Monthly Archives: May 2011

Looking at the Past

I came across a bunch very old illustrations the other day, and thought, man, I would not recognize this as my work, compared to what I do today. Here take a look. (Happy Reed? Pictures! Also forgive any formatting issues. Since these blog entries are as I think of them I don’t take much time to try and re-size images and such.)

These are part of a series done for Reeling, the Chicago GLBT film festival. They got a lot of attention and people really liked them. So much that someone ripped off the style for several brochures, and people thought I had done the illustrations. To bad I didn’t, because more then likely, the person who ripped me off got paid. I did this for free for the exposure. I didn’t get any work from this.

I was very proud of these at the time. They were the best work I had done at the time. I can still see elements of these in my current work.

My friend was working at Chicago Magazine, handling the entire online website. This was back before the internet started killing magazines and newspapers. Chicago Magazine didn’t support the online site then. It was just her, and she had no budget, no direction to take the site. It barely served as a, whats happening. So she asked me to do these tiny illustrations for the site. For free. I thought, at least I can say I have worked for Chicago Magazine, and maybe I might get to network to get some work in the actual magazine. But that didn’t happen.

For a while I worked at a company that did corporate communications, mainly newsletters, brochures and more. Sometimes, they wanted illustrations. My boss never wanted to spend money of art and graphics, which was good for me, since it fell to me to come up with illustrations.

I really don’t know what I was trying to do with the shape of the heads. These were for a brochure about hospital credentialing. Back then, computers had these giant, thick monitors, that took up your whole desk!

Oh hey! One of the first illustrations I got paid for. For Lakeland Boating (I still do illustrations for them). It was about how the head (bathroom) on boats often can be left…messy. I wrote a dirty limerick on the wall, and thought I had smudge it enough. I didn’t, but thankfully they caught it before it went to print. I don’t do that anymore. (Here I sit, broken hearted, came to shit and only farted, in case you were wondering.)

Back then, I did  lot of work with actual materials, and would have to send them in to be scanned. The good thing about that, is you can work in different ways. Like this for an article about Morse Code.

I did it on scratch board. I really liked it. So did the editor. So much he kept the original art and never sent it back. Nor did he offer me any money for the original art. Yeah, people actually do that. A contract prevents that.

However, this did lead to me doing a series of these of skeletons. A friend of a friend opened a small knick knack shop, and wanted artists to put their work up for commission. So I did a bunch, and they sold. The first few that sold she gave me my share. The rest, she kept all of it, because her shop wasn’t doing well, and needed the money.

Come to think of it, she was friends of the editor that kept the image above. Another good reason for going digital, or at least only delivering digital. And contracts

These are some images that I did that were not for clients, but just myself.



It’s always interesting to look back. I also found a disk with all these illustrations I did for this interactive CD a bank put out to help people prepare to take a test to get their real estate license. There were 3 of us doing the illustrations, and a 4th guy doing all the photo researching. I think there was over 500 illustrations that were needed. I was working for a company that was doing the CD for the bank. I never dealt with the person at the bank, but we always got to hear her feedback. Like, I don’t like the color green. So what about the illustrations about lawn care and such? She also didn’t like red. Or bright blues. In fact, she doesn’t like primary colors.

So the color palette eventually became grays, beiges, purples, light baby blue, and where appropriate, some greens.  She also so everything as sexual and violence towards women.

I honestly can’t say what I think about my old work. I can say my skill has improved a lot.

Common Elements

When I make friends with other artists who are at some stage of their professional careers, I get very curious about how they feel their success happened, and one thing that seems very common, is networking with other artists. Mainly the ability to get feedback, and idea’s and learn. Being an artists seems to be an ever learning process, which I am fine with.

But I also think successful artists also have a way of approaching making art as a professional that sets them apart from those that end up not being successful.

I’m also not much on the, Do What you Love, and the Money Will Follow kind of people. While their might be some truth to that, I know lots of people that did what they loved, and the money didn’t follow and they eventually had to give up. And not all of these people lacked a drive to make it.

