Sunday, December 26, 2010

Animation Saturdays

Practicing animating on 3s and 4s, wondering if I can get cartoonier animation this way as opposed to using computer generated tweens that seem all the rage these days. It's tougher than it sounds.

On 1s (or 24fps), you get 24 drawings per second to make a character move and express himself. The fewer drawings you use, the less a character moves in a second.

And that's fine for illustration. But for animation, the very word implies an artform centered around movement. Of course, animating at 24fps takes more time to do than animating at 6fps because you have more drawings to do. My goal is to balance the realities of limited time and the desire for expressive, cartoony motion.

I think I failed here when it comes to the guy running. Ironically, the car, while having bad perspective towards the end, is fairly vibrant and filled with movement.

It just means that with fewer drawings, each drawing becomes more important.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Normally, my gestures are very sexual or violent, as I tend to look at the two things I consider fun to draw and do - sex and UFC fighting. Well, these are some what violent too, but a not sexual at all. Although, they are the result of a good time, I'm sure.

And they're just so cute! I totally recommend watching a documentary titled "Babies." It's available online at Netflix.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Latest Stuff

For a super secret project. Don't tell anyone you saw these.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Drawing Updates

My plan to improve my skills is coming along nicely. I've been at it two months and already I feel the improvement.

Below are some animal and gesture drawings. If you look closely, you can see a "To Do List". While that's not my entire list for the day, it ensures I try to get at least that much done that day. Productivity is important.

Definitely for adults only.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to make a Cartoon, pt 1

When writing for your own cartoons or even if you are simply storyboarding someone else's script, it helps to have a system for making it. This is not the same as a formula, in the traditional sense.

In the traditional sense, a formula is good for multiple copies of the same thing, with or without slight deviations, such as cars or romantic comedies, or children's movies.

But a system is not the same thing. A system is a procedure that gives order to the creation process while still allowing for invention and innovation. It allows the imagination to run free while still being able to control it for the sake of time and money.

For making cartoons, it all starts with an idea.

1. Ideas

Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. You may be eating dinner or talking with some friends. It may be a dream. So it's important to keep a pen and paper with you at all times to write your brilliant ideas down. If you're in desperate need for an idea, I'd recommend a brainstorming session. Simply sit down and throw out all your ideas, no matter how crazy and silly they may seem. Do this for an hour or two straight. Then walk away. Come back after a couple hours and see which ideas you like best and/or which ideas you can combine.

2. Ideas vs Premises

For example, lets say you have an idea for a cartoon about trying to stay cool on a hot day. That's a great idea. But is it not a premise. A premise provides just enough detail to ground the story in a situation and allow for specific direction.

The reason "trying to stay cool on a hot day" is an idea and not a premise is because it does not focus your story in any one direction. It could be about a fat guy stuck in a tiny car, or a little boy on a hot summer day, or a camel in a desert.

To make it a premise, you need to ground it and provide a specific direction so the details, jokes, and other elements of the story have something to stick to. A premise is the purpose, the thesis of the story.

A premise answers the questions who, what, when, where, and why.

Once you have an idea, it's important to come up with a premise. One possible premise is "a little boy tries to avoid the heat on a hot summer day".

Even the phrase "tries to avoid heat" works better than "tries to stay cool" because one implies conflict and purpose, and the other implies maintaining a current state of affairs.

3. The Outline

After the premise, you want to find a way to craft the story as quickly as possible in the least amount of time. To do this, we must map out the story and see what is working and what is missing.

We end up with a string of meaningless scenes if it's structure does not provide a way to get from one scene to the next and no amount of clever dialog or cool action scenes can save a fiction movie if it's structure does not hold up.

In terms of story, it helps to think of each turning point in the story as resulting from the previous turning point. That is, it helps to see events in terms of cause and effect. The first event caused the next, and that causes the next, and so on, all the way until it is done, like a chain of dominoes. And like dominoes, a straight path is usually pretty boring.

Lastly, when outlining a premise, it becomes important to know how long the final product will be. When charting a course on a map, you like to know how much time you have. For example, if you have an hour, you might go to that fancy out of the way grocery store. But if you only have a few minutes, you may opt to go the one at the end of your block.

