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15 December 2010 @ 10:49 am
Serious Critique  
I received an intense two screen long message sent to me last night from someone who wants to work at the UDON studio. I thought about sending back a typical "we're not looking for anyone right now" response but that didn't feel right based on the length of their message and expectations.

I wrote this all up and figured I'd repost it here because it's advice quite a few applicants and students could stand to hear:


You obviously spent some serious time typing this all up. I appreciate that you are driven and are working hard to build your portfolio and contacts.

You are correct that we receive dozens and dozens of portfolio submissions from people of varying skill levels. You’ve asked for serious feedback/advice so I’m not going to pull any punches. Instead I'll just tell you straight about some industry stuff you may not know and my thoughts on your work at this time.

UDON is not hiring. Not just because the portfolios sent to us aren’t good, the majority are very weak, but also because we're at a point where we have more than enough artists on hand to take care of the work that comes in. I have some artists who I’d love to give more work to that I can’t keep employed full time because there aren’t enough projects coming in and out to keep them busy that whole time. These are people who have stellar quality, great work ethic and deliver on time.

We keep our core crew as busy as possible and then, beyond that, we have another tier of artists who I send freelance work to when the main gang is overwhelmed or we need a specific style. That’s it. There’s no point in us bringing on even more people if we can’t keep them employed. No matter what else I say about your work, the reality of that situation doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

Your artwork is not as good as you think it is.

I know that’s incredibly hard to hear. Like many portfolios I look at, you are focused almost entirely on drawing cool characters and pin-ups instead of rounding out your skills with strong storytelling and more variety.

Your background/environmental drawing is a glaring weakness. Many of your pages lack a solid sense of perspective and, even when it is there, it looks rushed, sloppy and is clearly not something you enjoy or spend time with. Even when your character work looks professional, the environments they’re placed in usually look quite amateur in comparison.

I think your figure drawing is focused on a singular semi-cartoony comic style that is hurting your ability to get work. It’s too cartoony for most publishers but isn’t confidently stylized enough for them to appreciate either. It's not 'American' comic style and it's not anime, which is a really hard sell in this market. Instead of having a solid understanding of drawing the figure from life and then building a style on that base, your work looks like a copy of a copy of other artists who understand the figure and solid form more fully. Your work doesn’t have the finish of Mark Brooks, Joe Madureira or Humberto Ramos, just some similar stylistic aspects that are under developed and derivative. Simple line work can be elegant and look great, but it has to be built off of core drawing basics you’re not showing. It’s all frosting without any cake.

Your sequential pages lack adequate space for word balloons and sound effects, leaving them feeling claustrophobic. Almost every panel jams the characters in to them as large as possible because that’s all you seem to want to draw.

Your colours hurt the majority of the pieces you’ve put together. The light sources are unclear, the colour choices are garishly saturated and the majority of rendering and effects you have look like they’re all done with a soft airbrush tool regardless of what the surface is or particular lighting conditions are. You are lacking an understanding of basic colour theory – what colours get used together and why. Your colours, by and large, are very weak compared to what we expect from our artists.

Your work doesn’t look like anything being published by UDON. Look carefully at the work in our gallery. You’re a fan of our books so you must realize that stylistically your work doesn’t fit with typical Capcom products or what we do. If that’s not clear then you need to be much more careful in your analysis. Yes, there is a range of stuff we do but, within that range, there is a look that people have come to recognize as UDON. Your artwork doesn’t exhibit that.

Even if you submitted a pin-up for the upcoming Tribute book, there’s no guarantee you’d even get in, let alone grab our attention enough for us to think about asking you to submit other work for the company, if we were looking for new people, which unfortunately we’re not. Your assumption that the Tribute book is not a good way to showcase your skills to us is mistaken. Even in one quality pin-up it’s easy to tell if someone has a solid understanding of the basics and if their gallery is worth digging in to further.

Your message is not professional. Attitude-wise it’s a bad idea to talk about how other people who are doing the work you want to do are weaker than yourself. Even if that’s how you feel, all it does is leave a really bad impression that you’re cocky and going to be a pain in the ass to work with. Do I think there’s published work out there that looks like crap? Absolutely, but I try to keep my mouth shut and focus on making sure my own work, and the work of our studio, is as strong as possible.

You have no idea what each of those artists that you think suck have done to get where they are. Was it their contacts? Maybe, but it could be all sorts of other things and maybe they’ve pitched in to help when shit hit the fan and they’re working their butt off to get better just like you are. Assuming that you’re superior or that a lucky break is all you need is the wrong attitude.

You stressed that you were sending a very serious e-mail and, in turn, I’m giving you a serious response. From the standards we look for in artists you are not ready and, even if you were, we are not looking for more artists to add to our roster.

I know reading the above must feel like a punch to the gut. I really do. When I left college I sent a few desperate e-mails out to professionals asking for critique/help and any replies I got back slammed my work because I had an inflated sense of where my skills were at. Even now, I am fully aware that my strengths lie more with organizing and managing projects over doing artwork day in and day out. That’s reality.

