Monday, June 11, 2012


this is going to be very long, because theres quite a bit to say. you all asked for it, so here it is. hope you enjoy. there will be typos. 

Ive been meaning to update the blog for a while. though ive been streaming, ive kind of fallen off on here due to a lot of recent NDA work i cant show. there are updates coming with some new art, but i wanted to post up something ive been meaning to for a while now- my experiences in the first year of really taking art seriously. Id like to talk about the troubles, commitments, realizations, and rewards for those of you still wondering whether or not to really go for it. I get the question a lot over on my stream, and the same questions pop up time and time again- people, like i was, who are trapped in a seemingly endless position they are not satisfied with- wondering if and how they can take on the truly daunting challenge of trying to get into professional art. there is nothing in the world more soul crushing and depressing than being a creative person who is not allowed to express themselves and do what they love. Recently ive been defining it as the specific frustration of 'knowing what you want and seeing it in your head' vs the 'inability to convey it accurately on the page'. this, among many other problems, makes it seem impossible to get anywhere in the beginning. Ive dealt and am still dealing with it daily. but it does improve once you've decided theres no going back. Im going to lay out some advice from the past 12 months, and i hope it helps anyone still struggling with this important decision.

1) Accept harsh truths.

Im starting with this advice because it is ultimately the gateway between those who will make it and those who will not. I have not made it yet, and hold no claim to being any kind of success story, but ive met many who have, and have experienced why this is so important first hand. it is a common thread all of your inspirations share, so believe me when i explain it to you. As hard as it might be to accept at first, there are significant sacrifices one needs to make in order to get anywhere worthwhile with their art. As illustrators and concept artists, we are judged based on a combination of voice and skill- that is, our stylistic and personal inclinations as well as our fundamental and technical grasp on the roots of narrative image making. I mention this because, while we all develop our own voice and style naturally over time, skill is something one must work out like a muscle. anyone who's ever gone to the gym knows that results only come over a long period of time and with increasingly dedicated effort. its no different in art, and that means a massive sacrifice of ones time and personal life in order to achieve their real potential. As you progress, you will get faster in all that you do. your understanding of fundamentals will allow you to convey things faster, which will result in more free time and less spent rendering. I mention this because it means one significant thing beginners tend to ignore: your life is not over. Yes, for a good chunk of time- usually around 2 years- you will be primarily at the grindstone working night and day to get to a point where you are able to progress to the next levels- but after that time and sacrifice, you can slowly incorporate the things you've missed back in. treat them as a reward, and not something you're entitled to. your time is the most valuable thing you have, and if you invest it wisely there is no reason you cant take some of it to just enjoy yourself. just be honest, work hard, and earn it.

with that being said, trust me when i say that once you dedicate yourself to this, all of your priorities will change. you will see life differently, and your choices will reflect this change. many things you used to find fun will no longer appeal to you- many of the people you surrounded yourself with to fill time will fall by the wayside, and many of the things you thought you 'had' to do will dissolve into the realities of living your own life. before i took myself seriously as a working artist, and reshaped life according to what i needed to achieve, my days went something like this-

i would wake up. i would go to class because college was the expected natural step after high school. i would do what work i was told to do, and spend all other time outside of said work enjoying myself with the clear conscious that i 'had good grades' and head 'earned some time to myself'. I would play video games religiously, sleep extensively, party regularly, and (heres the important bit) whine constantly. Nothing seemed fair. no matter what I personally wasn't getting done, it was someone else's fault. the school wasn't teaching me stuff i wanted to know! there were no jobs in what i did! noone wanted to pay fair wages so what was the point! id never be as good as those people i admired- they had 'talent' and i did not! Id never overcome my colorblindness! my finances wouldn't allow me to do this for real! and so on and so forth. I can freely admit now that i was being an absolute escapist and procrastinator, using bullshit excuses and transparent problems to avoid shutting up, buckling down, sacrificing my cushy lifestyle, and getting to work. 

