I have a real treat for you all today: An interview with illustrator Eric Braddock, that will give you a very clear idea of what life is liking for a hard-working freelance artist.
I came to talk to Eric after I sent out a tweet on looking to meet artists in the NYC area. The last interview I did was very popular so I thought why not do more? And here we are. I hope you’ll enjoy it. I have added various samples of Eric’s beautiful artwork throughout the interview, but you can find more on his blog.
EDIT: (05/05/15) Eric Braddock has since this interview gone on to work for Blizzard Entertainment as a concept artist.
1. Please introduce yourself, your artwork and your working experience briefly.
Eric: I’m Eric Braddock, I’m a working freelance illustrator and concept artist working primarily in the fantasy genre in a more realistic style of painting. I paint both in oils and digitally in Photoshop. You can find examples of my work in games such as Pathfinder, Rune Age, Game of Thrones TCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, soon in World of Warcraft TCG and a few other undisclosed upcoming video games.
2. Who are your three greatest artistic inspirations?
Eric: My top three greatest artistic inspirations are as follows:
1.) Blizzard Entertainment – Blizzard’s Warcraft games hit me hard at a young age back when I was 11 and has been an incredible passion of mine ever since, the artwork that their department produces is an extremely strong influence of mine and I’m hoping to one day work for them.
Blizzard's Warcraft games hit me hard at a young age back when I was 11 and has been an incredible passion of mine ever since (...)
2.) Donato Giancola – I first came across Donato’s work while I was in school at University of the Arts back in 2006-2007 and he became one of my artistic role models. I was learning how to paint in oils and Donato’s subject matter, technique and system of beliefs with the medium resonated with me and I used the quality of his work as my bar to strive for. Not only is he a fantastic artist, but he’s an extremely great person and I’ve been lucky to spend time with him on numerous occasions.
3.) Films/music – I find inspiration in epic movie scores and fantasy movies that I lose myself in. A perfect example of this of course would be The Lord of the Rings. Not only are the visuals of modern fantasy movies stunning, but the soundtracks are a great supporting role for when I’m working. Getting submersed into a mood when painting tends to really sink things in for me and help my work flow.
I find inspiration in epic movie scores and fantasy movies that I lose myself in.
3. You work as a illustration teacher at a college. How did you come about the decision to teach and how do you benefit from teaching?
Eric: Teaching is a funny thing. Back in school, one of my professors, Tim O’Brien, mentioned to me that he saw me as the “mayor” of the class. People would often come to me for thoughts and I tried to engage others as much as possible. Personally, engaging myself in other artists around me helps not only to motivate me because I’m aware of the competition, but also because I love discussing art and the process behind how others work.
When I moved home after school, I needed to pool together my sources of income and being that I kept in contact with my old professors at a local community college that I attended prior to University of the Arts, I proposed the idea of initiating an illustration course into their art program. The class ran for a few semesters and I’ve been teaching drawing and illustration off and on for the past few years now.
The one thing I noticed the most about teaching is how it keeps me sharp on my own skills and practices. It would be hypocritical of me to tell students about good work ethic if I myself didn’t follow that same rule of working. It also allows me the opportunity to analyze work of others and I think that translates into my own work whenever I’m not in the classroom.
The one thing I noticed the most about teaching is how it keeps me sharp on my own skills and practices.
4. What are some of the things you like about teaching at a college and what are some of your frustrations with it?
Eric: Teaching at a community college in comparison to a 4-year art school is an entirely different beast. The classes are shorter, the students tend to be less focused or interested, and the resources are lacking in comparison to a full four-year institution.
However with those things aside, it’s fun to help students who are genuinely interested in pursuing a creative path reaching some kind of goal with their work and giving them direction to go in. Teaching at a college level also provide the opportunity to connect on a more matured creative level than say high school or lower levels of education.
(...) it's fun to help students who are genuinely interested in pursuing a creative path reaching some kind of goal with their work and giving them direction to go in.
5. At what point during your life did you find out you wanted to be an artist?
Eric: It sounds cliche, but I’ve always known. Ever since I was younger, I was always fascinated with artwork, specifically I’d say I was drawn mostly to instruction manuals for video games. I was very much into playing RPGs and eventually I discovered Warcraft. I’d say when I first experienced Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, it provided a turning point for me when I was 11 and I noticed I was obsessed with it. I’d copy the drawings out of the book and from the covers of the game box.
It sounds cliche, but I've always known I wanted to be an artist. Ever since I was younger, I was always fascinated with artwork, specifically I'd say I was drawn mostly to instruction manuals for video games.
Of course at the time, I didn’t think about careers or that you could actually do that sort of thing for a job, but all I knew was that I enjoyed the game and the artwork immensely and felt a real connection to it. It’s that connection that’s fueled my drive for years later until I reached art school and really began to put the pieces together and took steps to making it a reality.
6. You also work as a freelance illustrator. It is well known it is hard to make a living this way, on estimate how many hours a week do you have to put in?
