Sometimes its Hard to Draw, and that’s Okay

I hate to admit it, but I really haven’t drawn, or really designed, anything in about a year. That feels almost more like a lie than the half-truth it is, but on a whole, no, I really haven’t done either one, at least for myself.

In June of 2014, I was hit by a car on my skateboard, and then a month later I lost my job. Between being unemployed and injured, I thought all the free time would encourage me to really make a go of it as an artist, and it did. I did a ton of freelance work, got a part-time job doing design, and I started pushing myself to get more and more work. So fast-forward to June of 2015 and I’m tired and burned out. I’m running low on unemployment funds, I’m still taking freelance illustration and design jobs, and I’m now looking for a full-time job in my field. I lucked out and finally got one. I continued doing some freelance work here and there, but it was now just… work. In the fall of 2015 I did a piece for myself that I was really proud of, and that was it.

Right after Christmas I lost my job, and when that happened, I knew I had no choice but to get another job or do whatever it took to make it as an artist. But it also meant selling out. Big time. So I re-designed and re-coded my entire website in a week to be exactly what everyone needed it to be. I got rid of the massive illustration portfolio, all the design work I personally loved but agencies hated, and focused on getting hired. I did some freelance work for a while, but not much. And I wanted to draw, bad, but I couldn’t.

I’m telling you all of this because it may happen to you one day. Maybe not like that, maybe not that long, but the thing is this: You’re going to run into a self-confidence issue as an artist where you’re going to doubt yourself.

So what really happened? Why did I stop drawing?

Sometimes it stops being fun.

If you’re starting out by trying to be an illustrator or designer full-time, and its something you love, it may hit you one day that it’s work. I consider myself incredibly lucky that graphic design never felt like work until about 6 years into my career, and even then I made it a point to have as much fun as possible. The thing that changed that? The job and money. I started taking on roles I didn’t like to pay the bills, and it got to the point where it wasn’t that much fun. Sadly, the same was true of illustration, only a lot sooner.

When you try to make it as an illustrator, you may go in with one of two mindsets; you’re going to doing what you want how you want, or you’re just going to do whatever the client wants. The same is true of design, but with illustration I was, and still am, “You hired me to be an artist, so you’re getting ME.” The thing, though, is that it doesn’t work out that great and you really really need to compromise to get a good piece, but you need to compromise the right way. The right way to compromise is to make sure that you’re happy with the piece and that you’re working in a timeline that you’re okay with.

The worst thing? Taking work just because you need the cash. The best thing? Taking work just because you need the cash. I honestly can say that its been a mixed bag. Some of them were just paychecks, but some of them wound up being amazing because of it. Taking myself out of the piece actually opened me up to doing some amazing and creative stuff. But sometimes it really is just draining.

You just don’t feel inspired.

I think this tends to go hand-and-hand with getting old, and trust me, this is one of those things I never thought would happen. For example, I love Megadeth, but after the band was around for 20 years I heard Dave Mustaine re-use riffs and it was super obvious to me. It was annoying at first, but I actually saw how amazing it was! Imagine sitting around and playing the guitar, and the you dust off an old riff and start using it for something new.

The same is true of some of my work. It got to the point where it felt like I was just re-drawing the same poses over and over again, and unlike Mustaine I wasn’t using them in a way I was happy with. I started to doubt myself.

Or another example about getting old: Not finding things that you used to enjoy enjoyable anymore. You may have loved “Swat Kats” as a kid, but re-watching it doesn’t give you that buzz anymore. Neither does that old movie, that food, music, books… it feels like all the stuff you enjoyed and drew inspiration from doesn’t cut it anymore. And then it feels like you’re not getting anywhere with it.

You keep sketching, trying to get something going, and the next thing you know you just feel… eh.

You start to lose confidence.

One thing that happened to me was that I started to let everyone’s thoughts about what I was drawing get into my head. “Holy crap, if I draw THIS people are going to think I’m terrible! But if I draw THAT, I’m not going to like my work! But if I do THIS I may have X people like it and not Y people!” You can be your own worst critic, and letting what you think other people might say or think is going to make it worse. After doing a few art shows, I had a lot of people like my work, but I had people come up to me with their concerns about certain things, like subject matter. That got in my head more than anything else. You can be ready to deal with technique issues, but content? It made me really second guess everything.

