August 2017 Earnings – let’s look at a month of misery!

Summary: personal post about $$. I thought August would become my highest earning month, but after a series of misevents, I only got +$631,26. Ouch! 

Life happens. Keep drawing. Make sure to have some cash buffer. 

Reading time: 4 minutes of personal blog blahblah. 🙂

Rejected sketch for Aviary Games, Alchemy!


August was… interesting. I got some bad luck, gave away a bunch of discounts and the biggest invoice out there doesn’t have to be paid for another four months. I’m sure you’ve heard about the ups and downs of freelancing. My August earnings make for a good example of that!

Is this turning into a “doom and gloom” blog yet? I’ll make sure to be more positive in the next post 😉

First of all, I only had ~65 hours of pen to paper this month. Nope, that’s not the hours per week, that’s all the hours for all of August… of personal drawings and work combined.

1. Personal life getting in the way of drawing

What happened? Personal injuries! The main one is a shoulder dislocation (…again).

I’ve got a very crappy shoulder, messed up by a doctor back in 2008. So I sat down to draw, stretched my arms and my shoulder popped out. After getting it back in, I passed out for an hour and then went to get ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is unintentionally becoming my staple food! The pain and reduced mobility lasted a while.

I’ve also hurt some other body parts but technically only the shoulder held me back from drawing. Except for the coffee maybe, because I had to clean the floor, desk, electronics, chair, etc. Guys, I managed to get second degree burns from spilling coffee. Who the heck does that?

Then we had lots of moving around – long story short, no US green card so I hopped back to Belgium. I heard something about the president not liking illegal immigrants? It being tourist season and me not booking beforehand, I had to switch locations often. For September, I’m skipping that hassle and am staying at my parents’ place.

Lastly, I also had 10 days scheduled as vacation time because I hadn’t seen my husband in 3 months 🙂 More bad luck: flight delays! Lost luggage! Both of those took a good chunk of my time. Here’s me drawing while queuing:

With grumpy ladies driving their cart in your back and no power nearby, 10 minute sketches take a whole lot longer…

Now this is important: I also procrastinated. I can give an array of excuses – tired from juggling the moving around and physical injuries, burned out from trying to start a second business and commodity trading, … But it’s simple: I have procrastinated. Just like you, I have 100% control over my actions and sometimes I choose to browse the interwebs or play WoW.

Life happens. Keep drawing.

So that’s it for my personal side.

2. Clients getting in the way of other clients

Now onto the client side.

At the beginning of August, I thought this would be  my best earning month! What’s the end result? About $600 arrived in my bank account. To be fair, there are still 2 unpaid invoices for a total of €1.646,64 ($1.953,66). I only look at money that’s been paid already, because you never know what’s gonna come in between you and those unpaid invoices. You can agree or disagree, but I don’t have that money so I won’t count it as earnings.

August started with 6 projects lined up, spanning until the month of October. First of all, the biggest project (5 figures!!) got cancelled and postponed to January. A different project moved it’s deadline from September to early August, so I had to push back the others.

With everything under control again and me at the airport ready for a 10-day leave, a client replied to me: “What about the other drawings from the document?”.

What document? Uh-oh.

Turned out I had another 42 drawings lined up that I did not know about. Due date? The day before.

That was fun! Another round of pushing more clients back and cramming in an airline seat:

In the end, I made 53 drawings during my holiday.

Late deadline? The Client gets a DISCOUNT

The clients that are pushed back get a discount from me, usually that’s 20% to 30%. This time, I went up to a 60% discount. Yes, quite a pay cut for me.

It’s worth it in the long run. I screwed up. The client is not responsible for my shoulder dislocation or another client moving his deadlines. By me taking the burden, I hope to maintain a long-term relationship 🙂

The “whoops, there’s 50+ more drawings”-project has cost me money due to those discounts, and its invoices are only due by 2018/01/01. Since it’s the first time working with this client, I have no idea whether they’ll pay next month or the very last day of December. So that’s $1.953,66 just floating in the ether right now.

