My Secrets Exposed: True Confessions of a Professional Illustrator

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As an illustrator, the most common question I’m asked is “what kind of utensil, paper, paint, ink, pen, etc., did you use to do this?” I’m always forthcoming in my response—at times in great detail. I have nothing to hide, there are no tricks up my sleeve when it comes to my art. I am aware that there is no magic pencil to be pulled from a stone, no special paper that arrives like a flying carpet and somehow transforms one into an amazing artist. There is however, a common misconception in the minds of artist-hopefuls that the artists they admire actually do possess those items and are simply hoarding them.

“Let us make man in our image.” That’s what the Creator said, right? My humble mind has come to understand that “our image” was possibly referring to two major aspects of likeness: the possession of one’s own will, and the ability to create. Both of which I am grateful for, the latter more so than the first, as creating gets me in much less trouble than my will. Although one’s will, driven by faith, is the beginning of creation . . . but that’s for another day.

Needless to say I’m thankful to be a creator, and it is that gift and talent in which I find the ability to produce artworks. So maybe there is some magic in the talent, but it’s up to me to determine the level of success I will find. The preparation, research, practice, planning and execution are based on what I am willing to put into exercising my raw goods.

“Ok, so I’ve got some talent, then just how do I decide what medium and materials are right for me?” You try. You try over and over. You experience. You experiment. You fail. Failure is the most important thing you can do while you are finding yourself as an artist. And through this process you eventually shape yourself into . . . well, you. And no matter what that looks like, be proud of it. Whatever you find yourself to be as an artist, as a creator, be the very best at it. Do your art like nobody’s business and when someone comes up to you and asks “What kind of pencil and paper did you use to do this?” you can proudly respond as I do: “It’s a #2 pencil and Xerox paper.”

Excalibur Pencil


14 Comments

  1. Peter B

    Welcome, Joe! I was glad to meet you at HM 2013, and I can’t wait to see the book.

    Thank you for the wise reminder — and the Pencil of Pride Rock.

  2. Lee Younger

    Cheers, Joe. I absolutely love your stuff. So grateful for all the places you post so we can see what you’re up to with that #2 pencil. Thanks for being generous with your work, time, advice and insights.

  3. Kim F

    “…Failure is the most important thing you can do while you are finding yourself as an artist. And through this process you eventually shape yourself into . . . well, you. And no matter what that looks like, be proud of it. Whatever you find yourself to be as an artist, as a creator, be the very best at it.”

    Wow. Yes. Wow.

  4. Profile photo of Chris Stewart

    Chris Stewart

    @illustewartgmail-com

    Excellent inaugural post, Joe. It all comes back to the most common utensils we’ve got- and spending enough time with them to fail with them in hand, over and over. Encouraging stuff, and a great reminder!

  5. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks, Joe. Folks, I can attest to the hours and hours of work Joe puts into his art. It’s been such a good reminder that there are no shortcuts. You just work, and hope something beautiful happens.

  6. SD Smith

    Thanks, Joe. Folks, I can attest to the fact that Joe has an awesome soul patch.

    I love that drawing, man. So great. And thanks for the good advice about failing. I’m succeeding at that!

  7. Chuck Rekow

    Great article, Joe!
    I do a good portion of my work with pencil on cheap copy paper, and almost all my ideas begin there. Good luck as you continue on. Your work is inspiring.

  8. Loren Warnemuende

    I love that word and picture image of the pencil in the rock. So true that our talent takes so much more than magic! My eight-year-old wants to be an artist some day, but our current daily struggle is trying to help her see that if she wants to be everything God has for her, she has to put the hard work into it. Last night we read the parable of the talents and the connection clicked for me and I think for my daughter. I need to be available to Christ and willing to take the long, hard haul to move to where the beauty of His creation can burst forth. Thanks for the reminder. We love your work!

  9. Matthew Benefiel

    Thanks Joe, I’m looking forward to my hardbook copy of The Warden and the Wolf King (and the Createrapedia). Singer songwriter Judy Rogers told me last year that the biggest definer of an artist and his/her material is experience. You have to have life under your belt. Failed attempts and hard work like you said, and that broken will that tries to get us in trouble so much, it shows up all the clearer when it’s broken and willing to be molded.

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