Friday, October 17, 2014

Guest Post - Crimson Daggers - Dan Warren

Hey guys! The following post is from my friend Dan Warren, known him forever and we did the Crimson Daggers together. I wanted to post this on here so it didn't get lost in the Facebook scramble, hope you like it!



This past weekend, Dave and I had the pleasure to sell some art and meet some awesome people at the 2014 New York Comic-con. Over the 4 days at Dave's table, we got to talk with a lot of people about a lot of things- some of them current or former members of the group Dave started and we both took turns managing, the Crimson Daggers- and a single question kept coming up. Why, with things on the rise as they were toward the end of 2013, did we back away from the group to focus on personal and professional work? As we are both hugely grateful to and incredibly humbled by all the people who have supported the idea behind daggers all along the way, I hope I can answer this question as well as elaborate on a few things in the process. this is going to be part explanation, part history, and part apology, so bear with me haha. There's a lot to cover.

When Dave started daggers years ago, the idea was originally to be a platform where he could force his own self-betterment in art by forcing his successes and failures on a daily audience. The idea was that if he said he would be at a certain place at a certain time every single day, the community would show up to support and pressure him into working on his studies and create an environment where he could not back down. This of course worked over his year of streams- and in a relatively short amount of time, his skills, portfolio, and clientele all improved vastly. About a year and a half after this, I was graduating from art school and feeling the incredible dread of failure most feel when they realize they are leaving a 4 year program without the necessary skills to survive outside the college bubble. After talking with Dave more than a few times, the opportunity of doing a second daggers run was thought up, and less than one week after finishing up with school I started 10 month run of study and discussion streams. Over the course of this, a lot of changes to the daggers formula were introduced- most of them really awesome- and as a result a lot of things changed. 

Having seen what Dave did prior with the free education / public pressure model for self improvement, an audience was already in place for a second run at daggers. In other words- whereas when Dave started out it was entirely him, when I started out it was with a group of like minded individuals who all wanted to achieve the same thing- many of them now close friends. The fact that we were all doing it added to the hype and pressure to keep pushing, and with our combined efforts the initial 10 or so of us soon grew to 20, then 30, then 50, and so on. The group got to a point where it needed a space to grow, and with the forums on other major art sites in a state of slow decline, it was suggested that the daggers get their own small forum to allow a space of focused communal growth. So many streams were happening so often that this forum then led to a livestream list of streams associated with the dagger mentality, which would update in real time showing who was live at any given moment. Suddenly, there was always someone working, at any given time, and the pressure to be part of the group improvement grew that much more. I cannot stress enough that the improvements to the group as a whole were almost entirely not a result of Dave or myself. Having stated multiple times on the streams that the entire point of the daggers was a 'if you want something that doesn't exist- be the one to make it happen' mentality, group members took it upon themselves to make the group better without any incentive from either of us. This was really awesome and inspiring to see, and I cant credit our friends and fellow daggers Agelaos and Wolkenfels enough for their creation and contributions to the forum and stream list respectively. 

At some point during all this, a few common questions began to arise. People would ask what art directors want to see in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Others would ask how to 'get better' at painting and composition. Some would even ask very basic questions of how to be creative, or to know if an idea is worth pursuing at all. Problems with motivation, how to start, where to go, and what the world wanted to see became common. we tried to answer as many as we could. At around the same time, many members of daggers and viewers from outside the community began to suggest that we fill the gap left behind when so many had left other sites similar to what we were becoming. The idea of contest, challenges, and community activities were shot around with a lot of excitement. Deciding to tackle two problems at once, Dave and I created the idea of what became the goldenboy and bloodsports challenges-- art contests designed to teach new skills rather than to show off where one was already at, judged based on the creativity and problems solved in the final image instead of just the technical skill that went into creating it. This idea came from the core belief we still maintain, that anyone of any skill can become as good at painting fundamentals as they desire through hard work and training, but that a great idea and clever solution always means more in the end. We wanted people to start getting out of the old forum mentality of mindlessly working on niche fundamentals and to start thinking in a broader, more creative sense, while still maintaining a focus on their weaknesses and a sincere effort at improving on them. This led to the judgement of all our bloodsport contests being a twofold combination of what the person studied to make their image, as well as their idea behind the image itself. self betterment and creativity. 

