Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Should You Get a Master Degree?

-By Scott Bakal

Are you finding yourself pondering about going back to school for a Masters degree?

Frequently from students when I do lectures for illustration programs around the country and occasionally professionals as well, I am asked questions about going into a Masters program and whether it’s a good idea or not. It’s a topic sometimes revolving around a bad job market or fearful about making a living starting out as an illustrator and wondering if these sorts of degrees will help their chances getting work or help them improve as artists and illustrators. It’s a fair question.

My own story of how I decided to go into a Master’s program and which one I decided to select is complex and would require me to double the length of this post. If there is enough expressed interest, I may post about it. I spent years dismissing the thought of working toward anything higher beyond my BFA from School of Visual Arts. I finally made a decision when many variables lined up properly and it made sense to seek out a program and I choose one that would work for me.

These are some of the various questions I’ve collected that I’ve been often asked. Hopefully, this will help give some light on different facets of the decision to move forward and how to choose a program. If there are other questions, I will try to answer them in the comments below.

Do I need a Master's Degree as an illustrator?

No, of course not. There are many artists that lack even Bachelor Degrees who have done quite well as illustrators.

When teaching, I tell students that they will likely go through their entire life as an illustrator and not a single client will ask about their grades or their schooling. If they do, it’s probably more conversational than a test. Art buyers want to see good work and a history of doing good work. Your art is what is going to get you hired, not the degree.

I’m not suggesting undergraduate or graduate education is pointless. A new artist does have to learn their craft somewhere if other sources are unavailable. In most cases, there just isn’t enough information to high school students or from their families to go out and find other educational angles to achieve the same goal outside the norm.

Do I need a Master's Degree as a new illustrator?

Many students are thinking about going right into Master's programs as they finish walking across the stage to collect their BFA degree. I’m often surprised about this. My usual comment about this is ‘before you jump right into a Master's Program, are you sure you want to be or are even going to be an illustrator?’ I often get a giggle when I say this but it is a very important question, especially when we see the realities of how many illustration students do NOT remain illustrators.

I've recently spoke to someone I've known for a long while and she was a graduate from a top 10 art school.  She got a full-time job in a related field in New York City while she got her act together to start illustrating.  After a few years seeing first hand how the business works, she told me that she was going to end up in another field other than illustration.  She met too many illustrators that just couldn’t earn enough and she wanted to, and I quote: “have a normal life…and that requires money”.

My usual recommendation for any student just leaving an undergrad program is to wait a couple of years and make sure that it’s where you want to be before you incur additional student loans which is a consideration and part of the equation.

There are exceptions to the rule. Everyone has his or her own path. I know quite a few current illustrators that went right from BFA to MFA and are doing well. But, I could count them on two hands compared to the thousands that graduate every year who don’t do well.

I might want to teach. Do I need a Master's Degree to be a teacher?

The simple answer is no. The complex one is ‘maybe’.

At many schools around the country like my alma mater, School of Visual Arts; most teachers don’t need Master’s degrees because they are all considered ‘adjuncts’ at the school and professional experience is more important than a degree. To be an adjunct, a terminal degree is generally not needed. Also, a school like SVA is a private school so that system can be more flexible. It gets tricky if you want to teach at a university or state school. In those cases, yes, there may be rules in place that require all teachers, full time or even adjunct to have a Master’s. Some private schools are getting stricter about this rule as well because of rising accreditation standards.

If you want to teach full time, then most likely, yes, you’ll need a Master’s degree. At the very least you may need to sign up for an MFA program as part of the terms to getting hired. To reiterate, it’s largely dependent on the school and their policies.

In short: a Master’s degree is becoming more and more important for getting hired as a teacher. If you want to have a wide range of possibilities and choices in selecting where you work if you decide to teach, then a Master’s is probably the best way to go.

But then you have to ask the question...

Do I even want to teach?

Teaching is not for everyone. Oddly, I’ve had conversations with illustrators who wanted to get a Master’s for teaching but never taught. I know artists who discovered they do not have the patience for teaching and/or academic environments. I strongly recommend teaching as an adjunct at one or two schools for a few years before making any decisions about an MFA for teaching purposes.

Which program should I sign up for?

Each program runs on its own logic and has its own strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t too many major MFA in Illustration programs out there so it should be fairly easy for anyone to research, visit and figure out what they want as artists and what the program can offer to fulfill those needs.

There were two schools I was considering and each offered what I wanted in different ways but for one of the programs, I would have had to be there consistently every week for the entire duration of the program. That was a problem. I’ve been away from the ‘student lifestyle’ and working as an illustrator for 10 years when I decided to go for it. I had life expenses that would require me to continue working so cutting any income out just couldn’t happen.

