Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 - It is okay to be "OKAY"

2013 feels like a distant memory already. My days currently are very full with life events and monsters and I could have easily overlooked doing this post as I look ahead at 2014. It is not like I haven't other more time sensitive things to do right now, but I feel somewhat amiss in not document and share what I have learned from the ups and downs of 2013. Where to begin? I feel there is so much to share about 2013… but it really can be summed up in six words: It is okay to be "OKAY"… and the credit for this goes to Ralph Horsley. Before I look at these six little words, let's have a look at some other take aways from 2013…

It builds and builds AND builds on itself.

More so in 2013 then previous years I have observed just how much everything I have already shared from my journey has continued to be relevant, useful, and topical to my current life as a monster artist. If you missed my previous posts you can see them here: 2009 Part 1 & Part 2, 2010, 2011, and 2012. I am not aware of anything from my earlier posts that is not currently affecting my choices and the way I look at my life as an artist. Over the years I am peeling back the layers to realize the complexity of all this… gaining experience… leveling up… as it were. The direction of my journey might meet a dead end, a goal might be achieved, a clients might drift away, but I find a new path, another goal takes its place, a new client it discovered. The skills and understanding to see how this all works and to take an active roll in these events has been building over the years and continues to build. It is layered… like an onion, but all the layers work together to create a whole and all the layers continue to be important and relevant. 

Like the mighty stock photo of a block tower the knowledge gained over the years apparently has been building and building into a mighty experience tower... or something like that.

The strength of saying "NO".

I have seen a lot of people taking about this and a lot of discussion about its importance. Just for the sake of my own sanity and happiness I have had to get firmer with my usage of saying "NO". There is a finite about of time that I can devote to my wife, my day job, my friends, various other interests and hobbies, sleep, and making monsters. More then not, these last eight or nine years, making monsters has come quickly after the day job and has not allowed much if any time for anything else. Just like there being a finite about of time in the day there is a finite duration of time that someone, namely me, can live their life this way. I have had to say "no" because I just need more time to live my life, see my wife, and heaven forbid, make art for myself. I am still really busy, sometimes feeling extremely overloaded, but it is on the projects and assignments I want, not on just what comes along. With saying "no" more I have not been filling my schedule with a lot of low pay assignments and have been able to take on fewer higher paid assignment that are more rewarding on every level. At some point you just have to make the decision that your time is worth more then an assignment, especially a low budget uninteresting assignment. My time relaxing, playing a video game, drawing something for myself, or spending an evening with my wife has become more precious to me then a lot of assignments. This can still be hard to practice, but I am working on it and I am changing the way my time is used.

Back to the beginning.

With my time becoming more important and more precious to me I have had to evaluate what I want to create with the time I give to making monsters. This year especially, I have been looking back at the things that led me to this life of making monster. There are four things that take all the credit, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Godzilla, and Ultraman. While I have yet to find my personal voice regarding Godzilla and Ultraman, I have been able to find an outlet both professionally and personally for my love of Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons. 2013 brought me a lot of professional satisfaction for both of these but it was not enough and I have been devoting a lot of personal time to them, especially Star Wars. I have been exploring just what Star Wars means to me and taking a fresh look at the elements that really stimulate my creative drive. I have only done a handful or pieces so far, and I have only shared one or two, I am really looking forward to further exploration. I have had a long and complex history with my fandom of Star Wars and this is not the place to delve into it, but let's just say that after taking a break from that universe I have been able to return to it with fresh eyes and a better understanding of my feelings about it. Is this "ART"? Probably not, but it is "art". It is also MY art and I am finding a renewed happiness and excitement being able to play in the Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragon universe and carve out a piece of it that is told with my voice.

"Jabba's Gang"
11 x 14
colored pencil on toned paper
© 2013 Christopher Burdett

It is okay to be "OKAY"

This more then anything is what I take away from 2013.

