Tuesday, May 3, 2016

There are no Absolutes - General Rant

Hey everyone!

Hope you're all doing well! I wanted to just touch base on here as I haven't really written anything outside of Steve Lichman work in a long time. This post will probably go all over the map and might end up being super long, sorry if it goes into the weeds and seems like there's no direction! Just gonna touch on a lot of things that have helped me lately, regrets, opinions, new perspectives and all that.

I just wanna start off by saying that none of what I'm gonna talk about carries too much weight, I don't mean to say that I'm right or that any of my opinions matter. Although, at the end of the day, me posting on here in the first place feels like I'm asking for attention haha. There we go, already contradicting myself. All I really mean is that this is mostly me just thinking out loud.

Over the past few months I've been looking back at my career so far(I hate saying career btw, for some reason it just feels so goddamn stupid saying something serious like that about my artwork). I think back to when I started and all the motivation I used to have to become one of those awesome artists on ConceptArt.org who were creating all those super cool robots and spooky demons(I'm not shitting on it, there were some super spooky daemons on there). My taste just changed so dramatically since 2006, today being exactly 10 years since I first posted on the ConceptArt.org forums. Ever since then it's like I've consistently been jaded by the whole idea of the small entertainment art world. Whether it be the industry itself or the general attitude to approach/learning the skill.

When it comes to art in general, people are extremely passionate about whatever they do. After all, it's pretty much their entire life and I totally get that. But there's this approach I keep seeing to creating art that seems to boil the approach to absolutes. At this point, in the whole world of entertainment art, I think it's still pretty hard for beginners to get a good well-rounded approach online from the resources currently available. We have so many people that are saying you absolutely have to do photo-bashing in the same way that people were telling me I'd never work if I couldn't do 3D back when I started 10 years ago. Don't get me wrong, I by no means think photo-bashing is a negative thing, I just don't think it's an absolute to your potential career as an artist when you start out.

But in this same way, I see other artists just consistently shitting on all the shortcuts by putting traditional skill above all else. I'm by no means a master of anything and maybe I have no real right to get on a soap box about any of this stuff, but if you're starting out, please don't think these are your only options. There is SOO much room in the industry for whatever you want to do. You don't need to be this master traditional illustrator to be noticed. You also don't have to be this exclusively digital person that only knows how to construct images through photoshop. There are so many pros and cons to each approach w/different jobs.

And then we're at the problem of thinking of life solely as a job. This is your life and you need to do whatever it is that makes you happy and try your absolute hardest to attain it. I could have stayed on the path I was on and continued to create characters and photo-bash movie poster concepts, but that has nothing to do with what I love. What I love also doesn't have a direct line to art. Through just taking a chance and diving into little comics I've discovered that I really just want to create my own ideas. For better or for worse I want to just tell stories and have fun telling stupid jokes. Going by what everyone always told me in my immediate industry, this was not something profitable. But then again, nobody is me and for that matter, nobody is you either.

Jobs are great, freelancing and acquiring jobs is an amazing accomplishment! But a job as a personal definition can be detrimental. When people tell you that you can only do a very narrow set of approaches to your style, you rob yourself of the freedom to potentially discover what you really love. You've taken this amazing drive and ability and turned it into something that solely serves a client as efficiently as possible. Something like photo-bashing can mean the difference of a week's worth of work at times, but this, of course, serves a very distinct purpose. I'm not saying you can't create really awesome pieces of work, but that you should open yourself up to every approach. Just as you shouldn't only listen to people who agree with you, you shouldn't allow yourself to sit in an approach that keeps you comfortable.

Comfort creates stagnation and if you're not exactly where you want to be in your life then you must continue to challenge yourself. By allowing yourself to rely on quick results based approaches that facilitate tight deadlines, you rob yourself of all the planning and construction that something like watercolor would force you to focus on. And in that same vein, people who want to work on games and movies who solely focus on traditional should challenge themselves to nail down a faster digital approach so they're never stuck without an answer to an extremely tight deadline. All of the mediums available can only help lift you up and bring you even closer to your true potential. You never know what's out there until you give it a shot and learn from your mistakes.

Coming from a purely digital approach when I started, I can honestly say that I've learned more from watercolor than I ever did working digitally. But that's because I had never even considered really diving into the traditional space out of the idea that it wasn't really efficient or effective for delivering my work to a client. Because that's how I thought since I started, that it was all about the client. What I was ignoring was my own passion. I put all my focus into producing work for others and never let myself produce anything on my own. I had consistently avoided facing my own passion, always talking about what I'd do if I were in control.

We all seem to work as if we're producing those duplicate houses you see in new developments all over the place. Those houses that are created just for the sake of facilitating a need for housing rather than creating something that means anything to anyone. They're created without passion and just to meet demand. You see that all over the place in everything, we have loads of Ikeas and Walmarts and every neighborhood ends up basically looking identical to one another. But then you see just some random house built by a family and all of a sudden there's just this explosion of character and charm to the place, even if it's not very well built or whatever else. Someone built that place, that's an expression of everything that person/people understood at the time and it represents more than a demand.

It's amazing that people will pay money just to see something beautiful and unique. There are these mansions in Newport, Rhode Island here in the US that are gorgeous. You walk into these places and look out at all the unique and amazing furniture. It's this snapshot of the time and it's the taste of a family and architects and carpenters who created it all. Every piece feels like it belonged to someone and to an idea of wealth or class of the time. It all feels so personal and awesome like someone really dedicated themselves to whatever they believed perfection to look like. It makes you feel like nobody is creating anything that beautiful anymore and that all that skill has faded over the generations. Like it'd be impossible to regain that level of artistry.

