Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 - Okay, NOW WHAT?

It feels like only yesterday I was reflecting on 2010 and preparing to sum up a years worth of experiences and learning ...and here we are, already in 2012. If you have missed my previous posts you can read them here: 2009 Part 1 & Part 2 and 2010 can read all about getting serious.

Do it for yourself, not for them.

In years past, before writing I would spend time reflecting on the things I did right and the things I did wrong. Believe you me, in the last couple of years I have made some mistakes, but thankfully I have done some things correctly as well. Looking back at 2011, the year feels a bit different. It is hard to put my finger on one thing, but I think in 2011 I realized that I need to be doing this art thing more for myself and less for somebody else. I don't think this began to take shape in my head until June, but it completely came together this past week, the last week of 2011.

I was VERY busy this year, the most busy I have ever been as an artist. This has its' pluses and minuses and everyone has to deal with these challenges in their own way. For me, I was seriously burnt out by April or May and I really didn't know what to do. It was my own fault and I only can blame myself. I could not say 'no' to anything. Mind you, I worked on some really fun and interesting assignments, but at the end of the day I was exhausted (I of course did my best and did the assignments to the best of my abilities).

Thankfully there was an exterior influence that saved the day ...the Illustration Master Class!

© 2011 Christopher Burdett

Just in the nick of time the IMC made me schedule a break in my deadlines and required me to make a piece of work that was for myself and only for myself. A week to paint, have fun, and to learn ... who could ask for more? that I did all there in abundance (after I stopped freaking out). And you know what? I really enjoyed it! Making work that was in my voice, that accomplished my needs as an artist was an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I had almost forgotten about. This reminded me that I need to be invested in what I am doing, I need for my assignments to fulfill my needs as an artist. Not every project will allow this and in many situations you will need to figure out how to make the assignment fulfill this need. This did mean I had to learn to say 'no' more often and to make sure I really wanted to work on any given assignment. Thankfully, because of my efforts in 2009 and 2010 I have been focusing on my passions as an artist (see the links above for more details) and making sure my Art Directors are aware of the work I want to do. This lead to some incredibly fun assignments, many of which I can't share with you yet, but some I can...

Heart of the Scar / Shoth-Goragg.jpg
© 2011 Wizards of the Coast
Giant tentacle monster for Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, this I can get behind and while following the art order and giving the client what they want, I can add my voice to it, which hopefully will make it even better.

In the second part of 2011 I really made sure I said 'yes' to the projects that were best for me and my needs. Not sure how well I did, but I definitely felt better about the work I was doing and I was invested in the assignments. I tried to approach them all with the same philosophy, "What can I add to this assignment so that I can get the most back from it." So far, it seems to be working.

It is good to have goals!

Hopefully I have mentioned the importance of having goals before now. They are incredibly important and I feel they help shape your motivation and direction with your career. When I am asked the 'What does it take to become an artist' question, I answer with, "Have long term goals and invest lots and lots of time and hard work". If you don't know where you are going, how do you expect to get anywhere, let alone someplace you want to be? I have been making goals for myself and my career for a very very long time and thankfully I have been able to (in one way or another) complete most of them. Here are the goals that I set out for myself ...

(1980) "OMG DUNGEONS & DRAGONS MONSTER MANUAL!" - Completed 2008
(1984) "I want to make MOVIES!" - Completed 1999 - 2000 & 2002 - 2005
(1996) "I would really like to design toys" - For me, designing miniature definitely fits the bill - Completed 2005 - today
(1998) "I would really like to work on a video game." - Completed 2008, 2010 (and hopefully 2012) *none of these projects have yet to be released*
(2010) "There is no way I will ever get to do a cover because monsters never get to be on covers by themselves ...but it would sure be nice to do one" - completed 2011

But there was always a hold out, the one that began them all...

(1977) "I want to make Star Wars."

For years I have quested for this first and most dear of goals. I foolishly thought I had a chance at one of the coveted ILM student internships. I thought I would be close when I moved to LA to work in the film industry, but no. I thought I was even closer by working with Wizards of the Coast, but I still could not make it happen. I even interviewed with Lucas Licensing in the hopes of getting one assignment, yet again I was denied. It only took me 34 years but as of 2011, I finally got to 'make Star Wars' ...twice even.

These are purely for reference purposes ...and a small sample of a larger addiction.