Then you start to lose your confidence. You decide to sit down one day and you loudly declare, either to yourself, your friends, your family, online, whatever, that, “TODAY IS THE DAY I DRAW AGAIN!” So you sit down at your special place with your special tools and you decide to create! And you create… nothing. You sketch, you conceptualize, but nothing happens. You hate it. You hate everything. So you stop and decide to try again later. And then you sit down, maybe scale it back, and try again. Nothing. Eventually you decide to just do something, anything, and still… nothing. You feel like you’re not good anymore. You start losing something, but you’re not sure what the heck it is.

“I can’t come up with anything! I’m tired, I hate drawing because of everything I had to do! I can’t watch anything and get inspired! I KEEP READING ALL THESE F$#KING ARTICLES ABOUT CREATIVE BLOCK BUT I JUST FEEL EVEN SHITTIER THAN BEFORE!!! F@#K THIS!!!!!”

How to get your groove back.

This isn’t a magick wand, but it is a step: Just do something else.

Look, I’m not saying walk away from your desk, clean something, then draw. That shit only works when you’re tired for a day. We’re talking a BIG problem which needs a BIG solution. So literally do something else. Anything else.

I got to a point where I kinda just gave up and decided to stop trying to draw. I had a job, I didn’t have any commissions, and I didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t making me happy, so why do it? I also wanted to make things. So I sat around, watched a bunch of TV shows I had forgotten about, watched some new ones, read some books, and I started sketching ideas for things I wanted. “Hey, what if I redid my kitchen? What would I want that to look like?” So I started sketching it out. It was dull, I wasn’t happy, but it was something I needed to plan it out. Then I said, “Hey, I always wanted an arcade cabinet!” So I looked up plans and sketched out one. “Hey, what if I made my own guitar?!” I wound up drawing a dream guitar I could never build unless I had done woodcarving for, like, 20 years, but I enjoyed it! Then I started sketching out another guitar I liked that was easy, then designing that…

Then one day. I sat down and miraculously did the pencils for a brand new piece of art I was really proud of. I thought it was good, and one of the best things I had done! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t finish it, I didn’t feel my inking skills were ready just yet, but I was okay with that. Plus it gave me more time to work on the concept to make sure I liked it.

I went back to watching TV again, and after a while I decided to go back and draw something else for fun. Yeah, the other piece still wasn’t done, but this would be fun. And it was!

And that’s all it takes. Do something else.

It doesn’t have to be something “epic” like, “I’M GOING TO GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS AS A SPIRIT QUEST!!!!!” No. Stop. Do that for fun. Stop putting your goddamn muse on a pedestal unless you have one. A girl I was interested in once put it best; “Don’t put what you desire on a pedestal.” The more you think what you want is our of reach, the more it is. Just relax and go after it when you can. Do things to help yourself try and get to that spot, but don’t make it your focus. Just have fun and enjoy yourself.

Tips for Designers: How To Avoid Being Taken Advantage Of

As a freelancer for going on 8 years now, I’ve learned something that anyone in the design and art business should know: How to avoid scams, or more likely, how to avoid being taken advantage of.

So here’s the difference; a scam is someone trying to get something for nothing through knowingly deceiving you and taking advantage of the fact that you may not know everything. Compare that to most people who are just going to take advantage of you because of your skills, and most likely aren’t out to harm you, but just don’t understand how a business works.

I’ve learned how to sniff out both fairly easily. Really, more than anything, just trust your instincts but other than that there is some things you can do to stay on the lookout for someone out to get you:

1. They want something for nothing, or at least close to it.

OK, lets start with an easy one.

“Hi! I want an amazing website that has Flash, great SEO, and the most cutting edge graphics EVER! Now, I can’t exactly PAY you for this awesomeness, but I can make you a partner! You can only imagine the demand for a website that tells people how ugly their baby is!”

