Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I've Been Doing

Hey everyone!

    First of all, it's been a long time since I updated this blog with anything personal at all. Focused way too much, in my opinion, on the business side of freelance and vanished away into work and into my own head for long time. Been reassessing why I started doing art in the first place over and over again for the last 2 years. This has lead to too many different ventures that I've been trying to invest time into to hopefully get better/closer to where I want to be.

I'm gonna go through everything I've been doing. Actually just got a cup of coffee out to do this and while reaching for the new cup I grabbed a 2 day old cup and took a huge sip. Terrible.

Around January of 2013 I entered into being a weird single guy again coming out of a 6 year relationship and being a 6 year deep freelancer. Basically felt like I had to reenter the world without any real understanding of how actual human beings talk to each other. That was super weird, ended up having a ton of the most awkward conversations. I don't know if any of you do this but for me it's like you'll start getting into a conversation but you're already jumping 5-6 thoughts ahead and are surprised the person can't seem to follow what the hell you're talking about. This was one of the many issues with being a total shut in.

One of the major hurtles in this case was making friends again. Suddenly I realized that the internet didn't really count for much when you didn't have anybody physically around you to hang out with. This should be totally obvious, but when I was completely absorbed in work, days would just fly by. Being a freelancer without really seeing the sun very often lead to prolonged periods of time where I maybe went outside a handful of times. And then it was only to get groceries or grab take out. So it shouldn't have been surprising when the people around me tended to drift away haha.

On the flip side, because I had been doing so much work and was so heavily invested in marketing myself and creating things, work just kept growing and growing. I am beyond grateful to every client that has given me the amazing opportunities I have had so far in my career, but there is something to be said for maintaining a serious life/work balance. But instead of doing anything about it at all I basically just floated through it and decided it was totally ok to just sit and do nothing but work. This was super lame, I was the lamest dude ever. If I could I would go back and beat myself up everyday for that.

During this period though I decided I should just treat myself to something, just get out of the house or tiny basement apartment I had in Boston. So I booked a trip to Germany with some old friends of mine(all of whom but one decided not to go) and was looking forward to just relaxing. The trip was supposed to be around 2 weeks, this trip turned into about 4 weeks. The first two weeks were pretty good, hung out in Hamburg for most of it and spent 2 days in Berlin where I got to visit SixmoreVodka and Jana Schirmer(and every roommate of Jana's, I'm really sorry I can't remember all your names as I wouldn't forget you guys <3 br="" nbsp="">
The trip was then supposed to end and on the last night the people I knew in Hamburg said we should go to the red light district and get drunk. I was definitely ready for this. I thought I was definitely ready for this. I was not at all ready. Basically I was dancing on a table/big window sill and at some point in the night someone stole my jacket. Unfortunately I'm really stupid so my passport and my ID were both taken with the jacket. This meant I wasn't leaving the next day of course but everyone I knew was. At this point the only people I know in Germany are the people at Sixmorevodka (Marko, Jelena, Gerald) and Jana plus her roommates. 

So the first thing I do is head back to Berlin, this is where the embassy is and where I can hopefully sort all of this out. Marko's studio Sixmorevodka let me work on my freelance there while Jana let me stay with them. I can't thank you guys enough. The next 2 weeks were amazing, we had a 4th of July american style cookout at Jana's complete with Bruce Springsteen music and ribs. I spent most nights late at the studio having a drink with Marko and talking about everything. This was the most eye opening inspirational part of that summer. Those 2 weeks made me want to change everything, seeing how the studio worked, spending time with other artists and getting to hear Marko's insights into the business got me motivated again.

On top of all that though, it turned out the thief had actually dropped my ID and passport at a restaurant and the restaurant had mailed them to the embassy. Huge lucky break for me. I went to Berlin to get out and see a beautiful city and realized all I really wanted was the company of awesome people. If we went out at all it was just to grab dinner, I loved it and thank you guys for everything.

I'm sorry, this is turning into a novel. I'm not even close to done, so bare with me if you like or if you hate this I totally understand, I never read long posts.

After returning from Germany I started working out daily, running a few miles and keeping up with a steady workout. I started to feel really good, I was more awake, happier and excited to keep pushing forward. One of the big things for me was watching Marko draw at the studio. I loved his pencil brush or line brush, whatever you want to call it. I tried replicating what I could remember of it and ended up with a more ink style. This is when I started working on my StarVeil stuff. Because it was so simple, not in approach but in how you would read shapes and things, I had to focus a lot more on interesting design. I was really motivated to try the style out on more iconic characters. So I did my Super Metroid animated short.

What I was trying to do was break down Samus' design from Metroid into a very basic form in order to keep it simple enough to animate. This helped me get in the mindset of narrowing my focus on what really matters in my own characters and was a massive help. This style step was getting me closer to the goal of just having fun working. But nobody knew me for this or would hire me to do this style. Personally outside of a few guys, one of which being Matt Rhodes(mass effect/dragon age concepts), I hadn't seen a lot of people working in this immediate entertainment industry using line styles.