4. Broad strokes vs Details

When outlining, it is best to focus on the broad strokes so that you can get from beginning to end in the most entertaining way possible. If you get stuck on the details before you get to the end, you'll waste a lot of valuable time coming up with ideas that may not gel together.

For the premise "little boy tries to avoid heat on a hot day" a good general outline for a 30 second - 1 minute cartoon might be:
1. It's a hot day
2. Little boy is hot
3. Little boy tries to avoid heat
4. Little boy fails in a funny way
5. Little boy finds solution
6. Solution also fails in a funny way
7. Little boy reacts in a funny way
8. End

It doesn't seem like much, but it provides a chain of cause an effect events that lead from one situation to the next in that short amount of time. And that's exactly what you want. Of course, you may have more details than that. And that's fine. But you don't want to put too many details either. We save that for the next step.

5. The Gag Session (or Actions vs Feelings)

After we have the outline, we move to the gag session. In the gag session, we go through each outline step and brainstorm different ways to illustrate that outline event in order to find the most entertaining way to illustrate that event. Doing so guarantees that we'll end up with an entertaining story.

And I believe that the primary purpose of any story is to entertain. It doesn't matter if that story contains the cure for cancer or the meaning of life. But if the audience is asleep, that story has failed to accomplish anything.

Of course, saying entertainment is the primary purpose is very different from saying entertainment is the sole purpose. And I'm not saying that.

I'll also add that what's entertaining to one person may not be entertaining to another. And that's a good thing. The one person who determines what is most entertaining is the director. And if you are the director, your decisions end up on screen. It is through this decision making process that a cartoon stays personal.

When it comes to cartoons and movies, it becomes important to think visually. It is why cartoonists in the past drew pictures at the gag session instead of using words. It is why during this gag session that I also choose to draw pictures.

But when using words, it is important to think in terms of actions. Actions can be seen. Actions are specific. At this stage, that is what you need. You are figuring out specific visual ways an event can be illustrated.

In respect to the premise of a little boy avoiding the heat, the 3rd and 4th step in the outline requires us to show him trying to avoid the heat and failing in a funny way. One specific way of doing so is showing him lying in the shade, but the sun follows him and obliterates any shadows he may seek cover in.

Or maybe he tries to cover himself in a pile of fallen leaves. Or maybe he digs a hole and sticks his head in the mud, like an ostrich. Or maybe the shadows simply dance around him and elude him. These actions can range from cartoony to realistic.

The way the little boy tries to avoid the heat (and eventually fails) does three things - entertain the audience, describe the boy's character, and reflect the director's preferences. It may serve other purposes as well, such as making a point about society.

The point is, it is through these actions that the director is able to entertain the audience and communicate something at the same time.

However, it is important to not put too many details in this stage either. If you have not noticed, with each new step we add more details. If you have too many details in this step, you leave no room for the details that will be added during the storyboard stage (not to mention the spontaneity and inventiveness required to keep such an intense job fun).

Make no mistake, details will always be added during each following step. And the more details you have early on, the harder it gets fit the details required of each following step into the story. This results in a lack of creativity, which results in boredom, which translates to longer work hours which means a higher cost, which means more people have to pay to see it in order to recover the cost of doing it. And when you sacrifice the creativity of artists early on, that lack of enthusiasm ends up on screen. That means if your audience is bored, you won't sell enough people on your cartoon to recover the cost of making it.

In short, keep details to a bare minimum, only what is needed at each step, while focusing on maximizing it's entertainment value.

When you have figured out all these things, you are ready to begin storyboarding. Knowing these things will help make the storyboarding process go more quickly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goal Oriented Learning #2

In the last post, I explained why I think goal oriented learning is superior to doing studies with no end goal of using them later.

For my students, I'm giving the following goal: make your own 30second - 1minute cartoon.

Each month, we will have a different goal to meet, a goal that gets us closer to finishing that cartoon.

Month 1

- Story

Month 2

- Character Design

Month 3

- Background Design

Month 4

- Layouts

Month 5

- Animation

Month 6

- Clean Up

Month 7

- Editing

Month 8

- Sound/Music

Over the course of each month, we will go in depth into learning what it takes to accomplishing that monthly goal.

