Tag Archives: sketching

Get Involved, some how.

I can credit part of my freelance work because I got involved with a figure drawing group. I came to the group when a friend asked me to go with her to a Meetup group that met in Central Park to draw. I looked through the other members profiles, to get a sense of the people in the group. I found a couple figure drawing groups, so I signed up for those. I have to admit, I was nervous about going to my first session. The guy who started it was running it from his in home studio, and is a pretty amazing artist.

I went, drew and felt good about it, even though I knew my skills were pretty rusty. I think it was also a right-time thing. I had been let go from my job in March, and had decided I would make sure that my unemployment, was FUNemployment, and really de-rust my skills and build them up. I talk a lot about goals. At that time it was improve my drawing skills. I know in the year since then I’ve achieved both those skills. If I hadn’t gotten involved with something outside of myself, I don’t know where I would have ended up.

I’m a firm believer that drawing is the base skills for most art. I also have a very open mind to what a successful drawing is. Looking “right” is subjective. However, the ability to convey your idea’s visually, and to work them out is really what going to the figure drawing group is about for me.

At first it was every other week, then we moved to a bigger space and it was every week, thanks to Kristen who worked with the artists who owned the studio. The owner went to China or Europe for a few months, so we found a new place. Jeff who had been coming to the group, offered his place. But after a few months, we outgrew that. One of the people coming (Liam) started organizing Saturday meetings, every other week. This week, Marc and I went shopping for stuff we need for the new stage the group has taken on. A professional space we are paying for. The money comes from the people who attend, it covers the cost of the models and space.

Around this time, I was reading a book, My So Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman, which was recommended to me by a fellow cartoonists, Monica Gallagher. The book is more about changing the way you think about freelancing, rather then what you should be doing as a freelancer, such as mailings. One of the things it talks about, which I’ve written about, networking. Basically just finding people who want to do what you do.

Getting involved in the drawing group got me several new friends, who want to do the same thing as me, making a living off our creativity. We are all at various stages of that. So any of us can ask someone for advice or give advice. We formed our own network.

You don’t have to get as involved as I did. But doing something art related can’t hurt. I recommend groups more geared towards professionals. Don’t worry if you don’t see yourself as a pro yet. If your goal is to make a living as an artists of some sort, get in there with them. You also don’t have to find a group that does specifically what you do. If you want to be a cartoonist, you don’t have to find a cartoon drawing group. Chances are you aren’t going to find that.

Our group says we are for professionals and people serious about improving their life drawing skills. I’ve been asked how we determine that. We really don’t make any judgment about that. People come, if they feel it’s a good fit, they keep coming back, if they don’t, they find a group they like better. We are a fun group, but we are serious about what we do, and I think both come across during the sessions.

If you are worried about someone looking at you and saying your not a professional, only a real jerk is going to do that, and who wants to be around those people? If you are worried about people thinking you aren’t that good, going will soon change their mind as you get better. Like I said, when I first went, I was rusty and was worried what people would think.

Doing art is often a solitary act. But as artists it’s so important to interact with other artists. From going to this group I would say I’ve gotten the following out of it:

Better Drawing Skills
A network of fellow artists
Self Confidence to be a freelancer
More resources
New friends

There was some good timing and maybe a little bit of luck involved. I signed up for two figure drawing groups, both being run by talented artists. I only made it to one of the groups. What if I had went to the other one, and it clicked as well as this one did?

There is another factor that had nothing to do with timing or luck, which came from me, and that was my willingness to get involved, and following through. Looking back, some of what I did, seemed very natural to me, even though it wasn’t anything I had done before. But also looking back, I can see why in the past it had trouble trying to be a freelancer, be an artists and be the person I knew I was.

If you find yourself struggling and maybe a little isolated, get involved.

Going for the wow. (Not World of Warcraft)

One goal of mine as a freelancer is maintaining clients, getting them to keep using me. It’s not always possible, because their need for your services might be far and few. Either way, frequent illustrator-users, or non-frequent, wowing your client is a must I feel.

Don’t hack. If you take on a project, try your best. I recently worked with a client that probably won’t have a reason to hire me again, but if the chance comes along where they need my style of art again, I know they will come right back to me, no questions asked. Not only that, I’m sure if anyone they know needs my style of art, I’m going to be recommended. One of my best compliments came from this project, were I was told that it was the most professional and impressive leave behind they had done in 12 years.

