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So You Want To Be An Artist part deux

So if you got this far I assume you must have decided that you really do want to be an artist. Truth be told its kind of a trick question. Artist really don’t get to choose. For some people its just what you are.

Anyway the question of how to become a successful one still stands. Unless you were born a genius prodigy  ” pretty rare ”  you will need training to make it work. In the old days ” art history here ” talented youth mostly wealthy later sons of wealthy families ” the one who didn’t get sent to the church and weren’t suitable for the military ” would be apprenticed to a master artist for years to learn the fundamentals and become an artist. Thankfully today education is a lot more available and less creepy. The training you need depends greatly on your ultimate goal but the fundamentals are the same for pretty much any artistic career path. As I mentioned in the first post the basics include

  • drawing ” sketching “
  • painting ” mixing of paint and use of tools, materials etc…
  • color theory ” understanding how color works and how to control it in your work “
  • composition and basic design principles
  • perspective ” the method you use to show 3D form on a 2D medium
  • figure drawing ” human and animal anatomy “

Theres more to this but by the time you have mastered these basics you will be well on your way to specialized training where you can expand upon what you know and add the specific skills needed for you discipline. Designers will follow a different path then say illustrators or Graphics Specialist.

Throughout the process you will be working with computers, printers, scanners photographic equipment etc… The current and future artist / Designer must be up to speed on all the industry standard equipment and technologies software packages etc. that you can. As somebody who came to the computer late in my development I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. When I began working things were still being done mostly by hand, I made the transition to digital art about 2 years after graduation. Luckily thanks to my good friend Mat, I bought a Mac Clone the last term at school and he and I kind of taught ourselves Photoshop… I had friends who were already mastering serious 3D and animation software at the time, if I could do it all over I would spend the time down in that computer lab!

Anyway at this point its not even a question you will be using computers to produce most professional work.

Where to get your training is the real question and my answer is from many sources. While your still in high school take advantage of your schools arts programs. The more you learn early on the faster you can develop and the more enjoyable the process will be.

Here are some things to look at using in your training plan. Art of any type is not a cheap undertaking, unless you have the good fortune of well heeled parents you’re going to need to be strategic in your planning.

Make use of as much free or cheap training as you possibly can.

  • The library can be an amazing resource. look for classes and workshops. For example here in Orlando the downtown library offers training in beginner and advanced 2D and 3D graphics. For the price of the workshop which is just a few bucks you have access to thousands of dollars worth of equipment and an instructor.
  • art clubs and local artist associations.Almost every city is going to have some local artist. Connect with them, the advice and help they can provide is priceless
  • Online instruction sites and youtube. You tube is packed with an insane amount of tutorials and videos to teach you pretty much anything your interested in. Not all of its great but a surprising amount of it is very professionally produced and presented by working artist . Thats unbeatable! Then you have sites like Udemy and Skillshare that offer even more training for a very reasonable amount of money.
  • Artist blogs and podcast, I don’t do tutorials maybe some day I will but there are good artist that do. These people are sharing their knowledge and experience for a multitude of reasons. Its inspiring and instructive here are a few of the ones I watch
  • Fung Zhu Design, this guys work is amazing, he went to ACCD a few years before me…
  • Trent Kaniuga art Video Blog – I found this guy while trying to figure out some function in Sketchbook Pro my favorite sketch app which also happens to be free 😛
  • Bob Ross – This may be ancient history but the guy still has something to say…
  • Blender Basics – good 3D tutorials even for an old guy like me
  • The Craftsman – I am not sure how to describe this show? But the guy is a lot of fun and full of great info especially for being creative on a budget…

Point of this is that there are an almost unbelievable sources for artist to learn new things online. This didn’t exist 20 years ago when I was a student. Be sure to take advantage of it.

Back to the core question should you go to school?

You don’t actually have too! I work right now next to an incredible artist for Universal Creative that as far as I know is self taught. He’s at the top of his game in fact most of the marketing art you have seen for Universal Studios theme park is his work so…  At the same time most people do not have that particular brand of self discipline so you will most likely need some instruction.

On to School

Try your local community college. You will be amazed to find that some amazing artist instruct at Community college. Its a fraction of the cost and you can usually transfer your units to an expensive school if thats your ultimate goal. Do as much of your undergrad work here as is available. You don’t want to be paying Art School tuition for basic english and history classes if you can avoid it.

While your preparing the undergrad stuff really start to narrow down what kind of program you want. Not all schools are created equal and one school might be great for illustration and really weak for Graphic Design. Ask around and find the school you will really like.

Remember there are public Universities with great art programs which will be much easier on the budget.

My opinion is that dedicated Art Schools are a positive thing for an aspiring artist but not necessarily for the reasons you see on their marketing materials.

Some things to consider

  • Art School can be extremely expensive ” think $100,000 plus for any top rated school ” and realize that when you graduate that bill comes due ” more on this later “
  • It takes self discipline. Everybody thinks ” from the outside ” that artist because they love their work have it easy. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Being involved creatively is exhausting physically mentally and emotionally. Outside of my time in the Navy I have never worked harder then I did at ACCD…
  • Some schools are a rip off ” Trump University anyone “
  • Some schools do not prepare you for the real world of Art / Design ” Theres more to being a successful artist then the quality of your work “

For the top schools you’re talking private institutions and they aren’t cheap… Choose this route and you will be hit with a bill that in other schools lands you a doctor or Lawyers credentials. It was the same for me but at this point probably 2 to 3 times more money… Remember that point about getting all the classes you can before heading to the expensive school?