But, I do think some of the ones that gave up, had unrealistic expectation of what success would be. I’ve heard many artists talk about the one thing that would do it for them. But, it’s never really about one thing. Everything is built on something else. I had good success with Kool Aid Gets Fired, but I don’t want to try and make a whole career off that one comic. I’ve had good success as an illustrator, but I’m only as good as my last piece. I’m not looking for that one image that will make everyone flock to my door.

I’ve known artists that get very negative when something they did, is well received, but doesn’t lead to other things. Kool Aid was well received, but i don’t think I’ve gotten any other work from it. It does help to show my level of ability and that I can write and draw a whole book. And that’s enough for me, honestly.

So, if people Do What They Love, and the money does follow, I think it’s because they don’t spend to much time worrying about if what they are doing is going to make them money. Yes, in this day and age, you have to worry about money. No one really likes living in a shack, with dirty cloths and eating garbage food because that’s all you can afford. But again, it’s not about that either.

For example, right now, I’ve agreed to be the weekly illustrator for a local magazine in NY. 3 drawings a week, for the Whats Coming up section. The pay isn’t on level with normal illo jobs, the magazine, while having a good profile, isn’t making money hand over fist it’s self. But, I’m getting to do 3 drawings a week, that require me to stretch my abilities, focus on getting the work done fast without hacking. I’m also trying to expand my style a bit, as I change my thought process in how I approach things.

Current work in progress, for Next Magazine

After a few months, I expect that I will see significant improvements in my art, and the speed at which I work. I will feel more confident in my choices. I didn’t mind the low pay, because the challenge of doing this is worth it to me. So, I’m getting paid in a way that doesn’t pay the rent, buy food or clean my clothes in any serious way. That’s ok. I’m investing in myself. I’m willing to take the ten years to see if it pays off.

I’ve been working at being an illustrator, for about 2 years now, and I really focus more on doing the work, finding the work and making the next piece better then the piece before it. When I don’t have any work to do, I draw and try and push my work into new directions. When the checks come, they come. It doesn’t matter that this drawing paid me $600, took the same or less time then this drawing that paid me $100. I gave them both my best work.

I know many artists who insist that you should always try for the $600 jobs. I do. But I take the $100 jobs too. I take the jobs, because what it really means to me, right now, is a chance to draw, with a focus and a goal and end to work towards. It means I have to trust the choices I make, and it means I get a chance to put my brain to work and see if I can come up with a great idea. It means I’m doing what I love, regardless of the money, because I’m actually trying to get something out of it that is more important then money.

Another thing I hear people say is that they tried for a few years, and things didn’t happen. I wish I had the link, but studies show, people who try and make it in the creative service industries, get successful in 12 years on average. By successful, they mean to the point where they can pick and choose the projects they want to work on, or pitch the projects they want bigger companies to invest in. And that on average, it takes about 3-5 years to get to the point where you are getting the kind of work you want. I’m lucky, I’m getting some of that now. But I still take what is called Meat and Potatos work.

I worked many years as a production artist for publishing companies. Now I work part time, from time to time, for companies that staff up when they have a lot of work and down when they don’t. It works out great for me, as it gives me more then enough money to get by, money to set aside for the lean times, and more then two days a week for my own work, or any illustration work. I work towards having to do less and less of that kind of work.

Also, I don’t take not getting work as a set back either. An actor I knew, gave up acting, after not getting a part. The way he tells the story, it was down to him and one other person. The other person got it, because they were friends of the marketing person for the theater company. I have no idea how he knew that, and I even asked, and the best answer he could give is, I just know it. The way he tells the story, is that he did A, B, C, like you are supposed to, and so he should have gotten the part.

But the thing is, that’s how the entertainment industry works. It’s partially how the commercial art industry works. It’s how a lot of industries work. It’s not the only way it works, but it’s foolish to think other wise. It’s also foolish to give up on what you want to because of one show you didn’t get the part to. And in the actors case, he was only in his early 30’s when it happened. It wasn’t like he hadn’t gotten shows or worked as a professional actor/singer before that. In fact he had. What bothered him, this was a big show. Would it have been a career maker? Who knows. It’s what I was saying earlier about not expecting the world from one piece.

To me, it just means I’m moving closer to success. I at least made it that far. What do I need to do next time to make it farther? Or in my case, what do I need to add it my art to make it better then last time.

That’s what I’m focused on. Not how big a check I’m getting.