So I was happy that I was living up to a goal of mine. I hadn’t always done that in the past.

I used to do some map illustrations for a boating magazine, which a friend was the managing editor. When he left the magazine, I thought, there goes that. But he left my name as a resource for maps, and in January, the new editor called to see if I had time to do a map. She asked if I did anything else, I said “Yes, I’m primarily an illustrator.” She looked at my work online, liked what she saw, and gave me an article to illustrate.

She loved the illustration so much, she’s given me more each month. On average I do one map and two illustrations. Each one has been well received. I’ve spent anywhere between 4-6 hours, which includes sketching and pencils, on them. I’m also able to charge a little more then what my friend was willing to pay.

By doing the best work I could, I’ve ensured a long working relationship with this magazine. I billed them $600.oo last year, which is about 5 total illustrations, which were simple ones. That’s about 1 every two months. I’m now doing on average 3 each month, and for more money.

I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.

There are things you can do to help make a client very pleased with you. I’ve always been an open communicator, it comes easy to me. I often hear art directors list lack of communication as something that turns them off with an artists. Mainly, they want to be kept up to date on whats going on. And if you have questions, send them. Unless you are asking hundreds of questions, I find people generally like answering questions.

I also start on the project as soon as possible. This was something I was very bad at. Oh, it’s not due for 4 weeks, and I wouldn’t start anything for 3 weeks. I start any given project the moment I can. If I get work, and I’m not working on another client’s project, I start right on that.

Several good things come from this I have found. One, ideas have more time to develop making them better and flesh them out while they consider the thumbnails. Then while I’m doing pencils, I can plan out in my head how I may tackle each particular section of the illustration for the final. How much details I may have to give any part, compared to the other, and color composition.

Also, the client thinks I’m on top and super excited to be working on the project, which I am. I may have 4 weeks, and know it will only take 1 total, why not get it done now? If more work comes in, I can take it on, knowing I can re-arrange my work load. I don’t like it when work piles up, because of me.

I also follow through on everything the client asks, so long as they are within reason. Since I always layout the terms of the work flow for each project, we can stay within them. I come across as friendly, but focused, which makes them understand that I’m open to stepping outside the agreement we have, so long as they understand what that means in terms of money. And, I don’t try and angle requests to always fall within the outline extra charges.

When I worked in a retail store, the store hired the handyman husband of one of the employees to do some sprucing up of the store. He hadn’t worked in months and the store hired him partly as a favor to the employee, but it became clear he was trying to milk the store for every penny he could, with ridiculous claims of what wasn’t covered in their agreement. He got them for an extra $400 above the estimate in the end. He also would never be able to work for the store in the capacity again, and certainly wouldn’t get a good reference or recommendation from them. His lost.

All my agreements say that changes to final art costs $XX.oo. If I get a change after I deliver final art, I weigh the request against charging this. Because if the change is minor, say a correction they missed, or a mistake, and it won’t take more then 10 minutes or so, I’m doing it for free. Basically I set out my terms, and then going off of that, see where I can give the client a little more then what they are expecting. So long as I’m not robbing myself. And I never charge a client to fix my mistakes. When I worked as a production artists in publishing I don’t know how many vendors would bill us the hours it took to fix their mistakes.

I have learned not to count the hours I work on any given piece so long as I am working within the deadlines. I’m mindful of the time I spend on a piece vs the amount I am getting. If I’m getting $150 for a spot illustration, and I end up spending 7 hours on it, but making an amazing piece, that will end up in my portfolio, I’m taking 7 hours, even though that means I just made around $21.oo an hour. I believe having amazing wow pieces to put in my portfolio has an investment in myself and future work.

There are lots of ways to get additional work, which generally results in a few extra jobs a year, and you really shouldn’t plan your business strategy on them. To date, I’ve gotten 1 job from a friend telling a client that I would be better suited for the project. I’ve gotten more jobs from just doing good work and people recommending me. Doing an amazing job on every piece has never failed to pay off in some manner. It can be more work from the same client, it could someone new seeing it and hiring me, or getting the attention of fellow illustrators increasing my network, and finally the most important one, improving my skills as an artist.

I’ve always had good work ethics, and when I started adding in a stronger, Get-It-Started and Do-Better-Then-the-Client-Expects attitude, things really started to fall into place. Good work is key, and I feel that how you interact with your clients, is part of that good work. It’s just as much my job to make them happy as it is to do good artwork.


