Monday, March 14, 2011

Why do we do this? (Part 1)

I originally had this big idea about looking at why I am an artist. Dissecting the whys and the hows, looking at all the minute details to see if the pros out weighted the cons. Soon I realized that I would be wasting a lot of time on a very one sided, very singular view of something that is very personal and very unique to each individual... why we make art. SO I had a much better idea... that turned into a much bigger project. I asked all the artist I know well and many I don't know really at all about their thoughts on this topic. I contacted over 130 artists that I am friends with on Facebook and heard back from almost half!

I knew from the start I was going to miss people I wanted to have as a part of this endeavor. Please, if you did not hear from me check your messages on Facebook or please accept my apologies, you were not overlooked on purpose. I had over 750 names to weed through so I knew I was going to miss people. Please, feel free to send me your answers or add them in the comments below, I still want to hear from you!

The goal of this was to ask working illustrators at all levels of experience, background and specialty the same questions to see what similarities and differences could be found. The three questions are:

1) What was the first thing in your life that made you think, "I want to be an artist"?

2) What do you like LEAST about being an artist?

3) What do you like MOST about being an artist?

Since I had such an overwhelming response I have had to divide this post up over the entire week, make sure you come back on Wednesday and Friday to see the rest! NOW, on with the show...

Steven Belledin
1) There was a guy who was an high school art teacher who began living in one of my neighbors' basements after his own house burnt down. My folks became really friendly with the guy over the years and he was one of the first to recognize that I had any talent and also was among the first to encourage said talent. If there was a seed to my becoming an artist, he planted it.

2) I dislike the insecurity of it all, but that's more to do with being a freelancer than anything. Still, it's a reality of being an artist, so I guess it still qualifies.

3) I like that there are physical manifestations of my efforts. Most people who work the kind of hours I do have little to show for it beyond a paycheck. There's little else they can point to and say "I did that." At best, they can point to a facet of a finished product and claim responsibility for it. I've got hundreds and hundreds of things that I brought into existence by myself.

I also really love that I don't have to deal with office politics and the bogus interpersonal stuff that normal jobs tend to have. The simplicity of sitting in a room by myself, getting my work done is pretty awesome.

Eric Braddock

1) I have ALWAYS been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I think the first moment in my life that made me think "I want to be an artist" was actually the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans computer game. I was around 12 at the time when it came out and I was completely blown away by it. I would practice my drawings by copying pictures out of the manual and coming up with my own orc characters. Two years later, I was in Highschool and started to take it more seriously than just a hobby. The small possibility of becoming an artist grew in the back of my adolescent mind and since then, I've been hungry for it.

2) I'd have to say the thing I like LEAST about being an artist is either the lack of health insurance or my work never feeling done. Having no health insurance makes me a bit nervous about if anything were to happen to me, however I've always had a good track record when it comes to getting sick (only once a year, if that) but it's still something I worry about. As for the work, I've got friends who have the 9-5 job and they have the luxury of leaving work and not thinking twice about it until the following day. As an artist, your work is ALWAYS there, always haunting you in the back of your mind. Any free time you decide to take off is sometimes difficult to enjoy because you feel somewhat guilty about not working. In all reality, I love working though, so it truly is a love/hate kind of relationship, I wouldn't have it any other way.

3) The thing I like MOST about being an artist is being able to work on artwork all day long. If I can keep it going and continue to do this for the rest of my life, I would be immensely happy. It's extremely rewarding and it's something I can only get better at through hard work as time progresses. It's also nice being part of a small community of people who are all doing the same thing as you, so getting the chance to socialize with others in the business who understand is a real cool experience when you have the opportunity.

Lee Bretschneider
1) I was pretty obsessed with my toy collection as a child. My grandfather was a framer who worked out of his garage, so there was always a great amount of drawing materials, knives, glue, etc. at my disposal. At a certain point the adults in my life realized that I wanted to grow my collection of action figures larger than their pocketbooks could accommodate and cut me off. So I started drawing a lot more; I would draw the X-Men, professional wrestlers, G.I. Joes, and others on matte board, then I'd cut them out and integrate them with my other toys. I also tried to make board games with these cutouts, and I'll admit that the seven year old version of me was a pretty poor game designer. Anyway, the cartoons and comics of my childhood led to imaginative play, and when I ran out of materials to play with I decided to make my own. It wasn't a conscious decision then, but I'd guess that is what led me down the path. I didn't consciously think "I want to be an artist" until I started studying graphic design and saw how much fun the studio art majors were having with their work.

