Things I've Learned From Art School

By mid March, my time as a graduate student in the Sequential Art Department at SCAD: University of Creative Careers will have drawn to a close.  I took a little longer than some of my peers, taking two and a half years to graduate rather than the usual two required for a Masters in Fine Art.  Some of my most valuable lessons weren't necessarily learned a class, but through the experience of attending an art school.

Before coming to SCAD, I was immersed in a liberal arts academic environment at the University of New Orleans.  Although this isn't a bad thing, our department's focus was not on making us fine artists (although I majored in Fine Art), nor in making us marketable artists, but simply to push us through to graduation before the department ran out of money entirely.  During those years, I learned a different skillset that proved useful for adapting to gradschool, despite the misgivings of one of my mentor professors, who'd predicted that I'd burn out before graduating.

So my number one lesson learned during my time at SCAD has been:

Listen to your heart.

But that isn't the only thing I've learned.  Below the cut is a list of life and art lessons that only cost me around $6,000 a semester, but are yours for free.

Things I've Learned While In Graduate School

  • Overlap is your friend for believable spaces.  This one I have to credit to Professor Tom Lyle, who taught me everything I know about perspective (atmospheric and linear included) in my 501 intensive class.  Overlapping objects helps push the illusion of believable space.
  • Perspective grids may not come easy, but they're a vital tool.  Even simple, cartoony comics can utilize a two point perspective grid.
  • Don't fake anatomy.  Solid construction is useful in all aspects of comics, from mainstream to cartooning.
  • There's no shame in referencing what you don't (and do!) know.
  • Develop a tough skin early.  You are going to hear a lot of critiques in your life as an artist, some solicited, some not so.  
  • Solicit critique often.  Practice makes perfect, even when it comes to critique.  The more you receive, the faster you'll improve as an artist, and the sooner you'll accept them with grace.
  • Don't take it personally.  Be it critiques, snubs and slurs from classmates, it doesn't matter.  Take what you need to improve, and leave the rest.
  • It is a solid relationship that can survive art school.  Romantic, platonic, or parental, I have seen them all come and go.
  • You only have to please 2 people- yourself and your professors.  If you're an undergrad, your parents and your professors.  You don't have to impress your classmates.  You don't have to impress your extended family.  You don't have to impress your ex boy(girl) friends, friends from undergrad, or childhood sweetheart.  Believe me, impressing yourself and your professors will be hard enough.
  • It's always better to be early.  SCAD art classes have a 15 minute tardy cutoff- if you're more than fifteen minutes late, you're absent, not tardy.  
  • You can't please everyone.  Sometimes you can only please yourself.  Sometimes you don't even get that.  Enjoy your cry and move on to the next project, and don't focus on pleasing others (unless they're paying you).
  • Break work up into chunks.  This is particularly useful when planning a daunting project.  You don't have to think about it all today.  Set one day aside for planning.  Another for scripting.  
  • Plan your projects strategically.  Don't decide on a 2 page mini comic that you're going to break out the double page spread.  
  • When in doubt, black it out.  
  • Supposedly, you need to be two of these three things:  Fast, Nice, or Good.  Preferably, you will be all three.
  • Under promise, over deliver.  If you feel like you could draw 12 finished pages in a semester, promise 10.  You never know when something will knock you on your butt and cost you two weeks.  My knee is a prime example of that.
  • Only strain to outdo yourself.  The harder you try to outdo other people, the more you'll disappoint yourself.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • No one will care about your baby as much as you do, so it's ok to love it fiercely.  You have to believe in your own work before anyone else will.
  • Stubbornness is for job hunting, not critiques.  Be open minded when receiving critique, and take notes.  Even if you think you'll never use the criticism, it may pop into your mind at an unexpected time.
  • Never argue with the professor.
  • Take what opportunities you can, they won't always be available.  Volunteer when you can.  Attend whatever events you can.  Don't make excuses about why you can't or why you shouldn't.  If you wait until you're good enough, you'll be waiting forever.
  • Only worry about doing YOUR best.  
  • Anyone who hasn't pulled an all-nighter probably isn't ADD or overly ambitious.  You can be both and still not need to pull allnighters. You could be neither and pull all-nighters.  Some people work better at night.  Some professors assign more work.  Some people work slower than others.
  • Try not to overextend yourself.
  • Don't be a gossip.  
  • Sometimes it's best not to say that's everything on your mind.  Comics is a small community
  • You can't do everything.  You're going to have to make sacrifices, sometimes more than you're comfortable with.  It's up to you to determine what sacrifices are worth it, and you need to be prepared to accept the consequences of your choices.  In New Orleans, I had a pretty decent social life- I saw a lot of shows, I went out on dates, I had a lot of energy, but I worked much slower than I do now.  I chose to give up my social life 
  • People outside of art school will probably not welcome unsolicited critique.  They're well within their rights to ignore you, to turn you down, or to walk away.
  • You don't have to attend art school to become a phenomenial artist.  You just have to be dedicated.
  • There's more than one way to skin a cat.  You have to find the process that works for you.  Sometimes that takes awhile.  
  • If you wait until you feel like working, you won't get anything done.  Working when you're in the zone is fantastic, but you can't realistically wait until you're in the zone to begin working.  If you do, you'll never get anything done.
  • Going to art school will buy you neither legitimacy or respect.  It can provide opportunities you might not have had otherwise, introduce you to artists you might not have otherwise met, and give you the push you need to get working.  All of those things may lead to legitimacy and respect.
  • You won't get better at art by sitting in class.  You have to actually go out and draw to improve.  Gesture drawing, figure drawing, field sketches, and just flat out making comic pages will all help you reach your goal faster.


  1. Before coming to SCAD, I was immersed in a liberal arts academic environment at the University of New Orleans. Although this isn't a bad thing, our department's focus was not on making us fine artists art schools


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