Art Life Myths – First in a Series? Maybe?

Today’s post is going to be all over the place, but let’s see if I can corral the crazy long enough to make some sense out of what’s in my head. I’d like to talk about some of the common statements I’ve heard regarding getting better at art and why I think we are our own worst enemy.

1) I Can’t. I’ve been told directly “I can’t do what you do”.

Here’s the thing about Can’t. If you say you can’t, you won’t; simple as that. I know you’ve heard this before, and you’re having the urge to blow it off and move on, but bear with me here. I used to feel the same way. “No, you don’t understand, I REALLY CAN’T” is what would run through my mind. I’d look at Brad Rigney’s work or Dave Rapoza, or Drew Struzan, and I’d say… I can’t do that.

What I should have been saying (and what I say now) was “I can’t do that… yet”. I eventually realized just that. It’s all about Perspective. No, I don’t mean the technical foundation of 1, 2, 3, etc point perspective with vanishing points. I’m referring to the way you allow your brain to think when you’re thinking about the things you can’t do.

I was chatting via Twitter with another up-and-coming artist about failing. My philosophy on failing is that it’s probably the number one most important thing to master in your creation of artses.

Thomas Edison said (this is my number one favorite quote when thinking about progressing in my art career): “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

He actually said a lot of things about working your butt off to get where you need to be:
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

If you work on changing your perspective to “I Can’t” and into “I Can Learn How”, you will become excited to try. The next step is to work on training your brain to not be overly disappointed when you inevitably fail a number of times before succeeding.

An artist on Twitter said this, “I dont learn something from every failure sometimes it takes a while, n by the time u overcome it u don’t notice” (Excuse the Twitter speak, character limits and all that). The important thing in that statement that the artist didn’t even realize he had acknowledged was this: “by the time you overcome it…”

Ah, but you DID overcome it.

I have a specific example with my own art that is relevant to this. I did a couple of cards for Fantasy Flight Games, and when all was said and done, something was still “off” about them but I couldn’t really place what it was. Moving on, I painted an unrelated personal piece called Gun Merchant. One of the things I wanted to experiment with in that piece was distance in the background. I took the time to figure it out and long story short, I nailed it (in my opinion). The piece still has other issues that need working out (visual hierarchy, focal point, etc.), but that just gives me more things to learn in the future, and that’s exciting. I realized while looking at it is that THAT was what was wrong with the Fantasy Flight cards. I wanted to email my Art Director and ask if I could fix them! Of course I couldn’t, they were already headed to print. But in those failures, and the subsequent success of that particular thing in another painting, I learned something new. Now, I CAN do that thing.

Long story short; You CAN, you just have to fail to do it.

2) I Don’t Have Time.

Here’s a worldwide secret for you: None of us have time.

Let me ask you a question. Do you watch a lot of TV? Do you watch a little bit of TV? Do you play games? Do you go out to bars every weekend? These are the things (among many others) that are taking the time away from you working on your art. I’m not saying at all that you can never do these things, however, I am putting it out there that if you truly want to succeed at your art and meet your goals, you are going to have to cut back on the distractions. This is true for things other than art, by the way. Working out is one of those things that nobody claims to have time for.

The bottom line is that you have to organize your priorities. For example, I was a beta tester for World of Warcraft, and played steadily for the next 8 years. I wasn’t even a hardcore raider or anything, but it consumed hours of my day, week after week. “Why am I not progressing in my art?” Well, I was spending 4-5 hours a day in WoW, but only and hour tops on my art. Guess which one I was good at? It wasn’t the art.

When I was at a point that I was ready to take my art seriously and understood that my “don’t have time” was just an excuse for myself to justify why I am not where I want to be with it, I realized I had to sort out my priorities.

I gave up WoW cold turkey. I haven’t played in three years. Do I miss it? Oh yeah, nearly every day. Will I ever play again? Very likely, in the future. You don’t have to give up your time sinks entirely, you just have to put them lower on the priority list. You can’t paint 24/7 and expect to maintain that momentum without burning out, so those distractions are actually very beneficial in smaller doses. Instead of playing WoW, which I knew for myself to be a huge time sink, I chose things that were easier for me to walk away from while still providing a mental break from the grueling process of being the best artist I can be. I started working out and watched a little TV instead.

