Update: This has been updated for re-bloggable form
Thank you so much for the kind thought and words :) I can relate to how you feel. I unfortunately don’t plan on having any sort of “apprenticeship” set up for the near future, but here are some of my thoughts that may or may not help you. Sorry for the long read.
I completely understand your feeling of “Man, look at how high that ladder goes and how far the bars are from each other. This is going to be hard, and I can’t possibly reach the next bar without some help”. I’ve been there too. I’m constantly sweating, looking for the next bar. The only difference is over time and with experience, you can change your view from being daunted and overwhelmed by trying to reach the next bar, to instead, embracing it and finding excitement out of the challenge.
When I worked at feature, my artistic abilities were no where close to where I wanted to see them at. I was horrible and I knew it and I wasn’t getting consistent design work. I saw so much amazing artwork happening around me at the studio. I wanted to grow to that level, but I wasn’t patient with myself. At that time, I had the opportunity to design full time for TV on Gravity Falls. I knew this opportunity would help challenge me to reaching my next bar. I had not yet been a full time character designer and was excited for the challenge. So for the sake of “I don’t want to sit here and wait for the next bar to present itself, if it even does”, while working at feature, I left it and took the TV job. I had a new bar in front of me, which is just what I was hoping for. Luckily I had Phil Rynda as a great inspiration to work with and push me. I struggled and doubted myself during the early stages of working on the show. I found Walt Stanchfield’s “Drawn to Life” books as a great resource that spelled out the fundamental tools of drawing very clearly. This was my guide for building up my draftsmanship which would be the next bar on my ladder to reach. I knew I wouldn’t improve in design if I didn’t build up a stronger draftsmanship.
If you take too many artistic goals on at the same time, then you will find yourself disappointed, defeated and confidence-blow. Take one challenge on at a time. My goal during that time was to become a better draftsman.
From constently practicing drawing, reading “Drawn to Life”, and analyzing Phil’s solid drawings, I improved my draftsmanship a bit. Once the show was in full swing and we had designed the cast, the look of the show and a few episodes, the challenge was sort of gone. My personal goal was kind of achieved. Now the job would just become wash, rinse, repeat for the remainder years of production. The thrill and challenge was over. Where to next? I had that unsettled urge happening again. Once I reached my next bar, work all of a sudden wasn’t fun because the artistic challenge that keeps artists creating, was gone. Sure, the deadlines were a challenge to meet, but the artistic challenge was dead. I really wanted to move on and find a job that challenged me in new ways. Unfortunately, jobs aren’t always there to be had. So I had to say screw it and remind myself that Gravity Falls doesn’t own my artistic passion. I have to keep pushing myself beyond what the show can provide.
So to gleam anything from that long personal anecdote, always keep higher goals for yourself than what’s expected of you. Don’t let a job’s demands keep you from personally growing.
In regards to injecting “appeal” into your drawings, it’s kind of hard to teach. I feel like natural appeal stems from the art that has influenced and surrounded us over the course of our lives. Not to say it can’t be taught, but I personally feel like appeal comes through surrounding yourself with what you personally find appealing and shutting out the not so appealing. My influences have primarily been the early years of Disney Animation. Osmosis happens in art and is REAL. Be careful how you use it.
The internet just loves pretty girl drawings. Don’t get caught in that trap if you want to have a broad visual vocabulary. Girl drawings will almost always have appeal, but it’s a big cheat because women are very appealing naturally. Try to make an old man look appealing.
Learning doesn’t end at school. Once you’re out of school, you have to reach for that next bar for yourself without help. I know this may sound harsh, but it’s something every artist has to face. The things that will make you grow are surrounding yourself with the work of artists whom you respect. SET A HIGH BAR. Don’t look at work like mine or other artists just beginning their careers. Go to the source that influences THEM, then dig deeper. Not to say that modern artists and designers aren’t as skilled, but there are a lot of corners you can cut and cheats you can take nowadays.
Young artists’ work on the internet like the Deviant Art world is incestuous. It’s hard to be of that internet group and culture and stand out from others. It’s a mixing pot of lower artistic goals and less observed work. What I’m saying is broaden your influences. I know that looking at a slightly closer bar is very tempting and may seem like a more immediate and obtainable goal, but set your bar HIGH. Because the truth is, those who have a very high bar will keep growing beyond what they’re producing now. If you set your bar to their current level, then they will have long surpassed you once you’ve reached your goal.
Have opinions! Love stuff. Hate stuff. It’s totally fine to not like other’s artwork. This helps define what you are and what you create as an artist.
Develop a critical eye! Look at your work and compare to your goals. Be honest with yourself of how you are performing. If you’re not honest with yourself and your own work, you are stuck in the mud.
It’s OK to put your work out on the internet. The industry is changing. More eyes are on blogs, than stacks of portfolios. You have to stay relevant and on people’s radars. Sad, but true.
It’s very rare to find a job that will hire you based on potential in you and nurture and wait until you grow artistically. There’s so much competition out there and it’s rough. Why hire a weaker artist with potential, than a skilled artist ready to work?
Keep drawing and don’t give up. It’s HARD to get better. It’s hard to not want to give up at times, but you WILL get better. Don’t look down at the bumps you’re driving over. Look up at the horizon you’re heading towards.
Be Patient. Breakthroughs will come if you keep working towards your goals.
Don’t be too precious with your work. Keep ‘em coming. It’s totally ok to admire a personal breakthrough, just don’t stop too long to admire your accomplishments. Keep moving forward.
I know this is all a lot to take in and this is just from my personal experience. Some people’s goals are “I want to be a Storyboard artist for Disney” or “I want to be a director at Pixar.” Or whatever it is. While these are definitely a great and clear goals, Don’t think that the learning is over once you’ve obtained that goal. It’s great to have goals like those, but be careful of making them the final destination on your creative ladder. I’ve learned more from working professionally than I did at school and look forward to all I have yet to learn and grow from. Always keep surprising and pushing yourself beyond where you are today.
All in all, keep your head up, eyes on the horizon, don’t be afraid to hit the bumps along way, and be patient. And even though it’s very difficult, try to stay positive and have fun. As artists we have an amazing gift that most people don’t. Be thankful for it and use it to it’s full potential.
All the best and I hope to work with you in the future!
I’ve been wanting to post artwork on my tumblr that inspires me as well, but I want to keep that separate from my personal work. So I’ve started another tumblr called “Straights Against Curves” that I plan on updating consistently full of artwork (primarily from animation) that is a huge inspiration and influence to me along with my thoughts and opinions.
If you’re curious enough to follow along, here’s the link: StraightsAgainstCurves.tumblr.com