I was more than ready to dive into work. I've spent more time out of the studio in the past couple of weeks than in and in that time, I'd had plenty of time to think, and re-think some ideas for projects that I've been working on. No matter how rough things might make me feel, getting into work-mode always puts me in a better place. I always feel at my best when I'm figuring out problems in the studio and seeing the results of learning from the good and bad can work wonders.

Making a Short Story into a Novel

Recently I decided that a short story I had written could be expanded into novel length or at least a novella. Once I had accomplished that bit of work, I could submit it to my publisher to release it as an e-book. The story was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist ending. Here is a brief synopsis: a young man of college age takes co-ed of his acquaintance on a trip to New England to browse through antique stores. His hidden motive is to seduce her. While browsing through an antique store, the proprietor talks him into buying a small ornate wooden box. When he opens the box, he finds an old-fashioned iron key. His attempts at seduction fail miserably. When they return to the campus, she begins to see the star of the football team. Heartbroken, our hero goes on a guided tour of some Eastern Europe countries, including Romania where his ancestors originated. He leaves the tour to visit the village where his relatives live. 

On a hill overlooking the hamlet is a ruined castle. He is told that it is forbidden to go there. He has a dream that a sleeping beauty lies there. Determined to see what is really in the castle, he disobeys his uncle and heads for the castle, but finds it surrounded by a thick poisonous thorn hedge. By using a chain saw he makes his way through the hedge and enters the castle. What he finds there is my secret. You'll have to buy the e-book if you're interested :) All of this is told in the first person. The first thing I did to convert it to novel length is divide it into chapters, making each scene a separate chapter. Now, in a short story, pretty much all we know about the characters is what their action reveal about them. So I beefed up the main characters, giving background information and other detail about them. I had to do this without slowing the pace of the story too much. Next I added new scenes. Where in the short story I might have had a sentence that simply made a statement about something that occurred simply to move the story along, I invented an entire scene to show everything that happened in detail.

Then I beefed up information about the locations and other background and environmental factors. Since part of the story was set on a tour of Eastern Europe, which I had also experienced, it was relatively easy to fill in detail about the places the protagonist visited during his trip. By this time I had added a fair amount of wordage to the original story. As I edited for grammar and errors, I also found many places where I could beef the narrative and added a lot of enhancements of mood, imagery and foreshadowing. All in all, it turned out fairly well. I raised the word count from five thousand words to a novella of over twenty thousand. This made it eligible for publishing as an e-book by my publisher. It has not yet been released. My working title was The Key. I don't know whether it will be released with that title, howeve.

Dark Side

Another artist I know hides his dark side. He has his erotic art behind a password protected firewall, and all of his portfolio samples are shown within a flash portfolio (to evade search bots). This allows him to keep his racy portfolio away from innocent eyes and minimizes cross over with his more "socially acceptable" editorial work. The downside? Almost zero internet sales of his erotic art. Carefree. Finally, there are the artists that cast their worries to the wind and openly display all of their work on their site (though they might seperate the portfolios for clarity). Like I said, there are a million answers to this delima. Have you had to worry about this situation? What did you do? How did you solve the problem of nurturing two career fronts? Please share in the comments or in the ArtOrder community. Spectrum 18. The jurors for Spectrum #18 have been announced. Check 'em out on the Spectrum website, and while you are there gaze upon the lovely poster illustration that Bill Carman did. Speaking of Bill Carmen, while I was on his blog I happened upon his post about the Art Blocks for Ghana. A very cool charity event put on by The Picture Book Project Foundation and The Hopkins Foundation. "Art Blocks for Ghana" is a Charity Art Auction Created by the Top Artists in the Animation and Illustration Community to help build a Children's Home in Ghana.