How I made a career in art. Part 1
By Steve Benton


Now I have to say that this is my story. Only mine. Not my friends, or family’s or yours. This is how I did it, and it worked. Therefore it’s a proven method..
I’ll start at the beginning.
I had been drawing all my childhood. Not amazingly mind you, my friend Ray was much better. I stuck with it however, so get that notion that you have to be ‘born with it’ out of your head.
This isn’t a Maybelline ad.
This is your life.

WORK HARD FOR WHAT YOU WANT.


So when your buddies are out having a good time playing catch and kiss with the neighborhood girls, maybe you stay home and work on your composition notebook comic book? This is what I would have done had I truly been passionate about a career in comics, but I wasn’t as disciplined as you need to be now.

I did learn to airbrush (somewhat) to create custom shirts for my friends. I learned to paint on the backs of denim jackets using acrylic paints. I did whatever I had to do, to create artwork to promote Ray’s band in High School. The same Ray, who by now had given up on creating artwork, and discovered he was better suited for fronting a hair metal band then drawing comics.
I however, knew that I wanted to be a professional artist by the time I was 7 years old. I couldn’t imagine a better job than painting all day and getting paid for it. Painting what I wanted to paint, not someone else’s idea. What did I know? I was 7.

But I stuck with it and joined all the Art Clubs I could throughout the schools with my eye always being on Parsons School of Design. This was where I wanted to study. I half-assed it however, and waited until January to apply to them instead of doing it before the school year started. I can make up a lot of excuses but the fact is. I didn’t get accepted. I was crushed.

I went to work at a cold-storage warehouse for ShopRite, and bought an old Mac with the proceeds because I simply wanted to be able to draw, and digitize my stuff. I kept plugging along in those pre-internet days realizing that I would never escape the confines of my small town if I didn’t make an effort to get out. I was now working at Sears and the cold-storage warehouse when I met Bob Humphries. He was an amateur 3D artist driving a forklift. Bob did some on-air graphics for a northern New Jersey TV station. I asked him why he didn’t do that for a living. He warned me that once I’d found a nice job with decent benefits it’d be very hard to give them up to pursue my dreams. I’d lose my opportunity to try and become what I wanted to. I’d be a cog in the machine. If I had the chance to make my own path, and forge a career in art, I’d better do it sooner than later.
I went down to The City (New York City) and would do the portfolio reviews for SVA, Pratt, Parsons (again), and even Chicago Art Institute, SCAD, and RIT.

I was thinking about going to SVA (School of Visual Arts) but the guy made a mistake telling me that my cartooning was Senior level. Where would I come in then? Oh. You’d still be a Freshman of course, even though I had an Associate’s Degree by now from (Orange County Community College). So I ended up choosing to go to Savannah, GA because I had a bunch of credits transfer and it’d only take me 2 ½ years to graduate. I took a school loan out (investing in myself).

I’d try and remember that every day that it was costing my parents and I a fortune to have gain this education. I never missed an assignment, or a class in my days at SCAD.

I was motivated to succeed. Failure was NOT an option.


I started at SCAD in September of 1994. Remember, I had graduated High School in 1990! I felt I had lost 4 years to everyone else in my class. They were already starting their careers and here I was just starting college. But I worked hard and chose to be a sequential art major until...

I was JUST starting to enter my core program. That’s 2 years of focused courses revolving around your declared major. How amazing, that I would be doing NOTHING but cartooning. Meanwhile, in my foundations classes I had been taught a little bit of graphic design, some illustration, some color theory, lots of Art History, and even a class on perspective.; JUST perspective!

I went to a portfolio review with an Editor from Dark Horse Comics. I wish I could remember all of these people’s names because it’d certainly help be out now in my fledgling indie career.

At this review I looked at these beautiful pieces of hand draw work, but I felt empty. Not only that, but I couldn’t see how I could still make a living doing that? Why had I just spent $30,000 (to this point) to look at comic book pages drawn better than my own. Had I just sat at home for these last 2 years and drawn stories, I’d probably be around the same level skill-wise as the senior showing his work, and $30k richer. I thought about the errors I had made. Should I have just stayed in NYC, and gone to SVA? But they were using a computer similar to my own, while SCAD had Silicon Graphics Machines (The same machines they were using out in Hollywood).

HOLY SHIT! It hits me. I need to change my major. NOW!


