Updated: Sept. 2016
An earlier incarnation of Jon Schindehette's Art Order site was done in by technological gremlins. So a lot of content was lost. I did manage to salvage my contributions to it. This post used to link to an article that lived there. As that site is now dead, I have put it back here on my site in its entirety.
1. Have you ever had a moment of doubt about your career choice? One that was bad enough that made you stop doing art for some period of time before you came back to it? What would you be doing for a living?
I constantly have moments of doubt about my career choice–not so much about my desire to work in this field, but rather the viability of living as one working in this field. In good years, these doubts recede and I’m usually too busy anyway to worry. In bad years, these doubts constantly nag and weigh on me. By late ’99 I had a crushing sense of personal failure with regards to my art–I was completely lost in the woods, and saw no way back to the trail. After several months of denial about this I made the humbling decision of getting a day job, which I hadn’t had since beginning to illustrate. Work had dried up (deservedly), I had little desire to pursue my own projects, and my day job–at a small video game studio–enabled me to finally learn digital tools, some web design and graphic design. By the time we had mass layoffs shortly after 9/11, I felt like I’d resolved many of the issues I was having and began to reboot things. If I were not an illustrator in this genre, and wasn’t employed in some related field (like video games), I’d try my hand at other artistic disciplines, such as portraiture perhaps, and then finally would be content to do whatever was useful and available. I believe I have the raw materials to move in other directions, and wouldn’t be averse to retraining for another field if required. Had I never been interested in art I might have been interested in the medical professions.
2. Is there a stage in your creative process that frequently becomes a hurdle? How do you overcome these repetitive hurdles?
I have a very, very difficult time thumbnailing. I’ve changed my methods and approaches multiple times, which has helped, but it’s still something I rarely want to do. So, changing my process to minimize resistance was one thing. Also, I don’t try to do all my thumbnails for a project in one sitting, but maybe a group of them on various days.
3. If you get uninspiring projects from a client, do you decline the project and risk losing the client?
I think it’s easier to turn down a project than an assignment, obviously. If someone offers me a project I find unappealing from the outset, it’s pretty easy to decline that for other reasons like schedule or pay. Once you accept a project, when a particularly bad art brief arrives, I’ve rarely if ever handed it back. On a few occasions in the past, it might have served me better to have done so, though. These days, I’ll try to read between the lines and simplify the description so as to focus on the important or inspiring bits. I’ll also thumbnail longer on them than the cooler descriptions in an attempt to conquer them through brute force. You can lose the client either way, really by handing the assignment back or handing it in poorly-done. It’s a terrible position to be in.
4. How do you progress from a concise story idea to an arrangement of shapes, a design, a composition? What is your tool for managing the basically limitless possibilities of basic pictorial structure?
I find the more I try to will forward an idea, the less interesting the ideas are. Rather, I tend to hold the concepts in my mind and start scribbling rather abstractly, allowing shapes to suggest themselves to me in accord with the assignment’s requirements. Like seeing images in clouds, vaguely. Once that starts, it’s easier to start adding and subtracting from the abstract mess to arrive at something more intentional. Every once in awhile something just jumps into my mind fully-formed. Quite often I’ll resist the temptation to accept that as the best option, and am quite often proved correct as I continue searching. It’s maybe 50/50 in that case. Half the time the “inspired” image is really unassailable. The other half of the time it is easily beatable by continuing to search.
5. Which “art rules” do you consciously bend or break that makes you who you are?
I don’t think I break rules by intention. I don’t believe rules are inherently meant to be broken. Rather, I think they often provide a certain freedom–for instance they help to limit the “basically limitless possibilities” referenced in question #4. The fact that an assignment’s description already is a limiting factor is helpful in creating art at all, in some senses. If I had to choose what to create from literally infinite possibilities, it would be much more difficult to arrive at anything than being told to work in a certain direction. I’m sure I break rules unintentionally, however.
6. What percentage of time is spent on the management of your art business (ordering prints, web site maintenance, soliciting for new work, organizing paperwork, taxes, etc.) Do you find this time away from your creative work to be a burden and intrusive to your creativity? Is there a certain time that you work on these areas?
I probably spend 6-8 hours a week on various administrative and advertising duties, along with related communication. That’s depressing. Answering these questions is part of that in my book, and has taken me about 45 minutes already.
7. Experimentation with materials is a natural part of being an artist. Was there a point in your career that experimentation stopped or narrowed down to one media? Also, do you feel this is the beginning point for the development of an artist’s style?
I was never hugely experimental with materials–I have spent very little time with a number of media, though I’ve tried any number of them. Generally, my aesthetic meant that I was drawn to a subset of materials very early, and never felt compelled to spend much time with others. I started out as an Acrylic painter, and eventually switched to oils more through following my aesthetic than through experimentation. I’ve experimented with process more than medium these days.
8. Rejection – that jagged pill. Has there been a time after you’ve been established, that you’ve been rejected? How did you handle the rejection? Looking back, should you have gotten the job?
The fact that my art is not published by any given company, or on any given product line, or in any given capacity where it is not currently being used, is because my work has been rejected either explicitly or implicitly, for the time being, by that client. So I’m daily aware of a constant sense of rejection, otherwise I’d be getting assignments from company X, for project Y, or for purpose Z, this very day. Since that little breakdown in 2000, it’s simply the background noise that continually tells me that if I were better, I’d get that work; so get better. It’s never pleasant, but is true and necessary nevertheless.
9. Looking ahead. From an established artist’s point of view, what do you see in the future of fantasy and science fiction art as a whole?
I think things are far too murky to make predictions right now, so I’m in a very watchful state instead. Many illustrators are anxiously hopeful that e-publishing will result in some sort of renaissance for story illustration either through an increase in “interior” illustrations, particularly as value-add for reprints of older and public domain books, or because huge back-catalogs may become reprinted in ebook format where they might not see paper republication, and so perhaps require illustration. If this does not happen–if in fact book publishing dries up beyond where it is, then I have a grim outlook overall. There are very few markets that pay anything that might result in a living for an illustrator. I’m only talking about gaming and story illustration here–comics and related industries have their own issues to deal with, certainly. Gaming has rarely been a place one can earn a living outside of a couple of companies, and even then only if you are very consistently and constantly commissioned. Short of a Next Big Thing coming out of left field, I’m not terribly hopeful, but I plan to keep playing til the lights are turned out. It may be that self-generated content will be the primary wave of the future, and I could embrace that, but it would not be the same career choice I’d picked originally–to be a fantasy illustrator of content created by others–either stories or games.
10. Some artists are going back to the practice of using studio apprentices as a way of preparing artwork and teaching future generations of artists their techniques. Do you use this approach and do you see it as useful? Why or why not?
I would love to have had some sort of apprenticeship with an artist I admired, when I was much younger. I’m very happy to see it happening now. I have not worked with any aspirants in this capacity, but would be open to some sort of mentoring relationship if the fit was right and I really believed in the artist. I have an extremely small live/work space, however, which might limit the possibilities. I think it would also be very interesting to perhaps mentor and apprentice a talented and hard-working young person, even say 11-12 years old. I know I was pretty driven and focused even at that age, knew what I wanted to do but had no idea what was involved, and wonder what might have been if I’d had someone to foster and direct that energy and enthusiasm, and temper it with wisdom and direction.
Thanks to Jon for the opportunity to share, and for making a powerhouse community during his non-existent spare time.