Friday, April 18, 2014

10 Things I learned at SLC Comic Con

Things I learned at the SLC Comic Con yesterday:

1. I was supposed to geek out on the famous firefly insect Adam Baldwin but I don't like insects much.

2. I take really good blurry pictures. Most people struggle with this technique - not I. Here is Corel Painter artist Don Seegmiller better known as Neil Young.

3. I enjoy meeting online friends in person like Mathew Armstrong and Jason Kim - Disney interactive artists.

4. Reconnecting with my blurry friends like Disney artist Ryan Wood.

5. ...and gopher turned Japanese poster artist Jed Henry (google Ukiyo-e Heroes)

6. That Ty Carter is trying to bulk up for his next career as an MMA fighter...

7. ...and Jake Parker is already an MMA don't disrespect.

8. Oh - and that Bjorn Thorkelson created the "Accurasee sketch caddie" the BEST product I saw at comic con! It's an art tools carrier that fits over the cover of your sketchbook. I was blown away by this nifty device. Many of you know that I mostly sketch on my iPad now but I had to have one of these for the times when I take my sketchbook out. I remember what a pain it was to try to carry everything I wanted - no longer! Check it out at his website.

9. That many of my students from UVU although blurry, have become amazing artists and will be forces to be reckoned with in animation, visual development, and illustration.

10. And finally that Jared Salmond has become completely invisible. People loved watching his pen sign all those posters. When I had him in class he was only "mostly" invisible but through hard work and determination he has finally arrived at his present form of, well, not being there....and for his next feat he will become mute.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Do Some ART Teachers Refuse To Teach ART?

It's been about a year since Jake Parker and I started our SVS online Live & Recorded illustration classes...WOW! We've had a lot fun and gotten to know so many of you who we've met on Facebook, Twitter, or on our blogs. I'm going to introduce our newest class at the bottom of this post but before I do I want to talk about the title question: Why Do Some Art Teachers Refuse To Teach Art?

I can't tell you how many artists have told me via facebook, twitter, youtube, this blog, email, skype, etc that they have learned more from our short SVS classes than they did in four years of Art School at 500 x the price! As much as I'd like to pat myself on the back I won't. I won't pretend that I'm doing more than any art teacher should be doing.

How can this be happening? My theory is that art was never treated as a serious subject in K-12 and as a result students enter college completely unaware of what they need to learn in a visual arts program. "But Will, I had a great teacher in H.S." It happens, but more often art teachers spend most of their time managing students that were dumped in their classrooms from the counseling dept. - I know - I taught H.S. art.  I believe that teachers that don't teach either never became accomplished in their own work and never learned the rules. Perhaps they've simply become lazy and willing to take advantage of the system -a system that pays them for being a great teacher or a lousy one. It could also be that they are afraid that they will create clones of themselves who will take away their work - pure nonsense.

Drama majors, English majors, Music majors, and Dance majors come to college with much more experience than illustration or art majors. They come with more experience because in Drama, English, Music, and Dance they are taught rules. You can't have a school play if the actors are taught to act their "feelings". Obviously you can't write a story without learning rules about plots, sub plots, climax, resolution, and of course grammar. You can't make music if everyone is doing their own "interpretation" of the song and you can't be an effective dancer without learning "moves" moves that were developed by other dancers.

"But Will, you're talking apples and oranges." Baloney (see what I did there?) In a play you have a climax - that's called a focal point in a painting. In writing you revisit the same theme throughout the story - that's called repetition in an illustration. In music you you have to have balance, unity, divisions, and emphasis and it's no different if you want to visually communicate in a picture.

Art teachers on the other hand have been getting away with murder. Not all of them - I know many many great art teachers at the college level and I have to put in a plug for UVU where I teach - a great illustration program with teachers who rock! I also know many who have perfected the art of NOT teaching. Their apathy towards their students is sickening. I hear reports that teachers tell students to "paint their feelings" to "experiment" to "explore" and just "figure it out". I had an illustration teacher tell me over and over: "If I tell you how to complete the assignment you won't learn anything". I'm not saying that telling a student to experiment is a bad thing - but if that's the only "teaching" a student gets - IT'S BAD!

My question is what's different about the visual arts? Why and how do these teachers get away with NOT teaching the Rules of art? Are there rules of art? If there are rules for actors, musicians, writers, and dancers why not for visual artists?...THERE ARE!

If you were never taught to keep your elbows off the table you could be offending people without knowing it. If nobody ever taught you to floss - your teeth might be falling out and if you were never taught to swim - you might be reading this from heaven. My point is that awareness comes from education and without it you might be walking around totally unaware that you are in desperate need of something.

One of our most important classes is coming this MAY and it's called Creative Composition. Many artists don't realize that there's a big difference between drawing and designing and that in order to create a GREAT image you need BOTH. We grew up like weeds. We were given pencils and paper and told to have fun. Having fun is good but without instruction it's just play time. Does your art look like play time? Our Elementary teachers had no clue how to teach art and most of our H.S. teachers never learned the rules of design either (and I'm talking about a lot more than rule of thirds).

I get about 50 to 100 emails /interactions on social media per day asking me about how to get better at art. Most aren't serious. Most don't have the kind of commitment needed to improve. Many want me to tell them how good their art is as if my blessing will help them convince themselves that it isn't that bad. It's bad. We all start out bad. I was horrible and I've blogged about that often. Horrible with a capital H - so don't think I'm rude when I tell you that if you never learned the rules your art is probably suffering. It's hard to give a good critique but honesty is the only thing that will help you get better. It's time to stop pretending to be an artist and start being one by taking control of your future.

