Thank You Mom

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She passed away on March 22 and I’ve been thinking about her life a lot. I don’t normally post personal stuff on here, but I just wanted to talk about my mom for a bit.

The reason I decided to pursue art is largely because of her support, encouragement, and example. If you like anything I’ve created, it’s because of her.

The daughter of a cowboy and an elementary school nurse, her father was a gifted woodworker who always had a good clean joke to tell. Her mother was a skilled artist who knew how to get things done. These were traits instilled into my mom’s personality which filtered down to me.

She was an educator who found many ways to help encourage, support, and inspire students from all walks of life. She was also an incredible seamstress. Happy to share her love and talent with anyone, she sewed countless dresses and blankets for friends, family and those in need.

She always made sure there was plenty of paper in the house. Though we didn’t have very much money, one time she bought me a full set of Prisma Color pencils. Every Christmas and birthday she made sure I got some kind of art book or comic collection to inspire me.

She taught me to be kind, to help others, to share my knowledge, and most importantly how not to wet the bed (something my wife is incredibly grateful for).

Thank you mom. Everything good in my life is because of something you did for me, or something you taught me.

Thank you for reading this. I just wanted you to know a little bit about her.

- Jake

I Love Star Wars

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I love Star Wars. Love it. Even the bad stuff.

My unapologetic love and fandom for Star Wars is probably like someone who is a life long Dodgers fan.

As a kid they get taken to the games, they collected baseball cards, they owned a jersey, and are brought up knowing all the players. As adults, regardless of how the Dodgers are doing they still watch the games, they still root for the team, they still want them to win the World Series. 

They also know when the team stinks, but that doesn’t diminish their love for the team...in fact, it might make them defend them and love them even more.

That’s me and Star Wars. Seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater when it came out as a six-year-old made a deep deep impression on me.

It would probably be like taking a kid who was into sports to a professional game and having them high five one of he players as he entered the arena.

I came home and replaced my Batman costume with a black Luke costume (with one black glove), and my RoTJ Luke action figure became a daily carry. A life long Star Wars fan was born.

I’ve never felt franchise fatigue for Star Wars, and I can plainly see that so much of it is designed to make money, but at the heart of it, just like in Major League Baseball, there’s people who are making it not just to collect a check, but for the love of the game.

That love still shines through in a well acted character, a really thoughtful piece of concept art, and an exhilaratingly creative scene. 

Which is why I love this brilliant, flawed, beautiful, stupid, but most of all FUN galaxy far, far away.

Tabling at ECCC: What would you do?

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For the last 10 years I’ve ran a table at at least one comic con show a year. The most I did in one year was around 2016 when I did 6 or 7 shows. However, I’ve been seeing a steady decline in the amount of money I’ve been making at these shows and I think it’s time for me to push pause on cons for the foreseeable future.

Here’s why I do comic cons:

  • I love meeting the people who support my work

  • I love making friends and strengthening old friendships in the comic industry

  • I like getting out of my studio and seeing new places ( also like the long road trips to clear my head)

  • I always come away from the shows wanting to do better and be better in my career. I get ideas from other professionals and fans about how to improve my work and business

  • Its a way to supplement my income

EMERALD CITY COMIC CON NUMBERS

By far the best show I do every year is Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. All my other shows gross roughly $4,000 to $6,000, but Seattle is always a good $2,000 more than that. I’m going to talk about Emerald City because I’ve decided that if I do any show from here on out it’ll be that one since it’s my biggest money maker.

In 2015, the first year I did the show, I grossed $9,053. My expenses for a show are between $1000 and $2000 depending on the amount of tables I get and what my hotel situation is. I walked away from ECCC 2015 with about $7,500 in my pocket. Not bad!

BUT, Here’s how it’s broken down since 2015:

2015: $9,053

2016: $8,745

2017: Took a year off

2018: $6,283

2019: $5,743

That’s a pretty steep decline. This year my best seller was by far my new SkyHeart book. I sold over 60 copies of it! However, this last year I sold less prints (for less money), less books overall, and I only did 2 commissions instead of my usual 9 or 10.

REASONS FOR THE DECLINE

Here’s some of the reasons I think there’s been a decline:

1) I don’t sell BIG Marvel Fan Art prints any more. They were 13 x 19 and sold for $30 a pop. (I don’t sell them any more for a few reasons which I’ll get into on another post) Also, the prints I did sell at this show are half the size of what I used to sell and go for $20. I made them for a smaller show and I’m just clearing them out. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

2) It’s been a few years since I’ve done any comic work for Marvel, and I didn’t bring any original comic art with me.

