The other day I wrote about this being my 15th anniversary as a comic book artist and posted THESE pages from my very first comic book for San Diego Comic Con in 1997. I wanted to follow that up by taking the opportunity to talk about a few things I’ve learned over the years as a comic book artist. Hopefully what I’ve learned can be of value to you. Here is a list of 7 things I’ve learned in my time as an artist…
1. Mistakes are what Experience looks like
I don’t know where I heard it first, but I knew from the very beginning that you have to do a lot of bad work in order to get to the good stuff. So I made the decision early on to make my mistakes as fast as possible in order to get to the other side of experience. What I didn’t know at the time, was that you can make all sorts of mistakes that you don’t even know are possible. Trusting the wrong people, jumping before you look, focusing on the wrong goals, etc… The challenge is to focus on the opportunities in those mistakes, instead of the frustrations. In every adversity is the seed of opportunity, if you choose to look for it.
2. What you want, isn’t always what you want
Figuring out what you really want is the hardest thing for most of us. Sometimes we want a goal ‘because we want it’. But that’s not a good enough reason. Knowing WHY you want something is the fuel that keeps you going when everything gets to be hard. Its not all that difficult to get paid to be an artist. Once you get to a certain level, its not even all that hard to do art for a living. But what kind of art do you really want to get paid to do? Why do you want to do it? Can you get that satisfaction from doing something else? I’ve walked through many doors in my career that I only dreamed about before, only to realize it wasn’t what I had a passion to do. Drilling down deep into what you’re excited to do for a living is the key to having a long and successful career. Knowing what you really want also allows you to let go of the ‘good’ opportunities that won’t necessarily lead you to where you want to go.
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future´s sakes.
3. Passion matters more than talent
Talent goes a very long way, don’t get me wrong, but in the long run, talent will go to rot if you don’t have the passion to do something with it. I’ve known many talented artists over the years that allowed themselves to be drowned in excuses, distractions and insecurities; rather than use their talent to its fullest potential. Its not that they didn’t want to use their talent, just that the fire inside wasn’t there for it. While at the same time I’ve seen creators with very little talent, grow and surpass others just by doing the thing that they love, day after day. Then there are those rare magical creatures, that possess both the passion to follow their dreams, and the talent to make it look awesome. If you want something badly enough, you’ll do it no matter what. Eventually the talent will catch up.
4. If you’re not afraid, you’re not trying
Fear is good. It lets you know that something is happening. I’ve had to learn that if I’m not at least a little afraid about a decision, then I’m probably not invested in it. The only times I’m really knocked on my butt by a situation, is when I think I have it all figured out. Fear keeps you on your toes, and keeps you thinking. The challenge is to not let fear make your decisions for you. Fear should not keep you from taking chances. Fear is supposed to be an alarm, to snap us out of comfort, and heighten our awareness to survive. But when we allow fear to decide for us, thats when we lose control of our lives.
5. Find mentors
I wish it were easier to find people to give us the answers we need. We often don’t realize how blessed we are by certain people and we take them for granted until its too late. But when we do find mentors, they have the power to change our lives. I’ve been fortunate to find a few amazing mentors in my career – Artists, Teachers, Businessmen – who were generous with their time. They gave attention, answers and hope to a young artist desperate to learn. Most people can tell you when you’re doing something wrong. But very few can tell you why. Even fewer can tell you how to get better. Then there are those rare ones that can seemingly reach into your mind and remove the roadblocks that you didn’t even know were there. If you find these teachers – do everything you can to learn from them. Be respectful of their time, be grateful for those moments, and for God’s sake don’t take them for granted. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be working along side them.
6. Fall in love with the Process, not the Results
One thing I wish I’d learned sooner is to make comics to entertain myself. I fell into making comics after high school, and from the very beginning I had the goal that someday I’d make a living doing it. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually LOVE making comics. I loved the idea of it. I loved inventing worlds, I loved sharing my worlds with other people. But I didn’t actually know how to draw, or how to tell a story. By the time I finally developed the skills to do comics professionally, I’d lost my reason for doing it, and it took me a long time to get that back. The truth is, the best way to learn is by having fun doing it. If you can fall in love with doing the thing you want to do (instead of the idea of doing it) your skills and opportunity will grow exponentially. Let go of your expectations. Enjoy the moment of creation. The results will work themselves out eventually.
7. There is no finish line
Following your dreams is serious business. The more we risk to follow them, the more conveniences we leave behind. There is an easier way to live, but it is not as satisfying. For those that follow the path of dreams, there are many disappointments and heart breaks, but also incredible highs and great adventures. Along the way you might lose sight of why you do this, or perhaps lose the youthful enthusiasm you had when you started out. But just remember to have fun. There is no finish line to doing what you love. Its not a race – its a way of living. When things get hard – when you’re stressed about whether something will work or not – when the challenges are daunting – just remember… these are the good old days. Someday these struggles will be your fondest memories. Back when you were figuring it all out. Back when you were overcoming your biggest hurdles. Back when nobody thought you could do it. Right now you are living the life you’ve always wanted to live. So live it well.
Are any of these lessons you’ve had to learn? Are they things you’re dealing with now? Leave me a comment!