Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 Donna Aguillo class of 2007 is a freelance illustrator and comic creator based in San Francisco, California. He has over 15 years of experience in comets tabletop games and working full-time in his area of passion as both an artist and entrepreneur. Don shares his experiences as a first generation American at Penn State Life as a resident assistant on campus, and his experience is studying and drawing abroad. Don explains the ins and outs of being a full-time artist and how he self promotes, enhances his skills and evolves his style, as well as how he manages the business side of this career path. In addition to promoting education of his Filipino heritage, you can read a full breakdown of topics Don discusses in the show notes on your podcast app. And with that, let's dive into our conversation with Don following the gong.
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Joining me here today on following the Gong all the way from San Francisco is Don Aguilo. Thank you for joining us here today, Don. So I wanna start at the very beginning. When you were back here in State College, how did you find yourself in Happy Valley and a Schreyer Scholar?
Don Aguillo 00:01:59 Okay. I'm, I'm actually from State College, Pennsylvania. I'm actually, uh, an immigrant from the Philippines. My parents brought me here in 89 and, uh, we were supposed to be in New York City, but, uh, somehow my, my dad got transferred directly to Central Pennsylvania of all places, and we were thankful for it. Uh, state College is a great place to grow up. Wasn't wasn't your first choice as an immigrant to not land some somewhere like LA or, or New York or something, but we had a great, uh, we had a great childhood in State college. So Penn State was in our backyard, literally. I lived off of, uh, university Drive over by, uh, the Burger King, if it's still there, uh, that area,
Sean 00:02:34 It is now a Wendy's.
Don 00:02:36 Oh, is it really? Just
Sean 00:02:38 This past summer of 2022.
Don 00:02:40 Oh, I'm not a Wendy's fan, so I'm, I'm gonna mourn that one. But, uh, we'd literally hear the, uh, the drumming during the games right outside our backyard, so we can actually see the, we can actually see Beaver Stadium when we walk into our, in our indoor back backyard. So Penn State was an, was sort of an automatic consideration for me. The Honors College was a later consideration as I was start starting to look at schools, but I was looking at N Y U in Columbia, got waitlisted to N Y U, it was also nine 11 year, so my parents were like, no, stay, stay close to home. And it seemed like a great idea, and especially financially it worked out well too. So we're thankful for that.
Sean 00:03:17 I think that's always a good reason. You know, we've got folks who come from all over and certainly we've had plenty of townies on here as well, and I, I appreciate that as now that I am a townie myself, having lived here for several years. Glad to hear that story. And I will ask you a little bit about your experience as an immigrant, but I wanted to first ask, how did you come to pick your major once you settled in here in campus?
Don 00:03:40 <laugh>. Uh, interestingly enough, I didn't start off in fine arts. I was a pre-med major, and that was after, you know, uh, I, I'm, I'm Filipino, so sort of mimicking my family members and knowing that, uh, my family is populated by medical professionals. It was sort of an easy thing to, an easy thing to think about getting into. I had, you know, training growing up and math and science were, were, I don't know if I would call them passions, but I was generally good at them. I, I, I excelled in those two things growing up. And, uh, you know, that dream was sort of fed as I was growing up, but as soon as I hit freshman year as a schreyer student, and, uh, I took my, you know, I, I had a loaded schedule in pre-med, but then I had an elective I needed to take.
Don 00:04:22 So of course I was gonna be like, well, I, I drew all through high school, so I'll take what the, the, I think the only drawing class I could take was an elective basic drawing class with a bunch of random people from sciences and I think two football players and someone from theater. So it was a, it was a, it was a great little class of people who either had experience or had a passion or just needed to take an elective. I also happened to be one of a handful of students in there who took every assignment seriously and really wanted to like, get into the art aspect of it, like the actual technical acumen and things like that to sort of balance my sciences. And what I started to see was that I had a real passion for what I was doing in that one elective course, and it, it started to shift my focus. So I actually had to change majors right after freshman year, uh, much to my surprise and a surprise to my parents. So <laugh> and that's where things started.
Sean 00:05:16 So you said that you come from a family full of medical professionals, and I'm sure there was an expectation that you were going to pursue that too. How did you approach that conversation that might be helpful for students who find themselves in a similar situation where they want to pursue a different major than maybe familial expectations lie?
Don 00:05:33 Oh, that's a loaded question, <laugh>. Well, it has a lot to do with, you know, as a high school student, if the conversation is already happening, you need to keep having that conversation, keep having it open, but also sort of temper it with the humility and the curiosity. So if, if you're, you're telling your parents, I really want to be this, you're already training them to expect, um, if you are blessed with a family who understands that you need to be a well-rounded person, or that you have passions you wanna follow, you need to continue coloring that conversation with, well, maybe this, and maybe this. If you have too many maybes, you're gonna confuse them and you're probably going to worry them, uh, especially if they are helping you financially or if, and, and because they're truly invested in your future. So maybe as early as maybe sophomore or junior year, you wanna start thinking about not only career paths, but also what your passions are. Because I'm blessed with, in an industry and a career path where my income will generally follow my passion. Uh, not everyone gets that, that kind of freedom. Right. So, uh, I, I, I, I recognize that and I appreciate that about what I'm doing.
Sean 00:06:44 That's great. And if you take a look at your portfolio, even just looking at just one snippet of it here on your website, clearly that drawing class was a good call. 'cause you are incredibly talented. Oh,
Don 00:06:56 Thank you. I appreciate that.
Sean 00:06:58 Uh, the, just some of the artwork, and obviously you're in the comic space and we'll get into that, but it's just, I, I, you probably could teach the drawing class, I imagine now if you came back to state college. But I do wanna ask, because not a lot of our scholars, unfortunately, are in the arts. We do tend to st skew a little bit more towards the business, college, college of engineering, the STEM areas, liberal arts. What is it like being a Schreyer scholar who's in arts and architecture in that creative space? Uh,
Don 00:07:25 Okay. Also a loaded question. When I was at Penn State, the arts, education, the facilities, the breadth of skill building, it was, there was, it was, there was a lot of freedom in it. Most of my instructors and and teachers were showing in galleries in Europe, um, and also instructing at Penn State, there was a lot of freedom in the, in the assignments and instruction in the classes you would take. There's a general community-based conversation about what you were doing and how you were applying it. I have an honors and fine arts in drawing and painting. What I'm doing now is illustration. What I did for my honors thesis was a, uh, survey and examination of production design and scenic design in film and theater. So that's a lot of things. It's, it's, it's, it's a lot of things that I was able to pull from for what I do now. And being an honor student really helped that happen. Uh, I know that not everyone at Penn State gets, gets the freedom to be able to do that. But for example, I was able to dip my feet in the School of theater, the college of Communications and anchor myself in, in the arts department. So I had, I had a great time being able to craft my education, uh, in all those different things.
Sean 00:08:37 You mentioned your thesis. I'd be really curious on what your thesis was. You talked a little bit about the production design, but what actually did you do for your thesis?
Don 00:08:46 The title of my thesis was Space and Scope, A perspective on Scenic Design. Having transferred over to the, to the arts in freshman year, I immediately started to go in that, okay, how am I gonna make money? How am I gonna, what career am I gonna choose? I immediately started thinking about, okay, how do you apply art in an industry right now? Illustration was not going to be a thing for me. It was not, it was not one of my options. It was, it was not. So I immediately thought, okay, go westbound, go to Los Angeles for film, go to scenic design, production design in, in, in film. It was something I was already passionate about. I was, I was a huge fan of, filmmaking was not a thing I wanted to do, but given the opportunities I had in crafting my major, it was definitely something I could do if I really wanted to.