I’ve had this happen a lot; someone has no start-up money and instead of paying a designer or developer for their thing, they instead offer a partnership. I rarely, ever, ever take an offer like that because potential income isn’t going to pay my definite bills. If something looks insanely promising or if you believe in the cause then by all means go ahead. But if someone in vague or just has a lousy idea, don’t go for it.

2. They want someone “fresh from school”.

“Hey there! We want the most amazing fashion designers possible to create designs for our new line of t-shirts! We want someone just fresh out of school who’s hungry for work! Just someone who can’t wait to explode with the best designs ever because they went to school and are just so darn fresh! So what if we expect you to work long hours and do the work of 3 other people we laid off? We want the best people! SCHOOL!!!!!!”

Whenever I see someone stress they want someone out of school, it means one thing; They’re cheap. People want cheap labor, and in this economy that make sense. I’ve seen a lot of people looking for a freelancer who was fresh out of college because they know that they need the real-world experience. Even in college I knew what to charge per-hour and per-job shouldn’t be too low, so if you are still in school, always consider what you need to pay for your loans and if you’d rather eat Romane Noodles or at least a pizza.

3. They’re TOO nice.

I had a conversation with a potential client that went like this once:

“WOW! Your work is amazing! I love it! Its the best thing EVER! WHY AREN’T YOU WORKING FOR A MAJOR COMPANY?! YOU KICK ASS! I wish I could draw like you, I can’t even draw a straight line! I am unworthy of your greatness! NOT WORTHY!!!!!! ….oh, and I can’t really pay you what you deserve…. BUT YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!”

“Kill ’em with kindness,” right?  I had a client try that once and they failed, miserably. First, my work is amazing, but I’m no Peter Chung (the dude who created Aeon Flux).

Second, as much as I’m glad someone is to like my work, let alone actually reach out and try to get me to create something for them, this level of praise just isn’t professional. If someone compliments you, that’s great, but if all they do is heap praise and barely, if at all, tell you what they want and are willing to pay, they’re not worth the time. Just walk away.

4. They’re not professional.

Or, at the very least, they don’t TRY be professional.

In your career, you’ll have clients who may not know what they want, how to properly communicate what they want and expect from you, may have poor grammar and spelling, and countless other things. So when I say “Not Professional”, look at the three things I already mentioned and think about that.

Someone who is serious about getting a designer isn’t going to ask for something for nothing, or next to it. Not only that, but they should be able to just plain communicate. In fact, after getting paid, COMMUNICATION is the most important thing in deciding to go with a client. The main thing is to make sure you’re working with a client and not just for them. A good client is like anything else in life; there should be a little bit of give-and-take.

One of the Dumbest Thing I’ve Done to Get Freelance Work

Back in 2008, I had just gotten my first full-time job and was starting to feel really confident about my work. So I decided to try and drum up some new business by handing out stickers to people I thought might like my work.

I got to meet the metal band Meshuggah at Relapse Records and I was pretty excited. I had a bunch of CD’s with me, and I had been listening to them for about 5 years at that point. I wasn’t, and still not, the biggest fan of them in the world, but I really enjoy their work. I also want to point out that I was also there to try and get some work as an artist. Now, anyone VERY familiar with Meshuggah will know that the band members actually do a ton of the art themselves. Well, at least, the art direction. That said, I wanted to at least try.

It was my turn to meet the band, and the cool thing about Relapse Records and the meet & greets was that you could actually meet and hang around the band for a while, so I took my chance to smooze a bit. I handed out my stickers to the guys in the band, and they had this puzzled look on their face.

“Oh, these are just a little something I cooked up. I’m an artist myself.”, I said, grinning at my work.

The guys in the bands started talking to each other in some language I didn’t understand.

That’s when I realized my mistake: I had given out stickers about the 2008 US Presidential Race to a bunch of people who lived in Sweden.

Needless to say, I never heard back from them, but they all seemed to take it in stride and we all had a good laugh. Oh, and I got all my CD’s signed as well as a massive signed Obzen poster, so alls well that ends well!

