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diamond v glass {opinions}

15 Dec

diamond*

Asking questions is a good habit, and it’s easy to do. The real work begins once you’ve gathered a bunch of answers. Sorting advice is tough, like distinguishing diamonds from clear Swarovski crystals. Everyone’s got an opinion, it seems, and often the opinions of people you respect conflict.

Students and new graduates struggle to weigh advice from their peers and professors, parents and professionals. I see it all of the time. Here are a few tips from your old Auntie Violet, to help ease your mind.

  • Only ask advice from people you respect. When choosing advisors, look for people who are doing, not just talking.
  • Especially in art, too many cooks spoil the stew. When you try to please everyone, you lose your edge, so stop trying to make everybody happy! Get comfortable with the fact that some people won’t like the decisions that you make. That’s just a normal part of life.
  • When opinions conflict, there are probably multiple legitimate options on the table. You can’t listen to all of them. Go with your gut.
  • When a variety of well-meaning people all give you the same advice, pay attention. Maybe you’ll still go the other way, but advice like that is worthy of consideration.
  • Making mistakes is a big part of the process, so don’t be stymied by indecision. Give yourself the grace to fail. And when you do, don’t beat yourself up. Nobody is right all of the time.
  • Always accept advice with appreciation and respect—even when you think it is terrible. The person who gave it is probably trying to help you, so be kind.
  • When ASKED for advice, take care with your response. Your words matter, a lot. They really do.

Here’s the crazy thing about advice: In the end, nobody can tell you what to do, because no one else IS  you! What worked for someone else (different personality, different circumstances) may not work in your case at all. Wisdom is earned, you have to fight to get it, and you’ll get a little scraped up along the way—so make sure to include some compassionate, Band-Aid carrying friends in your board room full of advisors.

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G. K. Chesterton

 

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thank-FULL

21 Nov

When I was young, I free-lanced as a theater designer in NYC. My actor friends dreamed about landing roles in soap operas, because the work would be some kind of steady. The principle is the same in illustration: repeat business offers a glimmer of stability. Clients who offer regular work are the flying buttresses that hold up the cathedral of a successful free-lance career.

Regular jobs shape your portfolio, so the fit has to be good. Sometimes it isn’t. I had to walk away from one of the higher-profile jobs of my life (2 illos monthly for a prominent national magazine) because of artistic differences. Thankfully, all of my other experiences in this arena have been wonderful. Some of my repeat clients call every year or two, others much more often; no matter the frequency, I am grateful for each and every one.

I have illustrated an advice column for a nursing magazine for more than a decade (thank you, Lisa!), and am currently making covers for books 11, 12, 13 and 14 for my favorite publisher (fourteen books—thank you, Duopress!!). My friends at the Baltimore Sun (thank you, Jay!) have kept me busy semi-regularly for the past few years as well.

In future posts, Class, I’m happy to suggest ways to get and keep clients, but this is Thanksgiving!

Today I simply want to say, T H A N K   Y O U!

{ l e g a l } THIEVING

23 Oct

“Of course, I subscribe to Graphis, Communication Arts and Print, and whenever I see something I like, I steal with both hands.” ~ David Lance Goines, 1992 (from a personal letter)

As visual people, we can’t help but be influenced by the art and design that we love. If you want to be a successful illustrator with a lasting career, you have to stay on top of color and style trends, and adapt as the culture’s taste changes. Artists are always learning, always growing, and are always influenced by their environment. Therefore, we had better monitor the environments in which we put ourselves!

Some of us have to be more careful about this than others, because we are like tofu.

Tofu  has no inherent flavor; rather, it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients in the recipe. Throw in some curry, and the tofu tastes like curry; saute tofu with bell pepper, and it tastes like bell pepper.

Many art students are like tofu simply because they haven’t had time to develop yet, artistically. If you suspect you may be the tofu-type, my advice is to stop looking at other illustrators for inspiration. Assailing your brain non-stop with illustration can be confusing, and can even cause unintentional plagiarism.

Instead, look at fine art and graphic design. Spend an afternoon at the botanical garden, or flipping through the latest issue of Elle Decor. Steal a color palette from a pair of designer high-tops, or a roll of wrapping paper. Be influenced by good design, without bombarding yourself with images made by your illustration heroes.

This will help your work improve as you become uniquely you.

I stole the color palette from the crazy shower curtain in our upstairs bathroom (see photo above) for this holiday image. Many artists struggle with color, and I am no different. I have learned not to trust myself when it comes to color. As a rule, I always “steal” an existing palette designed by a professional colorist. It’s a good trick, and falls under the heading of LEGAL THIEVING.

sketchbook

9 Oct

*

The sketch hunter has delightful days of drifting about among people, in and out of the city, going anywhere, everywhere, stopping as long as he likes—no need to reach any point, moving in any direction following the call of interests. He moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook, a box of oils with a few small panels, the fit of his pocket, or on his drawing pad… He is looking for what he loves, he tries to capture it. It’s found anywhere, everywhere. Those who are not hunters do not see these things. The hunter is learning to see and to understand—to enjoy.

~ Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (p. 17)

*

Do you keep a sketch book?

True confession: I don’t. I never have. (And the earth shook ever-so-slightly as Robert Henri* rolled over in his grave.)

It’s not for lack of Sketch Respect, or for a lack of trying. I have bought dozens of sketch books over the years: little ones to carry, and big ones as an organized source of paper. The big ones are filled from cover to cover with process work for illustration projects, which doesn’t count. (I stopped buying them decades ago anyway, in deference to good old printer paper, which I recycle.) And the little ones? Sadly, a tiny army of them has been taking up space on my bookshelf for almost twenty years. If my son hadn’t doodled in them when he was four and five, they’d be all but empty.

Now wait just a ding dong minute. Artists are supposed to carry handy little sketchbooks, right? Robert Henri said so. Every art prof I ever had, said so. We’re supposed to be armed with pencil and pad, ready to record inspiration the moment it hits. We are not allowed to pack a suitcase without including a tiny watercolor kit and a baggie full of charcoal, because we are visual ninjas, and as such, we must be prepared.

Now that I am an old lady, Class, I have something to tell you about sketchbooks: There are obvious benefits to carrying them, if you use them. And. You can succeed in life, if you don’t. So let go of the guilt. (Guilt is even heavier than that empty sketchbook you’ve been toting in your bag.) Non-Sketchbook Artitsts do exist, and we are a happy and well-adjusted people.

*

My scant collection of inspirations captured on napkins, receipts, and hotel stationery fits unobtrusively in a slender file folder.

__________

* American painter Robert Henri (1865 – 1929) taught at the Art Students League in the early 1900s. He wrote The Art Spirit—a must read—at the insistence of his students. My first year teaching, I began every class with a Robert Henry “quote of the day.” Now, I tweet him. Class, meet Robert. You’re welcome.

__________

How about you? What are your sketch habits?