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September 3, 2012

Super Obvious Secrets That I Wish They’d Teach In Art School

Posted by sinosikarmel (text and photo credit: Phil McAndrew)

I don’t have all the answers yet (I never will), but here are a some important things I’ve learned so far. Most of it seems like obvious, common sense stuff. And it is. I hope some of you find this useful!

If you don’t enjoy drawing enough to want to do it every single day then you should probably find another line of work! I don’t know about other freelancers, but I work seven days a week.

Creativity is a muscle. If you want that muscle to stay strong you’ve got to use it every day. If you fall out of the habit of drawing every day it can be really tough to pick it up again. Muscles weaken much faster than they grow. So don’t stop drawing ever!

Draw something that you don’t think is within your ability to draw. Try drawing a comic without penciling anything first, go straight to ink. Pick up a cheap set of watercolor paints and play with them until your eyes turn into little hearts and you love them and they love you back and everyone is crying happy watercolor tears and embracing. If you don’t think you can draw a motorcycle then draw a motorcycle every day until you’re good at drawing motorcycles. Go to a life drawing session and draw some naked people (it’s fun!).

Don’t trash talk other people’s work even if it really does suck. I can think of plenty of cartoonists who are way more successful than me who, in my opinion, consistently produce dumb, boring, crappy comics. But talking shit about their comics and comparing their success to my own isn’t going to benefit me in any way. It would only be self destructive. It doesn’t matter how many twitter followers you have. But be nice to the people and spam bots that do follow you.

My best work, the work that I get most excited about and that other people seem to enjoy and respond to the most, is usually stuff that I draw purely for fun. My big mental art breakthroughs usually happen when I’m mindlessly doodling. Sketchbooks are where you get to draw whatever you want and where ideas are born. Set aside a little time every day to doodle and explore. Draw for YOURSELF.

Did you ever sit on the floor and draw as a kid? Most kids do it. Do you remember how fun it was? It was really fun. It didn’t matter what the drawings looked like when you were done. It was just a fun thing to do. I remember drawing monsters and spooky castles with my brothers. It was one of our favorite things to do. We could sit and draw monsters and spooky castles for hours. We were drawing them because monsters and spooky castles interested us and because the act of drawing is super fun. Don’t forget how fun drawing can (and should) be. Do forget about impressing anyone. Just have fun. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking you’ve got to draw something amazing because if you sit down and think “I’ve got to make an amazing drawing” then you’re just going to end up staring at a blank sheet of paper. Just start drawing.

Want to draw a graphic novel? Then do it. Stop talking about it and do it. Don’t wait until you have more free time or more drawing skills. As you get get older you will find yourself with less and less free time

Whether you’re digging for treasure in the yard or hunched over a drafting table, it’s important to take breaks every so often! Breaks help keep your mind (and body) fresh.

We all have particular artists that we love and have been influenced by. But one of the worst things you can do is to get stuck on those artists or to try to imitate them. Yes, it’s good to study other people’s art and learn from it but don’t just hone in on one or two artists that you really admire. Study LOTS of people’s work.

If you want people to respect your work, take you seriously, or pay you to draw things then do not trash talk your own work. Why would you expect someone else take your work seriously when even you, the person that created it, are openly talking about how much it sucks? If you want people to get excited about your work (and to hire you to draw things) then you need to show them that YOU are excited about your work.

Everyone has off days or stretches of time where they just aren’t happy with any of the work they’re producing. It happens! And it’s okay!

I’ve tried many different methods of self promotion. I’ve sent out postcards in the mail, I’ve tried shmoozing at conventions, I’ve sent cold emails and have considered cold calling art directors (I’m still considering it). The most effective thing I’ve done has actually been the simplest: Draw awesome stuff and put it on the internet. Do this for a while and good things will happen.

* * *

I understand fully that this is an awfully long (re)post, but, but, but…it helped me a lot when I was starting to convince myself that I can draw. (And you can too!) Consider this your freelance/hobbyist illustrator bible. 

The title says a lot as well. People assume that there are “Art Secrets” when it’s all just practice. If you want to draw well, then start drawing. Similarly, if you want to be a writer then freaking write. It’s all just practice and plenty of fighting spirit. Huzzah! Now back to drawing.



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