If you're serious about getting better I promise you that this composition class won't be a waste of your time...and we won't tell you, "Just experiment."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Submitting & Sizing your art for Children's Publishing

I made this video for the many people who have asked me how to prepare artwork and how to get it in front of an editor at a publishing house. I also talk a lot about the SCBWI since I can't possibly include everything you need to know in one video. The SCBWI is a great resource for anyone interested in making a career out of writing, illustrating, or both.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Secret Life of a Freelance Illustrator

I find it interesting that most people don't know much about freelance illustration. I think most people assume you have to be crazy to be a freelancer - they're probably right. Interestingly enough back when I had my highest earning years back in the late 90's my wife would get comments from women at the park like: "Has your husband found a job yet?" or "It must be hard being married to an artist". My wife would say, "you have no idea!" I think she enjoyed messing with them.

Back then being a freelancer was a much easier feat than it is today. I've talked at length about the current state of freelance illustration on some of my youtube videos- you can watch them here. Today the freelance markets are fractured and constantly evolving. I know illustrators who are now bankers. I know editors who are teaching school among other jobs. I know editors who are trying to become illustrators. I know illustrators who are now graphic designers. I even know art directors who have been laid off and re-hired by the same companies to freelance graphic design. I know art directors and editors who have lost their jobs to down sizing and are still looking for their next job.

The world has probably changed more in the past 10 years than it ever has. That probably sounds naive and over-reaching but can you imagine any other technology that has changed the world in such a short time as the internet? Remember the last time your internet when out and you sat in fetal position sucking your thumb waiting for the horror to end? We can't do anything without it!

But I digress. Let me divulge some of my secret activities! Sometimes I don't get dressed until the afternoon. I've skyped without pants- maybe with you! - but I promise, not with your daughter. I go shopping on weekdays while the world is at work. I work longer and harder than most people with a job. I can't remember the last week that I put in less than 70 hours sometimes over 90 - BUT - they were the funnest hours I could imagine putting in. Most days I wake up pinching myself that I get to do this. It wasn't always like this however. It took me about 15 years to learn that my life is so much better off when I say no to bad freelance jobs. What are bad freelance jobs? The kind that have you cringing when you wake up. I can't tell you what they are because your bad jobs will be different than mine.

I've wished I could stand around the water cooler and catch up on the latest chatter. I used to get really lonely painting all day and got hooked on General Hospital for about a year back in 1993. I've called other illustrators randomly from the old directories just to strike up conversations. I worked on Christmas day once because the client had to have it two days after or they were going to go with someone else. I was paid $13,000 for that Sprint job. It took me about a week to complete. I could do it now digitally in a few days and enjoy Christmas with my family. And I once earned $20,000 for a phone call (remind me to go into detail on this one on another blog post).

I've learned to spend less than I make. This is probably one of the most important skills you can learn. Stress is a really...STRESS WILL KILL YOU. I've had about 3 really stressful times.

1) Back when I was stupid I got down to about $800 in my account for the entire month and I didn't have any assignments! I was so nervous I made a few calls to art directors I had worked for in the past. A few of them gave me work and then of course I got a deluge of assignments the week after.

2) Back when I was really really stupid - we were spending more than we were making because we were making lots of money. It was right after a year where I turned down over $70,000 worth of freelance work because my plate was already too full in 1998.Yep - we spent all the money in our account and couldn't get paid from any of my outstanding accounts for about 3 weeks. (Please don't think I'm seeking any sympathy - in fact you should leave a comment with your best synonym for dumb ass)...Luckily I had been saving quarters, nickels, and dimes in a jar. I got that puppy down off the shelf and counted out $90. Later that day I had my car filled up and groceries in the fridge. I Kept checking the mailbox but each day there were NO checks. We stopped driving unless it was absolutely necessary. Did I mention that our two credit cards were maxed? The following week when the fridge was empty I went for the back up plan - the penny jar! SHOOWEE - $20 later and I was back with groceries again - amazing how far you can stretch your last $20 bucks. Eventually we got paid - crazy thing was that I was owed about $28,000 in outstanding checks but this is the lesson: Don't spend it until it's in your account and even then - DON"T SPEND IT!

3) Back when I was Ultra Mega Stupid - we got in over our heads again. (notice a pattern here? some of us have to learn the same lessons over and over) I had about a year when we were going through a really really dry spell for freelance - this was also a transitionary time -it's a long story - but basically I had to learn all over again how important it is to save money. We survived! We downsized. We learned what we needed to have to be happy and what we could live without.

The good news is that in the past 5 years I've had more money than I did when I was earning much more. We wasted so much money back then. Now I keep enough money in the bank to pay all of our bills for about 9 months. This is enough time to really make drastic changes if things aren't working out.

So there you go - the secret life of a freelancer isn't so secret anymore - it's the best job I've NEVER had.

I painted the image above a few months back for National Geographic Learning. It was one of about 8 paintings I completed for an educational project they had for ESL students. I was given the assignment from Cynthia Currie - an art director I hadn't heard from in about a decade. It was really neat to get a job from her again - I hope she reads my blog so she can see how exciting it was - hint hint! :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Response: Where Are People of Color in Children's Books?

Last week the New york Times posted an article entitled: "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?" Walter Dean Myers, the author shared his experience growing up reading books that he didn't relate to because he was black and most of the books he read were about white kids. It's a very thoughtful article that provokes many questions.

