Lance T. Miller watching his Mentor: Ed Beard Jr. draw and explain anatomical structure of the skull. (2011) What is Mentorship?  Let&#...

The Magic of Mentorship

Lance T. Miller watching his Mentor: Ed Beard Jr. draw and explain anatomical structure of the skull. (2011)

What is Mentorship? 
Let's start here. A lot of folks don't fully understand what mentorship entails. Simply put, A mentor is someone who has more experience or knowledge on a given topic than a less knowledgeable or less experienced individual. Age can be a factor, but it's not always an older mentor / younger apprentice model. For instance, one of my spiritual mentors when I lived in Nashville was around 8 years younger than me, but was certainly more well versed in a lot of the topics we broached together on my search for a more informed spiritual life. I work with people from many different industries and backgrounds and the number one thing I offer each person to consider enriching their lives and professional careers is Mentorship. The mentor / apprentice model of learning is something of a commodity but you find it more and more as you climb the ladder to success.

Interestingly enough: this isn't a new concept. It's been around since at least the time of the Greeks! Though it was predominantly engaged in specifically to pass a trade skill along to the next generation it eventually began being dismissed as more structured education models developed until it was all but a rare happenstance to be mentored by a "True Master" of a craft or trade. Eventually, mentorship started cropping back up around the 70's as a viable structure by which the older, more experienced artisans and trades people, trained specifically younger and less experienced people.

So what qualifies me to write about Mentorship?
My qualifications lie in the fact that I am engaged on both sides of the mentorship aspect, meaning I have people who mentor me, and I in turn mentor others.  Now it should be noted that I have about 6 mentors that speak into my life on anything from spirituality, to business, to art, magic (illusions) and even personal relationships. At the same time I also mentor about 6-10 people at a given time in anything from art, to business, to magic, and even personal relationships. See what happens there? This is known as a trickle effect. For each person who has reached a stage of being able to mentor, there are those that are still looking to begin the first stages of being mentored and sharing in the accumulated wealth of knowledge from those that are leading the way. In that way, (while I am not at the top of the ladder) I am able to introduce others to this awesome concept.

What can I expect from a Mentor?
 OK. Here's the thing, there's no hard and fast systematic approach to mentorship. Some of it can be hands on ("Here, let me show you how to do that."), some of it is a soft approach ("You know, if you read "The Four Hour Work Week" I'll bet you'll gain some insight into how you can begin to move yourself away from your day job and into something freelance.") and some of it is hypothetical, exploratory approach ("What if you tried doing....?"). The cool thing is, it's always a give and take relationship. You may not be aware of it, but you will also be giving something back to your mentor. For some it's the validation that they are sharing trusted techniques that will continue long after they are gone, and for others it's the joy of knowing their students will help spread a life long legacy that will change the way people live their lives. The primary thing here is to remember that they are people too!

The Magic!
Here's the gold nugget. When you enter into a mentor / apprentice relationship, you will grow! You will learn to appreciate things you'd taken for granted, you will learn the basics of your chosen path that you have skipped over or ignored in arrogance or misunderstanding. You will gain a friend and an ally in your personal growth, someone who cares deeply about helping you succeed because they see your potential to learn and succeed. You will discover pain unlike any other when you feel the sting of disappointment at missing a goal or a task that you scheduled or screw up a process that you've drilled on hundreds of times, but you'll find rapture in that approving nod or that voice telling you that you're getting the hang of something you once thought impossible to accomplish and seeing the fruit of your labors start to develop before your very eyes. Your brain will start to connect the dots with your desire to accomplish something and the skill sets and knowledge required to do so and you will absolutely receive motivation unlike you've ever felt compelled toward in the past. You will begin reaching for the stars and seeing them coalesce in your fingertips.

If you do not have a mentor yet, I highly recommend you start looking for at least one. Try to identify the best possible people who you believe can have the greatest impact on you and whom you greatly respect and admire for those qualities you wish to improve in yourself. Here's a hint:

Not all mentors will speak to every part of your personal life or career path. Some will only guide
you in one aspect where you might find others that influence multiple aspects of both.

Next week, we'll discuss how to find a mentor and some ways to start a mentor relationship on the right foot.

Lance T. Miller is a professional artist and designer in several mass product development fields. He consults with artists to lead them toward their goals in life and works with some of the top agencies in the Board Game Industry as well as the Magic Industry and his own line of consumer products.

Part 2 of 12 Things I've learned in the 12 years I've been Freelancing Being a freelance creative is a very passion driven path...

