Better Get that “ART” Degree So You Can Make Money?

Universities give degrees to who haven’t mastered their craft


Question: Why don’t companies like: Disney, Pixar, Sony, Blizzard, Microsoft, Blue Sky, Mattel, Hasbro, Random House, Harper Collins, Scholastic and Folio Academy hire artists based on whether or not they have a college degree?

Answer: Lets cut to the chase – it’s because colleges and Universities routinely give degrees to students who haven’t mastered their craft. And because many “students” master their craft with out ever getting that “invaluable” certificate of diplomacy. This really isn’t news but I thought I’d briefly write about this so I have a link to send to artists who ask me for advice on what degree they should get? recently an artist wrote to me asking what colleges look the best on a resume for animation studios.

Companies want you portfolio, not your diploma

If a bachelor’s degree in visual arts said anything about the quality of the students pumped out each year, companies would interview and require applicants with BA’s and BFA’s. The truth is that these companies couldn’t care less that you have a degree. They want to see what you can do. They want to look at your portfolio. They also want you to be semi normal but that’s another discussion, don’t eat paint.

BUT Most of the Professional artists Went to School

Most professional illustrators DID go through a University or art school program. While that is true, it doesn’t mean the DIPLOMA is what made them a Pro. Most artists (most people) aren’t motivated enough to impose the rigorous hours of practice necessary or even know what to practice on in order to become a professional. Schools provide an immersion of exposure to mentors, professionals, assignments, markets, networking, methods as well as techniques, history, standards, and philosophies. These introductions can unlock hidden talent, desires and passions the beginning student never knew they had. So ironically, maybe you should go to school (and that could mean everything from University to art school to online classes and tutorials – one or a mixture of them) to get good at your craft but don’t think too much about the certificate you get – nobody is going to ask for it. And they don’t hand out cushy jobs and art careers with the diplomas either.

You do need that degree in order to teach. 

You don’t need a degree to teach, unless you want to teach in a formal setting. The bachelors degree is really only valuable if you want to teach at a public or private school, institution, or college and then you will need a masters degree to top it off. Ironically, the school probably doesn’t care if you can do or if you can teach, they care if you have that “invaluable” certificate of diplomacy. What’s that old saying?

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

Prov. People who are able to do something well can do that thing for a living, while people who are not able to do anything that well make a living by teaching. (Used to disparage teachers. From George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.)

And oh yeah – getting a degree WILL make your parents happy.


Giving assemblies on reading and illustrating for picture books

Here is the skinny from Yuba City CA – giving assemblies on reading and illustrating for picture books. This was me barely making it over Donnor Summit before it got really bad.

I gave about 4-5 assemblies each day for 4 days – it was really fun watching kids get excited over my work. It’s hard for me to get a reaction from my own kids – they’ve seen behind the curtain. I love to do school visits.
At the end of each assembly I painted one of my characters in Photoshop on the screen – kids got really quiet watching a drawing come to life.
For some of the older classes I gave some drawing lessons.
We took some goofy pictures…
This is Craig and Leslie Reading – Leslie set up all the schools and made all the arrangements – She did so much to facilitate these presentations – I can’t thank her enough!I also got to visit my sister Beth and her husband Michael. Beth is a famous blogger in the Bay area – her blog: fakeplasticfish talks about living life while using a lot less plastic.

Drawing Inspiration: Will Terry in Yuba

I even made the local paper!

Donner Summit was kind to me on the way back.  😎

Should I Go To Art School Or Take Art Classes Online?

Should I take college art classes or learn online?

Advice for beginner artists.

I get this question a lot so I posed the query last week in hopes to get you all thinking on your own and now I am going to give my answer. This may take awhile so you may want to pack a lunch or put on a pot of coffee.

Let me just start by saying that it is really an unfair comparison, it is like the old apples and oranges thing. But let’s compare anyway.

So first, let’s look at cost.


Online, you could probably spend anywhere from $1000 maybe even up to $5000. With that amount of money and a little digging around on the internet, finding a few systems or mentors that work for you, and applying yourself, you should be able to get all the schooling you need to become a genuine artist and get started as a pro. Compare that to a state college where you could spend from $25,000 to $35,000 and that’s if they even have an illustration program and if you are close enough to go to that school. Compare that to an bonafide (bow-nuh-fide) Art School that can cost well over $100,000.

What Kind of Artist Are You?