I thought I would share some of my experiences as an illustrator relating to ethnicity in children's books. I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood just north of our nations capital in Maryland. I always identified myself as white even though my grandmother on my mother's side has native indian blood in her ancestry and my mom is suspected of having an african american father. It wasn't until I was in college that my mom felt comfortable sharing that as a child she wasn't able to attend the white schools because she couldn't "pass" - a term meaning you were classified as having a mixed-race heritage.

Even though I have color in my heritage I always identified myself as white. I did identify with the books I was presented with so I really can not relate to what Walter experienced at an early age. I do believe however that the reason we don't see more color in children's books is quite simply that more white children have been privileged to go to college in the past decades. I would think most children's book illustrators are white and illustrate from their own experiences. It's more natural for me to illustrate white children because that's how I grew up and what I'm most familiar with. I would also probably be a last choice for a book about a specifically black family. I don't think it's a coincidence that Kadir Nelson and Don Tate are given these assignments regularly. I know they bring a sensibility to the art that I'm sure neither I nor other white illustrators could match.

At the beginning of my illustration career I was unfamiliar with the various cultural differences when asked to illustrate children and adults of color. This is not to say that I didn't want to include them in my illustrations - just that it felt like I was entering unfamiliar territory. The problem for me wasn't being asked to include asian, hispanic, and african ethnicities in my illustrations - it was what roles to give each character. I continually ran into problems in many of my assignments where one character was perhaps nefarious, laboring, or doing something less heroic. In trying to cast the illustration I knew it would be a problem to give a character of color one of these lesser roles - it would have to be a white person as to avoid offending the art director, editor, and ultimately the readers. But this in itself created a problem - why did my race always have to be the one on the bottom? That didn't feel right either. Keep in mind I write this at the risk of being labeled a racist.

 I once worked on an assignment for a prominent magazine that shall remain nameless. The assignment was to show "teamwork". I was asked to illustrate 4 people lifting boxes and stacking them with a manager directing traffic. Each person had to be a different ethnicity: black, white, hispanic, and asian. My goal was to come up with a pleasing arrangement that communicated "teamwork" while giving each person a good role. I placed a white person handing a box to an asian person handing the boxes to a hispanic person at the top stacking them and a black person pointing and showing where the boxes were to go.

 I had a conference call scheduled with the art director, creative director, editor, and a few other people. When they saw my sketch they began to argue some saying that the black person looked lazy since he wasn't helping lift. I offered that I had purposely put him in a position of management. They resumed their argument that he still looked lazy - some defending my decision and others thinking we needed to make a change. They then suggested that I switch the black person with the asian person so that the black person wouldn't look lazy.

 Now you can hate me for this next part but if you know me you know I'm a kidder and that I like to stir things up a bit. So knowing exactly what I was doing I decided to have a little fun with their new solution. I said, "Ok, but won't this new set up look like the asian is smarter than everyone and that the black person is just a laborer? I wish I could have recorded the rest of the turmoil - entertaining to say the least. They finally went with my original sketch.

The truth in my opinion is that when you try to make things fair in this way you end up far from fair. It's not any fairer to put the white guy on the bottom as it is to put the black guy on the bottom. The truth is that in some stories you have children in situations that put some in a better light than others. If you try to cherry pick the races to avoid offending certain groups you'll just offend another group.

For many stories that are NOT specific to ethnicity you can simply substitute animal characters. Animals are void of race and gender depending on how you draw them. It makes life so much easier and you can create characters and meaningful stories that children can relate to without the burden of race and gender.  I do understand however that some stories might be specific to historical, racial, gender and other specific details that can't be replaced with animal characters.

This is the reason that my story apps have animal characters - I don't have to play the race game. I'm sure there will be certain groups of animals that will have a bone to pick with me someday but I'll take my chances.

A pull out from Walter's article states: "Too often today's books are blind to the reality of thousands of children." I disagree with this assessment. I see it as a reflection of the number of illustrators who like authors, feel compelled (and are taught) to illustrate from experience. I suppose we could also venture into the breakdown of the numbers of white/black/asian/hispanic buyers of children's books as well - which I would suspect mainly come from white America.

The publishing world is fueled by the dollar. The analysts at the large publishing houses know their markets inside and out and are constantly second guessing every decision based on money. So I would suspect that another reason we don't see more ethnic childrens books is because they don't think they can sell as many of them as they can books with white child characters.

I appreciate the problem Walter experienced but I don't agree that publishing is blind to ethnicity - Lee & Low books have targeted this market focusing on diversity. I'm sure that if they grow disproportionately the other publishers will follow suit.

I'd love to know what you think...

Monday, March 17, 2014

How Should I Protect My Artwork From Theft?

One of my friends on facebook - Amanda asked me how she should protect her artwork online since she'll soon be publishing her portfolio. My answers may or may not surprise you but I've compiled my thoughts based on the examples of my illustration and animation friends. There seems to be a shift from the way things used to be done.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Are You Respected For Your Artistic Ability?

What do doctors, lawyers, and CPA's have in common aside from all that schooling? Probably the respect they get for their profession. Sure people often get a second opinion but they don't go to the plumber - they go to another doctor, lawyer, or accountant. 

I've wanted to write about this for a while because it irks me that in our profession we're often not treated as the experts we've worked so hard to become. Let me begin by pretty much eliminating most of the children's picture book editors from my upcoming rant. I've never been treated more like a professional than by my picture book editors. I'm talking about the clients we've had who don't respect our schooling and work experience in freelance illustration. Ever feel trapped by your work? Hopefully this post will help you re-evaluate the people you choose to work for.

