How to Be a Better Artist

01_02 for blog

I’ll be honest: this post is largely for me. It’s a bit disciplinary, but I hope it’s also inspirational.

  1. Let Yourself Know – If you just kind of generally wish you were better, your improvement is largely up to luck. Maybe some things sink in, maybe they don’t. Maybe you learn, maybe you don’t. Send yourself a clear-cut memo that says, “I’m going to study, learn, and grow as an artist. I want to enhance my skills, and be the best I can be.” Don’t be vague and dreamy; be real.
  2. Let Your Network Know – If you’re like me when I first started, you’re probably saying, “I don’t have a network yet.” But you do! If you have friends, and your friends have friends, then you have a network. Let them know that you’re pursuing your art, and you would really like them to share their thoughts. You should also ask them to share your work with their friends. That’s literally all that networking is. Friends of friends of friends, etc.
  3. Don’t Apologize – Don’t be embarrassed by your work. Don’t share/post something and say, “Sorry this sucks…” If art is your passion, then don’t make excuses or apologies; love it, and tell people you love. Not because it’s perfect, but because you made something.
  4. Let It Be Thrilling – Being good at something is pretty cool. Becoming good at something is potentially the most amazing journey ever. Don’t just try to have good results. Really enjoy your learning! Get excited when you decide to try a new technique! Feel happy when you put pencil to paper (or stylus to screen!) This is ART, yo!
  5. It’s Dangerous to Go Alone – It’s true. You may have your network helping you get noticed, but make some artist friends. Go to the zoo or park and draw together. Share what you learn, share your resources. The buddy system has proven true time and again: if someone else is doing it with you, you’re more likely to stay with it!
  6. Make It As Convenient As Possible – If you have to clear your desk, unbury your sketchbook or tablet, and then dig for a pencil/stylus, you’re not going to feel motivated. Keep your materials close….keep your enemies closer. Wait… But seriously, keep your tools ready at all times!
  7. ALWAYS Tell a Story – No joke. Even a very simple, crude drawing can be super effective it there’s a story. A nicely rendered character just… standing… there… is never as interesting as a character moving or interacting.
  8. You Put Out What You Take In – Read about art. Learn art history. Make notes. Watch YouTube (it CAN be productive!) Take in a wide array of art-related information… but also stuff not directly related to art. Immerse yourself.
  9. Do It All The Time – Keep a sketchbook with you at all times. Sketch on your breaks. Sketch before you go to bed. Sketch on the bus. SKETCH WHENEVER YOU CAN. Incidentally, this is the one that’s hardest for me… I always forget to bring a sketchbook.
  10. Use Life as a Reference - The best possible reference you can ever have is life itself. Draw real people, real things, real places. Capture real moments, real emotions. Even if you want to draw cartoons or comics! Comics are simplified reality, so learn what it is you’re simplifying.

01_02 for blog1

Which tips did you find helpful? What else could you add?

Rene Concept Art

The title character from my webcomic!

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with this. I didn’t make any severe changes, but I kind of just solidified her design. I like her new hairstyle very much! It gives her more personality, I think. At any rate, the actual process of doing all of this was super fun and I learned a lot from it, and that’s the important thing!

Make Like a Child Pt. 2 (of 3) | Character Concept Art

Read pt. 1 here!

CIMG_1278hildren are so much more receptive to inspiration than adults. I noticed this in particular this past weekend when my nephews and nieces were over at my house. The oldest, Matthew, was particularly interested in whether or not my comic was finished yet. When I explained that I was a little stuck on some character design stuff, he offered to help. So I pulled up the rough sketches I had, and instantly, he said, “Something’s missing… Maybe if he had a robot arm.” With nothing really better to do, I gave Amadeo a robot arm. It was actually cool. Really cool. Amadeo had developed some kind of edginess that he’d previously lacked.

IMG_1279But my nephew didn’t stop there. I had told him that this character was a rogue, a fugitive. Matthew suggested putting a military insignia on the robot arm, to show that it had been scrounged. “But make it faded and kind of scratched off.” He still wasn’t done. “He would probably wear a little bit more armor, since he’s on the run.” And on it went for an hour or two. Throughout the rest of the weekend, every so often, Matthew would come up with a more refined version of plot twists and developments. The kid put more work into my webcomic in about 72 hours than I have this whole summer.

It’s not that Matthew is a “better” writer than I am… he’s simply much more open to ideas. If a concept comes, he runs with it. For me, I carefully pick and choose ideas, and I censor anything that feels too “out there.” It was really astounding to my ultra self-conscious self to listen to Matthew simply blurt any (and every) idea that came into his head. It’s okay if not every one of those ideas is taken seriously, but it’s so worth while to at least try them out. I remember being that open when I was little… If I thought it, I wrote it. I drew it. I knew I wasn’t super skilled or talented, but I didn’t do it for that reason. I just wanted to see and read my ideas on paper.

