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Joe Madueira-Do you really want to be an artist?

Joe Madureira is a prominent comic artist, character designer and video game developer. Joe rose to prominence drawing the X-Men for Marvel comics and launching his creator owned title Battle Chasers. Joe then left comics to work in video game development and since then has ventured back into comics from time to time and will be penciling upcoming issues of Wolverine for Marvel comics.

Joe recently made a post on his Facebook fan page addressing the myriad of questions he receives from “aspiring artists” about how to make it or be great. Here he delivers his advice and wisdom to those who strive to be professional artists. This advice is well met for an artist seeking to become a professional in any field of illustration. Learn from his experiences and apply them to your own in the way that makes the most sense.

Be forewarned Joe is speaking frankly and is using more frank and “adult” language in his post.

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Do you really want to be an artist? Or a successful working professional?

Believe it or not there is a difference. I’m not usually a soapbox type guy, I don’t like instructing people, and I think I’m a terrible teacher. But hey, it’s Friday and I’m in a strange mood. So here goes:

I’ve noticed that a good number of my fans happen to be aspiring artists themselves. This is for all you guys. I get asked constantly: “Where should I go to school?” “What classes should I take?” “What should I study for anatomy?” “What pencils and paper do you use?” “Should I be working digitally now instead of traditionally?” “How do I fix my poses? Learn composition? Perspective?” “When am I going to develop my own style?” “Who were your influences?” “Teach me how to draw hands!” The list goes on…

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Here’s the deal. All of that stuff *is* important, and it may nudge you in the right direction. A lot of it you will discover for yourself. What works best for one person doesn’t work for another. That’s the beauty of art. It’s personal. It’s discovery. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ALL THAT CRAP!

Instead I’m going to answer the questions that you *SHOULD* be asking, but aren’t. These are things that have only recently occurred to me, after doing this for 20+ years. These things seem so obvious, but apparently they elude a lot of people, because I am surprised at how many ridiculously talented artists are ‘failing’ professionally. Or just unhappy. The beauty of what I’m about to tell you is that it doesn’t matter what field you’re in or what your art style is.
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In no particular order:
1) Do what you love. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, it shows. If you’re having fun, it shows. If you’re bored, IT SHOWS. Some guys are able to work on stuff they have zero interest in, and still pull off great work, but I find that when I do this my motivation takes a huge hit. And Motivation is key. Money is not a great motivator. It’s temporary like everything else. And honestly, I’ve gotten paid the most money for some of the shittiest work I have ever done. That may sound awesome, but it’s not. And here’s why…

2) You MUST stay Excited and Motivated. Have you noticed that there are days you can’t draw a god damned thing? And some days you feel like you can draw anything? It’s 4am but you don’t notice because you are in the ZONE. Your hand is racing ahead of your mind and you can do no wrong?! Maybe it’s some new paper you got. Or a new program you’ve been wanting to try out. Or you just found some amazing shit on DeviantArt, or watched some movie that just makes you want to run straight to your board. This relates to the above because while it is possible to involve yourself in projects you aren’t excited about—maybe you need the cash, or think it will look good on your resume, whatever it is—it’s not going to last. You need to stay fresh. Expose yourself to new things. New techniques. You should be getting tired of your own shit on a fairly regular basis. Otherwise other people will.

3) Check your Ego. If you think you’re the shit, you’re already doomed. You may be really, really good at what you do, but there’s someone better. Sorry. There’s always plenty to learn, even for us old dogs. So when I meet young upstarts who have this sense of entitlement, or a know-it-all attitude, I just have to laugh. Some of the biggest egos I’ve ever witnessed were from people who have accomplished the least. Meanwhile, most guys who are supremely talented AND successful, and have EARNED the RIGHT to have an ego and throw their weight around, don’t. Why is that? It’s because…

