Friday, December 30, 2011

25 Free copies "How To Design A Drawing"

I'm so excited to announce that I'm finally finished with "How To Design A Drawing" my new video tutorial. It will be hosted on and I'll be giving away 25 free copies here on my blog - first come first serve. How it will work: One day in the next week or so I'll roll out of bed, stretch, repeat a few affirmations, "you're a good artist because you use reference" or something like that. Then I'll hop online and update my blog with something like, "Enter your email address in the comments section below to win free access to "How To Design A Drawing!" I won't announce it on facebook so the best way to be ready is to get the rss feed by following this blog.

There are 8 videos in this new series and includes work that I've been putting together for the last 2-3 years. This was the hardest video tutorial to make so far because explaining concepts require a lot of visuals and careful descriptions.

Design is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. I was let into the BYU illustration BFA on PROBATION! Back in 1990 it was my wake up call. It was embarrassing and shocking - I thought I was pretty good at art and watching my classmates get in easily was humiliating but also motivating. It was exactly what I needed. Ironically years later I ended up teaching for the same instructors who put me on probation.

Anyone can learn to be a good designer if they want it and are willing to work hard. Every image I have in my portfolio was a struggle in the design stage. Perhaps struggle is the wrong word but each illustration I design is like solving a puzzle. The puzzle is solved when I have my final sketch and at that point painting is a breeze because if I've done it right I don't have to make critical decisions while painting.

I designed the penguins above live in front of our studio cameras as the final video in the tutorial so that the viewer can watch as I solve that puzzle. I will be using these videos in one of my UVU classes this coming semester - something I've only dreamed about until now. I also give my students free access because I want them to all have what I would have wanted to have when I was a student.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Do Public Schools Kill Creativity?

Back in 1971 I started attending elementary school just north of Washington DC in Maryland. I didn't know it then but I was a little seedling of an artist trying to poke my head out and catch some rays. There were a bunch of us - little budding artists trying to sprout. We were so excited about life and discovery yet unaware that the environment we were growing in was hostile towards our skills and learning styles. Turns out we were floundering in a system that looked at us more like weeds than flowers.

What I'm going to talk about is in no way intended to be an indictment of teachers or administrators but rather of the public school system in general. A system that no one individual or even organization is in total control over. Also, I don't want this to come across as a negative attack ad but rather as a wake up call for all of us.

Like many I never felt like I belonged in public school. I always felt like I wasn't good enough - like I was, well, stupid. I struggled with math - really struggled. My reading comprehension was horrible and for the life of me I couldn't stop day dreaming - and boy did I come up with some good ideas! My speling was atrowshous and writing - forget about it - I couldn't hold a thought long enough to form a paragraph and by the way there's a guy walking a dog across the street...I think dogs are smarter then humans...the man walks behind the dog...the dog poops...the man picks up the poop...the man carries the poop for the the dog smiling?...Oops - sorry - I'm back.

Today I probably would have been diagnosed with A.D.D and put on drugs but back then it hadn't been invented yet (he said sarcastically). My parents even had me tested to see what the heck was wrong with me. I was even lucky enough to have an older sister who was everything I was NOT academically (straight A's)- so that was really helpful.

I think we've grown to believe that a person is smart if they did well in school and not very smart if they didn't but isn't this short sighted? Lets think about this. Do we think that someone who can represent you in a court of law is more intelligent than a creative director at an ad agency? Is a concert pianist more intelligent than an accountant? Our university system was born out of a necessity to develop graduates with mostly left brain skills to manage the tasks of the industrial age and it worked. Now we are entering a new age where creativity is becoming more valuable. Daniel Pink says, “In school, problems almost always are clearly defined, confined to a single discipline, and have one right answer. But in the workplace, they’re practically the opposite. Problems are usually poorly defined, multi-disciplinary, and have several possible answers, none of them perfect. Are timed, standardized tests the way to ready youngsters for real-world problem-solving?"

Do smart people ever make stupid mistakes and if so why? Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival talks about the question of why some people survive crises while others die. He says survivors have the ability to think deliberately under pressure helping them to avoid making stupid mistakes. Those that die are often intelligent people who simply follow already established mental scripts rather than addressing the reality of the situation. Having good grades in math and English probably won't factor in to the most important decisions a person will have to make in life.

