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How I Got Here., Or, How I went from being a regular dude to getting paid to draw.
Fred Lang
post Feb 28 2012, 06:16 PM
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I posted this on my DA page. I relate the following story not because I'm awesome, but because it's proof that if a retired cop can get work in the biz, you can, too. I'd like to add Bill Nichols and Ron Fortier as inductees into the "Fred Hall of Fame" for their support along the way--and continued support as I keep kicking down doors as a freelancer looking for work...!

"How I Got Here"

In January 2009, after 15 years of near-complete artist's block, I started drawing again. First just scribbles of super-heroes, monsters, whatever. And I found that, for the first time ever, that horrible internal critic that would scream inside my head "THAT SUCKS, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING--YOU'LL NEVER BE ANY GOOD AT THIS. FORGET ART, GO DO SOMETHING ELSE LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE!" whenever I'd try to draw...was gone.

For some reason, my long-time internal torturer just left the building. Maybe it's because I'd changed in the 15 years I was blocked. Maybe I just got tired of the negativity, and it eventually burned itself out. No idea.

But there I was, drawing...and it was fun again. I mean, really FUN. Like "I'm 12, lying on my bedroom floor with a pad of cheap paper and pens drawing because it's awesome to have TIE Fighters shooting unicorns" fun. So I kept doing it.

I sheepishly reassembled my drafting table (which had been in storage in pieces, the metal hardware in a plastic Zip-Loc baggie taped to its underside with a strip of silver duct tape), bought a new drafting lamp, and really got into it.

I found DeviantART within a few weeks, and began posting my stuff. Some folks liked it, and I got my first watchers. That was really strange--someone wanted to keep an eye on my work? Neat! Now I was really enthusiastic--so I started to practice, practice, practice...

Then a pro or two started watching me. Wow! Actual Marvel / DC guys saying hello, commenting on my work, and occasionally sending a Note or two. They say that, with a few years' work, I might just be on to something that I could get paid for. Amazing...!

By January 2010, with a year of dedicated practice behind me (in between real life and my full-time job), I was pretty happy with where things were going. I could step back and honestly say that my work was as good as the mid- to low-end artists who were getting paid to draw stuff for a living.

I had a series of long talks with my wife, and we seriously discussed the possibility of my going for it--trying to make it as an artist as a living. It was a big decision.

I was in my 15th year as a cop--a lieutenant in the Houston Police Department, to be exact. I had a nice office, weekends off, a brand-new black Chevy Impala with a police radio that I got to drive for free, free gas, and all the perks that come with government work at that level. I was five years from full retirement. Five years, and I could coast out of there with everything I'd worked so hard for since my first day as a cadet.

But I wasn't happy. Not really happy at all, in fact. I wasn't bad at my job--heck, I was pretty good at it. But it held zero satisfaction for me most of the time, and it began to show. I was turning 40, and I had to ask myself if I had it in me to jump out of this well-paid comfort zone to try my hand in this very competitive art environment--an environment full of talented kids that had gone to art universities, that hadn't spend the last 15 years avoiding art altogether--could I compete against these white-hot, talented wunderkids? I mean, damn--I'm kind of old to be starting a new career like this...

After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I simply had to try. I could not look back on my life and wonder forever what it would have been like if I hadn't played it safe. The burning question would haunt me forever if I didn't give everything I had to making a go of this.

So we did it. My wife found a new job, I resigned from the police department with a deferred retirement package and a nice stack of investments, and we moved from Houston, Texas to San Francisco, California (my wife's hometown) so that I could concentrate on nothing but getting better at art while living in the greatest city in the United States.

That was June 15, 2010. I gave myself 18 months to at least have some firm bites that might lead to real work. I had no "Plan B". It was succeed or nothing. Thanks to the support and advice of a few great pros, I was able to zero in on some things I really needed to work on in order to succeed. It was like having the Jedi Council giving you the inside track on how to get into the industry.

In March of 2011, I was confident enough to bring samples of my comic book penciling work to Emerald City Comic Con, and I got some great critiques and generally favorable reviews of my work. Marvel's V.P. of Talent, C.B. Cebulski, liked my stuff enough to send me home with his business card and three try-out scripts, telling me he'd like to see what I could do on a "team" book for Marvel if my stuff was up to it in the samples.

Amazing! Now, it wasn't a job offer, but if Marvel's Talent Guy says you don't suck, hey--that's something, right?

