How I Got Here., Or, How I went from being a regular dude to getting paid to draw.
How I Got Here., Or, How I went from being a regular dude to getting paid to draw.
Feb 28 2012, 06:16 PM
Joined: 15-October 10
From: San Francisco, CA
Member No.: 19,590
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.
Back to work...
This post has been edited by Fred Lang: Feb 28 2012, 06:19 PM
Owner and Creator at PixelFigs
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