We're pleased to spotlight artist Robert Hughes!
Robert, tell us about yourself:
I distinctly remember being a 9 year old kid and having my teacher ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I even remember where I was sitting in the classroom and what it looked like and revisit that memory in my head very frequently. “I want to draw cartoons for TV,” I said in response. Of course, when you are a kid, you are encouraged to pursue your dreams and do whatever you want as a living, believing that it is easy to just go get a job drawing cartoons for TV. But as I have found out the hard way, it is not easy and it’s really discouraging at times. But is it worth the work? It definitely is!
I grew up being the kid in class that everybody knew as the “drawer”. Anytime somebody wanted something drawn, they came to me. If the teachers needed a visual aid for something they were teaching, they would have me come up to the board to make an illustration of what they were talking about. Art was the subject that I always felt most comfortable with and successful at and I naturally wanted to continue growing in it and have it be my job someday when I grew up. And I received a lot of encouragement to pursue that. However, I then went to high school and college and started getting a different message from the adults in my life.
In my teens and twenties, I entered the world of higher education, and with that came a new message and expectation. The message was, “Art is not a job. You have to do something practical if you want to make a living. Study business, or something that will provide a stable job later in life. You can always do art as a hobby.” So, I quit drawing for about 12 years as I got a liberal arts degree and entered the corporate world doing “stable jobs”. After 8 years of doing a desk job at multiple different companies, I realized, “This is just not me. I am not cut out for this and I am miserable doing it. I have to do what I am good at rather than trying to force myself to do what I “should” do just to get a paycheck.” So, I started drawing again.
At the age of 29, I started drawing seriously, studying other artists and diligently honing my craft. I networked as much as I could, emailing people in the animation industry asking questions. These people were total strangers to me but I was determined for them to know my name and see how hard I worked, knowing that having that network of industry professionals would pay off someday. I stayed up way too late on most nights; drawing. I drew my butt off. Then I glued my butt back on and kept drawing. I drew and networked for 4 years straight and finally, when I was 33, I started to get some traction on my pursuit of a job in animation. The people I had formed relationships with through networking started to give me freelance work for the shows they were working on. Just little jobs like designing a few minor props or simple backgrounds. I did these jobs on the side while I worked full time doing corporate jobs. But that evolved and led to bigger animation jobs with more responsibility. Eventually I found myself being a lead background designer and painter for a kids show (it’s unannounced so I can’t tell you the name).
For the next couple of years, I continued doing these little side jobs in addition to my full time 9 to 5 job that paid the bills. It became the norm for me to be up late, very late, creating freelance work and portfolio pieces to put on my website (which I also lost a lot of sleep learning how to create). I flew from Tennessee to California 4 times to attend animation conventions and
networking events so I could build relationships with professionals in the animation industry. I would get portfolio reviews from people in feature animation and take note of what they told me I needed to improve in my work. Then I would stay up late (again) making the revisions they suggested so I could email them the revised drawing and show them I took their advice. I would email artists I admired and ask them for critique and tips on how to get hired. Eventually, at age 35, I got to the point where I was able to leave the corporate world and do freelance art full time. Now, I am 36, making a living as a professional artist in animation. I mainly design environments and do background painting. Finally, after 7 years of self educating, networking, taking classes, networking, asking for brutally honest critiques, traveling to conventions, honing my skills, and... networking, I received an email last week from a well known animation studio offering me a full time position as a visual development artist. The day I knew would eventually come if I worked hard enough, finally came!
As far as what the future holds, I am not sure exactly where I will end up. My dream would be to work as an environment artist in feature film full time and that is what I am currently pursuing. Who knows where I might be in the next year. But even just to get to this point is a massive blessing. I was only able to do it through the encouragement of my loved ones who supported me and promoted me. I still make sure to put my family first on my priority list and they continue to support and encourage me. My faith in God is also one of the only reasons I have made it this far and will continue to go further. There were some low points (like, really really low points) along this journey where giving up would have been the most “practical” thing to do. But God has rewarded me for honoring Him with the talent He gave me. I am blessed.
Over the course of this journey, I have also formed a relationship with the great people at SketchWallet and have received support from them as well. I carry a first generation, black leather SketchWallet that I got 5 years ago. It has come in handy countless times and been a constant reminder to me that I am an artist at heart and that is what I will continue to be. When I get discouraged, I just think to myself, “I have a sketchbook built into my wallet. Only an artist would have something like that. So don’t give up because an artist is who you are and always will be. You were made for this!”
Thank you, SketchWallet, for all the ways you have impacted my journey as an artist. Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the most renown artists and innovators in history, used to carry a small sketchbook with him everywhere he went. It was small enough for him to carry conveniently attached to his belt, so that anytime he saw something he wanted to sketch, or whenever he had an idea for a painting or an invention, he would have his sketchbook with him at all times. SketchWallet, you are more than just a convenient sketchbook in my back pocket. You are a symbol of what a true artist is. You are the modern day Da Vinci belt sketchbook, and I thank you for helping me bring my ideas to life!
You can see his work at: https://roberthughesart.com/