Don 00:09:28 So what I did was a survey of my favorite films as it informed my visual aesthetic as I moved into junior and senior year. And basically I, I did, I did a breakdown of things from lighting to, to color choice to camera, to storytelling, which is a huge component of what I do now, informing my graphic novel and comic arts. I mean, storytelling is the basic umbrella for everything you see on Netflix, Amazon, uh, you know, people are are mining I IP in graphic novel and comics for television and film properties. So it all, it's all really, really interwoven now. And it we're living in a great time as an artist. But yeah, that's what I did my thesis on, and I was, I was blessed to have a, an amazing mentor who allowed, continued, uh, allowed me to continue that freedom in how I was going to do that and in the subject matter that I was going to, uh, examine for that thesis.
Sean 00:10:21 That's awesome. And I love how you highlighted the intersection of all the different disciplines there. We've had a documentary filmmaker on here before, and we had talked about pacing and editing can really throw off a great story if you don't edit the film. Right. But the production design, the lighting, all those things, if it just looks weird or is not the vibe that you're going for, if you want a horror, you probably don't want really colorful unless it's, you know, leading into something like that, for example. So really important in the kind of work that you could do there. Now, I do wanna dive into the jobs thing in a minute, because obviously that's really important, especially as we want to break the narrative of the starving artist. I know that's something important to you, and I agree. But I do wanna stick here on campus for a minute before we head out West. So, two things. First, you were really involved on campus, both in terms of clubs, and then you were a resident assistant. So I'd love if you could talk about first those clubs and how your, your leadership abilities grew from leading those organizations. And then we'll talk about the RA thing next. Okay.
Don 00:11:16 Uh, really cool. Not quickly. I, it was a, it was a huge part of my, of my time at Penn State, but my, my family there was the Penn State Filipino Association. I don't go into endeavors lightly, whatever I, I do now, I hope to be doing five to 10 years in the future. 'cause it's important to be well-rounded. It's important to have a, a social education on top of a professional one, uh, once you, once you graduate. So, um, my time with the Penn State Filipino Association informs what I do now with paral, which is a dance and music and performing arts company here in San Francisco, which is also tied into my arts because I'm currently studying the cultural practices of various indigenous peoples in the Philippines through the, through this organization here. And, uh, I do a lot of art pieces based on the work that we, we do through the, through that organization.
Don 00:12:03 And I'm tied to the community in the diaspora here in San Francisco. So I do some public arts works. Uh, I do, I am, we're currently part of a, a huge project through paral tied with, uh, indigenous peoples in the Philippines, uh, to do a three year long project in which I'm going to be doing a series of art pieces, which is grant-based. So there is income to be had there, for those of you who you know, to, to break that starving artist narrative. There are various forms of income to follow and to explore based on your passions. And, uh, I was also part of Penn State Martial Arts group, which I am currently a chief instructor of a martial arts studio here in San Francisco under the same association. So my training there fed into my training here and helps my income also.
Sean 00:12:47 Excellent. And I think a key takeaway is that these were things that you did on the side outside of your classes, but you were able to find a way that ties into your academics and you're able to continue these passions into your career many years later, which I think is really cool. So if you're thinking about what clubs to join, if you're a first year student or prospective student, think about how this is a holistic experience. So, and I think yours is a great example here, Don. Thank you. You were also a resident assistant. I think you might, I may be wrong, but I think you're the first RA we've had on the show. Oh, really? <laugh>. So I want to ask, especially as a townie, what inspired you to pursue that opportunity and what you learned from the experience and how you balance the demands that come with being an ra? 'cause that is basically a full-time job, <laugh>. How did you balance those demands with being a scholar and involved in the other clubs that you just referenced?
Don 00:13:33 Wow. Uh, I really don't know. <laugh>, uh, you know, as a townie, I, I really wanted to live on campus. Uh, that was, you know, to be honest, that was a, that was a major, uh, that was a, a major motivation for, for me. I told my parents, I can't live at home if I'm gonna, if I'm gonna go to Penn State, I, I can't live at home. I, I've gotta experience it all out. So when I was a freshman, uh, I lived on campus and I was like, oh, how, how do I keep this going? So maybe I'll go into the resident assistant program. Uh, it'll help, you know, subsidize, uh, living on campus. And then I, I just, I really, I just really love being, you know, sharing my experiences with people, which is also generally why I'm on this, on a podcast like this.
Don 00:14:13 I, I, I love being able to take what I learned, pitfalls and successes, and being able to share them. It was really useful. As an ra I'm also a bit of a disciplinarian with a martial arts background, so I'm, I'm okay to lay down the law a little bit. But I, I was blessed living in a, in a hall that, that was really great. I didn't have to do that too much. I, I just had a really great time with my residents. I collected DVDs, so they'd come to me, you know, from movies on a Friday or a Saturday. They called me their blockbuster, if anyone still knows what that means. But <laugh>, no, I just, I really love, I really love community. So, uh, and leadership's also already a thing. I was practicing as a, uh, black belt in martial arts. So, uh, leading, leading that hall and representing people was a, was a thing I was already passionate about. I love being an ra. Uh, and I did it again one more time. So I did it for two years. Once, once sophomore year, and once my senior year.
Sean 00:15:03 What about that junior year in the middle there, uh,
Don 00:15:05 Junior year I went to Rome. So I, I studied abroad. I went to the, the mothership of Renaissance art. And, uh, that was another thing I sort of surprised my parents with. I said, I, I, I wanna leave for a year, or I wanna leave for a semester. So I went to Rome and studied sculpture, painting. I had to find out my chops in the arts. I had to really, you know, dive deep into immersion in what I was, what I was doing before I could really figure out where I was gonna go after graduation. So I, I worked with the Temple program, which was, uh, in partnership with, uh, Penn State to send fine arts students over there. I had an amazing time. I threw my map out the window and just walked around the city. I didn't have the budget to go Europe hopping or like country hopping over there.
Don 00:15:50 So on the weekends, I would literally just go out into the city and draw the city and really experience it. And as a fine art student or as a, a student of the world, if you can do a, a semester abroad, I really, really, uh, encourage you to do that. If you have the means to do it, jump on that, get it done, um, and continue, uh, exploring the world by whatever means necessary responsibly. Also even after graduation. It's important to have a, a, a wide worldview, especially now. But yeah, Rome was amazing and, uh, I came back and sort of needed to calm down, just to settle down again before I decided to live on campus one more time as a resident assistant, once again with a broader experience and perspective.
Sean 00:16:33 Absolutely. And that was a great piece right there about our mission tenet of building a global perspective. So thank you for sharing that. And if you are thinking about studying abroad yourself, come talk to us. We have financial support for exactly those kinds of programs so that you can go merge your passions with study abroad opportunities, or go some completely different direction. And, and, you know, we've had a food scientist who studied theater in the May Master programs, so completely unrelated to her major, Don, you took advantage and found, like you called it, the mothership for artists in, in Rome, and just thinking about the, you know, different millennia's worth of art there. So the opportunities are there, so be sure you take advantage of those.
Don 00:17:13 And the effects of it are, are, are really subtle, because I remember being in a cathedral and just staring at sculpture for a couple hours and how, you know, there were full, they chiseled out folds of fabric. And if, if you look at my work now, not that I, I, I put myself under a mic microscope for my own skill building, but if you look at fabric, the way I draw fabric now, it is completely informed by just hours of studying it in, in Roman sculpture. So it's like the, it's one of those aspects of my work now that I, I, I can, I can attribute to my, uh, specific experience. And sometimes you don't notice it or, or realize it until much, much later.