I decided on a ‘Low Residency’ program after honing it down to two schools. I chose the University of Hartford. NOTE: I actually started at Syracuse University but finished in Hartford – another complex story for another time.

The ‘Low Residency’ model is meant to be a program for working illustrators and considered a ‘professional’ program. This means applicants are preferred to have (but not a rule) 5-10 years experience working in the field. Coming into that program, it was usually under the assumption that you had a significant client base and understood the business already. It’s not necessarily a program of drawing and painting classes either. If you want to improve on that, you certainly could but most wanted to expand themselves creatively in their own way and develop their businesses.

Figuring out what you want for yourself is very important and will help dictate which program you enter and whether it fulfills those needs. Do you want to improve artistically? Improve your business? Expand your teaching role? Each program tackles each of those questions differently. Being honest about yourself and what you want to improve in yourself will not only help dictate a program that works for you, but define what you want to leave a program with.

When I started a program a little over 10 years being a working illustrator, I was very keenly aware of what I needed and wanted to get out of a program which drove me to make sure that I got the education I wanted. This knowledge and experience made the costs and time commitment worth it.

Reflecting back 10 years since I started the MFA program, I can say that it was one of the best choices I’ve made as an illustrator.

If you’d like ask other questions, I’ll try to answer them in the comments below.

Scott Bakal is an award-winning illustrator, including being honored with the 3x3 Magazine’s Illustrator/Educator of the Year. He is an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Website: http://www.scottbakal.com

Monday, July 27, 2015

Some Basics About Publishing Part 5

Above: Rebecca Guay funded her art book via Kickstarter and the results were far beyond what may have been possible if it had been available from a traditional publisher. It's simply too "deluxe" for it to have been produced the same way for the mass market. This Wednesday (July 29) she's going to have a "flash sale" for the remaining copies she has on hand: hit this link for details.

by Arnie Fenner

Doing It Yourself

Everybody these days seems to be using Kickstarter (or some other crowd-funding method) to finance their self-published art books. I had briefly mentioned KS in an earlier post so I thought I'd take a shotgun approach to discuss a few additional points.

Let's assume you've got a book you're aching to do and for one reason or another you've decided to forego pitching it to a publisher and plan to print it yourself with the help of a few hundred on-line supporters. I guess the first thing to do is hit this link and familiarize yourself with the process…

Read it? Great. Now you've learned that not every project proposed to Kickstarter gets accepted (they have to make a profit after all) and not every accepted project gets funded. Like everything else in life, there are no guarantees. Beyond that there are some key things to think about:
  • First, the most humbling question to ask yourself straight out of the gate is: Do people actually want a book of my art? Have I created a body of work people will pay to have preserved between covers? Do I have the rights to publish the art in a book? (Remember my previous post about copyright and Fair Use: you are legally responsible for everything you put into print so make sure what you include does not infringe on anyone else's rights.) Or, if I'm going to create new work for this project, have I built an interest in what I do for people to want more? And perhaps most importantly can I produce what I'm promising when I say I will? 
  • If your answers to the above questions are "yes," the next step is to do your research and figure out the details. Assuming scans are available of all the art, how many books am I planning to print and how much will it cost to print them? Am I going to sell extra copies printed above what's needed to satisfy my obligation to supporters and what will be the retail price? Who will print them (domestic or overseas)? Who will design the book, me or will I have to hire someone (if you've never designed a book before, there's a lot to it)? How long will it take to deliver a finished product to backers? How much will it cost to ship them to backers? Where will I purchase shipping materials (boxes, bubble wrap, etc.) and how much will they cost? And who is going to be doing all of that packing and shipping? Believe me when I say that schlepping packages to the Post Office or UPS is awful and takes up a lot of time and energy. You have to plan how to handle every aspect of your project from initiating the idea to getting the finished product out the door, and that planning has to include the labor needed to get the job done. All of the negative costs have to be factored into the dollar figure you're hoping to raise if you want to avoid nasty surprises further down the road.