While working on those sample pages at home, I very accidentally stumbled on another opportunity. While playing World of Warcraft, I found myself chatting in group while healing about my excited Marvel possibilities, and dreaming of one day penciling Star Wars for Dark Horse. One of the guys in the group perked up and asked, "If you could draw Marvel all day or Star Wars all day, what would you choose?" My answer: "I love Marvel, I love super-heroes, but I love Star Wars even more than that." To which he answered, "Good answer--because I'm the Creative Director for Star Wars at Hasbro." He asked for a portfolio link, I gave him one (with a few new Star Wars pieces thrown in, of course), and within a few days, I'd signed a contract to work for Hasbro's Christmas 2012 Star Wars line. It was unreal, I tell you...

SIDE NOTE: This proves that you NEVER know who you're talking to, so be nice as much as possible. Jump on a message board and be an ass, and you might have blown an opportunity you'll never know you missed. I guarantee that I'm not going to toss work to any artist, no matter how awesome or perfect for the job, if they're bad to work with or show bad attitudes online. No way I'm going to dump that drama on anyone I respect--period. Think about that...

So, even though I know that C.B. Cebulski probably hands out lots of his cards to aspiring artists and I likely wouldn't be missed, I still e-mailed him immediately upon deciding to take the Hasbro job so that he wouldn't think I'd just left him hanging (which I felt would have been very unprofessional). He was extremely gracious, wished me well in my Hasbro work, and told me he'd be happy working with me again later if our paths met again. So great--no bridges burned there!

I've been working for Hasbro on and off ever since.

Now, what Hasbro has me doing is primarily line work--which I would then send off to my DA buddy Eddy Swan in Australia for colors. (It's always cool to use any excuse to get your talented buddies work--and both my talent level in color and the deadline did not allow for me to do all the artwork myself!). But the real meat of commercial illustration is full-color digital painting. That's the mother lode.

So I'm working hard right now to get out of my niche of being the "line work guy" and trying as hard as possible to move into full digital paints as my medium of choice. This will open up tons more work all over the place, so it's absolutely the way to go for me.

The guy who hired me at Hasbro invited me to Hasbro HQ to show my portfolio to all of the Department Heads and other creative folks in June, so I'll be flying out there to spend a day in my very own reserved conference room with copies of my digital paint portfolio, shaking hands and meeting folks in hopes of drumming up some consistent work from the Big H beyond the occasional stuff I get from Star Wars and Nerf.

So that's where things are now. 3 months and 30 days from now (according to the countdown app that's running on my Mac Pro's desktop), I'll be at Hasbro HQ showing my stuff.

Which means I have to get back to practicing. I'm putting in 12-hour days every day in order to hopefully climb the mountain of digital painting information and practice I'll need to make the trip a success.

Freelance illustration is the hardest job I've ever had. Not the most dangerous, certainly--but I've never been so tested as a person than I have while running as fast as I can to get good enough to keep getting hired.

And I wouldn't change a single damned minute of it. Not one.

I'm addicted.

Back to work...

--Fred

This post has been edited by Fred Lang: Feb 28 2012, 06:19 PM


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John Dixon
post Feb 28 2012, 07:45 PM
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Fred,

Thank you for your story.. It is very inspiring.

I am in EXACTLY the same boat. I have 16 years in a gov level job. I have not really drawn anything for about 12-15 years and I now know what I want to be when I grow up.

Plus I am a Disabled Veteran that has back, neck and knee problems and have filed for disability retirement from my current job.

I want to draw! But I have found that what I really want to do is Ink drawings! I love inking and until I get my drawing skills up to par, I think inking is my way to go. I would give anything to be able to ink professionally and I grew up as a Star Wars fanatic.

Thank you again for your inspirational story. It gives hope to an oldie but a newbie.

Please look at my posts here and also at jtdixon.deviantart.com.

Any words of wisdom or criticism would be an honor.

This post has been edited by John Dixon: Feb 28 2012, 09:10 PM


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Bill Nichols
post Feb 28 2012, 08:05 PM
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Fred,
You already know that no matter what, you have our support and my friendship. You're someone I can show someone who needs a push to go for it in their own creative lives. I'd say 'Keep at it', but I already know you will.
Always your bud,
Bill


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Carl Shinyama
post Feb 28 2012, 08:06 PM
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Fantastic story Fred! Thanks for sharing.
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Gonzogoose
post Feb 29 2012, 04:04 AM
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Very inspiring story, Fred, thanks for sharing. It's amazing to me anytime I read things like this as it gives hope to all those out there that feel like they're banging their heads against slammed doors and brick walls. It's always nice to see a dream fulfilled.