Sammy the Dog doing art

Maybe a better question here would be, What kind of student are you? This makes a lot of
difference. Are you super motivated? Do you love to draw? Do you love to paint? Are you a
self-starter and can you push yourself. This will make a lot of difference. If you are self
motivated, like most of us are NOT, then you will most likely do better any way. If so, you
could become a professional artist/illustrator and do well without any college or formal
education. When people really want to learn something, they usually figure out a way to do it. Libraries, stores, teachers/mentors, internet etc. That is probably fewer than 3% of us, but if you really made up your mind to be one of those 3%, I believe you could. I believe you CAN. I KNOW YOU CAN. I also know you probably won’t. (just sayin)

Continue reading

Tips for Illustrators & Students Part 2: Why Are You an Artist?

We are Artists Because IT USED TO BE FUN!

I became and Artist cuz art is fun.

I became and Artist cuz art is fun.

I want to start this by asking you, how did you get into art?  What made you start producing art?  Was it just for fun? Were you just a kid?  Did you get into art because people asked you to draw things for them?  I honestly doubt that you got into art because other people asked you to. Most of us got into art to make cool stuff and because it was fun and fulfilling.

There is much amazing stuff out there, and we looked out at it and decided we wanted to make our own and show it to the world.

Do you want to be an Illustrator, an Artist, or an Employee? 

Art is fun.

Art is fun.

Yet so many artists who have spent so long learning, and practicing get to a certain point, like when they’re about to finish school, and they start thinking about getting out of school, becoming an Artist, an illustrator, or just thinking about how to make money with their art skills.

After that all of a sudden we want to get hired. So we can get paid. So we can eat. We want to be employees.  We start looking for someone else to tell us what to do (or draw) so we can make a living, and so we can eat.

We get asked to draw something that isn’t fun or we get asked to do something that takes away from our vision.

What can I do To Make Money as an Artist?

I don’t want to discourage you, there is nothing wrong with working with and helping other people. I want to help open your mind to other possibilities.

It started with students across the country, and now it’s students all over the world. People want to be hired.

The main thing I am asked is, “what can I draw to make money?” I think it’s backwards, is that why we became artist? I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong, but it’s not why we started.

I’m in a position now that I can pick and choose. I’ve put in a lot of work that I ended up hating but I’ve also put a lot of work into my children’s books that I’ve really enjoyed, and I enjoyed the people I’ve worked with.


But is that the only way or are there other things that we can do? Have you ever thought that musicians, authors, actors, videographers, and gallery artists are more entrepreneurial than illustrators. Think about that, are they?

What is wrong with Illustrators.  And this is a generalization. Musicians move to Austin, or Nashville, or they record in a friend’s house, and now with the internet a lot of them are starting their own YouTube channels. Comedians are starting their own YouTube channels. Actors move to Hollywood or start YouTube channels, Gallery-Artists make something and try to get someone to buy it. Writers write something and hope publishers buy it, or they publish it on Amazon and sell it directly. Like Amanda Hopkins.

Illustrators Want to be hired, commissioned, or just get a job. 

What’s the difference between us Illustrators, and all the other artists? Ask yourself and try to answer that question. A graphic designer decided to publish his own small books. I have a friend who owns a graphic design studio, and we first started working together about ten, fifteen years ago. And he would hire me, he was getting contracts from Children’s book publishers, and he would hire me to do covers and inside spreads.

A couple years ago he hired me to do some work for a children’s book with a publisher I had never heard of before, why because it was new, it also happened to be him or his publishing company. He decided ‘you know what, I can make one of these myself’. And he’s still publishing books, and even some e-books online.

The Internet has Been a Real Game Changer. 

If you are a teenager or in your mid-twenties, you probably grew up with the internet. Not knowing life without it. I wonder if the internet is more impressive to me someone who lived without it. I can’t speak for someone who lived without cars, or plains.  But I worked without the internet. I don’t want to just assume that I appreciate something more than you, but I wonder how I ever got along without it.

There are thousands of people on YouTube who picked themselves.  People who just decided to utilize this wonderful tool. Some decided, “Hey! I’m going to broadcast the news, and I’m going to make money doing it”, and they’re doing it.

You got the guys who did kid history, (Bored Shorts) and the guys who do honest trailers, (Screen Junkies) look them up, or click the link. But don’t get sucked in, your focus is here right now.

Prank vs prank, there’s that guy from Utah “tipping servers $200”.  Video recorded it, and put it on Youtube.  By my calculations I’d say he cleared $20,000 just posting that one idea.

Now you don’t “NEED” the middle man.

