6. Q&A: Do you have any routines that help you stay productive and focused?

Coffee, Harry Potter series, music - Ready, Set, Draw!
A: I certainly do have routines to help me stay productive and focused. Some artists have a hard time focusing when it comes to background noises or when their computer is around them.  Personally, I love to have either a selection of soundtrack music or a good movie that I have seen many times before on my computer.  Having something familiar and pleasing in the background brings me to a comfortable and productive place. Another nice benefit of having a movie on the computer, is that it helps me from getting distracted by surfing the web.  Throughout the years I have kept a small library of photo references, but of course there are those times when I do have to surf the web for something specific, but even so, I like to do all my research before I begin my drawing and painting process.

5. Q&A: What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

A: There are quite of few pieces of advice I have been given over the years and I am happy to list a few of them and explain a little about each one.

1. Push Your Darks: I had a high school teacher who passed on this helpful bit of information that was passed onto her as well. When I began drawing and introducing shading methods into my work, it was crucial for me to learn how not to make my work look muddy.  This is especially critical when working in black and white. When beginning to draw it is typical for young artists not to use their full grayscale but rather hang in the middle.  When you use the full grayscale spectrum your drawings will come out much richer.  Because I love to work in color most of the time, it is easy to forget this piece of advice.  I like to sometimes take a xerox copy of my color work and see if it holds up in black and white form.  If it doesn't, then I know I have more room to push my light and dark spectrum. Remember, if you can't push your darks anymore, then push your lights.

2. Don't Use Your Handwriting:  My handwriting is absolutely atrocious and I used to use it all the time when illustrating titles or making text bubbles.  My professor told me and I quote, "Don't you ever, ever, ever, EVER, use your handwriting again!" With this advice in mind, I would have to expand my typographic skills by opening my font list in my computer and learning how to correlate the mood and manner of the fonts to the mood and manner of my artwork. Later, when I was working as a graphic artist, I worked with font books and this enriched my illustration skills even further, especially when scanning in work and applying fonts to it from a computer program such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign.  Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  One of my weaknesses happens to be my handwriting.  By taking my professor's advice seriously, I was able to avoid banging my head against a wall and wasting time "working on" my handwriting when I should have been working on my art.  Instead, by accepting that weakness, I was able to open my eyes to a great new set of tools as well as to put the focus back where it belonged - on my work, which now includes the element of typography in a more considered and fully synthesized way.

3. Be Able to Handle Rejection:
This was easy advice for me to take because when I was younger I always tried out for sports teams, music competitions and art awards, and I was virtually never selected or even given an "honorable mention."  These experiences helped me learn to push myself and to never give up. Stay positive and focus on the bigger picture.

4. Research, Research, Research: Illustrators need to do research on their projects, especially when working with either realistic or serious subject matter.  For example, typically it wouldn't make sense for certain mammals or birds to be illustrated in a region where they do not live, unless of course it was a crucial element of the story line (ie: a penguin who waddles through NYC).

5. Don't Color, PAINT:
This piece of advice sparked what was to become my "process style."  I used to draw my layout and then fill in the blanks from the outline.  My work was very tight and even though I thought I was mixing colors well, the feeling of the piece was too controlled and I was having trouble executing my concepts in a way that gave my finished pieces the character and sensibility I was going for.  Eventually, through much trial and error, I found that I can achieve these goals in my work better when I start bigger and use multiple layers.

4. Q&A: Is it necessary to have a college degree to be an artist?

A: Short Answer:  No, it is not imperative to have a college degree to be an artist.

A: The More Important Answer: It is strictly a personal decision whether or not college will suit you. I went to college because I felt it was really important for me to learn more about my specific field of interest as well as getting a well rounded education.  I have made long-lasting friendships with fellow colleagues as well as with my professors.  This has been quite beneficial for my creative process, career, and my mental well being.  Admittedly, it is tough to know at seventeen or eighteen what the "right" program or school will be.  But your college years are the beginning of your adult journey as a person and as an artist, and no "mistake" in your college choice is irreversible.  If you're on the fence about college, or about what school will be the right "fit," here are a few things to consider: does the school have a portfolio review?  These can be intimidating, but are generally an indication of quality instruction.  More on this to come in future postings.  Are there other artistic resources in the area, i.e. museums, galleries, artistic communities?  Look at the faculty profiles online.  Do any of their bios excite you about meeting them?  What have they published or produced?  And of course, what is the cost?  Cost should not necessarily have to be a deciding factor in going to college.  But as an artist, you probably won't be rolling in cash right after graduation.  At least, not if you're continuing to pursue your artistic goals.  With that in mind, your college choice needs to include a price tag that will be manageable, where you can see yourself paying off your loans while still pursuing your dreams.

3. Q&A: Do you have any words of advice to give to kids and young adults who want to pursue a career in the arts?

A: Yes, I have a few words of advice and this list could continue to grow.

"Whimsical Style" - even I continue to experiment with new
styles in my portfolio.
1. Be prepared to work hard! This is not just a reference to your artwork but on being able to schedule time to support yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially. It will take a lot time to develop a rhythm and style on how you approach and make your work. Attend local art classes and exhibits. Never stop practicing and learning new tips to help along with building your process and portfolio. 

2. If you are determined to pursue a career in the arts, then take what you do seriously.  What you do is not a hobby, but like I stated before, you need to work hard on all aspects of your life - your art, mental and emotional well being, and being able to financially support yourself.  Attend conferences to be around your peers and feel a sense of unity in what you do for a living.

3. Be prepared to take criticism from your professional peers.  You do not have to take and act on all the advice that is given to you but you should be able to open yourself to receive possible new ideas. At criticism's worst, apply it as motivation and a chance to explore what your critics might be referring to and see if you see any improvements in your work.

4. Be prepared to face rejection. It happens to even some of the best artists at times. Remember everybody has different tastes, so the most important person to love your work is YOU and to love and what you do!  The world is full of negative people who will scrutinize your work and not respect what you do for a living, but it is crucial that you keep your head afloat from all the negativity, work hard and believe in what you do is important.

5. The web and library are great resources to read up on how other artists are able to make successful careers as children's book illustrators, graphic designers, editorial illustrators, comic book artists, gallery painters, sculptors, medical illustrators etc!  Check out my resources page and your local library or bookstore for more information!