The truth is we sift our kids in the public school system. We sift for the kids with math, reading, and writing skills and basically toss the rest aside. Sure we have art, band, and drama classes but do we hold kids accountable for doing poorly in those subjects? Do we have standards tests in those subjects? Do kids make the honor role for coming up with great ideas? No...and so creative kids like me go away feeling like their contributions are worthless.

So after high school I limped away damaged and insecure knowing three things: 1) I loved art 2) Nobody seemed to care and 3) I was stupid. Is this how it has to be? Do we need to destroy the self esteem of our creative kids and hope that some of them will somehow find their way into a job or field where their right brain skills will be appreciated? Is it possible to change the system so that we can perhaps teach creative children differently?

I find it ironic that we expect our kids to get good grades doing essentially left brain tasks but the items we place the highest value on are largely right brain creations: smart phones, internet based products and services, cars, motion pictures, novels, comics, tablet computers, designer clothing and accessories etc. I would argue that the innovators behind the scenes at companies like Apple, Google, Ebay, Pixar, etc were in some cases also survivors of public school. I think it would be a safe assumption that public school had little to do with these kinds of creations. These outliers had to develop a robust set of skills well beyond math and English and they did it largely on their own. Imagine what problems we could solve as a country if creativity was celebrated at school? Is there a correlation to the success of Google and their active reward program to reward creative ideas from their employees?

I was fortunate enough to have had wonderful parents who loved me and encouraged me even though they didn't fully understand me. My mom was a special ed teacher as was my wife and my sister teaches elementary school currently so I'm familiar with the the restrictions placed on teachers. I'm glad that I was able to show my mom and dad that I wasn't a lazy kid. I've accomplished a lot in illustration: acceptance into the society of illustrators annuals, an addy award, a client list of fortune 500 companies, and over 20 children's books published with national publishers - some winning state awards. I'm so glad my mother got to see me illustrate some of the same stories she taught from in school before we lost her last year.

Today I'm able to work on the projects I want. If I get an idea I go for it. I feel like I survived the public school system but how many don't? How many feel like they just aren't as good as the 4.0 earners? We have an amazing resource in our children and rather than cultivating their individual skills we sort them keeping the left brain dominant children and tossing the rest. We pick through them like we select produce at the fruit stand and for what? What benefit do we get for celebrating left brain skills while ignoring kids with right brain skills? - I don't understand it.

My college roommate (an engineering major) came to me a few years ago and said, "I have a son who hates school, get's horrible grades like you did, but loves to draw - what should I do with him?" I was pretty much at a loss because unless he was willing to put his kid in a private school he was stuck with a square peg kid in a round hole school. I told him to appreciate his abilities, nurture his art, and let him know how valuable he is while encouraging him to do his best.

Obviously this is a subject that I'm passionate about and in some ways is out of bounds for the direction of my blog but it's who I am and I wanted to share it. It's too important for me to sit by and watch while my heart aches for some of the kids I meet at my school visits. I love to tell kids how hard it was for me to learn to read. I love to watch their expressions as I tell them that even though I pretended to read and only looked at the pictures I was able to get it over time. It just took me longer and a few great teachers and a mom who cared and wouldn't let me fail.

A friend warned me not to post this on my blog because I do a fair amount of school visits and this might offend school teachers and administrators. When my 18 year old son Aaron was in elementary school his 4th grade teacher gave the class a self portrait assignment. Aaron was so excited and got busy drawing himself with a sword, an earring, and a Mohawk haircut - his teacher gave him an D and got upset at him. I wimped out and said nothing because I wanted to stay in good graces with the school district. I've always regretted my decision to do nothing. The truth is I don't want to visit a school where administrators aren't aware, sensitive, or at least willing to ponder and learn about this problem. It's not about us – it's about the kids. We need to send the message to our elected officials that we're tired of killing creativity in our Public Schools.
For more on this subject I recommend "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink (I have it down on the left side of my blog) and TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson on youtube

Sunday, December 18, 2011

7 Reasons You Should Be Blogging

I think a lot of artists want to sequester themselves in their studio, nook, or cave and create - it's natural since our work is often very personal. But! The audience we create for wants to know more about us than just browsing our online portfolios. "But Will, what if I don't have an audience?" Here are 7 reasons you should be blogging anyway:

1) Online Journal of Your Progress -So what if you think nobody is reading - do it for you. Being selfish with your blog is a good thing - you'll do more of what you want and ironically that will make your blog more valuable to like minded people.