3) After FOUR Drawings books I think people might have all the Drawings books they need. Sales of those have definitely slowed down. (Maybe I should do Drawings 5?)

4) In 2018 and 2019 I moved my location to the Sky Bridge. Emerald City is set up with two main halls connected by a narrow glass atrium that looks over one of the main streets in downtown Seattle. It’s called the Sky Bridge and it has a lot of traffic, but it’s not direct traffic. It’s mostly people just passing through to get to the other side of the con. The first two years I was in the Artist Alley and I think the people who cruise Artist Alley are more likely to be there deliberately and are looking for specific things to spend money on.

I can fix most of these problems to maybe squeeze out a few more dollars from a show, but is it worth it?

But here’s some other theories of mine that I don’t think are fixable:

1) People are just suffering from con-fatigue and not spending as much money.

2) Cons growing in the amount of artists that are showing and the attendees spending the same amount of money, but distributing it to more people. (it looked like ECCC Artist Alley was BIGGER than it’s ever been this year)

3) I’ve tapped my full audience at comic cons. It’s entirely possible that everyone who is a fan of Jake Parker in the Seattle area already has everything they want from me. There were lots of people who came by just to say hi, which is super nice, but they didn’t buy anything.

REASONS TO QUIT

There’s a handful of reasons I do not like doing cons. They are an incredible time and energy suck. There’s the days leading up to the con that you’re getting everything ready. There’s the travel to and from. There’s the con itself which can be brutally noisy and socially draining. And then there’s picking up the pieces of your life when you get home. I usually have to spend a day doing all the house chores and errands I didn’t do while I was gone.

When I look at the reasons I like going to cons I wonder if actually tabling at a con is the best way to address those needs. It seems like the amount of time, effort, and creative energy that goes into setting up a table for a weekend at a convention could be better spent on deeper pursuits. A monthly google hang out could be a better way to meet fans in a more personal way. There could be a better way to maintain friendships in the industry via phone calls, texts, and skype hangouts. I could make a trip to another city where 100% of my time is spent exploring and experience everything that city has to offer and not have to spend 10 hours a day at that city’s convention. I could also spend money on specifically focused professional development courses/seminars and probably get more ideas and inspiration than what I would get from a convention. There a lot of better ways to make a few thousand dollars in a week where I still get to sleep in my own bed.

In short, maybe the money I make at a con isn’t worth it.

QUESTIONS

My questions I’m trying to answer right now:

Should I fix what I can and go one more time and see if the numbers rally?

Should I stop for a year?

Should I bid ECCC adieu?

What would you do?

BELOW: A sample of what I had at my table this year:



To Art Students in Puerto Rico

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I met Samuel at the CTN Animation Expo last year. He’s an animation student from Puerto Rico. Last summer Puerto Rico was hit by a massive hurricane that destroyed a lot of the infrastructure of the country and, by extension, the infrastructure of the art school Samuel attends.

I’m trying to imagine the full extent of the damage this caused. Two months after the hurricane Samuel told me that there was still no power. A trip to the school that took 45 minutes took 2 hours. Instead of washing clothes in a washing machine, clothes are washed in the river.

I’m trying to imagine finishing school under these circumstances.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of news cycles, the situation in Puerto Rico has largely gone forgotten by the world. There are problems that can’t be fixed in six months and the effects of this hurricane will be felt for years to come. This leaves the people left cleaning up the mess to feel even more isolated and marginalized.

At CTN Samuel asked me if I had any words I could send along to his fellow classmates. Anything positive that might inspire them to keep going.

At Samuel’s request I’ve written this letter to offer a message of hope in the face of such hardship:

To the art students of Puerto Rico let me first say I’ve never had to face mountains like yours, but I’ve had my own mountains that have tested me. In those times I’ve had to remind myself this:

You need to create.

Your community needs you to create.

The world needs you to create.
 

There’s a reason you chose art as a career path. It is in your nature to create and share. That’s because you have stories, images, characters, and experiences inside of you that need to get out. Leaving those things to wither and die inside of you is not an option. The act of creation is also an act of healing. It requires your mind, your emotion, and your body to make something. Engaging all of those at once provides an outlet for your frustrations, but also elevates you out of your situation for a moment, and shows how things can be. For your own well being you need to create.