You can now make a free service like Youtube, get your own channel (FolioAcademy has one right here that is grossly underutilized by the way).

My Kid History friends at Bored Shorts are talking to Disney right now, who may end up buying their channel of videos and if they do it’s going to be big.  By the way That guy who filmed the tipping video has over a hundred million views, when you do that, you get noticed, and even make money with advertising. There are tons of review channels too. Someone decides “Hey! I am going to review this product.” Have you ever noticed that whenever someone decides something they start by saying “Hey!” My friend Jedd Henry who did Yukio Heroes. Michal Dowdled who makes his own puzzles of all the famous cities.  He picked himself, Kazu who made flight, People who made their own web comics. That oatmeal guy (I love that guy) Music,  everyone in music is getting involved,  Indie Music, it’s when YOU decide that Hey! you are a musician, you don’t wait for it.

They don’t teach this stuff in public schools. 

The guy’s running public school never taught this, because so many of them didn’t create anything.

My slam on public schools, they do not teach creativity.  They teach people to obey the rules and math and language and science. And WE need that, OK we do but we also need creativity.

We have not been equipped for this world, and public schools haven’t either, our parents and friends and the world is all telling us what to do.  Go to college, get good grades so you can get a job. It makes sense, it’s safe. But ask these guys who have “picked themselves”, they don’t worry about safe.

This is starting to run long so I’m going to have to have a part 3 and maybe part 4 and more.

Okay my next posts will share some strategies, like: Things that I’ve learned, Things that I’m trying to apply now, and ways for an artist to be more entrepreneurial.

Tips for New Illustrators & Illustration Students – Part 1

Tips for Up and Coming Illustrators and those still in school, Part 1

art student

I put together what I have for up and coming illustrators, and those that are still in school.

This is the advice I would want to hear if I were planning a long career in illustration. Now besides working here at Folio Academy, I also teach Illustration in Utah at UVU, and this is stuff I have been teaching to my students.

A few things every illustration student should know.

Now this is only part 1, so I plan on touching on a few things that hopefully I will be able to go over in more depth, while still being able to stay focused. What I want to touch on and go into later is

“Saying goodbye to the word Maybe.”

Getting started doing what you love.

The way things were and how they are now.

And is there enough room for all these different artists to make a living?

Getting started as an Artist, and doing what you love.

When getting started if you’re like me you wanted to make a living by doing something that you enjoy. What I wanted to do was to draw and paint.  I wanted to paint for a living. Basically what I wanted was make money doing what I love to do.

 The way things were

In the past you had to go through a middle man so you needed to find a person with money to get your illustrations out there to the market place.  Either for products, or services, you needed executives, or publishers, you needed to get to the people in charge of hiring artists.


If you were an animator, illustrator, musician, filmmaker, an author, if you were an artist you needed someone to pick you, to choose you in order for your stuff to get published, for your voice to be heard.


This has been going on for a long time, from the days of Caravaggio all the way to Dr. Seuss.  Caravaggio needed “the Church”, he needed rich people there to pay him. He needed to impress them enough so that they could say ‘Yes we will hire you to paint this or that painting’. All the way up to Dr Seuss, who had to impress a publisher, to be able to get his message, his stories told.


When it comes to traditional Publishing there have been two groups of artists, those who have been told Yes, and those told Maybe, (sometimes even a flat out No)  and the group that has been told Yes is small group.

Is there enough room for all these different artists to make a living?

What about everybody else? Is there room for everyone else, or even just a lot of people? To be picked, to be chosen, to be hired, to be utilized as an illustrator? I will have to go into that more later, because I want to cover so much, such as a little more about publishers.


Publishers are limited to how many books they can publish every year. In fact most publishers have a list of a number of books they are willing to publish in a year.


I have even heard from Editors that there are times when they almost cry inside because they have to turn down a book they would like to publish but all the slots are filled on their list for that year.  And some of those books do get chosen by another publisher, because they are so good, but sometimes that can take a year, or two and sometimes more, and quite frankly, many of them never get published.


Then we get to 2008 when the economy begins to go south, and the economy starts to really suffer. At the same time we’ve had Digital Media taking off. There are Story apps and digital eBooks. With that explosion the digital media started competing with printed books.


facebook logo 02Since the internet has exposed many more talented authors and illustrators with sites like Pinterest, Deviant Art, Illustration Friday, Blogs ect. artists are learning from each other and online.  Online education has been getting better and cheaper. Sites like Lynda dot com, New-Masters academy, Folio Academy (that’s us) SVS, (school of visual storytellers) the Lamppost Guild, by Corey Godby and Justin Gerard.  All kinds of online schools, easy access, online ways to learn and ways to improve your education, it’s getting cheaper and easier to obtain.  And you can have inexpensive access to some of the best instructors in the world.

