"I'm more or less going to ramble stream of conscious here a bit - in an attempt to throw as many thoughts or ideas out as I can - might be a little discordant, but hopefully I'll cover more ground....
..........my first "Pro Tip" - The old adage "kill two birds with one stone". The idea is be productive on multiple fronts at once in an attempt to maximize your time value. Here is a good example from my journey -
1 - So, one of my jobs was a restaurant job, both in a restaurant and catering. So, I was making some money, which I needed. That's Value #1. Then, I would always bring my sketchbook with me. So any chance I had, I would sketch. That's Value #2. So, if I'm making money, and sketching at the same time, that's killing two birds with one stone. Then, I would always eat at the job, and take food home with me if or when I could. That's Value #3. It would save me time, cuz I wouldn't have to prepare meals or shop as much, and it would save me money. Value #4 was the social interaction. Since I was living the life of an artistic hermit, I didn't get out much or have fun much or socialize, which is good for ones spirits. But the job was cool and fun, whether I was vibing with my coworkers or customers - I had some quality interactions with folks. So that helped me keep my sanity while living a bit of an isolated life. Value #5 of the situation was the networking opportunities. I would fairly often come across other artists, or game artists, or other cool folks in the world I was trying to make my way to. It was good just to talk to them. In fact, my first job, I got while I was catering for a game company. I tracked down the art director, in a professional, courteous way - to just talk shop, see what they needed or where looking for, asked for advice etc. (another important idea - Think about what your client needs - It's easy to only think about what you want or need, but a big part of the success equation is meeting others needs - what they want - providing them with solutions). Anyway, I pitched this guy for an internship and I got it. It was unpaid, but to me, paying zero for a legit professional education seemed like a great value - as opposed to paying schools for info that wouldn't be as good as what I learned on the job. Also, through this job, I got my first paying gig, which led to my first full time gig.
So, in summary, I was able to be productive on 5 fronts, more or less at once;
1) Making money
2) Drawing in my sketchbook and improving my art skills
3) Free food = less money spent = more money
4) Fun and social interaction to keep my sanity
See what I mean? I was able to be productive on multiple fronts at once - instead of just one or two areas. And if you can do this on a regular basis - however that may be - Being productive in multiple areas at once - it creates a certain level of momentum or compound interest, where, all these values combined, tend to multiply or increase your progress exponentially. I felt like this was a critical success component for me. I didn't have the luxuries or benefits of a full time student somewhere, so I had try and be "exponentially productive" to keep up with them and get as good as them.
"As a prideful youth I thought that I was able to draw anything on my own, and fundamentals classes bored me. I was circling around in my own comfort zone and continued to stay there for years until I realized that I was unable to create anything else" - Yep! I had this same realization. Drawing was always a hobby of mine, and I thought I was pretty good - I cold draw skulls and demons and cool stuff, so I figured I was cool. Then, when I got that first job as an intern, and saw real artists and illustrators, I pretty much stopped dead in my tracks and thought "Aw shit. I still have a long ways to go." It was shortly after that when I really committed to drawing full time. I managed to get a small 1 year scholarship at a great traditional art school (Gage Academy of Art in Seattle if you curious). And it was just one solid year of life drawing, master copies, anatomy study etc. A little painting as well. At that time I also made a commitment to myself to draw every day for 30 days. No matter what. And I did it. Then I figured I would keep going, and do another month, for 2 months total of drawing every day. And I did it. At that point, it was starting to become habit, and because I was seeing progress, it became a bit less like work and more like an enjoyable, zen like endeavor. So then I decided to just draw every day for as long as I could. I made it 15 months straight, drawing every day. Some days might have only been a 15 minute sketch, but every day was pencil to paper. What stopped me from drawing every day was one summer where I was working 3 jobs at once - I had a day job doing some freelance 3D for a game company, a night job bouncing at bars, and a weekend job working at the restaurant and catering. Sometimes I was literally down to only being able to draw when I was sitting at red lights going from job to job. It was exhausting and stressful, and I felt my drawing wasn't super productive at that point anyway, and the stress to draw everyday added to the stress I was already under, so I stopped. But it was a very powerful and productive endeavor to do that. Point being - always focus on becoming a better artist - it's universal - it will serve you on every job you do, and it will make you more marketable and desirable, which in turn will bring better, cooler, better paying, jobs your way. And eventually, when yo get really good, you can start living life more on your own terms, which is a good long term thing to think about and shoot for, for overall satisfaction and fulfillment in life, and having more control over your destiny.
