Wisdom of the Journey

As convention season gets rolling, it’s dawned on me that this year will mark the third full year I’ve been going to conventions professionally, and the fourth that I’ve been attending cons peddling my portfolio for review from the “pros.” It was back in 2007—four years ago now—that I told my friends and family that I was going to start pursuing a career in illustration.

Looking back, it all seems to have gone so fast, but when I lay it out there, four years is no small amount of time. Just judging by my blog posts a lot has happened in the last four years, and that’s just a part of it. If you think about it, four years is about how long it takes most people to get a bachelors degree, and about how long it takes to get a small business to turn a consistent profit.

In addition to writing about my own Artist’s Journey, I read about others. I think most artists know about The Art Order, Gurney Journey, and Muddy Colors. Two blogs I check just as often that you might not know about are the blogs of Randy Gallegos and Steven Belledin. I enjoy Randy and Steven’s blogs for their practical advice, and to read the exploits of working illustrators. If you don’t already, take a few minutes and check them out.

In one of Randy’s recent posts he talked about the value of wisdom and strategy as compared to his earlier post on tips and techniques. He brought up the excellent point that illustrators very freely discuss the techniques they use to make art, but do not as often discuss the wisdom of how to handle the business side of being an illustrator.

His post got me thinking about both the technical advice and tidbits of wisdom I’ve received in various portfolio reviews throughout the past three years. As you can see by my numerous posts on technique, I’ve shared quite a bit about what I’ve learned on that front, but just as Randy expressed I’ve talked less about the sage advice I’ve received.

I’ve decided to rectify that, starting now…

Back at Gen Con 2009 I was at a pivotal moment in my art development. My portfolio was completely digital, the majority of the work I had done up to that point was digital, but ever since the first IlluXCon in 2008 I had a strong interest in going traditional. While getting a portfolio review from Randy Gallegos, I explained that I had started doing all my preliminary drawings traditionally, but did the color digitally. I also expressed that I was struggling with digital art, but that since “everyone” else was doing digital, I felt I needed to as well.

Randy then dispensed a little bit of wisdom that changed how I viewed my career and how I viewed art in general. He said, “There is no retirement pension in the illustration field. Do what you love, or do something else. The only reason to put up with all the other hassles of being an illustrator is to get to do exactly what you enjoy most. If you enjoy working on the computer go digital; if you enjoy traditional techniques get out the brushes.”

At first I didn’t realize the value of what Randy had just laid out for me, but as time went on, I kept coming back to his comment again and again. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I liked digital art OK, but I really loved to make physical art. I’ve been drawing my whole life, and by working in the computer I was going against a lifetime of training.

When I started looking around at my favorite artists I realized that they were mostly traditional artists. In my attempt to become what I thought I was “supposed” to be I failed to see that my heroes worked in paint not pixel. I slowly began to work less and less digitally, and more and more traditionally, and my work has been all the better for it.

Randy’s lesson falls right in line with my slogan, “Strange Like Sam Flegal.” Throughout my life I have tried at various times to be “normal,” or follow what others were doing. This has always led me down an unhappy or unproductive road. On the other hand when I followed my core self, and did things my own way, even if that way seemed a little strange, I have always met with happiness and success.

Stay Strange!

P.S. Here is a preliminary drawing for the current piece I’m working on:

Drawing by Sam Flegal

4 thoughts on “Wisdom of the Journey

  1. Sage advice indeed! I’m glad I saw your link to your blog on facebook.
    I also find that when I start doing what I *think* other people want, its when I don’t make my best work, and I don’t like the work.
    whats hard for me is being able to do something for ~someone else~ (like an illustration or a commission) and work like I’m doing it for myself. Its all a balancing act!!

    Great EXCELLENT genius drawing by the way, and the paint job on your next post is fabulous as well. I think the drawing translates a little better ~but only slightly~ 🙂 Both are fantastic!! I have yet to dive into true depth of atmosphere.

    I watch Art Order, Journey Gurney as well, but havn’t seen the others, I’ll check them out. Another good one is “Lines and Colors” http://www.linesandcolors.com/ .

  2. Hi Sam, I can’t tell you exciting it is to have come across your blog! Your work, is wonderful, and I look forward to reading your entries. I have recently decided to return to school to get a degree in studio art. It has been the best thing I’ve ever done!

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