For example, in the first month, we will learn all about telling a story, from outlines and story structure, reading and watching other great stories and analyzing them, to writing and drawing our own clearly told and easy to enjoy stories.

In order to do that successfully, one also has to learn gesture and quick drawing ability and acting and a whole host of other drawing abilities, abilities that you cannot learn without having the goal of making a storyboard.

And through a constructive feedback loop, we will refine those skills until the student is ready to move on to the next stage.

Learning happens through a process of self-exploration and constructive criticism and experienced guidance.

Students, your goal this coming month is to tell a story. During class, I will show you how to improve your work and what I expect to see the following class. You will work on accomplishing the goals we set on your own time.

Goal Oriented Learning #1

I think the biggest problem with America's schools is not the funding or lack of it. It's not the teachers. It's not the lack of parental involvement. It's not even the students.

It's the system of learning. It's a very segregated way of learning. And while that has it's place, 12 years of it is too much. None of that learning is tied into what to do with that knowledge. That results in a lack of real involvement on the part of the student.

Learning begins with the desire to learn. And why should one care to read about George Washington, the Magna Carte, and chemistry while in high school?

That's not to say I think we should get rid of trigonometry and other difficult math and history courses that seemingly have no effect on paying the rent.

What I am saying is that it's easier to learn something when we have a reason to do so.

The best way to learn Spanish isn't from a book while doing recitals 5x a week. It's to be stuck in Mexico and have our survival depend on it. Learning Spanish then becomes a means to survive and thrive. Either you learn it, or you go jobless, foodless, and friendless.

What schools need are goal oriented learning programs. Learn writing and appreciation for good literature by having the goal of writing a good novel. You'll be forced to analyze structure, grammar, history, current events, essay writing, themes, allegory, and all that other "boring" stuff while knowing why and how to use it.

For the math and science guys, have them build a robot or a missile for the US military to use.

Of course, they can't do such projects in the 1st or 2nd grade.

But when they get to middle school or after they've learned the basics of algebra and sentence structure, maybe in Middle School sometime, they choose a major or education path where they take on a project and go in depth in learning the higher aspects of various disciplines all while accomplishing something worthwhile.

The idea is to give them a single goal where they are forced to teach themselves various disciplines and tie them together. The lessons best learned are the ones we teach ourselves.

And as adults out of school, we've learned more about history, science, and math because of our fascination with those subjects, our desire to learn more about them. Yet we insist on robbing kids of the way we learned the most by using systems of teaching that have very little effect on maintaining their interest...and our own.

Looking back on our lives, would we ever choose to sit through any of our high school classes? I know I wouldn't.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to draw cityscapes...

...and other complex backgrounds...

I came across an insanely detailed background drawing from Oliver and Company on Animation Backgrounds (a great resource, btw).

At first, I tried drawing it freehand, the same way I would a portrait. That proved difficult, but insightful.

So I decided to draw it in a way I'd never drawn a background before, and I found it extremely valuable to use for complex cityscapes and aerial shots.

I also find writing down my process helps me remember it better later, even if I never look at what I wrote down ever again.

So here it is:

1) Thumbnail/rough it out
2) Draw the ground plane or surface on which the buildings are built on
3) Grid the surface/ground plane
4) Draw boxes for groups of buildings (not for individual buildings yet)
5) Small boxes for groups of small buildings (usually closer to the shore/edge of city)
6) Medium boxes for groups of medium size buildings (usually further into the city and makes up most of the cityscape)
7) Large boxes for large individual buildings and landmarks (usually peppered in between medium size buildings and closer to the city centers, also usually closer together than spread out evenly)
8) Leave empty spaces for parks, streets, and other undeveloped spaces. It also makes the drawing clear to understand
9) Break the the boxes down into small buildings. Space the buildings unevenly so as to achieve a naturalistic looking skyline.
10) Use reference to capture as many landmarks as possible to give the drawing flavor and a sense of time and location.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gobelins Training Program

Gobelins is world renowned for its animation program. The shorts the students make there look better than anything the professionals in Hollywood have made in the last 50 years, in my humble opinion. Check out their YouTube Channel.

Every time I look at one of their cartoons, it makes me wish I spoke French and was good enough to go there. The last time I watched one of their shorts (about a week ago), I quit wishing and started looking into actually going there.