As your country rebuilds it needs healthy communities who live and work together peacefully. Your art can be a part of this by showing your community an ideal by which it can strive for. Your art can be the language in which your community uses to understand each other. As your community comes together there are experiences it might not necessarily fully understand or know how to express. You art can help share thoughts, ideas and a vision of your community that may not be able to be articulated any other way. In order to thrive your community needs you to create.

Lastly, artists are on the frontline of culture. They give us tools to understand our past, what we are dealing with now, and most importantly how things can be. Throughout history the world has been changed forever by small groups of artists who dared to create in the face of uncertainty and instability.

Think of Picasso’s Guernica which brought the horrors of the Spanish Civil War to the attention of the world. Or the impressionists which showed us that art shouldn’t just be a representation of what we see, but also of what we feel. Or Disney’s Snow White which showed that animation wasn’t just for gags and laughs, but could be used to tell meaningful, emotionally impactful stories. Your art could be just as provocative. What you create in this situation could just be what the world needs to see right now. The world needs you to create.

Now, telling someone to create, and actually creating are two different things. I understand that making a work of art falls to the bottom of the list of priorities when most of your energy is finding a way to feed yourself that day. Don’t let that stop you from doing these two small things:

  1. Make something every day.

  2. Be 1% better than you were yesterday.

It might be one drawing on one page in your sketchbook. Or a scribble on a napkin. Or a journal entry. Or a quick sketch you made on the bus. Whatever it is, make/draw/write something every day.

It might be that today you spent one more minute creating than you did yesterday. Or you started a second drawing and the day before you only did one. It might be that instead of having a moment of feeling sorry for yourself you took one moment to feel gratitude toward some thing. Whatever you’re doing, try to just be one percent better today than you were yesterday.

Both of these compound. They are small, but after weeks and months of doing these seemingly insignificant things you will see change happen. Something bigger will start to come from your small, consistent acts of creativity and self improvement.

First you will see change in yourself.

Then you’ll see it in others around you.

One day the effect will be noticeable in your community.

In time, it will be felt around the world.

And that’s something you, your community, and the world need right now.

-Jake

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10,000 Minutes

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Been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in his 2008 book Outliers. Based on studies of elite performers in a spectrum of disciplines Gladwell proposed that people aren't born geniuses, but arrive there through hours upon hours of practice and work.

He contends that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness."  He backs that up by giving examples of greatness, and how Bill Gates, Mozart, and the Beatles achieved mastery by combining their nascent talent with 10,000 hours of practice.

Whether you're learning to code, play piano, illustrate, or wrangle dinosaurs, Gladwell says it'll take 10,000 hours of practice to master it.

10,000 hours of hard learning is daunting. It can be insurmountable for anyone over 40, and it is crippling to a teen. How can you live a balanced life when 5 hours of free time a day for 8-9 years is spent holed up in your room practicing?

Here’s a question: Maybe you don’t need to be a master in order to be successful?

Sometimes to be successful at something you just need to be above average. Maybe even just 1% better than the next guy. Mastery can come later if you want it. In fact, I think if you spend 10 years practicing at an above average level, mastery will be a nice side effect.

Let mastery happen on its own schedule, In the meantime just strive for being above average.

To get to above average you’ll need a lot less time than 10,000 hours. How about we see what you can learn in 10,000 minutes?

10,000 minutes as about 167 hours. If you attack this full time, and spend 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, you’ll get your 10,000 minutes in a MONTH. I don’t think that’s healthy. Do not try it.

Let’s look at something a little more doable: 2 hours every week day (weekends off) gets you your 10,000 minutes in just 3 months.

That’s way more manageable. You can still have a life while doing this. Which is important for having a well stocked creative bank account.

But not all hours drawing are created equal. Just drawing for fun 2 hours a day isn’t going to get you to above average. You need to make those hours really count.

In order to make this the most effective use of your hours here’s FOUR things you need to do.

1) Define the micro skills

Being a great artist means mastering 40+ different micro-skills. These small skills are stacked on top of each other and make it look like the master artist doing magic, when really she is just doing 40+ small things all at the same time.

Some of these skills are:

Line weight
Tone
Proportion
Silhouette
Light
Shadow
Design
Concept
Form
Composition
Color
Value

That’s a good list to start with. If you want to know more, study up on some of your favorite artists. Perhaps ask them what skills they think are most important, then add those to your list of micro skills.

2) Deliberate Practice

Now that you’ve got the list of micro-skills you need to learn set out to learn each one individually. You do this through deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is seen as one of the most effective ways to learn because it’s about narrowing in on specific sub skills and mastering those first.

