Believe it or not, art IS a valid career choice.
I’m excited to share an interview with my friend Mike Roy, founder of ArtistMyth.com and a visual effects artist. In his long-time work with a world-class creative studio, he’s contributed effects to such projects as Spy Kids 2 and the video for Katy Perry’s song Firework. Mike has been a freelancer and independent artist, creating and selling art art in just about every imaginable form over the years. He’s put together an amazing Artist Resource Kit, which you can download here.
How did you become a visual effects artist?
Because it seemed cooler, more niche, and more lucrative than a 3D animator, which was my other option at the time. That’s not a very creative answer, I know!
I had met an acquaintance who was a co-founder of a creative studio named ReelFX. At the time there were only 17 people at the company in 1999 when I joined … now there are over 300. I had no skills in this area when I started, I just had a couple of years of multimedia work under my belt. But I took a week’s vacation from the previous job to come and learn the software, which was called Smoke.
Then I spent the rest of the summer constantly calling them to give me a job. They finally did, due to a couple of fortunate factors: two of their previous visual effects artists left at the same time, and it was a slow summer so I had time to sit and learn. After that week of learning and getting to know the people at the company, my constant calls to “just check in” finally won me the job over that summer.
I quickly got thrown into the deep end, as I was the only other VFX artist there at the time. I wondered why more people didn’t try to be VFX artists and I found out … it’s hard! Not only are there technical challenges, you have to have creative solutions on the spot, and you’re often doing it right in front of clients.
We were commercial-based, so we would take edits from editorial shops and finish the commercials out by adding color, text, visual effects, or whatever needed done to spruce up the spot for broadcast. Often we fix problems.
I soon moved up to Flame, the software I still mostly use today in that job. We occasionally do longer form stuff for music videos or movies, but in the past year we have worked on a lot of Virtual Reality jobs, which is a hot thing right now. There’s always something new to learn. I have found time and time again that my classical art training (composition, color theory, painting, etc.) have helped me excel where a lot of others got stuck or didn’t have solutions, so pretty much every day I’m happy that I got that training.
What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?
One of the hardest things was that a few months into the job, I worked on a commercial for some clients from Mexico. They had sky-high expectations and there was a large language barrier (not to mention I was still learning), so there were a lot of late nights on that one.
Another widowmaker project (my term for projects with lots of late nights and not terribly good for personal relationships) was when we were working on the movie Spy Kids 2. Our shop was responsible for the VFX shots in the first sequence of the movie. We had all kinds of technical challenges because we weren’t set up for that kind of work, and it was one of the first features shot all on digital HD camera instead of film. I literally remember not coming home for an entire week, during which I would work until I couldn’t see straight anymore, sleep, wake up, and work some more. I was a zombie. I came really close to calling it quits after that one. (Fortunately, I haven’t had a project anywhere close to that level of pain since then!)
I did a third of the visual effects shots in Katy Perry’s Firework music video. It was surreal to see on YouTube that something I had worked on got zillions of views. It was also really fun to tell my daughter, a few years later, as she was just getting into music.
After a while, the coolness of what you’re working on dims a bit, and you begin to see more value in the process. That’s why people who supervise creatives need to understand that having a long-term stable of creatives involves making the process rewarding, not just always promising rewards of fame and fortune at the end. It may get people in the door and make them motivated for awhile, but the process has to be rewarding enough to make them stay.
Our shop does a good job in the quality of life area… lots of people find it a great place after they’ve already battled in the gladiatorial arenas of L.A. and New York. Dallas/Fort Worth has a great quality of life to raise a family, it’s affordable to buy housing, and our studio has a more laid back culture.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Ideally, I wake up early so that I can take advantage of the most focused part of my day. I’m a recovering night owl so that doesn’t happen as often as it should! I try to do a few pushups to get the blood pumping, get my coffee injection, and have anywhere from a half hour to an hour to work on by creative side businesses. I get my kids ready for school, see them off, and then I go to the studio. My drive is anywhere from 45-55 minutes each way, unfortunately, but it would be worse if I worked a straight 9-5 schedule … I do about 10 a.m.—6 p.m. and that cuts out the worst part of the traffic.
I meet with my producers and fellow artists to see what’s going on that day. Things in our business change so quickly, we often leave at the end of the day with a plan but by the next morning that plan has changed. I leave by 6 p.m. or so and drive home. A while back I realized that my commute of nearly an hour each way, with nobody but myself there, is prime opportunity to get stuff done. So I’m usually dictating notes and ideas into my voice recorder during that time. Lately I’ve been trying to write a novel that way, and it’s been really fun to dictate a book in that manner. Siri is finally starting to understand me.
What are some of the common myths that artists believe, and how can they overcome them?
Here is a rundown of what I think are the most pervasive ones.
1. The Starving Artist Myth
What is it? The idea that being an artist or a creative means you won’t make enough money to sustain your lifestyle for you or your family.
How can you overcome it? By eventually breaking free of working as an employee and working for yourself on the side through creative side businesses. Also, by not settling for “market value,” but by having the confidence to assert your worth. Also by breaking away from trading creative hours for dollars … creative hours are inherently worth more than other hours because you’re making something of value. Put those hours to work building creative assets that you can sell repeatedly through your side projects … ebooks, paintings, products, training courses, etc. and then sell the same thing multiple times. (For example: blog posts collected can become paid ebooks, which combined with worksheets and coaching can become courses).
2. The Cinderella Myth
What is it? The idea that someone will someday discover you and save you from obscurity, poverty, and self-doubt. Also the idea that if you’re just in the right place in the right time, you’ll hit it big. This fantasy keeps you from taking initiative and puts you in a passive role.