2) For Your Mom -Your mom wants to know what you're up to and if you're regularly blogging you can get a quick follower by letting her know.

3) Accountability -Having assignments and deadlines are good for us. If you know that you owe your blog an update you'll be more likely to log out of Facebook and get on with working on you - which is a good thing right? Good drawing skills require exercise - get crackin!

4) Learning -If you treat it right you'll actually learn more than if you don't blog. Not all blog posts are the same but sometimes you might want to teach a process, idea, or technique. Inevitably you'll have to look stuff up so you don't sound like a moron (like me) - there, now you're learning.

5) Help Others -Probably the best reason to blog. We're all in this together. I'm a product of many artists and teachers along the way - some I've given credit to - some I've forgotten or don't realize the impact they've had on my career - some I've borrowed from...ok, stolen - but you get the point. We all get help - blogging is a way to repay.

6) Story -Like I mentioned in the beginning - people want to know about the artist behind the art. In fact I'll go as far as saying that most people purchase the artist just as much as the art it's self. I'm constantly surprised and disappointed when I run across an artist's website with great work but no blog. I want to know the human side behind the craftsman. I want to learn from them - know what they're into besides making art.

7) Selling Stuff -Money often gets a bad wrap. Sometimes we look down on those who aren't afraid to come right out and talk about making money or running a business - like we're above it. Let me make a case for money. Everyone wants it and everyone needs it. Without it we don't have a car, home, clothing or food - so money is life. So perhaps #7 should be 7) Making Life (that sounded wrong but you get the point) As artists we have to sell our work in some form be it originals, prints, books, apps, ebooks, cards, stamps, collectibles, animations, etc. Developing a good blog following is a great way to get the word out when you have a new _______ to offer.

I've mentioned why I blog before but I thought I would try to give a more complete list because I know how much it's helped me. When I first started I'll have to admit it seemed really weird. "I'm writing to myself...this is strange...nobody even knows I have a blog...nobody cares...people will laugh at me...I have body odor, etc"

It's never too late to start a blog but if you wait, you'll be that much further behind when you realize, "I should have started last year".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Color Comp In 45 Minutes!!!

No Trees were harmed in the making of this post!

So last week I was in a boring meeting being bored...and my back was a bit stiff as I recall - BUT, I had my trusty iPad! Have I ever mentioned how much I love the iPad??? Ok, so I whipped it out (the iPad) and started free drawing with my finger - which I almost forgot to bring with me - shewwy. The sketch portion took me about 3 hours - part in the meeting and the rest while watching "Waiting For Superman" which I highly recommend.

Sometimes you might want to try out some colors before making the commitment of a full painting but you don't want to spend a lot of time. This is an easy step by step if you have photoshop - or Gimp - I haven't tried it but I'm hearing great things. I would love to hear what those of you who use Gimp here is the iPad sketch:

And this is layer 2 in photoshop. I make it a "multiply" layer and with the airbrush and low settings on flow and opacity I start laying in values. Anywhere you think there would be shadows or dark colors.

Layer 3 is the easiest layer that should take about 20 seconds or less depending on your mad photoshop skills or caffeine/blood level. Make another "multiply" layer and then pick the color that you feel best represents the overall mood or tone of the piece. In this case I knew I wanted a night scene so I went with a dark blueish purple. Select "paint bucket" and click. Done.

The 4th layer is where you just pick out a few highlights and that's basically it. You can get an idea if you like a color scheme pretty quick with a process like this. It was one of the steps I knew I should have taken when I worked in acrylics but didn't want to spend the time doing. Sketching on the iPad really speeds it up in that you never stop. As soon as the sketch is finished you email it to your desktop or laptop and keep there's even time to check FB!