The reason I bring this up is because as it stands, there are 16 bloodsports, all carefully created by Dave and myself from the ground up, and they aren't going anywhere. More than just a test of skill and creativity, each and every bloodsport was designed to fill a slot in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Many of the challenges were briefs edited from actual jobs we both had done in the field- others were based on suggestions we would hear from art directors or companies at events and cons, some where deliberate and targeted fanart challenges designed to get portfolios seen on social networking, and more than a few were just our own ideas, trimmed down and fitted into the format of an actual job anyone could get in the industry. We didn't want to just offer challenges for the sake of it- we wanted to offer a body of guidelines for those willing to actually build a portfolio from the ground up, filled with relevant images executed correctly so that they could take their first step into professional work. Combined with forum feedback and critiques from guest professionals, the results were amazing every single time- and an incredible amount of fun.

Over the past year, I've had a lot of people tell me how sad they are that they arrived to the daggers backlog late, and that they wish we would start it back up again the way it used to be so they could participate. While we genuinely feel bad that this isn't happening right now, I just want to say that the suggested number of pieces for a minimum portfolio is usually around ten-- and that as it stands there are 16 challenges that are not going anywhere. While I get that you may miss out on some of the community aspects and fun of doing them in a group, if you really truly have no idea where to start with your portfolio and need some guidance, give the old bloodsports a try. We put a lot of work into each and every one to make sure it would help people find work- and so far, they have. 

This (finally) gets me to my point, and why I decided to write this in the first place. The biggest problem with the Dagger's model is ultimately that it works. almost too well. Of the original 10 or so of us who started out together after Dave's initial run, all ten of us ended up finding a place in the industry with paying work that evolved into our careers today. Having had some experience with other forms of education in the past (those of you who watched my streams will remember) I can tell you that a 100 percent success rate with any model is pretty much unheard of. Everyone I know who has tried the method we all laid out together, stuck with it, and pushed the studying has found work, a job, and a place where they can both earn a living and do what they enjoy. Dave and I take no credit for this. sure, we had some ideas and laid a foundation- but the group's evolution, hard work, dedication, and willingness to keep pushing past comfort zones was entirely on everyone else.  In other words, we may have been the ones to build the gym, but it was everyone else who decided to wake up everyday and work those muscles out with us. But the singular downside to getting better is that it creates more opportunities, more potential for work, and therefore less time for anything else. 

So why did we decide to stop? Well, the truth is it wasn't a single moment's decision. Things began to slow down gradually over the course of a few months. The group was getting very large, and the challenges harder to manage and judge. The forum was also growing and demanding time to look at and update. We started receiving more and more emails regarding it, with questions, concerns, requests, and pieces to critique. Eventually, we opened up a particular challenge's email inbox and saw that it had over 200 submissions for review. This is when we realized we were at a crossroads we had never intended to be at. On the one hand, we loved the group, the people involved with it, and the ideology that it promoted for how to find a place in the art world. On the other, it was now officially big enough that to run it to the standard of quality we desired and users deserved, we would have to do one of two things-- bring others on board to manage it, or charge money to make it worth the time it was costing us to run it. We didn't like either solution, as bringing other people on meant risking a change to the formula we had worked so hard to get right, and charging money for the experience of being part of it went against everything we had been trying to do. And so, while it wasn't what either of us wanted, we decided to create one final bloodsport focused on personal IP development (the endless summer / perfect pitch) in the hopes that after the other 16 in the set people could use it to move forward from creating things other people wanted to see and into creating the kinds of things they themselves wanted to be known for. (Special shout out to Jacob Janerka for turning that challenge into his own original, personally developed, and successfully kickstarted video game Paradigm). After this our involvement with the daggers fell off, and while we still keep an eye on the group, we have not since been involved with any challenges, talks, the forum, or group activities. 

Before I wrap this up, we get a lot of questions and more than a few are the same. I'd like to take the opportunity to answer some of them here in the hopes it clears some things up.

Why aren't we / weren't we involved with the daggers forums on a deeper level? The truth is that while we love the group and the fact that Dennis (agelaos) created forums for it, we never wanted to be seen as authority figures / moderators as that has the potential to create an uncomfortable learning environment. The entire point of daggers was to create a place with no intimidation where people of all skill levels could improve themselves, and we like to stick to that as best we can. the only times the two of us have ever used the forums is to either post challenges / challenge updates, or (in the extremely rare event) enforce quality control in case someone was being made fun of, excluded from an activity, or stepping outside their bounds in a way that made things bad for everyone else. We have not been involved with the forums since the perfect pitch challenge. 