I find it really troublesome that we are often asked to make arbitrary, superfluous, unnecessary, and downright stupid changes that ruin compositions by clients that have no art training. It's the equivalent of me telling my surgeon where and how to cut - my attorney what motions to file and my CPA what strategies he should use to save me money. Don't get me wrong - I'm not talking about back and forth conversations about art direction and options to consider before beginning sketches - and I'm not talking about good feedback on sketches or final art. I'm talking about bone headed decisions like eliminating colors that the art director happens to personally dislike. I'm talking about cluttering up good design with extra elements that don't enhance the story or eliminating elements that are important to visual literacy. I'm talking about making content changes based on fear and most importantly the all too familiar "design by committee approach". 

What is "design by committee" you ask? It's when companies (often educational text book or software companies) have multiple team and management members that have to "sign off" on all stages of the artwork before it can be approved and the illustrator allowed to proceed. For instance, the illustrator receives the assignment and emails sketches to his/her art director. The art director isn't respected or trusted to make decisions and approvals either! - the sketches must pass by each team members desk. This sets up a dicey situation for each team member as well. If a particular person in this chain likes everything he or she sees - he or she might feel that he or she isn't doing his or her job by sending it through without changes. Since nobody in this donkey conga line wants to appear lazy they conjure up changes they often don't believe in and punt to the next drone. Sometimes I find myself stifling the laughter listening to the poor art director trying to justify conflicting moronic changes that even he/she doesn't believe in. 

The result is a bunch of sketches sent back to the illustrator marked up like a failing high school research paper. I've gotten them back looking like college football play charts. It's interesting to me that this hasn't been my experience in the picture book world - and picture books cost tens of thousands of dollars more to produce than a few pages in a text book. With my picture book projects I get very thoughtful comments and requests that are sensitive to my intentions and desires. We work back and forth to find solutions that address concerns but it's not dictatorial by nature and there certainly aren't the sheer quantity of rage conjuring idiotic arbitrary "one for the gipper" comments. 

What is it with art? Why aren't our skills appreciated and trusted? Why do people think they can direct a painting when they don't know how to design, draw, or paint? Why do people think they can publish without hiring skilled graphic designers? Graphic design is a science unto itself yet for some reason it seems to be a skill that is greatly underappreciated. I mean am I missing something? Do we hire college soccer coaches who have never played soccer? Do we hire conductors who have never studied music? Do customers go into the kitchen to tell the head chef how to cook the dish?

The answer can most likely be traced back to our schooling. Since it was never taught as a serious subject to all of us beginning in elementary school it is a discipline that is grossly misunderstood by the masses. "But Will, medicine, law, and accounting weren't taught broadly either. Yes, but each of them have a level of mystery that are inherent to each discipline. Art on the other hand is very accessible. We see it for what it is. We can own it, touch it, commission it, clip it, steal it, share it, print it, etc. But does access devalue it's creative process? Apparently so to some.

Lately I have been listening to my client incompetence radar and turning down assignments that smell of the aforementioned disrespect. I love working on a good project with a great art director, editor, creative director, etc. - but life is too short to spend bitter and angry working with people who don't value what I bring to the table.

If you're serious about this business you can do a few things to help yourself and your fellow illustrators. If you find yourself in a situation like I've mentioned you can be respectful but politely challenge decisions if they are contrary to your artistic sensibilities. Don't challenge for the sake of the challenge but if you do - be solution oriented. Try to get what you want by offering another option that achieves what your art director wants while giving you more of a change you can live with. Agree to making some changes that you don't agree with to help you win a few of the the more important battles. The better we are at communication - the better clients we'll ultimately share.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Much Money Can You Make Illustrating Children's Books?

I was asked by a fellow artist in Australia this question last week. It's a great question that I'm sure many people have pondered and in this video I attempt to put hard numbers down so you will have a better understanding of what to expect. Illustrating children's books is a life long pursuit and usually not a career that pays off overnight. There are many factors that can influence your earning potential working for publishers. After you watch the video I'd love to know what you think?

Friday, February 28, 2014

My New Cowpoke Book Is Here!

I don't care how many books you've illustrated it's always exciting to get that box of new books from the UPS guy - who I gave a BIG hug to - it was awkward.

This book is now available at many retailers and it's the the fourth book I've illustrated by Helen Ketteman (Published by Albert Whitman) What a sweet lady! I had the opportunity to get into a car wreck with her in Houston. We were in the same car when her friend (who was driving) got into a crash. Everyone was fine but it was really nice to see how she comforted her friend who was quite frazzled. You can really tell a lot about someone's character when they're under stress.

Helen is one of those school teachers turned author - dangerous! I think that's why she writes such fun books that kids really seem to love. This one is just pure fun. I think there's been a shift towards books that teach a moral or celebrate a historical event. This book is just fun. Is it ok that we let kids just be kids sometimes and have fun? I'm still a kid and I like to have a little fun once and a while...ok all the time. Anyway if you're looking for a fun book that doesn't teach a darn thing your children might like this one!

Buy There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed An Ant

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Was Making Our "Gary's Place" Story App Worth It?

Twenty sum years ago when I was going to school the illustration students had an ongoing debate with the fine art students about money and art. The illustrator's argued that illustration was art in spite of the commission and art direction. The fine artists said by nature an assignment takes the artist out if their vision - so it's not art that's being created. I think both sides were right and wrong depending on the individual project but I think it sets up an interesting way for artists to evaluate the value of their work.