2) The phrase "That's not art." There is a real divide in the minds of fine artists and commercial artists towards. I have friends in both circles, so I've had the opportunity to witness the dedication it takes to succeed in either realm, and it's frustrating to hear one group discount the efforts of the other without taking the time to understand what their goals are, how they define success, and how awesome it is when they allow themselves to learn from each other. The phrase "That's bad art"? I can accept that.

3) Art is a complex language that has the ability to transcend the written and spoken word. An artist can spend their entire life developing this language, and there is something very beautiful in that journey.

1) Ultraman at age 2 in Japan.

2) Having to get up and paint.

3) Getting to get up and paint.

Christopher Burdett
1) I was hit all at once with the cantina aliens of Star Wars, Godzilla, Ultraman, pewter gaming miniatures and the coup de grace of the original Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. I knew then and there that I needed to make monsters

2) I found have to say that the time commitment that I feel is necessary to maintain my abilities and to improve them weight heavily on me and often keeps me from doing other things. I also really hate to wait for the final product to finally be released - especially miniatures - so that I can talk about the work and hold the product in hand.

3) I get to draw monsters. Pencil on paper drawing monsters just can't be beat!

Felicia Cano
1) I feel like I have always been an artist. I drew and painted at an early age. It solved social problems, as long as I can crank out some popular character for an acquaintance, friend or relative I had a sort of skewed popularity that protected me from getting picked on. I didn't have to talk to people much as long as I had my sketchbook, walkman, and/or a fantasy novel. I would carry around in my backpack Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee and would admire the fantasy novel covers I read but I didn't really understand that I could be an illustrator until I was older. There was never an actual moment but in high school taking classes at an actual art school really helped me realize I could do this.

2) People who don't or refuse to realize that I have worked very hard to develop the skills I have and believe that I have some sort of "Talent" that requires little or no effort on my part.
Also, I sometimes have an overwhelming feeling that I am in a large room stuffed full of artists all screaming at the top of their lungs for attention. Some people seem to have megaphones or just louder voices. We are all screaming to be noticed and sometimes it makes me want to stop screaming for a little while.

3) Yay, a happy answer! Getting to work at home and spend time with my family. Drawing and painting stuff I use to draw when I was a kid.

Anna Christenson
1) I don't believe there was ever a moment specifically when I realized I wanted to be an artist. I've always been drawing and painting, and I think out of all things it was the one thing that was always a constant, even after I was interested in pursuing one of many different career choices in high school- history, chemistry, biology, I even started out with a duel psychology/illustration major in college. I think a lot of the fact that my parents both did art made it feel like a more natural choice to pursue as a career- and, while I don't think this is the best reason to pursue art, it was something I was always recognized for, as being "the artist" amongst my friends and in school. It was sort of like I didn't know any better. =)

2) The thing I like least in art is something I've been trying to get over for a while now- the desire for your art to be validated, or recognized, praised, however you want to say it. I think its somewhat inevitable, for me anyway, to want others to like what you are doing. Most of the time now this comes out of getting work from companies- so in a way this leads into a dislike for submitting portfolios and trying to find work. I think it can be very stressful to not only have to prove to yourself that your work is worth doing, but also to feel like you have to prove to others that you are good as well.

3) Some days I can't think of a single reason I like being an artist, and some days there are too many. Personally if I can find one thing that I feel like I learned or improved upon in a piece I'm usually feeling pretty happy with making art, whether that is a color palette, or getting the composition working right, or making up a new costume concept that looks cool. I like art most, and learn the most, when I have an open mind about a piece and I'm ready to dive in and try to make it awesome- it's when I'm feeling unmotivated about something that usually leads to not so great art, and feelings of wondering what on earth I'm doing.