I guess that’s still the case!

What do you miss the most about creating as a child?

Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been tagged to participate in a blog tour!

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker is an awesome writer, a fabulous friend, an inspiration, and apparently, also a tag person… a person who tags… Anyways, please check out her website, because being the much-more-disciplined-than-me writer that she is, she has a couple of YA novels in the works that I can personally recommend! She’s highly talented, and supremely friendly, so go say hello!

And with that, here I go!

What are you currently working on?

First of all, there’s René, a post-apocalyptic webcomic that follows a young woman as she discovers the cost of a “perfect” society. It’s not free. Perfect society, I mean.

I’ve struggled quite a bit with this webcomic, trying to figure out what I really wanted from it. It’s been a massive challenge, with lots of “Wait, lemme start over” but each time, it gets better and stronger. So I’m pretty optimistic about it!

Secondly, there’s my novel “thing” called Izin. It’s the story of a bounty hunter who accidentally discovers the biggest bounty in the country… and she doesn’t know it. Izin has been an entirely different set of challenges for me. I experimented with different media (webcomic vs. proper novel), different prepping techniques (outlining vs. mind mapping), and different genres (post-industrial vs. fantasy vs. scfi). But really, my biggest issue is a genuine fear of clarity: I’m scared that if I “know too much” or construct too much, I’ll lose my drive/inspiration. But I’m discovering that if you learn the science behind the magic, you’ll be able to do so much more!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My main goal was always to have a female protagonist who wasn’t overly sexualized (which is sadly common in all comic genre) and also very smart. René is just that: intelligent, reasonably pretty, and courageous. But even beyond the character design, my big challenge for myself was to try and always, always dig deeper for my characters’ emotions. I want to create drama that goes beyond the typical comic story. Most comics I read rely heavily on “physical” indicators of love, fear, hate, etc. I want to challenge myself to go beyond that… Do the characters have to kiss to show they love each other? Does there have to be a gun to create a sense of fear?

In other words, I’m very determined to avoid stating the obvious.

With Izin, it’s very similar: I want to create something with a message somewhat deeper than “guy meets girl, rough spot, romance.” I’m hugely stubborn in my opinions of people, and having a character like Izin (who is much more prejudiced) deal with her opinionated attitude is really important to me. It’s also the much more dominate theme of the book… which I’ve discovered seems to make the writing easier.

Why do I write what I write?

Post-apocalyptic stories always, alwaysALWAYS grab me. The more dystopian, the better! I feel like it has (more than other genres) the ability to starkly contrast progress with regression. Post-apo can have super technology with an utterly decayed society. Humans can be so advanced, but so primitive at the same time.

I chose to write in this genre because it gives me the freedom to work with a very fantasy-like setting, full of tricks and traps, but also create characters that span from evil and vicious to compassionate and innocent. Star Wars may also have something to do with it. Maybe.

In a more general way, I think it’s my experience reading literature and watching films that portray so much more of the human person than simply the visible actions. Movies and literature have dabbled in the deeper emotions and thoughts for quite some time, but comics are only just starting to dig beneath the surface of the fictional words, and I really want to be a part of the movement.

How does my individual writing process work?

It works best when it’s partnered with drawing, and this has been a huge lesson for me to learn. I always (mentally) kept writing and drawing in two separate boxes, and recently I’ve realized that I’m most productive when I’m producing both words and drawings. To this end, I’ve started consciously veering away from wordy outlines/summaries and relying more on mapping with illustrations and arrows.

I’m pretty amazed at how effective it is. I’ve been building a higher energy for working, and now it really bothers me when I miss a chance to work on my projects. That didn’t use to happen. BUT NOW IT DOES SO YAY.


And I totally failed at finding people to tag. Wow.

Yeah… my blogging network is downright pathetic. But hey, I posted, and I almost forgot, so that’s something!

What I Learned from 10th Place

My Logo Entry

My Logo Entry

Last week I competed in the National SkillsUSA in the field of Advertising Design. I got 10th, which on a national scale, is something I’m pretty okay with. I liked my design, I had an AMAZING time, and I walked away with an even greater appreciation for my work and field.

I got to see Mike Rowe too, so yeah.

But even more than that, simply having the chance to compete against other young adults who are as passionate and talented as I am. This wasn’t some group of students who just liked computer “stuff” and didn’t like math: these people loved their work, just like I do. We were all a little bit nerdy (laughing at typography jokes), and pretty quiet, but I wish I could go back and just watch every face as we worked on our designs. So intense, so dedicated. So amazing.