PS: Oh, and on the off-side chance that the guys in Meshuggah read this… I’m still available for freelance work! – Hey, can’t blame a guy for trying, right?

How to Stay Creative and Productive as an Artist

When I look back at the last 6 months of my life, I see a constant struggle to be creative and stay creative and busy. In early October, I was on a massive creative roll! A ton of ideas and piece came to mind, and I was excited about doing them all! Well, then I wound up getting sick, which made me mad. It took me a month, but I got back to speed… only to have it happen again in December. When I got sick that time, I was out for nearly a month.

So looking back at the last month, its incredible to say the least.

I wound up taking it only a little easier than when I got sick the last time and I kept pushing myself to be as creative as possible with everything I did! Not only that, but I stopped falling into the traps we set for ourselves.

Trap #1: I can do it later.

How often do you come up with an idea on paper, only to say “Well, I can draw or do this later”? How often do you actually come back to it? Even more importantly, how often did that piece actually get worse with time?

This isn’t to say I encourage you to just do a piece of art just because its fresh in your mind, but it does tend to be the best time… well, at least for me. A teacher of mine once said it best; If you let an idea sit for too long, it can get stale and stagnant, and it won’t look as good as if you simply did it at the time you had the idea. I’ve had a few ideas fall into that trap, and in the end, they were lost to history.

If you know for a fact that by just sitting down you can knock out a piece that you’ll be happy with, if you know you’re ready for it, sit down and do it.

Trap #2: Money Shouldn’t Be the Only Motivation

Being able to make money off your art is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only motivation. I wrote a while ago that part of art has become merchandising, and that’s still true. Munny dolls, t-shirt designs, posters… they all are artistic venues and statements. In the end, though, if you’re going into art to make money, you will be sadly disappointed.

Trap #3: Forcing an Idea instead of Allowing Them to Come

This is a tricky trap, because it isn’t so much a trap as it is a skill. One thing I mentioned was that I wanted to get more consistent with my art, and the best, if not only, way to do that is by drawing a lot. Sometimes you’ll get an idea, put on paper, and spend a ton of time on it and it just won’t work. Sometimes you’ll knock out a piece and not be thrilled with it but it works.

The main thing is to realize when a piece isn’t working and to let it grow. If you’re spending 20 hours on a piece and all you have is the basics and it isn’t going anywhere… let it go. Move on. Maybe the piece isn’t meant to be, or maybe you need to go back to it later down the line.

Trap #4: Listening to Nothing but Praise

This is the easiest trap to fall into, and its also the easiest to realize… but it can be the hardest to escape sometimes.

Imagine going to a place where no one is really that creative. They don’t draw, they just kinda live, work, and die. You come along and you have some talent (maybe not a ton, but some) and your immediately praised for your talent and skilled. You’re thrilled with it, happy to get it, and all you do is get positive feedback. Imagine how much it would suck to go up to a major magazine, show them your stuff, and finally be told the obvious: You’re not that good.

I LOVE getting praise for my work! We all do! But to grow as an artist, no matter what your skill level, you need to take the bad with the good.

I grow incredibly suspicious whenever I don’t hear a negative criticism for a long period of time about my work. At the same time, it can get to a point where when you do hear one from someone you know and trust, yet are getting praised from everyone else, that you don’t know what to think. You need to be your harshest critic, and even online you may get more praise than you could expect.

Go on forums, get feedback, and learn how to improve. Remember: Even the best artists still get negative reviews.

Trap #5: Listening to the Critics Too Much

Listening to too many peoples opinions can actually be detrimental to a piece of art, or anything, really. Sometimes your vision and idea is actually right. Imagine if the guys in Metallica listened and decided to turn down the volume of the guitars and not play so damn fast. Metal as we know it would not even exist!

If someone is telling you that you draw too much of the same stuff (in my case, skulls, Satan, and tits), leverage that against what you want to do. Maybe that’s just what you enjoy right now and maybe that’s just what you do.

It can even get to a point where you rely on critics to finish a piece or even start one! I, sadly, fell hard into that one and it can be incredibly hard to get out of it.

Trap #6: Not Taking Any Time to Relax!!!!!