This is the blog post where I reveal my sales for my Gary's Place children's story app. Even though we have gotten a handful of 4-5 star reviews -  we've only sold a few hundred apps at $2.99 each in the past two months. This is no doubt disappointing for many of you and I won't pretend it's not a little disappointing for me too but it's only part of the story.

If you've been reading my blog you will remember that I sold tens of thousands (60k to be exact) of my ebooks starting back in 2010 and that I concluded that it was mostly due to market timing - aka “luck”. Now that we’ve had about 4 good years of story app and ebook creation the marketplace has obviously gotten a little noisey. But, most of the noise is coming from ebooks and story apps of low quality.

I still believe that an audience can be cultivated over time with a great story and good art. My long term game plan is to keep working on the series of Gary apps and Rick and Aaron are equally committed. Each new app released points back to the earlier ones and thus each new app becomes a marketing piece.  The total project should gain traction over time.

Over the past 6 months I've received questions such as: Will you be able to make enough money? Aren't you worried that your self publishing will be looked at as a downgrade in the publishing world? Seems like a tough road are you sure this is a good decision? Many people aren’t recouping their time and costs what will you do differently? The marketing seems like the hardest part - are you ready to spend twice as much time marketing your apps?

These are all good questions but none of them address the most important aspect of creating art such as: Are you having fun with it? Are you creating the art you want to make? Do you think children and parents will respond to what you’re doing? Are you committed to doing this for years? If it doesn’t make any money will the enjoyment be enough compensation? ...Yes.

I don’t think most people ask the right questions of themselves in regard to their art. They’ll question my decision to venture down this road while they themselves have been working for years trying to get picked by a publisher - sounds like a tough road. They’ll question how much money I’m making with my apps while they aren’t making much or any money with their artistic ventures. One question I'm never asked is: What are you doing different to engage parents and children? I think people don't ask this one because they are afraid that they can't create something remarkable. I'm affraid of that too and we do spend a lot of time discussing it and working on it!

I can’t think of many successful companies or products that came from following a proven method. Most success stories share a lot of peronal struggle and negative criticism. Apple came from a couple of guys following their dreams of tinkering with computers and listening to professionals that thought nobody would want a personal computer. Stan Lee kept Marvel comics going when everyone told him there was no market for comics. If U2 hadn’t won a $500 contest they wouldn’t have had enough money to record their first demo tape. The stories of artists working on their dream projects and finding success with them years down the road is endless. Yes I hope to be one of them. I’m a dreamer. I work to be able to afford to work on speculative projects.

But what am I talking about money for? I'm in this for the sheer joy it is to find time to tinker with a new medium that allows me to express creative ideas in so many new ways! That's the gold!

But perhaps this kind of speculative project is in my comfort zone because I've had a few successes with my own projects in the past. Starting a freelance illustration business was supposed to be nearly impossible. Making my ebooks was a total unknown in 2010 but has generated a tidy profit. Making and selling illustration video tutorials on my site lead to starting Folio Academy which has been a wonderful addition to my income. That has lead to starting SVS online teaching with Jake Parker which is also been an amazing project.

Each one of these projects has been born out of a labor of love. I love creating art and teaching.

So can money corrupt your art? I think so - if you base your artistic decisions on money you may never explore the projects that your audience will love the most. If you play it safe your art will be more predictable. If you follow the “proven” method you’ll find yourself competing with many who can do what you can...that seems risky to me. You are unique. You have an artistic fingerprint that nobody else can generate. I’m not willing to make all of my artistic decisions based on financial compensation.

If this thing we call art was easy it wouldn't be of much value. If it were easy to make lots of money as an author or illustrator it wouldn't be special. Trust me - you don't want it to be easy.

We should be releasing Gary’s Worms sometime towards the end of March! I’ll continue to give updates on sales throughout the year because I do think that it’s valuable information if not to understand the potential both for risk and reward. I'm a realist. I know you have to eat to live but artists also need to create to live. The trick is to make sacrifices to afford the time to create in your down time.

Make no mistake - Gary’s Place has cost me much more than time. I’ve turned down numerous freelance projects to afford the time to work on Gary...and now that my weekly blog post is finished I'm going to dig in!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

10 Step Digital Painting - Free Webanar!

You know that feeling you got when you were 5 and you got to run downstairs on Christmas morning to open presents? Not to dish on past memories but WOW - I have that feeling again! I'm so excited to be able to create a lesson and share it with people all over the world! Our last webanar "How To Draw Everything" by Jake Parker gathered 879 people from countries on just about every continent - I even saw someone named "Penguin7493" so...

Anyway, we have another webanar coming up on March 1st at 7:00PM MST and this time it's my turn to share my digital painting process. I've broken it down into 10 steps. You know that old saying that I'm about to butcher - "eating an elephant is hard unless you eat him one spoonful at a time..." or whatever but you get the point. If you learn to do something methodically it can not only make the task seem easier but also give you results you can replicate and really that's what's important.

For those who decide to purchase the video recording of the webanar we've decided to throw in some extras this time (we're learning). You'll get 3 things: A PDF study guide with a verbal description of each of the 10 steps. A bonus video explaining in detail how to set up photoshop to use the texture settings in the brush pallet and my FULL photoshop painting with over 30 layers from sketch to finishing touches. This is a high res file over 300mb  - my working file so you can deconstruct the Dragon Rider and see what she's really made of. Use it as your own working file to replicate my layers if you want to. This is a great way to actually see how someone paints in photoshop.