I don’t know you. I know the above critique may feel like a personal judgment on you, but it’s not. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person who wants this more than anything else. Just remember that it’s the same for every person who brings their portfolio up to us at a con or sends a submission e-mail. Maybe it will all click within a year and you’ll be rocking your way in to big name comics and can tell me to screw off when you see me in person. Maybe you’ll take the above as the final straw and give up drawing. I’m not here to tell you what you can be or where you will be, just what I see right now and the work currently in your gallery.

In any case I honestly bear you no malice and wish you all the best with your creative pursuits. I mean that.



This isn't the first time I've done this kind of critique... check out these older posts:

How to Really Break In to Comics:

Everyone's Got Ideas:

Portfolio Desperation:

Convention Advice:
C. Brian Hickeyfionn_mac_lir on December 15th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
Not a damn thing wrong with that.
Pave Kiddyloftwyr on December 15th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's excellent. I hope, if you send it, that s/he hears it and takes it as honest critique. That kind of feedback should be what propels him/her into a dedicated study of the artwork and improve.

Or piss them off so that they slag you to all their friends ;)
soggytoast on December 15th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
These always just make me intensely curious to see the work!
Alainndgmtlcd on December 16th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
Me too! I was totally consumed with curiosity while reading. But there's no chance I'll ever see this very private submission so I quenched my burning desire by going over to Deviantart and trying to find new stuff by Udon artists instead. I think I'll end up buying Vent next time I go to TCAF.
robin_d_laws: Hmmrobin_d_laws on December 15th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
Do you think there's something about the visual brain that prompts young artists to overestimate the quality of their own work? Every field has its cocky beginners but it seems like the portfolio crowd is especially prone to this kind of self-defeating premature approach.
zubkavichzubkavich on December 15th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
I think it's a case where artists look at some of the weakest work in the field and say "my work is better than this crap" instead of realizing that their aspiration should be to compare/contrast their work against some of the best.

They assume that editors and art directors are shedding their worst the minute someone 'better' comes along, but that's juts not the case. Personal connections, reliability, deadlines pressures... all these things are factors.

There will always be crappy work being produced. Setting a bar just above that shouldn't be the goal and won't turn art directors/editors that applicant's way.
GrinningSkullgrinningskull on December 15th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
This doesn't just apply to the art/comic world. I think that young artists of all stripes do this. your advice is good for many different disciplines.
Nick Mamatasnihilistic_kid on December 16th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Beginning writers are often the same exact way.
Saul Goodenonagon on December 15th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
Man that is real solid stuff. I hope whoever got that takes an earnest effort to improve based off that feedback, because it's really pretty good and thorough. It's funny to see how pervasive the attitude of "I'm way better than that professional guy who gets paid for this" really is.
.hirovox on December 15th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
"Bear", not "bare" ;)
zubkavichzubkavich on December 15th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Zee bear has been fixed... barely. ;)
.hirovox on December 15th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
lol! Excellent :)
Howard Taylerhowardtayler on December 15th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
Well written, excellent advice.

And even without looking at the line-art in question, I could tell that you might as well have been talking about me. OH GEEZ DID I ACCIDENTALLY SEND JIM A PORTFOLIO?

(Seriously -- the problems you called out were problems I know I have. Fortunately, I have work where I can get away with it.)

zubkavichzubkavich on December 15th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
I would never give out that kind of critique unbidden, Howard.

The artwork you create for Schlock Mercenary is focused purely on your own product, its growth/evolution at your own rate and isn't beholden to anyone but you and your readers.

It's an ideal pursuit for what you're doing and, to top it off, your writing blazes past any artistic shortcomings. You've never claimed it to be anything other than what it is, which is as honest as any personal creative project should be.
Howard Taylerhowardtayler on December 15th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Oh I know. I was just pointing out that the things you're telling this artist are things I've told myself. And because I'm getting paid to do what I do removes some of the impetus to improve.

But I'm working on it :-)
brunorubio: godyesharderbrunorubio on December 15th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
zubkavichzubkavich on December 15th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
The flash on the teeth is the topper, baby.
_dante_sparda_: Iori + DDR = nerdrage_dante_sparda_ on December 15th, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
This is an incredible response and I sincerely believe more of your would-be applicants need to hear something like this. I know you probably would do that if you had the time and sanity to. Ah, for more hours in the day, right? ;)
zubkavichzubkavich on December 17th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it would be fantastic if people could get one-on-one critique all the time to help them understand where the gaps are in their work and improve upon them. It's one of the most valuable parts about attending art school.
starinthegutter: Ginger Holidaystarinthegutter on December 15th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
I was directed to your post here, and I gotta say, nicely done. You maintained professionalism, but still stuck it to the applicant. They have to realize it's a tough line of work to get into, and that they need to step outside their comfort zone in order to be really successful in art. Bravo. :)
zubkavichzubkavich on December 17th, 2010 12:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm not normally so blunt but the applicant was very insistent that their work was professional and I wanted to cut through that as best I could to help show them they still had a ways to go.
tonosamanjuu: ヒガシin MAKOTOannachuu on December 16th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
I found a link to your post and I really found your reply very insightful and helpful =) And great job on maintaining a professional tone on the reply, I learnt a lot just from this one post.
epluseplus on December 16th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
That was amazing. Reminded me of the "fuck you" letter I got back from Insomniac Games in '04 after sending them my resume, samples & animation reel... only, I didn't send them a lengthy email/letter shitting on anyone and they kind of just ripped me to shreds anyway haha.