It took a hard truth for me to snap into gear- namely the experience of the dallas workshop put on by massive black and and once i had seen the reality of the world i wanted to be a part of, the fear set in. i was older than most of the attendees- and all of them were better than me.  how could i ever land any kind of living in an industry increasingly flooded by passionate and dedicated young visionaries. fear can be a powerful motivator, and if its there, don't ignore it. Embrace it and use it to spark the productive panic you'll need to overcome it. I felt an incredible amount of fear, and to a degree i still do. but the more you go at it head on, the less it will grip you. ultimately all of your problems and excuses and reasons for not doing what needs to be done have one common denominator- yourself. and in that regard, you have only yourself to blame. with that being said, you are the one person you truly have total control over, and if there is a change to be made, you can, and must, force it to occur. Its very hard to get past this point and actually accept the workload ahead of you. but there is no alternative. you will do this or you wont- and all the time, energy, self doubt, and work it will cost is merely a hard truth you must accept. you will learn to love it- but like anything, it will take time.

2) Surround yourself with positive influence. 

Noone can make it entirely on their own, even if they'd like to say so. Its going to be a long and hard incline to get where you want to be- so why go it alone? make friends within the online art community, work alongside them, and try to understand that alone as you might physically be at your computer for the next several months, you can still communicate and participate in a massive and positive community of like minded peers. From experience, i can tell you that becoming a part of the community is a surefire way to solidify your progress. as you grow to know and interact with more people, you will make friends who actually care about your work and advancement. if you disappear, they'll ask where you've gone- if you get depressed, they'll encourage you, and if you get stuck, they will offer help and critique to get you back on track. If you're lucky enough to visit a workshop or one of the more popular ateliers for what we do, you will meet these people in the flesh, and it only makes the satisfaction of that friendship more real. fill your studio with work that inspires you- join groups and livestreams on a day to day schedule to stay on-tassk, regularly update or share your work, and eliminate any gap in your day for laziness or self doubt to creep in. this positive reinforcement will only make you more productive- and will, in time, become an essential part of your professional and social life. once you've met and connected with like minded people sacrificing the same things and sharing the same experiences, theres really no going back. you'll never feel as welcome or as understood. 

3) have realistic expectations.

A lot of people entering into this field for the first time have an in-grown sense of entitlement. most of us have been told by someone or another that we are creative from very early on- others may have gotten excellent grades in art school, with A level portfolio reviews by their professors and peers- and others might just feel, somewhere inside, they they are simply special. 'of course ill get a job- its me. how could I not?'

Its best to eliminate these expectations and prepare for a shock. Speaking as a summa cum laude graduate of art school with a 3.98 average and numerous honors attached to my degree, i can tell you very honestly that it means absolutely nothing in the real world. prepare to redo your entire portfolio, prepare to get very low paying work- or no work at all- as you start to climb the ranks of reality- and prepare for whatever you thought the next logical step was to simply vanish into the reality that your previous life- be it home, school, or work- was a bubble in and of itself. theres a much harder and expansive world outside the bubble, and the accepted rules no longer apply. 

With that being said, expecting these things significantly reduces the stress and discomfort they will cause. Its much better to know a hole is coming that to fall into it blindly. facing these problems having already accepted them allows you to minimize your risk of depression or stress along the way, and to stay productive knowing that even if you aren't getting any work, everything is going according to plan. this is a necessary step in your progress, and a stage almost everyone working in this field has gone through. share it with others and realize it is essential. it will pass much quicker once you have. 