Get out of your house, go out, watch a movie, TV, read a book… just don’t spend all your time working! The reason you were so creative int he first place was because you took in the world around you. Well, if your world is just creating, its hard to do anything else outside of that. Get out, have some fun, and live!

Wacom Tablet Pen Pressure not Working in Photoshop? Here’s an Easy Fix!

Step One: Shut Down Photoshop
Step Two: Unplug your Wacom Tablet
Step Three: Reconnect your Wacom Tablet
Step Four: Turn on Photoshop

Now, if you’re still having problems, you may want to check and see it its your tablet, or try restarting your computer. If that doesn’t help, I recommend contacting Wacom and getting support.

Photo Courtesy of About.com

The Joys of PHP Coding

Back in 2002 when I first started building websites using raw HTML, I never would have imagined I would know what I do now about coding and building websites. I’ve written in the past about CSS coding, and its astounding how much I’ve learned in the last year alone about it! Not quite a CSS Ninja, but a disciple none the less.

Now, I’m learning PHP.

What is PHP? In essence, its original purpose was to help create Personal Home Pages. Its since become a way to create dynamic content that you wouldn’t be able to do with raw HTML.

Let me give you a quick rundown of why I love PHP and what this post is going to deal with:

PHP is, without a doubt, one of the easiest scripting languages to pick-up, and one of the most interesting. Mind you, I’ve worked with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (albeit lightly with Java), and PHP is one of the easiest… after you learn a few things. PHP was created in 19954 from a hybrid of C Programming Language and Common Gateway Interface, and is written in a way that is very similar to, well, common everyday language.

Let me give you an example.

Say you want to add a copyright year to your page, but don’t like the idea of having to change it on a yearly basis because you will, most likely, simply forget its there. With PHP, you can easily add some code and you’re set!

The code can be seen here.

One of my favorite, easiest, and the most convenient uses of PHP is a time saver. Say you have a a header for your website with a ton of coding in it as well as links. If you’re like me, you may run into the problem of misspelling a link. With PHP, you can actually streamline it all and simply put your header into a new PHP document!

Take your header coding and put it into a new document called “header.php”. From there, delete the text in your original document with this: .

Now when you need to change your header, all you need to do is change the one page. You can do that with any page that tends to have static

Tips for Upcoming Web Designers

OK, I’m far enough along to announce this: There is a new website in the works.

Its not a revision of my current site; its a brand-new, never did it before site. And it is going to rock!

I just want to add this for all the upcoming designers and coders. Here are some tips for always staying fresh:

  1. ALWAYS do something different for every site you do! Back in 2008 when I redid my personal website, I broke out of my habit of using HTML Tables for the entire layout of my site and switched to CSS. This time, I’m learning how to use Javascript and PHP.
  2. DON’T always follow the heard. It’s tempting and easy, but don’t. I’ve written about my hatred of Web 2.0 a lot. It isn’t about the technology, but how bland it is. Be daring and exciting, and more people will come to your site!
  3. Learn a lot about SEO! I was talking to a friend about naming conventions and if they meant anything to SEO. In terms of CSS coding, it doesn’t, but name your images and pages what they are. And read SEO 2.0! GREAT blog!
  4. Learn some new web technology! Its smart to stay ahead of the curve, or at the very least, start catching up with everyone else. HTML 5 is coming soon, and so is CSS3. Learn some and start building your sites around them.
  5. Take a Break! If you’re like me, you can’t stand not working on a web site project until its done. Make sure you get up, have fun, and enjoy life!

Well that’s all I have for now. Stay strong and Happy New Year!

After 11 Years, I Finally Found my Drawing Style… For Now

Well, it took 11 years, but I finally found a drawing style that I think works.

What am I talking about?

When I was 13, I had been drawing for about 3 years. At that point, I was just copying drawings of cartoons in magazines and I had both run out of things to copy and reached a point where I wanted to express myself personally. Over 11 years, I sketched, painted, inked, and got into habits and routines I enjoyed to create and crank out pieces.

What I mean by “I found my style” is that I finally found a way of drawing at my desk that works really well for me.