Above: The amount Brom & Flesk Publications raised for their book project set an impressive Kickstarter record (since broken, I think) that had the community buzzing and more than a few envious tongues clucking. What the jealous failed to comprehend was that Brom's huge international popularity and John Fleskes' savvy marketing are a rare combination; their success is incredibly hard to duplicate and shouldn't be a yardstick for your own project or color your expectations. 
  • Be realistic in the amount you're trying to raise. The goal is intended to cover the expense for doing your book, either simply or with as many bells & whistles as you can come up with. And, sure, if you can turn a profit from the git-go no one is going to seriously complain. But have a certain amount of humility and don't overreach if you want support. Many look at the success of the KS project for Brom's book a few years ago and figure, what the hell, I'll expect a quarter million, too! While anything's possible (look at the Potato Salad project) the thing to accept is…there's only one Gerald Brom and he is in a rarified position of respect, demand, and popularity. The rest of us ain't him. Keep your expectations modest and if you hit your goal, for God's sake be happy; anything extra is just icing on the cake.
  • Remember that there are fees attached to the funds raised. Kickstarter takes 5% of the gross and other processing fees can take up to another 5%—meaning that if your goal/production costs is $10,000 and you meet it (are "funded") at the end of the cycle, you're going to get $9000 not the whole $10K. Plan on seeking slightly more than what you'll need to produce your book so that you can cover the fees and don't come up short at the end.
  • Also remember that what you raise vida crowd-funding is not free money: it is income. The tax man will know exactly what you got and, at some point, will expect their cut, quite possibly at a higher tax rate than what you're used to. Every negative cost associated with your book/project is a business expense that can be deductions, but you'll have to keep receipts and account for everything to receive them come tax time.

Above: The Feds came down semi-hard ("hard" would have been jail) on Erik Chevalier after he failed to deliver on a game he successfully raised $122,874.00 via Kickstarter to produce. The government obtained a judgement against him for $111,793.71. As more incidents like this occur with crowdfunding, the penalties will probably increase as prosecutors get used to the process. Only C'thullu knows where the 71¢ came from.
  • You have to deliver. Duh. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, not everyone does and in the U.S. the Feds have started to crack down on deadbeats. There are repercussions for not giving people what they've paid for so be conscientious.
Hooray: you crowdfund, you publish, you deliver to your supporters, and you have extra copies to sell at conventions or through your website. But does that mean you'll now be able to hook up with a distributor and get your book into every bookstore and comic shop in the land?


Oh, sure, as I mentioned earlier anything is possible, but let me just say the odds aren't in your favor. You can most certainly hand-sell books "the old fashioned way" to local stores and independent retailers like, say, Bud Plant and Stuart Ng, at anywhere from 40% to 60% discount off the retail price, but the door to both national distributors and to national retail chains is closed no matter how popular you are or how good your book is.

Why? Well, distribution (like bookselling in the 21st Century) is…complicated…and tedious…and frustrating…and a post unto itself. Let me just say that chain bookstore buyers deal only with the sales representatives of distributors and professional publishers, not with individuals with one title to sell; likewise distributors only represent professional publishers with lines of product. It's all matters of accounting, tracking, profit, and quantity: dollars and sense (not cents). Distribution and mass bookselling are cumulative businesses not geared to—or profitable with—a single book that's been self-published. Entering into "onesy" agreements with individuals simply does not make financial sense.

Anyway, I guess the thing to take away from all this is that regardless of the way you've financed your book you have to treat it as a business—because that's precisely what it is, whether it's a one-time deal or the beginning of an empire. It's governed by the same rules and considerations as any business: research the market, pay attention to costs, get everything in writing, keep records. Too many have been overly optimistic with their expectations and wound up with a basement full of very pricey unsold paper. Be cautious when it comes to deciding on the quantity for your book: if it's successful, it's easy enough to go back to press.

And in case you're wondering if I have ever supported books via Kickstarter, I have indeed. Do I have reservations about the whole crowdfunding approach to publishing and self-publishing in general? Absolutely. Maybe I'll talk about them a bit sometime in the future. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Favorite Studio Tools: Bar Clamps

-By Dan dos Santos

There is a surprising amount of equipment in my studio that I use daily, much of which isn't even art related. I thought I would take the time to show a few more of my favorite studio tools that have become invaluable to my working process.

In my spare time, I enjoy woodworking, usually building bookshelves for the studio or some such thing. Any good woodworker can attest to the value of a good clamp, which is why I initially bought these Irwin 'Quick Grip' Bar Clamps.

These clamps have a mouth that can expand extremely wide, which makes it great for attaching to large pieces of furniture, like easels. The mouth closes via a trigger grip and closes quickly and easily to a amazingly fit. They also have rubber heads, which makes them gentle enough to use on art pieces without damaging the surface.

I have found them so useful, for so many things, that I've purchased a lot of them and use them for a multitude of tasks around the studio. I probably have 6 or so floating around, and I still never seem to have enough of them.

I use them most commonly to provide a rod support for paper towels so I can always have them within reach.

But I also use them to clamp large sheets of unstretched canvas to my drafting table.

Or I use them to sandwich watercolor paper flat while it dries.

Sometimes, I have guests in the studio who want to paint too, so I just clamp a light onto the spare easel.