My Poster Entry

My Poster Entry

was disappointed that my design didn’t print properly. I’m not sure what happened, but silly ol’ Bob Marley printed at full opacity behind the text, making the copy totally unreadable. I admit that I did kinda run a bit back to my room because I was on the verge of tears. I never liked reggae anyway. Shoulda stuck with the country singers. Anyway… I was totally consoled by the very positive feedback from the judges. Yes, the poster was a little bit ruined as a whole, but in reality, that one picture was the only problem. I had competed, I knew my design was strong (I would change the wording), and I felt really pretty proud of what I did.

That being said, I’m not going to shrug and say, “10th place? Good enough.” I’m determined to walk away from this experience with practical knowledge that will help me in my career, and possibly SkillsUSA 2015 (fingers crossed!) So here are some things that I learned from getting 10th:

  1. Design Needs Style: Everyone had really effective designs, and everyone did a pretty amazing job in a short amount of time. But (including my design) there wasn’t a lot of variation… Nothing really jumped out at me as unique, even though there were plenty of epic pieces. Maybe it’s because we all had the same client, logo, and assignment, but I want to investigate what role “style” plays in design.
  2. Think While I Draw: I spent about 2 hours doing 20 thumbnails. According to our facilitator, that’s a little bit long. I disagreed at first (I still finished and stuff, right?) but for me, it’s not a matter of total time spent on something: it’s the actual speed of working. I was working a bit slowly, trying to visualize every detail before drawing anything. I want to work on thinking and drawing at the same time.
  3. Don’t Get Caught Up in Type: For me, type is easy. I love fonts, and I’m familiar with the font library I’ve accumulated. I know my type tools. But people don’t read the words on a poster first: they see the shapes, and then register the actual writing. I’d kinda like to do better at thinking in terms of shapes/general layout instead of getting caught up in writing first. Also Caviar Deams font FTW.
  4. Don’t Overthink the Problem: Pretty basic. Make a list of what the poster needs, figure out what is most important, and make that the focal point. Don’t try to put every puzzle piece together at once… just bitty steps at a time.
  5. Warm Up: Yes. Oh yes yes yes. I need to do this. Sketching, no matter how rough or quick, will help get the brain going. Much like coffee. Warm-ups always provide the biggest benefit for me, but for some reason, they have been the hardest habit to develop. Why? Because coffee is easier, probably.

I want to go back next year to compete again. But regardless of whether or not I go back, I’m so glad that I got the chance to experience that kind of intensity and drive in my field. It’s easy to forget that there is “competition” out there when I rarely come face-to-face with it. This competition was a reminder that I’m not the only designer I need to worry about. And design isn’t something that people do when they just don’t like the other fields. Design is something really, really amazing, and this competition reminded me that I’m not the only person who thinks so.

Note: I’m going to upload a separate post later with all of the photos that I took! Stay tuned!

Also, if you’re from SkillsUSA, leave a comment! Say hello!


The 5 Worst Excuses I Give Myself

As an artist, there are a lot of things that I say to myself (sometimes without noticing) that make it really hard to work. It’s a habit of psychological “nagging” that cuts down on my productivity, but also my confidence. While I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the years (as I get more confident) there are still a few things that I think over and over that really slow me down. I’m hoping that making a deliberate list of them will help me ignore (or even not think) them.

  1. I don’t know if this will work… So I better not try it.
    This is a huge problem when I’m thinking about experimenting with my technique… I’m afraid that I’ll make something awful, so I just make nothing. Which is better than something “bad”? No.

  2. I don’t feel creative… So I’ll just sit and do nothing.
    This is certainly okay once in a while, but it very easily becomes a habit. I pretend that my lack of inspiration is totally “over-powering” me, and I’m helpless. What nonsense. You can make your hand move, even if you don’t have a reason to. So make it move!

  3. I’m not as good as that person… So why try to improve?
    That question should answer itself, but here’s the more detailed response: being intimidated can be paralyzing. However, recognizing the way in which someone has superior skills is a great way to teach yourself. Why is that person “better?” How do you think they got that way?

  4. It’s “just” a hobby. No big deal if I don’t take it seriously.
    Then don’t expect anything amazing to happen with it. Publisher don’t publish hobbies. They publish crafts. And don’t expect others to take it seriously. Carelessness shows.

  5. I’d be more dedicated/disciplined if I were getting paid.
    I have learned the (very) hard way that this is entirely untrue. You have to respect your work AS work before you start respecting it as a money maker. If you really make sure that Good Work is just as important Good Money, it’ll be much easier to work a job that a) sucks and b) doesn’t pay well. Not that you shouldn’t try to make more money, but try to always be satisfied with your handiwork.

I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Kansas City, MO as I finish this post up. Today I will be tested on my knowledge of typography and page layout. Tomorrow I will set up my computer and equipment, and Thursday I will compete to show off my design skills. Fasten your seatbelts, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.