“I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.”

A few days after writing and posting this, a client asked me if I had time to do more work for them. This time it was a normal illustration, plus 5 smaller illustrations to go with the article. I came up with a price, broke down what that price included. The editor came back and said, she was going over the budget to see where she was.

I replied I am open to going a little lower, because I was really excited about doing the illustrations. She replied back:

“I would love to do all as outlined originally, but I don’t expect you to cut your price like that. I value your work and know it’s totally worth the $”

It’s always great to hear that, and know that by doing your best possible, you have earned someones respect.

Putting practice into action

Picasso was in a park when a women approached him and asked him to draw her portrait.

Picasso agrees and quickly sketches her.

After handing the sketch to her, she is pleased with the likeness and asked how much she owed to him.

Picasso replied, $5,000.

The women screamed, “But it only took you five minutes!”

“No madam, it took me all my life.” Replied Picasso.

Recently my idea of what it means to be an artist/writer/dancer/actor/musician has changed. To be an artist/writer/dancer/actor/musician you must always practice your passion. Only the rare prodigy comes forth as a fully functional artist. The rest of us talented folk have to sharpen our skills. For me being a cartoonist means drawing all the time, and not just comics. Drawing sharpens my eye and hand. Much how you learned to write your letters, drawing them over and over, till now it’s so built into you, you don’t even realize it.

I’ve mentioned that I attend a weekly figure drawing session. (if you live in or near Brooklyn, I suggest checking it out.) It’s been about a year, and I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my figure drawing. Other benefits I’ve seen is I’m able to sketch out a layout or a thumbnail for an illustration idea quicker and cleaner. That kind of benefits comes over time, and is some what passive, it just happens.

I’m in the middle of a project (which I got with the help of my good friend, Marc, an amazing artist), working on the pencils. I’ve got a lot of reference material on the human figure, which I refer to, when doing action poses. But one panel, I really didn’t need to refer to anything, because I knew how the figure was going to look. It was a straight forward shot of the character busting out of the ropes holding him. I knew how the shoulders connected into the pecs, where the line between them and the biceps would be, how the arm would connect to the chest.

I’ve drawn similar poses in the course of the drawing session. What I had been practicing, I was putting into action, in an active way. It was very clear that what I was doing in the drawing sessions was having a direct impact on what I was doing, both passively and actively. It was pretty cool to have a moment where I could see both happening.

Some one once asked me, “Does anyone ever get good enough to not have to use references?” I seriously doubt it, save for the prodigy mentioned earlier, or people who draw the same thing over and over. And even then, all that happens is that you probably rely less and less on reference material for what you know. But if you have to draw something such as Washington Square Park, wouldn’t you look at a picture?

Also, this project has been a good one for re-evaluating my composition. Take the above image again. That is not how I originally drew the inset panel. This is how I drew it:

How boring. Very boring. The same idea is in both, that hasn’t changed, but how I executed the idea has changed. This in fact happened several times. One panel in particular, I redrew about 5 times, over the course of many hours. I had a lot of trouble finding a pose to reference* that I really liked. Eventually I found something that lead me to the final solution.

For me, being a cartoonist and illustrator doesn’t mean that I make money doing that. It means the way I think about it, the way I approach it. I need to always look for ways to expand my talents, what I know, and the information I can bring to each project. Being an illustrator/cartoonist is more then a full time job, since all the work I do to be a better illustrator isn’t done for direct pay, and comes on my own time, after the time spent on paying work.

*When I reference an image, for me that doesn’t mean copying it, but using it for a guide on how things line up on the body. Especially for hands and feet.

The return of Kool Aid and more

Today, I’m officially having Kool Aid Gets Fired professionally printed. And I have time to add the short illustrated story about his bastard child I want to. Pushing the book up from 28 pages to 40. because of getting a lot of work lately, I was worried if I would have time include the new story. I felt that I should include something more for the official printing.

Here is color test of his son I did, as I was working out the look I wanted for the illustrations.

I’m very pleased at how this came out, for only spending a couple of hours on it. If you haven’t read Kool Aid Gets Fired, I’m not spoiling much. There’s plenty in the book to look forward.

The books should be in my hands by April 2nd, and will go for $5 each, which you will be able to order through here (Plus shipping), or if you come to one of the several conventions I’m going to, get it there. Of course, I will be posting more info as it comes along and gets closer.