Do we still do critique? Yes, but not as regularly as we used to. Unfortunately, at the moment we don't have time for a regulated weekly crit stream, but when we have the time we still look at peoples portfolios and are happy to help. with Dave, your best bet is at an event he is a part of (con, workshop, etc) as he is not online often. With me, your best bet is to send me an email or Facebook message. Sometimes I'm very late in responding, but I usually get around to it. If you have sent me something and been ignored, it is almost 100 percent of the time the fault of the 'other messages' section of Facebook, which I, like everyone else, always forget to check. 

Do we still stream? And when? We do still stream, but we don't do it on a set schedule. If we are going to stream, we tweet it out or share on our Facebook pages. Sometimes we have a short talk, other times we might do a random painting if we have the time. In the future, if we ever do have a schedule again, it will definitely be available via Facebook or twitter. 

Is daggers over? No. Our involvement with the group isn't possible right now due to work and personal projects, but thats not to say the group is dead. We might return to it someday if we are able, but its a firm belief Dave and I share that it's always better to not do something at all than to do a bad job of it. Currently, if we were to do daggers, we would have to half-ass it because of time, and we don't want to do that. Daggers was always one solution of several-- sure, it was the one we vied for and put effort into, but it was never the end all, be all way to get somewhere with art. Since the time when we stepped away from it, other things have popped up just like we did years ago that are great communities and groups to be a part of. Even with traditional forums in decline, there are still plenty of places, people, and groups to share your learning experience with- and if none of them are doing what you think should be done or teaching the way you feel works the best, then trust us-- it's worth the effort to try and start your own. Maybe it will resonate, grow, and become the next big thing. 

If you're still with me, thanks for reading haha. I know its been a lot. If you were a member of the group from way back, We're both sorry it fell off the way it did! and if you're new to the group and wondering where to go next, I hope this has helped at least a bit. I can honestly say that when Dave started / when I took over for round 2 neither of us ever intended or expected this to grow into what it did. All the talks, activities, challenges, streams, and events we've had a chance to participate in have been incredible, and hopefully eventually there will be more of all of that. We love doing it and everyones passion participating in it, and its been amazing to see what everyone has been able to do in just three short years. If there was ever proof that hard work pays off, its in what all of you who started with and worked alongside us have been able to do in such a short amount of time. 

We love ya. 


-Dan

If you wanna follow Dan go here -


References -



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Entitlement

Hello! Today I wanted to talk about entitlement. I get a lot of messages regarding standard starting rates for freelance artists. Some people say you have to make 'x' amount of dollars for 'x' amount of time spent on work. This is a weird issue I think everyone seems to have when they begin doing art with the intention of making a livable wage. So, I'll talk about what I've learned and why I don't believe anybody owes you anything when you start out.

I started freelancing 8 years ago on my parent's computer, in our living room,  when I was 19. Fortunately for me I had the option to ease into working with some comfort which I am very thankful for. But by no means was I riding their coattails to make ends meet. Everyday I was studying and working, in the beginning this meant 1-3 hours of fundamental studies in the morning followed by 12-14 hours of personal paintings to hopefully push myself to a new skill level. I updated my work on all of the online forums to spread my portfolio around and talked to everyone I could to hopefully glean some helpful info that would open up doors for me as I tried to turn my hobby into a career.

With this kind of schedule it can be easy to think that because you're working very hard that somebody owes you some kind of compensation. But no, that is not the case, learning to create artwork that people will actually pay out of pocket for is not easy and it shouldn't be. Something that is this rewarding personally and potentially financially should be very difficult. Personal success is worth earning through hard work. That being said, it took a long long time for me to start earning money, let me tell you about my first job.

After having worked for a good 6-7 months with the above schedule I finally got my first job through the 'artists looking for work' section on Conceptart.org. This was designing monsters for a really small personal project a guy was working on in his spare time. This job was to be done via paypal transactions and I would be compensated $20 per image, one of which taking upwards of 16 or so hours. I created around 15 pieces for him, I was paid $300 total not subtracting paypal fees. But although this was tiny, it was huge for me. Somebody actually wanted my work.

It took me around another 6-7 months to get what I thought would be my "big break". A company, or so I thought, was going to be starting in Peoria, Illinois and I was to be the concept artist for their games. At the time I had been working for this client online and had done quite a bit of work, all for around $75-$300 per piece(I was making more finally!), so I trusted everything would work out as it had with the commissions. With the hopes of the company opening, I moved out to Peoria with no savings with my then girlfriend to start my real career! The company never moved forward.