4) Blowback

Hopefully, none of you will encounter this next bit- but some of you inevitably will. I did, all of my peers have, and many of the pros ive had a chance to talk to have. the problem is that, much as misery loves company, so does laziness. if you've been living a life of regular distractions with friends and coworkers, suddenly deciding to leave that system in exchange for an increasingly introverted one will cause a negative reaction. people will wonder why you're ignoring them and avoiding them, and many will likely take it personally or as an insult. Ive had several people this past year take my silence and absence as a slight against them. they call me and ask me to come party or go to bars regularly, and each time id decline i was usually met with some kind of opposition. I can speak to this first hand because, when i was the 'old me' I did it to Dave Rapoza when he got serious about art. suddenly our friend wasn't around anymore and instead of realizing he was being proactive and serious about his future, we got offended and made fun of him. Ive been in the position of those against me first hand, and understand it all too well- and the bottom line is that people too steeped in distraction to pursue the harder things in life tend to resent that spark when it shows up in others. no-one likes to admit they are being lazy, and your absence will force them to do just that. through your progress, other people will see their own shortcomings and lack of drive. if you're lucky, some will respect and congratulate you along the way- but many will use it as a means to project their own insecurities against you. Be ready for it and don't let it derail you- because once you've had any degree of success (and believe me on this), your selfish time away will become legitimate in their eyes, and suddenly you'll be praised with open arms. its a very strange and unfortunate psychological circle we all go through in some way- but again, recognizing and expecting it will minimize its negative effects. find encouragement in online communities of other struggling freelancers and make ties that will reinforce your goal.

5) Dont avoid the hard work.

Even after youve made the commitment to do this, there is room for self-deception. laziness and bad habits are extremely hard things to defeat, so you have to be aware of them at all times. as hard as it might seem to accept- you can work all day, every day, and still get very little done. this is a result of staying within comfort zones and never challenging yourself with the difficult problems necessary to advance. I hear people complain all the time that theyve been working for months and arent getting anywhere- or that no matter how many studies they do they dont see any effect in their personal work- and the answer to all their problems usually stems from not taking the necessary risks. the online art community is increasingly transparent, with sketchbooks and blogs showcasing every step of your advancement. oftentimes, people in the community wont even take you seriously unless youve posted all of your work somewhere, and will inherently think youre lying when you say 'ive been doing it- but is hasnt been scanned yet'. the reason they think this is because its usually true- the vast majority will always lean on excuses and falsifications- preferring to merely seem like they are hard workers rather than doing the work itself. they enjoy the satisfaction of pther people patting them on the back, and have tricked themselves into thinking that by talking about something extensively they have somehow taken it seriously. they havent. If there was ever a case of the proof being in the pudding- it is in your studies. no pudding, no proof- no work, no results. The problem i see people facing, and that i indeed faced when i started up, is that when we start studying we are obviously not very good. our images are flawed, our drawings skewed, and in my case especially, the colors are completely off. this leads us to not want to share the work on forums or blogs. we get sucked into a sort of artistic vanity where we have dueling fears. on the one side, if we dont show the work noone will take us seriously- on the other hand, if we show flawed work, we fear we will become a subject of ridicule. The fear in this stems again from not wanting to admit just how bad we are at a given point in time (and thusly just how much hard work it will take to get where we are going).

Now that ive described it, i hope you can accept it and move past it as best you can. trust me when i say that in this community, dedication and hard work overwhelmingly affect how seriously people take you over quality and accuracy of work. a good thing to remember when you see flawless studies and feel insecure is that when you see no flaws, people tend not to be working on hard enough problems- in itself the stalling problem of the comfort zone. take risks and study things you never have. do still lives, environments, anatomy, light studies. study masters and adopt their techniques. people often ask what formula is best to get good the fastest. the simple answer noone wants to accept is that there is no formula. there are only the fundamentals- anatomy, light, color, composition, and perspective. what mix of them or in what amounts you pursue them are entirely up to you, and your personal blend will inevitably lead to developing your eventual style (which always changes and evolves). the only advice you should adhere to at all times is that if one becomes easy, if you find yourself doing studies automatically without any serious difficulty or concern- its time to rotate out in favor of something else. you will undoubtedly return to a comfort zone later only to find it is far less comfortable.the reason for this is that all fundamentals reinforce the others. study of light shows form where anatomy was once flat lines, color shows depth of field whereas perspective was once purely mathematical, and so on. when you are studying one, you are actually studying all of the others, but their connections and relations are always kept secret until you uncover them.  noone can truly master any fundamental- so keep in mind that no matter how long you study you will never be 'finished' with studying. as you grow, your comfort with and ability to recognize harder challenges will also grow. the studies you do now will not be the studies you do in six months. there is no formula or go-to answer, but instead a shifting set of stairs based on each one of our specific and individual sets of strengths and weaknesses. though they all seemingly branch off in different directions, each is ultimately only going one way: up

