AMA But What if I'm Just Bad at It? A guide to fighting the big sad and pursuing your passion.

Kristen Maslanka
Sep 2, 2018

Hello all! I'm Kristen Maslanka, a freelance illustrator and concept artist. I've worked on a variety of video games, commercials, slot machines, and books. 

Click here for my portfolio!

My Artstation

However, I still live with my parents, am drowning in debt, get rejection after rejection from companies I worry didn't even look at my resume and am battle crippling anxiety and it's partner depression every day. 

So how do I balance it all? How do I remain productive when my brain wants me to stay in bed all day? How do I look at my art and decide it's good enough? And most importantly, how do I balance my passion and my obligations? 

I'm here to answer all the questions you have. You can ask me anything about my techniques, my organization, and what I do to remain positive. Any question is a good question and I'm here to help. 

The world can be a scary place, but, if you have the right people to help shine a light along the way, it can be a lot less daunting. Ask your questions and I will do my utmost to answer them as helpfully as possible. 

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Do you have any interesting about yourself to share with people?
Sep 4, 10:47AM EDT0

Hmm. Well, I have an eclectic amount of interests! Knowledge is an addiction for me, and I kind of devour just about any book and any piece of information I can find. 

Recently, I've been researching hysteria and manias through history and how they relate to gender studies. This research is inspiring me to tackle a series of paintings regarding the misdiagnoses and mistreatment of women in history. 

Sep 4, 2:33PM EDT0
How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
Sep 4, 9:37AM EDT0

I just always have personal projects I'm working on after work at night, so I end up often polishing those designs for my portfolio. 

I try to make sure I look at what job listings are looking for and keep a piece geared for each of the companies I want to work for in my portfolio at all times. 

Sep 4, 2:24PM EDT0
What do you think an aspiring concept artist should do, in order to learn the necessary skills for this art ?
Sep 4, 7:14AM EDT0

Draw and learn

This seems simple enough but the reality of it is the more mileage you get out of your pencil, the more anatomical diagrams you cement in your memory, the more you can head the words ' tree' and come up with a variety of coniferous and deciduous trees and turn them around in your mind before you get them on paper, the better of an artist you will be. 

Everything in our imagination is built off of reality. So the more you learn and draw, the more you UNDERSTAND, the more eclectic, believable and unique you can make your drawings.

Be inspired by everything and you'll be surprised what influences your drawings. I end up using the color scheme of a squash and the shape design of a post-modern-deco chair to design a car for example! 

Oh, and on a more business note- familiarize yourself with the design to 3D pipeline. It's helpful if you know a bit about the programs your team will be using to sculpt and implement your design so you can conceptualize accordingly. I recommend familiarising yourself with:

- Zbrush, 3DS MAX, Mudbox, Maya, 

- Unity, Unreal, 

-Adobe Flash, Adobe After Effects

Sep 4, 2:16PM EDT0
What is your preference: agency represented or entirely freelance? Why ?
Sep 3, 6:03PM EDT0

Neither. If I had my drothers, I'd be full time employed by a company and do some freelance work on the side. 

I had very limited experience working with an agency, and it was just difficult for communication with the actual client. However, I feel that that one experience wasn't really enough to make a judgment by. 

Ultimately, my preference is to focus on the aspect of the job that I love- the design aspect, so the less time I spend on invoices, SOW's, taxes, bookkeeping etc the happier I'd be. 

Sep 3, 6:23PM EDT0

So when you are fighting against crawling back under the covers and hiding from the world, do you have any specific techniques for managing that?  What get's you seated at your workstation in spite of how crappy you feel?

By the way, just looked at your portfolio and your work is wonderful.

Last edited @ Sep 3, 2:35PM EDT.
Sep 3, 2:31PM EDT0

Hi Debrah!

Thank you so much for the compliment!

To answer your question, my specific techniques involve just reminding yourself that you can't make anything better unless you do something about it. But that being said, I still have those days. Do your best to let yourself go through your moods. Don't push it off, don't deny yourself the time to reflect. Go to bed earlier if you have to budget the time, but we go through emotions because our minds and our bodies need that time. We need to experience that emotion and get it all out. If you have to cry- cry. Don't fight your emotions, channel them. 

When I'm at my lowest, sometimes I like to think about how I could visually represent how upset I am. It helps me reflect, helps me communicate, but it also eventually inspires me to get up and draw that vision. 

