Building Your Foundation for a Future in Illustration

Dear Friends,

Last week’s post I have since removed from this blog. The post was badly worded, poorly thought out, and hastily written. And, unfortunately, it completely missed the point I intended to make. It also created a discussion completely off of my intended subject, and one that I had no interest in debating or pursuing further. I appreciate all who dropped in to read the blog and those who took the time to post some very thought-provoking comments.  I apologize to all those who took offense, and for those who missed it, let’s move on to more creative topics. (Dave waves his hand in the air cryptically and says in a low voice, “These are not the words you are looking for. Move on…”)

Next Topic: Maximizing Your Success By Learning Illustration Basics

When I was 19 and just learning my craft, one of the main things I  did was to draw…all of the time. I would sketch in bed, sketch at breakfast, practice at the drawing table, at work on break, and after dinner in front of the TV.  I had set a goal for myself to become the best illustrator I could, and  I knew I needed to work at my craft and invest as much time and work as humanly possible.

Dave Dorman Student Sketches, Circa 1979

Most artists have sketchbooks filled with the work product to prove it. Oddly enough, I have very few “sketchbooks” from that time in my life. The bound drawing paper-style sketchbook was way too restricting for me. It never laid flat, it was usually not good paper–at least not the sketchbooks I could afford as a student and military kid– and I could only review one to two open pages at a time.

Dave Dorman Student Sketch Sample #2

My solution? I discovered it was better for me to purchase packages of 5″x7″ blank index cards and use those for my work sketches. The paper was good and stiffer than sketchbook paper. It held up well for pencil, ink and watercolor. Buying a 500-sheet package was way cheaper than buying a 500-sheet sketchbook. If I was working on a series of images or thoughts, I could do them individually and lay them out like panels in front of me rather than flipping pages in a book.

Dave Dorman Student Sketches #3

As a student,  I produced literally thousands of these little sketch cards. I used them to

  • Rough out ideas
  • Work on form and structure
  • Copy other artists to see how they worked out anatomy, body structure, and the dynamic figure.

This was my ongoing training daily, practicing my craft. Without this groundwork, I could not and would not be the artist I am today. For all of you students and up-and-coming illustrators, I believe the work you put into learning the basics will pay off enormously as you build your career. There is no magic or shortcut to it. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers summarizes it in two words: 10,000 hours. I sat down one day and calculated how many hours I would have put int before I reached my first professional sale. 10,000 hours seemed about right.

Thanks for reading,

Dave.

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6 Responses to “Building Your Foundation for a Future in Illustration”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Funny you mention the card idea. I was recently going through some old stuff and found a bunch of flash cards I created pre Y2k to study for the GREs… I only had about 50 filled out and several hundred BLANK index cards. So I decided to leave them on my desk and use them for to do list… but in the last week I’ve found that I’ve been using them to sketch on!

  2. Truer or wiser, were never spoken, thanks for the inspirational push Dave!

  3. Miguel Trinidad Says:

    Interesting post Dave, particularly the note on the number of hours invested prior to completing your first professional sale. It is very similar to my experience in combat sports. The adage is that you need to perform a technique 1000 times before considering it mastered. You could say then that you are a Black Belt in Illustration!

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