I’ve spent the last 2 years doing a lot of sketching in my sketch books, and I’ve found starting with a 2H for sketching, a hard lead pencil, that I can lay out everything I need. I went from using Ticonderoga 2B pencils to simply using a Papermate 2B Mechanical Pencil. I’ve found that, in the end, it makes sense since my finished tend to be fairly matriculate.

Today, I added something else that made sense to use a million times before: A 4B pencil for the outline. Since a large number of pieces I do have a thick black line around them, using a really soft lead to get the line weight makes a lot of sense.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I ink my work now, so combined with this, I feel really confident in my work to a degree I haven’t in years!

I want to give some advice to anyone who reads this and is struggling with sitting at their desk and drawing: Don’t give up. I spent years having an on-again off-again love with my drawing desk, and for me it was because I couldn’t get the same sense of emotion in a finished piece that I did with a sketch. My advice to you? Experiment, experiment, EXPERIMENT! Don’t give up, keep on trying, and keep going until you find something that works for you.

Rejection: How I Learned how to Deal With It

When it comes to rejection, I would joke I’m the king of it, but I’m really not. It isn’t because I’ve been turned down a lot in the past… its because I’ve been too afraid to even ask.

Then again, I’m talking about women. In this case, we’re talking about art, and that’s a different beast all together.

The best way to describe where I am as an artist is “just starting out”. It feels like a kick in my ass whenever I say it, but it is where it is. I guess in college I was an “educated amateur” and in high school I was “that crazy kid who draws and carries an orange tool box.” I’ve had one high-profile job, but otherwise its been odd-jobs. It’s getting to the point where I’m seeing what I can only call an actual demand for my work as an illustrator/artist instead of a graphic designer. Then again, this is actually about being both.

Rejection. It isn’t fun. Getting where I am now wasn’t even, and its basically the top of the bottom.

What I Learned about Philadelphia on First Friday

In a previous post, I outlined, in very blunt terms, what I thought about the Philadelphia Art Scene and why, in turn, I despised it.

Last night I did my 3rd First Friday and my second of the year, and it was really interesting seeing people react to my art. I was surrounded by basically what you would expect: Framed photos of buildings, silk-screen t-shirts with abstract designs, and hand-made prints. Across the street from me was Geek Boy Press, setup not too far from Brave New World’s comic book shop who was holding the “8-Bit and Beyond” show for the Autumn Society.

Then… there was me.

I was set up next to Christ Church, mainly because it was the last spot I could get on the lower-half of 2nd Street. Since my pallet is mostly primary colors… well, it’s hard to miss me. I had all my prints mounted and on display, and the star of it all was my “False Messiah” piece hung in the recessed side of the church, creating a sort of alter for it. Reaction was generally positive, and whenever anyone asked what the piece meant, I was able to explain it pretty easily. I was a showman through-and-through, doing my best to sell myself and personality to people who were interested in my work, giving out my card and whatnot.

It was refreshing. The previous month I felt largely ignored, but looking back, it was largely because I wasn’t on a good side of the street more than anything else. Getting positive feedback is good, ad even negative works well. I had some lady say, “You suck!” because of my Obama piece and then run off. Coward.

I came back home to a bunch of hits on my website and some e-mails. I’ve gotten a few requests to do gallery shows in the coming months, some for interviews, and from people who liked my work and wanted to buy prints. Working since February on my art show in May was a big deal and June was a fairly quiet month in comparison. In a lot of ways, it was the only month I had off and now I’m doing as much stuff as possible.

I wrote in the pass that the Philadelphia Art Scene annoyed me for one reason or another and, in reality, I now see what the problem is. I learned that it isn’t the art scene that’s the problem. No, that isn’t it. The problem isn’t with the galleries, either, and I’m willing to admit off the bat that I haven’t tried to do a “gallery” gallery show yet since I don’t have the money to get Gicelle Prints and a lot of fancy things. No, the problem is with what certain people think is “good” when, in reality, they seem to be out out touch with what people like.

People like a pop-artist who will tell them to their face that the person they admire suck and is willing to actually be himself. Who knew?