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Professional Practice: Why Worry About Style?

Professional Practice: Why Worry About Style?

The question of personal art “style” is one that seems to come up really often for artists. Especially if you are a young artist, still learning your fundamentals of drawing. Teaching at the college level, I get questions and concerns about style all the time from my students.

I looked it up and this was this definition I got –
“A particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode or form of construction or execution in any art or work.”

I get it, there are many artists out there working in a myriad of different ways and everybody is looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the next guy. Some styles speak to us more strongly than others and sometimes, a particular style can scream at us so loudly and become so overpowering that it starts to sneak in and overpower our own, natural way of drawing. It’s a real danger for younger artists and it can derail your progress as an artist considerably if you aren’t careful. It can actually hurt you in several very important ways –

  • If you put style above fundamentals, you can get caught up in finish and neglect the construction of your drawing.
  • If you are basing the look of your artwork upon another artists work, you may be picking up the bad habits of that artist. If they aren’t constructing their drawings correctly, if their proportions, anatomy, or perspective is flawed, yours will likely be too.
  • You could be considered a knock-off of a particular artist or style, which could hamper your ability to get work. Why would somebody hire you when they could get the original artist?

In my opinion, you are better served to just forget about style altogether.

You should focus on learning your fundamentals and drawing from life as much as possible. The more figure drawing you can get, the better. Don’t get caught up in style too fast, spend the time to construct your drawing accurately and then worry about style. Knowing your fundamentals will give you a better foundation for developing a style or working in a variety of styles because you’ll already be able to construct a drawing with correct proportion, anatomy, or perspective.

Personally, when I was learning to draw, I found inspiration in many places and from many artists (and as an artist, you should always be looking at other art), but when I needed reference on how to draw something, I looked for real life reference. If I wanted to draw exaggerated muscles, I looked at body builders. If I wanted to draw a mountain landscape, I looked for photos of mountain landscapes. And from there, my style naturally developed to how I work today.

Don’t put the cart in front of the horse in regards to style – your style will come to you as you put in the work to learn how to draw.

Good luck!


Professional Practice: Why Worry About Style?

Professional Practice: Not Doing Free Work

This is a loaded question in the comics and game community (and while I’m speaking directly to that community, I feel that this applies across the board to ALL creative endeavors).

With the rise of the internet, there is absolutely no shortage of artists looking for work. There is also no shortage of people wanting to have work done for free. And as a young artist, sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out just what the best course of action is as you build your portfolio and reputation. It’s also easier to take chances when you are younger and fall into traps because you just don’t have the experience to know what kind of mess you might be getting into.

There are several situations you may find yourself in –

  • Somebody approaches you to work on the project for a royalty. This is typically called spec work and no matter what the person approaching you might say, there is no guarantee of payout. Please be wary of dropping weeks and months into a project with no guarantee of payout.
  • The other situation you may find yourself in is the case of free samples. Again, this is often considered a test to potentially get a project. I’m here to tell you – any decent art director can take one look at your portfolio and know whether or not you’ll fit the project. Plus, you may sink days or even a week into working on these free samples and still not get the job. Samples are fine, but getting some sort of payment for them is reasonable.
  • Finally, watch out for contests from big companies. Often, a large, well established company will run a contest for a poster, design, or anything, really. Please read the fine print – often-times there is just one reward and the company running the contest will own rights to every contest entry. This is simply an easy way for them to generate new ideas cheaply.

I personally feel that any payment, even a low payment, is better than no payment. There is almost always room for some sort of negotiation. And it’s not good for the industry for artists to take on free work as it devalues the work across the entire industry. More personally, it’s also not good for you, as I’m pretty sure you are still going to have to pay your bills on time, whether or you are paid or not.

Now, there is almost always an exception to the rule, so when you find yourself in this situation, and you will (every professional I know has been in this position), you need to ask yourself several questions –

  • Who am I working with? Is this somebody I know of? Do they have a reputation in the industry?
  • What is the product I’m working on? Is it well known? Does it have a following?
  • If the person approaching you cares so much about this project, why aren’t they willing to put their own money into it?

Sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where the lines aren’t so clear. It’s easy to turn down a project from a complete stranger. But if it’s a peer or colleague, or even somebody who has some pull in the industry, it may be worth taking a chance. The same can be said for established properties. If it’s an established brand with a large following, it might be worth taking a chance.

To give you several examples –

  • I took on a coloring project for a graphic novel a couple years ago. It was for a well established property with millions of novels sold and a feature film in production (which, incidentally, flopped). I researched it before hand to find all of this out and to educate myself on whether it was a smart business decision or not – from all indications, it seemed like a sure thing! I colored over a hundred pages of artwork over the course of a year and at the last minute, the owner of the property decided to change the terms of the contract, and I’ve never seen a dime. This is a cautionary tale – even with research and a well-established property, taking on spec work is still a gamble.
  • Several years ago I met an industry veteran, Bo Hampton. I’d grown up reading his books and I have always been a fan of his work. We started talking, exchanged some emails, and eventually, he had a really awesome project come together called 3 Devils. It’s a supernatural western with zombies, werewolves, and gypsies and he invited me to work on it with him. For me, since Bo was somebody I’d grown up admiring and reading, I jumped at the chance to work with him. We’ll be publishing the series through IDW later this year. In this case, the royalty didn’t matter as much to me as the opportunity to work with an artist I admired.

You have to judge each project on a per case basis, just keep in mind – nothing is a sure thing.




Professional Practice: Forums & Etiquette

Professional Practice: Forums & Etiquette

So you are looking for some good forums to post your work in to get feedback or critiques?  I might have a few suggestions for you.

However, I first want to talk a little bit about etiquette.

You have to remember, always, that art is subjective.  What looks one way to you might look entirely different to the person next to you.  This is true for both beginners as well as professionals.  It’s a fine line to walk – you’ll find people who are willing to give really constructive, helpful advice.  You’ll also find people who are rude and purposely unkind.  It’s been my experience that the majority of people tend to be constructive, however.  You cannot allow the few who are rude to ruin the whole experience for you.

And typically, those folks that are rude are really just insecure about their own work, or they are going through something personal.  There are really a myriad of reasons why that person was probably rude.  My point is, don’t let it bother you!

This brings us, the long way, back around to etiquette.

The way you conduct yourself in life and especially online is extremely important.  This is exceptionally true of posting on public message boards and forums.  Treat people how you would like to be treated.  When somebody gives you a critique, be appreciative, even if you don’t agree with them.  Don’t get defensive – chances are, you are all on the message board for the same reason!

I don’t care who you are in this industry – there is no such thing as a perfect piece of artwork.  We all need feedback from our peers to improve.

I’ve probably rambled on enough.  Below is a list of forums I’ve found to be helpful to me over the years!  And of course, if you have a suggestion, by all means, post it in the comments below.

Digital Webbing

There are lots of resources for comic artists here.  They have a variety of forums, whether you are looking for industry advice, jobs, feedback on illustration, sequentials, colors, or letters.  I’ve always found this to be a really warm community.

Pencil Jack

Pencil Jack is a lot like Digital Webbing.  There are lots of different boards where you can find information or feedback about comics.

Concept Art

If you are into doing concept art for video games, movies, or digital painting, this is the place to be.  There is a massive community of concept artists here.


This board is run by none other than Dave McCaig – one of the best colorists in comics.  The board is dedicated to the art of coloring comics – a lot of pros frequent these boards, or at least they used too.  Either way, I expect you’ll find this a place where you can get good feedback on the work you post.

If you are into roleplaying games and making art for roleplaying games, there are a variety of boards here.  Whether you want to design a game, create art for games, or just get feedback, the community here is great!

Deviant Art

Deviant Art is more of a portfolio site, but it is a massive community with a lot of users.  You can expect to get some feedback on your art here.  A lot of art directors also watch Deviant Art for up-and-coming artists.

Now go out and post your work!


Professional Practice: Why Worry About Style?