I discovered that they have an entrance exam, and that to get in, even France's best artists routinely fail 2-3 times before finally passing. And to prepare for their entrance exam, they often undergo the following weekly routine:

Sundays - Human Figure (whole and parts, slow studies)

Mondays - Gestures (whole and parts, quick studies)

Tuesdays - Cartoons (done by much better cartoonists)

Wednesdays - Animals (real life, drawings by far better artists, photos)

Thursdays - Portraits (real life, photos, etc)

Fridays - Environments (photos, real life, etc)

Saturdays - Animation (by far better animators)

I spend an hour every day doing these. And I don't always rely on real life. Like for animals and the human figure, I can copy other, better drawings or photographs. For gestures, I can use movies and TV.

Sometimes these can be better tools for that type of study. Good animal and human drawings reveal the artist's knowledge of underlying anatomy, things the untrained eye can't spot in real life.

For gestures, the ability to pause an action in mid-motion becomes handy.

Also, I do my best to copy exactly. As uber-talented illustrator Robert Fawcett once said, the ability to imagine is directly proportional to the ability to observe.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to be Excellent

Despite the arrogant title of this post, I hope it proves insightful.

I learned a valuable lesson today: never let your limits decide your content. For example, if you have trouble drawing hands or legs, never think of drawings that don't have hands or legs in them.

Otherwise, you end up with drawings that look like you are avoiding drawing hands and legs.

When it comes to animated cartoons, if you have a month to make a three minute cartoon and it normally takes you three months to make a one minute cartoon, do NOT try to think of ideas that are easy to animate or make in only a month.

Otherwise you end up with ideas and cartoons that look like they were easy to animate in a month.

Instead, think up the best idea you can, assume there are no limits. Work to make it the best idea, destroying every weak aspect about it and replacing and strengthening the idea into a solid finished piece.

And once you have the idea in it's final expressed form (storyboards or an animatic), figure out the quickest way to make it.

That may involve changing camera angles to one that is quicker and easier to draw. It may involve cutting some scenes out to because they take too long to create. At the same time, work your damndest to make the best scenes come alive. Even if you're not sure you're capable of doing them, try. And try again and again until you get it right.

In the end, you will have an idea and a cartoon that is still solid and excellent because you found a way to make it a reality. You'll have forced yourself to get better. You'll have done something you didn't know you could.

If you take the easy way out, if you let your limits determine your ideas, you end up with a limited idea.

If you forget about the limits and think of an excellent idea, an idea worth bleeding and sweating for, the limits you have find a way of disappearing. You find a way of making it a reality within those limits.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Class Policy

In my classes, I had an unspoken policy that each student received eight classes. It didn't have to be consecutive weeks. Meaning, if a student should up once a month, that student would receive 8 weeks of educating spread out over 8 months.

However, I am now lining up my policies with that of the school I teach at. Meaning each student receives eight consecutive classes from the time he or she starts. If a student misses one class and calls 24hrs ahead of time to notify the instructor, he or she is entitled to one make up class, but any more absences will result in a forfeiture of that week's training. Not calling ahead of time results in a forfeiture of that week's training as well.

No long will students be able to spread out their education over 8 months.

And here is why: people in general and students especially need to practice regularly to retain old information and prepare their mind for new information. Practicing irregularly and sporadically results in forgetting old concepts and having to relearn them, making it impossible to teach new information.

You cannot imagine the frustration I feel re-explaining the same concepts to the same person because the student simply doesn't practice.

If you plan on sporadically dropping in, it is best to save your money and choose the single class option. Signing up for 8 weeks means 8 weeks in a row from now on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Shape Vs Form

No, it's not a battle for supremacy over your drawing table.

The chart below simply explains the benefits of using shapes or forms.

Try turning abstract shapes and everyday forms into characters.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


And where I made my mistakes is what I have to fix by erasing and doing over.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saturday's Lesson

If you missed class today, we went over head construction.

We drew and checked our drawings in the mirror of the bear at the top of this page:

Go through each step, adding on top (not next to) of the starting circle, and checking it in the mirror as you finish each step. Do not move on to the next step until the you've gotten the previous step right.