Trust me, this is what this person needed to hear.
erikochanerikochan on December 17th, 2010 07:58 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing! It reminds me a bit of "Hawthorne on Painting" in that it is a critique for a specific work, but the advice can be applied to many works at many levels.
Soan: Zoe Malice is Stylishsoan on December 17th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
"...you are focused almost entirely on drawing cool characters and pin-ups instead of rounding out your skills with strong storytelling and more variety."

I love this quote.
Robert PincombeRobert Pincombe on December 17th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
Well said!
Some may call this harsh. But I call it straight shooting honesty. Anyone thinking seriously about making a career in comics should take this advice to heart and do a serious gut and attitude check. There's a huge gap between the entitlement of a wannabe to the dedication of a professional. The jump from one side to the other is the hardest for young creators to make.
Jensight on December 18th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
My friend sent me a link to this post, and I want to say that this is a harsh critique but genuine and honest. Thumbs up!
rag3d3mon on December 19th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
Well Written, But...
I meant to comment on this before once I saw the link to this retweeted thru someones Twitter.It was WELL written. But the fact that no one decided to point out the following was kind of surprising.

I’m not sure what the artist said in particular in his/her cover letter to spark such a critique, but I sense something a bit more in your response than just shooting for straight honesty or motivation. I wouldn’t have made this assumption until I saw something you posted in relation to this critique on your twitter- where you tweeted that you “crushed this kids soul“ and another that followed saying “I just Kwanza’d this kid back to Hanukkah Town” Now THAT was harsh and I’m surprised (and somewhat not surprised) no one pointed it out here.

Granted there is no evidence of the work, it leaves me to wonder if it was THAT bad, or pretty much un-salvageable, but I think it’s best it remains a mystery… which in fact was professional on your end to not reveal. You said this person was apparently driven and working on building contacts”… but your response to their work seemed like an opportunity for you to “crush” any attempts that could be made after. And the tweet you posted mocking this entry only confirmed my speculation somewhat. It came off really cocky and unprofessional. Which in turn, is something you stated this person exhibited in their message as well. It paints not only a cocky image of you, but the company as well, almost as if you were getting off on it all, more so than just trying to help.

Its obvious people appreciate an honest opinion, but there are more professional ways to go about it after reading your other critiques here. Not saying this wasn’t 100% professional given the fact I’m only going off these words. But if the person handled themselves unprofessional in the message, or the work was bad - companies and their reps are supposed to set a good example and show professionalism back regardless, and not poke fun at it online. It’s almost as good as pouring salt on an open wound if they happened to see it.

I just hope whomever was on the receiving end doesn’t stop giving up on becoming a better artist after the fact, because I do see a few would-be good pointers given to them from your end. But I am a Udon follower, and I’ll honestly admit that I am a bit disappointed at how this latest critique was handled. I may get chewed out by the people following this entry but……like you, I am just being honest.
zubkavichzubkavich on December 19th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Well Written, But...
Hey Rag,

I appreciate your honest thoughts on this. I know the "soul crush" stuff can come across biting/sarcastic, but I assure you that the critique I gave was well meaning and not some way for me to amuse myself or come across as a big shot. After looking at literally hundreds of portfolios it can make me a bit jaded at times (hence the " soul crush" comment and follow-up to my friends over Twitter) but the act of critiquing and thoughts I put across in the message to the applicant I take quite seriously.

I wouldn't normally be so harsh and pointed in my criticism. This artist was extremely insistent that they were illustrating at a professional level and the only thing holding them back was a company giving them their shot. They explained very bluntly that we get tons of crappy portfolios and that they would not waste our time with more crap. They also stated that other professional artists were worse than they were and couldn't understand why they hadn't been hired. Their message was long and involved. This was someone I felt could use a bit of hard reality to help them see where flaws still remained in their work.

The last two paragraphs where I explain that I sent e-mails out to professionals when I left college and that I bear the person no malice is genuine and heartfelt.

If you're 100% convinced I'm a jerk, I know I probably can't talk you out of it, but I will agree to disagree.

All the best to you and yours over the holidays.
Jeff Grit: Blue Beetle!Jaime - Uh Hi Everyonekihanna on December 22nd, 2010 06:27 am (UTC)
This is incredibly inspirational. ♥