Sean 00:17:48 So I noticed that you just had a Wolverine mug, and I think that, you know, obviously you work in comics, you do a lot of illustrations and drawing, but you alluded to thinking about, you know, as a student, you were planning ahead, how do I put this b f A to use? And you thought about, I'm gonna go to California, and that's exactly what you did. You went out west. So how did you go about getting your first role outside of college as a grad in the arts? Can you walk us through what steps you took and, and what that first experience was? I
Don 00:18:18 Was young and the world seemed huge. So upon graduation, hitting the ground running and, and getting a move, getting a move on was an i important for my own, you know, experience. So I did that on the way to LA though, um, on the way to California, I stopped in Texas for three years. <laugh> Texas was a sort of a personal stop over. I was doing some self, you know, some self expiration there. But, uh, an animation studio, uh, in Texas actually took me on. So I, I had submitted my portfolio, just sort of throwing it out there and getting my feet wet in self-promotion. And Jackson Lau from Illusion Studio took me in and he took me under his wing. And admittedly, he, he had told me, I don't have anything for you yet. I don't know what I'm gonna do with you, but I, I see your work.
Don 00:19:04 And he really wanted to train me in animation. He really wanted me, he saw that I was exploring my own process, which is not what artists are usually blessed with. They don't, they're, they're not blessed with people who are like, well, I see that you're exploring something, or I see that you're doing something. They're usually looking for someone who understands exactly who they are. Right. Then was that luck? Was that more about process? I really don't know, but he took me in and he, he gave me a desk and he gave me the freedom that I was already familiar with from being part of the SCHREYER program. And I went with it. Three years later, they had shifted focus. I lost that job, but not the connection. So I'm eternally grateful to Jackson Lau for giving me that time and the skill building opportunity at, at which point I left Texas and continued moving out west.
Don 00:19:47 Unfortunately, I hit la the vibe was not for me, <laugh>, and I was still young, relatively speaking to who I am now. So I turned my U-Haul northbound and I went for San Francisco. I had never been to San Francisco. It was ex an exciting premise. I had my experience under my belt, and I had my dreams under my belt too. And, uh, I went with it. I went for it. I landed in Daily City, I passed the Silicon Valley Valley, landed in Daily City on a rainy night. And immediately the next day I hit the ground running with my, my portfolio to the gaming studios, the local, uh, creative studios. At which point I began to immediately realize that freelance work was probably going to be my model, the model that I was going to follow for at least the time being and up to this day. So I've been a freelance artist since I've moved to San Francisco. Picking and choosing which projects I believed in, or was passionate about, or worked for my sensibilities or current skillset. And also began using them to, to hone my certain skillset or explore new ones. So the control over my career is a huge aspect of why I chose and continue to do freelance work.
Sean 00:20:59 Yeah. I wanna dive into that a little bit more here. So obviously there's probably benefits to being in-house, like you were in that first role and a lot of benefits for freelance and obviously challenges to both. What in particular about being freelance did you find fit you better than being in-house? And how did you go about developing the business skills that you need to be a freelance artist that you may not have gotten in your art classes
Don 00:21:22 10 years ago if you didn't have graphic design or gaming, or a gaming degree? And this is just my personal experience, they weren't going to be looking at your portfolio again, from personal experience, I had a fine arts degree in drawing and painting that on paper for most of the industry, you know, creative industries out here at that time, it looks like you don't have a marketable skill. And again, I want to say that's from my personal experience. Okay. Um, my portfolio back then was a lot of oil painting, a lot of, uh, studies and sketches. My narrative craft hadn't been developed yet. My skills were still budding or still improving to a point where I, I knew that I could get that job using this portfolio. Since then, of course, the arts have exploded, and especially in this area. And back then I did, I didn't know about all these other things you can do or you can create.
Don 00:22:16 But since then, you know, the freelance world, the freelance artists has a lot of control over what they do. Back then, I thought if you were gonna be a freelance artist, you have full, you have full control over your time management, meaning you can do anything you want whenever you want. Uh, what I realize now is as a, as a freelance artist, not that you can work whenever you're always working, even when you're on, for example, I'm on the muni, I'm on the rail every day. I have my my iPad out. I, I actually do a lot of my spawn covers for Todd McFarland on the rail in the morning as I head into to my shop downtown, or as I used to. So for example, uh, your time management needs to be optimum for you to be able to do freelance work and have work-life balance, which is something you're constantly working on. So when I, when I thought about freelance and the freedom I had during the day, it was, it was seductive. I've tempered that, I've repositioned my perspective on that and, and I'm still working on it to this day. The second question, I forgot the second question. What was
Sean 00:23:10 It, I guess just generally how you, you know, there's a business aspect to it because you're your own oh, source of income there. So how did you go about, I don't wanna call it boring, but the necessary technical business side of setting rates and website building and other things to self market. How did you go about that side of being the freelance? 'cause obviously your portfolio peaks for itself, but you gotta get it in front of people and you gotta collect the check afterwards. Right.
Don 00:23:33 My parents are small business owners in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and in that, I already had a model for the hustle. You know, what it takes as a small business owner, you know, the self-sacrifice. And, uh, it was kind of not only modeled for me, but it was, it was ingrained in my, my work ethic at a young age, living in the most expensive city, perhaps I was told in the world, no, maybe that's not true. I hope that's not true. But, uh, living in San Francisco, as most people have heard, um, it can be difficult, but it doesn't need to, it doesn't need to be, uh, you find your opportunities here. But living in a very expensive city is a huge motivator for knowing how to self-promote, for knowing the business and to be a business owner here. Most of it is self-taught in terms of business license, business practices and things like that.
Don 00:24:19 And for me, it's not boring because learning how to do that revitalizes me. It keeps me a lifelong student. So that's an important part of being a freelance, uh, freelance. Anything really, you have to keep learning. You have to keep up on your game. There's no one above you telling you what to do or how to do it or paying for an education for you. You have to go seek it out. And you have to be not only self-aware, but aware of the people in your industry. Dare I say competitors or peers. Peers is better. Uh, you know, some people look at them as competitors. I definitely look at them as peers because what I do is very much community-based, but you look at them where they are, where they're going, their trajectories. Uh, you not only learn to align with them, but you also need to know your own voice.
Don 00:25:02 So marketing is not boring to me. Um, especially in the advent of social media. Instagram is my best free friend right now. Um, it's also my business partner and it's how I get most of my jobs. Someone just sort of stumbles onto my work on Instagram and dms me and says, can you do this? And sometimes admittedly, I will look at their project proposal and I'll think to myself, I don't know how to do that yet, but let's try. And now, at this point, I've gotten to the, to the point where people will come to me say that, and I'll, I'll actually tell them I've never done that before. That's exciting. Can we do that together? And they'll give me the trust knowing my portfolio is about process, it's about exploration, it's about risk taking, because a lot of my Instagram population is process work.
Don 00:25:50 It's not even finished work. It's showing my sketch to final process. And for some reason, people really like seeing that they like what, seeing what's under the hood. That's been a really big part of my education. I'm like, some people that's more exciting than seeing the, the finished product, how you get there, the, the journey it takes to get there. So, no, none of that administrative stuff is boring to me at all. It's, it's, it's another half of me that I've discovered. But I also get to talk to people I know through in my past and pick their brains and let them know how important they are and their, their skills are in what I do right now.