Your goal is to make an exact copy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Music Video Done!

I just finished my first music video!

It's not appropriate for those under 18 to watch, so I won't post it here on the school blog, but it is viewable from my Reel and Portfolio site.

I wanted to talk about my process for it here, however.

After rushing into it and working on a bad concept intermittently for about two years, I scrapped it and started from scratch on April 1st. About 2 weeks into my new concept, I scrapped it again and started over one final time. No amount of slick animation and artwork can save a crappy concept.

This time, I brainstormed several concepts and outlines and decided to go with the one I liked best. I settled on a modern (and adult) take of the Helen of Troy story, with Ivan (the rapper) playing Paris.

After that, I sat down and outlined the general plot points using characters I had already designed from my first attempt to save time:

- Ivan is at a record store
- Ivan sees girl
- Girl sees Ivan
- Girl and Ivan want each other
- Girl and Ivan run off with each other
- Girl's boyfriend chases after the two with his army of robots
- Ivan beats robots and boyfriend
- Ivan gets girl

Not a complicated story, but more than enough for the minute or so that was the length of the song. I knew that to sell it to the audience, the entertainment could not come from plot but from the way the plot unfolded.

Unfortunately, my mind was still filled with the bad ideas and concepts I had from previous attempts as well as bad habits I developed over the years from either a lack of formal cartoon education or poor industry practices. I blame the former, as I haven't worked in big studios to be able to make an educated guess as to why their cartoons bore me (although, Up, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon were awesome).

So after doing a little research on how cartoons were made in the old days, I discovered something called a gag or "no-no" session over on

A gag session is a lot like brainstorming, only instead of using words, you use drawings. They can be stick figures and really bad drawings, but the point is to get the idea across visually, and to do that, what better way than by using drawings like the cavemen did?

It was called a no-no session because no idea was turned down immediately. All ideas were welcome until it came time to choose one. A gag session wasn't the place where ideas were chosen but were created.

So during my "no-no" session, I went through each story point from my outline and drew out several different gags for each. I honestly have never laughed so hard at something I created since my days in film school when I wrote scripts just for myself.

*Note: I also made sure to improvise and add gags while animating. This helped keep the process fun for me and make up for gags that didn't work as well from the storyboards.

After the gag session, I gave myself a deadline to finish the music video and drew up a schedule. More than any single thing listed here, I feel this was the most important step that lead to me completing the video. I knew what I had to do and when I had to do it by. sometimes I was ahead of schedule, sometimes I fell behind. But in the end, I finished 6 days ahead of schedule and with a piece I had no idea I was capable of doing because of it.

For storyboarding, I already had my outline and it was simply a matter of choosing my favorite gags and modifying them so they fit together into a cohesive story. I drew roughly to model and scale in Flash, timed it to the music, and after some editing and revisions, the animatic was done in about a week (and a week ahead of schedule).

From there, I got feedback from friends and family. Anything that was confusing or didn't get the reaction I was going for, I dropped or changed.

I then made an outline of every setup in the cartoon, noting where the camera angle was the same. This saved me from having to redraw or re-shoot certain backgrounds.

After creating the background plates, either by shooting video/photos or drawing it from scratch in Photoshop, I moved on to animation, placing in only the backgrounds that were necessary for proper feet placement, etc. so as to save memory and loading time in Flash, my animating program (I did some animation in Photoshop, like the fight scene's background).

While animating, I went in chronological order for the most part, deviating from that only when animating shots using the same set up or when animating several short shots. For example the shots of the robots evaluating Ivan didn't require much drawing, and neither did the last two shots. So I did them in the same day so as to make the most of the eight hours I committed each day to the project.

Also, the medium shots of Ivan, for example, were all one set up, but had different actions in each. I animated all the shots from one setup as one whole sequence and cut it up into different shots later because this allowed me to make the most of the momentum I gained from drawing the same character over and over as well as ensure the character stayed on scale and relatively on model.

The fight scene took me the longest to animate, coming in at 10 days for the whole sequence, from lines to color.

After I finished animating, I rendered out the finished animation as separate layers according to the depth they would have on screen. For example, while animating the long shot of the record player where Ivan takes the girl from the midget boyfriend, I drew them as they would appear on screen. But to render the cutout effect, I needed to manipulate each element on screen separately in a program with capabilities Flash just doesn't have.

