frequently asked questions
First off, I have several YouTube videos that answer a lot of questions most people have about me, my work, and just working as an illustrator in general:
All about art school and what I think a student should be doing in art school to prepare for a career in art: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnA8Vj9cxEM
All about my career timeline and where I've worked, why I worked there, and about career strategy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1OIJ7J_-UY
All about how you need to shift your mindset from being project centered to being product centered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZLzI0CwhkA
And please check out my most recent interview with Drawn + Drafted. Tons of great content here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/projectcast-jakeparker
Any advice for art students?
Check out this great webinar I hosted about how to do art school right:
What art tools do you use?
Check out my tool reccomendation page here.
What made you want to pursue a career as a artist?
I've always drawn, and I've always loved art. So everything I did was geared towards that. I didn't have good grades in high school because I drew instead of studied and I didn't finish college either. So upon entering the real world it was either draw and not get paid for it or draw and get paid for it. I chose the latter. It was more a matter of necessity than choice I guess.
Why do you do what you do? What does art mean to you?
Illustrating satisfies in internal urge for me to create things. It is also a way for me to earn a living. And I like putting cool, interesting, and fun things into the world and seeing how people react to them.
What are your job responsibilities as an illustrator?
I turn written manuscripts into illustrated books, and work with editors and art directors to make sure everything looks how they want it to. I also need to promote the books when they come out so having and maintaining a social media presence is something I work on daily
What training or education did you obtain to do the job? Do you feel that getting a degree in art is necessary?
I learned a lot from my peers in the field. I'm a self taught artist, but school is helpful in learning how to illustrate. Though, some kind of assistant/mentorship deal would probably be better for this field. Degree not necessary unless you want to teach at a college someday.
How does your work contribute to society?
Art shapes how society feels, views, and understands what has happened and what is happening around them. It also informs people on how they should act in social situations.
For example, I illustrated a book about a girl who wouldn't brush her hair, and then it got tangled and a mouse decided to live in the tangles. Soon her hair was filled with mice. Then she stopped showering, and started to smell. Soon the other kids wouldn't play with the girl. She finally decided that she would shower and brush her hair, which lead to her being accepted by the community again. This book is read to children to teach them the importance of personal hygiene, and it teaches the lesson in a way that just telling a child to "brush your hair" can't.
Do you have any words of advice for beginning artists?
Learn the fundamentals as best as you can:
- perspective drawing
- Shape, line, and form
- light and shadow
- human and animal anatomy
- experiment a lot
Try deliberate practicing. Goes like this:
- Set a stretch goal, zeroing in one narrow aspect of overall performance. Don't focus on what you do well, strive to improve specific weaknesses. Like, "get better at drawing hands by drawing 100 good looking hands."
- With undivided attention, try to reach that goal.
- Along the way get feedback on every 10 - 20 hands you draw. Ask an art community like the SVSlearn.com forums for a critique.
- After the feedback, start again. Focus on where you have weakness.
Which artist has influenced you the most?
I love so many artists and there are a big handful that I can directly attribute a certain thing I do to. But I'd say the single biggest influence has been Bill Watterson. I didn't realize this until I was drawing my first graphic novel; Missile Mouse: the Star Crusher. I had collected all the Calvin and Hobbes books growing up and after moving around the country a few times those books ended up living in boxes and not being seen for several years. While drawing Missile Mouse I found one of the boxes and began reliving those books. It dawned on me then that so much of what I was drawing was subconsciously influence by these books from my hours and hours of reading them in my youth.
What's your favorite comic book?
Hellboy. I remember the first time I saw the first issue of Seed of Destruction on the stand. I had been totally into all the image/Jim lee/Todd Mcfarlane/ flashy stuff that when I saw that stark red monster with a stone hand stepping out fo the inking black shadows it struck me as completely unique and powerful. I ate that stuff up and have been collecting him ever since.
What was your very first gig?
I worked as an inbetween artist at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix. I got my first movie credit for my work on Titan A.E. That was back when animated films were drawn...on paper. I remember there was one computer terminal in the studio that if you had an email account you could go check your email on it. Good times.
Was their any particular project you worked out that you think improved you as an artist?