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4) Relationships are important. This may be one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn. Early on, I didn’t value my relationships with people. Creatively or otherwise. I felt like I didn’t need anyone’s help and I could figure everything out on my own. Let’s face it, many of us become artists because we are reclusive, social misfits. We’d rather stay inside and draw shit than go outside and play. We like to live inside our own minds. Why not?! It’s awesome in there! And sometimes we don’t want to let other people in. But like I said—you can’t do it alone. I can honestly say that as much as I try to stay current, as much as I try to push my work and draw kick ass shit that will excite people, I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for all the other people I’ve met and learned from along the way. Guys who pulled strings for me. Took risks on me. Believed I was the right guy for the job. You need to manage your relationships. You need to network, and meet people. Drawing comics is still a pretty good place for reclusive types—but if you want to work in big studios—Making games, Films, animation, basically any other type of job on the planet, you’d better start making some connections. Be likeable. Be professional. That doesn’t mean be an opportunistic ladder climber. Fake people lose in the end. Be yourself, but be professional. It’s no secret that when people are hiring, our first instinct is to bring in people we know. It’s human nature. I don’t like unknowns, even if their portfolio is awesome. If we have a mutual connection, if they have great things to say about you, you’re in. If you have AMAZING artwork to show, and I call your last employer and they tell me what a pain in the ass you are to work with, you’re done. Talent and skill only get you so far. I am literally amazed at how often I meet guys that are total assholes and think they are going to get anywhere.

5) Here’s the BIG ONE. The greatest obstacle you will ever have to overcome IS YOURSELF. And the Fear that you are creating in your own head. Stay positive. Stop defeating yourself. There are artists I know that are so damn good they make me pee my pants. I look up to these mofos. I study their shit and I want to draw like them. And they are almost NEVER working on their DREAM project. And—big surprise, they aren’t happy in their job. “Why NOT?! WTF is WRONG WITH YOU?!” is usually my reaction. And the answer is almost always “The market isn’t great right now” “Other stories/games/comics like mine don’t do very well” “The shit that’s hot right now is nothing like mine, It’s just going to fail.” “I’m not sure I’m good enough.” “I need the money.” “Too Risky.” “I tried it before and failed. ” It doesn’t matter what words they use, they are afraid for one reason or another. I know. I’ve been there.

But here’s the deal. YOU NEED TO TAKE RISKS. Guess what? YOU ARE MOST LIKELY GOING TO FAIL. If you want it—REALLY want it, that won’t stop you. You will learn A LOT. My good friend Tim constantly jokes about how I jump out of planes without a parachute and worry about the landing on the way down. You may think that I’m lucky, that it’s easy for me to say because I’m already successful, that I’m in a different situation than you all are. But it’s not true. Risk is risk, no matter what level you’re at. If you’re already successful, you just take even bigger risks. But they never go away. Everything in life is Risk vs. Reward. Not just in your career. LIFE. You’d better get used to it.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I got into comics. I left the #1 selling book at the time ( Uncanny X-men ) to work on Battle Chasers during a time when ‘Conan’ was about the only fantasy comic people knew. And no one was buying it. I wanted to work in games, so I started a game company. I had NO IDEA WTF I was doing. I just wanted it, really bad. We tanked. It failed. No big surprise. But the people I worked with got hired elsewhere and rehired me. I started ANOTHER game Company. We had 4 people and a dream, and some publishers wouldn’t even meet with us, because their ‘next gen console’ teams had 90+ people on them. I literally got hung up on. “Stick to handheld games, it’s smaller, maybe you can handle that…” one MAJOR publisher told us. I don’t blame them. But we didn’t let it stop us. Thank god we didn’t listen to them. Vigil was born. Darksiders happened, AND we got to make a sequel. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the best games in the industry, and the most elite and experienced game dev studios in the world. How is that possible?!!! Hardly any of us had even worked on a console game before. I’ll be honest, I was thinking we would fail the whole time. I just didn’t care. If I had to play the odds on this one, I’d bet against us.

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Why am I telling you all this shit? This is not me patting myself on the back. It’s just stuff that has somehow only dawned on me recently when it’s been staring me in the face for so long. I feel like I need to wake you guys up!!! I’ve been limiting myself. I’ve gotten afraid. I’ve taken less risks. I saw my career going places I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t excited. And I’ve realized, that all that stuff I just talked about is the reason I am where I am today. Not because I have a manga style, or I draw cool hands, or there’s energy in my drawings, or all the other things people rattle off to me. There are other guys that do all that same shit, and do it better. And amazingly, those same guys constantly tell me “Man, I wish I could do what you are doing.” “SO DO IT!!!!!” PLEASE listen to me—because I want you guys to make it. I want to look to one of you people for inspiration some day when it’s 2am and I need to keep drawing. Stop worrying about all the other stuff—the pencils, the paper, the anatomy, all that shit. It will only get you so far. You’ve already got most of what you need. I hope this helps some people. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the support over the years. You are all one of the greatest motivating forces in my life and my career. Sappy but true. Ok, let’s go draw some shit!!!