The reward has been immense, by the way. In the last three years, my art has improved by leaps and bounds, and I’m getting work in the very industry I want to be in. I had a table at Spectrum and attended IlluxCon. I’ve been cold-contacted by Art Directors about games they’re creating. It is happening for me now, and there is NO REASON it won’t happen for you if you’re willing to sacrifice a few things to achieve it. 

3) I Can’t Afford Art School.

Psh! Who can!? Art school is ridiculously expensive and I can tell you that I personally have a raging hate boner for school loans. But guess what, you don’t really need art school. (side note: art school is great IF it’s what you want to do, I’m NOT dogging art school itself)

This industry is evolving, and it’s very exciting. There are so many free and inexpensive resources out there, that you can learn nearly everything you’d learn in art school by sitting at your computer and paying attention. I will say it can be pretty overwhelming because there are so many available resources, but that’s just a matter of figuring out what you need to learn first and what’s most important to you. I will write an entire blog post about this in the near future, and I’ve touched on it in the past, but rest assured that you can get all the education you need just be being a part of the community, and all that requires is reaching out and involving yourself. There’s no secret handshake or initiation ritual to go through to be One Of Us. Trust me on that one. Go to conventions and speak to other artists, artists you admire and look up to, and you’ll very quickly learn that nearly all of them are as excited for you to be One Of Us as you are.

One of the coolest things I realized at IlluxCon was that I was learning more about how to get started with oil painting than I’d have likely learned by taking a class. By taking a class taught by one instructor, I would learn how that instructor likes to paint. Well, how do I know that’s how I would like to paint?? I spoke with industry pros and such majestic creatures as Patrick Jones, Michael C. Hayes, and Annie Stegg, and each one had different tips and methods. I gleaned from them what I want to try, and mentally dismissed the things I wouldn’t be interested in. For me, this was way more effective than sitting in a class learning one way. That said, for you it may be different and in that case, finding a local oil painting class could be beneficial! It’s all about finding your own path.

If you start to feel lost and overwhelmed, reaching out to the community will help. If you’re interested in how one artist does something, ask them how they do it. Obviously, don’t expect a full on class from them, but they may be able to help you find your own path. I get extremely intimidated by people I feel are leagues above me, so I tend to reach out to people I feel are just a bit beyond me, and it’s more comfortable. Again, your own path! You may be perfectly comfortable emailing Donato Giancola well before I ever am.

So, this blog post is getting really long. I may turn this into a bit of a series if I get the chance, so stay tuned. I hope this helps you out some, and please feel free to leave feedback or contact me if you want to discuss things!



Convention Conversations Pt 2

In Part 1, I talked about the various types of convention-goers I’ve noticed so far. It’s by no means conclusive, but it can be a small guide to how to open up a line of communication with someone who is approaching or passing your booth/table. Also keep in mind that this is simply how I felt comfortable chatting with people, and your level of comfort will vary.

I’ve never been the type who felt at ease trying to start a conversation with every living soul who passed by. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, it just didn’t feel like me. I spent the first hour or so of Spectrum watching the various types of convention-goers and deciding how best to bring them over. It didn’t take very long to notice some trends, and to come up with some opening “lines” that didn’t sound too “used care salesman.” I was pretty nervous at this point, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to easily talk to mass amounts of people without getting all bijiggity.

I made sure to smile at anyone who looked over my way, as an opening welcoming gesture. From there, I noted their reaction. If they moved on quickly or gave a small smile and looked away, I basically left them alone. Now, I’m not sure if that is the right thing to do, but I put myself in their place and felt I wouldn’t want to be harassed if I showed no interest in a table or booth. Everyone is different, though, so that could obviously vary.

If they gave a good smile or nodded my way, and were close enough that I wasn’t yelling at them, I would ask how they were doing. You generally get “good”, “fine”, “ok” as replies. Again, if they gave a short reply and moved on, I let them go. If they responded positively to my question, and veered toward me, it was a good sign that they were open to conversation and more open to looking at and possibly purchasing some of my prints.

I like to ask people questions about themselves, because it puts people at ease and because I’m curious about everybody! Generally, my questions started with asking if this was their first time at Spectrum. You’d be amazed at how many people have been to all of them so far! I joked with them that now they have to go to all of them so they can be that one guy who has all of his Spectrum badges in 20 years. You hear that, Spectrum?! KEEP IT GOING!

What it must be like organizing an event for fantasy/sci-fi artists

I also asked if they were an artist or a fan or both. I got a pretty even mix of all three, and with those who were artists, there was an automatic subject to talk about: our art.

