3rd Thursday Q and A: How did they get their start as artists?

  • SVS OG

    Big thanks to everyone who joined us today for our 3rd Thursday Webinar!

    We talked a lot about our careers and how we got started. Plus key pivotal moments in our careers.

    We weren't able to answer all the questions, so we'd like to open that up to you here.

    If you have any questions about how to get started as a professional artist, or how to advance your career, we are happy to answer that here.

    So ask away!

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  • SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker @Lee-White @Will-Terry Thank you for your openness in recounting your lives. This kind of sharing is quite encouraging to all of us.

    I think you each touched on these, but to be pointed about it:

    Was there any "words of wisdom" or advice that was given to you (whether directly or something you just came across) that either benefited you, or you wish you had heeded, or maybe was actually bad advice?

    Similarly, were there any particular decisions you made or actions you took that were “the best ever” or “the worst ever”?

    Was also curious about how you maintain visibility while incredibly busy with a book or other work. I mean more in the realm of strategy & time management, such as: Building a library of image/blog posts during light-work times so they are available to post during busy times <OR> having a system of supporters (family/friends/agents/etc.) who post/interact on your behalf, etc.

    Thanks! 🙂

  • @Lee-White hearing about your limited experience with painting and drawing in relation to others around in your early years, how did you feel working on your first book? Did you feel overwhelmed, or were you more interested in the challenge? Did the final outcome match your expectations going in?

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Eric-Castleman my first book was sort of awful in my opinion. I was always overwhelmed, but it was balanced by always being inspired. I have a "jump first and look later" type mentality and so I'm used to being over my head. I think the key is to know that you will keep getting better. Work that you think is good now, you will cringe at later. I don't think that ever stops and it's just part of the process. : )

    @QuietYell All the main points in my presentation today ended up being "best ever" decisions but at the time I didn't know it. I just had faith and followed my instincts. that can be a good or bad strategy depending on how good your instincts are. haha!

    I don't know about Will, but Jake and I both use a lot of methods for time management and trying to get things done. It would be too confusing otherwise. Read the the books "Deep Work" and "the One Thing" and it should help clarify what you are working towards. Simplify your goals and focus on what is important.

    Speaking of which, back to work! : )


  • SVS OG

    @QuietYell When I got my job at Fox I met Don Bluth and I asked him if he had any advice for a young upstart like myself. He said, "If you try hard to be really good, maybe someday you'll become a real boy." An obvious reference to Pinocchio, I think he was just messing around with me...but after years of thinking about it I realized that maybe he was saying that when we are starting out we sometimes feel like posers. We don't know what we are doing, and if we think we do, we are just kidding ourselves. Over time, after mistakes and triumphs we actually become the thing we set out to be. Take that with a grain of salt.

    Best ever decisions were decisions I made that were true to the vision I had for myself. I think you have to figure out what the vision for yourself is, making sure you're have equal parts reality and dreaming. And then make decisions that are true to that.

    As for maintaining visibility while being super busy...I just set aside an hour a day to make and post something. And then I work the rest of my schedule around that. I never have anyone post for me, though that might work for someone else.

  • SVS OG

    Thank you for running such an interesting 3rd Thursday - it was very encouraging to hear your stories! I had been wondering how Will and Jake met Lee, and how you all got SVS started, so I"m glad you answered that question too!

    I have a question that's been bothering me: is it possible to be too commercial, when you are earning a living while working on your illustration to reach a high enough level to do what you really want? Is there any type of previous employment that would put off potential children's book publishers? I'm not thinking of anything really dodgy or illegal! - to be specific, I have been designing craft products which have now launched on a TV shopping channel. It's great for sales but I am worrying that a publisher might look at my history and think 'oh that's too mainstream/not arty enough/selling out or whatever. Or is their decision-making based purely on the quality of the art? If it's good enough, and the art suits their project, they'll employ you? That's what I'm hoping...but it's been bugging me just in case it's a problem.

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    @Dulcie I'm not sure what Lee, Jake and Will would say but I would think it is a big PLUS! It tells them you know how to run a successful business, have good design sense and are dependable.