Sean 00:26:25 That's incredible. And, you know, you were talking about your voice, and I wanted if maybe we could pivot here. And this'll be interesting 'cause this is an audio only format. So, you know, do the best you can answering this question, and if there's resources you wanna direct people to, here's a chance to plug your sites. But how would you define your aesthetic? You mentioned that earlier, and how has that developed? Obviously you've continued to learn new skills, you've enhanced what you do since graduating, but how would you define that and how has it changed over time for those
Don 00:26:53 Of you in the art world, if I say things like layered color or watercolor or ink wash movement, lighting during this in the film or cinematic world, uh, movement and lighting, if you are in the performing arts world, or graphy, uh, dynamic, uh, dynamic movement. These are, these are the kinds of things I would use to describe my work. I try not to be static. I try to tell whole stories in a single image, if possible. My early education in aesthetic was actually comics. Jim Lee X-Men, uh, early Marvel work, early image work. I'm a, I'm a child of the nineties in terms of, you know, my fandoms and things like that. So, uh, Disney Afternoon, Fox Kids. Yeah. So, uh, as I said before, a lot of my work is also very much influenced by my time in Rome, uh, classical art Caravaggio, uh, the drama of Renaissance, Renaissance art. I play a lot. I do a lot of plays on old classics. I, I take, uh, current characters, even some of the characters i, I design now, I, I draw them in portrayals of, of old classic pieces just for my own fun. Uh, and that lends directly to the storytelling, uh, and comic world that I'm currently involved in. Uh, being able to tell a story through an image or a sequence of images is generally what I'm involved in. Now. You
Sean 00:28:13 Teed me up perfectly, so thank you for that. I wanted to ask, so there's a couple of different industries you've worked in and I wanted to start off first with comics. 'cause I think that's definitely a very prominent one in your portfolio. So what is it actually like working in comics and actually writing your own comics and graphic novels? It
Don 00:28:31 Is a grind and you're either a small independent publisher like myself or you are at the top of the industry. But that is a common denominator among everyone. Don't do this to get rich, do it because you love it. There are career opportunities in this industry. Uh, the starting artist narrative definitely needs to be broken. You can either work for a big, uh, big studio or create your own studio like, uh, me and my partners did here in San Francisco. I'm a, uh, co-founder of IH Studios, which is a small publishing company for original work. We used image model of creator owned work. In recent years, we've kind of put our publication on the shelf because we opened a print shop downtown. And unfortunately due to the pandemic, we had to close our doors to our brick and mortar and shift our focus back to self-publishing, which is a really exciting enterprise for us because it's something we know and love very, very dearly.
Don 00:29:26 So we have two anthologies that we published. We're going to continue publishing, and again, we're, we're a small publisher. We're a small press. I also have my own book through Scout comics called Rise, which is a personal expression. I write on top of all the art for it, which is the, you know, the biggest dream, but also can be a nightmare sometimes <laugh>, just because, you know, having to deal with myself as the boss and as the, as the workhorse. Sometimes I annoy myself very much. But I, I, I have full creative control over that book. And then I'm actually currently doing covers for Image comics, uh, Todd McFarland productions for the Spawn Books. So therefore four titles under that umbrella that I'm doing covers for currently most of what I just said there takes up all of my time if I'm not doing freelance work for cover work for independent writers and independent small press, as well as tabletop gaming.
Sean 00:30:17 Yeah, I wanted to ask about that one too. So you also, in addition to comics, work on board games and card games, and I imagine, you know, that industry ballooned in the 2010s. I, I am familiar with Catan, which is probably the more, one of the more mainstream ones, but I know there's so many more. Can you talk about how you found that work and how that differs from some of the other work that you do? Oh,
Don 00:30:40 Yeah. Uh, tabletop Gaming actually discovered me early in my time here in San Francisco. I was a part of a whole bunch of online groups. I just, I began self-promoting. As soon as I came to San Francisco, I threw up my work. It was all, you know, my, my finished work, and I'm using air quotes here because I, you know, now looking back at that work, I'm like, ah, maybe I need a little bit more, uh, a little bit more time. But, you know, back then I was, I was really, really proud of the work. And so I put it up and a lot of independent gaming, tabletop gaming organizations and studios, uh, tapped me to do their card art or their, their board art for their, for their games, which publish through, or they crowdfund and then they self-publish or they, they find a company to endorse them.
Don 00:31:21 So yeah, I've been doing a whole bunch of those, uh, a string of tabletop games through my early 2010s here in San Francisco. And I, I still do a couple of card assets here and there, but I have looked at, you know, wizards of the coast, you know, I sent them my, my portfolio and I probably will here in the coming year. Also always aspiring to, to do work for, for larger ip. But yeah, it's a, it's a ton of fun and you come across really passionate people and that, that in your early career is a huge fuel. When you are just getting out there, you align with people who are like, I really love this. I really think you can waken something up with this. And as long as artists, as long as you get paid for it, jump on it. Okay? So know your worth.
Don 00:32:04 Don't do it for exposure. That's bss. Don't do that. Okay. So make sure you get paid for your work. Begin understanding the value of your work so that you can keep going with it, because your, your passion for it is, is only one fuel. You have to pay the bills, you have to keep the lights on. But there are a lot of passionate people out there, and especially here in Silicon Valley, you've got a lot of people who have the day job, you know, at Google or whatever. But they also have, you know, they also geek out like the rest of us. And they have a passion project they want to do, and they can, they, they can fund the project. You should definitely use it as a playground for your
Sean 00:32:38 Work. And I noticed earlier you had talked about using Instagram and other kind of platforms like that to promote your work. So you're getting paid to design the project, but you can also use it along the way, put it out there kind of part along the way, the exposure piece. So I think that's really smart to double dip into that really good strategy that if you're looking to do something similar, perhaps even in like woodworking or, or some other kind of trade or art, then you can replicate that. And so we talked about board games, we talked about comics, but there's also a film and television, big part of California. I know Industrial Light Magic started in the San Francisco area or on the Star Wars films, which going back to your point about how things are made was a cool documentary on Disney Plus about that. It was really fascinating going behind the scenes. So much art goes into, especially anything in the fantasy, the action adventure spaces, whether it was the glass paintings back in the day, the c g I and the, and the other kind of art. Now costumes, so much of it is art that you consume. What is your experience like working on any kind of cinematic or TV projects
Don 00:33:40 In the, well, I had to sign a bunch of NDAs on some Yes.
Sean 00:33:43 Don't bring any NDAs, but tell us generally to your experiences without giving too many details. Oh, definitely.
Don 00:33:49 So the latest, and I, I, uh, since it's already been published, I worked with Addie Shankar on Guardians of Justice for Netflix. I did a lot of character work for his project there. He's in my generation, so he's very much a fanboy of all things nineties. And you'll see that in the work if, if you, if you watch it on Netflix. But he actually, he gave me a sandbox to play in and he's one of those people who are really passionate about his project and he's like, I want to see how, what you do with it. So he gave me his characters and he said, go play ma ma make it, uh, look the way you make things. Look, he, he really appreciated my, my worldview and my perspective and my skills. So I had a lot of freedom to play there with his characters.
Don 00:34:29 Not everyone is like that in the film industry. It is a collaborative process, you know, film, television, and entertainment industry. I'll, I'll just rope those all in together in the process. I've, I've worked with some people from Los Angeles and they are an interesting community. There are some people who want full creative control on what you do. So much so that yes, at the beginning they trust your work, but then they want it to turn into something that is theirs. And that's a really tough conflict that you, if, if you choose this industry, you will cut to come to terms with, and you'll have to figure out how you're gonna navigate that. But, you know, it could also be really, really exciting as long as you don't lose yourself in that process. Keep skill building, be a lifelong student of your craft. Go back to your basics, especially sequential art, storytelling.
Don 00:35:16 If you are in fine arts, learn the craft of storytelling and sequential art. I'm not saying comic books, but learn how to have a camera. Uh, we know how to do that, uh, from painting and still life. But you know, you've gotta be able to move that camera around, learn, learn, uh, figures in the round, learn lighting, learn emotional resonance, learn tone, uh, learn scope, learn a wide breadth of technique also among different tools. So right now I actually work digitally because working, you know, in entertainment industry, especially across all of California, you have to send things, uh, at lightning speed. So the last time I touched pencil to paper was probably, you know, I, I can't remember the last time I did that for a project. Usually I only get to do that on my own time. But definitely keep a relationship with your physical tools also, because that's going to help your, your digital process.
