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My childhood was peppered with road trips across the Canadian prairie visiting family – the smell of mosquito repellent was the smell of Canada to me until I went to college, and still evokes fond memories of whizzing past grain elevators, finding interesting bugs in the splatter of grasshoppers on the windshield, sitting around the fire pit after a 10pm sunset, etc. etc. The only time I'd visited in the winter was one rather miserable Christmas, in which Edmonton was basking in sweater weather while Victoria – balmy retirement capital of Canada – got three feet of snow. But prior to visiting I'd been filled with horror stories about the prairie winter, mainly of the barefoot-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways variety, which was probably a big reason why we only visited in summer.

I had planned my big Turtle Island* trip for February because I knew I'd be visiting LA, and that's one of the least unpleasant months to be there (and one I don't mind missing in Cambridge). As it afforded me the chance to get a taste of RealWinterTM at last, I booked a few days with my aunt and uncle in Calgary. And ohh my gosh, did it get me – I only had a couple days to enjoy it as I was unfortunately bedbound for some time with a stomach bug, but for months afterwards I found myself fantasizing about the taste of the frosty wind and how everything just sparkled. In off moments, I still find myself trying to strategise when would be best to make a return trip.

*A name used by several First Nations for the landmass of North America. As it is a) their continent and b) a way cooler name than "North America", I have taken to using it, forgetting that most other people didn't grow up listening to the Turtle Island String Quartet on Prairie Home Companion and therefore are probably deeply confused by my doing so.
tealin: (introspect)

To all the balloons which have had the misfortune to float into my enclosure:

I am so, so sorry.

       Spiny Porcupine.
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Nothing like co-opting a former colleague's fanart for your own amusement ... sincerest apologies to Cory Loftis but it was too good to resist. (He is amazing, you guys, check him out; I do miss seeing his artwork in the halls every day.)

Jean Kang has also done some super cool and spooky Wolf Hall fanart without even having to steal it from anyone!
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The exercises in not snapping my watercolour brushes in frustration continue apace ...

... not a very grueling pace ...

The skies here are amazing, and good sky watercolours are amazing, but I keep getting laid up by darn complicated pretty buildings which I make a hash of. I dunno. More skies!
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I'm looking at very much belatedly getting on this 'internet artist' bandwagon and turning some of my hobbies into something that could challenge me artistically/prfessionally and give me a little pocket change between jobs. There are two problems: self-promotion runs entirely against my grain, and I don't know the first thing about how to go about doing any of this. So I reach out to you, O internet, faithful friend and ally, to offer some sort of feedback. Please please chip in your two cents on anything you have an opinion on, I am out for data.

1. What would you, or people you know, be most interested in buying if I were to offer it in an online shop? (e.g. sketchbooks, prints of nice finished artwork, prints of existing rough artwork, original artwork, phone cases, tote bags, cupcakes, whatever)

2. Do you have any suggestions for new things I could make that there would be interest in?  (e.g. an illustrated cookbook, nicely formatted and illustrated art tips, 'art books' for things I tend to return to a lot (as if they were actual animated productions))

3. Do you have any experience with monetizing your art?  What would your advice be? Do you have any strong feelings on one online shop host over another?

Any and all feedback is appreciated (including 'stay pure! don't do this!') so please take a moment or two to tell me what you think, even if it's a general comment that doesn't address any of those three points.

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Crossposting from Tumblr for those who may be interested:

Could you possibly give some advice to a 16 year old aspiring artist who really wants to do something art-related after high-school but doesn’t really have a lot of financial backing? ie are student loans worth it? Can you get a job that pays them off if you go into art? I know you’re an animator at Disney, so I was hoping you’d could give me a few tips? Is it really hard to get a job at Disney, for example ...

The short answer is: Don’t take out student loans and expect a job at Disney to pay them back.

The long answer is much longer:

You can get a job in art, and you can get this job by going to school, but if you are getting into the art field (or “the arts” in general) I would advise against taking out student loans if at all possible.

First of all, think about what sort of art you like doing, and then look around and try to see how people make a living at that. Cartooning can take you into animation, storyboarding, or comics, landscape painting into background painting or environmental design, drawing clothes into fashion or costume design, etc. You might have harder luck if abstract expressionism or textile arts are your thing. If the only professional application for the art is ‘selling knicknacks on Etsy’ you might want to refocus.

I’d also recommend looking for schools in your price range. Even if you can’t afford any school out-of-pocket, a smaller local college will put you much less in the hole than a national private institution. “Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” is NOT a good philosophy in this case. Especially if you’re still figuring out what field you want to get into, this sort of school is a good place to experiment and build foundations, then if you want to go on to something bigger you won’t be wasting your very expensive time there.