But probably the most unexpected and helpful use I've found for them, is opening those stubborn wide mouth gesso containers. Once the paint seals those lids shut, you need to have the hands of a giant to twist them open. But the clamp makes for a wonderful lever, opening the lid with ease.

These clamps, or at least very similar ones, can be found at any good hardware store and are available in a variety of sizes, from just a few inches, to several feet in length. A medium sized one will cost you about $10, but I highly recommend getting a variety of sizes.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Art and Humor

Today's post is a little on the lighter side, though it still contains some wonderful art.  I am also hoping that it will be collaborative with you.  I am sharing some cartoons about art that I think are funny.  We can all use a little more humor in our lives these days.

Let's make this post a collection of great cartoons about art or artists.  If you have one to share, email it to me at artdrop@howardlyon.com or link in the comments and I will add it to the post!

I hope something here makes you smile today.  :)

by Pablo Helguera

by David Sipress

by Bill Watterson

by Bill Watterson

by Bill Watterson

by Mark Anderson

by John McPherson

by Gary Larson

by Gary Larson

by Chris Madden

by Mark Anderson

by Pablo Helguera

by J. di Chiarro

Don't forget to send me your favorite and I will add it to the post!

Howard Lyon

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dear Art Director

-By Lauren Panepinto

I have something fun to share with you today. A little experiment that the secret team of Art Directors at Drawn + Drafted have been working on. (Oh, you thought it was just me & Marc? Not by a long shot.) We've got a lot of projects in the works, from the Make Art Work book, to all the Art Business Bootcamps we've created, to revamping the convention portfolio review process at Spectrum, and we've started a little experiment to help us get a little audience participation. It will help us fine-tune the bootcamps and make sure the book is absolutely covering everything about art business you need to know to have a healthy career as an artist.

So what is this little project? it's called Dear Art Director. Or "Dear AD" for short. Modeled on the "Dear Abby"-style advice columns of old, this is a place where artists can ask all their questions, and a secret panel of Art Directors will answer them one by one. Why a secret panel? Because Art Directors tend to be nice, and we sometimes pull our punches when we talk to you. On Dear AD, we will be talking to you straight and unvarnished. It's as close as you will ever get to overhearing what ADs say when there aren't any artists around. We are going to be laying the heavy truthbombs on you. Be prepared! We may even get a little snarky. But we will lighten the blows with humorous gifs, in true tumblr style!

Ready to play? Check out all the questions and answers that have already been posted.

Then ask your question here.

There aren't any strict rules, but we have developed some friendly Do's and Don'ts during our trial run and first batch of questions:
—DO read the questions that have already been answered so you don't ask the same thing.
—DON'T get annoyed if you get a short answer, or a link to a relevant article.
—DO remember that the art directors are volunteering their time solely to help YOU, the artists.
—DON'T assume you know which code name goes with which art director (we're sneaky).
—DO get ready for a lot of Supernatural gifs.

We've gone outside of the Fantastic Art scene and recruited a number of art directors from The Real World, so answers may vary a bit due to whether that particular AD is from publishing, editorial, gaming, or another field. However, all the advice is applicable, and we are all sharing our notes.

We also have a snazzy custom header in the works, but for now you'll have to make due with my fabulous stock-art stylings. Enjoy!

Daaamn, we're off to a running start. Check out that archive for July posts!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Pyramid of Krakow

Greg Manchess

Another fine short story by Michael Swanwick in his series of The Mongolian Wizard for Tor.

When the series started, there were so many great visuals for the lead story that I drew scenes built of moments. When I stepped back to see what I was trying, I realized I was creating classic montages. An approach quite out-of-style in the illustration field for a very long time.

But I love reading and working on these visuals for art director, Irene Gallo. In discussions with her we realized that while different for the times, montage was the right format to allow the flexibility needed to move in sync with the ideas by Michael. When working with themes like gryphons, gargoyles, and a Werewolf Corps, one needs to be able to play with all of it. There are just so many great elements!

I read the story several times and chose images that I thought would be intriguing. I compiled a list and then started my thumbnails, adding elements from the list, and adjusting size relationships. 

The general approach to montage is to provide contrast in scale, color, and composition. Here I drew different sized pieces that related to the importance of the overall story. Obviously, the main character takes center-stage. He wears dark glasses in the story, disguised as a blind man.

I added wolf and gargoyle images, all played against a tiny night scene in Krakow. The key thing about montages is pulling things together tighter than you think. Elements that bleed in and out of one another add not only interest, but a pathway through the moments depicted. In other words, I crumped the pieces together.