Another Pro Tip -everything you know, learn, and can imagine can be fuel and inspiration for art. Point being, I have no idea what the field of Health Policy entails, but you probably learned some things or had some insights or experiences that might help inform or inspire your creative pursuits, whether directly, or indirectly. If so, you will have some experience/knowledge that many artists around you don't have. Which can be a little bit of a commodity. Leverage it, if you can. In my case, I've always been an athlete and a gym rat, so I have a pretty advanced understanding of anatomy, biology etc. That served me incredibly well as a character artist and creature designer. A more in depth knowledge or experience base that a majority of my peers don't have, or not nearly as much of. Your robotics work also sounds very educational and insightful. That cold pay dividends in your art an design efforts.
Also - With your previous education, you appear to have a track record of being productive, successful, and getting things done. So your previous education was good training - developing your time management skills, organizational skills, developing learning strategies. This will help you in your new pursuits and endeavors. And, may give you some advantage over your peers, who aren't as accomplished academically or professionally. I got a late start on my career - started going to school at 26 - got my first industry job at 30. So, the handful of years before that, working construction, driving trucks, living life etc were valuable experiences - gave me a much better perspective on how things work, what I want etc. I had quite few peers over the years that didn't really have much life experience - they tended to be bit lazier, more complacent, less motivated etc. And it wasn't necessarily because they were slackers, though some were -But because they had no real frame of reference, or context, for their situation. One of my greatest motivators was driving to school in the winter (up in Seattle), and seeing construction workers, building homes etc., at 7 am in December - it's 38 degrees out, and those guys were getting up at 5am to go out and swing a hammer and dig holes in frozen earth. Fuck that. Never, ever, do I want to do that again. That was very motivating. No matter how tired or depressed I was, seeing that inspired me like nothing else. Working construction and manual labor was some experience that I had, that most of my peers didn't. Because of that, I was way more motivated, and I took much less for granted. So, whatever you've done in the past or accomplished has most likely helped lay down a foundation for your future success, and perhaps, is one more advantage you may have.
I would highly recommend doing life drawing once a week, no matter what. It is really on of the best artistic skill development practices there are. For so many reason. Obviously, academically, knowing the human form and anatomy is necessary to do characters and creatures etc. That's a given. But even if you aren't doing that, you are training your powers of perception and interpretation - what are you seeing? How much are you seeing? What did you not see? How are you translating and interpreting it? That is art, no matter what the medium or subject. I've done a lot of characters and creatures over my career - and I've been pretty successful - and it's from hundreds and hundreds of life drawing sessions over the years. But, what most people don't realize - is everything you learn drawing the figure carries over to other subjects. Silhouette, proportion, gesture, rhythm, structure, flow. I apply all these principles to everything I do - from designing vehicles to taking photographs. Did it occur to you that a vehicle can have gesture, structure, attitude and flow? It can. And if it does, it can look pretty cool. As you learn fundamentals of life drawing (sculpture is also very similar in this regard) - look around you for examples - in things like architecture or vehicle design, or even nature. Especially high end vehicles like Porsches, Ferraris etc - Look for the gesture, flow, rhythm, posture, attitude, stance etc. It's interesting how interrelated and universal it all can be. Master copies are also great training.
"still figuring out what kind of "artist" I am trying to become" - Explore as you see fit, that's definitely part of the journey - but don't forget the rule being "exponentially productive". There is a lot of crossover in the different fields/skills etc. So when you are learning one thing -say, painting landscapes, try to identify anything that you can apply to the other areas, say, character design. So, how wold painting a background environment for a character concept be the same, similar, or different than painting an actual environment? When learning about lighting and mood - how might that apply to a character concept? How might you use those concepts to sell a character's personality or essence? How might the gesture, proportion and rhythm of a character design carry over or translate to an environment design? If you are designing vehicles, think about how that might apply to robots, which would be considered a character. In which case, learning about vehicles and machinery can help you become a better character artist. So, always try to learn or apply more than one thing at a time if you can. As you get good at this, you'll see all the interrelationships and similarities of everything around you - and you'll constantly be inspired with ideas, and ideally, cool and unique ideas. Usually a good or cool idea or design, is just some combination of cool or unique designs. Another example - when I am gathering reference for a design - say a bad ass attack helicopter - Of course I'll have some cool helicopters in my reference folder - but I might also have sport bikes, military vehicles, insects, power tools, construction equipment etc. It's all about broadening your perspective.