Chelsea Conlin
1) I've been drawing since before I could walk, so hard to say. For as long as I can remember, the two things that have most inspired me to draw have been nature and stories, so I imagine it was one or both of those.

2) Definitely the business aspects of running a freelance business. I just want to draw and paint

3) Very occasionally being able to create something that's pretty close to what was in my head before I put stylus to tablet.

Grant Cooley
1) I think I really decided that I wanted to learn how to be an artist when I received Fantasy Art Techniques for my 9th birthday. I had always drawn and made books (my mother was an illustrator), but seeing Boris Vallejo's drawings took it to a whole new level.

2) The complete reliance upon my own drive and motivation for every single dollar and progression. It is a wonderful and terrible thing to be at the mercy of myself.

3) The drive and developing ability to bring to life what grows in my mind. This mindset affects every aspect of my life from home improvement to personal development. The act of creation is a terribly addictive drug.

Eric Deschamps
1) I am not sure. I never had any family members or friends that were artists in my life growing up, so I think it was a gradual progression. If I had to pick something, I'd say that the idea was surely running through my head in Elementary school while I was building Fraggles out of panty hose, brown paper bags, felt, pipe cleaners and googly eyes for "Show and Tell." Once my senior year in high school came around, it just made sense to apply to college as an art student. It was a perfect fit and I never looked back from there.

2) Trying to find time to advertise myself! I find this task very easy to avoid doing. Then comes that guilty feeling when I think of the opportunities I might have missed out on.

3) Dreaming up cool creatures, worlds, heroes and villains!! What is better than that?!!

Dave Dorman

1) It was when I was a kid reading comics--the first time I saw a Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko comic, that's when I knew I wanted to do that the rest of my life. I enjoyed drawing from early on.

2) Probably the business side of it is my least favorite, but it's a must if you want to have a career in art.

3) I like making a living doing what I love to do.

Jeff Easley
1) Whatever it was happened so early, I don't remember. I've been drawing since I was 3 or 4. Part of it was the praise I received for my early efforts which kept my interest high. Thanks Mom & Dad!

2) Probably the compromises,great and small , I have to make to try and eck out a living at it.

3) The rare occasion when I slap down something I'm mildly satisfied with. That ,and that million bucks in TARP money all us fantasy artists got.

Jesper Ejsing
1) I remember very clearly the first time the thought hit me that "I wanna be a fantasy-artist". it was when skipping through the pages of the DnD basic books. I stopped at a female cleric in black and white by Larry Elmore ( I am sure very many of you old school role players remember that illustration perfectly) and formulated the the dream "I want to make this for a living". I was 14 years old.

2) I absolutely hate all the paperwork of being a freelance artist. The whole contract, invoice mailing and getting approval process is tiring. I just want to be left alone and paint fantasy images. Not that I do not like having assignments; I love that part. I think my mind works BEST if I have a limited number of choices to go from. If I was a millionaire I would still go to the studio everyday and paint the same kind of illustrations. I might be sitting in a better chair or have a larger table and more color tubes to chose from but the work would be the same. Except I would hire a secretary to take care of my business. One more thing: As an artist working alone, when things go the wrong way and I am unable to sketch something useful for days it is wearing down on me that I cannot blame anybody else. I can blame it on the materials, the pencils or the weather, but in the end it is nobody's fault but my own lack of vision and skills. It is hard as hell...

3)...but it is also the best thing in the world when everything goes right, when I sketch a perfect composition in only 15 seconds and it end up being the final painting. The feeling of nailing it is glorious and is owed only to one man: me. What else? I always liked the moment a painting is completed and it lies before me; a little square window into another world that exists only in MY mind. Being able to shove people in front of that window gives me great satisfaction and joy.

Kim Feigenbaum
1) I started drawing from an early age, but I think the thing that really pushed me into the illustration field was seeing the production work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As an artist that works in graphite, seeing John Howe’s and Alan Lee’s work was really inspiring and this showed me that people can make a living doing what they love.