How can you overcome it? By taking responsibility for your destiny and treating yourself as a creative business instead of someone who dabbles in a hobby. By doing this, you are acknowledging the task of creating divisions for your creative endeavors and seeking to fill those roles, whether by yourself, someone else, or a process. Knowing that you have to actively make it happen to achieve success.
3. The Consumer Myth
What is it? The idea that an artist can consume media without being affected by it. Also the idea that an artist can allow themselves to passively consume most of the time and only produce some of the time.
How can we overcome it? By realizing that what goes in also comes out, and by adhering to a creative “diet.” You have to feed your creative brain the right kind of fuel if you want to produce the kind of art you desire. Also by realizing that we artists are producers first, consumers second, and arranging our lives so that we are putting out enough product to have a viable business.
4. The Sellout Myth
What is it? The idea that if you earn money from your art you are a sellout. This stems from a misguided fear of scorn from people who don’t matter to your business.
How can we overcome it? Listen to the people who do matter and find your true audience who will gladly pay you for your well-earned creative labors.
5. The Talent Myth
What is it? The idea that you either are born with talent enough to be a paid artist, or you aren’t. If you aren’t born with it, then don’t bother trying to be an artist.
How can we overcome it? Realize that raw, innate talent is overrated. Realize that talent isn’t a birthright, it’s a result of practice and perseverance. It’s more important to have good habits, a good work ethic, and the right frame of mind about your creative business than it is to have innate skills that you didn’t have to work for.
6. The Passion Myth
What is it? The idea that all an artist needs to succeed is enough passion. If you aren’t succeeding, then you must not be passionate enough.
How can we overcome it? Realize that passion has its place, and it is important … but you need other ingredients to make your creative business succeed for the long term. Mastery over your passions is key, rather than being driven by the whims of it.
How do you define creativity?
In its most general terms, I define creativity as putting aesthetic form to ideas. We all have ideas, and give them inherent value … but they are worthless unless given some kind of form as a song, a written work, paint on canvas, etc. And it’s the aesthetic way that we put that idea to form, using our skills and emotions as a filter, that makes us artists. This involves practice and craftsmanship and style.
In a way, the very word “creativity” is not quite adequate… because everything in the universe has already been created by God. We are just taking those things and putting our unique spin on them.
For the very same reason, the world “originality” is also not adequate … it’s another word that has idealization without realization. Nothing we make is truly original because it uses elements that have already been created. Rather, we can think of “creativity” and “originality” as existing on a spectrum instead of being binary. In other words, “More/Less Creative” rather than “Is/Isn’t Creative.”
What are a few resources you would recommend for artists?
Book: On Writing by Stephen King
Many people think of this as a book written in two separate parts: King’s life, and then his treatise on writing. It’s actually a whole: because when King writes, his entire life is used as inspiration. His books are a reflection of his life. From his childhood being inundated with movies and music, to his current life in the backwoods of Maine, to his horrific car accident, it’s all reflected in his work. It’s a testament to inspiration, influence, and hard work. His thoughts on ideas are foundational to every artist.
Book: The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield
A great “git ‘r done” wake up call that art isn’t about fluffy thoughts, it’s about pulling your sleeves up and doing the work. It’s also about waking up in the face of repeated rejection and criticism and doing what you need to do to get your creative stuff out there.
Video: Start With Why by Simon Sinek
A legendary TED talk where Simon lucidly helps us find our “why” and how it’s important in meeting the needs of our audience.
Anything from Seth Godin
Read it all. More than once. I particularly enjoyed The Icarus Deception with its many references to creative thoughts and habits.
Book: Motivation for Creative People by Mark McGuinness
Mark, a poet, author, and creative coach, describes very well what motivates artists and how we can position our minds and creative business to get more out of our work.
Radio: Soma FM
I have been listening to this online radio station for years and I still can’t believe that so many people don’t know about it. Its curated selection of different genres of music is mostly instrumental which I find very effective background listening for various kinds of creative work.
Andy Morris is a Dallas abstract painter who has a number of free videos on YouTube. He also has some Udemy courses on abstract art. This is my preferred method of painting nowadays (when I can get to doing it) and I really love watching Andy work. His happy vibes and freewheeling style remind me of the good old days after school watching Bob Ross on PBS! Plus, I admire his style choices and have learned a lot from watching him paint.
Website hosting: Bluehost
I strongly recommend that every creative person have their own website, even if they have their work on hosted galleries or other places. It gives them a home base and helps them be discovered via searches, and it allows them the freedom to have a blog, sell their work, or whatever they want to do. (I have a quick guide to getting started right here.)
Course: Find Your Creative Niche
This is my own course, and I recommend this to anyone trying to find their creative niche. I put a lot of thought into helping people focus their time and efforts to find the perfect creative work that’s just right for them.
My thesis is that our creative niche is like three spotlights converging together: our passions, our talents, and our market. When those three aspects are fully realized and in focus, then their intersection is the most powerful place we can be. Includes exercises and worksheets designed for self-discovery so that any creative person can learn what kind of creative work they should do.
I have a bunch of other resources in my Artist Resource Kit that is a free download from my site. Click here to download.
Here are seven practical lessons I’m taking away from Mike amazing insights:
- Take opportunities where you can get them.
- Classical art training has applications in a variety of fields.
- No one is going to save you from your poverty, obscurity, and self-doubt. You must take responsibility for your own destiny.
- Build creative assets that you can sell multiple times.
- Artists should be producers first, and consumers second.
- A good work ethic, good habits, and the right frame of mind always trump raw talent.
- Master your passions instead of letting them master you.
Many thanks to Mike Roy for taking the time to answer all my questions!
This post first appeared on KentSanders.net
Photo: Getty Images