After a lot of earlier conversations about art and being a working artist, Ralph Horsley came up to me during some evening festivities during Gen Con and said to me, "It is okay to be "OKAY"." I did not get it immediately, but I have been thinking a lot about it ever since. It has made the ups and downs so much easier to weather this year and has giving me a better perspective on myself and my career. Basically, my take away from these six words is that if you are getting work, making a living, doing everything you need and want to do… then you are doing "OKAY". Not everybody can be Brom, not everybody can be Greg Manchess, not everybody can be Frank Frazetta, not everybody can be Julie Bell… we are ourselves and that is "OKAY". We can not all be "FAMOUS", but we can do a great job at making our art, pleasing our clients, and living our lives the way we want to live them.

Gen Con 2013 fun... enlightenment comes in unusual places and unexpected times...

I am not saying to forgo dreams, goals, hopes, or wishes… but I am saying that we can be happy and proud of what we have and what we do and the fact that being "FAMOUS" (whatever that really means) doesn't have anything to do with feeling good and happy about our abilities and accomplishments. I don't think that being "FAMOUS" has ever been necessarily a goal for myself, but there is a certain level of inclusion and recognition that comes with being "FAMOUS" that would be nice. I have been coming to terms and to celebrate that in many ways I am a really "OKAY" artist. I have plenty of work, I have clients that want to give me work, I put all of myself into each piece, and I have done more and reached higher then I ever thought possible for myself. By celebrating being "OKAY" I am focusing on what I have and not at what I do not have.

"Loathsome Catoblepas" - Magic the Gathering - Theros
© 2013 Wizards of the Coast

I have wasted a lot of time fixating on not being included on specific projects, not being the darling of a particular art director, not having an army of ravenous devoted fans… and what has that gotten me? It has not found me a place on a coveted assignments, caught the attention of a reluctant art director, or widened my fan base… it has gotten me a HUGE amount of stress and unhappiness. By coming to terms with being "OKAY" it has really freed up so much brain space and I think it has allowed me to do more and reach farther. I have worked with several new art directors on some really exciting projects in 2013 and I can't wait to share them with you… and all this has happened since Gen Con.

I am trying to shift from worrying about what I don't have and what I am unable to achieve to being reassured by what I do have and what I have accomplished. My goals, my hopes, and my dreams have not changed. I am acutely aware that I have done things in my career that others will only ever dream of and I take great solace in this. I know it is easy to scoff at someone claiming that they are just "OKAY" after they have done some of the things I have done… I know a few years ago I would have certainly scoffed. SCOFF SCOFF! BUT… Perspectives change. Understandings of the ins and outs of the industry change. An assignment from a client does not make me any more or less of an artist. Fans buying my prints does not make me any more or less of an artist. Assignments from clients are great and people wanting to give me money for my art is great! …but this should not change how I see myself and the quality of my work or the drive to make work.

Bestiary: Lost World - Dragon Magazine Issue 427
© 2013 Wizards of the Coast

Being "OKAY" is a really good place to find myself and I am becoming more and more aware of this. It does not change anything about my work or my career, but it does improve my outlook and confidence in who and what I am. Many thanks goes to Ralph for this bit of wisdom, it certainly has left me with a lot to think about.

Wrapping it all up…

Usually at these point I sum everything up again and maybe have a few additional words of advice… instead I will say, is okay to be "OKAY" and DRAW MORE.

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 2013 was a good year for you and here's to 2014 being even better

That is all for another exciting Monday on the blog, see you back here on Wednesday! Until then...

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


  1. Great post Mr. Burdett, it's interesting to read about your path as an artist and I think you're passing on some solid advice in saying that it is okay to be okay. I think it's a notion many artists would benefit from coming to terms with because as you say we cannot all be Brom ie. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. Thanks! Glad you took something away from my post and found it helpful. It is a long and winding journey and it will be a lot easier if we help each other along the way.

  2. Thanks Chris,
    I'm just starting on the journey myself this year and your experiences and the knowledge you're sharing through your blog have been a big help. Especially with keeping grounded, and not beating myself up over my shortcomings. Which seem pretty extensive at times.
    This post resonates with me a lot. I'll need to keep it in mind in the coming year and not panic if I don't see developments as quickly as I hope. I also need to stop stressing and focus on enjoying the craft again.

    1. Hi there Damon,

      Really glad to hear you have found my posts helpful! Just trying to do my part to help others along their journey by sharing the mistakes of mine own :)

      Good luck on your journey!