The robots were in the background layer, the midget and girl in the middle-ground, and Ivan in the foreground.

With my layers rendered separately, I was able to tweak the lighting and shadow effects for each individual layer, and more easily create the paper cutout look I was going for, adding such effects as depth of field, to greater magnify the depth lost during the shooting and animating process.

After much trial and error with some help from Video Co-Pilot, I was able to get the look i was going for in After Effects.

I finished the video in its entirety exactly two months and eight days after I my third attempt and more than two years after my first.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Class Schedule Update

There will be no class this Saturday, the 19th. I will be out of town. Instead, the class will be moved to Sunday, the 20th, from 2-4 for this weekend only.

No class Saturday, I'll be making it up on Sunday.

Call me at 310.69.Chief to verify you got this message.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tip: Thumbnailing

One of the frustrating (and cool) things about being an artist is that we have our own language. We use words that to describe ideas that only we understand and use.

One such word is thumbnailing. Thumbnailing is a lot like brainstorming, only instead of using words, we use pictures. Sometimes the pictures are well drawn, sometimes they're kind of crappy and nothing more than stick figures. The point of the thumbnail, like a brainstorm, isn't to be pretty but to capture an idea as quickly and clearly as possible. Quickly AND Clearly. Quickly because you need to get it all out before you forget it. And clearly so you can understand it later.

We have a million ideas going through our head at any second, and when it comes to drawing we rarely have a crystal clear idea in our head of exactly what we want. And even when we do, it's good to create a tiny "map" which thumbnailing allows us to check and see if everything works. And because drawing well is a long process, a thumbnail will allow us to keep our mind on the big picture while we get lost creating all the tiny details.

Here are some thumbnails along with the process I used to finish the one I liked the best.

Notice how that while I have all the main ideas I want to capture, from character design to where the camera/viewer is placed, I only do the technical stuff like perspective after I pick a thumbnail to finish (but knowledge of perspective helps make drawing perspective without all the grids and lines much easier)

Also, the thumbnails were done tiny, about the size of my thumb. I made it bigger Photoshop and then cleaned it up.

Here's another thumbnail showing just how rough an idea can be:

And here's the cleaned up version that I eventually rejected because of construction problems as well as the revisions I chose to keep:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tip: Draw Toys

I teach my classes from a drawing "science" perspective. That is, while many think of drawing as just an art, I think of drawing as a science and art.

To better explain my point of view, we must look at another discipline: writing. The rules of English spelling and grammar are the same for each person. Without it, no one would be able to understand each other's writing or speaking. That is science. There is right and wrong.

In writing, the art comes from how you use spelling and grammar. It's the difference between a grocery list, this blog, and a Charles Bukowski story.

In drawing, how you use the science of drawing is what determines the art. But to do art, as in writing, you must first learn the science. Learning the science doesn't force you to use it each time. But it does give you the option for using it when you do need it.

In my cartooning classes, I teach this science by having students draw toys. That way they can check their work against something real and get a taste for the fact that good cartoons have an element of solidity...a sense that the cartoon is real and can be held and touched.

It's also a practice suggested by one of my favorite artists, the creator of the Ren and Stimpy.

The point is to draw what you see as exactly as possible and correct where you mess up. Observation drawing is a test and opportunity to improve your hand-eye coordination, without which it is far more difficult to invent and draw from your imagination.

After all, if you can't draw what is in front of you, how can you draw what you only see in your head for the briefest of seconds?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Money, Art, and You

The going rate for a burger flipper in California is $8.00 an hour. In Wyoming, the minimum wage is $5.15. It's $2.13 if you're a waitress, but then, a waitress gets tips on top of her hourly wage. And really, in cases like that, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 applies. In the US of A, while states get to determine the minimum wage, they must meet at least federal standards set in Washington by Congress.

Here's where paying attention to politics and the news helps you.

The minimum wage is the same for old people and young people, experienced and inexperienced alike. In fact, the more experience you have, the more you get paid. The minimum wage means just that, that's the minimum you get paid, regardless of your level of experience. Nobody walks into McDonald's and works for free hoping to get enough publicity to become the next Gordon Ramsay.