12 Things I've Learned in the 12 Years I've Been Freelancing (Part 2)

Part 2 of 12 Things I've learned in the 12 years I've been Freelancing

Being a freelance creative is a very passion driven path that certain people in life choose for themselves. If you have the right mentality in place, you can go far, and you can certainly work on the projects you greatly desire to work on, while making money doing so. If you struggle to find purpose in your creativity, or income, perhaps you are looking in the wrong places. We should all strive to bring our work and personal lives into cohesion and some of the points I'm offering for your consideration have allowed myself and several of my students to do just that. Without further ado let's get onto Part 2.

7. You can't rush greatness (Take your time with learning and with projects)
It's often said that energy is wasted on the youth. The younger an artist, the more they seem to rush headlong into big idea / personal projects hoping to achieve greatness. Only, most discover they don't have the "Innate Talent" they think they're supposed to have and then they give up and walk away. They could have been moments from a great breakthrough, but it all gets set aside to pursue more easily attainable life goals and instant gratification of a job well done. I'm not great. I think I could achieve greatness someday, and I desire to do so, but I keep a level head when I am feeling down about my work. Usually I've learned to turn it into a question. What does this say about my weaknesses as an artist / designer? Then I target that portion of my art or design skill and work on it feverishly.

8. Work through the doubt! (That's when it's time to art.)
 An artist friend of mine and I were having a conversation along the lines of both of us being in a seemingly constant state of depression regarding our work. We were both contemplating our life choices and why we've not "made it" as artists. Respectively he and I have both accomplished some radical stuff in our given industries, but at the time we were feeling less than adequate compared to some of our contemporaries. So here's what I said to him and it stuck with both of us so well, we remind each other of this very point when things start seeming bleak. 

"You'll never work harder than in those moments you are proving 
to yourself that you can and will keep going."

9. Study Many Subjects. (Be an expert in your field by studying others)
Here's a list of some of the things I actively study: Consumer Tech Trends, Vehicle Manufacturing Trends, Interior Design, Fashion, Color Theory, Legibility Standards, Printing Technology, Web Trends, Graphic Design Standards and Procedures, Classic Art, Music Production, Business and Personal Development. OK so why just list off a ton of stuff like that? It's to demonstrate a point, that while they are varied and yet also related, every major industry has a very significant impact on current graphic design and art trends. Sometimes you can get ahead of the design curve and lead the pack on a new trend, other times you could be playing catch up, but if you don't invest the time in understanding the world around you, you will fall behind as an artist or designer.

10.  Pick Your Projects. (You don't have to work on things you don't like.)
You can, and absolutely should, have a very direct capability to choose the projects you work on. If you take a gig because well, "it's money" but you don't like the project, you will do poorly on it. You may give up and, you could possibly even get fired because of taking too long to finish something that should have been able to be done with relative ease. I hear a lot of tired clients tell me they hired someone and they never get a response from their designers after a few months. Some of that could be due to the client's mannerisms in dealing with the designer, but often it comes down to the designer deciding they just don't like it and have no motivation to work. There are so many industries and companies of all types that are looking for designers. You should absolutely be comfortable targeting the industry you want to make projects for and go after it.

11. Work / Life Balance is an absolute must (Don't alienate yourself in favor of work)
Without the support of my wife, I'd not be sitting here writing this for you now. I'll raise my hand here and say I'm guilty of brushing her off and diving into a project or working beyond my normally established hours because I'm behind on a project. Let me tell you, that's not a good place to be but we both strive to make sure we live a balanced life. Despite her seemingly infinite patience, I've upset my wife on several occasions and while she forgives me and we move on, I definitely feel the sting of disappointment when I've ignored her because I was "In the zone". It's appropriate and highly recommended to set work/life boundaries, not just with a significant other, with your friends and family as well. Identify your most productive times and try to build a schedule that allows you to have hobbies and a personal life. If you're a pet lover, don't forget those lovely cuddly little balls of awesomeness either! Spend time with your loved ones. Take some time for yourself even. Go out and take a walk to center your mind and relax. If all you do is work and worry and you don't enjoy life, what are you doing it all for anyway?

12. Share your wisdom readily. (Become an excellent mentor / Pay it Forward)
If there is one thing I ask of my students in repayment for all I've taught them, it is this: Someday, some kid with bright eyes and a shine of hope and excitement in their expression will come to you and ask how you've gotten where you are, or how to do what it is that you do. This is your repayment. Teach them as I have taught you, to seek the life they desire to live, and share with them the ability to understand their true potential. Encourage them to begin with the foundations but show them how it applies to what they wish to create. By imparting that which we have learned, they will make it further than we've been able to do so. They will accomplish more with less, and will be able to change what it means to be an artist.

Lance T. Miller is a professional artist and designer in several mass product development fields. He consults with artists to lead them toward their goals in life and works with some of the top agencies in the Board Game Industry as well as the Magic Industry and his own line of consumer products.