2) Trying to make a living while doing what I love. Working as a freelancer is very difficult and there is a lot of uncertainty with your income. I know a lot of freelance illustrators maintain day jobs (myself included) and this is probably the number one most stressful aspect of being a creative professional.

3) Seeing my work in print! There’s nothing like seeing the final product of your efforts come to fruition.

Eric Fortune
1) I always just wanted to make art and get better. I didn't necessarily think about how could I make it a career. It wasn't until my senior year high school that my teacher convinced me that making a living as an artist was indeed feasible.

2) Having to work in the monetary system. You can't always be true to yourself. Artists often compromise their vision in order to make money to survive.

3) The feeling that I've created something of value. The sense of accomplishment and evolution as an artist.

Lars Grant-West

1) Well, I've always loved art. I loved dinosaurs and monsters way more as a kid though, and art let me express that. I do have to make the distinction between what I consider an "artist", someone who does there own thing artistically, and a "freelance illustrator", Who is, in many respects is a gun for hire. As an illustrator you get to decide what kind of work in your portfolio, and that pretty much dictates the kind of work you get, so it's not like you're without control, but you don't often get to just sit down and paint whatever you want. If I didn't need to make a living I'd be an artist. As it happens, bringing money in matters, so I'm an illustrator. When I get to express my own interests, they tend to be pretty deeply rooted in the natural world, with a some "what if" thrown in..."What if Dragons were real?", for example. Coming from blue collar stock I also don't particularly care for the sense of an artist being a vessel for magical forces of some kind, and too often gives it's recipients delusions of grandeur...Illustration is a craft...and while many artists are very much in touch with their creative energies (one of the real roots of our skill set), these energies are not unique to artist...It's about problem solving and seeing flow and rhythm and about a dozen other things. You get better with practice. I've seen plumbers do things with PVC pipe that were as mystical to me as seeing someone summon a full-torso apparition. Impressed the hell out of me. But it's not magic. It's hard-won skill. I don't mean to be snarky or split hairs - but I'm proud of being an illustrator, and I think we all should feel proud of the craft we sweat and bleed for!

2) The lack of sure income is probably the big thing. I've had 9-5 jobs before, and having a set sum of money show up like magic in the bank every week was great. I'm happy that I've been fortunate not to have any dry spells, but my day doesn't often end at 3 or 4 pm (and my work week rarely ends on Friday).

3) With the same caveat as question 2, Being able to make my own schedule is great. The flip side of that coin is that never leaving "the office" kind of sucks.

Tariq Hassan
1) I started drawing when I was in kindergarten, and then I found comics, which made me get serious about getting better.. I think the point when I decided I was going to be an artist was probably my first convention- I saw all of these great artists making money drawing.. I think that was it for me..

2) I hate the time away from family and "fun". But the only way to be an artist is to be driven- You have to have that feeling of suffocation when and idea or concept is stuck in your head.. You can't breathe until it's realized on paper- and honestly I think that's what drives most to do art- we have to.

3) I love the results. I love drawing, I love painting, design, composition, problem solving. I think the thing I like most is creating something from nothing.. You start with a 11x17inch white sheet, and slowly it comes to life.

Paul (Prof) Herbert
1) I always would draw when I was a kid to pass the time. I think the first thing that made me want to become an artist was when I first started learning to draw by copying comic book covers. I would try to recreate different covers I thought were cool. I started getting good at drawing and thought it would be so cool if I could see my art on a comic book cover someday (which did happen). Being a part of the things I enjoy has always been a driving force in my career as an artist. Fantasy and sci fi has always been my choice subject matter.

2) Artist block. Short deadlines. Having more ideas than time to do them.

3) Being able to make my ideas tangible. Creating new art.

Jeff Himmelman
1) I don't think it was any one thing, I just never considered any other line of work. My dad worked from home as a children's book illustrator, and my earliest memories are hanging out in my dad's studio, drawing comics about my own super hero, Plodar. Plodar had no skin, but could shoot his guts out at bad guys and throw them in jail. Dude was a badass.

