To celebrate the launch of my new website this week (thanks to my partner in all things, Teresa N Fischer!) I thought I’d talk a bit about the many artistic-hats I wear. (In case you too want to try them on.)
If you are like me, you like to draw lots of stuff, right? You love fantasy art, fine art, children’s books, concept design, comic books/manga? So do I.
You’ve been told, “In order to succeed in illustration, you need to need to have a consistent voice, stick to ONE thing, one genre, one style.” Dudes, what a creativity killer. Artistic hand-cuffs. Yup, I’ve heard that one more than a few times. Hell I’ve even told myself that. (But like a tweaked out technique-junky I told myself to shut the hell up. I couldn’t be stopped.)
If you know my body of work, you may have even said to your well meaning peers, “But Scott does lots of different styles. Why can’t I?” This is true, I’ve worked in everything from picture books to middle grade fiction, all the way to serious sci-fi/Fantasy, and these days, I am even dipping a toe in the gallery world.
It is no surprise then that the first question a student asks of me is often, “Fischer, how the frip-frackin-freck do you get to work on this abundant cornucopia of creativity?”.
I hate to tell you this… and I wince at the look of disappointment on your familiar, multi-faceted-artist face when I say- “The folks who said ‘Do one thing!’ Well, they are kinda right.”
Cause folks, the reality is: I did ONE thing for TEN years, first!
Now I know 10 years sounds like a long time to many of you, but let me tell you, it will evaporate in an instant when you are on the other side of it. And as a result of focusing, you will have a foundation on which you can build-up, and more importantly, build OUT from.
The amazing Rick Berry (http://rickberrystudio.com/) once said to a younger me, “Scott, a career is like having one foot on a train that is going faster and faster down the track as you build reputation and prestige. But as soon as you have your footing, try to get a toe on another train on a different track, so that when the first train inevitably crashes violently into a wall, you can hop over to the second train without walking all the way back to the station and starting over from zero.”
The lesson hit home, and as soon as I felt a platform beneath, that I was pretty sure I could return too, I leapt to another. Always trying to keep a hand in what came before.
Some pointers for the split art-personalities among you:
1) If you think 10 years producing your killer grown-up Fantasy art will translate to Children’s books, you are wrong. For instance, I didn’t show my first children’s book editor the illustration I did for the Magic The Gathering card ‘POX’! (And I was really proud of those oozing sores I painted. They glistened.)
You will have to start from the ground up. I was smart enough to do it early, while using the foundation I’d built in Game art to support the excursion.
In fact, I did not show my kids book editor my fantasy art until we’d been working together for a year. With the help and keen eyes of my dear friend and Kids Book genius, Angela DiTerlizzi, I curated a portfolio specifically for the picture book and middle grade world. (Naturally the skills I picked up in Fantasy Art were helpful, even if behind the scenes.)
The same applies to fine art. I came out of college with a fine art/gallery portfolio. I went to Dragon Con to show the work to gaming companies- having no fantasy art in the portfolio. You are probably saying, “But I am sure the Art Director will see that I can draw well and therefor, know I can draw whatever they need, right? Skillz are skillz, after all.” WRONG.
After showing my fine art portfolio to the first Art Director at a game company, he said, “Wow man, your work is freaking fantastic. Heck, I’d like to put it on the wall of my house… But what the hell does it have to do with my Space Ship game? Next!”
2) Which brings me to my second overlapping point. Target your market. Know what that art director does for a job and what sort of art they may be looking for. Show them that. Sounds easy, but you wouldn’t believe how many people have academic life drawing in their kids book portfolio. Save the life drawing for if you apply to a college- to teach drawing.
3) This brings us back to the website. Ideally I feel it would be great to have a separate website for each style you do. But more realistically, the way I have handled it is to have distinct categories for my different disciplines.
Cons of a varied portfolio:
Even though I’ve kept things separate, I am sure I have lost jobs because of the diversity. Maybe a fantasy Art Director I hadn’t worked with in a while thought, “Oh I guess Scott is just doing Children’s books now.” It is a risk I’ve been willing to take.
You also run into the issue of being Jack of all trades and King of none. So remember if you do this, you have to be pretty damn good at all of the disciplines. And slowly inch them up together after your initial commitment to one thing. Do I think I maybe could have reached a loftier rung of the ladder, much earlier, had I stuck to one thing the whole time? Yes I do. But then, maybe I’d be stuck doing one thing forever.
Pros of a varied portfolio: I can honestly say I have never been with out work since 1995, for the simple fact that, if one genre is quite, chances are there is something going on in another. Which is why I was willing to take the risk. I haven’t done a picture book in quite a few years, but based on what I did before, I think I could probably find a door cracked enough to get back in. And that is what a career is. A series of slightly cracked doors that you get a toe in, then a foot, then slither the rest inside.
Final thought: I use to say to my wife, ‘Teresa, I wish I had like 6 months to settle down into one style, and figure out what the hell I REALLY want to do. Cause I love it all!” And she replied, “Scott, if you take 6 months to figure it out, you won’t settle on one style, you will come back with 10 new styles.”
Looking back, I am actually glad that I didn’t blow up huge in my 20s for some style that I would have to produce for the rest of my life. (Though 20s Scott would give me the finger, cause he sure wanted that.) I have worn many hats, which spread me out pretty far. But the truth is, I feel the paths all starting to come back together into something new. After all, there would be no ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ covers had I not done the children’s book Lottie Paris. Some of those same techniques are being applied to very different genres. And I don’t know that I would have arrived at the mixed media solutions I have, had I stuck to one path.
I will end on something my great friend and artist Matt Mitchell ( http://100facesofwarexperience.org/portrait-gallery/) said to me, “Scott, maybe your ‘style isn’t one thing. Maybe it is many things in one?” These days I feel Matt is a prophet.