It's weird looking back to where I was with my art career last summer. I was lost, I had no focus, I wasn't sure where to set my goals. After a failed attempt to get a paid internship as a scientific illustrator for an ornithology magazine I seriously considered going back to school for neuroscience or marine biology. Finally I took a job as a canvasser. I quit three days in after an angry Russian man answered the door with an ax and I was chewed out by a lawyer for half an hour in the cold rain of Maine. My boyfriend had just picked up a dream job traveling the country as a jouster, and feeling like a terrible failure, I found myself being a little envious. My dream was making art, and I wanted to make it work. I needed to do something for myself, I needed a little guidance and on a whim I signed up for SmArt School with Rebecca Guay.
In the past year, every advance I've made in my career is all due to my mentors, an open mind, and hard work.
I've had so many people ask me about my experiences with SmArt School and the IMC, so I decided to give you a thorough guide of my experience and my opinions about these two educational investments.
I had no idea what to expect coming into this, and the painting I did for the assignment due on the first class was embarrassingly bad, looking back. Rebecca gives honest feedback, and does so gently, which is really great for students who have a fear of critiques. Personally, I feel like I need honest and harsh feedback, and when I told her she should pick my art apart because it helped me, she obliged, but did so gracefully. Her critique skills alone make her a great mentor.
After having a critique of my first piece, I decided to redo it under Rebecca's direction. I spent about three weeks drawing the same thing over and over, refining the same sketch bit by bit. It was incredibly frustrating in some ways, but liberating once I realized what I was doing. I’ve learned that it makes a huge difference when you actually look at your work and pay attention to every seemingly insignificant detail. Inevitably, when you're drawing all the time, you end up sketching on autopilot, you stop asking what you could do differently and what you could do better and you repeat the same stokes and lines because you've become comfortable with the fact that they work. Progress and learning happens when you step back, consciously observe what you’re doing, and break those cycles and habits that you've fallen into.
Another frustration I had to overcome was the feeling that my own style was fading into these new things I was trying, but you have to be open to new experience in order to learn. Try everything, then decide once you've done it if it's working for you or not. Learn the rules before you break them.
Keeping these two things in mind, I improved hugely from the beginning to the end of the class. Rebecca brings attention to all the holes in your process, the places you've been avoiding the work, and helps you build the healthy habits that bring about beautiful illustrations. She stresses the importance of looking at your influences and identifying why you love them, doing master studies, and having great drawings.
Illustration Master Class
Getting to go to the IMC this past summer was an amazing string of coincidences and a lot of luck, and I'm so happy it happened. If you want to know more about the piece I produced during the IMC, check out Process: Oneironaut's Box.
Knowing that I was a lot closer to the IMC than my other peers, I packed my minimal little bag... but ended up filling my car with costumes, props, and pretty daggers (many of which people were able to use.) I drove an hour and a half, nervously checked in and set myself up in a cozy little dorm room (which I only used for the few hours I actually slept). Little did I know I was about to embark on a magical adventure into the Hogwarts of illustrators.
The IMC was definitely intense. You'd wake up early, eat, draw, lecture, draw, lunch, lecture, draw, dinner, lecture, draw, stay up late hanging out, and maybe sleep sometime. There was more than once I had to go curl up and take a power nap, yet somehow I didn't lose my mind from the lack of sleep... I was running on fumes and inspiration.
I'd say that the IMC isn't so much about focusing on your work, SmArt School is definitely better if you need to focus on improving your skills. You get to make friends and connections, learn from them, ask questions, listen to brilliant and informative lectures (don't skip the lectures to work on your piece, trust me), watch demos, get portfolio reviews with some awesome art directors, all while letting that creativity feed right into the piece you're working on. Being among such a community is humbling and inspiring. Something that you should definitely take away from the IMC is your "next steps". What's your plan for the next year? Where do you want to go with your work and how are you going to do that?
What I took away from the IMC was something that I really didn't expect. Through all the discussions I had, and all the questions I was asked by my mentors and peers, I realized that I really want to be telling stories, but I lack the confidence when it comes to writing. After discussing my self-imposed obstacles with Iain McCaig and Irene Gallo, I came away with a plan to strengthen my confidence and work towards getting some of my writing published. I stuck to this plan after leaving the IMC, I finished a book full of great writing exercises over the course of a month and am currently writing a bunch of short stories while chipping away at a bigger project.
If you're still not sure where to start, or which of these classes would best suit your needs, take a moment to think about where you are with your work and what you want to accomplish. If you're trying to improve your portfolio, work on multiple pieces, and work through some troubles you've been having with your work, I'd recommend SmArt School. I finished multiple pieces in Rebecca's class, improved my skills the more over the four months compared to the one week of IMC, and had a lot more to put in my portfolio. If you have a strong portfolio and you're looking for ways to branch out in the business, make new friends and connections, get some valuable portfolio reviews, and see a bunch of other people work, the IMC is probably more suitable for you. If you were to take both, I'd recommend taking SmArt School first, and then going to the IMC.
Regardless of what you decide to do, I consider both of these experiences very valuable and educating, and it's an opportunity that you should absolutely take.
Links Worth Checking Out
Gurney Journey: IMC 2013
Greg Manchess Oil Painting Demo
One Fantastic Week: Rebecca Guay
Rebecca Guay Process Demo
Iain McCaig Watercolor IMC 2013
If you have any questions that I didn't answer, please leave a comment and I'll add it in here!