Now I was stuck in Illinois with no money to speak of and a 12 month lease on an apartment w/no guaranteed job, especially at the skill level I was at at the time. This was my big 'oh shit' moment. We had no car, no money and no jobs really between us, except for the very low paying work I was getting. I got desperate and started focusing on learning how to get my name out there more. I ended up taking on every single job I was offered, some paid $50, some paid $100-$300, but all of them(around 8-9 different clients with multiple pieces a month) took sleepless nights. I ended up saving enough money to leave after staying three months.

I learned a really valuable lesson during that time. What I learned was that if I added real pressure to the equation, I could exceed what I thought I could achieve with my time and output. This lead to a move to Littleton, New Hampshire, where I rented a place for $675/month. With that rent it was easy enough to focus on morning studies followed by working all day. But to add the pressure I bought a brand new car that I absolutely couldn't afford. I knew that if I had to do it, then I would make the payments happen somehow. This lead to me learning about time management and delving even more so into marketing.

After a year of this the apartment began to feel comfortable, which lead to a new apartment that was $1000/month in the mountains with no distractions. My ex couldn't really deal with the 'Shining-esque' solitude and I think I went a little insane as well haha. What I needed was motivation to keep pushing even in the weird hermit atmosphere. This lead to the formation of the 'Crimson Daggers'. I made a decision to stick to a schedule of waking up everyday at 8am and streaming live for 1-3 hours so I could study art and learn how to stop being afraid of failing in front of groups(not an intended outcome, but I'm very grateful for that).

During that whole time period I never got to take many days off, would usually just take birthdays and christmas off with no money for vacations or anything like that. While I was doing Crimson Daggers I began to get client work and I found out sadly that this meant I would be owed money. The days of instant money via paypal and personal clients were over. Now was the real test of working and being owed cash for potential months. I had to borrow money from friends, sometimes driving 6 hours just to go back to my parents and back for what small amount they could actually offer. It was super stressful to have to juggle work and be working while knowing I just wasn't getting paid anything. But again, you just have to keep going and studying.

So, eventually things work out, I get consistent work with Wizards of the Coast(thank you guys) and life gets a little easier. I could finally afford to move to civilization! Off to Boston, the most expensive place ever, or at least most expensive place I've lived haha. Rent there was $1550/month and it quickly became apparent that Wizards might not cut it. I was heavily into books about business and I don't really know exactly where I gleaned this, but I got stuck on the idea that if all I ever did was the work I was offered then I would not exceed that position. I needed to create work that I was very passionate about and that I felt would get eyes on me and potentially to higher profile jobs.

TMNT fanart! I decided to do a series of 15 portraits from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in order to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish. There were no deadlines but I wanted to do one a week. They took around 6 months to complete and they bought me my ticket onto all of the blogs I had ever dreamed of being promoted on. Which ended up leading to tons of great opportunities that I would never have dreamed were possible for me. Of course, this all lead to working even harder and it just keeps going.

At this point in my career things seem to kind of plateau once in awhile, but instead of buying something to pressure myself or adding risk, I just start a new style or pursue a new avenue of art. But it keeps on going and I absolutely love doing it for that reason. In the beginning you think you're owed something and that you're headed to some kind of destination where you'll make 'x' amount of money for 'x' amount of hours. But really, you do it because the entire journey through all the 'oh shit' moments and all of the stress helps you grow and appreciate everything you've accomplished and it grounds you in reality when you approach the next challenge. You know what it takes and you know you'll have to work harder than you think you can for it.

I know my story isn't this super inspiring against all odds tale, tons of people have had it and have it a thousand times worse than I ever did. But I just wanted to touch on exactly what I went through to getting where I am now. I'm not owed anything today and I wasn't owed anything when I started. You earn everything you get and if you're lucky enough maybe you'll make a career out of it. But that all depends on what you focus on, the work and love for the journey or why you're not getting what you think you deserve right now.

Anyway, hope that wasn't too huge of a post. And again, I don't think my words are gospel and I'm a huge dummy.

Goodnight!
Dave




Friday, September 12, 2014

Shortcuts

Hello!

  I wanted to talk about shortcuts today and the benefits and more importantly, the issues I personally have using them. This isn't about hotkeys or photoshop tricks, literally just shortcuts in general in every aspect of creating work.  I ramble a lot and just throw up all my thoughts so be wary of that :).

