Art Advice Archives

Focus (December 2014)

Sorry for the delay in posting a December thought. I've been a bit distracted. So I think I'll do a quick post on how to keep on drawing even when you are too distracted to work. In an ideal world, an artist can put pen aside and wait for the muse of creation to posses their imagination whenever she gets the chance to pop by. If you are a working professional artist, however, waiting for such a time is not on the schedule. Sometimes, you just have to buckle down and start. It may be hard and slow to get the creative juices flowing. You may have to toss out the work you start off with. But eventually, the mind will forget the distractions and start feeding your art. The more you focus on the task at hand, the more the other distractions will fade off into the distance.

Now, I have been in this spot many time in the past decades. So I know that focusing on art is not always as easy as it sounds. If I really can not focus on the drawing, then I set it aside and lose my mind in some form of meditation that will drain my brain and help me forget about everything around me. Right now, I find I can do that by losing myself in a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad. The task of making the puzzle is so mindless - yet overwhelming - that I find all thoughts of the day leave and I relax. When my brain has had its reboot, I shut down the app and am able to focus on the task I need to do.

Find the one thing that will clear your brain completely and use it to help you focus your brain. The key is not to panic. Relax. Find your focus. And begin! Good luck.

Keep On Movin' (November 2014)

I just found out that I have cancer. So, I thought I'd focus this advice not only on creating art, but creating your life in general. Life is forever presenting us with obstacles on our path. Climb over them and keep moving on. If you live every day honestly then you will find a way to keep going forward. By "honestly" I mean being honest to yourself. Do what you feel is right and important. And do it to the BEST of your abilities! Do NOT go half way thinking you will do better tomorrow - today I just want to be lazy. Laziness and procrastination are just insecurity finding a way to take you over. Have confidence in yourself and believe in what you do. Do not let you insecurities tell you you can not do something or should wait to do something you really want to do. If what you do makes this world a better place, then move on it. Get it done! Then keep on movin'!

Move Me, Baby! (October 2014)

Ok. I am sitting here listening to Barry White. Hence the title. As an artist, I work to move people and love to be moved by other artist's creation. I think the best thing we can do with our lives is to put positive energy out there and make the world a happier, more pleasant place to live in. I am amazed at how much 'entertainment' out there is based on negativity. I don't find it entertaining to laugh at people being idiots. I don't need to cut others down to make myself feel better. I'd rather find ways to raise up and make life better - not just for myself but for others as well. It may sound campy and 'old fashioned'. But think about it. After watching television at night, do you have nightmares and stress dreams or do you feel relaxed and happy? If you're going to move me, baby, make me happy not stressed or afraid. I love the phrase: "BElieve THEre is GOOD in the world!"

Sorry For The Delay (September 2014)

I was having trouble getting my MAC to be compatible with the updated services that are designed for PC usage. It is frustrating when things work great one day and not the next. Sort of like working for the entertainment field. Just when you figure out how to do something and get use to the way to make it work, tastes and demands change. Suddenly you are back to square one trying to relearn - or reinvent how to do your business. Stress is the number one health hazard. Take time every 25 minutes to step out of the work zone and meditate. De-stress with a few stretches or a walk about for a drink of water. Even if you are crunched for time, use 2 minutes to realign your mind and keep the stress from building. You will find it much easier to find a workable solution after stepping away for a minute from your worries. Look at me... I got my computer working again and didn't toss it through a window! :)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! (August 2014)

Respect yourself. Express yourself and who you are as a part of this planet. Share your beliefs with your work. Protect what you believe in when others try to change your art. Expect people to have difficulty understanding your art at times, but don't let that stop you. Correct what does not say what you meant and do what it takes to make it right. Trust that if you do the best you can do that people will respect you as an artist. 

Call Me Sue The Invisible Woman (July 2014)

If you want to become an artist because you want to be famous and have everyone marvel at you for your work, get another job. Let's face it. There are billions of artists in the world. How many have house hold names? How many of those are still alive? In reality, you could be the greatest artist of all time, but walk down the street and no one will be following you with cameras. Your art is the superstar. Your art will be what people want to see and remember. You can travel to very remote corners of this globe and still find Mickey Mouse. But how many people can tell you the name of the guy who originally drew him up? (And no, it was not Walt.) 

If you truly wish to be an artist, then get rid of the ego. Be prepared to be hidden behind your art. Kind of like being a parent. Your art is your baby whom you nurture and grow to be the best it can be. Your baby is what people will ooh and ahh over. Your baby will go out into the world and impress people. Someone might remember that there was a parent molding this baby into the piece of work they are. But don't hold your breath for any parades or awards. They will go to the baby. As a professional artist, you need to decide what type of parent you want to be to your craft. Will you be angry that no one pays attention to you or be thrilled that your art is getting all the attention? You put so much time and effort into making your art perfect, you might as well love that it is going out into the world and speaking your message to others. After all, isn't that message you are sending out with your art the point of creating? If you create just for attention for yourself, then don't talk to me. Be prepared to become invisible as a person and let your art be what everyone sees. 

