Thursday, May 16, 2013

College Life, Work Life, and My Quest to become a Concept Artist


Hi! My name is Mark.
I want to be a concept artist.
I am married to a beautiful, supportive, kind, and awesome girl named Brittany.
I love God, my family, art, design, cars (mostly Volkswagens), action figures, video games, movies, sushi, bodyboarding (sponging, boogie boarding etc), music, coffee, Krispy Kreme and traveling.

You can find me on the web here:


Well I have decided to start this blog up again, but this time I am going to fill it with:

  1. my artwork
  2. tutorials 
  3. experiences/tips
  4. my endeavors to become a designer in the entertainment industry

Maybe it should be multiple blogs? I don't know, but I'll try and keep this up to date as much as possible and I'll see where it goes.


Heres a piece I painted in photoshop recently to start this concept artist journey off:

So for my first entry, I've been wanting to document how I got to where I am now as a graphic designer. The blog is mainly dedicated to where I want to go, so I feel its fitting to start here. Especially for all you potential designers, graduates, first year college students or other young ones in finishing school or trying to look for work, I hope this will help you make better informed decisions regarding your education or future as a designer or whatever.

I realize I made some dumb decisions and I was lazy and all. So I realize a lot of what I'm about to say is just common sense to a lot of people, but it took some punches to finally get the sense knocked into me and if there is anyone else with similar experiences maybe this will help.

I'll try to keep it short, but this is a blog and blog I will do.

So my story, let me warn you, I am not the most grammatically endowed person in the world so forgive my mistakes and despite what I said previously about being short, this is probably going to be long and boring, but I am going to try to cover a lot of what held me back or helped me out in my days during/after art school. Maybe someone can relate, benefit from this...or laugh. I dunno, but regardless here goes...


I am currently working for a healthcare company called Sentara. Its a pretty big group here in Virginia and its currently expanding quite rapidly. I am a design consultant/artist there and I've done everything from redesigning/rebranding their employee portal to creating animated motion graphics videos that inform viewers of different initiatives or promotions that are going on within the company. The latter is the bulk of my work there now and an example would be a video that raises awareness about the new employee portal redesign and the rationale behind redesigning something employees have been using for years. If you're really interested in what I do, you can check out some of my work here:
I enjoy it, but I wouldn't be creating this blog or writing this mini life story if I wanted to stay there forever.


So lets rewind a little bit to my life before Sentara. After high school, I enrolled at Tidewater Community College and started out taking courses with a concentration in graphic design (I didn't know much about graphic design other than designers used Photoshop and drew a lot and I knew how to use Photoshop and I enjoyed doodling). After a year there, I felt the pressure from my parents. They believed that the Apprentice School (a major shipyards apprentice program) would be better for my future. So I left TCC to wake up every morning at 4am and sweat my butt off for two years as a welding technician and finally said, "Nope!" ( I do realize this isn't the worst job in the world and in fact it  was a great experience for me and I'd recommend the Apprentice School to anyone in a heartbeat. Especially if they are not sure of what they want to do.)

So I went back to school for Graphic design, but this time I enrolled at Old Dominion University and expensively got my gen-eds out of the way.  (Kind of Obvious Sidenote: I did this backwards and would recommend starting out at a community college, getting your gen eds done, then transferring to a four year school. Don't do what I did if you can help it.) Don't let anyone tell you junior college isn't as good as a four year school like I did. I ended up racking up major student debt because of that mindset. To top it off the art department at ODU (a four year school) wasn't as good as TCC's (a junior college) at the time and several people in the industry back then told me they would hire a graphic designer out of TCC before ODU.

My point is simply don't overlook junior colleges, do your research before enrolling. (this is some of the common sense advice that I was talking about, but la-dee-dah-ed through and ignored at first.) If anything, you will save A LOT of money starting there first and figuring out what you want to do instead of spending tons of money on a general studies major at a four year school. So back to my life at ODU, a year and a half later I wasn't qualifying for financial aid and couldn't afford to continue there so I transferred back to Tidewater Community College and managed to qualify for financial aid and I got my Associates degree in 2012 and have been working in the healthcare industry ever since. The cool thing is that now I know how to weld, read a wiring diagram, trouble shoot electronics, carbon arc, use a plasma cutter and the correct order of university selection.


Okay so I'll admit a two year degree took me a littttllleee longer than two years to get, but hey, don't judge, I was young and was still trying to find myself. I'm not quite there yet, but I am very confident that I know what I want to do, in fact I said it at the beginning of this ridiculously long blog entry that I want to be a concept artist.

So in the light of sharing my stories to help others, I will say that I don't regret, or want to redo any of my experiences. So if you are thinking that things would be better if you hadn't done this or if only you did that, try to look for the good or the lesson in the situation. It won't be easy all the time, but things will get better. I'll share some of my experiences in an effort to help you keep a positive view on things.