As an example from my own experience making a book, Dan and I had a lot of advice come our way about how to create the book itself. Not to mention the interest we had from big groups after we had successfully funded Steve with all of your help! Everyone was saying that we shouldn't go with the quality we were putting into the book, they couldn't stop talking about the amount of money we'd save if we just did a paperback book or a regular laminated hardcover. But we wanted to do a cloth cover with gold foil stamping and thick paper on the inside. Sure, we wouldn't turn a humongous profit, but at the end of the day, it was more important to just put something out into the world that we could be proud of. And it was just amazing to me that people couldn't understand that approach.

I don't mean to say that we're all Ikea's or Walmarts, but sometimes I feel that way, not just about the industry but also myself. It seems like so many of us are just creating to fill a demand for some idea we've seen duplicated a million times over without any real personal touch or passion added to the mix. When we've streamlined our approaches to fulfill an idea of being a specific job it's like we all blend together into this assembly line that can pump out guys with machine heads and girls with goggles all day but can't produce anything honestly resembling a new idea that means much to ourselves.

All I'm trying to say is that I think it's amazingly important to devote yourself to trying new things, to continue learning and challenging yourself and to create work you're truly proud of. That you shouldn't let yourself coast on easy ideas and give yourself the out that you're making a living and therefore are successful. At the same time, I'm not saying you have to create your own thing to be successful. When I got into creating poster work/concept work for video games, I asked if I could do work in simple lines and colors without being photo-real and they let me continue to work that way. Nothing is set in stone in terms of how you approach art. Art is not a science, it's fluid and you can make it whatever you like.

Follow your own way through this and don't let people force you into little boxes by saying you'll never be successful otherwise. You're free to do whatever you like and create artwork however you like. I know a good amount of this was crazy insulting and I'm sorry. If you love what you do, don't listen to anything I'm saying, none of it really matters and this is all just my brain spilling out!

Thank you for sitting with me through all this ramble. I know it's all over the place and pretty much just stream of consciousness, but I had to vent a little bit!

I'll be back on here again pretty soon I hope!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What I Learned from Steve Lichman

It's been almost a year since I updated this blog, a ton of stuff has happened, Dan Warren and I finished our book 'Steve Lichman - Volume 1'! I've also learned a ton about myself and figured it was time for me to dump out my brain, just pour my stupid brain all over this blog. Also, this is all personal, not really meant as advice or anything, everyone is different with different paths!

So, first I wanted to be a little self-indulgent and just get super hyped again about how goddamn excited I am that people actually want 'Steve Lichman'. Ever since my dad died, I haven't been able to just get excited and pumped about my own little benchmarks without feeling guilty talking about it. So, I wanna thank all the dads out there who are filling his shoes right now.  

I'm so pumped. Dan and I had no idea when we started posting little comics online that anyone would care at all about our dumb jokes. To see the kind of response it's gotten has given me this whole new outlook as to what's possible in art. I used to think that all you could do was just this skill based Concept Art or Illustration work. When we started, I couldn't see any inherent value in just creating these sketchy comics with jokes we'd write for fun on skype. I feel like a robot slowly turning back into a human. How did I not realize that the only thing you need to be able to do is relate to people? It seems obvious in retrospect, but for years and years, all I did was paint monsters fighting dudes. And I couldn't totally understand why people liked fanart so much until now. It's because they can relate to the nostalgia. I know it might sound naive, but I honestly had a hard time understanding that people just want something they can plug themselves into. Now I'm thinking of all these ways to convey my memories, nostalgia, my sense of humor or whatever else to people. As much as it bums me out to come to this realization after doing freelance for almost 10 years now, I'm happy I'm finally here. Makes me feel like anything is possible, as long as you're honest and it's personable. 

What's funny to me now, after having completed Steve, is how little intention or purpose I had with any of my previous work. It's so weird how you value time after building up a project for so long. The whole thing reminds me of youtube. How you can just watch one video, then another, and another. Before you know it, you've wasted the entire day. Sure, this painting might only take you 4 hours, but you do this everyday. Every single day you spend 4 hours on an image you don't care about at all just so you can have something to post online to maintain an "internet presence". It makes sense for a freelancer who needs work and I totally understand the reason for it. But looking back on the amount of time I wasted on that sort of work versus the time I spent with Steve Lichman, it's hard to believe I hadn't been doing this all along. 

A few years ago I would browse stuff online and think "Aw man, I could totally do that. These guys didn't even try." or "Wow, that movie fucking blows, I didn't laugh at all."(I did this because I'm super judgemental and cynical and it makes me happy to pick things apart). Then I'd call Dan and we'd talk about our dreams of doing our own thing where we could finally bring out all our ideas. I had this feeling that was almost like for some reason people should know I have that in me. Like in some insane way, people would just know exactly what I could do if given the opportunity, without ever showing I could do it on my own. Have you ever felt that way? It's hard to explain, maybe it just comes from living inside my head so much while I'm painting. You can tell yourself something so much that you start to believe it, super entitled thinking. Kind of like how I envision how I'd stop a home invasion or what I'd do if someone pulled a gun on me. As much as I'd like to believe it, I'm not Van Damme, and in both scenarios, I'd definitely be dead.