I realize I’m sitting on what amounts to a Super Collider at SCAD. These scientists all have to come from somewhere; probably small towns like me. They don’t have damned Super Colliders in their backyards just like SVA (in my backyard) didn’t have SGI machines. I needed to start learning on the best equipment available to me. Hell, I was paying for it!

I switched my major to computer graphics (animation) and started working in 3D animation. I learned 3DMax, I learned Lightwave, I learned Houdini. My senior project was done in SoftImage.

I lived in the computer labs. I lived amongst the equipment I could NEVER afford.

I also learned another valuable lesson .

Sometimes you have to adjust your vision to see your goal.


Yes. I wanted to draw comics, but what about drawing storyboards for Hollywood films, or TV commericals?

I was given this opportunity in 1997. A professor asked me if I’d like to help her create an ad for the Family Circle Tennis Tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Of course I said yes, because that’s why you go to school. To network with people who know pros, but have a nice decent teaching job that they’re not going to give up, so they give them to you.

I had another professor tell me he could get me a spot at Tiburon in Maitland, FL. Later they were purchased by Electronic Arts.
I had kept my nose to the grindstone. Everyone knew I was a competent artist. I was noticed because I was on time and prepared every single day.
I was full of life, interacted well in class, and was well-liked. In retrospect, my time working towards this degree was truly some of the best of my life.
Things were going great. Until…

The phone interview.


I started looking at places in California to move to. I needed some way to get there, but I wasn’t going to just arrive with a truck full of stuff. I needed to have a job waiting for me. One that'd even help me relocate.

A phone interview with Stormfront Studios was set up. They were looking for an entry level texture artist. Marta Daglow barely asked me any questions. Everything you’ve just read was basically the conversation.

I had been schooled to always research your potential hiring company. I did. I knew that they were creating PC based 3D games centering around MLB, and NASCAR. She asked me if I played video games?

“Well, yeah. I haven’t in a few years (red flag), because I’ve been busy with studies”.

What is your favorite sports game then?

“I love the Papyrus NASCAR Game (red flag – competing studio), but “ …. Here it comes. The insult of all insults to Stormfront Studios.

“I absolutely LOVE side-scrollers, especiall EA NHL94 Hockey!”

HUGE RED FLAG! Interview over.

Thanks Steve. We appreciate you looking. We wish you the best in your search.

Done. WHY? Because I was behind the times, and in Georgia. Here was a company looking for a 3D texture artist and I’m talking about pixel based side-scrollers.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.

Never insult your INTERVIEWER!


Keep your answers brief and to the point. Always keep in mind that they want to know what they get with you.This brings me to the most valuable lesson when it comes to art that I can give you.

WHAT DO YOU BRING TO THE TABLE!?


It’s certainly not; ‘Who you know’. Hell, I know Tom Cruise. I know Stan Lee. I know Ridley Scott, but let’s make a distinction. I know WHO they are. I know OF them. They don't know OF me. But somewhere someone does know OF you. They may need a duck painted on their van, or a pamphlet advertising their salon. Can you pre-flight their brochure? Do you even know what that means? But if they know you can do the work, they'll pay you for it. So it's more about...

Who knows you? Who knows what you are? Who knows…

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM!!!?


That’s what business is! How can they make money with your skills?
Athletes, make a fortune. Imagine how much money the league must make!!!?
Actors make a fortune. Imagine how much their agent or the studio must make?
So you need to be a commodity. You need to be familiar with the cutting edge of styles and skills.
What’s in favor? Gear your work towards that. Sure, you can still be a purist and only draw in a 1970s Marvel style. Cool. But, look for people who are willing to exploit that style; publishers whose title’s all look similar to what it is that you do. Don't get mad that you only WANT to draw robots, and nobody will hire you to create their make-up campaign. Are they a game studio working on giraffes? Are you an expert in drawing giraffes? Can you even draw an animal? I had a friend who had a demo reel with lava flows in it. In 1994 he was offered 2 jobs by competing Hollywood studios because they were making movies that had volcanoes in them. They knew he could provide them what they needed right there, with no training.
At some point the work doesn’t become about you anymore. Some people may call that ‘selling out’.
I call it …

Making a living with your art!


Now, go create.
-Steve Benton

End of Part 1. There’s still more to tell you.

Read Part 2 »