Shortcuts are very alluring, they're super tempting and I think everyone uses them to some extent. I personally used to wait for anybody seemingly professional to come out and openly give me permission to use them so I wouldn't feel shitty about doing it myself. So many times people will say it's part of the job, everyone does it and you really shouldn't feel bad about doing it yourself. I agree, you shouldn't feel bad about using them and there is totally a reason why they exist. But should you really be using them all the time as a normal work flow?

More often than not I think shortcuts come about when you're really pressured to turn in a finished piece. And when you absolutely have to finish something in 1-2 hours you may have to turn to alternatives. So, in order to show your idea you could, for example, mix up photos into the piece to relay a concept to whoever hired you. This is fine, but what happens when you can then apply that to something you really care about? Do you still go for the shortcut and work out something for yourself in 1-2 hours?

The problem I personally have is that I think using shortcuts robs us of the time spent planning an image. When you can throw a couple chance photos together to create a concept how much care really goes into it? And also, could you replicate this sequentially using the same technique at all angles? I think it's an awesome luxury to be able to bust out tons of paintings without waiting for anything to dry and without having to go through laborious steps to finish. But what does that cost you? Knowing that something is so simple, do you still value the concept as much? When you know that if this sketch isn't great then you'll be spending hours working up a mediocre piece, don't you go back and make sure it's the best it can be?

I think thats my real issue and I noticed how, over the years, I would jump into speed paintings with throw away ideas and no real focus. Speed paintings can of course be a great exercise, but like most shortcuts I think they can often be very harmful to the intent and overall execution of a piece. It felt like I was being robbed of moments where I'd zone out in the planning stages discovering better ways to work everything up. Where I'd catch imperfections right away without waiting to fix everything later knowing photoshop had that option. Learning from my mistakes and knowing I'd make sure it didn't happen next time.

Being able to jump right into the finished stages has, for me, left my portfolio full of meaningless content. What I noticed was that when I started working in comics I could no longer just wing it. I realized how shortcuts had made me so impatient with the work. I'd be super excited and just start without knowing the direction of the story and would end up throwing away tons of pages. Basically I had to turn around and go back to the old way we all used to have to work before things were so quick and obtainable. Having to write up a story, build characters, create readability for the designs of each character/creature and then create layouts for all the pages that would read well changed everything for me. It was funny to go back and focus solely on creating something that would either be funny or action oriented with the whole purpose being to convey an idea.

It seems obvious to me now, and I think it always should've been, but before I started playing with comics I never really 'illustrated' anything. I had never illustrated a real moment that was more than 'screaming monster screams before battle'. My whole idea of action in a painting had come from the Frazetta rules of showing whats about to happen or what just happened in a piece. Sadly I didn't even really read about whatever story or scene I was illustrating to relay any serious story elements. But beyond that it showed me how little I even spent constructing an image I was willing to spend days on. That I had never even thought about what this image would be about.

What I ended up feeling like was that most of the process of creating images fast was simply to garner feedback from peers. I'd been rushing things out to just be seen without really caring. As long as it was rendered or looked to be rendered it was considered done. It didn't matter if it worked or was cool at a basic level, just so long as it looked presentable.

Basically because of how easy, at least in comparison to how it used to be, it is to create using digital mediums I had cheapened the whole process for myself. Just jumping in and spending no time whipping up a monster that would be forgotten by myself and peers within minutes. And I'm not saying we should all be painting moving pictures and get a message across and make you think in some pretentious way. More that there should be a feeling of a story, or at least a strong intent in showing a specific action that shows real care in the process.

Now, I don't mean to say I'll never paint anything stupid or simple again, I'll always do that. And I don't want to suggest that you remove all shortcuts at all times. Only that in my experience, shortcuts have done more harm than good for my skill, thought process and overall execution. Nowadays, anytime I can remove something from the process and make it more basic, I go way out of my way to do so. Even if it lengthens the process by hours, I know that somewhere inside it's making me faster and hopefully helping me create better, more focused ideas.

Just a suggestion! And of course, this is only my personal opinion :)!

Hope you're all doing good! I'm gonna get back to Steve Lichman and StarVeil, theres gonna be a lot of updates!

Dave

PS -

I really liked what my buddy Dan said about the topic here -

"If you keep using shortcuts more and more, then rely on them, they eventually become integral to your process and you cant create anything up to your own standard without them, and that corners you into a weird place where you're bound by what you can find rather than freed by what you can imagine."




Friday, August 29, 2014

The Community and Personalities

Hey everyone,


  Figured I might as well talk out everything I've been thinking about. I wanted to touch on some thoughts regarding the online art community and being a personality.