What started the shift to reality for me was the reaction we had from Imgur and Reddit when we posted up the first 9 issues of our comic. The idea that we'd finally done something real that people actually wanted. We had so many people asking if it was going to be a full book. They wanted to know if there was more and if they could buy something right now. At the time we had no intention of making Steve Lichman a book, we were just having fun making the comics and posting them up on tumblr. Posting them on Imgur was just a random idea, we didn't think anybody would really even care that much. But it changed our lives, we never considered we could make money just having fun. 

After that, we decided we'd make a 150 page book or so full of Steve comics. The plan was that we'd take a year off and complete the book entirely on our own dime. So, we saved up some money and then dove into the book. Once we got going and started scripting the entire thing, we started to realize it wouldn't be 150 pages, it'd be more like 200, then 250... Then, after considering the huge story arc we wanted to do, we saw that it was closer to 500 pages. Basically, we found out we were probably going to end up making 3-4 Steve Lichman books at the very least. But everything was good, because we were having fun the whole time. It was awesome, still is awesome. 

Over the course of the next year, we worked on the book every day, it never really felt like work. We were always excited to start on the next scripts, and we started to understand how to streamline the whole process. Going into the project, we sort of stopped existing online. We weren't posting anything really, and we weren't sharing any of the book. We were just in our own world. 
Social media is addictive, feedback is addictive, especially instant feedback. It took a few months, but by that point, we no longer cared that we weren't able to show any of the work. This whole book was for us, and the longer we spent away from posting online and reading feedback, the happier we were just being ourselves and having fun. It didn't matter that people saw the comics, we'd be doing this anyways like we had for years in skype conversations where we'd joke around all day. 

Up until this point, I had never felt like art was just fun. I always envied people who said that art never really felt like work. The whole "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life" never applied to me when I was working on illustration jobs. I honestly didn't know how to feel that way. There were little instances where I'd have creative control on a project and love it, but most of the time it started with high hopes and then it'd be right back to the shitty feeling of rendering for hours and hours. Don't get me wrong though, I'd much rather be doing this job than any other. I am under no illusion that what I do is as difficult as other work. But still, you're always chasing something better.

Once we completed the book, we launched the Kickstarter, which ended up being a huge success! We sold 7,300 copies of the first edition. Super insane. Our hype levels were at all-time high. For months, we'd anticipated breaking even on the book. We'd say things like "Well, if the Kickstarter fails and we can't fund the publishing, at least we'll have a completed book!". It's still hard to believe we were able to self-publish the book successfully. But we didn't party or anything, we've been working with the printers ever since and making sure everything has gone smoothly. Thankfully, the entire process has been super smooth and all the mysteries of making our own book are gone. 

So, I'm rambling super hard, and I apologize, but I just had to vent all of that out. There's a million things I wanna talk about right now. Mainly how when you know you have to do something, you suddenly realize everything in your house is edible and you eat until you're sleepy/full and drink coffee and then accidently watch entire seasons of shows while holding your tablet pen. But I'll get into all that stuff later.

I gotta thank my girlfriend, Kimmy for putting up with me for that year. I was lazy as fuck. As hard as I worked on the book, I basically just zoned out and force fed myself pages until we hit our deadline while my office area and everything else fell apart in the real world. Thanks for all the love and support. Also, to Dan. We did it, we finally made a goddamn book instead of being teasin' losers painting warlocks and robots for dummy dollars.

So, here's to vanishing again and putting out real projects instead of promises!
With love,

PS - I didn't reread this, I apologize if it's painful to read

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Strange Thing About Art Theft

So, today I wanted to talk about the strange divide I have seen regarding recent issues I've had with work being stolen. Which is a tricky thing, because the work in question is fan art. Recently I was sent a message stating that someone had bought a blu-ray in Sweden of 'Masters of the Universe' and that it had my 'Skeletor' piece on the cover worked into the design. They asked me if I had given permission or had been compensated. I said no.

If you follow my work, it's nothing new that I'd post about art theft. This kind of thing happens all the time and when the issues get enough attention it's easier to do something about the theft. So, I made up a small image showing the blatant use of the image, you can check it out below. All I was really looking to do was point out that I hadn't been asked or credited. I was not looking to pursue anything beyond that as I said on the image itself, I don't own Skeletor.

That being said, after it got picked up, I've been seeing a big divide online. Most everyone is happy to point out that it's theft, a lot of people would say it's the creators fault for making fan art, and some, as always, just wanna see you run over by a truck in the street. But you can't escape the internet, so we can't fight that haha.

I don't want to give you the wrong idea, I've benefited directly from creating this Skeletor painting. It has lead to many job opportunities, it's given me great exposure, and even allowed me to work on official MOTU stuff. I couldn't be happier, it's been great to have in my portfolio. This is why I don't really have a major issue with the image being used. That being said, I know that it is a violation of basic copyright. 

For instance, maybe you saw the recent 'Power Rangers' short film that was going around, it's the adult themed one with the violence and everything. Saban in this instance, they can't just take that movie because it has their characters in it and then release it on their own to make profit from. Same thing goes for images, somebody may own the characters you're working with, but they don't then own the images created. These images still belong to you in and of themselves. In the same way they could have hired you to create this image, they can then purchase the piece from you to use after the fact.

With a lot of my fan art, this is how I make money back, through licensing deals. Whenever a company owns a license to Marvel or Masters of the Universe, they can contact me and then they can distribute my previously created fan arts. This doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen every so often. Which is where I wanted to get into my personal benefit from work like this, this is where I become the illegal man.