‘The’ school for animation is CalArts, but there was no way my family could afford that when I was looking for colleges. I found a cracking animation program at a small vocational school instead, learned an awful lot, and had a great time, made wonderful friends, and graduated without any debt. It was a longer hill to climb from there to Disney, as opposed to CalArts which, for its price, does give you a world-class network and a diploma that opens doors, but I did it, and other people have, too. The great thing about going into animation these days is with all the blogs, videos, online tutorials, and DVD bonus features, you have access to the same resources as everyone else, you just have to know what you need and where to find it.

Another strategy is to go to school for something else and continue your art on the side, then get into it more seriously when you’ve earned enough money to go back to school. Learn a trade that’s in demand, won’t be outsourced, and which you don’t actually hate doing; if it gives you some flexibility in your schedule or a fair amount of leisure time that is ideal, because if you’re really passionate about art you will continue to do it no matter what your day job is. And this gives you a valuable fall-back skill between art jobs. (There is always a ‘between’ with art jobs.) Remember you can always take night classes or seminars to improve your skills, as well as independent study – your first pass at post-secondary education is not your only chance.

If you have a killer portfolio and high-level skills they need right now to finish their movie, Disney is not that hard to get into. Getting the portfolio and skills is much harder work. If they don’t need whatever you have to offer at the moment, you won’t get in no matter how good you are, but you have those skills and can shop them around. As with any studio, timing and luck are important ingredients as well.

Keeping that job is another challenge – it used to be a job at Disney would keep you employed for years, but recently they’ve started to become more like the vast majority of animation studios, in which a core staff is retained but the majority of people are hired on a show-to-show basis. This is another reason why counting on them to pay off your student debt is not a good idea.

Luckily you are still young and have a couple more years of high school to find your artistic path, rather than being rushed into a decision immediately. Take advantage of that! A job where you get to do art every day is pretty great, so be strategic. And whatever you do, keep arting! It’ll keep you sane.
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Field trip day!

If you can possibly get there before Sunday at 5pm, I highly recommend their exhibit on American illustrators of the early 20th Century. They have seven original Leyendeckers!
tealin: (introspect)
As anyone keeping tabs on the number of image posts I've made lately has probably been able to tell, I've been in a bit of an artistic slump. There are manifold reasons for this, some of which I have yet to find, and many of which I'd really rather not post about, but one significant one is the awareness that I am in desperate need of taking things to the next level. It's hard to pursue this adequately when it comes in conjunction with lack of inspiration and motivation – how do you turn out frontier-expanding work when you don't really want to do anything? – but it's something that has to be done.

I have devised a scheme that will give me material to work with, to push and improve, without the hard part of generating ideas: Revisit old drawings, treat them like initial sketches, and use skills learned and being learned to develop them into something actually nice. I have an enormous library of past sketches though, so I don't know where to start ... and so I come to you.

Is there a drawing of mine you particularly like, which you'd like to see brushed up and made presentable? Something from ye olden days which doesn't really stand up anymore but has sentimental value? A character or scene you'd like to see a new take on?

I don't know how quickly I'll be able to get through these, as there are other exercises I have to do as well, but it'll be something for a bit of fun, at least. A little, y'know ... like this. (OK, probably nothing at all like that, but the parallels amuse me.)
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Finally, an ideal to which I can aspire!

Well, I'll do without the cigarette, but not without acknowledging the symbolic importance of it.

Ironic watermark is ironic.
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Drawing fanart is its own reward, and I never expect it to go farther than my website and blog, but a couple weeks ago I got an email from someone with a rather cool present attached:

She made plushies from my drawings! Specifically this one. How cool is that? I feel so ... commercially viable. :D
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I was all prepared to write up the last in the series, but then last night this link landed in my lap, and I had to share it with you:
Austin Kleon on How to Steal Like an Artist ... very inspiring and honest stuff there, about creative people, how they work, their 'secrets,' etc. It's quite long but worth every minute spent reading.

I still want to share my last thoughts, though, so lucky you, you get a twofer! This isn't exactly art advice, more a general life thing, but I find it comes in most handy when considering creative work.

When I was growing up, if there was something that I wanted to do, but I grumbled about how hard it was at any step of the way, my dad would say something along the lines of 'Well, maybe you should give it up, it clearly doesn't matter very much to you.' This was a clever bit of goading that usually got me past the grumbling and put my nose to the grindstone again.

Ever since then, when faced with a daunting impediment, I have asked myself 'How much does it matter to you?' Usually it matters enough to find a way to get downtown every day during a bus strike, to book last-minute plane tickets to the UK, to give up everything I loved about living in Canada to do 2D animation, and any number of smaller things along the way. It's a good way to step back and keep things in perspective, when you might be distracted by petty cares.
Which matters more to you?
- being close to your high school friends or going to the college you want to go to, far away?
- a career that pays well or one that is rewarding in less tangible ways?
- being free of momentary embarrassment or talking to the boy you have a crush on?
- getting your project done on time or getting a full night's sleep?
- the fear of drawing attention to yourself or the expertise you will gain by carrying a sketchbook everywhere?

