1) General questions about art, becoming an artist, and being an illustrator
How long have you been drawing?
The cliché answer: since I could hold a pencil. I’ve always liked to draw, and I simply never stopped. I started working with watercolours in 1995, when I was twenty, and started dabbling with Photoshop and Painter in 2002. I’ve been working almost exclusively with traditional media for several years again.
Do you use models and references for your work?
I use a wide variety of reference, but very loosely for any given image. Many poses and almost all faces that you see in my work are without ref. For difficult poses, I google or do reference shots myself. For faces of my original characters, I sometimes use celebrities or people I know as a general idea. For backgrounds, I use image search or my private library of pictures saved to my computer over the years. For horses, I have a small army of toy horses by the German company Schleich. They do terrifically realistic horses of all breeds in all sorts of poses. Wonderful reference. If only my daughter didn’t keep borrowing them.
How can I become good at drawing? Can you give me tips?
Most of the people who ask me this question seem to expect me to share a short cut, the one tutorial that’ll teach you to succeed magically, a secret only known to the initiated. The hard truth is: There is no such thing. Every single good artist in the world has become good because they worked hard, ran into walls, shook themselves, mended bruises, listened to advice, and carried on. And managed to keep up a love for what they did.
This means there is no one way that guarantees you’ll become a good artist. The good news is that there are many. All of them go via understanding. Classes help immensely, but if you’re prepared to work hard on your own, you can do without them.
I do not, incidentally, believe that talent has that much to do with it. Talent is what gives little kids a head start over their peers, and makes them keep drawing while those around them give it up. Talent is a tiny bit of practice hours that you may not need. But even the greatest talent won’t amount to much without practice. It probably helps your motivation to keep going, but not more than that.
How do you become an illustrator?
I’m afraid I don’t have a satisfactory answer for that either, as I never planned to become an illustrator, but am a teacher first and foremost. My gateway into being an illustrator was very much through a back door. I’m a teacher and still work as a teacher, too, and do what illustrating work I can on the side. Most of my clients find me through my online galleries I’ve had on the net for years now – since 2002/3 – and the first requests came in the same year. Usually, my clients contact me, not the other way round. That said, I don’t do a lot of high-profile work. My style and “look” isn’t really suitable for much of the concept-art heavy, very realistically rendered type of illustrations that’s prominent in Fantasy and games today. Most of my customers are private clients, who love mythical subject matter and Tolkien’s legendarium as much as I do.
Nevertheless, a few tips:
Get yourself out there. Show your work on artist sites and in well-presented online portfolios. Connect with other artists, show your face, make yourself known, and more importantly: make your style known.
Go to cons or book fairs and show your work. Talk to people who can look at your stuff and give you brutal critique because they already are in the biz, and who can be honest with you because they don’t know you. Talk to the people who offer the jobs, and ask them if their work is what they’re looking for. Also ask them why it’s not what they’re looking for. Don’t rely on the opinions of your family and friends. They will naturally tell you that you’re the best artist they’ve ever seen, and that’s probably true, but they’re not the ones whose opinion counts in that regard.