I realize that many people will think I'm crazy for letting my artwork get out there to be used by anyone for any purpose. I think most artists get a little to attached to their work and subsequent self importance. In the end it was 25 hours having a blast doing exactly what I want. If someone makes T-shirts out of it in some other country good luck - send me a picture of all the cash - that'll put a smile on my face!

To attend the webanar is FREE but if you would like to pre-order the video, PDF, Bonus Video, and Dragon Rider Photoshop file get $10 off using coupon code "10step10" - but this will expire the end of the day of March 1 - check out the details in our store.

So you need to get registered for this event in order to be sent your individual joining link from GoToWebanar - simply click here and follow the instructions! See you soon!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are Visual Arts Degrees Valuable?

Question: Why don't companies like:  Disney, Pixar, Sony, Blizzard, Microsoft, Blue Sky, Mattel, Hasbro, Random House, Harper Collins, and Scholastic hire artists based on whether or not they have a college degree? Lets cut to the chase - it's because colleges and Universities routinely give degrees to students who haven't mastered their craft. This really isn't news but I thought I'd briefly write about this so I have a link to copy and paste to artists who ask me for advice on what degree they should get? The other day an artist wrote to me asking what colleges look the best on a resume for animation studios.

If a bachelors degree in visual arts said anything about the quality of students pumped out each year companies would require and interview applicants with BA's and BFA's. The truth is that these companies couldn't care less that you have a degree. They want to see what you can do. They want to look at your portfolio. They also want you to be semi normal but that's another discussion.

BUT - most professional illustrators DID go through a University or art school program. Most artists aren't motivated enough to impose the rigorous hours of practice necessary or even know what to practice to become professional. Schools provide an exposure and immersion to mentors, professionals, markets, networking, methods & techniques, history, standards, and philosophies. These introductions can unlock hidden desires and passions the beginning student never knew they had. So ironically you should probably go to school (and that could mean everything from University to art school to online classes and tutorials - one or a mixture of them) to get good at your craft but don't think too much about the certificate you get - nobody is going to ask for it.

*The bachelors degree is really only valuable if you want to teach at a public or private school, institution, or college and then you will need a masters degree to top it off. Oh yeah - and getting a degree will make your parents happy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

If You knew How Much I Used To Struggle!

I know I've talked about this before but I really want you to know 2 things:

1. This art thing that you want to get good at takes a long time - a lifetime really.

2. It's really fun when you start to put all the pieces together and start creating images that gather an audience!

To this day I still have a problem drawing in front of people. I have no problem painting in front of a group but I'm so unsure about my drawings I get really self conscious. This fish for instance goes through a really rough loose stage that changes form many times before I start to see things I like. Often I don't like where it's going and have to start over from scratch - that would make a really fun demo wouldn't it?...and the fear of that happening is paralyzing - so I don't often draw in front of my classes.

I gave the assignment to create a "Fish King" character in my Imagination and Visual Literacy class at UVU and invited my students to send me images to post - some of them took me up on this invitation. I hope they realize that they draw better than I did when I was going to college. I was put on "probation" for being such a horrible artist.

Oh yeah - it was my son Aaron's idea to put fish hooks in his lips - credit where credit's due!

I love the diversity you can see in their work. By nature artists want to be different. Artists want to show the world something they've never seen. Check out Dallin Orr's and Todd wilson's work.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Are We Creating Too Many Artists?

I often get asked these three questions: 

1) Are you worried that you are helping too many artists - that will one day take away your business?

2) Why would you help other people learn how to make story apps and ebooks that will ultimately compete with yours in the market place?

3) Aren't you worried that you will have a bunch of artists copying your style?
I was happy to finally be able to make this video to explain my position on the abundance mentality vs the scarcity mentality. I would love to know how you feel?

Monday, January 27, 2014

"How To Draw Everything" FREE online Class!

We're doing it again! Another Free online live class at SVS. This time we've upgraded our service to allow for up to 500 attendees. All you need to do to attend is click this link and register anytime before the class begins - you can even do it right now.

You can send this to anyone who you think might benefit from a beginning drawing course. We changed the time to 12:00 PM MST on Thursday Jan 30th to accommodate many of our students in Europe and elsewhere. We noticed that we had many people in some of our other classes that had to either stay up or wake up at 3:00 in the morning. So this one's for you Europe! If you're here in the states perhaps you can take a long lunch and tune in with us!

Jake Parker has designed this course for the student who is trying to develop better drawing skills or for the student who is just starting out and wants to develop good habits. It should last between 1.5 and 2 hours and all you need is a computer or mobile device to join us. Grab a sketchbook and draw along with us. If you can't make this class it will be available in our store on Friday.

Also - I've been asked about the difference between online schools like our SVS and attending an illustration or animation at a University or art school - I give my take in this video - I'd love to know what you think. One thing I forgot to mention in the video is that we have quite a few art teachers at art schools and Universities using our videos to enhance the learning experience. We aren't any better than those teachers but often teachers want their students to hear the same things from other teachers. I do the same thing when I'm at University - I often show videos from other artists to reinforce the principles I'm teaching.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nice Reviews and Sneak Peek at Gary's Worms

I'm so excited to talk about the reviews Gary's Place is getting as well as talk about the sequel to Gary's Place.

First: We have the new updates in that fixed the ending of Gary's place and we submitted it to Digital Story Time and The iMums. Two of the top review sites for children's story apps. Digital Story Time gave us 4.5 stars and The iMums gave us 5 stars! I couldn't believe it! I had to start looking at the competition on those sites and found that many of the other apps in the 4-5 star range are being produced by big publishers like Harper Collins and Disney. It felt really good to be able to start and finish this project with Rick and my son Aaron with help from Tabitha Thompson's wonderful voice acting - and to be able to complete!