So, the very first fan art images I did, or some of the first at least, were the TMNT portraits. I made 15 of them in total and spent anywhere from 8-30 hours on each one. At this stage in my career, I was really poor, living way outside of my means hoping to pressure myself into working harder. So I said, I bet if I did these TMNT, I could get my name out there. Now, the mistake I made was assuming nobody would care if I made a short run of prints of each portrait. There were 40 of each and something similar with the rest at NYCC. I had convinced myself it was cool, nobody knew me, and I was like half and half sure that it would fall under parody law? 

But let's be honest, I just thought that making my time back on the prints would be possible this way. This happened back in early 2011, I was living in Boston and struggling to get to the next potential level with my artwork. Nobody was paying me to do the things I thought I could excel with and jump forward with, so I did it for myself. This series lead me to all of the jobs and my personal career today, I'm forever grateful for the Turtles.

And that is where I come back to the theft. When I shared the above image of the stolen work, I was contacted by quite a few people that I am not one to talk. After the image got around it started to come up more and more. Four years ago, I sold the TMNT prints without fully realizing the issues involved with doing so, I talked with Nickelodeon and Kevin Eastman about the portraits and they seemed to like them. I just kinda assumed it wasn't an issue, but that's wrong. No matter the amount, I did still profit at the end of the day from the work. Since then I've worked on many TMNT projects officially, and nobody called foul, ever. 

This is the weird thing about theft. If you're getting featured on all the blogs bringing any sort of positive attention to a franchise, nobody will really come after you, at least not aggressively. But on the flip side, if your theft involves hurtful content that messes with the brand, they're all over you. So you get this weird idea of what theft really is in the eyes of the company and it distorts your view. 

Four years ago I sold 40 prints each of 15 portraits, and four years before that I almost went to jail for five years. I'm not the same person I was eight years ago and I'm not the same person I was four years ago. I've learned a lot since then, and I don't want whatever ideas you may have of me to cloud the fact that a major company blatantly used work without any contact, whatsoever, to the artist. This could happen to anybody, and because of my past I don't really want to necessarily pursue legal action. Just don't assume that you don't have rights in these things, regardless of whether or not you've been in the wrong before. Even if it's fan art, you still did the work itself.

Anyways, thanks for reading me ramble on. The past 48-ish hours have been crazy, I've received hundreds of messages about the theft and I appreciate all of the comments, the critical and the supportive.

I hope you are doing good! Now I gotta get back to my real work :)!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Self Funding! - Plans to keep StarVeil & Skull & Shark at the forefront!


Thank you for all the support, comments, messages and emails regarding my previous blog post. It means a lot to me to hear from you regarding your similar situations. The fact that we can put out our own personal experiences, and receive that level of feedback, reinforces the need to just be honest. Admitting all that and hearing from all of you has kicked me back into working on my own ideas. I've willfully ignored a lot of what really matters to me just to receive a paycheck from clients.

But with that previous post, I'm back to what's important, back to writing scripts and building up drafts to destroy and rebuild over and over haha. Time to go step by step and edit/finish 'StarVeil' with the intent on jumping immediately onto 'Skull & Shark'. Both of these will be full comics with hundreds of pages(god help me). Quite a bit of 'StarVeil' has been worked out already, not only what's already available online, but what I've done on my own and haven't shared.

So, onto the next step! I've built up some funds working for clients over the past year or so to make sure I can ride out the creation of the comic. In the meantime I'll have to take on jobs here and there which will slow the process down slightly, but I've also tried planning for that as well. My lovely lady, Kim, has been running the 'Skull & Shark CO.' store that was set up late last year. We've been selling limited edition t-shirts and prints with hopes of being able to build up the store enough to fund bigger projects.

All of this is hopefully going to lead to a world where we wont need Kickstarter or Patreon to build up any of the comics. It never really sat well with me to use Patreon for 'StarVeil' as I don't think I could offer enough value to you with just the comic alone. What I would much rather do is give you something in return, whether it be prints or clothing, just something you can physically own while helping push the comic forward. What we may do, is eventually, when the comic is finished, create a Kickstarter to fund the actual printing of the book. That is to say if a publisher doesn't jump on board.

What we currently have, is 3 prints, 2 of which are 13"x20", the other being 15"x20", both with a 1" margin. They're from my 'StarVeil' series and are limited to 200 prints, all of them are major characters to the story, but hopefully you like them as they are! Each print is on museum grade canson paper, not gonna make believe like I know anything about printing besides what looks amazing, but this is a quote from the printer

- "We are proud to use museum quality acid-free cotton fiber paper at 300 gsm paper weight. We use a ten-ink color system alongside the standard four-color CMYK combination. This advanced system produces an extremely wide and accurate range of color, resulting in beautifully vivid prints."

If you'd like to help support the project, here is what's available now in our shop. Thanks for reading this and thank you for the support, I'm really really, another-really, looking forward to getting this book wrapped up.


Click here to visit the store!

If you'd like to follow along, I do a blog style write up in our newsletter as well as share our next limited product runs!  





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Life and Work - What I've learned about myself


Hope you're doing good, it's been a while since I've updated my blog. Wanted to talk about what I've learned lately.

The last time I posted anything was back in October and a lot of things have changed. Back then I was looking to produce StarVeil through a publisher and had shifted my attention back to line art and visual storytelling. Most of my hopes back then were to line up a publisher and get to producing my comic full time. That has changed a bit as the deal doesn't seem to be exactly what I had hoped, plus I'm still up in the air with the whole losing control thing. Might just be me being stupid, who knows, I'm still trying to figure it all out haha.

I wanted to talk about how I've been learning lately. A couple of my previous posts on here have been pretty preachy, and while I try to target myself as well as what's happening in the art community/industry I think I'll focus more on what I'm doing wrong and learning from. 