For example, line weight is the first on the list there. What you might do is print out a line drawing that someone has already done, then you’ll trace over that drawing trying to copy the line weight exactly. Repeat this as many times as it takes so that you learn when to do thick heavy lines and when to do thin light lines.

Once you’ve gotten good at that, do the same with tone. Copy drawings that are excellent examples of tonal structure. And try to match that with your drawing.

Repeat this for all the micro-skills one-by-one.

Note: this is hard. Professionals who practice this way state that they can only concentrate for, at most, 4 hours every day on learning one specific micro-skill.

So don’t get frustrated if you can only do this for 30 minutes at a time at first.

3) Establish a feedback loop

One of the best ways to spot your problem areas and identify ways to improve is by creating a feedback loop for yourself. For some skills you’ll be able to track your performance by yourself. Just by comparing your line weight to the line weight of the drawing your learning from you should be able to see where you nailed it and where you need improvement.

But some skills are a little more subjective, or you haven’t learned enough yet to know what’s working and what isn’t in your studies. For that you’ll need to either find a mentor or find a community to show your work to. A place like the SVSlearn.com forums is a great place to share your progress and get feedback.

Showing a teacher or a professional is also a great way to get feedback.  Many online schools offer access to their teachers in live classes. Schoolism, CGMA, and SVSlearn.com all have great options. 

4) The 1% Rule

Just try to be one percent better today than you were yesterday. I learned about this from James Altucher who writes about this here.

Do this and you’ll see your expertise compound. Don’t worry about making giant strides every day. Just look at yesterday’s work and try to make it one percent better than it was yesterday.

Do this for 167 days and that 1% becomes… 167% better? I don’t know exactly. I’m not very good at percentages, but you get the point.

Get Started!

So that’s it, forget the 10,000 hour rule and see what you can accomplish in 10,000 minutes.

I’ve seen massive gains in my abilities by doing these four things. Check your own learning regiment and see if introducing micro-skill tracking, deliberate practice, feedback loops, and the 1% rule make any difference in the next 3 months.

I’d love to know how it goes for you.

Also, let me know what other learning techniques you do that have proven super effective. I’d love to try and apply those to my learning as well.

Thanks,
Jake

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Why Do You Create?

I was asked this question on the SVS forums several months ago and it has stuck with me. I think about this a lot.

Before I start unpacking this, there’s another (maybe even more important?) question:

Why does knowing why you create even matter?

You need to figure this out because knowing why you create informs everything you do as a creator.

Knowing why you create helps you stave off feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and imposter syndrome that often come with putting your creative self out there for people to see, judge, and respond to.

Knowing why you create motivates you to improve your craft, and sets a foundation for you to build a career on.

Knowing why you create gives purpose to your art, and by extension, to you.

Knowing why you create is key to being a happy, satisfied, and more creative person.

I think there’s three reasons to create. There might be more. If you can think of others, please share in the comments.

A particular act of creation can satisfy one of these reasons, or all of them. I also think that all of these reasons are the right reasons. And you shouldn’t feel bad for being predisposed to one over the other.

But I think these three just about cover everything.

So, why does a person create?

 

Reason 1: Personal Fulfillment

This is the most basic and primal reason for creating. This is why little children pick up crayons and fill sheets of construction paper with colors. This reason satisfies one of our most innate desires: to turn raw materials into something organized; to turn imagination into reality.

I had a knack for drawing early on...but I admit, when I look at my early drawings they look no more special than any other kid who liked to draw. However, I got a lot of positive reinforcement from my parents and classmates, and that gave me confidence to to improve.

I remember getting a rush when I would create things, sometimes with my art, sometimes with LEGO, sometimes it was just combining my toys into new creations. I loved putting something that had my creative fingerprint on it out into the world. I began to crave that feeling and I found myself in what I call my “creative rush” cycle:

- step one: put myself in a position to get the creative rush

- step two: feed off the rush creating something as awesome as I could create

- step three: get positive feedback and reinforcement from parents, teachers, and peers on the thing I created

At every step I was feeling good things, and that's why I did what I did, to feel good. To keep those feelings coming I kept repeating the cycle.

What happens when you do something a lot, over and over and over again? You get good at it.

By the time I was in high school I was the best artist at the school. I was known as the kid who was good at drawing and was sought out to draw things for people. I designed a bunch of t-shirts, I was president of the Art Club (and we went on to win club of the year that year). I won the artist of the year award my senior year. Drawing and art was a central part of my identity.

It is this very personal reaction to creation that I think drives many people to pick up a pen and make something that wasn’t there before.