 If I had never deviated from my original course of study, then I would never have learned what I did in the shipyard. I was constantly being told by my shipyard coworkers to "Stay in school Mark!", and "You don't want to be stuck in here for 40+ years" and as cliche as that sounds...they were right.
40 Years of striking arcs and repairing equipment that ran on 440 volts and required electrical safety measures to keep you from dying or melting your arm off was not my idea of a career or life. And the second I thought about giving up on school I was reminded of that place. I do feel that I was given the opportunity to get a glimpse of my possible future by working in the shipyard and I did not like it. I had to get out. So I did, and I do feel the shipyard allowed me to mature quite a bit and realize that I was born to be an artist.

Another thing about me not wanting to redo anything is that I met a lot of interesting people who helped shape my life along the way. The most special of which is my wife. I met her in an art history class at Tidewater Community College after I left ODU. If it weren't for the shipyard side trip and backwards university enrollment, I wouldn't have met the most incredible person in my life. So I can confidently say I've learned quite a few things in my journey that got me to this exact moment in time. So heres some more advice for anyone reading this and happens to be thinking about going back to school or is on the road to having a career as a professional college student:


Just because you are the oldest dude in the class, (Well I wasn't the oldest, but when you make friends with someone and they say they just graduated high school, but yet you're in the same class as them. You start to feel pretty old. Especially if you're supposed to be getting your bachelors that year but you aren't because of decisions you made earlier in life.) don't quit or think that its past your time. You're never too old to learn.

(Whether you're saying "Duh..." or "Nah, I'm good." Don't forget to do it. Seriously. Don't.)

By the time I went back to TCC, I was discouraged. By this time I would have already a bachelors if I had stuck to a rigid schedule to get a four year degree. But I pressed on because I knew I needed to get my education. Being discouraged kinda led me to drift aimlessly for a little bit before I shaped up and began taking control of my life. I was taking one or two classes every semester thinking I'd never get finished, but one day I sat down and realized I only needed eight more classes before I was done, it made all the difference. I started taking full credit loads and buckling down to get out of school faster. So knowing where you stand makes quite a difference.

I had a list of classes left in my curriculum on my wall next to my bed and every semester I would scratch off what I finished and seeing the list shrink more and more was a huge motivator. I know I'm not the only one who did this because a classmate of mine was totally surprised after we were discussing this and I suggested she look at a list of classes in the program. She only needed five more to graduate and there she was thinking she'd be in school for another whole year. So if you have to track your own progress, make sure you do it and see counselors (yes counselors plural) regularly so you know where you stand and you're not wasting money on classes you DON'T need. Too many of my classmates, including myself have taken classes not required because we read the wrong information or had bad counseling, which is why I recommend seeing multiple counselors if possible.


I don't have much experience being a commissioned artist, but being a designer, I was faced with trying  to break into the industry and dealing with no experience and a small portfolio, but how do you build a portfolio if you're not working? Well if you aren't in school and don't have a student portfolio. Try designing things for already existing companies, but putting your own spin on it. For example redesign McDonald's logo. Be prepared to back your design decisions. Going to an art school is a great support system and a great way to help build a portfolio if you have nothing, but there are other ways to build one. Once you have your portfolio, networking is another great asset to have in your bag of tricks...


Job hunting solo is incredibly difficult, you'll spend lots of time browsing want ads, cold calling etc. One advantage to taking some art classes is networking. Thats my next bit of overly pushed out advice by professionals in the real world. Like it or not, making friends and meeting people, especially working professionals is EXTREMELY valuable in getting you a position somewhere. I owe my current employment status to my motion graphics professor. I worked hard in her classes and all my other classes and TURNED MY WORK IN ON TIME (another bit of advice, ahh  yes you're catching on!) Because of my hard work and the fact that we had an open dialogue (I wasn't just some quiet kid in the corner who never spoke up) she recommended me for a web design position at Sentara Healthcare and the rest is history. I don't talk a whole lot, I'm kind of a shy guy, but never saying anything at all and being a ghost doesn't help you out at all. So if you are the reserved type, try to step out of your shell. Just talk to your professors, don't annoy them, but be genuine, ask for help, be interested in what they have to say and they'll return the favor, they're people too.


FINALLY! Congratulations or I'm sorry you read all that! But in any event, you made it to the end of this long post! So that wraps up my major positive experiences in college that led me to where I am now. Remember its never too late to finish school, research your universities of choice especially the program you want to enroll in, just because the school is a popular one doesn't mean they have a good insert program here, religiously track your academic progress, be adventurous, network, turn work in on time. Hopefully this helps someone who is stuck in a rut to find new light, or to avoid financial pitfalls, or whatever.

Now that I have decided that I want to pursue a career in entertainment design, hopefully future posts will be about how I got to a position as a concept artist while balancing a job at a healthcare company, a family and building a portfolio and materials to become a concept artist all at the same time. I've heard it helps to write your goals down somewhere so I'm hoping this blog will help hold me accountable. Time to activate Beast Mode.

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