New Jobs (June 2014)

Schools finish up in June here in the US. Students are looking for that summer job or even their first "real" job as they graduate into the working world. What advice can I offer the first time worker bee? "Say 'YES' to everything." I watched an interview with famed Hollywood fashion designer, Edith Head. That was her advice too. Take every job you can get. Turn nothing down. Even if you really hate the job or think it is beneath you, do it anyway. Obviously, working every job that comes your way is a great learning opportunity to sharpen you skills and increase your resume. It also is a fantastic way to show future employees your work ethic. You are willing to work with anyone and do whatever it takes to get a job done. Showing fantastic work ethics is probably one of the best tools to put in your career toolbox. There are tons of people who can do the job. So, employers want to hire the one who will not only do a job, but do it with solid and trustworthy work ethics. What are those ethics? DEPENDABILITY. HONESTY. HUMILITY. Yes, "humility". No one wants to work with a "know-it-all" that will spend more time complaining about the job than just doing it. Which brings me to one of my most important rules for work ethics: SMILE. Even if you are miserable or can not stand the people you are working with, smile. Positivity goes a loooooooooooong way! So, good luck all you Grads or first time job seekers! Go build those resumes with a smile and solid work ethics.

St. Camillus Quote Plaques I made: "Think well. Speak well. Do well. These 3 things will make a man go to Heaven."


When I was single, I chose my projects according to my sense of morals. I refused advancements if it meant breaking a promise to someone else or stepping on other's toes. I refused to "play the game" that would go against who I am as a human being. Now that I have a family to support, I often look back and wonder if I should have played that game called "business" and taken the jobs to give me more money for my family. I want to give my family everything. But would I really have been giving them a good life if I sold my soul and ruined who I was as a person? Jobs come and go. Economy crashes or flourishes. You never know what is coming and what will last. The only thing you can control is your integrity. Always make your moves according to who you are and what you believe. Everything can be taken away from you. But the one thing you can control is how you will keep your self esteem, moral compass, and self worth. The greatest gift a parent can supply their family is to give them a great role model to follow. Your kids won't remember the stuff you buy. But they will remember who you were as a person overall. Be strong and always be yourself! Fight on, Moms!

APRIL FOOLS (April 2014)

It's April Fool's Day, so let's do something silly this month! Look in the mirror and study your face. No, that's not the silly thing. Draw a sketch of your face – only draw with your eyes closed! Can you do it? Accurately? Keep your eyes open and draw using the hand opposite of the one you are use to sketching with. Does the art look the same as if you did it with your drawing hand? OK. Now this time use your regular hand that you always sketch with. Only place your paper upside down underneath the table where you cannot see it. Draw on the upside down paper... almost like having to draw backwards. Does your trained hand still draw with accuracy? Try drawing your face by looking only at the mirror reflection of your paper. Crazy? What about if you draw your face without using your hands at all? Try putting the pencil between your toes. Now that is foolish. But fun! It may sound like we are playing around. But actually, these tricks are great mind trainers that will help you to observe and draw your subject with more accuracy. When I studied under Disney designer T. Hee, he would have us do these tricks quite a bit. He wanted us to "untrain our brain" of old habits so we can better teach our hands to draw clearly. If we have been drawing for a long time, we may have developed bad habits that blind us to seeing how to better create our ideas. Drawing under the table or with the pen between our toes are just ways to make us see how much we take for granted when we draw normally. Knowing what we are technically doing enables us to artistically push the idea into something more creative. Open your brain and try something a little foolish while you sketch this month. See what happens.

I'M A TOOL (March 2014)

After decades of working as a professional artist I have come to the conclusion that I am a tool. Yes. I said it. I am a tool. A HUGE tool. A very important one at that. Out of all the tools I use to create art, I am the most important tool in my studio. Without my body, my brain can not create a thing. If I can not hold my stylus nor paint brush, then what good is knowing what to do with it? I need to keep my body working properly if I want a lasting career in art. 

It may sound easy to keep an artist's body from getting damaged. I mean, after all, we just sit and draw. It's not like we are jackhammering sidewalks and lifting steel beams. Our career is a low-impact, safe occupation physically. Right? Well, did you know that lack of use can cause as much damage to a body as using it too much? Sitting hunched over a drawing table all day long can create back issues, pinched nerves, and circulation problems. The repetitive motion from drawing or typing at a keyboard can create carpal tunnel syndrome or other joint and muscle problems. It is vital that an artist works a routine of stretching into their workday. Keeping your muscles loose and strong can help keep your body from decaying into a lump at the drawing table. Take a few minutes every half hour to realign your posture and stretch out your joints. Keep your circulation flowing with some knee bends and back exercises. With blood flowing oxygen to your brain, you will be able to think clearer. If you find yourself growing sleepy or in a mental funk, get up and stretch. You will find your creativity will flow much better if you keep the tool that is your body sharp and ready to work properly.