Over the past few years as Facebook has become the dominant way to be seen in the community as an artist there has been a very big rise in artist 'personalities'. This isn't a new thing, I knew of Bobby Chiu and Schoolism doing this similarly before fb was so popular for artists with his ustream videos and all of the classes he was offering. But now it almost feels like for a lot of people it has become a goal and something to work for. It seems that this is almost more desirable than keeping your head down and becoming a full time working professional.

When I started doing the Crimson Daggers livestreams years ago I was trying to mimic Bobby's approach but instead of offering anything after the fact I would just keep everything free. This is because I both believed that I couldn't offer anything worth paying for at the time and that education should be free. Now I don't believe you can truly offer education for free that is of great quality without some kind of automated income to support the effort. But anyway, what ended up happening was I became, in some small way, one of those internet personality people.

What I didn't understand was the blurred line between talking to friends in the community and being a person talking to a community. Once that started to happen I realized I was no longer perceived by people as a guy just hanging out with others and talking about art as we all improved, instead it was coming off that I was one of those lame dudes pushing my opinions on people in some kind of fake assumed position of any authority. I never wanted to become a personality but it kinda happened and made me feel gross. All I ever wanted was a group of people learning together and growing.

After this I brought on my friend Dan Warren to help with the group so I wasn't just sitting there seemingly as this sole personality regulating an entire group. What ended up happening was we were amplified in our opinions having been friends our whole lives and were much more comfortable speaking vocally of all of them. Many things of course become lost in translation at this point, sarcasm goes undetected and your opinions are set in stone in video format.

My point is that people within the group were no longer just friends working together. I had, without even realizing it, made myself into one of those personalities. With this came a lot of judgement I believe mostly because you see someone in some assumed position and think of how they're either not good enough, qualified or smart enough to be there speaking to groups. I totally agree with that for the most part. Some people just shouldn't have swaying opinions over groups.

And this is where I think we find most 'personalities' now. It is assumed that these people are able to talk to and influence large groups because they themselves are achieving great things and are smart enough to warrant this position. They then have to live up to this expectation by staying in this spotlight without seeming to fail as with failure comes the judgement of the community questioning why you deserve this. I think this creates a problem with being a 'personality'.

If you are not already at the very top of your game creating amazing work then there is room to grow. But failure in front of a large audience puts you in a scary position. Do you risk failure in front of all your peers or do you stick to what you know so you don't look bad? Most I'd say stick to what is safe as to avoid ridicule and who could really blame someone for that? It's rough when people want to take whatever chance they get to tear you down. But what does that turn that artist into? How do they continue to grow if they can't fail?

My only point is to hopefully sway people away from the allure of being well known simply for being a personality. People who invest all of their time in front of an audience are not the ones behind the scenes working the hardest. People like Craig Mullins, Wes Burt and Brad Rigney sit and work and are well known simply for their art. We should idolize people who are truly great at their craft and not idolize people who spend most of their time talking.

After all, ask anyone on the street who Craig Mullins is. Nobody knows any of us artists besides people who like the specific work we do or are a part of our immediate community. At the end of the day what is important is the work you produce and what you put into it. Get great because you want to be great at what you do not because you want to be perceived as great.


Love to you all,
Dave

An aside -

And again, like I said in the previous post, I don't believe there are any absolutes and there will always be exceptions to the rule. I don't think anyone should follow an opinion like gospel so I hope this doesn't come off too preachy as it is only my own opinions/observations.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I've Been Doing

Hey everyone!

    First of all, it's been a long time since I updated this blog with anything personal at all. Focused way too much, in my opinion, on the business side of freelance and vanished away into work and into my own head for long time. Been reassessing why I started doing art in the first place over and over again for the last 2 years. This has lead to too many different ventures that I've been trying to invest time into to hopefully get better/closer to where I want to be.

I'm gonna go through everything I've been doing. Actually just got a cup of coffee out to do this and while reaching for the new cup I grabbed a 2 day old cup and took a huge sip. Terrible.

Around January of 2013 I entered into being a weird single guy again coming out of a 6 year relationship and being a 6 year deep freelancer. Basically felt like I had to reenter the world without any real understanding of how actual human beings talk to each other. That was super weird, ended up having a ton of the most awkward conversations. I don't know if any of you do this but for me it's like you'll start getting into a conversation but you're already jumping 5-6 thoughts ahead and are surprised the person can't seem to follow what the hell you're talking about. This was one of the many issues with being a total shut in.