Sep 3, 2:50PM EDT0
How old are you? what is the hardest part about still living with your parents?
Sep 3, 2:55AM EDT0

I'll be 26 by the end of this year....not excited to admit that but hey it's a part of life I suppose hah. 

The hardest part is that I care about them, I want to make them proud, and I don't want to take advantage of them. So when we get into arguments and I can't even find a place to be alone it gets really rough. I don't ever want to be mad at them, but the more you live with someone the more likely you are to get into stupid spats with them. 

Sep 3, 2:41PM EDT0
What is your experience with scientific illustration? Would you do this kind of commission?
Sep 2, 10:03PM EDT0

I have limited experience with scientific illustration beyond my own personal biological explorations, anatomical sketches etc. However, I'd be more than happy to start! I'd be likely to learn something new and that's always something I can be excited about. 

Sep 2, 10:09PM EDT0

Hi everyone! I'm very excited to answer and read all of your questions!

Sep 2, 5:20PM EDT0

when u start learning as we all know it's bad drawing and ugly how did u keep level up and did u learn drawing to get a carrer ? and did u thought of getting job wihle u study art ?

Sep 2, 3:07PM EDT0

I can only complain so long before I get frustrated and want to do something about it. For me, there isn't an option of not doing art. It's my lifeblood so even I wanted to give up, I'm not sure I could. But I am the kind of person who just attacks a problem. I want to come up with every possible solution. So when my drawings are awful, I just analyze how I can make them better. Its hard to fight your own doubts sometimes, but you'll never get better if you don't continue on! 

I am pretty much miserable when I'm not using my creative juices. For example, I worked as a telemarketer, a salesman, food prep, a barista, etc and they just drained me. They made me hate waking up every morning. So I knew that my happiness would require me to work the field I loved and I have thankfully found many avenues and outlets to try and make that work.  But I would have pursued my studies in art regardless simply because I think growing as an artist is an integral part of me growing as a person. I'm addicted to knowledge, so the more I learn, the better I feel. 

Sep 2, 3:57PM EDT0

How to fight the seeds of doubt? How do you deal with the night time freak outs?

Sep 2, 1:30PM EDT1

My dad actually was the one that got me to approach my doubt and anxiety in another light. When you have that doubt in your mind, think about how you'd respond if someone said that about your best friend. 

Doubt: Oh man, you are awful at this. You're never going to get anywhere, your lines are all structured wrong, what even is that- is that a nose or a pancake. 

Now, if someone said that to your best friend, would you take that? Heck no. You'd stand up for your friend, you'd tell that doubt to shine it's negativity somewhere else because your friend is amazing. 

Now, it's not the easiest thing to do, and it doesn't always help. But sometimes, it helps me to just respond to it like that, and then use that doubt to channel it into critiquing myself so I can grow.

I like also reminding myself that the more I notice my mistakes- that means I'm growing as an artist. Those are mistakes I wouldn't have noticed earlier, and now I can be aware of them! This applies to everything from drawings, to resumes, to life. You can always learn from your mistakes. 

Sep 2, 2:59PM EDT2
What is the best advice to young people trying to pursue a career as illustrators?
Sep 2, 11:18AM EDT1

Be Strong. Be True. Be Kind. 

Ultimately, illustration is a career of passion. Whether it's a passion for storytelling, drawing, painting, or a mix of all three, you wouldn't be in this job if you didn't have a passion for it. That passion is stronger than anything else. Because that passion will drive you to success. 

Illustration is by no means an easy career for most people. You will face tight deadlines, clients that aren't terribly great at communication, and rejection. But the reward on the other side of these things is a real treat. You will see your illustration on the covers of books at Barnes and Noble, you'll see a commercial with that costume you designed, you'll turn on an app and see that logo you made! Your babies will get their chance to shine, and that reward is so humbling and so fulfilling. 

So my advice is to just keep going. Keep learning every day. Keep growing as an artist and as a person. Keep your mind open, keep your eyes open, share your experiences with other artists.


You're a creator. Treat your life like a story- build the hero/heroine you want to be, respond to your challenges with your goal in mind. Build friendships that last lifetimes so you have a support system. (Do I sound like I'm quoting Joseph Campbells 'heros journey' yet?) You design your life- paint it with as many beautiful colors as you want.

Oh yeah! And have fun! 