To start, I found myself in a similar place. There are so many different levels of comfort, so many different excuses you'll find yourself in, reasons why you just can't seem to pursue what you know is vital to growth. I have been falling back into the usual pattern of saying 'well, it's a job, it's an awesome opportunity and I need to take it', resulting in more and more procrastination. Might be profitable procrastination, but it's still procrastination. I'm eternally grateful, of course, to everyone who has granted me with options to work on some amazing properties and projects. There is nothing at all to complain about there. 

What is an issue though, is knowing that I have lingering plans. Sitting in front of me are a hundred 'next steps' that have yet to be taken. It's the constant falling back on the repetition of deadline to deadline work and justifying procrastination with what's most important, with what I know I have to work on. Work has replaced the excuse that 'I deserve a break', 'a new game is out!', 'I need to make time to do X, Y and Z', and 'I have to write a blog post about this problem'. It's the perfect reason to stop chasing dreams because there is profit there.

But I'm done with that! Recently I started making myself focus on drawing, just drawing. Sitting down and warming up in the morning makes all the difference. I've known this to be true for myself for years too. That's the real problem, relearning and re-understanding that this is something essential for me. The warm ups used to be direct studies, and now they are portraits and hand drawings, things from imagination, just anything to get me going. 

The thing that drives me nuts though, is that garbage thought before hand that I just don't want to do it. Shaking that out of your head can be hard for some reason. It should be super easy, it seems like it would be, but it's not. Makes me feel like a huge lazy asshole, but once I break through that goddamn thought, it's like I'm flying through my process. I'm trying new things, I'm excited to work on personal things, I'm motivated.

This motivation carries me through my jobs, makes me really want to jump back into traditional and gives me hope for future places art could take me. Just working and just relying on clients to get me moving on what I should be doing for myself is pure laziness on my part. Every time I'm at this point of realization(happens more than I'd like to admit), it's like the answer was always clear as day but somehow I just missed it. Somehow I just was totally ok not tapping into this wellspring of energy. What the hell was I doing?

So, that's why I'm writing this. This is a reminder to me of how dumb I can be, and maybe it can be a reminder to you if you're caught in a rut. It doesn't matter if you're successful, making money and being recognized for drawing another realistic portrait of somebody's hard-on for nostalgia. The only thing that matters is that whatever it is that you're focused on is pushing you forward towards your personal goals. 

When I started out I was so intensely focused on my goals that I never wavered or let distractions get the best of me. I simply couldn't, I was forced into a mindset of staying on task, if I wasn't, I wouldn't eat. It was almost easier for me to get work done back then because life absolutely demanded that I make it happen. Now I'm looking at the problem of just being goddamn greedy. You see an opportunity coming and immediately think of the implications of gaining more publicity or gaining niche crowds, or just getting a larger paycheck. The whole idea of never getting sidetracked has become this major issue because I never had any of these options starting out. 

I've been locked into the mindset of grabbing onto everything and anything that will get me in front of people and will get me more work. The desperation of someone who doesn't know when they'll get work again, someone who is preparing for the inevitable draught that will surely come if you're not collecting all of the money and supplies needed to survive. But now that, thankfully, people are more aware of my availability to work, it seems I still can't shake that nervous feeling. Sure, a lot of these are exciting jobs, but there is so much more to what I want to accomplish with my life.

Last year in May, my father passed away. He was the best dude ever, helped me get my head out of my ass and stay focused. He used to ask me when he'd get a chance to see what I could do for myself. I put off ever showing him anything because he didn't want anything spoiled, he wanted to see everything finished first. I never got to share any of the work I had done with him because of that. And although I know thats a small part of life and it wasn't necessarily all about that, I wanted this man I looked up to to see what I could really do given the chance.

The ultimate lesson I learned was that life just passes you by. You're out there, focused on building yourself up and attaining all these things that should prove to be fulfilling. But sometimes those things can feel a little hollow after awhile, and if you're not careful, the well inside you holding onto all of those great ideas can go completely untapped. You may be something to some people, but that is absolutely minuscule compared to who you could be if you invested entirely in yourself. If you embraced and moved forward with absolutely everything you wanted for you.

I guess all I'm really saying is that you have to be careful about your ideas of success and what you deem valuable. All of this is pretty fleeting and it's easy to get distracted and let yourself wander off down rabbit holes that don't even come close to resembling the world you envisioned for yourself. But you can't let shiny glittery things, or videos of people on pcp rolling around on the street making turkey noises, distract you from what really matters. If you know what you want to do with your life, make sure you take the first step to just starting. Make sure you don't let everything you are just fade away, you have value, not the jobs or the notoriety, just you. Invest in yourself, put in the time and stay focused, don't leave anything untapped. 

Anyway, that's the end of my rant. Thanks for reading and I hope this helps in some way, as I wish someone would've said something like this to me years ago.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Guest Post - Crimson Daggers - Dan Warren

Hey guys! The following post is from my friend Dan Warren, known him forever and we did the Crimson Daggers together. I wanted to post this on here so it didn't get lost in the Facebook scramble, hope you like it!

This past weekend, Dave and I had the pleasure to sell some art and meet some awesome people at the 2014 New York Comic-con. Over the 4 days at Dave's table, we got to talk with a lot of people about a lot of things- some of them current or former members of the group Dave started and we both took turns managing, the Crimson Daggers- and a single question kept coming up. Why, with things on the rise as they were toward the end of 2013, did we back away from the group to focus on personal and professional work? As we are both hugely grateful to and incredibly humbled by all the people who have supported the idea behind daggers all along the way, I hope I can answer this question as well as elaborate on a few things in the process. this is going to be part explanation, part history, and part apology, so bear with me haha. There's a lot to cover.