My favorite convention-goers were the artists who were interested but unsure about whether they should ever have a table or show their work. I loved it if they had their sketchbook or a portfolio with them! I know not everyone is like me, so you may not be as interested in these types of guests as I was, but they were a lot of fun to talk to. Once they realized I wanted to talk to them, they had a million questions about the industry, what it’s like to have a table, how I got “so good”, etc. I put “so good” in quotes because, like any artist, I never judge myself as “good enough”. But it was fun talking to those who believed in me more than I believe in myself, if that makes sense! I spent lots and lots of time talking to the Dabblers. It was fun encouraging them to pursue their dream so that they could someday be sitting where I was. It feels good to build others up.

If the individual stated they weren’t an artist but a fan, I loved hearing who they were there to see, if they had specific favorite artists, or hearing what brought them in. Was it dragons? Knights? Magic the Gathering? Let me tell you, the M:tG autograph gatherers are extremely interesting and fun to talk to. They are like bounty hunters on a mission. They will hung you down if you’re a M:tG artist! A few of them said they look forward to hunting ME down for my autograph on Magic cards in the future, and that made me feel really good.

You think I’m good enough for MAGIC!?

You may think that engaging in conversations would be a waste of time, but there were a few people who didn’t show much interest in buying a print, but after talking for a bit, they chose one to take home. A couple of them came back later and purchased something. I also believe that chatting with people shows that you’re approachable, and others who may be shy or intimidated will see that they, too, could approach you when you’re available.

The challenge was when I was in conversation with one person, and others walked up appearing to be interested in chatting too. I tried to bring them into the conversation as well, and if not, the very least I could do was make eye contact and smile in a way that assured them I am eager to talk to them as well. Sometimes they didn’t get a chance and would walk away, sometimes they’d stick around, and sometimes they would return later when I wasn’t busy.

The bottom line is that as artists, and especially as introverts, it can be easy to lose ourselves in a sketchbook or to sit down and hope someone comes up to buy our prints. Unfortunately, this won’t work out well at all, in my experience as both a convention-goer and now as having had a table. I know I’m not an expert since I’ve only exhibited once so far, but this is also coming from talking to numerous other artists. If you hide behind your sketchbook, people won’t want to bother you and they’re more likely to pass you by. Think about what it’s like to be on that side of the table, are you going to interrupt an artist that looks like he or she is working? I know I’m not!

I hope this post has helped in some way, and if not, well… here is a sketch I did that I may or may not take to finish! Yes, the bottom corner says ‘dead guy’.


My First Convention Table – Spectrum 3

It can be pretty damn intimidating making the decision to set up your own table at your very first convention. Trust me, I am well aware! I was terrified.

But let me back up a bit. I attended Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2 in 2013 and immediately fell in love. It is focused completely on Fantasy and Sci-Fi art, with a bit of Pop Culture and Pop Art sprinkled in, making it easily my favorite convention to attend. And really, it’s not so much a “convention” in the typical sense, as it isn’t geared toward sell Sell SELL as much as “regular” conventions. It has more of a connect-with-the-community feel, in my opinion. I think that’s why I love it so much.


Earlier this year, as I was browsing the site for the upcoming show, I noticed something new: Artist Alley. This is the first year SFAL has had an Artist Alley, and the tables were extremely affordable ($100 early registration, $200 last minute). They SOLD OUT shortly after I made the dive and purchased my space.

I honestly felt I was not remotely ready to have my own table at a convention or show, but what better way to motivate yourself to BE ready, than to have a deadline, a goal, and a sink-or-swim situation? That’s how I work best, after all. Pressure, stress, sink-or-swim. I could tell myself forever and ever that “someday I’ll have enough work to show”, or I could set up the situation to where I had damn well better create more work or else my table will look dismal and sad.

So that’s what I did. And honestly, the pressure of knowing I needed to have more and better work to put out in front of the general public caused a decent leap in my skills as an artist. So… bonus! I created about 2 paintings a week of original characters, proving to myself that I was indeed ready for this move.

Then came the preparation aside from the creation of the art. Booth setup! I created a Pinterest board where I could hoard all of the blogs and articles about setting up a successful booth I could find. Interestingly, there isn’t a whole lot out there, or at least it wasn’t easy to find. Artists: Pin your posts!

I looked around my house for items I could use to set up my own table, and was pleased to find that everything I needed for display, at least for my first table, was right here at home. I used black wire shelving we already had on hand. This was decently effective, and until I need something more robust, they will be used again in the future.