Scholarships and grants can help, they are hard to get but if your serious about it they can make the impossible, possible. Take advantage or whatever programs you can. For example, If you happen to be a young Latina who’s interested in design, think of applying for a program where most applicants are males like product or transportation design. The school and whatever industries support them will jump at the chance to help you… Don’t be too proud this is going to be tough enough…

Make sure to check with the school you want to complete your training with to find out what their requirements are. They will help you if you ask…

One of the main benefits you can receive from attending a top end school is the name recognition of the school. Its hard to pinpoint exactly but there is definitely an effect on potential employers. Top schools also require you to compete for placement. Competition is good and if you approach it positively it will make you a better artist / designer / whatever…

Access to the latest technology and techniques is also a factor ” this is especially true for people working with heavy computer driven industries like 3D graphics or animation

Obviously the best schools should have the best instructors. Look for schools that use working professional as teachers. There is nothing wrong with dedicated teachers but  the people actually doing the work in the market are the true experts.

And finally your peers. In my experience you will actually learn more from your classmates then most of your instructors. Not to mention you are building your network. Believe me when I tell you it matters who you know! In my experience the vast majority of the work I have done comes through people I know not necessarily classmates but some of them are in there too. Your network is a vital part of your artistic career…

Some examples of high end schools, this is by no means an exhaustive list but it should help to make a start

Rhode Island School of Design

Art Center College of Design

Cal Arts


University of Cincinnati College of Architecture

Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

A note on financial realities. If you are like most people you are going to need to consider your budget and the cost of your education versus its benefit. I speak from experience here, I had no money and no support other then my GI bill which lasted me all of one term at school. I applied for and won a half scholarship and then increased it through a review process. Its the only way I could ever have gone to ACCD. I also was a completely naive about money and credit etc… I literally knew nothing as with my background it just wasn’t available.

I applied for credit cards ” they specifically target students or at least they did back in the 90s.”  Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t living large I just used the money to pay for supplies and live, the problem comes later when its time to pay it back.

A few things to consider

Your education may end up costing way more then you will realistically earn when it comes time to start paying that loan. A great teacher we had Andy Ogden told us this in our 2nd term. He said when he graduated in the 1980’s he owed $50,000 and got hired as a designer for Honda at a salary of $45,000. He then said ” we ” would graduate owing around $ 100,000 and if we were lucky get a job paying $ 45,000… That was in 1994…

Andy wasn’t wrong, his point was that if you are in this career for the money you’re in the wrong place. Keep in mind that over time you will earn more money as you progress but this is not like being a lawyer or a plastic surgeon. Theres a reason we have the term ” starving artist ”

do this because you  love it and it will be a great life. Do it to get rich and you may be disappointed.

Credit and loans can be a great tool but you should treat them like the deadly objects they are. Only take out what you really need and be frugal. As an example use cheaper art supplies in the beginning. There is a difference between a Windsor Newton series 7 brush and a cheaper alternate but as a student you will not get the benefit. Save your money and buy the other supplies you will need 😛

Series 7 – about 350 bucks for 4 brushes

I really do not mean to scare anyone off or depress you, I simply wish someone had taken the time to explain some of this to me when I was starting out.

” learn from the mistakes of others, you will not live long enough to make them all yourself ” Eleanor Roosevelt…

Frank Abagnale is an FBI agent that was also a successful con man. His life story became a feature film and a number of TV series.Here is a link to the youtube video

Catch Me If You Can


I suggest anyone should watch. Its entertaining and highly informative. Well worth an hour of your time. The first part is the mans personal life story which is pretty amazing the second part is most important how to make credit work for you…

Some final thoughts on how to get the most out of your training

  • Be open to direction, whether as a student or in the real world you will need to accept direction. Listen with attention and if necessary take notes, address those notes immediately in your work, this will help establish a positive respectful relationship between you and your instructor / director. This makes it possible for open communication…
  • Learn to accept and give criticism. Critique is necessary if you want to excel at anything. Critique should be given and received as a positive. This is how we learn to push ourselves to become better. Try to accept critique without emotional reaction, remember it’s not about you it’s about the work… at the same time be ready to defend your design decisions, you don’t always prevail but part of being an artist is believing in your vision. I have found a good way to start this to always look first for what is good in something, this sets a positive tone and helps others hear your ideas without getting defensive.
  • Do not fall in love with your work. ” this is particularly important early on.” Unless you are working solely for your own purpose you need to not get too emotionally attached to things as they develop. In the end your work is for someone else and needs to fulfill their desire not yours. Over time you will become better at this, it’s one of the hardest things to do for an artist…
  • Recognize your strengths and the areas you need to develop
  • Be aware of your peers efforts and work to compete with them but do not base everything on this alone. In the end your only real competition is yourself. Becoming a good / great artist is a long process. Do not get down on yourself for perceived shortcomings or become overly confident at imagined strength.

That was a lot and there’s a ton more I could say but hopefully this is enough to help you start making some plans…

More to follow


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