When Dave started daggers years ago, the idea was originally to be a platform where he could force his own self-betterment in art by forcing his successes and failures on a daily audience. The idea was that if he said he would be at a certain place at a certain time every single day, the community would show up to support and pressure him into working on his studies and create an environment where he could not back down. This of course worked over his year of streams- and in a relatively short amount of time, his skills, portfolio, and clientele all improved vastly. About a year and a half after this, I was graduating from art school and feeling the incredible dread of failure most feel when they realize they are leaving a 4 year program without the necessary skills to survive outside the college bubble. After talking with Dave more than a few times, the opportunity of doing a second daggers run was thought up, and less than one week after finishing up with school I started 10 month run of study and discussion streams. Over the course of this, a lot of changes to the daggers formula were introduced- most of them really awesome- and as a result a lot of things changed. 

Having seen what Dave did prior with the free education / public pressure model for self improvement, an audience was already in place for a second run at daggers. In other words- whereas when Dave started out it was entirely him, when I started out it was with a group of like minded individuals who all wanted to achieve the same thing- many of them now close friends. The fact that we were all doing it added to the hype and pressure to keep pushing, and with our combined efforts the initial 10 or so of us soon grew to 20, then 30, then 50, and so on. The group got to a point where it needed a space to grow, and with the forums on other major art sites in a state of slow decline, it was suggested that the daggers get their own small forum to allow a space of focused communal growth. So many streams were happening so often that this forum then led to a livestream list of streams associated with the dagger mentality, which would update in real time showing who was live at any given moment. Suddenly, there was always someone working, at any given time, and the pressure to be part of the group improvement grew that much more. I cannot stress enough that the improvements to the group as a whole were almost entirely not a result of Dave or myself. Having stated multiple times on the streams that the entire point of the daggers was a 'if you want something that doesn't exist- be the one to make it happen' mentality, group members took it upon themselves to make the group better without any incentive from either of us. This was really awesome and inspiring to see, and I cant credit our friends and fellow daggers Agelaos and Wolkenfels enough for their creation and contributions to the forum and stream list respectively. 

At some point during all this, a few common questions began to arise. People would ask what art directors want to see in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Others would ask how to 'get better' at painting and composition. Some would even ask very basic questions of how to be creative, or to know if an idea is worth pursuing at all. Problems with motivation, how to start, where to go, and what the world wanted to see became common. we tried to answer as many as we could. At around the same time, many members of daggers and viewers from outside the community began to suggest that we fill the gap left behind when so many had left other sites similar to what we were becoming. The idea of contest, challenges, and community activities were shot around with a lot of excitement. Deciding to tackle two problems at once, Dave and I created the idea of what became the goldenboy and bloodsports challenges-- art contests designed to teach new skills rather than to show off where one was already at, judged based on the creativity and problems solved in the final image instead of just the technical skill that went into creating it. This idea came from the core belief we still maintain, that anyone of any skill can become as good at painting fundamentals as they desire through hard work and training, but that a great idea and clever solution always means more in the end. We wanted people to start getting out of the old forum mentality of mindlessly working on niche fundamentals and to start thinking in a broader, more creative sense, while still maintaining a focus on their weaknesses and a sincere effort at improving on them. This led to the judgement of all our bloodsport contests being a twofold combination of what the person studied to make their image, as well as their idea behind the image itself. self betterment and creativity. 

The reason I bring this up is because as it stands, there are 16 bloodsports, all carefully created by Dave and myself from the ground up, and they aren't going anywhere. More than just a test of skill and creativity, each and every bloodsport was designed to fill a slot in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Many of the challenges were briefs edited from actual jobs we both had done in the field- others were based on suggestions we would hear from art directors or companies at events and cons, some where deliberate and targeted fanart challenges designed to get portfolios seen on social networking, and more than a few were just our own ideas, trimmed down and fitted into the format of an actual job anyone could get in the industry. We didn't want to just offer challenges for the sake of it- we wanted to offer a body of guidelines for those willing to actually build a portfolio from the ground up, filled with relevant images executed correctly so that they could take their first step into professional work. Combined with forum feedback and critiques from guest professionals, the results were amazing every single time- and an incredible amount of fun.

Over the past year, I've had a lot of people tell me how sad they are that they arrived to the daggers backlog late, and that they wish we would start it back up again the way it used to be so they could participate. While we genuinely feel bad that this isn't happening right now, I just want to say that the suggested number of pieces for a minimum portfolio is usually around ten-- and that as it stands there are 16 challenges that are not going anywhere. While I get that you may miss out on some of the community aspects and fun of doing them in a group, if you really truly have no idea where to start with your portfolio and need some guidance, give the old bloodsports a try. We put a lot of work into each and every one to make sure it would help people find work- and so far, they have. 

This (finally) gets me to my point, and why I decided to write this in the first place. The biggest problem with the Dagger's model is ultimately that it works. almost too well. Of the original 10 or so of us who started out together after Dave's initial run, all ten of us ended up finding a place in the industry with paying work that evolved into our careers today. Having had some experience with other forms of education in the past (those of you who watched my streams will remember) I can tell you that a 100 percent success rate with any model is pretty much unheard of. Everyone I know who has tried the method we all laid out together, stuck with it, and pushed the studying has found work, a job, and a place where they can both earn a living and do what they enjoy. Dave and I take no credit for this. sure, we had some ideas and laid a foundation- but the group's evolution, hard work, dedication, and willingness to keep pushing past comfort zones was entirely on everyone else.  In other words, we may have been the ones to build the gym, but it was everyone else who decided to wake up everyday and work those muscles out with us. But the singular downside to getting better is that it creates more opportunities, more potential for work, and therefore less time for anything else. 