I won't be able to share my Star Wars work until sometime in 2012, but it was very weird to finally work on that license after so very very long. In many ways they were just another set of assignments. At other times I felt like climbing onto the roof and shouting, "The circle is now complete, when I left you I was but a learner, but now, I AM THE MASTER!". And no, I was not working on any Darth Vader pieces. It also, in its own way, made me feel like I can do anything if I put my mind to it. Of course this resulted in a little problem ...all my goals are complete ...OKAY, NOW WHAT?

Well, I realized in the last week of 2011 that the answer to this question is answered by my first topic, I need to do things for me and myself. Evidence of this has already been showing up on the blog and hopefully more will be along soon! Instead of looking to others to help complete my goals, I am going to be looking to fulfill them myself. Two birds, one stone.

Push yourself and learn new things because you are better then you were and will be better then you are now.

2011 was marked by a lot of learning opportunities. While I have sought situations in the past to learn and grow, 2011 was just chalk full of them. It started with the before mentioned Illustration Master Class which lead into Gen Con ...I will stop right here and mention that setting up at a major convention for the first time was very much a learning experience. It is important to see how the public responds to your art and art in general, what works, what doesn't, and of course all the very important face time with your peers, your heroes, and your ADs. So, Gen Con lead into Illuxcon 4, which by far was a completely new and exciting experience for me. I wrote at length on it, but after IMC and Gen Con I got something very different out of Illuxcon compared to the last two years I attended. I mean this in the best and most positive way that I can, it was a AWESOME time.

Okay, as I am writing this, I think I figured it out, I found self confidence as an artist this year. As strange as this might sound, I think it has taken this long to feel like I am standing on my own two feet, I have something unique to say with my work and that I bring something that is my own to any assignment I take on. I think this feeling can be summed up in one pair of drawings, something that I had on my blog within the last couple of months. One of my redesigns of work I did on Angel...

High Priest 2003 / 2011
© 2003 Almost Human / © 2011 Christopher Burdett
Yeah ...a little difference. Looking at them I can't stop feeling like they were done by different people. With an eight year gap between them, they kind of have been drawn by very different people.

Maybe you only see two monster concepts, one that is 'meh' and one that is better ...maybe you don't even see that ...but to me I am floored. These both came from my brain and my hand buth if the last eight years of a LOT of drawing, hard work, and time had not happened the one of the right would not exist. It just finally hit me, maybe I can do this thing, maybe I am actually be an artist. I have only been working as an artist professionally since 1999 ...maybe it is about time I feel a little confident of the job I do long as I don't become a total jerk.

I keep mentioning this past week, well, last week I produced my first traditional painting. It is acrylic on board and I used a drawing I really liked that I did way back in 2008. I have been feeling the itch to paint with real paint since the IMC and I finally had time to do it over the holidays. Here is how it turned out...

Myopic Thrasher
© 2011 Christopher Burdett

Even though this is my first traditional piece I am really happy with how it turned out and really looking forward to doing more of these ...a lot more actually. I know I have a lot to learn I am just thrilled that the things I have been learning while working digitally have actually paid off when I worked traditionally.

Wrapping it all up...

I feel like I am forgetting so many other things that happened this year that played a huge roll in shaping it for me. One that I have not mentioned is my inclusion in the blog group Shadowcore. Check out this awesome group of artist is you already have not. Okay, to wrap things up… what I have come away with from 2011 is that I need to make sure I am doing work that I am passionate about and invested in and if I am not, I need to find a way to invest myself in the project. I need to focus on my new goals which are in many ways linked to working on projects that I am passionate about. And finally, continue to learn and push my boundaries as I improve and strengthen my abilities, feeling more confident about the work I do. …it is just that easy! :P

If you have any questions or would like me to clarify anything, let me know. I hope my ramblings have been helpful, useful or at least mildly amusing. I hope 2011 was a good year for you and here's to 2012 being even better! Now, let's get to work!

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


  1. Great Post! I am working on my yearly goals and this post along w/ your 2009 & 2010 posts are a huge inspiration- THANKS!

  2. My pleasure! Glad you found it helpful! :D

  3. Finally got some spare time to sit down and read your annual post. Great read. It always impresses me how much you are willing to share. How much you are willing to put yourself out there. It has been a pleasure watching you grow over the years, and I look forward to watching the continuing growth.

    Thanks for a great year!

  4. Thanks, Jon! Really appreciate the kind words, glad you enjoyed the post! :D