GET IT IN WRITING (February 2014)

T.Hee told me back in college that people will take advantage of you. It's just the way business works. Keep this in mind when you agree to a job and you will save yourself from frustration later on. Get everything in writing. Do not take a handshake or verbal agreement as your contract. You need contracts in writing.

I know this sounds sad and a pitiful commentary on society today. But reality and fantasy are two separate genres for a reason. "Be prepared" as the scouts always say. Even if you know and trust your boss-to-be, keep friendships and happy feelings alive by making all agreements legal and binding in writing. There can be no arguing later on if you have physical proof. 

I am not just talking about jobs and financial settlements to be written into a contract. Try putting other agreements into writing as well. For instance, I have been asked to loan my name to projects to help sell them to financial backers. Terms were that if I let them tell backers that I will be working on their project, then when the money comes in I will be working on their project. You won't believe how many times the money has come in and I am NOT hired. I have heard every excuse in the book for why they need to brake their agreement. Excuses do not change the fact that I am out of work. What would have changed things is if I had the agreement in the form of a contract. 

So when you are agreeing to do a job please make sure you have a written contract - with signatures for legality reasons. Be polite and sweet about it. You do not want to upset your boss before you even start. But take care of your own interests and cover your back. 

If you can't sketch in public, take photos of people to sketch at home.

WHERE TO BEGIN? (January 2014)

Happy New Year! I thought I'd start the year off with some old advice. The number one bit of advice I offer to artists looking to start a career in animation is: Learn to do technical drawing... i.e.: life drawing, anatomy, perspective. It is a HECK of allot easier to cartoon and caricature something if you first know what it is you are exaggerating. Especially if you want to move it around. Knowing how muscles work and how perspective distorts will help you to create animated cartoons that move in a believable manner. No matter how graphic or exaggerated the style, your art needs some grounding level of technical reality to connect the audience to it and clue them into what they are seeing. I know some of you hate trying to learn perspective or draw hands that work. But if you put in the effort to learn, then translating information into animation will be much easier. Think of yourself as a baker looking to create a new tasty treat. Before you can bake that cake, you need to know what goes into creating one. If you know the boring technical stuff like what makes the cake rise or what temperature will cook it evenly, then you can play around with the ingredients to imagine a whole new AND WORKABLE recipe. As a working professional, we are always looking to discover that new recipe that people will want to devour. Knowing how the technical stuff works will help us invent a tasty treat that won't flop.


When I develop ides for a picture, I really get excited and want to chat about the fun I am having. Unfortunately, I can not. Letting the world know about what new idea you are working on can really ruin the chances for a successful project. You might think a little publicity might help spread interest. True. It can. But the wrong sort of interest can be damaging if "interested" parties steal your idea and flood the market with versions of your product long before you can bring yours to the table. Look at when we did "Hercules". Word got out that Disney was developing a film on the Greek legend and suddenly everyone was doing Hercules-types products. Animation takes a long time to make. So by the time our "Hercules" made it to the screen, everyone was tired of seeing other versions of the myth. The film did not financially do as well as the company had hoped. It doesn't matter how well your product is made if over saturation has decreased peoples' desires. You can bring sirloin to the table, but no one will eat if they already are over-stuffed with McDonald's burgers. So, Lillian, I wish I could gab about what I know of upcoming ideas, but I can't. I haven't worked on "Moana". I hope I will in the future. In this world of instant blogging, remember to keep your ideas protected. Wait until you are ready to produce to start the publicity. 

BEING BRAVE! (October 2013)

EVERY girl is a Princess and should be encouraged to follow her dreams with great resilience. If you see a girl with potential to achieve, look her in the eyes and let her know you believe in her and will stand by during her journey. This is the message spread by Brenda Chapman, Oscar winning Creator of Pixar's "Brave". Brenda has been promoting this advice on her site and recently at the UN Plaza for a TEDx lecture. Brava, Brenda for speaking out!

When I started boarding story, Brenda was the only other female in the department. As a Visual Development Artist, I had Jean Gilmore as the other female in that department. Eventually, the feminine numbers grew, but in the beginning we were few. I am proud that women like Brenda are standing up as positive role models for girls and representing women in a strong, positive, and talented light. I have found that the key to succeeding as a woman is to first and foremost be yourself and represent who you are as a talent. Talent should know no gender and should speak for itself. Fortunately these days, it will. But every now and then, you do need to work a little harder to be heard. Stay strong and let your talent speak for who you are and what you have to offer.



Sue has joined the Scantic River Artisans. Come see art made by local artists of various mediums. Find out more about SRC at this link.

Sue is now a Certified Gemologist by the International Gem Society! Sue became a gemologist to help better identify gems in jewelry bought and sold by the company she and her husband run, CSM Collectables. Find it on Ebay.


My husband and I are looking for a new career to pay for the kids in college. Check it out.


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