Here is a short video of the sketch process with narration - iPad/brushes app/finger

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sneak Preview - How To Design An Image

This has been a total joy to work on this image and video for two very different reasons. 1) Since I'm using it in my upcoming video tutorial "How To Design An Image" it was a good excuse to work on a fun piece. The video will be released at Folio Academy around January. 2) I figured why not kill two birds with one stone and make an assignment out of it - illustrate a song. The song is Tomorrow by Ladytron.

1) I've wanted to make a video series on design and composition for years and it's finally happening! I've been gathering and working this up literally for two years plus. It's been the hardest tutorial I've put together out of all of the video tutorials I've made thus far. Design is one of those subjects that teachers often fail to break down for students. It's really difficult to put feelings into words and concepts - things that you learn over time and begin to accept. There really isn't any magic to it if you're willing to break it down into steps and principles. So anyway I hope to have it up on Folio Academy in early January along with a complete re-design of the site.

2) I chose to illustrate a song because I've never done it before and I really really really love this song - Tomorrow by Ladytron. It's one of those songs that I think most of us can relate to in one way or another. The figure is loosely based on lead singer Helen Marnie but not really because I don't enjoy doing likenesses.

I went to H.S. during the 80's and will admit that I liked Thomas Dolby when you could get your &$% kicked for it. Also I was way into Depeche Mode, The Smiths, A Flock of Seagulls and so on. In the 90's Pet Shop Boys, Electronic, INXS, and so on. Now it's called synthpop or electronic and I still love it.

My iPod is full of: Cut Copy, Ladytron, Faded Paper Figures, The Dandy Warhols, Hey Champ, Miike Snow, Tenek, Coconut Records, Groove Armada, Empire of the Sun, Paola, Mount Sims, Zoot Woman, MGMT, Ladyhawke, Phoenix, Guster, Tesla Boy, and on and on.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Super Hero School Visits!!!

Imagine going back to elementary school - not as a kid or a teacher and not as the Principle or as a parent (been there done that) but as a SUPER HERO!!!! That's what it's like when you go as an illustrator. Think about it: the teachers hype you for weeks prior to your visit and the kids get the idea that you're a mythical creature coming to save the school - and you DO! because you get them out of class!!! So there you are (a normal putz like me) but the kids think you're awesome - so you start believing them...then you remember you're still going to have to do dishes when you get home -but while you're there you get to play super hero - able to draw tall buildings in a single swipe!...I need a cape.

Here I am a few weeks ago in Ogden Utah at Wasatch Elementary throwin down for the kids on my iPad. I had such a blast drawing for them and talking about what it's like to be an illustrator of children's books, ebooks, and apps.

What I include in my school visits:
1) Belly slide across cafeteria floor to get the kids amped! (remember to grease belly next time)
2) Talk about how hard it was for me to learn to read.
3) Explanation of illustrator responsibilities with funky pictures.
4) Read along with kids.
5) Short lesson on turning words into pictures.
6) Wow factor illustration demo on iPad.

My favorite part is how the kids go silent when I start drawing on the iPad hooked to the LCD projector - it's fun because I remember watching drawing shows and being mesmerized.

Suzane Bolar, the principle was awesome to work with - Thanks Suzane! She even called the press and got a write up in the local paper - here's the link:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tree Face Assignment

I gave this assignment in my media techniques class last night. I projected the images below from my iPad on the screen to be used as reference.

I told my class to create a tree that had at least one face in it. That's it. Then I started having fun. I didn't have any watercolor paper but I did have a gessoed board so I grabbed that and started drawing with a 12 cent papermate ballpoint pen.

I almost finished the drawing in class but when I got home last night picked it up again and fooled with it again in front of the TV (office re-runs). I love drawing in the living room - my mom used to needle point and I think of this as my equivalent.

This morning I decided to play hookie from the projects I'm supposed to be working on and fiddle with the sketch in photoshop. I got this far in about 3 hours. I'm still going to paint this in class next week with watercolor but sometimes you have to just do what you want and let the consequences follow right? I hope my kids aren't reading this...meh - no worries - they never read my blog.