Hi John, great blog! I was wondering how you get pumped up enough to start new projects. During projects I can work steadily and easily without too much pain, but as it gets to be finished I start to dread it because that means that I will need to start a new project and for some reason, for two or three days before I can get into the work I find myself procrastinating and goofing off. Once I finally make myself sit down and work it is ok, but what do you usually do between projects? Thanks
Man, I uh, pretty much do the same thing. I think it’s not so much starting up on a new project, it’s mostly ramping down after I finish one.
The day after I finish a project, unless there’s another deadline bearing down on me, I don’t do anything illustration related at all. I usually go run, dick around on the net, catch up on other stuff, and then grab a bite/drink with a friend in the evening.
I wish I had more continuity and could flow from project to project more efficiently, but like you said, for some reason I just don’t. This will probably change when I go back to school in the fall, as I won’t have any choice then.
So like, I answer most of these to the best of my ability, and I think the overall picture that’s conveyed is that I’m this illustrator dude who has answers. But, I have things that I struggle with and definite gaps in my process just like everyone. One of the great thing about all these asks is that I have to sit down and put it all down in writing.
For the last 3 years or so, I’ve been addicted to Field Notes books. They’re the perfect size to throw in your back pocket, their design is always really nice, and it’s made in the US. Every time they send out an e-mail blast with a new edition, I almost always cave and buy a pack.
Awhile ago, they had an "Expedition" edition that was supposed to be weatherized for adverse conditions, like arctic exploration or something. It’s kind of gimmicky, but I’m a sucker and picked a couple packs up.
It has this weird, synthetic paper that I thought was mineral paper at first, and it would always frustrate me because none of my pens would ever dry on it. I ended up just using Sharpies on it almost exclusively.
Then I randomly read the back, and it said they’re made with Yupo synthetic paper— this triggered something from back at the Academy where Ted Kinsella said he used Yupo and Nupastel a lot in his preliminaries. He liked it because it’s easy to get values down, and you can do transfers and all sorts of neat stuff with it.
So then I switched over to a drafting pencil that I never use, and bam, drawing in these things is just a joy now. These sketches from the Redbirds game and Otherlands today aren’t very good, but I like that sometimes you get a “huh” moment by simply just doing stuff differently.
"Whatever changes have occurred are merely reflections of society in general. A little more sex and violence; a lot less mom and apple pie. As documented in this Annual, we are in the business of showing the world what it’s about. We all like to believe we are marching to a different drum, when, in point of fact, we just stumble differently."
Some decompression doodles— It’s been a pretty busy work week so far. And while it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it immensely, sometimes when I’m forced to draw a certain way, part of me just wants to never draw that way ever again. What’s that about?
Tomer Hanuka, 40, talks about the dream of every illustrator, how to tell a story in a picture and what made him decide to return to Israel after 17 years in New York.
“So why this obsession to illustrate? I think it’s because I’m afraid to grow up to be the person I think I was supposed to be. Or at least what the army personnel officer and most of my high-school teachers promised I would be: no one.”
So, a tumblr-er named Jamie got a hold of me to do his album art. He basically wanted this drawing, but of him. I had time to do it, so I said sure—drew up a contract and sent it over.
He looked over it, signed, and sent back; no questions. Then, he paid me up front in full!
Jamie, I hope your album wins a Grammy because you were seriously like the best client ever. Illustrators around the world thank you.
Edit- While it shouldn’t matter, Jamie is Canadian. I guess the stereotypes about nice Canadians are true?
You say that we should express our personal voice rather than focusing on style. How do you feel about experimentation with people's technique/style? I don't want to limit myself to my own comfortable way of working, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to mimic theirs, but I would want to reach the levels of people who are succeeding in the field.
Top- James Montgomery Flagg. Bottom- Charles Dana Gibson
I have no problem with imitating other people’s styles initially. How many of us started drawing in earnest because we wanted to replicate a comic book, or an animated show? I remember some of my very first drawings were trying to redraw the Battle of Endor or Samus Aran’s spaceship. When I first got out of school, I ripped off James Jean on a daily basis.
I’d posit that this manner of investigation is not wholly separate from distinguishing yourself through your voice though. Copying other people’s styles is a great way to get inside their head and figure out not only how they solve problems design-wise, but also how they execute it technically. It’s why art schools around the world assign master copies as homework. It gets you out of your own skin for a bit, and is a good way to get more “tools in your toolbox” technically.
What it will never do though, is give you “success.” I think this quote from Austin Briggs is especially relevant here. Even if you were able to expertly recreate every stroke, every line, every nuance of someone else’s style, you will always be, by definition, a second-rate copy of them. You cannot BE them, and therefore you can never replicate their motivations, ideas, and inspirations. And even worse than that: you are ignoring your own.
James Montgomery Flagg was one of several artists who made a living undercutting Charles Dana Gibson’s distinctive pen and ink style in the early 1900s. He did it for years; as Gibson’s popularity soared, so did his prices, and Flagg filled a lower-tier niche.
Does that in any way affect Gibson’s legacy as one of the most influential American illustrators of the early 20th century? Absolutely not. Would it have affected Flagg’s legacy if that’s all he did with his career? You bet. Lucky for us, and for Flagg, he was talented and driven enough to eventually do his own thing, which resulted in one of the most iconic images in American history.
Learn what you can from others and be happy when they do well. But at the end of the day, you are your own person. Success is an illusion, and it almost never means what you think it means.