There may not be a wrong answer to any of them, but in twenty years when you look back on this decision, which option will you regret more?
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As you devote yourself to studying art in a serious, continuous way, you will notice a curious phenomenon. After the initial learning curve, you will find yourself coasting for a long time without noticeably improving, no matter how much work you do. You may even feel you're sliding back. This can be discouraging, frustrating, even depressing, but keep going and you'll find that suddenly – sometimes even overnight – your skills will bump up to the next level. It's weird, but I know I'm not the only one this happens to, because the phenomenon was described to me by my animation teacher, so there are at least two people in the world who follow this pattern, and there might be more ... At any rate, it has served as a consolation to me when I find myself on the downward slope, to know that a jump to the next level is just around the corner, according to the natural course of things.

It is also important to keep in mind that as you progress, the jumps become less dramatic – you go from forging a foundation to honing smaller facets of your skills set, so the improvements are less earth-shattering. Even though the slope might not be so steep, though, it does continue gradually upwards, it just takes longer ...
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When it comes to solid drawing, you just don't get better than Glen Keane. Luckily Mark Kennedy shares with us some handouts Glen did on the subject a while back.

Preach it, Glen!

EDIT: Fixed that link (sorry) and felt a bit guilty about such a low-content entry so, here, have Mr Kennedy's post on Expressive Poses as well!
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Have a random post by Mr Diaz that kind of encapsulates a lot of the basic thought behind character design:

Characters: Ya Gotta Tell Them Apart (That's my title, not his)

Warning: There are nipples. Minor and educational nipples, but still, the easily shocked might want to have mental censor bars on hand and you may want to think twice before clicking the link in a public place.
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In a previous entry I mentioned the phenomenon of burnout, and how a professional must soldier on regardless of whether or not they want to do what they're doing. Burnout is, unfortunately, a standard part of every creative profession I know of; creating takes a lot more mental energy and emotional involvement than just putting numbers in boxes, and this can be exhausting. Keep pushing through the exhaustion, and you end up damaging the underlying enthusiasm that kept you going in the first place. Sometimes this leaves you feeling like you've had it, that you can't do this anymore; some people get it so bad that they leave their artistic careers forever and take up forensic accounting or something. Burnouts can range anywhere from 'disinterest' to 'fierce hatred' towards your line of work, and likewise can take varying degrees of effort to overcome. Some are so severe they cannot be overcome. The aim of this post is to keep you from getting to the latter.

There are two important things to remember about burnouts:

1. They are natural
2. They don't have to be permanent

Now, if you're doing this for a living, you can't just throw up your hands and say 'That's it! I can't do any more work, I'm burnt out!' – that is called 'being a temperamental flaky artist,' and they're unlikely to hire you back again. You have to learn to work around, through, and over the burnouts if you're going to make a career of this.

Some Hints )
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I'm going to let Mark Kennedy pick up the 40 Days of Art for a little while, until I meet my deadline. Deadlines!! Aargh!

Anyway, here's what he has to say on a really basic thing to think about when plotting out your drawing, to make it clear and readable (as it should be!). And that thing is ... Silhouette!
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1. This one's easy and probably best for minor blockages: Try drawing with your non-dominant hand. I find this works a treat when I'm struggling with a caricature and I feel like I keep drawing the same (wrong) thing over and over, when I can feel how it ought to be in my mind.

2. Ban yourself from drawing your own stuff for a few days and throw yourself into studying other people's artwork – copying while thinking about what you're drawing can teach you a lot, and learning how other people approach design problems and express themselves can give you tools you might not have had before. It also sort of resets your muscle memory, as you are drawing unfamiliar shapes and speaking someone else's visual language.

3. A change is as good as a rest – sometimes you come up dry because you've emptied the well and you need to let the groundwater seep in again. Go for a walk out in nature and take your sketchbook; draw anything and everything that catches your eye, be it a flower, a shrub, the ridgeline of distant mountains, whatever, but NOT whatever it is you normally draw. Try to create a nice landscape study, maybe. Play with composition. Sometimes inspiration can sneak in without you even knowing it. (Of course if you normally draw nature stuff, this is obviously bad advice.)