The thumb I chose needed a few adjustments. I’m constantly refining the overall shape and the way the piece lays on the page. On a separate sheet I quickly re-sketched the elements, projecting the thumb so I could move them around until they fit the way I wanted them. Once I liked it, I scanned and projected that sketch to my prepared board and lightly drew the outlines in blue pencil. This was my skeleton sketch; my guide.

From there I projected my drawings of a couple elements, plus a shot I took of a gargoyle (from Notre Dame while traveling in Paris), and a daylight shot of Krakow which I changed to night. I freely drew under the projector to get the energy from the thumbs back into the final drawing, still making subtle adjustments as I went.

To seal the drawing to prevent my oil paint from cutting through the graphite and colored pencil, I mixed copious amounts of three to four colors of acrylics. This stage is always a little scary as it is very direct and tenuous. The paint must go down quickly, but heavy enough to cover. For a while, the drawing disappears.

The pigment must also move around and blend before it dries. Sometimes this is nearly impossible, as the thinner layers set up fast, and also because I’m freaking impatient. But if I stay frosty, I can manhandle the way it flows by tilting the board, and by quickly blending colors in and out with several charged brushes. I have to work in a hurry.

It’s a nightmare, and then it lives. Or rather…I live with it. I must allow the pigment to do what it wants while I guide it and simultaneously accept what it gives me. Some passages don’t occur the way I see them in my head, but then other things happen that are revelatory. Such is the process.

Once this layer dries, I dive back in with thin oil washes, wait for them to set up, and then lay in the opaque strokes. At this stage, I can blend and stroke, bleed things into other elements and pop other places for contrast. For example, the wet street versus the lights in the small city scene.

I love montage. I don’t care whether it’s out of style or not. It’s excellent for capturing a multi-layered story. I’m looking forward to working on the next one coming up soon. In the meantime, I’ll be writing a post about another in the series that was recently posted on the Tor site.

I can’t recommend this world of Michael’s enough.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ursus Amentia, or The Bear Madness

by Cory Godbey

Recently some friends and I spent about a week out in the backcountry of Yosemite.

We hiked and backpacked some 40 miles through the most beautiful country I've ever seen in my whole life. I didn't see any bears though. I looked. We even hiked through a part of the park that, while on the way to it, one of my friends described as Bear Times Square. But still, no bears.

Which, ultimately, is just as well because suppose if I'd been eaten by a bear; can you imagine how people would surely talk?

"You know, I hear he had been drawing a bunch of bears for like weeks and then he leaves his house for five minutes and gets eaten by a bear. Yes, it was undoubtably the bear madness."

And it would have been mostly true; I have been drawing quite a few bears recently. And while the thought of running into one on the trip was sort of on my mind it would have been fine, probably. "Bears in Yosemite," my one friend said, "don't know that they're bears. They think they're squirrels." Fair enough.

As a part of my yearly personal series / 2015 sketchbook I've been working through a new collection of fairy tales. In total, there are 20 some pieces with a wide range of themes and characters. Since I began creating an annual sketchbook in 2008 this is my largest, most ambitious series to date.

That last paragraph was quite a segue there, Godbey, you might be thinking. Thanks! All of that to say, the first story I chose for this new collection had a few bears in it and, well, I got completely hung up on them. Yes, I got the bear madness. Ursus Amentia, in the Latin, for some reason.

I spent several weeks doing studies and working my way through them. Usually, I hit on an idea quick enough and after a rough thumbnail I just get going. This time was a little different in that I planned a variety of compositions and took my time doing studies of each. And you know what, somehow I've just never worked on toned paper before. On a whim I picked up some and I've been having a great time with it. Coupled with white charcoal, the paper has made cranking out studies a pretty quick and informative process. Most of the studies are small, maybe 5 x 7.

One thing I hadn't expected was that some of the studies felt finished and I had no desire to go further. I knew I'd take one of them to finish but some of them felt like a complete thought and to reiterate it just larger would've felt redundant.

After working through them all, I settled on one idea in particular and decided to run with it.

Right. The tiny thumbnail scribble. Left. That same scribble painted over, digitally.

The toned paper study.

Beginning the finished drawing. Brown col-erase pencil.

The finished drawing.

I brought several of the studies to Spectrum Live
and I turned this piece into a new print for the show.

I did a trio of other studies that aren't related to the particular story but I liked them all the same.


Considering how this whole post has been about my annual series, this seemed useful enough to mention: if you're curious to learn more in-depth about how I work through a yearly collection and how to go about focusing your own work with personal projects, you can check out my course from The Lamp Post Guild, The Art of Personal Work

And in fact, you can get 20% off with the code NEWLOOK. Enjoy!