One of the major hurtles in this case was making friends again. Suddenly I realized that the internet didn't really count for much when you didn't have anybody physically around you to hang out with. This should be totally obvious, but when I was completely absorbed in work, days would just fly by. Being a freelancer without really seeing the sun very often lead to prolonged periods of time where I maybe went outside a handful of times. And then it was only to get groceries or grab take out. So it shouldn't have been surprising when the people around me tended to drift away haha.

On the flip side, because I had been doing so much work and was so heavily invested in marketing myself and creating things, work just kept growing and growing. I am beyond grateful to every client that has given me the amazing opportunities I have had so far in my career, but there is something to be said for maintaining a serious life/work balance. But instead of doing anything about it at all I basically just floated through it and decided it was totally ok to just sit and do nothing but work. This was super lame, I was the lamest dude ever. If I could I would go back and beat myself up everyday for that.

During this period though I decided I should just treat myself to something, just get out of the house or tiny basement apartment I had in Boston. So I booked a trip to Germany with some old friends of mine(all of whom but one decided not to go) and was looking forward to just relaxing. The trip was supposed to be around 2 weeks, this trip turned into about 4 weeks. The first two weeks were pretty good, hung out in Hamburg for most of it and spent 2 days in Berlin where I got to visit SixmoreVodka and Jana Schirmer(and every roommate of Jana's, I'm really sorry I can't remember all your names as I wouldn't forget you guys <3 br="" nbsp="">
The trip was then supposed to end and on the last night the people I knew in Hamburg said we should go to the red light district and get drunk. I was definitely ready for this. I thought I was definitely ready for this. I was not at all ready. Basically I was dancing on a table/big window sill and at some point in the night someone stole my jacket. Unfortunately I'm really stupid so my passport and my ID were both taken with the jacket. This meant I wasn't leaving the next day of course but everyone I knew was. At this point the only people I know in Germany are the people at Sixmorevodka (Marko, Jelena, Gerald) and Jana plus her roommates. 

So the first thing I do is head back to Berlin, this is where the embassy is and where I can hopefully sort all of this out. Marko's studio Sixmorevodka let me work on my freelance there while Jana let me stay with them. I can't thank you guys enough. The next 2 weeks were amazing, we had a 4th of July american style cookout at Jana's complete with Bruce Springsteen music and ribs. I spent most nights late at the studio having a drink with Marko and talking about everything. This was the most eye opening inspirational part of that summer. Those 2 weeks made me want to change everything, seeing how the studio worked, spending time with other artists and getting to hear Marko's insights into the business got me motivated again.

On top of all that though, it turned out the thief had actually dropped my ID and passport at a restaurant and the restaurant had mailed them to the embassy. Huge lucky break for me. I went to Berlin to get out and see a beautiful city and realized all I really wanted was the company of awesome people. If we went out at all it was just to grab dinner, I loved it and thank you guys for everything.

I'm sorry, this is turning into a novel. I'm not even close to done, so bare with me if you like or if you hate this I totally understand, I never read long posts.

After returning from Germany I started working out daily, running a few miles and keeping up with a steady workout. I started to feel really good, I was more awake, happier and excited to keep pushing forward. One of the big things for me was watching Marko draw at the studio. I loved his pencil brush or line brush, whatever you want to call it. I tried replicating what I could remember of it and ended up with a more ink style. This is when I started working on my StarVeil stuff. Because it was so simple, not in approach but in how you would read shapes and things, I had to focus a lot more on interesting design. I was really motivated to try the style out on more iconic characters. So I did my Super Metroid animated short.

What I was trying to do was break down Samus' design from Metroid into a very basic form in order to keep it simple enough to animate. This helped me get in the mindset of narrowing my focus on what really matters in my own characters and was a massive help. This style step was getting me closer to the goal of just having fun working. But nobody knew me for this or would hire me to do this style. Personally outside of a few guys, one of which being Matt Rhodes(mass effect/dragon age concepts), I hadn't seen a lot of people working in this immediate entertainment industry using line styles.

My idea was to take the style and apply it to something even more marketable than Metroid. So I made the lines a little more comic like and started a series of X-Men portraits. I made 10 portraits, hopefully enough to warrant single blog posts by websites, and put them online. They got around a pretty good amount, nothing like my TMNT run but they lead to offers from Marvel and 20th Century Fox. I took the job from Fox creating movie posters for X-Men Days of Future Past. I was finally able to make some kind of profit off of this simpler approach. This ended up turning into a great relationship with Fox and I continue to work with them in this same style.