Yet for artists, it's a different story. If you're an artist, you'll often hear something similar to "there's no pay, but it's good experience and for your resume".

The 16-year old with no experience who applies to McDonald's gets experience, something for his resume, and the minimum wage.

There is no reason for us, as artists, to give our work away for free in hopes of gaining experience, publicity, or any other promises. Those of us who have experience can charge more than the minimum wage. But those without should be charging at least the minimum wage. If someone is making money off our drawings, it only makes sense we should too. After all, we drew it. If we don't value what we do, no one else will.

Further, your decision to work for free actually hurts commercial art as a profession making it more difficult not only for other artists but yourself to make a living doing what you love: drawing. Because when you start charging for what you do, the people seeking drawings will simply go to other artists who are willing to work for free. When you and every other artist starts charging for drawing, it becomes possible to make your passion a "real" job.

And if for some reason you feel compelled to work for free, draw for yourself. Work on your own comics, tattoos, and cartoons. At least if it takes off, you'll earn money from the sales directly, and you'll have final say in what the people see.

So now that you are charging for your work, be it $80/hour or $8/hour, how much do you charge for that tattoo your friend wants?

You figure out how long it will take you, in hours (15 minutes = .25 hours, 30 minutes = .5 hours, 45 minutes = .75 hours, etc) and multiply it by the rate you charge (minimum wage at least). That gives you a number. That number is what you charge.

So for that tattoo, including revisions (because everyone wants something that will be permanent to be as close to perfect as possible, whether or not they pay for it), lets make an educated guess that it will take you about 20 hours. That is, an hour or two to come up with several thumbnails (or super tiny, rough sketches of ideas), about 4-5 hours to come up with a big clean drawing of that thumbnail, another 2 hours or so to ink it, and another 2-3 hours to color it. That right there is 12 hours. Of course, your friend or client will want changes done. It sounds cynical, but it's a fact. Sometimes the changes will be small, sometimes they will be big. But changes, big or small, take time to make. Your time. And you deserve to be paid for your time.

You did not get anything wrong. It is impossible for you to read their mind. Communicating their vision is what you are paid for. Do not feel guilty for charging for revisions. Sometimes clients will see what you've done and get new ideas that they'll want you to incorporate. It's part of the process. It's natural. Sometimes frustrating. And always worthy of pay.

That said, you may finish the job in 15 hours. You may finish in 22 hours. Either way, 20 hours is a good guess that comes from experience. Do not be afraid to make mistakes in guessing how long a project will take. We all learn from our mistakes. But a good tip is overestimate to be safe. Any time you save, you can either choose to give the money back or keep as a bonus for working fast and efficiently. I tell all my clients that if it takes me less time than I say it will, I'll charge less. And if it takes me more time, I'll charge more at the same hourly rate. My quote is simply an estimate, like that of a mechanic.

Lets say that tattoo job for your friend took you 15 hours and 30 minutes. At $7.25 an hour (the federal minimum wage), that's $112.38 (15.5 X 7.25). See, paying attention in math class helps.

Of course, since it's a friend, you might do it for free, or as a birthday/Christmas present, or in exchange for a date with his cute sister, or trade for some beers or a few personal training sessions (imagine your friend is a gym rat). You might even charge $112.38 because if it was for a stranger, you might charge $465 (15.5hrs X $30). But the tattoo you do still has some worth, not only to your friend, but to you as well. And that worth is the time it takes you multiplied by your hourly rate.

For a recent gig, I was asked to storyboard and animate an intro for a corporate website.

I won't say how much I charged or was paid, but I will say that though I worked from home, I kept regular working hours: 9-5, Monday through Friday, saving weekends and evenings for friends, family, and my girlfriend. Yes, sometimes I put in overtime to finish by my deadline. And when I went past my 3-week deadline, I charged for the hours I went over. Because I charged for it, I was able to focus on doing it full time. I was able to put forth my best effort without having to worry about other sources of income to pay necessities like rent, food, clothing, etc. I would not have been able to do my best work at the time if I had not been able to focus. I would not have been able to focus if I was not paid for it. The hours and weekends I did not work on it allowed me to enjoy life and come back refreshed and with a renewed sense of dedication and passion. It kept me from hating my job and my employer.