4. Try changing tools. A tool that does not allow you to make a 'pretty' drawing, or one that is too imprecise to put your line exactly where you want it, will force you to concentrate on other things and will free you up a lot (no matter how frustrating it might be to start with). Try sharpie, chalk, fountain pen, fingerpaint, crayon, a stick in the sand, ketchup on a plate, whatever. Then, when you finally go back to your regular tool that does what you tell it to do, WOW! So easy!
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I am going to pass on to you a nugget of wisdom I received from my mother when I was getting burnt out towards the end of animation school. She had been in a similar situation in theatre school, and had been told by one of her teachers:
An amateur does it because they love to do it; a professional does it even when they don't want to.
The dividing line between amateur and professional is not skill level – there are blissfully talented amateurs out there that can draw/act/sculpt/yoyo/dance/sew circles around some professionals – but professionals do it for a living. It is their profession. If you want to pursue art, or anything else, as a career, you need to be able to make yourself do something even when it is the last thing you'd want to be doing. For some reason it's especially hard to do this when it's something you used to do purely for the love of it, rather than something you've never liked doing, but it needs to be done, otherwise you won't have a profession for very long.

I am lucky enough to be in a place, now, where I do things that I both enjoy and get paid for (most of the time), but it was not always thus – I can remember times where I drew the line so completely between amateur and professional drawing that I could have been drawing eight hours a day for weeks on end and, without thinking, tell people that 'I haven't drawn in ages.' I hadn't drawn anything for myself in ages, and all the pages and pages of drawings I'd done at work in that time didn't even register. I don't know if that's professionalism or just mental illness, but there you have it.

When you're planning to make the jump from amateur to professional, it's important to remember why you got into the field in the first place. Try to hold on to what you love about what you do, even if it means doing the same thing outside of work – especially if it means you do it outside of work. Fan art kept my love of drawing alive: If all I drew was what was required of me by the productions I was on, I would have come to hate my job very quickly, and never improved. I kept learning because I wanted my fan art to look better, so my amateur art took me much further than my professional art did. If you can be an amateur and a professional at the same time, you could have a very personally rewarding career ahead of you.
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You have an artist you admire and want to learn how they do what they do, but how do you learn to draw like them?

The simple answer is: trace trace trace, copy copy copy. But you can't just blindly duplicate the lines, you have to have your brain turned on while you're doing so or you won't learn anything. Try to think about the following things: )

Once you've studied a wide cross-section of the artist's work, try creating your own drawings in that artist's style. Try to make it look like that artist drew it, like you've uncovered a new piece of art by this person that no one had seen before. Forgery is fun, and educational! (Purely for learning purposes, you understand.)

And remember: LEARN FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF ARTISTS. You can be the best Mignola mimic in the world, but the world already has a Mignola! Make your own unique blend of influences!

If you want some informative examples of how other people have dissected artists' styles, the following 'Art of' books have style guides in them, though you may need a jeweler's loupe to read some of the text:
Fantasia 2000 (for Al Hirschfeld)
Hercules (for Gerald Scarfe – 'the swoop with a sudden reversal is a key Scarfe line!')
Lilo & Stitch (for Chris Sanders)
I'm pretty sure I've seen Atlantis' somewhere before, but I don't think it was in the art book. Special Edition DVD maybe?
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As you develop as an artist, you tend to get drawn to certain artists who have gone before you, whose style you really connect with. Often people will ape someone else's style for a while, others just pick up influences. This is OK! It's how you learn. Humans are an imitative species – we learn by copying what others do – and copying of the work of masters who have gone before used to be a core part of a young artist's training. Our modern world is so obsessed with originality and individual expression that this aspect of artistic education has more or less disappeared, but that doesn't mean its educational value has. By all means, copy others' art, so long as you don't claim it as your own. Learn as much from it as you can!

The important thing is to keep moving on; don't identify with one artist alone for your whole life but move from artist to artist, picking up what you can from each of them. Gather enough influences and the pot will become so muddied the individual ingredients will be less apparent, and might recombine themselves in unexpected ways which might even appear new. Congratulations! You have arrived at your own personal style. Everyone's style is an amalgamation of influences: if you think someone is completely original, it's probably because you haven't been exposed to their influences yet. Ideally, your style should keep evolving, as you add new influences to the pot.

Another reason to keep moving on is that if you learn everything you know from one person, you learn their flaws as well as their strengths. This is artistic inbreeding! In broadening the gene pool you learn strengths from other artists that might compensate for weaknesses in the first, but of course they come with their own weaknesses, which you compensate for by finding another artist, and so on. Even if you emulate someone widely considered to be one of the best, you will only match them by about 70%, because you do not have their life experience, influences, or even their specific arrangement of nerves and tendons that causes them to hold a pencil a certain way and make this kind of stroke instead of that.

If you think of the world as white light, different artists' styles are like different coloured filters on it. You can project the world through a red filter or a green one, but keep piling on more of the same filter and the light just gets darker. Combine the two, though, and you get yellow, which really isn't very much like either of them. If you combine all colours, of course, you get white, i.e. the entirety of the world, but reality can be so much more interesting with a splash of colour.


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