This was when I began to feel like everything was gonna really turn around for me work wise. I'd be able to spend less time working and more time on what matters without sacrificing ideas or quality(hopefully).

It was right around this time, november 2013, that I started seeing my now girlfriend. Right after this I had the opportunity to teach at the Bali Illustration Workshop(an amazing event btw) where I decided that I wouldn't let work basically run every part of my decision making anymore and would devote myself to being a real human being for once. I swear to god I'm not a sociopath but sometimes the shut in lifestyle makes me feel like that haha. We moved in together in January in Colorado and I began a schedule of waking up at 7-8am everyday and stopping work entirely at 7-8pm. This was the best thing for my brain, no more all nighters and no more endless deadlines where I let myself work on something forever everyday.

After this point I started keeping a day rate for every job and making sure I never went beyond my designated work hours unless I absolutely had to. What blew me away about this was how I became even more productive, I wasn't losing time, I was speeding up. Instead of getting a job done in 2-3 days w/16 hour work days I was getting them done in 1 work day or maybe 1 1/2.

I forgot to mention that I decided not to let previous made up deadlines rule my life. Skull & Shark just couldn't get done until I was proficient at actually writing/illustrating comics. StarVeil fit that perfectly as a way to improve at comic storytelling as well as animation. I've learned so much and am happy to say that even though I didn't intend for this at all, StarVeil is gonna become a real published book! Insane and super lucky. But what this all meant was that the New York Comic Con Dan Warren and I attended was going to be selling a whole lot of nothing. Nothing but t-shirts anyways.

Skipping ahead again. Now that my work day was healthy and my life felt real again I was more than motivated to take on all of my projects. This meant juggling work, StarVeil, Black Witch and lots of other ideas(Steve Lichman, RoughCat, secret projects!). I really wanted to test what I could get done in short bursts if I were focused. This has it's limits and the burn out rate can be high if you're not careful. I got totally burnt out and would end up rolling over into work. And thankfully my girlfriend would be helping me manage previous parts of life that were too demanding on my eternally dumb brain. This helped a lot.

The strange thing that ended up happening was that the more I pushed into my own personal projects the better the job offers. Worked in-house creating concepts, work at home creating concepts, worked on lots of film poster concepts. And although people generally wanted me to go back to my rendering style on facebook and every other site online. Clients pretty much only wanted my StarVeil style. Which is something I never anticipated and am more than happy to provide. Because of the community of illustrators/concept artists online I was never under the impression you could get work using an approach like this.

More than anything else though I've been proven wrong over and over in everything I do and have been surprised in lots of good ways on how things worked out. My take away from this work wise is that there are no absolutes in anything. Just because everyone is doing one thing or another doesn't mean you can't do the opposite and take on the same caliber work. And that sometimes you absolutely have to get out and take in every new experience you can. Meet people you like, people you don't like and see what the world is without the screen in front of you. Before I met Marko in person I thought he was gonna be a massive dick. Now I couldn't have a better friend, I love him and Jelena so much.

At one point I was worried about what the internet/strangers thought about me. But then my father passed away from a heart attack. One of the last things he talked to me about was how I loved to start things and get into projects and loved building them but wasn't producing. He wanted to see everything I was thinking up and ever since he said that I kept projects from him and would only hint at them. Unfortunately for me I never got to show any of those things to him. But I wont make that mistake ever again and I would never let something so small like the internet influence me in a negative way out of what I truly love doing.  I'm finishing everything now and am more motivated than I've ever been.

RIP Papsicola, Robert Rapoza

Basically, the world isn't the internet and it isn't the art community, you can do anything no matter what people try to nail down as an absolute. Invest in yourself, invest in the people you really love and ignore when people try to drag you into the shit. Don't talk about what you want to do, just do it everyday and show people who you are in your work.

Anyway, sorry for the long post!
On to the regular non-book length posts!
Dave

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Updating this blog again!

Hey everybody!

  I wanted to jump on here and let you all know that I will be updating this blog regularly again. I plan on focusing more on my experiences working as a freelancer and working with clients and will be updating my main gallery at - DaveRapoza.com and will be posting links back to it.

Looking forward to starting this up again!
Dave

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Skull and Shark album teaser!

Made this to promote the new Skull and Shark soundtrack coming soon from Lazerhawk! Its a full length album that will compliment the comic as well as some future things that will surface soon :)!

Hope you like it! More to announce this Halloween!