From Comic Artist to Art Director
written by Arnold Calwood
It's again a new semester bringing a new school year for all of us. Some of us are planning to graduate, others are about to transfer to a 4-year school, and others are preparing to do both or just get through this semester with our brains intact. For the BCC art student you might be wondering just what is in store for you after graduation. To answer some of those questions I managed to get a little time to interview a friend of mine, Gabriel Lamberty. He's been in the illustration field for nearly a decade now, and is presently an art director. He took some time out of his otherwise busy schedule to share some of his experiences as a young artist, an art student, and as an art director.
Arnold: Introduce yourself to the readers, tell the folks a little bit about yourself.
Gabriel: My name is Gabriel Lamberty. I've lived all over the U.S and Puerto Rico, but I consider New Jersey to be my home base. Currently, I'm working as the art director for Umanix Inc. An up and coming multimedia company that pretty much dabbles in everything. From internet security (http://www.linsafe.com) to T-Shirts (Fantastic T - coming soon). My boss and I have even collaborated in starting a design company called "Conceptninja" where we have already established contracts with various small businesses and government agencies.
Arnold: How long have you been involved the arts?
Gabriel: I've been drawing ever since I've been able to hold a pencil properly. I haven't stopped ever since, and I plan to keep on truckin' until I'm dead...or get arthritis. Whichever comes first.
Arnold: What projects have you done over the last few years that folks might recognize?
Gabriel: I've been published in many of Antarctic Press' Annuals, such as Ninja High School and Gold Digger. Two of my stories, My Love Song and Otakon of the Dead, are being reprinted from the previous installments of Ota-zine for this year's Otakon. For those that do not know, Otakon is perhaps the largest Asian animation and pop-culture convention in the east coast; held every summer in Baltimore, MD. Aside from that, I work on my adult comic "Chiba" for the adult comic website Slipshine under the pen name Secret Agent 0069. It's an adult paysite, but the comic is also available in chunky book form at http://hermosa.studio-zoe.com/chiba.html.
Arnold: You're an art director these days for Umanix, Inc, Linsafe.com. Can you give us an idea of what your job responsibilities consist of?
Gabriel: It's actually a pretty sweet deal. The best part is that I work from my own home! For the most part, I do business via email and telephone, but about twice a week I head on over to the office to meet the clients and discuss their creative needs, like if they need changes or whatever. I'll get my assignment, communicate with my co-workers, and head on back home to work.
Arnold: I know a few art directors who have to review portfolios in the hiring process for staff and various projects, what are a few of the things you're looking for in portfolios from prospective talents?
Gabriel: It depends on the particular job that's available. If we need a flash animation done, we focus on people who kick ass in flash. If we need some Internet programming done, we focus on people who can get the job done. Versatility is also key. Having a specialty is great, but if you can draw, design webpages, do animation, and juggle fire, you stand out against the competition.
Arnold: What would you say is the most important things an artist should have when seeking to work professionally?
Gabriel: Patience. Working as a professional artist is NOT easy and VERY competitive. Chances are, you're not going to get work for a while. After I graduated college, I didn't have an art related job for 2 years. You can't get work without experience, yet you can't get the experience because you can't work. The key word is experience. Build up your portfolio, get your stuff printed, get out and network with other artists. If you keep up the hustle, you will always find work.
Arnold: What mediums do you find yourself working on for commercial projects most?
Gabriel: It depends on the job. If I have to build a website, or do a logo, the computer is my weapon of choice. Adobe Photoshop is my favorite program, but I'm constantly using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe InDesign, and sometimes Adobe Flash.
Arnold: What mediums do you work in for your own projects?
Gabriel: Good old fashioned pen and paper. Once I get the pencils down, I'll ink the lines with Copic Micron Pens. After the ink dries, I'll erase the pencil lines with a kneaded eraser. Then, I'll either scan and color it on the computer, or go "old school" and color the lines with Prismacolor Markers. Sometimes crayons if I'm feeling jiggy.
Arnold: Getting back to your role as art director, what are a few of the things you've encountered in peoples portfolios that have turned you off from considering them for a job?
Gabriel: Crappy art and design. It's hard to describe, but you look at it, and you're like "HOLY SH*T! this is wrong. But I try not to be a jerk about it, I'll usually give honest criticism and suggest to the artist how to improve on their work. Also, if you're planning on going for a graphic design job, bring your graphic design portfolio, and not a portfolio full of comic pages. You might be an AWESOME comic artist, but if you can't get the job I need done, then there's no deal. However, its good to add some illustrations or whatever to your portfolio and show the art director the many things you're capable of.
Arnold: What portfolios do you tend to find yourself looking at, the old fashioned leather portfolios with someone's work inside, or the modern website portfolios?
Gabriel: Nowadays, it's all about the Internet. It's a lot easier to get a resume with a portfolio link online and check out the artist's work right then and there.
Arnold: What things should a person have in either of their professional portfolios?
Gabriel: That depends on the job you're looking to get. It's good to have a good variety of pieces to show. Keep all your bases covered. Have 5 illustrations, 5 graphic design pieces, and 5 fun pieces that you personally love. It's good to show what kind of person you are and how you cut loose on your art.
Arnold: How has the Internet affected you professionally?
Gabriel: Pretty sweet! Most of the time, I work from home, so I don't have to worry about sitting in traffic, or have anyone breathing down my neck. You work at a reasonable pace and send out the work when you're finished. It saves a ton of money on gas, which is great.
Arnold: As an art director, do you have supervisory responsibility with projects via the Web?
Gabriel: To a certain extent. At the end, it's all about what the client wants. You can create the greatest piece ever, but if the client wants something changed, you gotta make them happy.
Arnold: How have you made that work for you so far?
Gabriel: Just taking it one day at a time. Alcohol helps too.