Second: Since we're finally rolling I'll share our sales stats from Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes in a future post. I don't expect to sell thousands of these overnight. I don't think digital publishing works that way for the most part. I've got my eye on the long term goal of steadily building a brand. I've had a few of my peers ask me why I seem to be so hell bent on making apps? Why work on a project like this without any guarantee of success? Why not spend more time in traditional publishing markets? Why risk? Do you hate traditional publishing?

I love these questions - keep em coming! :) No I don't hate traditional publishing - I illustrated 3 books last year and loved each one of them. I look forward to illustrating more in the future. I'm having the time of my life working in a medium that is expanding my knowledge and skill sets. I'm enjoying the collaborations I'm making with Rick and my son Aaron - who's very creative and is actually a major contributor on interactive, animation, and content ideas. I count myself extremely lucky to be able to afford the time to work on these. But probably the biggest reason is that in order to succeed in anything artistic there needs to be risk. I've learned to embrace it. This doesn't mean that I don't hear nasty things from the voices. There always there but I've learned how to cage them quicker and keep them locked away longer.

Many are afraid of digital publishing. Some are wishing it away. Some are ignoring it. I would just like to point out that it took nearly 50 years for the automobile to become mainstream. The early contraptions were noisy, expensive, unreliable, and inefficient. People  made fun of the early adopters. Many were hoping they would fail so everything would go back to normal. I can't predict the future but I doubt we will move away from digitally delivered and enhanced storybooks for children. This means that I won't have to worry about my creations going out of print.

Third: My plan is to steadily and slowly build a quality brand. Each new app will advertise the previous story apps and each previous app will be updated to advertise the newest story app. They say slow and steady wins the race - we'll see. I keep hearing about artists who make an app and never make another one because they didn't sell enough to justify the effort. I think this is a mistake if they could afford to continue. Think about some of the most famous picture book brands out there - like the Olivia stories...or the Skippyjon Jones books. They weren't created in a year or two - it took a LONG time. It took risk from their publishers.

If you've bought a copy of Gary's Place I'd love to hear what you think! Also if you wouldn't mind giving us a rating in the app store - that will help - good or bad!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Homework for Painting Color & Light Class

This week I'm sending out homework for our Painting Color & Light class at SVS. If you're in the Live or Video Recorded classes you should have gotten an email from me with details for the homework assignment. If you're not in the class you can still download the following images and practice adding value and color to them. Class begins in about one week! You can check out our schedule and content of the class here:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gary's Place Now Available For Android

In this post I'm going to write about what we've been doing with Gary's place and some of the mistakes we've made along the way - and give information on how to contact my son Aaron for help with your app.

First: Gary's Place can now be found in the Google Play and Amazon app stores for Android devices - YAY! We are charging a dollar less since it's optimized for iPad and stretched a bit on many of the android phones and tablets.

Second: I'm not sharing sales data yet because we really haven't gotten off the ground yet - I've been holding back because of all the problems we've had - ARRRRG! Sales data coming after we start advertising.

So lets talk about the problems and subsequent updates:

When we first uploaded to iTunes and waited and waited for the approval we were horrified when we downloaded the app and saw that it was called "Build 17" on my iPad in the title below the icon. NOOOOOO!!!!! Let me just say that while Apple is "user friendly" for consumers they are 180 degrees from that for developers. It really feels as if they don't care about helping you AT ALL! When we uploaded the app file Apple asked for the title of the app - which we filled in with "Gary's Place". But they don't use that to put under your app icon - instead - they use the file name -BUT THEY DON"T TELL YOU THAT.

So...update #1 was to fix the name.

Then one of my online friends - Elizabeth - informed me that at first she read the ending as Gary moving back in with his parents at the end. Hmmm - I thought - that's not good. So I asked Jan Watford who had reviewed Gary's Place for her blog if she read it that way as well - and she said, "Yes - isn't that what you intended?" .....crap.

So...Update # 2 was to fix the ending and reducing the overall size of the app...and that update just went live for iPad.

Then my son Aaron (who's been working really hard on all of this) thought we needed navigation to make it easier to pick a specific page in the app and go directly there. It will disappear after a few seconds so it's not in the way.  I've been so busy with a large freelance assignment that I haven't been able to give it as much attention as it deserved. But he went ahead and did it and it makes using the app sooo much easier - here's a screen shot of what update #3 will look like.

So Update #3 will add a navigation bar to quickly jump to any page and reduce the size even further.

Rick Walton has now written the next story and I'm starting to layout the entire app - and loving it!

My son Aaron has decided to help other people with their apps as long as they're using Kwik. He's spent the last 3 months working with Kwik and has gotten pretty good at it. He's offering to coach you or build your app - you can visit his site right here:

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Working with Color" - Free Class!

We're going to be holding a free online class this Tuesday Jan 14th at 7:00 pm MST (9:00 NYC - 6:00 Cali) and anyone can join us. This class is another "prep" class like last Tuesday's Light and Shadow class. These two classes are meant to prepare our attendees for our Painting Color and Light class at SVS. Some of our students have gone through college art programs where they've covered the basics that we're offering in these free live classes. If you haven't had rendering or color theory classes you might want to join us on Tuesday. If you can NOT attend live you can always pick up these classes in our store. 

We had 100 spots available for attendees last week and we were shocked that they filled up in minutes. This week will probably be no different so we apologize if you cannot get in. Last week we had people join us from all over the world and we're sorry that some had to join us at 3:00am! If you would like to try to get in go to our facebook page for the link - then try to join just before 7:00 pm MST. 

