Friday, December 28, 2012

Reader Questions: Working environment and schedule

A while back I asked readers of this blog to submit questions they would like me to answer about art, working as an artist, or anything else relating to the industry. I received several great questions and it is long over due to start answering them. Starting things off, we have a question from Ashley…

Ashley asks:
"As a commercial freelance artist who has two kids (with a third on the way) I can't work full time but I am curious to know what a typical work day looks like for you. Where do you work and what does your daily schedule look like? How many projects can you do in a week/month?"

Thanks for the great question and I hope my answer will be helpful and insightful. I have mentioned this before here on the blog and I talked about it in more detail at Illuxcon during my lecture on 'Getting Serious', I do maintain a day job that allows me the opportunity to also work as a fantasy illustrator. The quick answer is that I work a 40 hour a week job as a designer and digital artist for a educational design house and I work a 40 hour a week (or more) as a fantasy illustrator. This is a choice that I have made, though at the beginning I really didn't know what I was getting into. But then again, when it comes to fantasy illustration, if we knew what we were getting into I am not sure how many of us would be in the industry!

Let's start off with what my days look like… Generally speaking, I work 7 days a week to some degree and most of my days are 17 - 18 hours long from waking up to falling asleep. I do make time for my wife, my friends, mountain biking three times a week, personal art time, and a little time here and there it catch up on sleep. I wake up at 7 am five days a week and arrive at my office ready to work by 8 am. I take an hour lunch, if I am eating alone I spend most of my lunch drawing on my own work, if I have lunch with friends I gladly ignore the drawing. I work generally till 5 pm, though a couple times a year due to deadlines my day job requires additional time. My wife works nights as an ER nurse and our schedules overlap in the mornings and evenings. This allows me several nights a week to an empty house where I can focus on working with only the cats to distract me. I generally start working on illustration work in the evenings between 6 pm and 8 pm, depending on what else is going on and I work until around midnight. At the latest I am asleep by 1 am. It all begins again at 7 am and this is usually repeated through the entire work week. I sleep in on the weekends whenever possible. This is a hard schedule to maintain, and I do so out of choice and love of the monsters.

As far as my working environment goes I have two very different offices for the two jobs I have. I have my day job office where I do my educational based work and I have my home office where I make my monster illustrations. I have some photos of both with some helpful diagrams to explain what you are looking at. Lets start things off with my day job office and finish up with the home office…

Daytime office
Daytime office wall

This office has a glass front, so you can see into it like a display room. My office is usually a stopping point when clients or university employees are brought through for meetings and tours. I on the second floor so the view out the window is nice… which is why I sit with my back to it so that I am not distracted.

Nighttime office

Nighttime office 

As you can see, my two offices are a little different depending on the work I am doing there. Looking at them now, it seems like their appearances are reversed to what you would expect. Originally, my home office was in our guest room, but I would be back there for hours on end and the wife wouldn't see me. We decided to move my work area out into the main area of the house and it has worked out very well. We had already divided the long room with a cough, so I just set up behind the cough and I can spend time with the wife and still work. The set up for the home office has changed over the years to better suit my needs. In fact, it has changed again since preparing to write this post. There has been a new addition, and I will share it with you on Monday since I have not had time to add it to this post.

Now the tough part of this question, how long does it actually take me to make a painting. This is tough because I never have the chance to just sit down and constantly work on a painting. I have my day job and other activities that separate my painting time into little blocks in the evenings and weekends. I will give you a general break down of the amount of time it takes me to do any given step of the process…

• Shooting reference: 1 - 2 hours
• Developing digital thumbnails (usually 3 thumbnails per piece): 1 - 3 hours (per individual piece)
• Producing the finalized pencil drawing: 1 - 3 hours (per drawing)
• Painting the final: 1 - 3 days (of actual working time, not days if the week)

I have had the chance to sit down and work only on illustration a couple times this year and this has given me a better understanding of how fast… or slow I work. I was able to finish a fully detailed isolated figure illustration in a single day of work and I was able to complete a quarter page with background in a day and a half. But having the time to just sit and focus on the painting for any longer then 4 - 5 hours is a rarity for me. I do get longer periods on the weekend, sometimes 10 - 12 hours and I can complete most of a painting in that time. My rule of thumb is that the painting part of the process takes 1 - 3 days worth of time. Sometimes it is longer sometimes it is less. As always, the more time I put into the thumbnails and drawing the less time I find the final painting taking me. I have found that allowing time between the thumbnail, the drawing, and the final painting allows me the chance to look more objectively at the piece at each stage of the process and allows me to catch potential issues that will need to be addressed. I also try to allow time between when I finish the painting and when I turn it in so that I can have a fresh look at it before I send it to the client, just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

As a rule I work on one painting at a time. I will work on all the thumbnails and drawings all at the same time, but when it comes to the paintings I will work on one until it is done and then begin on the next. I also work on the paintings in the order the client assigned them to me in the art order - a little superstition that I have always had. I will move entire assignments around in my work schedule depending on deadline though, but I do like to work on them in the order they come to me. This first come first serve work flow has allowed me to not make any scheduling mistakes or miss any deadlines.

My schedule is pretty packed and planned out for at least a month or two in advance. This does make it difficult to work with new clients, clients with a really tight turn around on deadlines, and surprise emergency pick up assignments… but I do my best to make things work for everyone. 99% of the time I err on the side of caution when it comes to accepting work and I have had to learn the hard skill of saying 'NO'. I have passed on some really exciting projects that I have waited my entire life to work on because I knew I would just not have enough time to take them. This really sucks, to put it bluntly, but producing substandard work or missing a deadline is worse for me. I am usually working on anywhere between 1 and 4 pieces at any given time. I aim to have 1 to 3 finished paintings each month. This allows me some little bit of a life outside of working while still allowing me to make my monsters. That said… I have 13 paintings to produce over the next month. This should be interesting!

I hope this answers all of the questions and addresses all of the topics. If there are any additional questions on this topic or if anyone would like anything explained further, please feel to leave them in the comment section below. Also, if you have any other questions for me please feel free to send them my way!

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

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


  1. A tremendous kudos on the killer work ethic! What drive and excellence. I don't remember who said it, but it applies: "The problem with being at the top is that there is no room to sit down." Now if you could either go without sleep, or find a way to make a day 30 hours, you'd be all set. But please attempt to go without sleep before making all of our workdays longer :)

    1. I already go without out far too much sleep and I sacrifice far too much of the rest of my life for my art. Writing this post and looking at recent events more and more show me that I need to make a change.

    2. that's how you KNOW you've made it as a professional artist: you are generally tired and hungry all the time :)

    3. If it was a serious and sustainable industry to "make it" you would not be hungry or tired. Other careers and industries are not like this.

    4. Thanks for your thoughts on this... I have been thinking about all this and might have another to address this in a blog post. The idea of the starving artist and somehow this is a sign of success or whatever it is... good themes and idea to talk about! :D