Arnold: What art related jobs did you have after graduating from Rowan University before you became an art director?
Gabriel: I didn't get an art job for about 2 years after I graduated. I had to work several odd jobs just to make ends meet, but I still did my art on the side. I taught computers to special ed kids, I was a professional DJ, I even worked at Blockbuster Video. However, I had to do a few free jobs on the side just to build up my portfolio. A couple of bar flyers, ads for nightclubs. I even drew caricatures for birthday and office parties. Eventually, I landed a job designing coupons and direct mail for an ad agency in Boston. That job was the springboard that landed me the job I have now.
Arnold: As for your time at Rowan University, what was your major?
Gabriel: I majored in Graphic Design and Illustration with a minor in beer pong.
Arnold: Do you feel that the curriculum you had adequately prepared you to become an illustrator?
Gabriel: I have a lot of mixed feelings about my curriculum. I actually changed my concentration to graphic design because of one of my teachers. She was very biased against cartoons, comics and anime. One day, she actually told me that I was not cut out to be a professional artist. That I should focus as a designer and keep the drawing as a hobby. ha! Not a very supportive teacher, is she? I did focus on the design aspect, but I never stopped drawing comics. Now, I'm quite satisfied to have proven her wrong.
Arnold: What sorts of things did you find yourself learning on your own?
Gabriel: Experience is the best teacher. The school was great in teaching me actual technique and history, but it didn't prepare me in the hustle of getting a job and the business ends of things. I learned more about the art business during a weekend at San Diego Comic Con than I did at 4 years of college. Getting out there, meeting people face to face, asking questions, and getting feedback on you art. It's also good to motivate yourself doing new things with your art. Experiment with new techniques and materials.
Arnold: What things have you found could potentially damage the career of a young artist seeking to make it in commercial illustration?
Gabriel: Not meeting your deadlines. If you keep missing deadlines, you'll get a bad reputation and you'll have a hard time getting more work. You can be the best artist in the universe, but if you can't deliver the work when your client needs it, you're useless. Also, be nice. This is a people business. If you're going to act like a jerk at work, you're gonna lose.
Arnold: You mentioned the San Diego Comic Convention, and your own interest in illustrating comics. What conventions do you attend, which would you encourage art students to go to, and how has your experiences been from them?
Gabriel: I've attended conventions all over the US and Canada. Nowadays, I focus on 2 shows. Otakon in Baltimore, and Comicon in San Diego. I encourage anyone to attend these shows, but it's good to attend local shows as well because the first two shows can be very expensive. You have to pay travel expenses, food, lodging, and most shows require you to pay membership fees, table fees, then you have your own supplies, etc. It can be costly, but I think it's a worthy investment because you learn so much and you meet so many awesome people.
Arnold: How did you get your start in comic illustrating?
Gabriel: I always drew comics. Even in school, making loose-leaf paper comics during math class. But I got my first professional comic gig during my first Otakon way back in 1998. I walked around the artist alley with nothing but my sketchbook, showing my work to different artists, getting feedback and what not. My work caught the eye of Mike Hayes, who runs Haze Studios. He asked if I was interested in drawing Armageddon Squad #0, and I accepted. The comic never saw print, and was displayed on the Internet only, but it was my first real taste of making comics professionally.
Arnold: And like all college questions, eventually one comes back to how did you pay for all that edjikashun?
Gabriel: ha! I'm still paying for it, dude. I applied for loans out the ass, plus I worked different odd jobs just to pay for the everyday things like food, books, beer, etc. I also won several scholarships in high school, which helped take a chunk off my debts. And my mom was also very supportive.
Arnold: What's been the most challenging thing about developing yourself as an artist?
Gabriel: Breaking out of your own mold. After a while, you become set on a particular way to draw, or paint or whatever. But if you don't break out of your own routine, experimenting with different mediums and supplies, or styles even, you won't grow as an artist.
Arnold: What are some of the positive and negative things you've encountered as an art director in regards to your own artistic development?
Gabriel: The positive thing is that you pretty much can do whatever you want creatively with the client's idea. I'm the "expert", so they expect me to come up with something pretty as a result. However, I've had difficult clients where they'll make awful suggestions that might ruin your piece. Which sucks, but you have to deal with it sometimes. It's a part of the business. In the end, you have to satisfy your client no matter how bad the piece will look.
Arnold: What were some of the things you learned from your earlier comic illustration jobs, that you'd share with up and comers?
Gabriel: If you plan on drawing for a living, stay consistent. Keep dropping fresh material, otherwise you'll be forgotten really quickly. Keep going to conventions and network with other artists. Keeping posting your art on the internet. Keep learning, and never stop practicing. As far as the business end of things, make sure you get paid. I've dealt with flakey clients before. Try to get the money up front, or at least a deposit. That way they're sure to come back to you. But make sure you keep your end of the deal as well.
Arnold: What sort of odd jobs did you work after graduating college?
Gabriel: Aww man! I've had a few. I've taught computers and drawing to special education children from elementary to high school levels. I was a professional DJ spinning for all kinds of parties, fashion shows, etc. I've done door to door sales selling knives and art prints. I worked at Blockbuster Video. I drew caricatures for birthday parties and business events. I even worked at McDonald's, but I quit the first day. It sucked so bad.
Arnold: With all of your experiences, how do you feel you've developed as a professional illustrator?
Gabriel: I feel blessed. It was a lot of hard work throughout the years. I had to pay a lot of dues, but it was all worth it. Now, I'm making a decent living doing what I love to do. Drawing boobs. Amongst other things.
Arnold: Gabe, thanks for pulling yourself from work for the interview. It's long and lengthy, I'm sure the readers will get a kick out of it.
Gabriel: I gotta say thanks for interviewing my crazy ass in the first place.