    I would make sure your children's book portfolio is separate on your site so they are clear on your book style and they don't have to do a ton of digging but otherwise I would think it would be beneficial. Most artists have other jobs and art licensing is a big one. Congrats on the shopping channel launch!!

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    @Charlie-Eve-Ryan Thanks so much for your considered thoughts! I'm glad that's how you see it, thats reassuring.. Yes, for sure I will make sure that my website is not confusing so the children's book style is clear. Thanks! I'm glad that the launch show is over and done with now...

  • I'm not sure if my question particularly fits in with the theme perfectly, but it does relate to early career situations. I'm just wondering if any of you ever had a crisis of confidence, where you felt like a teeny fish in a huuuuge ocean? Did you ever consider quitting? How did you move beyond that feeling? Essentially, what kept you going when your career was at a standstill?

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    I missed the last Third Thurs is it available somewhere yet?

  • SVS OG

    @lmrush Not yet. It should be up on SVSLearn.com next week.

  • SVS OG

    @Rapteev I have had that feeling a lot over the years, and I still get feelings of inadequacy. There's some days I think being an independent artist is too hard, that I should just quit and go work a day job and just try to do this on the side. Which I had to do once.

    And here's the thing, that's not bad, and you're not a failure if you go that route.

    When I went to get my day job, I just told myself it was temporary and that I would continue to work towards my goals until I could do this full time again. And instead of working towards big success, I counted all the little successes: A freelance job, getting 100 new followers, finishing Inktober. Eventually all these little successes added up and I was able to quit my job (after 15 months) and go back to working full time as an independent artist. It's still rocky some days/weeks though. There's still days where I have no idea what I'm doing. But I keep counting the small successes and piling them on top. By focusing on that I have the motivation to keep going.

    I hope that helps!

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker This is exactly what I needed right now. I had hoped to quit my day job within a year, and I am sadly realizing that it is going to take a lot longer. But the little successes do come...so I will let them pile! Thank you!

  • I wasn't able to participate in the Q & A - but my question to working artists is how to get that breakthrough to get a start to actually making illustration/art a career.

    I mean I am to the point of thinking it has been a waste of time and energy for all these years.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker Thanks!

  • SVS OG

    @jimsz Hi Jim,

    Time for some tough love.

    You haven't gotten that breakthough because your art is dated and unprofessional.

    If you want to have a breakthrough, you need to create breakthrough art.

    Your style is very much informed by the Precious Moments look. It's a look that was established in the 70's by Samuel J. Butcher and it really hasn't evolved since then. Your work looks like you learned to draw from absorbing a lot of Precious Moments art and other art from the same style.

    Your art also doesn't have the polish and confidence that the art of a professional has. I see a lot of unsure linework and basic application of photoshop colors.

    Here's your artwork side by side illustrations I pulled off of Amazon's list of bestselling children's books from 2016. Look at the difference:

    Your work just doesn't hold up to the art of people who are making a career as professional illustrators. You can't expect a breakthrough until you are creating art this good.

    That was the tough part...here's the love part:

    You totally got this. You CAN do this. You haven't wasted your time or energy all these years. You've proven that you can draw A LOT, and that you have some charming imaginative ideas. But you need to level up. Big time.

    I think you can have a drastic improvement in your work and style in about a year and a half. It's not going to be easy, but it's doable.

    Here's what you need to do.

    Step 1) Re-wire your brain.

    You've been drawing in that style for so long it's how your brain thinks it's supposed to draw. But in order to be competitive out there in the marketplace you're going to need to draw in a more contemporary style. Here's what you do:

    Copy 20 artists.

    Find 20 contemporary artists and copy TEN of their drawings. Make as close of a replica as you can of their style, their drawing proportions, their colors, and their rendering technique.

    That's 200 drawings. Finished that? Good.

    Now pick the 5 you liked the best out of those 20 and straight up copy 20 more drawings from them. That's 100 more drawings.

    What this is doing is telling your brain that you don't have to draw in your old style any more. It's a lot like training your non dominate hand to draw.

    Step 2) Develop YOUR new style

    With out looking at the artists you studied in step 1, draw 50 new characters. Dogs, children, old ladies, giraffes, whatever. Draw 50 of them. Make sure you don't fall back on your old style. try to lean in on the other styles you have been copying.