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33 Comments

  1. Celia Carlile

    Wow, Joe , what an inspirational article! Tony Robbins couldn’t have put it so well. All this advice could be applied to any career choice. Writers, composers, musicians, entertainers, designers and others would all benefit from reading this. I agree with every bit of it. Thank you , I’m off to work on my illustrations. Celia Carlile ( artist and illustrator )

    Reply
  2. Wendy Myers

    What a great article, Thank You! It’s nice to read something true and from the heart. I think this may be the best advice I’ve ever read, really. I think so many of us stop doing what we really love doing because of fear (of failing, thinking we’re not doing it like so-and-so is, etc), and then it becomes less than our best.
    I’m also a jump first kind of person. Where’s the fun in knowing you have a chute from the beginning? 😉
    Love your work.
    Wendy

    Reply
  3. Connie L. Wendorf

    I am just finishing up a college illustration class by a guy who has not changed since he had his day in the 70’s, and constantly stresses how we will not make it as illustrators if we can’t draw like Hogarth. I so needed this article to counteract some of the gloom and doom he has put into my head. Thanks Joe!

    Reply
  4. Rafael Jimenez

    Wow, that was really inspiring, and it felt so honest. Thanks for that. I think it applies to so many different fields and as you say, life itself. Keep on doing the awesome work you do

    Reply
  5. Noah Whippie

    Get out of my head! Wow dude that was seriously insightful, can’t than you enough for sharing. I really need to show this to my fiance, she’s one of those self-defeating artist types… Feeling seriously motivated to work on a project now btw.

    Reply
  6. DANIEL ALVITE

    REALLY GREAT STUFF, THANKS FOR TAKING YOUR TIME AND TELLING US THESE THINGS.

    Reply
  7. J Eduardo Dantas

    Hey man, what a beautiful and inspiring message you put in here…. I’m a journalist and I draw some stuff as a hobby, eventually … but you got me thinking about this now… hehehehehehe : D

    Reply
  8. WanderMind23

    Dude ,everything you just sated, it’s “the law of attraction” , “the secret”, “Spirit Science”,look it up.

    Reply
  9. Artey

    Joe Mad draws monsters and demons. Fantasy and death. Sadly people see only skills. They dont realize that ur artworks are full of negative and death. U broke people minds. Also was with me. I liked ur art when i was blind. Now i can see that drawings u do is not Art. Art is Rembrandt and Roden. Ur drawings is commercial shit with good skills

    Reply
  10. Nabil

    the TRUE…..

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  11. Jakub Kowalczyk

    I’m 20, Im studying, and I want to be a concept artist and I will ALWAYS remember words you said Mr. Joe! You are a really really wise man!

    Thank you and Best wishes!

    Reply
  12. Elizabet Vukovic

    WOW this is a great article, it surely describes the emotions I go through in my work process. Fear certainly haunting me at times.
    Such great and inspiring advise!

    Reply
  13. AlyArt3000 / Angela

    Loved your “maybe in a strange mood” opinion! Relationships are key. The more we practice the easier things become knowing ourselves. I’m glad to finally hear an honest rant. The art world can be brutal. Believe in yourself people! I have painted till 5 am and got ready for work. It’s the best high ever when you know u got it :) TY!

    Reply
  14. Rudeh Thakur

    Man: hats off to u n to ur golden words: i’m seriously telling ya that i’ve been in a confusion since a long time n finally i got the right thing to consider n to work with. No more words just “speechless”.
    Must update more!

    Reply
  15. Dani

    Exactly what I needed to hear right now from one of my favourite artists; thank you.