Sean 00:36:08 So this is not sponsored by Apple, but I'm assuming you use an iPad or something similar in, in the, the pencil. Is that, is that your current style?
Don 00:36:16 I use a 22 inch Wacom draw on the screen monitor with my home workstation. But I usually find myself with my Apple iPad pro and pencil, and you can take that anywhere and you open it and you go right away. So again, this isn't, not endorsing anything, but definitely learn procreate. It's great for you artists out there. If you haven't tried it, definitely try it. You might like it. That's my, that's my main workstation right now.
Sean 00:36:39 And that's not something I would've thought to ask because I'm not an artist. But I think that's really helpful to know that there's so many new technological tools that you can, I'm, I sound like completely, like I have no idea what I'm talking about 'cause I don't, but I appreciate you sharing <laugh> your insight on that. Well,
Don 00:36:53 I, I appreciate that. I, it's all self-taught using the tablet was self-taught. Now I think it's standard, um, in, in arts education, I, I'm not, I'm not really sure I should go ask my instructors again, but I, i, learning how to use the tablet in today's industry is, is really important regardless of your, regardless of your field in the fine arts.
Sean 00:37:12 Well, you heard that piece of advice there. Now we've talked a lot about industries. There's other things you don't get into, but what, in your network or other that you've seen, colleagues, family, friends, what are some other areas where students who were pursuing a fine arts degree can take that and put it to use as a career, taking
Don 00:37:31 Your arts degree? If you are in, I haven't heard the word, I haven't heard the expression graphic design in really in a long time. Usually it's UI or ux, especially here in Silicon Valley, if you already have aesthetic background, they definitely use you in those fields. Graphic design, web design, app design, things like that. It's, it's huge. I know that industrial design is also huge and, and architecture, if you know, you, you, you're in, in a, you're in a family or you have the mindset of, well, I can't go into fine arts or I love to draw, but I I I don't want to do, you know, entertainment industry. There are all these other fields that you could definitely go into, but they all use the same basics. They all use the same fundamentals. You have to draw every single day. You have to draw for you, that's important. You have to learn how to work with other people. That's also important. A lot of the best draftsmen that I know, a lot of the, the, the best artists that I really looked up to moved into architecture, specifically architecture and, uh, industrial design.
Sean 00:38:32 Yeah, excellent. I was immediately just thinking of like sketching out cars for Tesla or Toyota or Chevy or whoever. So, you know, so many places that you can put that to use and I'm sure there's other great artists that you can talk to out there for even additional insights beyond what the two of us can share today. Now you've mentioned some really good advice from freelancing to drawing every day, to learning how to use the digital tablets. If you've only been trained on pencil and paper. Are there any other skills that students should look at developing if they want to pursue careers in art regardless of its industrial design, entertainment or anything in between?
Don 00:39:05 I talked about becoming a student of business, and I don't mean that as a degree, I mean just, just learning business and, uh, you talked about it before Sean, about, um, you know, self-promotion and marketing and things like this. These are entire different disciplines that artists should develop the humility to not only understand, but also respect. So if you have it in your process to learn these disciplines, please do so. At least on a fundamental level. If you have the funding, you have the finances, hire the people that will do it right for you. And not, I, I know not everyone can do that, or not everyone has the time to do that, but it is a really important aspect of what we do as fine artists. The self-promotion piece, I am an introvert, but shaking hands, looking people in the eye and learning to have a conversation is really also another really big important aspect of what I do.
Don 00:39:55 Staying in touch with people, communication, and I'm not talking about texting and emailing, I'm talking about keeping up with people, which is so still something I big challenge with, you know, but maintaining the social skills to know how to listen, communicate, talk about your process. That's a big one that I, uh, walked away from, uh, the fine arts department with our community critiques, sitting together at the end of every semester, putting your work out there and basically going under the firing squad of your instructors. I remember that being a huge part of, of our process that we'd, we'd have weeks before the, the big critique for the fine arts department where all four of them would sit there along with all of your peers in the space that you, you, you do your nude studies, your paintings, your illustration every single day, and putting up your body of work and basically having them just look and speak about it is, is is really important.
Don 00:40:44 But also learning to talk about your process too. A lot of the pre-interviews I have with people who are looking to hire me, I look at those as opportunities to, to, to let them know about your humility, the things that they need to know. The things that they're probably curious about are things like, well, I don't know how to do this yet, or I'm really interested in this, or That's something I have trouble with, but I'm willing to try. Right? Those are important aspects of, of working with people. You can't just go in there, I'm talking as an artist, I mean, this isn't the way you would go into a, a, a normal job interview for, but as an artist, you have to have that humility because it's, it's really, really subjective. So you don't wanna surprise the person that you're working with by saying, oh, I'm awesome at this.
Don 00:41:30 I can really do this well, or I only do this, and then, then let, and then, um, halfway into the project, what they see is not what they were expecting. You want to be able to temper their expectations and always check in with them and keep lines of communication open so that they know what they're, they're getting with you as their artist, and know that they have to be open to be surprised by what you come up with and to expect that they have a dynamic conversation with you that's evolving until the process is over or until they say, that's it. That's that's the piece that I need. That's, that's what I wanted from you. Or surprise them, show them something completely different and have them be like, I had no idea that was possible and that, that is what you really want to go for, because that lights your fire inside as an artist.
Sean 00:42:12 You raised an interesting question here, Don, about the breadth and depth of the different disciplines because drawing and painting and watercolors, sculpture fabrics, all the different mediums that you can use in the different techniques. How do you balance and how would you recommend scholars balance becoming really good at something or being, or having exposure to lots of different types of forms and, and being able to build themselves as an expert versus a jack of all trades? What is your perspectives on that as somebody, again, I'm not an artist, so I may be completely off base with this, but I'd love your input here.
Don 00:42:46 No, that's a, that's a really great question actually. Um, the thing I quote a lot is, as an artist specifically, or re specifically regarding your technique or your aesthetic, the more perfect you try to be, the more perfect you have to be. And that was something that really stuck with me, uh, for a really long time. And I, I was a photoreal artist, or I tried to be a photoreal artist from the beginning. I'm like, okay, if I see a table, I have to be able to draw that table as it is. And for the longest time, that was in huge conflict with my, my early education reading and looking at comics because comics is a complete exaggeration of the real world. And having those two live in my head, especially as I was trying to figure out how to be an artist, it was a conflict that I couldn't reconcile for a really long time. So as I was, I was learning, doing projects for people, I was like, okay, how much can this be my style? And how much can this be the actual object that they're asking me to render? The question was about reconciling or trying to figure out, uh, what was it trying to figure out, can
Sean 00:43:46 You be good at a whole bunch of different things, whether it's painting or, you know, fashion design and sewing and fabrics and drawing, or do you approach it as being an expert at one particular medium? And how do you balance that? Well,
Don 00:44:02 As an artist, being an expert at one particular medium is important because, well, if you hit a block one day and you don't know what else to do, you gotta have your, you, you gotta keep your, your hands moving. So you have to go into an auto automatic mode where your, where your hand and your eyes and your mind are, are creating when you hit a block. So, for example, if I, if I don't know what to do that day, or if I'm having particular trouble with a project, I don't know how to approach that, I'll begin drawing. For example, the X-Men, I'll, I'll just start drawing them. 'cause that's, that's what I did in my childhood. Uh, that's what I, I have sort of, that's, that's an automation in my hand-eye coordination. That's an auto automation in my imagination to do. And I have fun doing it.