I've grown so much from so many projects it's hard to pick just one. But if I had to it would be a freelance gig I got for an online kids videogame called Dizzywood. I worked on it most nights out of the week for a good year and a half. They specifically asked that I not give them finished polished drawings and instead wanted me to just churn out as many ideas as possible. This was hugely liberating for me and in the process of churning out ideas I actually became a much stronger artist. Instead of laboring over one drawing trying to fix mistakes I leanred from mistakes and made them better in the next drawing. By the end of the project I was much more confident in my style and my drawing abilities. and this seeped into every other aspect of my work from doing concept art on Horton Hears a Who to drawing Missile Mouse.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I used to get a lot of inspiration from other artists and artwork. While I still value the work of others I get way more juiced out of what I get from life in general. Whether it's characters I see on the street, or a hole in the wall restaurant, or a small town I'm driving through there's so much material to pull from it can almost be debilitating. I think that might be why I'm such a huge fan of National Geographic magazine. If you're an artist you should subscribe. Each issue is like it's own field trip taking you to places you otherwise wouldn't have gone. If you were to scroll through the blogs I follow you'll find a lot of artists, but you also see architecture, fashion, automobile, military, and photography blogs. I'm just trying to expose myself to as much stuff as possible.
In terms of Gray markers, do you prefer warm, cool, or neutral? Copic or Prisma [or other]?
I prefer warm grays for most surfaces, and cool grays for exposed metal. And I use Copics, though Prisma is a good marker too. I'd like to get a neutral set of markers, but honestly, with a Cintiq and Photoshop in my arsenal, art markers are a luxury.
What helps you draw all if the miscellaneous mechanical bits in your robots?
I study actual machines, learn how they work, and what each part does. So when I need to draw a robot I make sure I put in there a differential, a fuel pump along with fuel valves, alternators, wires & fuel lines, and of course manifolds of every kind.
The characters you create have so much personality. In a single illustration you get a sense of who they are. What tips would you give towards making unique and relatable characters?
Always be thinking about who that character really is. Ask yourself questions about them like: Where did they sleep last night? Are they a morning person or not? Why? What did they have for breakfast? What is the most important thing they need to do today? Answer those and you'll start to have a good idea of who the character is and it will help you decide how to design them.
So many people know your work. You're well known at conventions, on social media, and amongst other artists. How would you recommend standing out in the industry, both online and in the artistic community?
Finish one tangible project every year and put it out into the world for people to buy or own.
Document your process, and share it online.
Help others do the same.
What are some things you do to continue to grow and push yourself as an artist today?
Lately, I've been obsessed with time management and trying to optimize my day so that every minute is spent being as productive as I can be. I talk all about that here.
Will you be reprinting any of your books?
Probably not. There just isn't enough demand for many of my self published books to justify the costs of taking a book back to print. But one idea I have is to collect the contents of a few books and compile them into larger omnibuses. Let me know if you like that idea.
Also, all my books are available as PDFs in my shop.
I saw you drawing/selling a copyrighted character. Is that legal?
This is not sound legal advice. Just what I've learned from my experiences. You can sell original art regardless of what the subject matter is. Selling prints and t-shirts get's into some gray area. If your piece is parody, or has a definitive statement that's satirical or otherwise, or if it has a strong point of view or style/design that could not be mistaken for licensed works then you should be fine. The best practice is to contact the copyright owners and ask for permission or license the IP for your use. But anytime I've tried that I do not get a response. Probably because I'm not much of a financial threat to their economic interests.
As for the Star Wars and Disney art in my books and in my shop, I don't know if it's ok or not. My intent isn't to make a buck off of Star Wars with the art books I sell, it's to collect and catalog my work, and because I'm a huge fan of Star Wars and Disney Characters they show up in my self published books.
I've known people who have received cease and desist letters from Marvel and Lucasfilm, and I've also know people who have sold their prints to actual Disney IP lawyers for their offices. So...yeah.
If you're still worried, contact an IP lawyer and get the straight dope from them.
Here's some more info: http://chrisoatley.com/fan-art/
My advice to anyone is to focus your energy into creating your own ideas, characters, and stories, instead of making prints of stuff like Harry Potter, Avengers, Star Wars, or other Disney characters.