Learning online vs at University

Now I do want to put a disclaimer here, I work for a University so I am definitely not saying that learning online is better than learning at a University. There are advantages to both, and here are some of the differences between learning online compared to a University: Financial aid, and long term exposure to your intended field can both be extremely beneficial. The opportunity to learn from other students, and networking. Responsibility from homework and other projects. A lot of the time online gives the information but no call to action, no accountability.  There are many benefits to study at a university if you can.

The Amount of talent is skyrocketing, and the internet has made it possible to hire people all over the world.  I used to think there was a lot of talent ten or twenty years ago.  Back when everyone had a workbook that was a couple inches thick.  Now you go on a site like Deviant Art, or Pinterest or Blogs, and it’s amazing how much talent is out there.  If you can see it, and if I can see it then Art directors are seeing it. And now they have access to hire so many more people than they used to.  This is giving people all over the world with different back grounds and educations the opportunity to illustrate for a living.

Say goodbye to Maybe 

So I’ve been told yes, I was chosen and it has been very nice.  I have enjoyed the benefits and the recognition, the speaking engagements, money, and of course the opportunity for more work. Because of that some people may ask why, if I’ve been picked, and accepted into the publishing world, why I would come back and talk about all this? The reason is because I feel like one of my callings is to be a teacher and I feel very strongly about truth in education. I don’t like it when a student is given half-truths or outdated information, especially at a university where students are paying top dollar for their education.


During your life you have been told ‘Maybe’, a lot of people have been told maybe.  Maybe you can be published, maybe you can be hired, maybe you’ll be good enough someday, maybe you can do this.  My kids say that maybe just means no. I don’t like to tell my kids no, I like to say YES. . . Yes if. . .

What I want to say is that in the past ten years you have been told yes, you just may not have heard it.  You may be afraid of the word yes, you may be afraid of the opportunities available to you.  You may not like the conditions that come with the word Yes.

My friend can colleague, Wayne Andreason says that yes is his favorite word.

I’ll talk more about that next time. For now just say goodbye to the word maybe.






Photoshop is an amazing program!


When I’m not working on folio academy, I am teaching at UVU.
I painted this for my class at UVU for our next assignment. I don’t work in this style so I wanted to work up a little example of what I’m looking for. I can’t tell you how much fun I have playing with different brushes and settings in Photoshop – it truly is an amazing program!


I created the image above for my digital painting class this semester as an example of what I want my students to do for our “circle straight edge” assignment.

The rules:

  • Create an image in Photoshop.
  • Perfect your drawing.
  • Use only the circle selection tool and the lasso for straight edges.
  • Painting: use the paint bucket and airbrush tools.
  • Concept: Visually explain why the Abominable Snowman is grumpy.

I don’t think everyone is happy with this assignment. The limitations are frustrating some of them (yay!) and locking them into a style they aren’t excited about.

My philosophy: Mastery in any discipline such as science or sports – arithmetic or art is gained in small steps.

You have to learn algebra before calculus – physics before string theory and lay ups before alley oop dunks. By taking away options I’m allowing students to focus on the basic elements of design and visual communication. If you can’t develop a solid composition and execute good rendering under these restrictions how can you hope to succeed given unlimited brushes, selection tools, textures, healing brushes, filters, adjustments, mixing and blending tools, etc?

Imagine the following experiment: You are given the best brushes and pallet knives money can buy for oil painting -fine linens, mediums, easel, pallet, etc. Your set up is perfect. Then give someone like Caravaggio a pocket knife, an old tree branch, some cheap oil paints, and a crappy canvas board. Set up a still life. Do you think you could out paint him? I know I couldn’t.

It’s not just about the tools – it’s about your understanding of mediums, surfaces, tools, design, light & shadow, edges, color, value, texture, line, space, shape, etc. What you do with the tools is personal to your understanding and vision.

Try limiting your choices…wax on – wax off.

In addition: From the mouth of Kazu – the artist who just completed the new Harry Potter covers: “Anything else about your process as you went about it that artists should know?”

I tried to work on a single layer in Photoshop. I used very few effects. All of the illustrations for the most part I didn’t separate elements. I tried to keep it pure as if I was working on a canvas. I forced myself into a limitation despite having all of these tools at my disposal. (from CBS)