 

Reason 2: Reciprocation

This is creating as an act of mutual giving and receiving. You create to receive something beneficial in return. Sometimes this is a job or contract work that you’re financially compensated for. Sometimes it’s not for money, but for exposure. Sometimes it’s to build out your portfolio, or to learn how to do something better. In the end, your act of creation facilitated the means to receiving something that benefited you.

When it was time for me to go get a job and make something of myself I realized I wasn't qualified, nor interested in doing anything that wasn't creative. In my early 20's I found myself working for an animation studio, getting married, and having a kid all in the space of 3-4 years

Now my reasons for creating meant doing the thing I was good at to get a steady paycheck. Personal satisfaction would have to take a back seat. For about 12 years I grinded at different studios working on projects that I was sort of interested in (I wasn't super excited designing foliage for background environments in talking animal movies full of fart jokes). But I was getting better at my craft and supporting a family.

I was creating to support a family and a lifestyle, but I still craved the rush from reason 1, so I did a lot of personal side projects that allowed me to go through my “creative rush” cycle. I posted on forums, then blogs, then social media, then got work published. I got the rush of creating things I thought were awesome. These were things that I wanted to create AND got a lot of positive reinforcement from my peers.

Reciprocation is the reason so many things you love were put in the world. Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Spider-man all exist because people had rent due at the end of the month.

 

Reason 3: Societal Enrichment

This reason for creating is based on a selfless need to put something good into the world. This could be because the creator feels indebted and wants to pay back the community. Or a creator sees a need and tries to fill it with something only they can create.

If you’re a storyteller, you hope that your stories strike a chord with an audience, and that the audience is changed by your creation. An artist hopes that her art adds to the conversation that society is continually having about how we should behave and think. The teacher is motivated by his student’s success in their application of his teachings.

While the rush and the financial support are still a part of what I do, I’m finding myself more and more motivated to share what I do with others as a way to improve their life on some level. That’s why I like teaching, I like making youtube videos that unpack issues/problems facing creative people. I like drawing things that have a story to them; they aren’t just pretty pictures, but hopefully they make someone stop and take someone to a place in their imagination.

If I have a mission now, it’s to help elevate people’s ability to create good things. I want people to have that awesome feeling you get when you make something, I want them to get positive feedback from peers, and I would love it if they could someday turn it into a career or a way to supplement their income.

Whether it’s the impetus or a side-effect of a creative work, societal enrichment is a beautiful reason to create.

As I look at these reasons through the lense of my own creative life it’s interesting to see what was driving my decisions at different times of my life.

At first I was drawing because I wanted to do what was good for me.

Then that turned into drawing because it was a means to do what was good for those I was immediately responsible for.

Then that turned into drawing because I want to do what is good for the larger community.

Creations that have the biggest impact in the world satisfy these three reasons. They fulfill your needs, they fulfill the needs of your responsibilities, and they fulfill the needs of the community.

That said, not everyone sets out to impact the world with their art, and that’s perfectly fine.

If a drawing puts a smile on your face, that’s reason enough.

-Jake

Blogging Again

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Recently, I had to research something for a project I’m working on which required me to use the wayback machine to track down some dates on my old blog.

I got sucked in and started reading 10 year old posts I wrote.

It was incredible to revisit old artwork and be reminded of my thought process back then. I may have gotten a little nostalgic, but more so I was reminded of what an engaging medium blogging is to to tackle subjects and share process.

I began to wonder why I ever abandoned my blog.

Then it hit me, I stopped blogging around the time I started using Instagram.

I exchanged the ease and glitz of social media for my lame-o blog that didn’t even show how many followers I had, and couldn't tell me if people liked my post or not.

Social media has been great, and there’s a bah-jillion artists on there to follow. But I’ve been feeling this urge to engage in deeper ways with people online that I’m not getting that with tweets, grams, and status updates.

I think social media values and promotes the superficial and easily consumed. Because of that, creators are trained to create work that fits those needs. As a result everyone is interacting in increasingly smaller ways with increasingly more people.

A blog post asks a person to settle in. Whether you’re sharing your process, unpacking an idea, or telling a story, you’re asking for a more captive audience. You’re requiring more attention, and the audience that accepts that invitation is more likely to build a stronger bond with you and your work.

That’s why I’m blogging again. I know only a small percentage of my online following will read my blog posts, but I’ll know that those that do are my people. They are the ones who will want to connect on a less superficial level.

To my blog: Sorry I tucked you away in a little box and abandoned you. I'm back now, and will never leave you again.

- Jake