My idea was to take the style and apply it to something even more marketable than Metroid. So I made the lines a little more comic like and started a series of X-Men portraits. I made 10 portraits, hopefully enough to warrant single blog posts by websites, and put them online. They got around a pretty good amount, nothing like my TMNT run but they lead to offers from Marvel and 20th Century Fox. I took the job from Fox creating movie posters for X-Men Days of Future Past. I was finally able to make some kind of profit off of this simpler approach. This ended up turning into a great relationship with Fox and I continue to work with them in this same style.

This was when I began to feel like everything was gonna really turn around for me work wise. I'd be able to spend less time working and more time on what matters without sacrificing ideas or quality(hopefully).

It was right around this time, november 2013, that I started seeing my now girlfriend. Right after this I had the opportunity to teach at the Bali Illustration Workshop(an amazing event btw) where I decided that I wouldn't let work basically run every part of my decision making anymore and would devote myself to being a real human being for once. I swear to god I'm not a sociopath but sometimes the shut in lifestyle makes me feel like that haha. We moved in together in January in Colorado and I began a schedule of waking up at 7-8am everyday and stopping work entirely at 7-8pm. This was the best thing for my brain, no more all nighters and no more endless deadlines where I let myself work on something forever everyday.

After this point I started keeping a day rate for every job and making sure I never went beyond my designated work hours unless I absolutely had to. What blew me away about this was how I became even more productive, I wasn't losing time, I was speeding up. Instead of getting a job done in 2-3 days w/16 hour work days I was getting them done in 1 work day or maybe 1 1/2.

I forgot to mention that I decided not to let previous made up deadlines rule my life. Skull & Shark just couldn't get done until I was proficient at actually writing/illustrating comics. StarVeil fit that perfectly as a way to improve at comic storytelling as well as animation. I've learned so much and am happy to say that even though I didn't intend for this at all, StarVeil is gonna become a real published book! Insane and super lucky. But what this all meant was that the New York Comic Con Dan Warren and I attended was going to be selling a whole lot of nothing. Nothing but t-shirts anyways.

Skipping ahead again. Now that my work day was healthy and my life felt real again I was more than motivated to take on all of my projects. This meant juggling work, StarVeil, Black Witch and lots of other ideas(Steve Lichman, RoughCat, secret projects!). I really wanted to test what I could get done in short bursts if I were focused. This has it's limits and the burn out rate can be high if you're not careful. I got totally burnt out and would end up rolling over into work. And thankfully my girlfriend would be helping me manage previous parts of life that were too demanding on my eternally dumb brain. This helped a lot.

The strange thing that ended up happening was that the more I pushed into my own personal projects the better the job offers. Worked in-house creating concepts, work at home creating concepts, worked on lots of film poster concepts. And although people generally wanted me to go back to my rendering style on facebook and every other site online. Clients pretty much only wanted my StarVeil style. Which is something I never anticipated and am more than happy to provide. Because of the community of illustrators/concept artists online I was never under the impression you could get work using an approach like this.

More than anything else though I've been proven wrong over and over in everything I do and have been surprised in lots of good ways on how things worked out. My take away from this work wise is that there are no absolutes in anything. Just because everyone is doing one thing or another doesn't mean you can't do the opposite and take on the same caliber work. And that sometimes you absolutely have to get out and take in every new experience you can. Meet people you like, people you don't like and see what the world is without the screen in front of you. Before I met Marko in person I thought he was gonna be a massive dick. Now I couldn't have a better friend, I love him and Jelena so much.

At one point I was worried about what the internet/strangers thought about me. But then my father passed away from a heart attack. One of the last things he talked to me about was how I loved to start things and get into projects and loved building them but wasn't producing. He wanted to see everything I was thinking up and ever since he said that I kept projects from him and would only hint at them. Unfortunately for me I never got to show any of those things to him. But I wont make that mistake ever again and I would never let something so small like the internet influence me in a negative way out of what I truly love doing.  I'm finishing everything now and am more motivated than I've ever been.

RIP Papsicola, Robert Rapoza

Basically, the world isn't the internet and it isn't the art community, you can do anything no matter what people try to nail down as an absolute. Invest in yourself, invest in the people you really love and ignore when people try to drag you into the shit. Don't talk about what you want to do, just do it everyday and show people who you are in your work.

Anyway, sorry for the long post!
On to the regular non-book length posts!


cheesecake-weasel said...

Thanks so much for opening up to the community Dave, its very easy to get trapped into a toxic routine when you're freelancing - its something I personally struggle with all the time.

And I'm so glad you're getting work more in the vein of StarVeil - its very noticeable how much you enjoy drawing in that style.
So yeah, thanks again - some of us do read the big blog posts every now and then!

Unknown said...

