Reservoirs of absolute. Humans possess these. Not all of us, I imagine. But there are those who have a determination and direction highly present about them. Their convictions claim them. Well before they even realize they are, in fact, spoken for.
Today's contributing author has known destiny since he was just a little boy. Dazzled by the pencil, this man has filled countless sketch pads full with his dreams. He and I grew up in the same small town. We both were Rock Creek Elementary Rockets, North Junior High Gators and FCHS Rebels respectively. I have known him for so very long. And yet, it is through social media that I have been able to connect with him enough to really now call him friend.
This individual is, without a doubt, one of my inspirations. He is the platform I climb when I think of my craft and its originality. For in this mainstream, fast paced, NOW world, art lives & art dies. Being a small business owner, a designer of handmade and a striving writer, it's easy to loose hope in your little dream becoming worthy of something big. The hard knocks of this protocol driven professional world can have you buying your own self talk of "It's not worth it" or "Just play it safe".
This contributing author is expert in his craft. This maestro status he embodies with his art is derivative of one massive amount of passion paired with good ole fashioned time. It's as if he believes in the best of him before even putting a pencil to paper or screen. Gut like, he just knows. And this interior knowledge has led to a life working in a field he can so easily say he adores. Art lives & art dies. It's our choice really.
I am so thankful to this long time acquaintance and newly called friend for his talents, moreover his willingness to never give up on his dream. Perhaps what I love best about his words in this post is the unwavering mindset of YES. There is no fumbling or "Well, sorta". No, "I don't know. Do you think I should?"
It's a resounding absolute YES. I am. I can. I will.
I am thankful for his pursuit of the original. For his loyalty to what his heart knows best. I have such admiration for his out-of-this-world talent you will see below. I have no doubt you will enjoy the words of Mr. Tony Shasteen today.
Just like all of you, I am many things. A father to two incredible young men. A husband to my best friend and the most amazing woman. What do I do for a living you ask? For all intents and purposes I'm an illustrator these days. That wasn't always the case, and we'll get into that later. It's probably easier to call me a comic book artist. That's the job I tell people that I have when they ask and the little light bulb goes off. They get it. Well, most of the time they get it. Sometimes we have to clear up the fact that yes, it's the comics that used to be on the spinner racks when they were kids, and no, it's not the comic strips that they used to love in the newspapers.
The word that I've chosen to talk about is "stamina". No, not in the dimmed lights and Barry White music kinda way, you filthy monkeys! Stamina, endurance, stubbornness, grit. The ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort. We set goals in life all the time, but they aren't always the mountainous goals that I'm referring to. Sometimes just getting out of bed and getting that first cup of coffee can feel tremendous. Setting your sights on and reaching a goal that's far off and potentially unreachable takes mental and physical stamina.
There are a lot of substantial goals out there, so let's narrow this down and back up a bit. Let's talk about one goal I had my entire life. As a kid I always wanted to be an illustrator. I grew up in the 70's and 80's and you would see illustration everywhere. You would see it covering book covers, medical illustrations, newspapers, movie posters, comic books, magazines, toy packaging, Atari games! On the front of the phone books you might see the iconic depiction of the game telephone from arguably the best know illustrator, Norman Rockwell.
It seemed like all the best movies had an illustrated poster.
G.I. Joe had illustrated packaging,
and if you were lucky you might be able to snag a companion comic as well.
Illustration was everywhere, and that's what I wanted to do. I just didn't know how to get there, but my sight was set.
Fast forward to 1993. I left the small town where Meghan and I grew up to attend art school in Atlanta. This is where I was going to learn about illustration. I was going to draw and paint everyday and hone my craft. I was going to graduate with a portfolio that was going to blow the publishers away. Except… this was now 1995, and things were changing in the visual communications field. Clients didn't seem to want illustration anymore. Something called the internet had come along, computers were taking over the old traditional ways of the industry, and photography was the preferred visual medium. The illustration industry was drying up and it seemed like my dream of becoming an illustrator was out of my hands. This was the first steep pitch in the monumental climb towards my goal.
Okay, I rolled with the punches. I took graphic design classes as well as illustration classes in school. I bought my first Apple computer and a copy of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and I taught myself. I would be a graphic designer AND an illustrator. That was a nice thought, but there was much more need for graphic designers than for illustrators. I spent the better portion of the next decade doing just that. Designing websites, marketing material, and logos. It's actually a great career and I enjoyed it, but there was that nagging desire in the back of my head. That need to be an illustrator was always there, and it wasn't going away. I spent my free time doing what I said I was going to do in art school. I was honing my craft. The illustration industry had shrunk substantially from it's heyday, but it was still out there. It was still attainable. I looked around and I found the last bastion of illustration. Comic books.
This is where the mental and physical stamina kicks in. Having a day job and then going home to work until 2 in the morning towards a dream isn't easy. Luckily I had youth and a very understanding and supportive wife on my side. I spent the next few years constantly working on pieces for my portfolio. Some published pieces, but mostly samples. They were constantly evolving. I went to every comic convention I could go to and shoved my book in front of anyone who would give me advice or possibly a job. Little by little I got work. I started seeing more illustration work and less design work. I would do any illustration job that I could. Anything to build my portfolio and get the next job. I was constantly pushing towards that dream.
Over the timespan of about ten years I slowly transitioned into being a full time illustrator. The illustration industry isn't like most industries. You don't send in your resume out and get hired to become an illustrator. This career is built on individual jobs. Small projects that build a career over time. I do remember my last design client. When I realized I wouldn't be working with them and 100% of my income was derived from illustration. I sat there with my wife and said, "well… I guess I'm an illustrator." It seems anti-climactic, but a rush of emotion washed over me. I've certainly had my share of dream projects that I've checked off my professional bucket list. Being able to not only say you are an illustrator in this day and age, but to support your family as an illustrator is an achievement that I am unbelievably proud of.
Being an illustrator isn't unlike being a runner. Sometimes you have to sprint. Sometimes you have to put your head down and push through the long runs. Sometimes you have to carry the burden of heavy loads with very little fuel. There is ALWAYS someone right on your heels looking to take your place. So turn the corner, engage those burning hamstrings and climb that next monumental mountain towards your goal. It's time to dig deep and find your stamina.
Tony Shasteen is an illustrator. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his amazing wife and 2 sons. In his free time, he and his wife enjoy training for marathons together. He also enjoys watching science fiction movies with his boys. He is quite the fan of the Bota Box and all things winetastic. Snarky humor suits him well. His greatest nemesis in life is the perpetual problems & consistent maintenance with regards to the heating & air conditioning unit in his home. Other than that, the man is one lucky guy.
To open all 31 gifts from this month's celebration, visit here.