    I have found art forums and posting my art to public places to be very motivating; not only for getting feedback, but for being inspired every day to keep excited, motivated and happy. Whenever I’m surrounded by talented, hard-working artists, it just makes me want to keep growing and growing. I may do most of the literal work in solitude, but the process *requires* some degree of interaction with other people, artists or no. :)

    Reply
  16. Moe the Destroyer

    Sounds like great advice. Thanks for the words. But you also draw like a rabid beast, and no matter what you say, there are VERY few artists that can match your drawing abilities!

    Reply
  17. Colleen Smith

    I’ve been an artist for 20+ years and I’ve got say “Well said!” Much of what you say has been my experience too. I’m glad to hear it from someone else because it reminds me of all the things that are important!

    Reply
  18. Tim

    Poignant to say the least. I am definitely my own worst enemy when it comes to my career. Everything you said hit home in a big way. I’m really grateful for the ability to network with all of my heroes. I think the only thing that sets me apart is that I definitely don’t have a sense of entitlement. I actually think my humility is what hinders me a lot. I’m a good artist, but a lousy businessman. Definitely time to make some positive changes. Thanks again.

    Reply
  19. Pieter Wessels

    Dude, I love your candidness! I’ve read a lot of “advice for aspiring artists” articles before and this one is by far the best. It has the most honesty.

    I’ve bookmarked this page and will be sharing this one around.

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
  20. Jim Ritchey

    Spot-freakin’-on.

    I haven’t exactly been much on the winning end of this field, but I’ve been saying a lot of this fer years. Esp. regarding the biggest psychic vampires invariably being the least talented. The best defense for those who are sensitive and trying to do good work, who are confronted by one of these leeches online is to simply look at their art.

    Preach on, Brother Joe Mad!

    Reply
  21. Harry Alemu

    Wow. I feel more motivated than ever after reading that. Thanks for the the inspiration Joe. When’s the next issue of Battle Chasers coming out?

    Reply
  22. Yolkum

    Man hit the nail on the head with that interview. Nice job.

    Reply
  23. Marcel van Driel

    Great article. And everything you said applies to writing too, I can tell you.

    Reply
  24. Pam Godwin

    As a writer, I feel you. It’s not a reward without the pain. Great post.

    Reply
  25. zen

    yeah! i wish i was born there so i can publish mine too.

    Reply
  26. TJ Lubrano

    Joe! If I could high five you I would! It’s so easy to feel less when one doesn’t have an art degree and therefore not the proper skills to be called an “artist”(points to self). Your article hits home and I know I am on the right road and that I’m doing it the right way and for the right reasons. Awesome, brilliant article. I’m gonna draw some shit now 😀

    Reply
  27. Darryl Cobbs

    Thanks Joe. Word I needed to hear.

    Reply
  28. Saaid Rahbeeni

    That was very empowering Joe, proves that your wisdom exceeds your talent and skills, and we all know where those are sitting. Well done,it was much needed for me at this stage in my life. Thanks

    Reply
  29. Edfredned

    This is such great advice and very inspiring. Just one issue- Joe’s last name is misspelled in the title and the opening paragraph. Please consider revising when you have a chance: Madureira

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      We fixed it in the article. But unfortunately we can’t change it in the title or it would mess up all the links. Thanks for letting us know Ed, Fred or Ned! 😉

      Reply
  30. Felix

    Thanks Joe. This is so where I am at. Creative block, fear…. It’s reassuring to hear this from a talented Artist.

    Reply
  31. False Evidence Appearing Real | Pugilistic Paradigms

    […] much. The first post, which comes from a popular comic book artist and game developer, is titled: “Do you really want to be an artist? Or a successful working professional?”. For those of you that have known me for any length of time, you know that comic books, and drawing […]

    Reply
  32. MikeL

    These kinds of speeches/articles are great. The problem I have is, I read something like this.. get amped up.. motivated.. and just really bust my butt to get some stuff done. I show it off on a random art forum (cgSociety, 3dtotal, conceptart.org, etc) and it’s been the same negative reaction to my stuff every time. I got up the nerve to work on some submission pieces for SDCC and showed stuff there.. and ended up leaving feeling like after drawing for 25+ years that I didn’t know anything.
    You can’t throw anatomy and all that stuff out the window.. sorry.. someone will be there to check your ass at the door on that one. Anyway.. nice article, and I wish the world worked like this for everyone.

    Reply

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