So why did we decide to stop? Well, the truth is it wasn't a single moment's decision. Things began to slow down gradually over the course of a few months. The group was getting very large, and the challenges harder to manage and judge. The forum was also growing and demanding time to look at and update. We started receiving more and more emails regarding it, with questions, concerns, requests, and pieces to critique. Eventually, we opened up a particular challenge's email inbox and saw that it had over 200 submissions for review. This is when we realized we were at a crossroads we had never intended to be at. On the one hand, we loved the group, the people involved with it, and the ideology that it promoted for how to find a place in the art world. On the other, it was now officially big enough that to run it to the standard of quality we desired and users deserved, we would have to do one of two things-- bring others on board to manage it, or charge money to make it worth the time it was costing us to run it. We didn't like either solution, as bringing other people on meant risking a change to the formula we had worked so hard to get right, and charging money for the experience of being part of it went against everything we had been trying to do. And so, while it wasn't what either of us wanted, we decided to create one final bloodsport focused on personal IP development (the endless summer / perfect pitch) in the hopes that after the other 16 in the set people could use it to move forward from creating things other people wanted to see and into creating the kinds of things they themselves wanted to be known for. (Special shout out to Jacob Janerka for turning that challenge into his own original, personally developed, and successfully kickstarted video game Paradigm). After this our involvement with the daggers fell off, and while we still keep an eye on the group, we have not since been involved with any challenges, talks, the forum, or group activities. 

Before I wrap this up, we get a lot of questions and more than a few are the same. I'd like to take the opportunity to answer some of them here in the hopes it clears some things up.

Why aren't we / weren't we involved with the daggers forums on a deeper level? The truth is that while we love the group and the fact that Dennis (agelaos) created forums for it, we never wanted to be seen as authority figures / moderators as that has the potential to create an uncomfortable learning environment. The entire point of daggers was to create a place with no intimidation where people of all skill levels could improve themselves, and we like to stick to that as best we can. the only times the two of us have ever used the forums is to either post challenges / challenge updates, or (in the extremely rare event) enforce quality control in case someone was being made fun of, excluded from an activity, or stepping outside their bounds in a way that made things bad for everyone else. We have not been involved with the forums since the perfect pitch challenge. 

Do we still do critique? Yes, but not as regularly as we used to. Unfortunately, at the moment we don't have time for a regulated weekly crit stream, but when we have the time we still look at peoples portfolios and are happy to help. with Dave, your best bet is at an event he is a part of (con, workshop, etc) as he is not online often. With me, your best bet is to send me an email or Facebook message. Sometimes I'm very late in responding, but I usually get around to it. If you have sent me something and been ignored, it is almost 100 percent of the time the fault of the 'other messages' section of Facebook, which I, like everyone else, always forget to check. 

Do we still stream? And when? We do still stream, but we don't do it on a set schedule. If we are going to stream, we tweet it out or share on our Facebook pages. Sometimes we have a short talk, other times we might do a random painting if we have the time. In the future, if we ever do have a schedule again, it will definitely be available via Facebook or twitter. 

Is daggers over? No. Our involvement with the group isn't possible right now due to work and personal projects, but thats not to say the group is dead. We might return to it someday if we are able, but its a firm belief Dave and I share that it's always better to not do something at all than to do a bad job of it. Currently, if we were to do daggers, we would have to half-ass it because of time, and we don't want to do that. Daggers was always one solution of several-- sure, it was the one we vied for and put effort into, but it was never the end all, be all way to get somewhere with art. Since the time when we stepped away from it, other things have popped up just like we did years ago that are great communities and groups to be a part of. Even with traditional forums in decline, there are still plenty of places, people, and groups to share your learning experience with- and if none of them are doing what you think should be done or teaching the way you feel works the best, then trust us-- it's worth the effort to try and start your own. Maybe it will resonate, grow, and become the next big thing. 

If you're still with me, thanks for reading haha. I know its been a lot. If you were a member of the group from way back, We're both sorry it fell off the way it did! and if you're new to the group and wondering where to go next, I hope this has helped at least a bit. I can honestly say that when Dave started / when I took over for round 2 neither of us ever intended or expected this to grow into what it did. All the talks, activities, challenges, streams, and events we've had a chance to participate in have been incredible, and hopefully eventually there will be more of all of that. We love doing it and everyones passion participating in it, and its been amazing to see what everyone has been able to do in just three short years. If there was ever proof that hard work pays off, its in what all of you who started with and worked alongside us have been able to do in such a short amount of time. 

We love ya. 


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Hello! Today I wanted to talk about entitlement. I get a lot of messages regarding standard starting rates for freelance artists. Some people say you have to make 'x' amount of dollars for 'x' amount of time spent on work. This is a weird issue I think everyone seems to have when they begin doing art with the intention of making a livable wage. So, I'll talk about what I've learned and why I don't believe anybody owes you anything when you start out.