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Ron Fortier
post Feb 29 2012, 08:20 AM
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This is one of those stories I never ever tire of listening to. Because, I love stories where the good guys win and we have a happy but ending. biggrin.gif I am especially taken by your decency and good manners. A smile and good manners opens all kinds of doors, my parent taught me long ago, and that still hold true to this day.
Still a honor to be your pal.

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Lexia
post Mar 12 2012, 09:55 PM
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good good story =3 glade its coming together for you actually that makes me happy ^-^

But I am like you I dun think mines would ever get off lol >.> but I been told I can write up good stories so I may try that route over all and do art as I do it for now, fun fun fun and let stories do all the work ^-^


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HdE
post Apr 16 2012, 08:50 PM
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Inspiring stuff, Fred!

Might I say: your success is a testament to your hard work and genial personality - not to mention that you're one talented hombre!

Loved your side point about the World Of Warcraft session, too. You have NO idea how many talented guys and gals I've encountered who preclude themselves from doing anything by the way they conduct themselves. The importance fo politeness and good personal skills cannot be understated.

Hope everything continues to work out for you, man!


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uphillbrian
post Apr 16 2012, 09:14 PM
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Amen fred. You've always been someone I've looked up to. Your ability and humility have always been beyond admirable. Thumbs up and huge amounts of good fortune i shower upon thee!


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Fred Lang
post Apr 17 2012, 06:05 AM
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Thanks again, all! I've had a bit of a downer two weeks, so I needed this pick-me-up.

Sometimes it's good to remember everything that's happened so far even if you're the guy that wrote it!

/digitalpaintbrushsalute!


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Anthony Hochrein
post Apr 17 2012, 06:25 AM
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Wow! Yours is an inspiring story and one every would be comic book artist would love to experience!! I've been feeling pretty bummed about my future in this industry but I know I have a ways to go before I can even think of approaching the editors of the big three, or even an AD from a game company.


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HdE
post Apr 17 2012, 10:27 AM
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QUOTE (Fred Lang @ Apr 17 2012, 06:05 AM) *
Thanks again, all! I've had a bit of a downer two weeks, so I needed this pick-me-up.


I can relate.

If it helps, my way of dealing with that is to reflect on what's been accomplished as opposed to all the reasons why things look grim or aren't fun at that precise moment. it's surprising how easily our view of those things becomes unbalanced.

Some folks deserve success. You're one of 'em. Keep doing what you're doing, sir.


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Greg G.
post Apr 23 2012, 05:04 AM
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Good read Fred.

Your commitment to getting it done is evident from your output, and something a lot of pencil jockeys need to recognize and follow. I'm including myself in that equation. It's way easy to imagine those kick ass Green Lantern pin-ups I want to draw and hawk on eBay; but it's another thing entirely to sit down after work and draw them.

A lot of folks like to whine about not getting recognition they feel they deserve, but what are you doing to deserve it? I look online and your strip is ended. I check your DA gallery and it hasn't been updated in months. If you're not working the angles, why should anybody give a damn folks? I follow a number of pros on Twitter and some just consistently hit it out of the park, e.g. Todd Nauck always posts con sketches in his Twitter feed. It's fun to see him crank these things out and it just keeps his name out there and generates interest in his work.

Rather than folks ask "Why aren't people paying attention to me? I'm me! I'm great. My family tells me I'm great!", they should stop and ponder - what aren't you doing to gain that recognition?

Reading the reprint of Andrew Loomis's Figure Drawing for All It's Worth hit me with some crazy Jedi mind tricks in the opening of the book:

QUOTE
I not only assume that my reader is interested in drawing but that he wishes from his toes up to become an efficient and self-supporting craftsman. I assume that the desire to express yourself with pen and pencil is not only urgent but almost undeniable, and that you feel you must do something about it. I feel that talent means little unless coupled with an insatiable desire to give an excellent personal demonstration of ability.


POW! Down for the 10 count at page 15. WTF Loomis?!

Question: How much did having a supportive wife factor into your jump? Meaning if you weren't married, would you still have taken the leap? Being married and on good terms offers a safety net for a lot of artists I've spoken with at conventions.


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