Professional Practice: Choosing an Art School

Professional Practice: Choosing an Art School

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how art school is a waste of money and time.

I am here to tell you it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, there were things I found aggravating about art school, but odds are I wouldn’t be a successful freelance artist now if I hadn’t gone to college–one that fit my needs.

Art school taught me more than just technique. It also taught me work ethic. I could have learned technique on my own, but work ethic was difficult to wrap my head around when I was a teenager. Some artists are motivated enough to pick up a book, watch some courses online, and put in the work. Good for them! However, most of us need a little push, especially when we’re young. Art school can give you the structure and motivation you need to develop a work ethic. Your work ethic is all you have to lean on sometimes, especially if you end up being your own boss.

That’s why it art school is so important. Attending the right one is life changing.

When I graduated from high school, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. I knew it was something art related, but I didn’t have a plan. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that I’d attend a local university, at least up until the day I got a card in the mail advertising the Kansas City Art Institute.  It was eye opening since I hadn’t even realized that there were actual schools dedicated to art! (Don’t laugh. I grew up on a farm in Topeka.) Nobody had ever talked to me about art school, let alone told me there were options with different specialties. Needless to say, I went with the first option that presented itself: KCAI.

I was already into comics and illustration, and had I known enough to do a little research, I would have found out that KCAI wasn’t going to be a good fit. It’s a great school–I earned my BFA there–but I should have looked a little harder.

Choosing a school or an area of focus seems complex, but it all comes down to answering three simple questions:

What kind of artwork do I want to create?
Every school caters to a genre: animation, graphic design, comics, illustration, game art, gallery art, etc. Choose a school that specializes in your area of interest, if you can. You’ll be working with the all-stars in your field and getting targeted education to help you on your path.

Do I want to make art for clients or for myself?
If you want to make art for yourself, consider fine arts or and gallery art. If you want to get paid upfront for your work, consider a more commercial program such as illustration, graphic design, animation, or gaming.

Would I prefer to work for a company or for myself?
Graduating from a graphic design, animation, or gaming program positions you to get a job working for a company. If you want make money as a freelance artist, your best bets are programs in comics, illustration, and gallery art.

Don’t stress too much if your options are limited by family ties or financial concerns–or if you don’t get into your dream school. There’s a lot of crossover amongst the fields, and you can still get a great education. You’ll have to work a little harder at making your program serve your needs, though. For example, fine arts schools tend to focus on concept more than technique. If you’re a painting major, you’ll have to seek out every opportunity to learn technique. Enroll in illustration classes (or look for illustration programs) to get the foundation you need to become an excellent painter.

I wasn’t getting what I needed at KCAI, so I ended up at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Grahphic Art for a few years. Although I returned to the Midwest and graduated from KCAI, I learned almost everything I use today in my time at JKS. (Just ask me about the “work ethic” portion of my studies; I never worked so hard in my life, nor have I since!) JKS was a perfect fit, and that made all the difference.

Here are the schools I’d recommend to aspiring comic artists and illustrators. If I had to do it over again, these are the ones I’d be applying to:

The School of Visual Arts, New York City, NY

Savannah School of Art and Design, Savannah, GA

Ringling College of Art + Design, Sarasota, FL

FZD School of Design, Singapore

Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

That’s all, young padawans. Stay tuned for the next installment of Professional Practices.

Thank you for reading.


Professional Practice: Introduction

Professional Practice: Introduction

Welcome to the first article in a series of topics on Professional Practice!

Being a successful freelance artist isn’t easy, but it’s the only kind of work I’ll ever do. There’s nothing more fulfilling than working for yourself. In my time as a freelancer, I’ve gone from barely being able to pay rent to supporting a family of four–plus two stupid dogs. I am not a wildly successful or world renown artist, but I am doing well and making a good living.

I started freelancing during college back in 2000-2001, which means I’ve been working for clients for over a decade. In the last four or five years, I’ve moved into art direction and project management, so I’ve seen just about everything from both sides–although I still get surprised from time to time. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a catalog of do’s, don’t’s, tips, and suggestions that might be useful to other creators, whether you’re just now coming up or already keeping busy.

I’ll cover a lot of different topics in these articles from specialized subjects to the basics. They’re intended as resources for professional creatives and freelancers: Writers, artists, programmers, and people who do a little bit of everything (as many freelancers must). I’m writing most of the articles based on my own personal experiences, but I’ll also include guest posts from Outland folks who specialize in other fields. We hope this series evolves into a resource that you’ll find helpful on your journey as a professional creative.

I’ve got a list of topics, but I welcome your suggestions. Please let us know if you have a question or a topic you’d like us to cover! Just drop a comment below or message us here.

Thanks for reading!