Community - yeah, like we talked about before - the more you can be around fellow artists, the more of a support structure you will have. The more motivated you will be or stay. Also, the more you will learn, Art is a team sport. A big part of your growth will be what you learn from others. I've found the best artists are ones who are always open to learn and absorb from whoever, wherever. Again -exponential progress. The reverse of that - folks that think they know everything - tend to not be as good artists - they are unable to learn from others, and wind up shooting themselves in the foot because being the guy that knows everything is more important than being a better artist.
Another thing I've done that seemed productive. As an artist, I always have a long ass list of things I want to do and learn. And I might be learning something, when a good opportunity comes my way to learn something else on that list. For example, I might be going through a creature design phase, when I wind up at a job working with some guy who is a bad ass weapon designer, which is also on my list of things to do/learn/explore. Well, I'll put my creature design stuff that I'm practicing on hold, to learn as much as I can from this bad ass weapon designer. All things being equal in regards to time spent, you'll learn more, and become a better artist, learning from the weapon guy/learning opportunity than doing whatever on your own. You can go back to doing your creature stuff on your own later - Learn from this master while you have the chance. Or it could be a more circumstantial thing. Maybe you have been working on fantasy type stuff in your free time, but you get a 3 month job working on a sci fi project. I would put that fantasy stuff on hold, and dive into sci fi design. Absorb as much as you can in that time. Your overall evolution and progress as an artist will be substantially more after 3 months of devouring sci fi stuff while on a sci fi job, instead of going home and doing fantasy stuff. I call it "leveraging momentum". Then, after said 3 month contract, you can get back to your fantasy stuff. Also, while you are working on that sci fi stuff, ask yourself how you might be able to apply it other areas. For example, how might you be able to apply what you learned about sci fi design to your fantasy characters when you get back to them? The sci fi experience might actually help your fantasy stuff when you get back to it. Like I mentioned before - a good idea is often just a combination of good ideas. So yeah, be flexible and nimble in your studies - be willing to switch gears and take advantage of cool learning opportunities when they come your way. A lot of Bruce Lee's martial arts philosophy applies directly to art - being fluid and adaptable, and absorbing what is useful from wherever you find it.
Exercise - it's a scientific fact that exercise improves cognitive function. Working out will make your brain work better. Which will help you be more productive. And since most of your peers probably don't exercise much, doing so will give you an advantage. Also, it is stress relief. Which will keep you healthier. And if you are healthier, you will be more productive. Also, it's a bit meditative. It will help you take your mind off things - just focusing on your breath, or your movement, or whatever. Which is healthy. And, like when you are falling asleep and you suddenly have a great idea or a solution to a problem, exercise can do that to. When you are not thinking about something, it gives your subconscious some time to figure things out.
Compound Interest - One of the keys to long term success and mastery is, in my experience, the little things. People always focus on the big things, as they should, but don't always pay attention to, consider, or apply all these little things I'm telling you about. The little things don't seem like much, in and of themselves. And they aren't, really. But when you do them, all the time, as best you can, it adds up over time. Leveraging opportunities, compounding or stacking knowledge, leveraging momentum, exponential productivity etc. And not only does it add up, it compounds. Do you know what compound interest is? Say you invest 10 thousand dollars. And every year, you make a 10 percent return on that money. The first few years won't be much. But 20 years later, suddenly you have a million dollars or some crazy amount. (Not sure about the math - I'm an artist, but you get the point).
One more thing. A book. The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's a small book - a fairly light read. I kept it with me all the time. I read it and reread it like a bible. When I was at the gym at midnight after a 16 hour day of school, work, studying etc. In between sets, I would just open the book to random pages and read them for inspiration. It kept me going. Kept me inspired. Reminded me that anything worth having is not easy. It's probably gonna take longer than I expect. You gotta earn it. You gotta pay your dues. You have to "suffer". It's that suffering that helps you realize the significance of your goals, your dreams, and perhaps more importantly, who you are, as a person, and what your destiny is. In away, "suffering" is fuel. It's perhaps an odd sentiment, but if you look at great individuals throughout history, in any field - the odds are good they suffered, faced adversity, they were down and out and hopeless. But they endured. And why not. If you are down and out, what do you have to lose? And what else are you going to do anyway? You only have one ticket on this ride of life. You wanna play it safe and ride on the kiddie rides? Or you wanna jump on the big kid ride?
Often times, success can come down to just doing what others don't want to do. Perseverance. That's it. Not being smarter, better, or more talented. Simply just willing to endure. To be the last man or woman standing. That's it.