I started freelancing 8 years ago on my parent's computer, in our living room,  when I was 19. Fortunately for me I had the option to ease into working with some comfort which I am very thankful for. But by no means was I riding their coattails to make ends meet. Everyday I was studying and working, in the beginning this meant 1-3 hours of fundamental studies in the morning followed by 12-14 hours of personal paintings to hopefully push myself to a new skill level. I updated my work on all of the online forums to spread my portfolio around and talked to everyone I could to hopefully glean some helpful info that would open up doors for me as I tried to turn my hobby into a career.

With this kind of schedule it can be easy to think that because you're working very hard that somebody owes you some kind of compensation. But no, that is not the case, learning to create artwork that people will actually pay out of pocket for is not easy and it shouldn't be. Something that is this rewarding personally and potentially financially should be very difficult. Personal success is worth earning through hard work. That being said, it took a long long time for me to start earning money, let me tell you about my first job.

After having worked for a good 6-7 months with the above schedule I finally got my first job through the 'artists looking for work' section on Conceptart.org. This was designing monsters for a really small personal project a guy was working on in his spare time. This job was to be done via paypal transactions and I would be compensated $20 per image, one of which taking upwards of 16 or so hours. I created around 15 pieces for him, I was paid $300 total not subtracting paypal fees. But although this was tiny, it was huge for me. Somebody actually wanted my work.

It took me around another 6-7 months to get what I thought would be my "big break". A company, or so I thought, was going to be starting in Peoria, Illinois and I was to be the concept artist for their games. At the time I had been working for this client online and had done quite a bit of work, all for around $75-$300 per piece(I was making more finally!), so I trusted everything would work out as it had with the commissions. With the hopes of the company opening, I moved out to Peoria with no savings with my then girlfriend to start my real career! The company never moved forward.

Now I was stuck in Illinois with no money to speak of and a 12 month lease on an apartment w/no guaranteed job, especially at the skill level I was at at the time. This was my big 'oh shit' moment. We had no car, no money and no jobs really between us, except for the very low paying work I was getting. I got desperate and started focusing on learning how to get my name out there more. I ended up taking on every single job I was offered, some paid $50, some paid $100-$300, but all of them(around 8-9 different clients with multiple pieces a month) took sleepless nights. I ended up saving enough money to leave after staying three months.

I learned a really valuable lesson during that time. What I learned was that if I added real pressure to the equation, I could exceed what I thought I could achieve with my time and output. This lead to a move to Littleton, New Hampshire, where I rented a place for $675/month. With that rent it was easy enough to focus on morning studies followed by working all day. But to add the pressure I bought a brand new car that I absolutely couldn't afford. I knew that if I had to do it, then I would make the payments happen somehow. This lead to me learning about time management and delving even more so into marketing.

After a year of this the apartment began to feel comfortable, which lead to a new apartment that was $1000/month in the mountains with no distractions. My ex couldn't really deal with the 'Shining-esque' solitude and I think I went a little insane as well haha. What I needed was motivation to keep pushing even in the weird hermit atmosphere. This lead to the formation of the 'Crimson Daggers'. I made a decision to stick to a schedule of waking up everyday at 8am and streaming live for 1-3 hours so I could study art and learn how to stop being afraid of failing in front of groups(not an intended outcome, but I'm very grateful for that).

During that whole time period I never got to take many days off, would usually just take birthdays and christmas off with no money for vacations or anything like that. While I was doing Crimson Daggers I began to get client work and I found out sadly that this meant I would be owed money. The days of instant money via paypal and personal clients were over. Now was the real test of working and being owed cash for potential months. I had to borrow money from friends, sometimes driving 6 hours just to go back to my parents and back for what small amount they could actually offer. It was super stressful to have to juggle work and be working while knowing I just wasn't getting paid anything. But again, you just have to keep going and studying.

So, eventually things work out, I get consistent work with Wizards of the Coast(thank you guys) and life gets a little easier. I could finally afford to move to civilization! Off to Boston, the most expensive place ever, or at least most expensive place I've lived haha. Rent there was $1550/month and it quickly became apparent that Wizards might not cut it. I was heavily into books about business and I don't really know exactly where I gleaned this, but I got stuck on the idea that if all I ever did was the work I was offered then I would not exceed that position. I needed to create work that I was very passionate about and that I felt would get eyes on me and potentially to higher profile jobs.

TMNT fanart! I decided to do a series of 15 portraits from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in order to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish. There were no deadlines but I wanted to do one a week. They took around 6 months to complete and they bought me my ticket onto all of the blogs I had ever dreamed of being promoted on. Which ended up leading to tons of great opportunities that I would never have dreamed were possible for me. Of course, this all lead to working even harder and it just keeps going.

At this point in my career things seem to kind of plateau once in awhile, but instead of buying something to pressure myself or adding risk, I just start a new style or pursue a new avenue of art. But it keeps on going and I absolutely love doing it for that reason. In the beginning you think you're owed something and that you're headed to some kind of destination where you'll make 'x' amount of money for 'x' amount of hours. But really, you do it because the entire journey through all the 'oh shit' moments and all of the stress helps you grow and appreciate everything you've accomplished and it grounds you in reality when you approach the next challenge. You know what it takes and you know you'll have to work harder than you think you can for it.

I know my story isn't this super inspiring against all odds tale, tons of people have had it and have it a thousand times worse than I ever did. But I just wanted to touch on exactly what I went through to getting where I am now. I'm not owed anything today and I wasn't owed anything when I started. You earn everything you get and if you're lucky enough maybe you'll make a career out of it. But that all depends on what you focus on, the work and love for the journey or why you're not getting what you think you deserve right now.

Anyway, hope that wasn't too huge of a post. And again, I don't think my words are gospel and I'm a huge dummy.