Sep 2, 2:53PM EDT1
Your art is actually very good. Have you heard about the impostor's syndrome?
Sep 1, 5:27PM EDT1

Thank you Lornale!

I have indeed heard of it. The book Art and Fear actually taught me a lot about it. Now that I'm aware of it I can do my best to fight it, but it's still tough. Hard not to think the amazing artists around you are better than you, but you just have to use that as your inspiration to improve yourself, to make sure that every day, you learn something new as an artist and do your best. 

Sep 2, 2:37PM EDT0
What are the marketing strategies that you use to promote your work and gain customers?
Sep 1, 10:11AM EDT1

Talk to people. 

Reach out. 

Can't emphasize that enough! The more people you talk to, and the more people who actually get to know you and your art, the more people will share your work. So I like to visit FB art groups and provide critiques etc, help others, and they'll help you. 

  • FB Art Groups and Linkedin- Comment on people's art, offer critiques and insights, show them you're happy to help and where your skillsets are.
  • Tumblr, Twitter, FB- Use the tools available to you and share your work often. ( I don't have a smartphone or I'd include Instagram which is a great platform)
  • Conventions- These can be very costly, so make sure that when you go to any convention, you get the most out of it. Bring a physical copy and a digital copy of your portfolio on hand. Bring Business cards, a notepad, and a few printouts of your resume and talk to everyone. Get to know them. Make more than just a contact. Make a connection. 
  • SKETCH EVERYWHERE- Visit local events and sketch out in the open. I sketch EVERYWHERE. The grocery store, the cafe, the restaurant. Curiosity entices people to look. I don't know what it is, but people love to see what the random person on the corner of the street is drawing. People are always looking over my shoulder to see what I'm drawing. For the longest time, it bothered me and made me feel rather self-conscious. But I learned to embrace it instead. I ask them if they like what they see and why, get to know them, and pass along a business card letting them know a little bit about me and what I do as well. I've made more connections this way than any other. 
  • Apply to positions on every job hunting platform- This one is kind of a given, but just apply to positions you'd like to work at and find others who work at the places you want to work and reach out to them on Linkedin, ask them how they got their start and what inspires their work. 

Every person who views your work is giving you the time of their day to do so. If you make it rewarding for them, chances are they'll remember that. They'll talk with their friends about it, or share your artwork online, etc. The more friends you have the better you'll feel, and the better promotion you'll be participating in. 

Kindness, honesty, and sharing (your art, your thoughts, your passion) are ultimately my best tools for promotion. 

Sep 1, 11:49AM EDT0
What is the price range of your illustration services?
Sep 1, 4:51AM EDT1

I fit my price to my client's budget. I like to be sure to ask them what their price range is, what the deadline is, and how detailed they want it and adjust accordingly. I like to be fair, but of course, I still need to justify the cost. So for example, if their budget is low, I generally quote a much later deadline so it can be something I just work on as the time comes as opposed to being a quick turnaround that eats up a majority of my time available. 

That being said, I do have a general base charge that I work off of as a starting point of $20 USD Per Hour for contract work that's likely to take a few days and provide more regular employment. 

For independent commissions, I charge the following:

$150 full body rendered illustration w basic background

$75 Lineart and Color of full body 

$50 Full Body Sketch or Rendered Head

$25 Sketch head

Sep 1, 11:32AM EDT0
What have been some of the ups and downs of your career? How do you manage your life amidst debts, living with parents, work challenges? Where do you get your motivation to keep going?
Aug 31, 4:22AM EDT1

Oh wow, what a loaded set of questions! You're all keeping me on my toes!!!

I think for me the ups have been the people who enjoy my work, the people who respond to my work, and the projects I've helped make a reality. So the up is the work itself. The downs are the doubts, the rejections, the feeling that you're not good enough.

There are a lot of days, I'll admit that I probably don't manage very well. When I'm being barraged by phone calls from debt collectors, and my parents are being snarky, and I haven't had a project for a while, it's easy to fall into the proverbial pit of despair. Those dark days are such a struggle to overcome and they strangle your heart and energy with such strength that it becomes difficult to breathe.

My guiding light will always be the passion that drives me. The desire to help others avoid being in the same situation I'm in, and to give them hope. I want to be the best artist I can be, and the best person I can be, and the only way to do that is to live another day. And each day is a triumph. Each day is another sketch or illustration that gets me closer to my goals. 

