Monday, March 19, 2012

Jonday: something a bit different

So my plans for showing some new work haven't quite materialised this week (stay tuned) so instead I thought I'd do something a little different and share something I wrote.

A very nice person contacted me via DeviantArt to request an interview for their site. I duly obliged and you can read the full thing here:

But the bit I thought I would post here is from the last question I was asked about advice for aspiring illustrators.

JH: Number one, above everything else: Make sure you love the actual work of drawing, painting and image making to order. This is often expressed by showing off how many hours you’ve worked or whatever, which to my mind is nonsense. You can produce better work in less time if you’re set up that way. I used to do life drawing this this dude who would sit and look at the model for 5 minutes, and then pick up his pencil, draw one line which was the whole figure. It was amazing to watch, and taught me a lot about work, and what it means.
To me working all night potentially says you have no grasp of time management and paint too slowly, but it seems to be the en vogue thing to show off about. Be very wary of being sucked into that. We all have to put the hours in, but just working hard and long hours isn’t enough, and is not sustainable for a full adult life if you want to have stuff like friends, relationships, kids, quality of life in general. Whilst we all love making art the danger of solely living to work is as corrosive to an artist as an office worker.
But soapboxing about time management to one side, do make sure you love it. It is the only thing that will keep you going through the inevitable hard times. I see a couple of aspiring artists in my social circles who don’t have sufficient love of the actual processes, and they want what they perceive as the fame and respect that comes with the role. That’s a nonsense, and a wrong-headed thing to chase. People at the very top of the game have the same concerns as those at the very bottom – how to stay in work, how to make ends meet, how to get all this work done. That doesn’t change with success, and it’s the love of the core process that will sustain you.
Also you must understand that being an illustrator is running a business. If you hate that idea, if you can’t find a way to sell yourself, to do accounts, to do marketing, networking and all of that stuff? Then maybe it’s not the life for you. Equally though there are many ways to handle that stuff, and they will vary by the individual. Couple of examples of that: I know one successful freelancer who has his mum handle his accounts and invoicing. Fair enough! For self promotion, these days I can switch on my self marketing persona like a light. It’s not “me”, my true, personal, family self. It’s a character that I had to build in order to get out there and get work, or else I was going to have to give up. Ways and means, you know?
Be careful not to be suckered into pity-parties and moaning groups. There is a lot of this about – where illustrators get together to tell each other how hard done-by they are. Whilst it is good to compare notes and war stories to get wiser about the business, pure negativity is never helpful, and self pity helps no one. Becoming a full time illustrator is hard: the numbers are against you. You will get really down about the challenges, you will suffer, you will want to give up. Make no mistake. But you can make a living from fantasy art, and in general the people you will hear proclaiming that one can’t are speaking about themselves. And often a glance at their folio will explain it.
Work hard, work smart. Make work that will sell in work time, and if you need to express yourself beyond that make personal work for yourself outside of work time. Eventually you might be lucky enough to bring the two together.
Set yourself clear, achievable goals. Don’t say “I want to work for the top company by X date”, that’s easy to say and tough to achieve. Set small goals like “I want to have submitted my work to 10 art directors this month”. Or “I will make 2 new folio pieces this month showing new things I haven’t tackled before”.
Be aware that advice from others is always skewed by their own perspective. Some people will tell you in no uncertain terms to be a specialist – find a niche and work the hell out of it until you own that niche. Equally though someone else will tell you to try everything, have experience in everything, be able to say “yes I can do that” more than “no I can’t”. How do you reconcile those pieces of advice? It’s very difficult. Different things work for different people, and being a successful illustrator is by definition a statistical anomaly. Those of us making a living are a tiny, odd minority of fantasy artists, let alone artists in general. Success in illustration is about being an outlier in many ways. So all advice is worth listening to, digesting, and drawing your own conclusions about. Try to be as widely read as you can be. Always look outside of your niche.
Focus on what you can control and change. Draw more. Paint more. If you find yourself whining on-line stop, hit delete and go draw. It is within your power to change bad situations with hard work, but no one can do that work for you, and whilst we all need to let off steam, don’t do it in the place where you advertise your services. Punch a pillow, moan to a friend off line. Draw more.
There is no magic short cut. I get asked a lot what brushes I use in Photoshop. Hard round. The first one in the defaults I believe. It’s nothing to do with special brushes. Learn to draw and paint you can turn almost any tool into good illustration. There are whole industries dedicated to telling you that you need expensive tools, precious artifacts of artistic creation, that you need to pay for this and that. Be wary of that stuff. It’s a diversion. A pencil and piece of typing paper work just as well a lot of the time.
Last of all, don’t believe the hype. Being an illustrator is precisely nothing to do with the 19th Century myth of being an artist. Don’t aim to be an eccentric creative who wears a beret and goes on and on about how eccentric and creative they are. Unless you have the super-talent that lets you get away with that fun nonsense (and some people do, and more power to them, they make the world a more varied place!) aim to be a hardworking, dependable ditch digger of an illustrator who is nice to work with, who inspires clients with hard work, timeliness, flexibility, self awareness, crazy stuff like manners and social skills: It’s a job.