Don 00:44:44 I specialize in that sort of field in illustration. What informs my, my skill building is yes, I will go into other things. Like I will use tools in procreate that I've never used before, and that I don't particularly like because I'm like, I have to tell myself that exists for a reason and maybe for specific people. And I can't be afraid to use that tool to try something new, even though I absolutely hate it and, uh, it doesn't work for, for what I do right now. Later on I'll probably be like, oh, I have a catalog tool in my head that'll, that is specific for this solution and maybe I can use that. Now you went into things like fabric and, and textiles and things like that. Um, as a visual artist, it's always important to understand the world around you. I can't invent something that will resonate with people.
Don 00:45:32 I, I can't invent something on paper or the, the digital canvas that'll resonate with people if it's not grounded in the real world. So the way fabric is draped over a person, or the way it's draped over an object is a really important foundational skill to understand how that fabric moves or drapes over someone who's flying 300 feet in the air or is thrown through a wall. For example, if you can't do still life, you're not going to be able to understand how an object sits and how gravity affects it and how light hits it and how it, it shadows something else correctly, which then will hurt your audience. It will hurt your storytelling and it will hurt your opportunities in prospective employers who look at your work. They'll be like, they don't have a foundational understanding in these very simple things that will communicate to the layman. This person knows how to communicate the real world in invented and dynamic or evolved ways. Does that make sense? Uh, I hope it does.
Sean 00:46:29 Yeah, it absolutely does. No, that, that's really helpful. We're
Don 00:46:32 Also working on that all the time. So sometimes I will hate a piece and I'll never show it to the world because that shadow isn't working or that color isn't working, and I'll, I, I'll, I'll put it away and be ashamed of it. So that is an important part of the process too. Artists, um, you can't always be working on a masterpiece and do not be married to your artwork. We had one class where we worked weeks on something and we had to tear it up as a surprise at the end of the critique, we had to tear up the piece. And that's, uh, that's an exercise a lot of, a lot of, uh, art instructors do. It doesn't hit well with some students, but it is an important part of, of the process to be unmarried to your work, but to know the value in it.
Sean 00:47:11 That definitely sounds like probably one of the most important skills that you've talked about so far. And so a different one that I wanna talk about. 'cause you've mentioned, when we were emailing back and forth about setting this up that you had just been to, or coming back from one of the comic book conventions, what is it like to set up shop at something like Seattle Comic-Con or San Diego Comic-Con or one of these big festivals and have people coming up to you knowing your artwork?
Don 00:47:36 I hope the sur the surreal nature of it. Never, I, I don't think it'll ever go away to have someone come to a, a a, a shop that you set up for, just for that weekend, for, for you to really put yourself out there, for you to put a table between you and complete strangers who don't know your work or for people who come seeking you out. It is fire. It's, it's, it stokes the furnace, but it's also really humbling to have people pass by, take one, look at your work to make an evaluation of it and to keep walking. It used to be heartbreaking, but then I also had to come to terms with the fact that your work isn't for everyone. It's not going to be, please don't expect that, don't expect that to happen. If you work in this industry, you're always, also, always trying to hit as many audiences as possible.
Don 00:48:18 And, and appease as many people as possible because, you know, that's your income. But if you have a voice, say what you'll say loudly in the art form that you choose, and you will have an audience, you will have it, you will have it resonate with certain people. So yeah, there are people who come to the table who are like, that's amazing. And they'll ne they've never seen, they've ne probably never seen your work before, but they're like, oh, I really like that. It reminds me of this. Or, the color makes me feel this way. And to know that a personal choice of yours hits someone personally, it's everything that's, it's amazing. And to have someone experience or work that that way firsthand is really great. It's as great, if not greater for you if, uh, you know, prospective employers come up to your table and they're like, I need you for my project and to shake your hand right?
Don 00:49:01 That then and there, and that is an aspect of going to Comic-Con that is relatively new to me in the past, uh, couple years, even a little bit before or pre pandemic, the Comic-con system is a work weekend for me. What you'll see on social media, what I post, is a lot of fun things. It's a lot of, uh, great images about the great deal of fun that I have being there. But it is exhausting. It's grueling, it's humbling. It's a very balanced weekend of all of your processes firing at the same time. And all the things that I said, uh, your, your social skills, your, your professional skills, your communication skills, they all synchronize and they all, they're all happening at the same time at ComicCon. So when I went to San Diego ComicCon this time, it was my first time tabling at that event.
Don 00:49:44 My work with Todd McFarland and Spawn was definitely something they looked at to, uh, they, they evaluated to assess my eligibility for being on the floor. And I'm thankful for that. But it was also the first time I, I got to see a lot of the people I've built relationships with through Instagram and Facebook, people who have talked to me through those, uh, social media avenues and been like, I love your work. They asked me career questions like, how did you get to where you are? So, and, and I, I, that was one thing I never thought I would ever have to do, was mentor someone in my process to let them know, here's what I did. Uh, here's a pitfall you might expect. And, and sharing that experience with someone, um, with, with someone, either they're a 13 year old, you know, artist who's just starting out in, in, you know, their own little comic book who comes up to the table and says, I I, I, I follow you on Instagram, and I, I want to do this for a living.
Don 00:50:37 And I'm like, well, tell your parents real early, okay, that you love doing that. Maybe don't tell them that you're gonna do it for a living so early on in, in, in, in your education, but it is something you can do if you really, really wanted to and really worked hard doing. And then the last thing is Todd McFarland himself came up to my table, uh, in his busy Comic-con schedule. He came up to my table and shook my hand. And, uh, to, to know that one of your heroes and your current employer is there at the table to say, to give you a personal hello. And, and to, to give you a personal, uh, thank you for, for your work was, was humbling and amazing. And I was completely starstruck and of course stumbled over my words, I think. I think he came over and the first words that came outta my mouth were, oh my God, it's Todd McFarland. And I'm like, that was the smartest, most entertaining, most profound thing you can say at that moment. And I think he sort of chuckled and, and shook my hand. Yeah, the Comic-Con system is, is really great. It's a really great professional environment and a fantastic social environment to be immersed in.
Sean 00:51:35 Thank you for sharing about that. That's really fascinating to get the inside swoop, because it's one thing to go on YouTube and see the reactions from Hall H for different things, but to actually hear what it's like to be somebody who's an exhibitor at that is, is really cool. So I hope you listening appreciate that.
Don 00:51:51 And as I'm having those conversations, hall h will be booming with the sound. So I didn't have time to, to leave my booth, but I can, I can hear what's going on in there and it's always, it's always a great time to hear the, uh, the cheers from that, from that area of Comic-Con.
Sean 00:52:04 And hopefully there's a little part in the back going, oh, maybe that's some future employment opportunities, but depending on what they're announcing back there. Yeah. <laugh>.
Don 00:52:12 Oh, and another thing, um, a Comic-Con is a great place for pro professional development because they always have portfolio reviews. Now, can I give some advice here for those going into the comic profession or want to go into comics? When you go to Comic-Con and you take these, uh, you, you do these portfolio reviews, don't think of it like a job interview. You have to think of it like a skill building and professional development. Don't go in there thinking you're gonna hand them their, your portfolio and be offered your first, you know, cover job. That's not gonna be what they're there for. And as soon as they know that that's what you're there for, they're going to degage, they're, uh, to unengaged because they know you're already, you're not engaged in that, in that way already. You're not there to figure out your process or to get someone's feedback or to, to, you know, get someone else's perspective on your work.