with this in mind- make sure you are always producing your own work, reflective of but not rooted in your studies. apply what you learn to enhance it and commit it to memory. without this essential application of the knowledge you gain in studies, you will lose it. one of the biggest problems beginners face is study-sickness- a desperation to be admired on forums that results in the artist having no personal work of any kind, only pages and pages and pages of studies. while the work ethic is admirable, it is a misapplication of your time and effort. a healthy balance is necessary for real, substantial progress. dont be afraid of making your own flawed images. overstudying is in of itself a form of the comfort zone problem- as all studies come from a reference. the reference, for some, becomes a cheat sheet, with the accuracy from source to study creating a sense of satisfaction in the artist. remember that even if you can do the most amazing copies of photographs and still lives ever seen on the internet, you still might be shit when all youre left with is a pencil and a blank page. youre only ever as good as you are without google image search.

6) Don't make it 'a job'

Lastly id like to talk about another major de-motivator. It stems from a few sources, but the end result is no longer enjoying or having passion for what you've set out to do. we all need money, and as we progress, we will take on jobs we may not entirely be fond of in order to pay the bills. this is an important and natural step in your career, and you shouldn't shy away from it. Its easy, however, to take on too many of these jobs and to consequently have a portfolio that plays to your expectations of what employers are looking for. suddenly all your work becomes contrived, stale, and derivative. you've crossed the dangerous gap between creating your own exciting career and simply having a job. there will be a time for all of us where we must take the work handed to us, but it should never be all you are doing. the reasons for this are clear when you consider what would come next. lets say, for the sake of argument, that you don't enjoy drawing architecture. for whatever reason, you are offered a job doing so, and out of need for money, you take it. by putting the result in your portfolio, other clients looking for architecture see it and expect that you enjoy it because you've included it. this leads to more jobs doing it, and a repeating cycle of self-describing work begins. there is only way to get out of this, and its to make time to do what you love at your core. if its characters, reserve time in the week to make sure you're doing some entirely your own. if its weapons, do weapons, if its landscapes create exciting landscapes, and so on. i can tell you in all honesty that the best jobs ive received- both the highest paying and the most artistically rewarding- have come from this self pursuit. make sure the portfolio you show is tailored to the kinds of jobs you want to get- and inevitably (in time) they will find you. don't, under any circumstances, get sidetracked into thinking only one set of things in this industry pays. there is room for all at the table in what we do- and people are far more interested in what you have to say when it is clear you're excited about saying it. the common flaw in most bad work is that the viewer can tell the artist did not enjoy it. there is an awkward feel in something forced and without passion, and while most cant describe it, we all tend to recognize it. avoid it at all costs. 

Its been a full year since i buckled down and started living art. i sit at home and work more than i ever have on anything in my entire life. It wasn't hard once i had decided it had to be done- but it was very hard getting to that decision. The last thing id like to say is that once you've made the commitment and it starts to pay off, it is literally the most rewarding experience you're likely to have had in your life. all the things you think will matter beforehand evaporate, and you don't miss the things you thought yourself hopelessly tied to. Once a freedom opens to invite the things you've sacrificed back in, you find that only the real essentials seem to matter. you've entered a self sustaining cycle of inspiration and productivity and you find yourself wanting to spend your free time doing the same things you do while you work, constantly wanting to try new things and never being satisfied with the previous pieces' standards. It is incredibly fulfilling, and i hope you all have the chance to experience it in full.

you can find me daily on my stream if you have any questions- i welcome them. I look forward to recounting year 2 and all it has in store once i get there. 

Go now. there are other worlds than these.




