In this free artists’ mindset course from The Magic Box Academy, you’ll learn how to become a better artist without ever picking up a pencil.
Rethinking everything from mentorship to motivation, you’ll create a clearer, more actionable plan for your creative career and develop a deeper appreciation for the artists, musicians and literary figures who came before us.
The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career
To pursue a career as a professional artist is to expect a lot from your job.
…more, it seems, than most people expect from their own.
Professional artists and those who aspire to the same status expect the work to be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling.
Some people seem satisfied, simply, to find a day job they don’t hate and compensate for any lack of creativity with hobbies.
…and others view their vocation as a tolerable compromise that buys time for the art they place at the center of their lives.
Regardless of which takes priority, it often seems that we have to choose: Art or a steady paycheck.
But why would it have to be one or the other?
Why couldn’t our work be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling?
Are we asking too much?
Is it even realistic to imagine?
In this first lesson of a course titled You’re A Better Artist Than You Think, we’ll introduce a crucial question that could save your art career (even if you don’t have one yet) and rethink a common belief that often prevents artists from becoming professionals.
But, as with every lesson throughout the course, we’ll begin by looking to history for answers. (History always has answers.)
Today we’ll hear the “origin story” of Mary Blair, a mid-century Disney artist whose “renown in the company,” writes historian Nathalia Holt, “was second only to Walt’s.”
In her life and work (which is on display throughout this post) we’ll find a more vivid picture of what it means to make a living from one’s creative passion, what often blocks many of us from a similar experience and how this fundamental shift in the way we think about the art vs. money conundrum can affect the quality of our work, whether we find it fulfilling, our sense of self, of belonging, of motivation and inspiration.
The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career (Part 2)
In part one of this series, I posed a mostly rhetorical question:
Are professional artists (whether aspiring or experienced) foolish to believe that their work could be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling?
Then we observed a struggle between these two extremes in the early life and work of Mary Blair, a genius of color and design who became one of the most influential artists in the history of Disney animation.
…but before that, she quit.
…after just fourteen months at the studio.
…and then abruptly changed her mind.
Today we’ll learn that, after her return to Disney, Mary Blair discovered, in effect, one crucial question that led to an elevated role in which she soon found the work to be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling.
…a crucial question that led her transformation from versatile mimic into the marquee artist of Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan and the animatronic wonder It’s A Small World.
…a crucial question that every professional artist (aspiring or experienced) would be wise to apply.
The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career (Part 3)
In parts one and two of this series, I emphasized that most artists will never find a financially sustainable career until they develop a complete, professionally viable skill set.
…but why invest the time and energy necessary to develop a financially sustainable art career if you don’t love the work?
…or at least like it?
We saw how Mary Blair struggled to pay the bills with her passion for fine art, then settled for a steady paycheck in animation.
…but got bored with the work just a few years later.
If she hadn’t given animation one last chance, by joining Walt Disney’s visual development research trip to Latin America, she might never have discovered the skill set from which she derived creative fulfillment, a steady paycheck and her legendary career.
Today, in part three, I’ll share how and why I wasted a lot of time pursuing a career I never loved and three steps you can take to avoid the same mistake…
Why Artists Need To Slow The Hell Down
One of the most important mindset shifts in the career of any professional artist is a shift in focus from performance to practice.
Our culture has a very bad habit of promoting performance while obfuscating the practice behind it.
This habit skews expectations, scatters attention and stifles patience.
So this is the first of a three-part lesson for artists who are ready to develop effective professional practices upon which they can depend for efficiency, consistency and quality in their work.
Today, we’ll begin by busting six common myths about practice.
…myths that, if left UNbusted, can lead to physical injury, damage to our mental health, wasted time and energy, burnout or rage quitting.
NEXT, IN PART TWO ::
We’ll rethink a classical practice for improving your art and, in part three, we’ll explore the relationship between practice and projects.
Is Drawing Or Painting From Reference "Cheating"?
Pixar Animation Studios was always known for quality storytelling, but in the early years of CG feature animation, they also set the standard for design.
CG feature animation was considered by many (even mainstream audiences) inherently inferior until the turn of the 21st century.
The fur and lighting effects in Monsters, Inc. were remarkable in 2001 (and they still hold up) but in 2003, Finding Nemo’s visual art finally and fully transcended the technological limitations of the new medium.
When interviewed about how they created such stunning imagery, the Pixar artists often cited their meticulous research.
Whether it was sketching professional ballet dancers in preparation for Fantasia’s dancing hippo sequence, living in Latin America for months at a time during development for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros or hiring legitimate apex predators as models for The Lion King, Disney artists were willing to do whatever it took to achieve their characteristic verisimilitude.
…so why wouldn’t Pixar?
They got the Nemo art team certified for scuba diving. The Up artists flew to Venezuela to paint the world’s tallest waterfall. The Cars team went on an epic road trip across the legendary US Route 66, the Ratatouille team wined and dined at fancy restaurants in Paris…
…and the Toy Story 3 team toured…
The Nemo people swam around a coral reef.
…and the Toy Story 3 people swam around in literal human garbage.
…but the movie probably wouldn’t have created a cultural phenomenon it did if the artists hadn’t been so committed to authenticity.
This is the second in a three-part lesson for artists who are ready to develop effective professional practices upon which they can depend for efficiency, consistency and quality in their work.
Today we’ll talk about the importance of working from reference - even when it stinks.
We’ll bust five common myths about reference.
…myths that if left un-busted put your portfolio at risk of landing in the trash.
This is “You’re A Better Artist Than You Think.” I’m your instructor Chris Oatley and this is part two in my series titled “Why Artists Need To Slow The Hell Down.”
Get clear, relevant feedback on your work and personalized career guidance through my mentorship at HowToBecomeAProfessionalArtist.com
There you can also subscribe to this free course via email and get every new lesson delivered directly to your inbox as soon as they become available.
Next, In Part Three:
We’ll explore the relationship between practice and projects by applying a product design concept to the process for developing our visual stories.
De-Stress Your Creative Process (With This Classical Practice)
In this episode of “You’re A Better Artist Than You Think,” Chris Oatley, founder of The Magic Box Academy and Visual Development Artist for Disney, DreamWorks, and Sony Pictures Animation, helps digital artists and visual storytellers de-stress their creative process through the revival of classical workflows.
You’ll find guidance in the timeless methods of legendary illustrator J.C. Leyendecker and modern examples like The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, Aliens, Up, and Cuphead that will reduce overwhelm and frustration in your workflow while also boosting your efficiency and confidence.
Get clear, relevant feedback on your work and personalized career guidance through Chris' mentorship at HowToBecomeAProfessionalArtist.com
This is my favorite art podcast. Very insightful and such a soothing voice as well. Very good teacher.
For artists and enthusiasts alike! :)
I started listening to these podcasts a few months ago, and though some of the lessons are a few years old, the content is still very much relevant. The latest lesson ("4 Ways Animation Artists Can Mentally Prepare For The Move To LA") gives such great insight from Natalie Nourigat; about how she approached her career in animation after feeling like she had nowhere to begin. If you're feeling at a stalemate with your career, I strongly recommend listening to this podcast.
Thoughtful professional advice
This podcast gives excellent professional advice on how to improve your visual storytelling in a concise and clear way while remaining approachable. You can feel the passion for storytelling coming through the speakers and it shows I how valued their lessons are. The Oatley Academy is invaluable!