Don 00:52:59 If you're there just to get a job, then you might as well not even get in line because, uh, you're gonna be very, very much disappointed by the portfolio process. Always, always be seeking out feedback for your work, even from haters. It's important to know, uh, what people don't like about your work. It's an important part of your process. You'll be able to weeded out the ones who are just like, oh, they, they, they hate everyone's work, you know? But if someone's like, well, they, they, I really don't like their anatomy. They don't really understand how the body moves. It's important to hear that. So you can really look at your work and say, why did it, why are they saying that maybe I should go back to nude study. Maybe I should go back to sitting somewhere public and drawing people do gestures, sketching, and things like that. You know, it's, uh, hearing both sides, both the pros and cons of your, of your strengths and weaknesses as an artist is really important skill building. And we're all sensitive. All of us artists are, are sensitive by nature. So it's, it's really hard to do that at the beginning, but when you really get going, take as much critique as you possibly can. So I
Sean 00:53:58 Wanted to call back to the beginning of our conversation. So you had mentioned, in addition to all of the visual arts that you do, you also are engaged in both the martial arts and performing arts, especially in your community as a Filipino American. Can you talk a little bit more, you alluded to some of the stuff you're doing, but can you tell us just a little bit more about how you operate as a professional in these spaces using what you learned from the different clubs you were a part of here at University Park? So I'd be very curious to just hear how your experience as a primarily visual artist impacts your work in those very physical arts of martial arts and performing arts. Thank
Don 00:54:32 You for your curiosity in those. Uh, I, I spent a lot of time with those two things. They almost feel like a second and third job. It's, it's not, but they're not really jobs. They're, you know, they're, they're what I do. They're what I'm very, very passionate about. The word art is in all of those, the, the fact that I, I approach all of those, all of these endeavors, including my freelance work with the idea of an aesthetic within idea about form and function. It's, it's an important part of my approach, and it's something that I use as a sort of a cross disciplinary thread. When I'm doing martial arts, for example, I, it's, it's not just about kicking and punching. It's about, it's about shape. It's about, uh, space, it's about awareness. It's about poise and structure. You know, I bring that kind of language into my instruction in martial arts and, you know, I, I see that some of my students, it really resonates with some students because some of them want to go into dance and fine arts, and some of them already are involved in the arts.
Don 00:55:32 So when I talk about musicality, for example, and rhythm and this kind of thing, they'll understand it better than if I said, okay, move your right foot forward and then punch towards the solar plexus. Like sometimes the language of the arts really helps ground your understanding in other disciplines. Yeah. So, and, and then in performing arts, there are a couple intersections there. On a cultural level, I get to celebrate the parts about my culture. I don't know, because the Philippines is an archipelago over 7,000 islands, and each of the communities in there have a very specific way of life that informs their textiles, their attire, their movement with paral. Here in San Francisco, our artistic director, Eric Solano, he actually makes annual trips to the Philippines to visit these different IP in cer in, in, in circuit, and be able to not only purchase their attires and their instruments to send back here so that we can study them here, but to also advocate for them on a global stage.
Don 00:56:33 That really stokes my inner furnace also, because I get to learn about my culture and about cultures. I never lived as specifically a northern Ilocano who lived in Manila at a young age. So the, of the, of the two of the many cultures that I am a part of, I'm also learning about, but I'm also learning about the south, the Middle Islands, things like that. And it's, it's, it's, it astounding how much I don't know about my own culture as an immigrant in the United States, or as a, a naturalized immigrant in the United States. So it's a constant cultural education. But on top of that, I get to use everything, all of the movement that I see in martial arts and dance, I get to bring into my storytelling in freelance. So there is this, within that triangle of, of activity, I get to inform any one of the other two, uh, with what I'm currently doing. I'm never, I, I, I'm never bored and I'm not, I'm not bragging about that. I, I never liked being bored. So if I put one thing on the shelf, I'm gonna move to the next thing and keep moving that way. So that's sort of my balancing act that I'm still working
Sean 00:57:41 On. And I wanna ask one last question before we go into the wrap up section here. And this is mostly just from my own ignorance of my background, but what should I have asked about in the arts that would be helpful for scholars who are prospective professional artists that I didn't ask about? Just from not knowing what I don't know. It
Don 00:57:58 Goes back to your expectations on your projected profession. You have heroes, you have examples, especially in a field that's not generally considered to be lucrative or generally considered to be prestigious. What we fall back on is, okay, who are the people that are going to understand us or inform our process? It's gonna be our heroes. I, I can name off the top of my head, all the people I looked at as, as a kid growing up, being like, I want to draw like that person. I want my stuff to look like that person. It's most important that in your development and growing up and graduating and going through your education as an artist to separate yourselves from those heroes. I hate the expression saturated market or the expression, there are no new ideas. There is an element of truth in both those things, but if you are anchored to those two things, you'll, you can't develop and you will have a prospective market.
Don 00:58:56 You're going to hinder your voi, your own voice, and you're not gonna stand out. So separate yourself from, from your heroes, because they're human. And if you draw or make art just like them, you're not going to be able to say anything new. But I think some people who have seen my art, they're like, oh, this looks like such and such, and this looks like such and such. But to know that different people can see my heroes in my work at different times and in in different ways is a really important homage to how I had or how they educated me. But it's important that they see the distinction between my work and theirs, and that there is a different value to my work. Uh, I think that that was a, that was a big, that was a big lesson for me. And a lot of it goes back to foundation again.
Don 00:59:41 Foundation is our, is our, is our common ground. If you don't know your style yet, don't try and go inventing your style. Go back to your foundation, draw the cube all over again. Now take the cube and spin it. Draw it in three quarter now. Put the cube away, close your eyes. Draw the cube. You know, your, your style will come from you. Your style can't come from another person, but it has to be grounded in the real world. I guess this is moving sort of into the advice section, but it, it's definitely grounded in, in my experience and some pitfalls that I went through.
Sean 01:00:15 No, and I think that's great. 'cause that is setting up this last chunk of kind of the wrap up questions that I ask everybody. Yeah. Uh, regardless of what you are doing for a living, whether you're an attorney or a comic book artist or a physician, or anything in between. So Don, here's your chance to brag a little bit. What would you say is your biggest success to date? My
Don 01:00:33 Biggest success to date is to have my own creator owned comic book published on a national stage. Actually, I, I think a global stage. Uh, my comics were distributed in Europe and Australia also. So Scout comics took me on in 2017, I believe. 2017, yeah, 2017. My creator owned Work Rise is my own book. It's my own labor of love. It's my own therapy at its current state. It's a six issue outing comic book that I, I wrote and did the art for. It was something that I never thought would ever happen, that I can go into my local comic shop, the comic swap, I don't know if you've been there. You have, uh, other, other people who have been there, uh, over, um, in State College, Pennsylvania, that people have gone to Comic Swap over there and taken my book off the shelf and been like, Hey, I, I saw it. It's here. I, I found it. That's a, that's a dream of mine growing up. I to have my own work on that shelf. And another big success is to work for one of my, one of my heroes, uh, Todd McFarland, to do cover work for him. And we're gonna keep it going. I, I have a bigger, big dreams coming up that I, I'm gonna hit the ground running here in the fall, um, moving into the winter, but stay tuned for that.
Sean 01:01:51 Cannot wait to hear what those are. As I edit this episode, you're gonna be in the fall semester, you're gonna be hustling and working on those. So I'm excited to see what comes of that. But I do always ask, kind of on the flip side from the bragging part, what would you say is your biggest transformational learning moment or mistake that you've made and what you took from that experience? It
Don 01:02:08 Sort of flip sides of a coin, especially being in the arts. When you're first starting to find work, you do work for two reasons. If you don't know your voice yet, or you're not, you're not known for your work, you do a job because you need the money, or you do a job because you need the exposure. And if someone's offering you work and you don't believe in the commissioner or what they're doing, you think it's morally or ethically wrong. You think it's, uh, irresponsible. You, you think that your own values don't align with that project, but they are offering money for it. You gotta understand the consequences of doing that kind of work. It's soul sucking. Uh, later on, you might be known for that work. It might anchor you to, uh, a sensibility or a philosophy that you don't wanna be associated with.