Education - In Seattle, hung out at Gage academy for all my traditional/foundational training, watched Gnomon vids and online tutorials to learn 3D, frequented Conceptart.org to learn design, Polycount to learn game art, and online CGworkshops for more specialized 3D training. I also hung out with sketch groups and attended life drawing sessions more or less weekly. It's definitely a bit more work and effort creating your own education - but the trade off is that my education was tailored specifically to the things I wanted to do. And, I didn't wind up with an ass load of debt. Also, one might argue, that I received a superior education compared to most conventional schools or programs.
And one more thing. The concept of Risk. As they say, the bigger the risk, the bigger the pay off. Again, anyone that did anything substantial or great in history, most likely took risks. A risk in a lot of ways is the chasm between mediocrity and exceptional. An ordinary life and an extraordinary life. But, there is a big difference between a risk, and a calculated risk. What I am encouraging is "Calculated Risk". What this means is, that when you do the math in your head, the odds appear to be good that it will work out in your favor. My general rule of thumb was that if I felt I had around a 70% chance of success, I should absolutely consider it. How I determined that percentage was more or less a gut feeling based on what I knew at the time. I would also consider the failure factor. Where would I be, and what would my situation be, if I fail? Will I lose all my money? Will I be homeless? What might I lose? More than likely, if it doesn't work out, things probably won't be terrible. And it's not exactly bad if it doesn't work out anyway. You might learn a valuable lesson. You might wind up on a path you didn't see before, or couldn't have got to without taking that chance. Interestingly, often times you will come across doors or paths to growth or opportunity, that you never expected, when you take chances. It's interesting how the universe will accommodate you when you act boldly and follow your heart and your vision. Or, it might not work out well at all. You might wind up (metaphorically) bruised and battered. But that's not a bad thing either. Like being a good fighter, knowing how to take a punch and a bit of an ass kicking is part of being successful. Same thing in life. You're gonna take some hits whether you want to or not, whether you take risks or not. No matter what though, there will always be one good thing when you take a risk. You will have acted courageously. And courage is one of the keys to success in everything.
Some examples of "risks" that I took;
- I had an opportunity to go to school at 26 to study computer graphics. (Through a state program for laid off workers) Art was my dream. I had very little money, no experience with computers, no idea what computer animation was, and parents who did not support or encourage me. I took a chance. I stepped into the abyss and went for it. I sold what few stocks I had, cashed in my dinky ass 401k, and applied for a bunch or credit cards. I didn't have anyone to cosign loans for me, so I financed most of my education and expenses with credit cards, transferring balances from one 0% introductory rate card to another.
- After a year of community college, I found most of my learning was on my own via the internet and the miracle of Gnomon videos. Also, in school, I was spending my precious time and money on classes that would not help me get a job as a 3D artist. Whether it was English classes or video editing, it was a poor use of my time, effort an money. So I dropped out of school to study on my own. I spent roughly 2 years studying on my own, and managed to get a an internship, that lead to a job.
- One of my side jobs while I was in school was bouncing at bars. One of the clubs I worked at was notoriously dangerous. I was actually shot at once. But I went back the next week to do it again. Over and over. Why? Because I could make $500 a night cash. I was pretty confident I cold handle myself there so I went for it. And it made a big difference in helping me finance my education.
- After 5 years or so at my first job, I got a bit restless and wanted to see what else I cold do. Also, this was when ZBrush was still pretty new. So I quit my job to spend 6 months learning ZBrush and getting a portfolio of characters and creature together. It wound up taking closer to 8 months, but I wound up landing one of the coolest jobs I've had in my entire career with the work I did in that time. Which in turn helped me grow a lot as an artist and get to the next level.
- A few more years later, still in Seattle and getting a little restless again, I started to think about heading to L.A. -To jump in the mix with the big fishes and the bad asses to see what sort of cool stuff I could learn and do. I moved to L.A. by myself. I had no job, and wasn't sure where I would live. Just brought my computer, my clothes, my favorite books, and a mat to sleep on. I did have a friends couch to crash on lined up in Anaheim. The first year was pretty rough. Pretty stressful. Non stop freelancing and hustling and trying to stay afloat. But I just kept persevering, learning,and and pushing myself. And a few years later, I'm living the dream. Got a nice place a few miles from the ocean, cool roommates, awesome job at a great studio, and my daily driver is an Italian superbike.
So yeah, that's that's basic lowdown on how I was able to make my dreams happen without taking the conventional schooling route. It wasn't easy. In some cases it was pretty brutal. But I was blessed with an opportunity to do something I loved for a living, so went all in and didn't look back."
So yeah, thought this would be cool to share, if it helps or inspires anyone out there.......