    Ok, now take your 10 best drawings out of those 50 and draw that character again 10 different times. Different poses, different point of views.

    By now you should be narrowing in on a new drawing style.

    Take all the SVS classes related to character design and poses. Do all the assignments in the classes.

    Step 3) Learn photoshop.

    Go through all the SVS photoshop classes we have. And do everything we ask in those classes.

    Start coloring your characters from Step 2.

    Step 4) Props and environments

    repeat steps 1-3 but do props and envronments instead of characters. Cut all the amounts in half. So instead of 20 artists copy 10.

    take the persepcitve class, and the designing environment class. Also the composition class. And wattch the chapters in the Childrens book class on illustration.

    Step 5) A new you

    Take everything you've learned and make a new portfolio with 20 finished illustrations:

    10 Character designs
    10 Illustrations that tell a story of some kind (you can use old SVS 3rd thursday prompts for ideas)

    Ok, I hope that helps!
    What's great is you already know how to draw, and it looks like you have the work ethic to achieve this leveling up. Please post your progress here. I'm looking forward to seeing you grow and learn.

    Last bit of advice, don't obscure your work with a watermark over the front of it. That's also very unprofessional.

  • @jimsz To add to what Jake said - which was very insightful. I think all of the artists who have "made it" can point to mentors and veteran artists they've either had classes from, become friends with, apprenticed for, etc. Without someone to show you where you're going wrong it's really hard to see it. Without someone to show you by example what it takes and how they got where they are it's almost impossible. I really hope you can take the harsh and encouraging words Jake gave you and use them as fuel to reinvent your portfolio.

    I had a teacher who went to NYC to show his portfolio to anyone who would see him back in the late 80's. He finally got the painful truth from one of the art directors at the NY Times. "Your portfolio looks like you just got out of school...come back when your portfolio looks like you've been getting work" - OUCHY! Instead of going home he borrowed money to buy art supplies and rent a room for two weeks where he re-did his entire portfolio - went back to the art directors he had already visited and got a handful of assignments - even from the one who gave him the lecture. Those who have "made it" have made huge sacrifices to get there. You can do it if you want to!

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    @Jake-Parker I am going to print out this post and hang it somewhere in my studio. Even it it was not directed to me, and I have done a fair share of the work described here during the past 5 years, it reminded me that you can never settle and rest, and that I should continue to do copies (a habit that has been immensely useful to me, and that I neglected in the last months).

    In this context, I was wondering about the concept of "breakthrough". It seems many aspiring professional artists are waiting for "the big chance", but does that really exist? Or isn´t it more a steady, lengthy, never-ending journey, every step building upon the previous one? I started posting my work and doing some form of self-promotion and/or pitching myself about 8 months ago. Some part of me is disappointed because nothing momentous happened (like a big publisher offering me a book deal, I mean....;-)). But maybe I should think more about all the little things that happened. An agent signed me up (which, for the time being, has not changed anything, but I guess we will see). An educational publisher hired me for a book (these contracts are pitiful, but that is another topic). Then, three months later, they hired me again (which I consider to be my greatest achievement so far), with a slightly better pay. A small publisher tried to hire me for a trade book - my agent advised me to turn her down, which I did - but still, at least they asked. All the while, I am working on my book dummy - it may take a while, but I am getting lots of help with it, so maybe it stands a chance. So, nothing ground-breaking, but small steps, each teaching me something and bringing me a tiny bit forward. If I am lucky, maybe this year I can at least cover my expenses! Is that the way it is? Or really there is some great turning point that comes (or not) to propel a career?

  • Thanks so much, @Jake-Parker that really did help. And your post to Jim is excellent; sometimes we need that kick up the bum to really shift us into the next gear!

  • @smceccarelli Sometimes I think we get wrapped up in current circumstances and neglect to see how far we have come. Your glimpses into the publishing world are still many moons away for me, so I look at your situation and think "Wow, this is an artist who is really getting there!" I think we have to take that mental shift that enabled us to go from creating 4 hour pieces to 14 hour pieces, and apply that perseverance to our daily lives. It's hard; I have zero patience, and I'm very much an instant gratification kinda girl! Well done to you for getting this far!

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