Do yoy have any advice for aspiring artists/animators? My little sister loves drawing, and says that she wants to learn to animate as well, and I really wanna help her and encourage her but I don't know the first thing about that kinda stuff. Is there anything that helped you when you were first learning? Thank you very much, and I'm sorry if this is a question that you've already answered a lot.
I will admit, I started down this path ten years ago and the entertainment industry moves so fast I’m gonna have to borrow a panel from Glam Rock Gorilla here;
But in broader terms, it can be a slow grind so don’t get discouraged. Everyone’s path to success isn’t going to be the same so there’s no single solution. You need to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, you can’t jump to the final goal in one step, you have to break it down into pieces. I see a lot of people get like “well I don’t live in LA so I can’t be an animator” and when I hear that I can’t help but think… well, sorry to say but if that’s all it takes to dissuade you completely, you probably don’t have the drive to make it in this industry anyway. Very very few people get a straight shot to their end goal like that, you have to think of it like a rock climbing wall, the rocks aren’t going to make a perfect ladder to top, there are a million different routes you can take and some are gonna be harder than others, you might not make it where you’re aiming on the first try but as long as you keep working and getting stronger and evaluating what about the paths you’ve tried did or didn’t work you’ll figure out how to get a little higher every time you tackle it again.
Personally, I’m from the middle of nowhere in Subarctic Canada. I’m from the part of Canada where the stereotypes come from. There are like a thousand people and you get blizzards in September and blizzards in June. You have to drive south for 13 hours to get to a real movie theatre. So I find it extra frustrating when people say “I’m not in LA I may as well give up”. Maybe you need to work your way up to LA. Maybe you don’t need to be in LA at all and you find satisfying fulfilling animation work closer to home, or maybe you’ll find a way to do remote freelance for one of those big studios you like. Maybe you’ll carve out an audience for yourself as an independent creator online and never have to leave your home town to live out your art dreams if you don’t want to! Maybe you’ll make friends with people online closer to the action who’ll keep their ear to the ground for new jobs coming up. Maybe you’ll go to a convention and make a good impression on a creator you like who’ll keep you in mind if they see a project coming up that makes them think of you. Maybe you’ll start down the road to a professional career and ultimately decide you like art more as a personal hobby than a career and divert onto a completely different path. Maybe you start out wanting to be an animator but realize you enjoy drawing comics or illustrating kid’s books or designing t-shirts or any number of things way more and jump the tracks onto that path. The industry changes, you change, what you wanted when you were 16 might not be what you want when you’r 25 or 30 or 40 and that’s fine. Maybe your princess is just in another castle.
It’s important that success isn’t a pass/fail thing, just because a project isn’t The One You Dreamed Of doesn’t mean you didn’t find success and it doesn’t mean you’re squandering your potential. Every project is a notch in your belt that brings experience, connections, and confidence. When you’re first starting out you might feel like you’re inadequate and don’t have the chops, but after a while you level up your industry wisdom and start feeling more like “no, I do good work, I am competent and capable of pursuing these high profile jobs I’m interested in” and apply for them with confidence. When you get those moments of imposter syndrome you can look at your body of work and think “Well if I’m just faking my way through this I’m doing a pretty darn good job of feigning competence”. And honestly, eve if you aren’t working a full-time art job you can still look on the positive side. I used to have a job picking up trash of the side of the highway, that’s a far cry from the job I ultimately wanted but it gave me a ton of time to plot out ideas and left me with all sorts of creative energy at the end of the day that I took home and put into working on personal projects that in turn broadened my audience online and opened more doors for me as an independent creator. I had a job for a while working in a greasy spoon diner that paid below minimum wage, under the table. It was pretty paycheque to paycheque, but I was able to use the free time I had on days I didn’t have shifts and the afternoons on days I worked the opening shift to assemble the portfolio that ultimately got me my first big animation job out of school.
One person’s success is not everyone’s success, Everyone doesn’t have the same opportunities, aptitude, or strikes of dumb luck, but progress is progress and accomplishments are accomplishments, doing anything is better than doing nothing and every personal victory is worth celebrating. Don’t get so caught up looking at all the mountain you haven’t climbed that you neglect to look back and indulge in a little pride in whatever you have managed to accomplish.
I will say, though, think the two most universally important things for young artists to learn in the interest of pursuing a career regardless of the state of the industry;
- Learn to be sociable - So much of succeeding as an artist depends on having a network of people around you willing to keep an eye out for jobs that could suit you and say nice things about you to important people. Unfortunately, the act of making art is generally such a solitary pursuit a whoooole lot of art kids are not the most socially adjusted. It’s hard and it sucks but you gotta rip that band-aid off and learn to talk to people. You don’t need to force on some fake prom queen persona (and if you try that it’ll probably come across as fake and leave a bad impression), but it’s always a good idea to have some ice breakers in the chamber so you can make small talk and get comfortable with your colleagues, leaving them with a positive impression. Honestly an easy one is to compliment a particularly stand-out piece of a person’s outfit because usually that leads to a story about how they found it or why they wear it and make it easier to figure out the flow of the conversation. Believe me, I know what it’s like to have crippling anxiety around strangers, learning what works for you to manage it (even just for short interactions when you can) is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
- Learn to stop putting your work down - Again, I know it is a pretty common artist thing to look at something you finished and see nothing but mistakes but you gotta get past that. Putting your own work down is sort of like a way to protect yourself from criticism, if you say it sucks before anyone else can you take away the sting from other people who might insult it. But being relentlessly hard on yourself and beating the hypothetical naysayers to the punch can crush your self esteem, your ambition, your confidence and frankly, turn off potential employers. When I was at Sheridan they brought studio heads in to help coach the students be better prepared for job interviews, and they all agreed the number one most off-putting thing young artists do in interviews is trash talk their own portfolios. If you go into a job interview and say “This isn’t very good” they don’t hear the “Trust me I’m capable of much better than this” you intended, they hear “I’m not confident enough in my abilities to be a valuable addition to your team. I don’t think I’m good and if you think I am you have bad taste. I am basically wasting your time by showing you this art that I’m not willing to stand behind” It’s harsh but that’s the reality of it. You go into a job interview to talk about how great and deserving you are, not tell the people who want to hire you that you’re inadequate. If there’s a piece in your portfolio that temps you to say “it’s not very good” Take it out of your portfolio, you need to own everything you put in there. If you’re worried you lack certain qualities they’re looking for, focus on the ones you DO have, like your enthusiasm, your work ethic, your aptitude for picking up new skills, your versatility, your unique perspective, that kind of thing. don’t think of the job you’re applying for in terms of why you should want it, think in terms of why they should want YOU.
I guess at this point I should acknowledge that this advice is all very geared towards the more young adult crowd looking to start their career. If you’re asking advice I have for younger people who are just showing interest in pursing art I’d say, draw things that make you happy and make you want to draw. Draw whatever makes you excited to draw and gets you to draw a lot. Just draw all the time, Look at art, get inspired, figure out what about the art you like makes you like it and why the artists you like make the kind of creative choices they do. There’s no shame in drawing from references or trying to copy other pieces of art you like to figure out how it was made (I mean, don’t go posting it online and saying it was all you, credit where credit is due but there’s no shame in learning). Draw like art is an all-you-can-eat buffet and you’re trying to fit every tasty looking thing on your plate, you can sort it all out as you go.