We are looking into a service that will provide us with more attendee spots for future free classes. In our paid live classes we only take up to 25 students but you can always pick up the video recordings after the class.

This weeks class will go over all the basics of color and is designed to be the perfect intro to our Painting Color and Light class that begins at the end of this month. We only have 5 spots left in that class and you can read all about it here:  Hope to see you in class!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Should You Work In A Studio or Freelance?

I received a great question from someone trying to figure out what moves to make in the near future. I think many artists are in this same situation so I decided to answer the email in a video post. If you don't know whether you should work for an animation studio or try to publish your personal projects or freelance this video might help you make your decisions.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Join Us Jan 7th & 14th For Our Free Live Classes!

We are offering 2 FREE LIVE CLASSES to everyone!
Join us for two free live classes with Jake Parker and I. These classes are "prep" classes for our Painting in Color and Light class, but are open to everyone (even if you've never purchased a class from us before). After these live prep classes are finished, they will be placed in our online store for sale.

Light and Shadow
Tuesday January 7th
7 pm MST (9 pm New York / 6 pm California)
To get the link to our Free class just sign up on our facebook page. For those who left or sent their email address to me you should have received this link in an email.
* You don't need a microphone to participate but if you'd like to ask questions, please be prepared to use headphones and a microphone.

Working with Color
Tuesday January 14th
7 pm MST (9 pm New York / 6 pm California)
To get the link to our Free class just sign up on our facebook page. For those who left or sent their email address to me you should have received this link in an email. 
* You don't need a microphone to participate but if you'd like to ask questions, please be prepared to use headphones and a microphone.

Monday, December 30, 2013

More Info on Painting Color & Light Class

First: These Santa images will be part of our homework optional assignments in our "Painting Color & Light" class. We'll be offering finished drawings to use for practice paintings of various color and lighting situations in our LIVE class. Recorded class members will also receive the homework assignments but will not receive the critiques. In a few weeks we'll send out all of our homework options so students can pick and choose what they want to work on during the class.

Second: Because we have so much information to give out on our upcoming Painting Color & Light Class we have decided to offer a few short prep classes.  These classes will be FREE for those who can attend them LIVE online. We will offer the recordings in our store afterwards for a fee but if you can make it on January 7th at 7:00 MST you will be able to join us live for free - we'll send out links to join our GTM session so put your email in the comments below if you would like to receive the joining links. We will upgrade to a higher level of software to accommodate over 100 attendees if there is that much interest.

We'll go over many principles that you would learn in a color theory and rendering class to bring students up to speed for the "Painting Color & Light" class. It's very helpful to be able to hit the ground running when we start our 7 week class and we want everyone to feel like they understand what we're talking about in that class. (did I say 7 weeks? yes - we added another critique class for our LIVE students!) Below you will see the material we will cover in our prep classes:

Light and Shadow What is value and how is it used? What are gradients and how do they work in a drawing? Can drawings work in mostly light values, dark values, both? Lighting shapes What direction should my light be coming from? How does light fall on a sphere, cube, cylinder, & human form? What is the relationship between the darkest dark and lightest light? why is reflected light important to show form? What are cast shadows and what happens to their edges? What direction do shadows go? What are occlusion shadows
Painting Color What colors should I buy or use? Are white and black colors? Should you ever use black? What happens when you mix various colors? What are cold & warm colors? What is a vibrating color? What are color opposites? What’s the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors? What are tints, shades, and gradients? What is a triad? How can you neutralize two colors? What’s is a complimentary color scheme and an analogous color scheme? How can I get rich color in my painting?

Our email list is continually growing and all our upcoming classes and announcements are sent out to our email list first. Put your name and email below to stay up to date on what we're doing at SVS!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Gary's Place" LIVE for iPad - Steps 8 & 9

Build the app & submit to the app stores.

So much has happened in the last few weeks! We finished our app - submitted it to apple - got it approved and started marketing it!

In the following video I interview my son Aaron who used Kwik to develop our Gary's Place app. He also submitted it to the Apple app store and we talk about that as well. If you're into this stuff you might find our video useful as you move forward with your own story.

Check out reviews of Gary's Place:
Rob Smith
Jan Watford
Digital StoryTime

Step 1
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Step 3
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Step 5.5
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Step 7

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Painting Color & Light Online Class

I'm very excited to announce our SVS Painting Color & Light class that is now available on our website. I'm not sure what I like painting more - color or light - so why pick? Let's do them both! Actually you really can't have color without light and vice versa so it makes sense to have a class dedicated to the exploration of both.

The class will start at the end of January and will run for 6 weeks each Tuesday. You can see all the details here.

This class will also offer some very detailed assignments - I'll blog about them later as we get a few weeks out from the start of the class - but I have already designed them. Students will have a choice of 3 assignments at various levels. Also - there will be two prep class sessions in early January that we will offer for free for those who are new to painting, have never taken formal illustration classes, or need to brush up on their value and color skills. These prep classes will be offered for free if you can attend the LIVE video taping but will be offered as a video in our store if you cannot make the Live session. I'll announce those dates very soon. We'll use an upgraded version of GoToMeeting so we can accommodate a large number of attendees.

Adding luminosity to your paintings can make the difference between "good" and "AMAZING!"

Oh, and we'll also be featuring Blue Sky artist Ty Carter - he's been taking the animation industry by storm with his amazing luminous paintings! Check out his work here and check out the class here.