  1. Awesome post. Written with enough gravity to force reflection.

    Always it's the struggle between paying the bills and fulfilling one's dream. Each one is pulling and our soul is the rope a tug of war.

    Keep inspiring.

  2. Thanks Dan! You are such a great mentor and friend!My life changed since i found your and Dave's stream! thanks alot!

  3. Great stuff! I can honestly say that a lot of what holds me back is the fear you keep mentioning. That's why articles like this, and livestreams, are so important to me.

    I am more than a few years removed from college, and the fear of not succeeding where I see younger individuals succeeding is probably the greatest fear I have. Reading this, however, makes me realize I just need to keep pushing myself. Fear is not something to buckle under, it's something to work alongside with.

    Thanks for all you do, see you around!

  4. I think your sentiments are familiar to most who have tried or are trying to become successful artists. I joined around time algenpfleger started his sketchbook and his progress was very motivational for me at the time. There was no doubt in my mind then what I wanted to do with my life, which is to become a professional concept artist. However I just started my masters in Engineering around that time and was unable to spend the necessary hours on drawing to improve my skills, or at least that's what I told my self. Four years later I'm barely half-way through my master degree and with nothing to show for in drawing skills.

    Reading your post makes me want to start drawing and never stop. Unfortunately my parents don't share my enthusiasm for the arts and see it mainly something as a possible hobby. Therefore I remain in the eternal limbo of procrastination of the last three years, going nowhere and doing nothing. Meanwhile I'm getting older (2 years older than you) and the time in which I'm free of financial or other burdens to pursue my dreams is dwindling away.

    But as you said whining will get you nowhere, it's what I've been doing for 3 years. In the ideal situation I should just finish my degree and draw as much as I can in the meantime. Afterwards I can commit to drawing fully with or without my parent's approval. However after so many false starts in the last three years I have all but given up on myself.

  5. the bottom line is, you are not your parents. If they dont stand behind you and dont believe in you, you have to break off and prove them wrong. I know it seems hard and I know it seems cruel to speak of family in that way, but the fact remains that this life is yours, not theirs, and that if they stand in the way they are turning themselves into an unfortunate obstacle. if they think art is a hobby, i invite you to bring them on my stream. Myself and others working in the field are always more than welcome to talk sense and reality into those who doubt this professions merits. weve done it with peoples parents before. but the fact remains- this is your life, and as legitimate an excuse parental disapproval may seem, its still just that- an excuse. best of luck.

  6. Brilliant post, and I've been through all of that myself and am also not exactly 'known' or 'made it' but I make a decent living and adore what I do. But that last paragraph made me smile, as it's also exactly what I do now, and still get excited by making new discoveries in how I work, of finding new artists that inspire me to try their style. And the fact I'd rather be doing that most of the time rather than getting drunk, or playing games (hah Diablo 3 aside curse you Blizzard). But I know a couple of people who have bemoaned their own positions for not being where they want to be artistically, and I really hope they read this and take heed. Getting here is bloody hard work, but damn is it awesome when you get here. (oh and Danijel - I had my parents bemaon my artistic choices for a career until I was 28, and finally landed a good concept job - it's really hard but the best motivation is showing them they're wrong.)

  7. This was a great post. Thanks for sharing your experiences, so many of them rang true for me.

  8. thanks guys, i appreciate al the feedback. and thanks to you as well, Daarken. you do a ton for all the awesome people in this community.

  9. Fantastic post, you made me realize that when I started taking art seriously I still wasn't taking it seriously enough.

    So, feeling guilty after reading I stayed up to 1am doing studies last night :)

  10. Really inspiring Daniel. I want that fulfillment in my life. Now is the time! Thank you so much. I needed to read this at this time because I was already getting absorbed into finding a job I wouldn't appreciate that would waste valuable time.

    Daniel Lucas

  11. I've been feeling a bit fed-up with trying to fit in commissions and studies in between my full-time job, and worrying about my relationships to the point where I wondered if I can do it all.