2) near constant uncertainty. Where's my next check going to come from? Am I good enough to get this job? Am fooling myself into thinking I'm better than I am? I think doubting yourself is unfortunately built into the process of becoming a better artist. If I'm ever content, it means I'm not seeing what's wrong with my work at the moment, which means I cant fix it and get better. It sucks but being oblivious to your faults is actually worse.

3) theres a lot of things i love about art, but if i had to pick one, it would be the challenge. it's intensely satisfying for me to work really hard and watch myself improve. When I look at my website today, I'm proud of what I see, especially when I compare it to the stuff I took down because it was old.

Jon Hodgson

1) Hmmm tricky one. There's a real cliche that you see on dozens of artists' websites about "being an artist since I first picked up a crayon" and I've read it so many times it's meaningless. I don't honestly recall any one instance or lightbulb moment. It's something I've always done, was always encouraged to do, for which I'm very grateful. I come from a very artistic family and art in one form or another was always around. In terms of specifically being an illustrator I guess some of the books I read as a kid really inspired me to want to draw the same stuff. The Tolkien Bestiary by David Day, and Paul Bonner's covers to the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander stick out in my memory. I think subsequently having a truly great art teacher in high school really made me want to take painting seriously, and that it was a serious option for me.

2) I'll confess that I am somewhat wary of the term "artist" used without a context. I think it has a lot of baggage that many people erroneously buy into and I guess that's what I dislike the most. The idea that artists are kooky, special, different, flakey and so on. It just annoys me, particularly when it's self diagnosed. I see my job more as a craft like cabinet making. No one thinks cabinet makers are kooky. I try to use the term illustrator since it brings a bit less of that tiresome nonsense to the party.

3) I like drawing and painting. Really it is as simple as that. Just this morning I was thinking about how much putting colours next to each other affects me and flicks those happy switches in my head. Right now I have some choices to make which would potentially elevate my standard of living considerably, but would take me away from drawing and painting. It would be very difficult to leave it behind and I'm not sure I will.

Ralph Horsley
1) Seeing the artwork in 1st edition AD&D, and wanting to emulate it, whilst exploring the narratives of my own characters.

2) Inability to translate what is in my head onto the page.

3) The transformation of a blank page into a finished painting, and the realization that 'I did that'.

MuYoung "Mu" Kim
1) I honestly can't remember a specific instant, just a sure knowledge that art is something that I've been doing and loving for the entire length and breath of my memory. It's not to say that I don't love other things, that I don't also crave ventures in other avenues, but I always come back to art in its multitude of forms. Always. I can, however, remember the exact moment I realized that what I was doing wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that being an artist, the first thing I ever wanted to be (blame DaVinci and the other Renaissance Men), was the right thing for me. I was in my lab rewriting another grant proposal, it was around 1 am, and I just stopped for a moment. That's when the aforementioned revelation struck me like the proverbial bag of bricks. Good bricks. :)

2) Without a doubt, the business side of it. In the end, I just want to make with the pretty, but hunting down payments, balancing my books, and suffering through miles of legal and tax regulations are but the tip of the very necessary iceberg that being a freelancer is all about.

3) The challenge of creation. It might sound like I suffer from a mild god complex, but above all things, I relish the chance to create, to explore new worlds that no one else has ever stepped foot upon. Spinning adventure, gazing upon wondrous sights...the promise of discovery and the journey around each new hill...yeah, that's what keeps bringing me back with a smile.

I will have more thoughts on this as well as MANY more artists to share with you on Wednesday (Part 2) and Friday (Part 3)! Until then...

For more samples of my work or to contact
me regarding my availability head over to my website:


  1. hahah! Everyone hates the business...


  2. Great project and responses so far!

    I don´t understand why business is the hated part for most artists, its attached to the art itself, like the brain needs the hand to bring something to paper. If you feel good having the paperwork done, you can feel even better creating;-)

  3. I think this is great stuff! A really good idea.

    Sincerely looking forward to reading more of these throughout the week.

  4. Great to see these all together - thanks Christopher :)

  5. Thanks everybody! Glad you are enjoying this. More and more responses keep showing up too! Glad to hear that people are liking this :D