-By Lauren Panepinto

I was at IlluXcon this weekend, and for those of you that don’t know, it’s an art convention for Science Fiction and Fantasy illustrators, mostly working traditionally, held at the Allentown Art Museum in PA. Cons are exhausting times to be an Art Director. (Especially a really really recognizable one.) For example, I had hours of official portfolio reviews every day, then Marc Scheff & I gave one an epic 2-hour mega-condensed-version of our Art Business Bootcamps. In between, almost every minute you’re free, you’re giving impromptu portfolio reviews, mostly to young artists who are hungry for any kind of feedback you can give them. There’s a joke that at the height of a convention an AD can’t walk a full 10 steps without being stopped with a portfolio review. (Trust me, we test it.) Eventually you have to start saying no for the nite – but we’re terrible at it – I saw ADs giving reviews in a hotel lobby full of drunken artists at 2am (looking at you, Cynthia Sheppard, ha). Hell, I even gave a few drunken portfolio reviews. (Yes, I warned them, but they still gave me those puppy dog eyes.)

There was someone there who had never been to an art convention like that before, and they were blown away, and the first thing they asked was Why. Why do all you crazy ADs (and many of the pro artists) give so much to artists who often have no chance of being hired by you anytime soon, if ever. It was after my 50-something-th portfolio of the day, so I couldn’t really give an answer other than well, because you have to, these artists need guidance, and it’s our responsibility to share info.

It was an ok answer, but the question stayed with me…

This week Marc & I launched the online version of our Art Business Bootcamps. We’ve been working really hard on them (thank god Marc has a computer science degree from Harvard is all I’m going to say) and we’ve been shooting video and expanding and designing the bootcamps, and building websites and learning new software platforms, and we were thrilled to get it all revealed finally. And I was telling a non-artist friend about it, and they asked Why. Well first they asked how the hell do you have time to do all the crap you do – I mean it’s not like Creative Director is a low-impact job, and Marc not only works as a full time artist, but also runs the tech and monitors every class for smArt School, runs Every Day Original, Dear AD, and has kids. A newborn even. And this friend asked Why. Why are we working so hard? We’re clearly not charging enough for it to be profit – in fact we’ve been working every angle we could to bring the price down as low as possible for artists. So why are we killing ourselves?

I said it was because art schools don’t teach this stuff, and artists need it to survive. That ADs knew this info best and artists needed to know it. But that didn’t explain why WE had to do it. Why do we run the bootcamps, and why did we startΒ Dear AD? Why does Dan run this blog? Why does Jon run Art Order? Why does Rebecca run smArt School & the IMC? What about Schoolism, Art Camp, One Fantastic Week, Illustration Age, all of these resources? If any of these people were in it for profit they’d be in much more lucrative endeavors.

So this Why was sitting on me through the rest of the weekend, and the whole ride home, and the past few days as Marc & I launch yet another project. And when I think about “Why” there’s luckily another friend I have who’s an expert on Why, Simon Sinek. He literally wrote the book Start With Why. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, then definitely watch this:


So I started thinking about this in terms of Simon’s Golden Circle concept, and this is what I came up with:

My very unscientific golden circle sketched out

And I think it actually answers a lot. My “Why” is simply because I want more artists to make more cool shit. I want them to be freed up as much as possible from all the periphery of the business of having an art career, and maximize the time spent making awesome art. Myself included. I’m pretty sure everyone else I mentioned above who mentors this scene has a similar “Why”, even if their “How” and “What” are different. Honestly, if you dig deep enough, I am angry that a traditional art school education doesn’t give you these tools, except when you happen to run across a very very good teacher. I am angry at the confusion and wasting of time and effort that learning these skills on their own takes artists, and I am angry at how many fabulous artists don’t make it into a long term career because they are missing this info. I am frustrated by the lack of communication between clients who most of the time really do want to get great art and support artists, and artists who need great clients to support them with jobs that inspire them and pay them fairly. I want to not only educate artists, but make a community of shared resources that support artists not only getting the best client commissions, but also help them do personal projects and turn them into successful entrepreneurships.

That is why we kill ourselves to do portfolio reviews at cons, create networks and projects and education programs, and are so so protective of our scene. I’m honored to be in a community that has so many pillars supporting this attitude, and it makes me feel like a superhero to contribute to that. I was extremely lucky to find a work partner that feels exactly the same way I do, with as much passion, and the very same Why.

Now go make your own golden circle and figure out your own Why. Draw it out and tack it to the wall next to where you draw or next to the computer, and let it inspire you and keep you on your path. And if any of Drawn + Drafted‘s projects can help you, use them. And if the new Bootcamps can help you clear obstacles to making awesome art, then I hope we’ll see you in January.