    But reading your post has made me realise that I'm smack bang in the middle of my journey (as you described it at least)and I can't give up now, I should stop listening to my doubts and just crack on.

    It's just a shame that there is no way to dodge the pain when you realise how many people have drifted away in the process (or worrying about the really important relationships) thank god for Conceptart is all I have to say. Thanks again for the inspiration Dan :)

    1. Angela-

      it is very tough dealing with those problems. one important thing to remember is that relationships (especially romantic) are largely reflective of your personal mental stability. if you work a job you hate and feel as if you havent reached your real potential, if you feel like your dreams are passing you by, all these things will reflect in your relationships. if youre lucky, youll meet someone who understand and supports you along the way. but dont think its the end of the world if youre alone for a while. figuring out who you are first, and sorting all the troubles of an upstart freelancer, just means less problems later when youre ready to settle down. good luck!

    2. You replied! Thanks :) means a lot. I like the bit about relationships being reflective of your own mental stability, totally, that's why they're so damn difficult, trying to navigate not just yours but the other persons will and least it keeps life interesting.
      Cheers and good luck to you too.

  12. Wow, Dan! This really opened my eyes and I feel more inspired now than ever before even though these are things that I always known but never really wanted to face. Your post really got me thinking about my life and what I want to do but the hardest problem for me is giving up my social life and dedicate all my time to improve myself.

    My ex-boyfriend left me some months ago from this particular reason and it hit me really hard, so I guess Im kind of afraid of what's going to happen if I "give up" on my friends. But Im so glad you posted this because it was really something I needed to hear right now.

    Thank you Dan for inspiring me and so many others!

    1. Remember, Ejve- you arent necisarily 'giving up' on anyone. your real friends will understand that youre making an important investment in yourself and will stick with you along the way, even if it means seeing you less. I have friends whove stuck with me through mine, and youll have some who will through yours. If, however, you have a few who resent or dont understand this self- investment, then the hard question comes up as to what exactly that friendship is based on in the first place. As for the boyfriend- bear it no mind. trust me when i say that once you do this for real and take it as seriously as you need to, those things will self-sort and priorities will take care of themselves. this isnt a death sentence sealing your lonliness for all time! its quite the opposite- youll see what i mean. good luck!

  13. Thank you for the post Dan. It's refreshing and reassuring to read that we are not alone on this journey.
    Thank you again for sharing your journey with us.


  14. Fantastic post! I have, and will continue to, enjoy your ongoing adventures.

    Your positive outlook on the self-journey, as well as that of the artist community is absolutely wonderful...wish there were more like you (and Dave.).

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Great post! All of this is true, its a hard road to travel but worth it. Thanks for sharing!


  16. Wow this is a great post indeed! It amazes me how universal an experience can be, especially among artists such as ourselves.

    This article reminds me of the recent Crimson Conversation with Kekai. Around 6 or 7 minutes in he talks about how he went to an AI school (myself a graduate of AIPX) and making very close friends with the same passion and who have all realized the same truths (same with my group of friends). I literally thought he was talking about me and my friends personally.

    Yes misery loves company, but I like to think so does passion, inspiration, and motivation. I am lucky enough to surround myself with such people who understand the reality of our goals and are all pushing each other. It's why I've fallen in love with the Crimson Dagger community and it's why people flock to it. I find myself working harder and harder each day because of this. Your points are spot on and we can all attest to them in past, present, and future.

    Thanks for writing this up, and on my birthday no less! =P

    I will be sharing this with time and time again.

  17. This is a very nice read. It's so true and relatable.
    I was once friends with a group of people who don't take themselves seriously and often do last-minute work. Although I did not fall that far (I still do my work on my own pace) I feel like I did not grow at all. However after I break up from the clique (it was also due to another personal problem) and met my current friends, I realized I improved so much faster. I guess it is also because my current group is always encouraging each other, scold each other (yes, we yell at each other if any of us is starting to lose our priorities) and on top of it all, we keep on trying to stay positive regardless of the immense stress in school.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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