I was recently asked to participate in a Q&A for students in the LA Unified School District who are aspiring to be professional artists...
*** Did you doodle as a kid? When did you realize you had talent? What were your early influence (sci-fi, comics, etc.)? What did you start off drawing? How old were you when you started making money off your art?
I started doodling at a very early age, like most kids. The first drawing I remember of mine, that first gave me a sort of pride in my art, was in kindergarten - a crayon drawing of a cartoon black cat's face, on red construction paper. It wasn't anything particularly special, but I remember I felt that it turned out how I intended, and that made me feel that I had an ability to draw from my imagination. Kindergarten was when I realized I had talent.
A few years later, I entered a contest for all third-graders in school districts throughout Pennsylvania - the task was to draw the Mayflower (one of Christopher Columbus's ships). I won first place and received a $50 savings bond.
I continued drawing throughout elementary and junior high-school: drawings of animals and creatures I'd learn from eyeing art books; drawing Smurfs, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse; drawing my own characters for comic strips and sending submissions to Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield - receiving rejection letters in 4th grade; drawing caricatures of my classmates in 5th grade; silly comic-strips for the class newsletter in 6th grade... But it wasn't till 7th when I gained a serious interest in learning how to draw superheroes - the same year I bought my first comic-book: an Uncanny X-men issue, penciled by artist Marc Sylvestri. Though, the comic book that really took my interest was an Amazing Spider-man, drawn by artist Todd McFarlane.
In 9th grade, age 15, I was hired by an independent publisher to pencil and ink a 22 page comic book, plus cover, for a character named "Recycle-man". Then, in 10th grade, at the age of 16, I was hired by Marvel Comics.
*** Can you go into the whole story about being rejected and then finally accepted by that person connected to comic books.
Getting "in the door" at Marvel wasn't exactly an easy process. It all started when I was in 7th grade and made friends with a local professional comic artist who lived near my school. I'd visit him fairly often, trying to absorb from him all that I could about drawing comics. He was a nice fella, and gave me any pointers he could. I even gave him a few.
When I was 14, a well-known fantasy painter moved into my neighborhood, right up the street from my home, at that time. Over a few years period, I would visit him every so often and he would show me his paintings and sometimes permit me to watch while he worked. Then one day, when I was 16, he offered to set up a meeting for me with a friend of his, the
editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, John Romita Sr.
Shortly after, I took a bus up to Marvel in New York City, met with Mr. Romita and was given a tour around the Marvel offices. It was there that I was introduced to an editor for Marvel's Epic line of comics, who agreed to review my art and give me his feedback. Though he wouldn't hire me, he continued to accept my submissions and give me crit. I would take his crit, draw new pages, submit them, and he'd give me more crit, but he refused to hire me. This continued for 6 months, till one day when I bought a comic book named "Marvel Comics Presents," and called that comic book's editor at Marvel directly, to ask him if he'd be willing to look at my work, which was down the hall from him at the other editor's office. 10 minutes later, he called me back and offered to hire me to pencil and ink an 8 page story for Marvel Comics Presents #139. I was 16 years old, in 10th grade, earning $200 per page for my drawings.
*** Were you able to get steady work as an artist straight from graduating high school?
Truth is, I never graduated from high-school. Between 10th and 12th grade, I was drawing professionally for Marvel and some other publishers, and by 12th grade, with 8 months to go till graduation, I decided I had had enough of my frustrations with school, and I dropped out to pursue my professional art career. At the age of 17, I was hired by Image Comics to pencil and/or ink a number of titles, then at age 18, I moved to Orange County, California to try it all full swing. Although, during the year to follow, the accumulation of my experiences as a professional artist before I was an adult - dealings in professional politics; pressures with deadlines; insecurities; pressures from family and friends - all left me a bit burned out.... and at the age of 19, I did my final published work in comics, a cover for Scarlett-Spider Planet of the Symbiotes #1, and then I left comics for good.... or so it seemed... and started exploring and expanding my artistic horizons... learning to integrate the use of a computer as a tool to further expand my passion, knowledge and skill-set in art.
*** How did you learn to take your drawing skills from pen and paper to the computer? What was the first software package you learned? Do you have any funny or anecdotal stories about hard or software?
When I was 19, with some financial help from my father and brother, I purchased a very expensive computer and even more expensive 3D animation software - a Silicon Graphics O2 and Alias Wavefront Power Animator - a total cost of $17,500. At that time, I had no more than very basic computer skills that I had gained on my Apple IIGS while in elementary school. Other than that, aside from my experience and passion in art, I had no knowledge whatsoever in computers or software, let-alone one of the most expensive professional computers and software available. This was the same stuff that was used by Industrial Light and Magic, to create all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park... as well as the most advanced visual effects for many other movies of that time. But I jumped in, head first, and threw everything I had at teaching myself this new universe of digital graphics and animation.