I can't believe I read the whole thing! As a freelancer myself, finding my feet still, this was a great insight. Although my life has it own set of problems and victories it was lovely to read about the human side of you being you... Congratulations of finding your centre. However, I'm sorry to hear about your father. Tough blow. All the best, -Grange

Rafael Sarmento said...

What a sincere, open-hearted message.

I have something that some folks would consider to be a "problem" - I can't separate people into their professinal/personal sides, as if everybody was that bipolarized. I can't. For me, what makes people cool is not what they do, but who they are, etc.

I can't judge anybody of course, but you know, we can distinguish the good people (for us) from the bad. I know bad folks that are incredible illustrators, good ones that are still not as well developed professionally, and all the combinations possible.

Well, basically internet has TOO many noise in all the communications artists (well, everyone basically, too) have among themselves - I have friends that I only know through the net, that I consider to be life-long friends, even if don't know when we'll meet physically. But, of course, nothing will ever replace the real deal, and since I got to know literally nothing about you, all of the impact you have on me creativelly as solely based on your work.

Your message ressonated deeply within my guts, in a way I can only describe as "real", like real emotions, as if we just have met. We still don't know each other man, but now I can say (or even scream to the world, if you will), that I'm TRULY your newest fan. You're that cool.

Talk someday!

Mike D. said...

Hey Dave, appreciate your long post!

Thanks for opening up and teaching all of us so much for so many years. I discovered your work a few years ago and your advice, tutorials, and work on Crimson Daggers has been instructional and inspirational.

Glad to see you with so much success. I look forward to watching your work evolve further.

Thanks again,
Mike D.

Kevin McGivern said...

Really interesting post Dave. It sent an important message that no matter how successful you are commercially, real life affects us all.

On top of that, I found it really interesting, (as I do on your livestreams and interviews you have done) the workings of the mind of someone at the top of the art/illustration game. It always intrigues me to hear what inspires, motivates and pushes people like yourself on to keep producing and creating.

Again, great post and thanks for everything you give to the art community!

Kevin McGivern

Kuba Witowski said...

Dave, thanks for sharing,

Yo've always been inspiration to me since I was thinking about work/life balance too. I am in a moment where you have been few years ago. How would you with todays perspective approach this period of six years(all time study and work i guess) differently?

Have a good day ,man, keep it up with good stuff.

FM said...

thank you Dave :)
it was amazing to read your experiences, truly an inspiration.

nadzsamson said...

Everything has a price,with the output you are making iam sure you used up alot of time and effort.Nice post Dave.

darqjakob said...

A good read and very insightful.

Wladimir Matos Reyes said...

You're a truly inspiration man, I'm very happy to hear things are going better over there and you're feeling better, sending you good vibes from here man.

Ninjatron said...

You are a good writer too. It was a very easy read and didn't seem very long.

I really enjoyed reading it and I will continue to visit your blog for more inspiration.


Zach said...

Love your work, you're a big inspiration to me. Keep doing what you do!

Unknown said...

I really love your work, this article move me to do more than I do right now. I really can't wait to meet you at Bali Illustration Workshop this November and hopefully we can be a good friend. :)

AntB said...

Whoa, Thanks for that! You are one of my favorite artists and reading about your struggle is super inspiring. Keep doing you man its all awesome!

Kogaras said...

A very good read. Good thing you manged to find the balance between work and life. Hope you'll managed to progress even further as an artist.

angwritenow said...

A lovely, inspirational post Dave! :) Thanks for sharing.

Now I shall take this nugget of inspiration and do some of my own work that's been sitting and festering for too long.

Kenneth Camaro said...

hey dave please help us to get better. you dont know how much you inspired and keep inspiring many artists like me. please livestream again! thank you

Daniellee said...

Thanks dave, you are the reason i started doing art, always inspiriting and motivating. So sorry for your lost, i can feel your pain when losing someone you love and so close with!! Anyway, i will keep supporting you no matter what! Thanks again! :)) daniellee

Gabriele Gabba said...

Dave thanks for the great and long post. I appreciate how thorough it was. I particularly liked the part about over rating the internet and people on it.

I'm super excited to see what you do next, keep it coming bud! :D

Austen Mengler said...

Amazing post man! Although no where near your level yet, I'm finding it really hard to manage myself at the moment, gotta get back to that gym and a work schedule sorted. So this post really helped.

Thanks so much, and best of luck with your future endeavors from a long time fan!

Olga Drebas said...

This was an awesome read, thank you Dave for sharing your experiences with us.

fishbones said...

Your the man Dave! I fell in love with all your work after discovering your xmen portraits. keep up the great work!

Patrick Davidson said...

This was a very insightful post. Really like the Starveil work.

Unknown said...

Thank you, very inspirational.

Aseph ( as-if ) :-) said...

Excellent post David, not that my opinion matters but my opinion you're literally one of the most innovative artist out there and marvel at the thought of you and Marko in the same room! Pretty damn amazing, I'm happy you've discovered a balance and even more happy to know that a StarViel book is on the horizon!

Cheers mate live for life!