Don 01:02:55 And that happened for a little bit of time in my early career where, oh, I, I really shouldn't have done that job, but, you know, I, I learned from that experience. And they weren't, they weren't great people. There are some people out there who aren't that great, who have a lot of money and want you to take your skillset and, and funnel it into their work. You've just gotta be really careful about working with the right people. The flip side is that I went through was, uh, for, for a long time, especially when you're trying to get your work out there, is doing a job for exposure. Someone promises, you split profits later on after you've done the work. And at the, the mercy of the market, that just means that you're not promised income. You're going to be promised 50 50 of something that may never come.
Don 01:03:37 So be careful when doing that. In both those avenues, there's a spectrum of opportunities that you could be open to. Maybe someone has, uh, something that maybe someone comes to you with something and you don't believe in their philosophy, but there's a way you can have a conversation about it and that they could be open to yours, or that you can come to a compromise. And that goes, that goes good with the exposure too. There's, there's a compromise that can be made. But if you work in either of those two avenues, if something comes to your desk in either of those ways and the person you're working with is uncompromising, you need to, you need to learn to walk away from that opportunity no matter how desperate you are for it. And that's a huge lesson I had to learn several times. And, you know, you still learn every now and then, but less and less as you move into your, into your career, hopefully.
Sean 01:04:22 Thank you for sharing that. And that definitely ties into our bedrock of ethical education here in the college. And speaking of education, a great source of education typically is your mentors. And you've alluded to this a little bit, that you're starting to find yourself in a place where you're mentoring up and coming artists yourself. So how do you approach being mentored as an artist and also being a mentor to other artists?
Don 01:04:41 Being mentored by other artists sometimes doesn't involve you asking them and them saying, I'll mentor you in this field. What I've come to find is that a constant conversation with people you look up to becomes inherently a mentorship. So later on in the conversation, I'm like, thank you for mentoring me. And sometimes they, they look at me and they're like, I, I didn't know such thing. Like I, I, I wasn't your mentor. And I'm like, you've, you've helped my, my career education. I, I really appreciate it. So it's sort of an organic process with people you look up to. As long as you open lines of communication, especially now in social media, you can approach people you whose work you love directly and maybe be lucky enough they'll continue the conversation or they'll reply back firstly and maybe even continue the conversation with you. And, um, as long as you're genuine and as long as you are humble and curious, you usually find that your heroes are willing to talk about their work and your work in context with that.
Don 01:05:40 And that you'll learn a lot of things just from conversation with mentoring other students, a lot of them are younger and younger these days. A lot of them are high school students who just want to know, oh, what tools do you use? Or, I really want to start talking to my parents about doing this for a living. And that's all very sensitive, uh, a sensitive topic. But I'm glad that they have the freedom now to, to reach out for, for help in foundational things, like just talking about doing art for a living. And that's great. And I think I, I think schools nowadays, especially urban environments or schools that, that have wider opportunities, they're opening up the arts for industry a lot more. And I think more up and coming parents now are sort of our in, in our generation and have a little, uh, a little wider appreciation for what the arts can bring to, to other, other industries.
Sean 01:06:30 And I wanted to ask, are there any professors or friends from your days back here on campus that you wanted to give a quick shout out to?
Don 01:06:38 Absolutely. Um, my thesis advisor and mentor, uh, was, uh, Dr. Susan Strom, who actually is a chief instructor in my martial art. I've known her since I was 13 years old. And when I went to Penn State, she was a professor there. She became my, uh, thesis advisor also there. Most of the freedom I have in what I do, uh, I I I have because she has always believed in me and she always encouraged me to follow my passions. And, uh, she continues to do so to this day. So big shout out to her for being that in my life. Amy Mash was one of my peers in the honors college as well as fine arts. And in Rome, I learned a lot just from looking over her shoulder. We do that in the art community all the time, looking at each other's work and learning from each other just through process.
Don 01:07:22 My freshman year roommate and high school friend, Joey Summer, who took that art class with me freshman year, he was in computer science, and I, I was in pre-med, but, uh, we took that art class together, had a great time. He has always encouraged me to, uh, follow art even when I, I was unsure about it. Uh, and then he was in here in San Francisco working for Zynga when I first arrived here. So he, we, we had a lot of intersections growing up, but he's helped me in, in my professional process here and there all along.
Sean 01:07:52 I sort of already asked this, but you know, I always ask our, our guests on here, if there's one final piece of advice just generally for students that you wanted to share that didn't come up in the questions that I asked throughout our conversation. Uh,
Don 01:08:04 Piece of advice. And I think I've, I've been talking about it here and there in our field. You know, seeking higher degrees is probably, you know, unless you're gonna go into, into higher education, is probably not what you want to go for. You want to keep drawing you, you want to keep your craft going. You have to keep up with technology. Um, and you have to keep conversation going. You can't sustain the same style and skill your entire career because you're going to get lost in the shuffle and people are going to move way past you very, very fast. Drawing every day is a big part of that. And drawing every, everything, especially the things you either hate to draw or don't know how to draw, are some of the most important processes you have to go through as an industry artist. So, uh, be, be a lifelong student and being a, an honor, uh, student of the Honors College teaches you how to be that. Just know that once you, you know, you, you hit the gong and you, you graduate, you cannot stop being that. You can't stop being that. And, um, Todd McFarland told me at Comic-Con, he's, he's like, I like working with you, with you younger folks because you, you're always hungry, you're all hungry. And to be always hungry, like he says, is a really important aspect of what we do. Um, if you're not hungry anymore, you, you really need to move to another industry, uh, because that's, that's, that's your drive.
Sean 01:09:24 And you've talked about your Instagram, you have portfolios and e shops. How can a scholar connect with you or view your artwork if they wanted to take this conversation a bit further, if they wanna check out your work, where can they find that as well?
Don 01:09:37 Uh, my, my work through Twitter, Facebook, and, um, Instagram are all the same. My handle is Art of Don a Gilio, A G ui, L l o. My Studio IH Studios is, uh, IH Studios or in hiatus studios.com, which is currently under construction because we're pivoting back to publication, but we're hitting the ground running, starting 2023. But through any, any of the social media avenues, you can go ahead and, uh, message me. I always love having conversations through there. Uh, uh, especially with those of you budding artists. I love working at, at, at people's work, giving critiques, getting critiques is great too. Uh, I love, uh, hearing feedback about, uh, what you see is going on with my work and how I can improve.
Sean 01:10:22 Excellent. And finally, as this tradition here on following the gong, if you were a flavor of Burkee Creamery ice cream, Dawn not your favorite, but which would you be? And most importantly, why would you be that flavor? Why
Don 01:10:35 Would I be that flavor? Uh, W P S X Coffee Break, that's still a flavor, right? Yep.
Sean 01:10:39 W P S U Coffee Break is still a flavor, and it is one of the more popular answers on the show, believe it or not.
Don 01:10:45 Is it? Okay, good. Uh, <laugh>, I'm, uh, full of energy. I'm a brown boy. It was one of my favorite, uh, it was one of my favorite flavors too, but I think I, uh, I make people feel good, so I, I'll that's what I'll go with <laugh>.
Sean 01:10:59 That is a great reason. Well, Don, thank you so much for coming on Following The Gone. We had a really robust conversation. I learned a lot. I hope you listening did as well about art, the business side of art, and how to actually, you know, not be a starving artist because we're gonna kill that narrative. And we also talked about being a resident assistant. So if that's something of interest to you as well, that's a great opportunity you can check out. I highly encourage you to connect with Don View his artwork if you haven't, through the course of listening to this. Don, thank you so much for joining us here today on Following the Gong. Thanks
Don 01:11:31 For having me. Appreciate it.
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