It's interesting to look back and find those little nuggets of wisdom to share with the next generation of freelance creatives. Wh...

12 Things I've Learned in the 12 Years I've Been Freelancing (Part 1)

It's interesting to look back and find those little nuggets of wisdom to share with the next generation of freelance creatives. What seems so obvious to me now was just a statement of "Oh, that'll never happen to me." back then. Being young and full of life and energy, we all too often make the mistake of letting our pride take the wheel.

1. Learn the basics first (walk before you run)
Whether you paint, create graphics, music, stained glass, or any other creative pursuit, it's the basics that turn you into a master. When you are learning how to draw, you don't just sit down and bust out a full comic scene utilizing perfect perspective and spot on anatomy. Those things take planning and careful execution. People who learn the basics get farther, faster. Learning to understand color theory will allow you to execute subtle color palettes in your art which will literally drive the audience's emotions as the view your piece. Learning how to divide a canvas by the rule of thirds will allow you to create more aesthetically pleasing compositions.

2. Draw Small, Think Big (Thumbnails)
When you are starting a new piece, rather than getting out a piece of paper and working feverishly on one concept for hours, only to give up and throw it away in a rash of irrational self loathing, draw a crap ton of small squares and rectangles and explore the idea in as many different ways as you are able. I like to start new projects with a 20-in-20 exercise: Literally set a timer for 20 minutes and aim to get at least 20 concepts (very roughly) sketched out in order to get your creative juices flowing.

3. Leave Your Ego at the Door (It's what your client wants, not what you want, that matters)
You'd think this one would be self-explanatory, but I can't believe the number of artists and designers that complain when a portion of the project doesn't go the way they wanted it to. Your JOB is to create the artistic vision entrusted to you by your client. Your RESPONSIBILITY is to educate your client when a decision would otherwise hinder their brand integrity or public perception. However, if at the end of the day, the client still wants an angry unicorn shooting rainbow muffins out its ass, then by God, you deliver the best God damned muffin shitting unicorn anyone has ever seen.

4.  Master of at Least One Technique (One is good, three are better)
I began by learning how to remaster all of my terrible concepts in Adobe Illustrator. In the beginning of my career, vector art was barely even heard of let alone requested as a final product. By learning to master vectors in Adobe illustrator, I gained a profound knowledge base for how to approach digital art for commercial product development. I also mastered one interface and keyboard shortcut set that tied in with almost every other product Adobe makes. This saves time and money ;) Eventually I mastered Adobe inDesign and then finally Photoshop. From there, I branched back out into traditional art and applied all the theory and procedures I'd learned from working digitally. I'm by no means a master of traditional mediums, but I'm well on my way.

5. Never dismiss anyone (You never know who is on the opposite end of a handshake)
I have learned that making snap judgement about a person can be detrimental to both yourself and other parties. I've met folks that seem dressed in the shabbiest clothes who are happy go-lucky millionaires, and I've met people dressed to the nines who are more poor than some of the poorest people you can imagine. Regardless of wealth, or imagined, or actual status, there's still a person standing in front of you and your paths have crossed for a reason. Take time and talk to your fellow human, you never know what pearls of wisdom and learning opportunities await you both if you are quick to dismiss people. This doesn't just apply to potential clients, this applies to potential collectors, fans, mentors, students, and everything in between. You could be sitting in front of the opportunity to influence the next Van Gogh, or Monet, or even the opportunity for someone to teach you to become the aforementioned prodigal artist yourself.

6. Your art is not free. It is not a portfolio piece. It's not a contest (Do not work on spec)
Spec work is a dangerous topic to broach both in the field and out of the field, but let me posit a situation here: Imagine going to a mechanic's garage and telling them "I've never worked with you before, fix my car, and if I like how you've done it, I'll pay you". Or, better yet, imagine you have 3 mechanics and you tell them whoever does the best work out of the three will get a nominal amount of money and big acclaim, but the others won't get anything You'd get laughed right out of the building if not punched in the nose for such a ludicrous disrespect of someone else's livelihood. So why do we allow ourselves to go through this? For the sake of imagined respect and fame we'll acquire when we make the next Nike logo, or super amazing fantastical product that everyone has to buy. You know what, it rarely, if ever works out that way. Most times, you're left starving, anyone you work for, does tell others about you ( they mention that you work for free ) and you feel less fulfilled. Often you find yourself trying to find other gigs to fill the void and your soul dies a little more each time you give your art away and receive neither validation nor income.

Stay Tuned for Part 2.

Lance T. Miller is a professional artist and designer in several mass product development fields. He consults with artists to lead them toward their goals in life and works with some of the top agencies in the Board Game Industry as well as the Magic Industry and his own line of consumer products.