Stories are my lifeblood. so when I'm really down, I refer back to my favorite heroines (those that i've read/played/watched and those that I've created) overcoming far worse struggles than I've been through. They may not be real, but their spirit is real, and that is very comforting when you're feeling the big sad pressing down on you. 

If you ever need a reason to keep going as it were- I would be happy to offer to lend an ear. Artists help artists. Ours is a community of really wonderful people, so if you ever need help, please reach out. Someone will reach back. 

Aug 31, 3:54PM EDT0
What do you think was the reason for your rejection? What did you learn about your work and how did you improve your art as well as your confidence?
Aug 31, 3:27AM EDT1

There are so many reasons one can be rejected. I end up applying to a lot of really wonderful positions and i've been lucky enough to have submitted art tests for some.... But the reality of it is these recruiters have talent from all over the world applying to their positions. They have at least thousands of applicants that may or may not be more qualified than you, and because of that, a lot of recruiters ( not all) rely on certain computer programs that help them sort through the applicants. If these computers see for example that you have one less year of experience than another candidate, they may put you lower. If you have less experience with...say UI design, for example, they'll put you lower. They generate based on resumes and coverletters that match their job description.  

Now that being said, once you get past that part, recruiters are looking at a variety of things, and they're human beings, so they each have something specific they look for that may be different than the last recruiter at another company. 

I guess my point is that some recruiters are looking for a stronger resume, others are looking for a stronger portfolio. And others need to see the exact same art that they're looking for in your portfolio, whilst others still want to see a variety. 

So the short answer to your question is:  I rarely know why i'm rejected, and the more I speculate on it, the less helpful it is. Instead of dwelling on the rejection, I focus on building my portfolio. I look for critiques whenever and wherever I can find them and I share my art with every stranger I can find to see what they like and didn't like. 

Don't let your work only reflect what recruiters want to see. Let your work reflect the kind of work you want to be doing. Your passion will be the thing that sets you apart. 

As far as confidence, I will always struggle with that, but I like to think that as long as I work to be better each day, that's the most important part. Strive to improve, strive to grow. One of my teachers used to say " That's the best you can do at this moment, and that's what's important to me" Give everything your all. 

Aug 31, 3:43PM EDT0
Where do you see yourself in as an artist in the next 5 years?
Aug 31, 12:07AM EDT1

This is a question that I think changes with my mood. If I'm in a good mood though, and I'm reflecting on where I WANT to be in the next 5 years, my answer is working as a concept artist for a AAA video game company and pursuing my MFA in Fine Art/Illustration on my free time. I'd really like to just keep learning and keep growing as an artist, there's so much to learn! When I finish my MFA I hope to share some of that knowledge and some of my experiences and teach a class on character design or visual storytelling. 

Aug 31, 3:33PM EDT0
What are some trends or visual styles you appreciate in contemporary illustration?
Aug 30, 11:41PM EDT1

I'm a very big classisist when it comes to illustration. But that being said, I love some of the artists taking big leaps to marry more lineart with their realism- artists like James Jean and Audrey Kawasaki for example who have a very woodblock inspired aesthetic and combine that with their classical training. I'm also (and I can't emphasize this enough) a big comic book nerd, so a lot of the more minimalist covers really thrill me to bits. When an artist can use positive and negative space and make a big statement I just get giddy! 

Aug 31, 3:30PM EDT0
Who are some Illustrators you loved working with and why?
Aug 30, 9:31PM EDT1

Not to be a kiss up or anything but...all of them? Most of the bigger clients I work with have myself and several other illustrators working on the same project and I've found that they were all absolute sweethearts. It's great to work with another like-minded individual who can offer their own insight and experiences to help explore every possibility. 

Aug 31, 3:27PM EDT0
Do you make any money through your art? How do you keep a constant stream of projects coming in?
Aug 30, 5:13PM EDT1

I do indeed make money through my art. I have many commissions open and take on a lot of contract positions at one time to hopefully afford to live. Sometimes that doesn't work out so well for me, but I'm working on it! If you're looking to keep a consistant stream of gainful employment, I'd suggest applying to a variety of positions that fit your talent set and while you're waiting on a response, offer commissions, haunt freelance sites to see if anyone is looking for an artist, and let people know on social media that you're available. I like to keep a contact list of my past clients and keep in touch with them. I'll ask if there's anything they need my skillsets for, ask them how they've been etc. 

Aug 30, 5:37PM EDT0
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