Do your profession a favor. Charge for your work. Even if you have no experience, the least you deserve to get paid is the federal minimum wage. Your clients are willing to pay their mechanic, their doctor, and their barista. They need to pay you as well. And for the sake of having a future as a professional artist, you need to charge.

Never work for free.

Friday, May 28, 2010

To get better, draw what you like

It's no secret I love girls. Drawing them is nice too ;) In fact, I've drawn so many girls, that I have a whole section of my portfolio dedicated to them.

Here are some girly drawings from 2004, 2006, and 2010.

Not bad. And while I love the funky proportions in the first there is a clear progression of skill visible, illustrating a greating knowledge and control of form, proportion, and anatomy in my most recent work. I also think my understanding of design and composition principles is far greater now.

I show these not to congratulate myself. I still have a lot to learn. But I show these to illustrate a basic truth: that to get better at anything, you must love it more than anything else.

In drawing, for me, it's girls. For you, you may enjoy drawing anime, or Disney cartoons, or horses. And that's great. Draw them over and over again. In different styles and with different tools. And I guarantee, that within a month, that's 30 days, of continuous drawing, you will have become a better artist. That's because by drawing what you love, you hold yourself to a higher standard. You don't settle for anything less than your best, and you are your own worst critic when you fall short.

And the best part is, because you enjoy doing it, it won't feel like work.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Next Class on June 5th

I apologize for the mix up last week. I got the dates mixed up. Classes return June 5th. No class this Saturday either. I'll see you June 5th.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Copy to get better

If you want to get better at drawing: be it cartooning, comic books, or even painting realistic seascapes, the best way to learn is by copying those works by artists better than you.

Who is better than you? The same guys who are better than me, but a good starting point is any artist whose work you personally feel speaks to you. For me, that's fine artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Sheile, and Klimt. I also llike the works of illustrators and cartoonists like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Rod Scribner, Disney, Vernon Grant, Frank Frazetta, and Robert McGinnis. But what I like isn't necessarily what you will like.

And that's okay. Pick the artists you like.

But the trick isn't in who you copy but in how you copy. A method for taking apart and putting together those works of art is what will help you analyze and understand what that artist is doing and how he or she is doing it.

For that, I recommend two books. 1) Cartooning by Preston Blair, and 2) How to Draw the Marvel Way by John Buscema and Stan Lee.

If I had to add a third to the list, it would be this little known treasure: An Approach to Figure Painting for the Beginner by Howard K. Frosberg.

When copying, it is essential you don't just go through the motions and processes outlined in those books. It is imperative you do your best to copy exactly. After you finish, compare your final to the original. Make an effort to write down what is different between the two. It helps if you hold your drawing up in the mirror. After you notice your mistakes, fix them!

Everyone makes mistakes. Even the best. What separates the great from the good and bad is the great don't settle. They work hard. And that means fixing what is not right.

The Mickey Mouse drawing is thanks to a model sheet I found on this amazing website.

The first (and best edition) of Cartooning by Preston Blair can be downloaded for free from here: pt 1, pt 2.


Friday, May 21, 2010

No Class This Saturday

No class on Saturday 5/22. Apparently they have some sort of shindig and there's not enough space or silence for us to have a class. See you next Saturday!

Edit: Guess I won't see you next Saturday. There was a mix up, the shingdig is on the 29th. There is no class on the 29th. I'll see you the week after.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


My clients include:

- Eminem
- Mel Brooks
- Ivan Ives
- FIGS Ties
- Chocovivo
- The Buzz Lab
- Majicoo Clothing
- and more


My style is influenced by magazine illustrators from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s such as Andrew Loomis, Norman Rockwell, and Al Parker. I use a combination of real media and digital tools to create my work.

I'm available for select freelance illustration and animation assignments. For more info, please contact me at notrajeesh [at] or 310.692.4433.

It's pronounced Ra-jay-sh

So if I have a pet peeve, it's when people call me "Rajeesh". Hence my blog address. And email. And just about every other internet username I use.

I'll be posting info about any classes I teach here as well as random thoughts and drawings.

Here's a drawing I did for a local life drawing workshop. I was inspired by all those Andrew Loomis books.