Professional Practice: Posting Your Work Online

I come across many up-and-coming artists and students who are worried about posting their work online.

They’re afraid that somebody is going to either steal their ideas or their work. While it does happen, it’s not nearly as widespread as  people think. Personally, I’ve been posting my work online since I was 16 or 17.  I’m 35 now and I’ve never, at least to my knowledge, had any artwork or ideas stolen.

I’m here to encourage you to post your work online. Post your work everywhere, in fact!  You want to get your work out there. You want people to start associating your work with your name. Only good things can come of it.

Still worried about theft? Read on:

  • Protect yourself by posting lower res images. Simply don’t post high resolution, print quality (300 dpi or dots-per-inch) images online. Use 72 dpi images, which are standard for viewing on the web. These don’t print well at all; they look pixelated and ugly. An art thief would have to be very committed and talented to convert a 72 dpi image found online into something salable.
  • The world is full of ideas. The odds of anybody trying to steal your specific idea are pretty low. As artists, we have to let go of the conceit that our ideas are completely unique. There are projects in development right now that are pretty similar to the ones you’re working on. Don’t worry. They won’t turn out the same.
  • Furthermore, while your art may inspire others, it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will want to put in the effort it takes to develop your ideas into fully finished works. Everyone has their own ideas to develop. If you’re worried about it, try to relax. If you continue to worry about it, just avoid posting a lot of supplemental material about your story or idea. Stick to posting specific, unconnected pieces from each project so you don’t reveal the whole picture.
  • Whatever happens, you own the original. Whether it’s created using traditional or digital media, you can prove to a court of law that you are the creator. That always puts my mind at ease.

I’m not saying that nobody steals art or ideas. It happens.  But you’ll find that the community is small and word spreads quickly if someone is ripping off other artists. Artists tend to protect their own because we all know what it takes to create something. We don’t tolerate stealing.

So please, don’t hesitate to post your work online. Start now. The sooner the better.

Check back next week, where I’ll discuss in more detail why it’s so important to post online and provide a list of places to start posting. Thanks for reading!


Professional Practice: Why I Don’t Use an Alias

Professional Practice: Why I Don’t Use an Alias

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of creative people adopt aliases.

I can see the appeal of using an alias, especially if you’re a young artist. It can offer a certain level of anonymity when starting out. That said, I personally think this is a really bad idea. You should always just keep things simple and use your own name. Here’s why:

You want your work to be associated with you.
Your name is your brand. As you develop as an artist, you start to develop your own style. The way you draw a line, or make a brush mark, is like a fingerprint. You want people to associate your art with your name, not with an alias you thought was cool when you were nineteen.

It’s easier to develop a following.
The longer you work in the field, the more likely it is that people will begin to recognize your work. You’ll build a fan base, which is the best possible thing for you as an artist! It’s these fans that’ll support you and buy your work, whether it’s paintings, comics, whatever.  Don’t complicate your interaction with fans by using a fake name. It’s easier to introduce yourself to people when you use your real name.

You may be stuck with an alias, even after you outgrow it.
Changing your working alias may be confusing for fans and make it that much harder for people to find you.

It’s easier to meet people and clients.
When you’re out at conventions, seminars, or even the grocery store (you never know where you might run into a potential client), you’ll introduce yourself as…well, yourself.  Not as your alias.  It’s much more likely that when remembering you or looking you up, the potential client will look you up by your name.

Keeping and using your own name will help your career tremendously. As soon as you decide you want to be an artist, drop everything and do these three things.

  • Buy a URL using your real name, preferably a dot com.  Keep it simple –
  • Set up an e-mail address that’s simple and includes your name –  Set up your email through your own website so it’s easy for clients or art directors to track you down and recall your e-mail.
  • Stop using dopey handles when you interact with your peers in forums on in online communities. You guessed it: Switch over to ones that include your real name.

All of this will allow you to start being associated with your work and building lasting relationships. You just can’t go wrong using your own name from the start and avoiding an alias entirely!

Thanks for reading, folks. Stay tuned for the next Professional Practices.



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: Forums & Etiquette

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!