I recently received really great email from a fan recently that had a bunch of great questions that I thought would be worth sharing with everyone.
How do you start/begin as a solo artist?
Kind of by accident. I was working as a freelance Illustrator for magazines when I saw a call for submissions at a local gallery. I had a little bit of free time between jobs and decided to just paint what I wanted to paint. The show was kind of a disaster, but I had the experience under my belt, and the desire to continue to show more. I Kept doing more and more paintings and looked for more galleries that were showing the type of work that I was doing and just bugged them, a lot. I sent books of my work, showed up at opening…I even flew to NYC just to go to an opening to MEET other artists and gallery directors. That trip alone landed me a two person show in NYC, which would have never happened if I hadn’t taken the initiative to be there. From there I did a lot of group shows at a LOT of galleries all over the US and some in Europe. I was working very hard and not selling very much. I felt like I was always just behind my own success, like I was chasing something that had always just left beforeI got there…it became very taxing and I was getting close to giving up. It was then that I made the decision to stop taking my art so seriously and start having fun with it again, that’s when I started with the toys. I met Tristan Eaton, and he invited me to do a custom Dunny for a group show in Detroit. From that one tiny little 3 inch tall toy that I painted, I got more invitations to shows and commissions than I did doing lowbrow art in 5 years. I really pushed my customs, where most people were just painting on the toys, I was taking them apart, sculpting on them and turning them into something totally new. a few companies gave me the chance to sculpt my OWN toys and resin figures, and the rest is history, I haven’t stopped. I love this scene, I love the collectors, artists and fans. It feels honest an open and not investment based… people buy this stuff because they love it.
Are there any courses you had to study for licenses you need?
I have a BFA in Illustration, but I didn’t NEED it. I could be doing the same work without a degree, but I would not have the experiences that I garnered while I was there. Art school is ONLY what you make it. It really is as cliche’ as only getting out what you put in. If you want to smoke a lot of weed, play video games and sleep tip 2pm all through college, then you can’t complain that you can;t find a job afterward. If you want to work your tail off and make some sacrifices fro your future and try to get your money’s worth out of your education, you’ll be in a much better position to succeed .
Besides my artistic license (har har) I just have to pay taxes and this is all legal and legit. If I were to become a vendor, that would all change…but that’s a whole other can of worms. Always check with your regional government on business guidelines for this before getting started so you don’t burn yourself later though.
How do you get connected with people in the same field if you’re brand new and they’re more experienced?
Email them, that’s how you got a hold of me right? NONE of us have the time to respond to emails, but some WILL take the time, just be gracious and patient.
Show up at events, conventions, art openings, portfolio reviews. Ask questions that are NOT EASILY SEARCHABLE ON GOOGLE ! There is a LOT of information out there already…I personally get annoyed at people not taking ANY effort to do their own research before barraging people with questions.
Follow your favorite artists on Instagram and twitter, join forums, make a presence.
Did you have a mentor?
Besides college professors, not really.
Other artists who became my friends through doing shows together were a big support, but everyone has their own path, no two careers are the same because everyone was doing their own thing. Some people are just painters and sell prints…and some people , like me, are painters, draftsmen, sculptors, designers, commercial artists, marketers, salesmen, promoters etc. I talk to a lot of people in a lot of different fields and learn as much as I can from them.
How do you financially support yourself when getting design/art jobs are scarce (i.e. do you have a part-time job to financially tie you over to support yourself and your family?)
I’m the crazy guy who has a full time job on TOP of doing my own personal work. It’s tough, I don’t sleep enough, but it’s worth it. At this point in my career, I can;t support myself on my own art alone, I’m close, but it’s too risky a venture for me to take the leap right now. I have too many people who depend on me to bring home the bacon.
How long did it take for you from starting to get your first pay-check?
90 days…because even though they SAY they will pay you in 30, they will pay you in 90…or more. I actually started working as an illustrator during my last year of college. Art Directors don’t care if you went to a fancy art school, they just need someone who can accomplish what they need done. I had a website and had been sending out mailers for months before my first job came in though. In a way, it’s easier to share your work with the world now than it was back then, social networking was barley a thing…BUT it’s harder to get recognized now because EVERYONE is able to compete. It’s even more important to concentrate on doing REALLY GOOD WORK now as well as constant self promotion, because there is someone that ay not be as good as you, but they are better at selling themselves standing right in front of you.
How long till you got recognition from Dreamworks (massive congratulations btw!)?
I think you’re asking how long was I in this business before I got a job from them? well, about 14 years, ha! It wasn’t recognition so much as they had a job that they needed done and they found someone who could do it in me. Which came about through ANOTHER chance encounter that would have never happened had I not been in the right place at the right time. GET OUT TO WHERE ART IS HAPPENING if you want opportunities…they won’t come to you.
In closing, don’t give up…work hard, play hard, REST HARD. Be humble, be polite, love your family and friends, make changes when things don’t work, be willing to admit when you’re wrong,be nice to cats and dogs and frogs and spiders, smile at old ladies and don’t eat too many donuts.