The prints I had done were from OfficeMax. I was very impressed with the quality and recommend starting simple like this until you’re ready to offer giclee and archival quality prints. There’s nothing wrong with a brand new artist selling prints from OfficeMax when you’re starting out. No one even noticed the difference.

Next, I ordered new business cards and some postcards of my favorite paintings. I intended to sell these for $1 each, but instead chose to hand them out for free. I had also created a postcard specifically to give to Art Directors, and this is what landed me my first professional freelance illustration job for a major trading card game company (can’t wait to talk about that more!). I would say the postcards were extremely effective. Note: Jon Schindehette suggested leaving space on your postcard or business card for ADs to be able to jot notes on them. I’ll be doing this in the future.

Here is my current “Portfolio Postcard”:

The back actually does have a lot of white space, so maybe I won’t need to change it in the future… huh.

For my business card display, I stole an idea off of Pinterest that involved taking a paperback book and folding each page in half, and then trimming the front and back covers to size. I stuck the business cards between the pages and placed it on my table. People loved that idea! So, it’s cool to find interesting ways to display your business cards, it can generate conversation, and people are more likely to take a card than if they’re just in a pile.

I also splurged and bought a banner and retractable stand from Staples. It was also super successful and getting attention and the quality was really high. You definitely want to have your art above eye level and down, having things to see at every level. Having a vertical banner helped people to find me from a distance.

Here is a photo of my table after I set it all up:

I ended up rearranging things, and placing prints flat on the table for people to peruse, but this was the basic set up. I felt it was decent for a first timer. I was super lucky because the girl behind me had a huge wooden foldable display, and it was painted black on the back, so it sort of framed my table perfectly. In the future, I’m considering getting one of those photographer’s backdrops with black fabric. I like having the “wall” behind me.

So, with all of this set up and a few prints to sell, I felt I was ready. In a future blog post (soon), I will talk about how I brought people over to my table with a bit of conversation and some canned questions!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Feel free to ask questions!

So you want to be an artist? Then… Draw!

I just attended the Artist as Brand workshop put on by Greg Spalenka and it was pretty freakin’ sweet. One of the biggest things he talked about regarding putting yourself out there and connecting with other artists and fans was a blog. I have always wanted to have one, but could never think of what to draw. I don’t know why, but for some reason yesterday, as he spoke about the importance of a website and blog, a ton of blog topics started slamming into my brain. I wrote them all down, and then I searched Google for more interesting blog topics. By the time I put my pen down, I had 4 pages of blog topics! So, I want to get my blog started and have a purpose for it.

This year was the first time I had my own table at a convention or show. I started out with an Artist Alley table at Spectrum, and it was not only extremely fun, it connected me with a ton of people who were aspiring, struggling, or interested artists. I heard a lot of “I wish…” or “I would love to…” or “I dabble…” and I wanted to push those people down into a chair and convince them they absolutely CAN if they truly want to join the ranks of what they view as unreachable Artists. The idea that I was one of those artists that they felt were in the place they wanted to be was amazing to me. Who am I? I’m a new artists in this industry, having just landed my first professional illustration gig with a trading card company!

I want to connect even further with those fledgling artists. I won’t use the term “young artist” because while some of those artists were quite young, a few of them still in high school, a large number of them were adults with full time jobs. Age has nothing to do with where you are as an artist.

Here’s a secret I have discovered over the last few years of my journey to become a freelance illustrator: Nobody is ever good enough. No artist ever starts out immediately awesome, getting hired off the bat by the big hitters like Blizzard and Wizards of the Coast.

What do professional athletes do in order to be picked up by their respective League? They train. Well, as it turns out, artists have to train too! This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a formal art education, either. You can actually construct your own education based on your interests and where you want your art to take you, by ferreting out the artists you like and learning from them. There are countless tutorials, numerous workshops, and literally hundreds (if not more) artists willing to show you the way.

In future blog posts, I intend to share some of the many resources available to any artist, regardless of skill level, who are seeking to improve their art. Whether it be to get hired as a freelancer or to improve as an industry professional, these workshops, tutorials, and how-to’s can probably help you. The bottom line is this: YOU have to do it. YOU have to put in the work. YOU have to carve out the time in your busy schedule to put pen to paper or brush to canvas or stylus to tablet. And you can, if you believe you can.