Eric: That’s a difficult question to answer, it varies week to week depending on the projects I’m carrying, however on average I’d say it’s somewhere around 60-70 hours a week easily. I think people who aren’t artists assume we only work on the final product, the final image that they see posted up or printed out. All of my week’s worth involves thumbnails, sketches, preliminary research, photo shoots, studies and other things as well as the final painting.
(...) on average I'd say I work somewhere around 60-70 hours a week easily.
That’s not counting trying to squeeze in some life drawing or anatomy practice. I also can’t say for sure how many hours a week I put in because I don’t think of it really as work, I love what I do and get very wrapped up in a project and sort of lose hours before realizing how long I’ve been working.
It’s unlike any 9-5, holidays aren’t off days really, weekends are just another day of the week, and I’m completely content with that. Sure, having breaks is crucial, you wouldn’t want to burn yourself out, however in my off time, I think to myself “Oh! I’ve got some spare time now that this assignment is finished, I can start a personal piece!” or “I’m so glad I can work on some studies now that I’ve got a bit of time for myself.” Sounds crazy, but I know I’m not the only artist who has thoughts like those, and that’s comforting to know.
7. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Eric: In all honesty, I’m always motivated. I never fully understand how it’s possible when there are so many things that I want to try out or new paintings I want to explore. I like to keep my interests broad, I think that helps. Specifically I mean I try to think of new ways to improve my craft or increase my skill set.
A little while back, I picked up learning how to sculpt in ZBrush, it was a fantastic new area with a whole new way of thinking. I try to apply that same mentality with anything new, “How can I use this to my benefit?” or “is this a valuable skill I should be spending my time on?” or even trying new things that end up as “failures” only reaffirm the direction I’m already in. I’ve got far too many things running through my head at any given time to lose motivation, I just want things too strongly to stop.
8. Is it all worth it?
Eric: In a word––definitely. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it, but before I made the conscious decision to take the leap into the arts 100% and let it consume me, I went through a bit of a dark phase. I was sad a lot, I felt lost. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with myself in life and I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was even what I was supposed to be doing.
(...) before I made the conscious decision to take the leap into the arts 100% and let it consume me, I went through a bit of a dark phase. I was sad a lot, I felt lost.
The moment I started art school, I knew from day one that I made the right choice and finally felt a bit of a weight lift. I had found something that replaced that emptiness with a hunger, something that satisfied and then some. That’s not to say that I wasn’t happy making artwork before, but up until that point, I didn’t realize you could actually create a future for yourself with it.
Everyone I idolized growing up seemed so far beyond my reach and I had no clue how they got there, it was a fantasy world that I didn’t belong to. Once I started educating myself and taking the steps and putting in the time to learn, the ceiling I once believed was there gradually eroded away. I can’t see myself doing anything else now. Is it worth it? Yes. But you need to want it badly enough.
Is it worth it? Yes. But you need to want it badly enough.
9. Where do you hope to take your artwork in the future?
Eric: In the last year and a half, I’ve realized how much I love gaming. The artwork for games and films have been extremely inspiring to me and I’m hoping to score a position as an in-house artist at a game company. Blizzard Entertainment is my goal. I’ve followed their games since I was a kid and in a way, have them to thank for helping motivate me and make the decisions I’ve made. It’s a very, very challenging industry, however I’m rather determined.
10. What is the best artistic advice you have received?
Eric: The best artistic advice I’ve received has been from multiple sources. Bits and pieces from role models and other artists I admire, whether or not it was spoken directly to me or something I read or heard in interviews or tutorials.
The best advice is a combination of things: Work hard. Keep learning. Be someone that's a pleasure to work with.
The best advice is a combination of things: Work hard. Keep learning. Be someone that’s a pleasure to work with. And realize that there will always be someone who’s a better artist than you, and to worry about such a thing will only hinder your potential. Learn from your failures, learn from other people’s failures too. Accept constructive criticism, don’t simply look for compliments. Adopt a thick skin, you’ll need it.
You can never have enough figure anatomy knowledge, practice practice practice, then practice some more. Learn to talk about art, learn the terms, learn the rules, learn to say thank you. Always remember that health should come first, don’t forget to eat and sleep. Deliver what you say you can and when you say can.
Always remember that health should come first, don't forget to eat and sleep.
Do your best work, even if it means sacrificing something. Expect to sacrifice lots of things, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself once in a while. Brushes don’t make the artist, just as well as the computer is not a magical shortcut to creating good artwork.
Know your fundamentals. Create the kind of work that you want to get hired to create, otherwise what’s the point? And lastly, create work that gets you excited and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Neil Gaiman gave a commencement address recently at my alma mater, many have seen it online but if you haven’t yet, it’s a must see. One of his quotes really resonated with me:
“The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder because no body warns you about that. The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you’re getting away with something and at any moment now, they will discover you. It’s impostor syndrome.”
If you’re feeling this, you’re in a good place. Trust me on this. Now get back to work 😉