*** Are you totally self taught in web, game and fx software? Which did you learn first? Which would you recommend that kids learn first?
Within my first month, I modeled my first 3d character head, and was hooked. Drawing from my skills in traditional illustration, I applied that knowledge into every artistic facet and creative tool I could lay my hands on to install and learn on my computer. Teaching myself 3D on one of the most complex graphics applications available to a digital artist at that time, made it much easier to learn to use different creative programs, including Adobe Photoshop and Flash, among many others. Every program and skill-set, traditional and digital, that I know to this day, I have taught myself, 100%, using these same building blocks of knowledge and
*** How did you land your first fx, game or web work?
Within the first 2 years after I purchased the O2 and started teaching myself 3D, I had compiled a basic portfolio of my practice 3d animations and art. Coupled with my existing professional work as a comic artist, I started submitting my art and animations to agents and studios in and around Los Angeles, "playing the numbers" by the hundreds. Then one day soon after, I gained the interest of an agent who hooked me up with some 3d animation work for a toy company, earning me my first $40,000 in 3D art servicing within a period of only a few months. This money, I re-invested in more computers and software, and dived further into my passion for everything I could learn in traditional and digital art, animation and design. Over the next few years, I slowly built my portfolio and reel, landing bigger and better projects, with more exposure and higher pay.
*** Do you feel that knowing multiple disciplines (game software, fx software, …) makes you a better artist? If so, how?
Learning any one complex creative skill will greatly enhance your ability to comprehend and learn any other advanced creative skill. My traditional ability to illustrate along with my natural curiosity and interest in learning the arts, gave me a far greater advantage in learning the digital creative tools to further advance my understanding in art. By knowing how to draw with a pencil, it was far easier for me to see how something should look in 3d, which gave me a greater advantage than someone who did not have this same experience or skill-set. By learning how to create 3D art, it exponentially enhanced my abilities and knowledge in creating traditional 2D illustration. Each is an important key to unlocking the knowledge in the other. Art is art, traditional or digital. You learn one, it'll surely help you learn the other. But in the end, it really comes down to you: how much you care; how smart you can be; how far you're willing and able to push yourself to achieve your goals and reach your creative limits.
If you wish to work in the traditional, digital and interactive arts as a professional, then the more you learn and know, the more skills you'll have, the more useful you'll be, the more you'll get paid, the better artist you'll be, the cooler projects you'll land.
*** Is there anything that you’ve ever worked on that has a special meaning for you? If so what was it and what made it special?
Certain projects which require the use of my traditional skill-set provide more personal fulfillment, and hence, a more "special" experience for me. Although I enjoy and spend the majority of my year working on 3d
animations and visual effects for feature films, some of my most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences in my profession are from times when I'm hired to create art for comics and/or graphic novels.
*** Do you prefer working in one platform over another? If yes, why?
Each project is a new challenge, that more often than not, I enjoy charging head on. Some areas of art, I enjoy more than others, in the sense that sometimes in creating digital art like 3d animation, there's certain technical challenges and hurdles, which detract from the creative personal experience in developing the art. Whereas, in traditional illustration and painting, or sculpting, it's less of a technical process, and more so an intuitive natural means to an equally, sometimes more, pleasurable and satisfying experience and piece of art.
*** What advice do have for young artists for getting that first job/ selling that first piece of work?
Be your own worst critic. Love your art. Always strive to outdo yourself. Be cool. If you think you have the chops to make it in the cut-throat world of professional visual art production, then listen to your heart, and let no one stop you from succeeding. Compile a portfolio or demo-reel of your best works. Set up a website. Be E-savvy. Join message boards and forums. Chat with other up-n-comers and professionals online. Ask questions, get advice and take steps. Browse the many job-boards online. Make submissions to companies and/or people looking to hire someone with your skill-set, or intern and apprentice at different companies to gain further experience, sharpen your skills, and build your portfolio and reel. Rinse. Repeat.
*** What pitfalls can you warn them to be on the lookout for?
To begin, expect and accept that you'll have to give a lot to get only a little. Build little by little. Be cool, don't be a pain in the ass, but watch your back, cause there's always someone looking to take advantage of your generosity and talent. You're bound to make a million mistakes, but if you learn from each, and your smart about your choices, you'll do just fine. Otherwise, go find yourself a 9-5er like the rest of the planet's population, 'cause being a professional artist isn't a good life for a lazy mind.
And, good luck!
Pedram "Pedi" Shohadai
Traditional & Digital Artist Extraordinaire