Q1. Anonymous: Hi Sterling, I would like to ask you some questions. I have problems producing illustrations. I spend most of my time studying technical stuff (anatomy, light, color, etc) and I always feel that I'm missing something. I do not feel ready. There are times that I can not find a way to create illustrations. Do you have any advice for me to try to solve this problem?
A1. Sterling: Most illustrators have a real challenge in acknowledging the critical value in their own curiosities and quirks as an integral component in the artistry of illustration. Every successful artist that I have taught has already had the answer to the third part through their lives-lived and in the pages of their sketchbooks. As an educator, it is my role to teach them to value their differences as strengths, not weaknesses.
“Honor the familiar.”
I work as an electrical engineer and admire your work. I love painting and have a strong interest in getting into the art work, possibly as an illustrator or portrait artist. I draw and paint in my spare time and have thought of dropping my career and going into art school. Before that, though, how can I gauge if my work is good enough to uproot my life and change careers? I know I have fun coming up with pieces, but making a living off of them is an entirely different story. Can you advise me on what "tests" I can put my art or my skills through to see if that career change is worth attempting?
My interests in the art world vary greatly. Sometimes I like drawing people. Sometimes animals. Sometimes completely random stuff. I guess my second question would be: how do I hone in on what I am truly interested in pursuing if I were to get into art seriously? Or is it natural, as you have shown, to change directions in the industry?
My website: jerrypoon.com
A2: Thanks so much for reaching out. Know I appreciate the kind words. Always the teacher, I'd frame your question into several this VS that scenarios to establish the outer edges of your inquiry. In reading through your About section, I relate to the logical approach that you take to your professional work, as well as your creative work. If you are considering quitting your current job and going to art school- what is the outcome? If it is to replace your income as a mechanical engineer with an income as an illustrator/painter/creator, how much income do you have to replace? In addition, what does the degree cost? It’s both money in and money out that should be considered in this equation. If the cost of these things is manageable and your willingness to take a risk haunts you at every turn, this may be a risk that you are willing to take. What is the cost of regret?
Still, this wouldn’t be my approach, as I don’t believe that it should be all or nothing. I have a family that depends on my income and every decision that I make in the creative sphere is contingent upon the time I invest, what it takes me away from and what it has the potential of providing. If you were approaching a complex problem such as this as a mechanical engineer, I would imagine that you would break it down into very logical steps.
What is the problem that needs to be solved?
What are the possible solutions for that problem?
What tools will be needed to solve it?
What are the costs of the project? Tools, hours, resources
What opportunities are lost by committing to the project?
What phases can the project be broken down into to make it more manageable?
What is the least amount of effort for the greatest return?
What is your exit strategy?
How do you acknowledge success- what is the metric?
While I realize that this framework sounds as if I wrote it in the context of your current line of work, it is, in fact, quite similar to how I would approach creative industries and opportunities. I plan in order to mitigate risk. It doesn’t go away completely- risk is a necessary component in creative endeavors, but it certainly predicts and limits the fall if it comes.
One thing that is difficult to find is a general idea as to income for commercial illustrators. While it varies wildly, depending on the type of project and the success/visability and viability of the artist, as well as current fashion and demands, I’m listing a general price point per the types of projects that I have worked on. With a bit of math, you can average out what you might make if you were working consistently, were in-demand, and creating new pieces every day for client commissions. This is not likely the nature of freelance work, and finding employment in a studio can provide a bit more consistency as an employee. (Freelance VS Employee).
Average Price points:
Editorial Illustration (magazines, newspapers) 1000- 1250 USDBook Covers- 2250- 4000 USD
Advertising- varies wildly- 2500- 40,000 USD
Finally, I’d only encourage caution with your dreams. These are just my thoughts- gathered from a guy who has had some luck, some skill and healthy ambition. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and I haven’t always gotten it right. But one thing that I’ve always known is that I’m an artist and that part of who I am has driven me to seek an authentic path, to leave a mark and to live a creative life. There are plenty of other opinions out there from “Go for it!” to, “you don’t have what it takes”. I’ve heard them all and if you listen to them, they are exactly right. If you don’t, they can be exactly wrong. The point is, that the decision is yours.
I hope this helps as you look to next things. As an alternative to art school- have you considered enrolling in an online professional course such as the Visual Arts Passage, Society of Visual Storytelling, Schoolism or Gnomon? Each has amazing offerings that might give you the structure you are looking for, without fully rebooting your life.