The clients that did pay, all went through Paypal. After Paypal taking a ~5% cut from me I had +$631,26.

This is still pre-tax. My business is located in Belgium, a country pretty crazy about taxes (for example: you pay a “tourist tax” for staying in a hotel, separate from the taxes already included in your room price).

Freelancing? Get some savings first and keep a cash buffer.

$631,26 could be pretty awesome depending on which country you live in. It was not that awesome for me. My flight tickets alone were $2300. Freelancing has expenses, some small like paying for a custom domain (I grabbed, some big like a laptop/pc, software and tablets.

So get an emergency fund. Usually 3 months of buffer is fine, but for a freelancing artist… 6 months of living expenses sounds better. I drew on it heavily this month, and earlier I’ve needed it to buy an emergency computer ($1000) when my laptop refused to cooperate and to pay an unexpected hospital bill ($1900).

The post ends here. I’m just adding an overview of earnings below, including non-art experiments.


Crop of a card for Aviary Games, Alchemy!

Mentorship: +$123,09

Illustration: +$107,25

Concept Art: +$400,92

Total: +$631,26


Internet Marketing

IM: -$154

Officially this is a new business, but it’s just an umbrella for everything I do online that involves money, like this blog, Reddit give-aways or writing articles. Regardless, it sits at a loss because I paid -$67 in wages and spent -$87.87 on the Reddit L2D give-away.

This does not include charity or donations.


Long-term investing: +$9.04

Day trading: -$630

I started trading as a hobby. Just like with art, I will only count money that arrives in my bank account as earnings. Mid-August I went for a market maker scalping strategy trading crude oil CFDs. I deposited another $630 to increase my margin.

So I call this a -$630 loss because that’s what left my bank account. If you want to see my actual performance, check out my trading profile: Iris Hopp.

Oh noes, that’s in the negative too D:

In the long-term investments I got a €7.64 AAPL dividend ($9.04).

That was it for the ookiespooky cautionary tale. Happy drawing!

*EUR to USD conversion as of 01sept2017

Stopping the Pain – 8 methods I use to keep drawing through tendonitis/carpal tunnel

Here’s the post on how I got my hand to hurt non-stop. Long story short, I pinched my pen when drawing and messed up my hand/wrist.

I am not giving up! Never!

Now I never wanted to stop drawing. I tried it for a few weeks at a time, without my hand getting better, so I developed coping strategies instead. All of the below tips helped to:

1) keep drawing through the pain

2) stop increasing the damage

The damage reversed from the worst point, but never healed. So this is not a cure for carpal tunnel, this is more “living with” carpal tunnel.

So here’s to soothing my hurting hand…


The wrist band I use is from Futuro, it covers my hand + part of arm and also has a piece of metal in it. You can find version for guys or for the left hand on Amazon.

It’s pricey at around $30, but I can wash it in the laundry & it’s still fine after more than a year.

I’m a huge fan. I tried a bunch of braces, splints, wrist bands and after comparing them: you gotta find a good one. Some braces didn’t have any effect on reducing pain.

You also gotta know how to use it. Put it on at night and sleep with your wrist brace, so your drawing hand recovers overnight.

Do not use it when drawing. That’s what I did at first and my symptoms got worse. Why? When you put a brace on, you’re enabling yourself to keep drawing when your wrist is about to give out. Your wrist doesn’t support itself anymore, so it atrophies. Lastly, you leave bad form unattended.

Sleeping with a wrist band also prevents tendonitis/carpal tunnel. 10/10 good method.

My classmates got familiar with me doing this all the time:


I don’t know why, but shaking my hand like that soothes the pain for 12-15 seconds. I’ll take it. I still do it often and it just feels so good… a bit of relief in my wrist…

I did go to the doctor a few weeks after the pain started. He prescribed me a bunch of pills and creams that had zero effect. I kept struggling, but thanks to having some injuries earlier in life, I knew a remedy.. So I went back and demanded an Ibuprofen prescription. Two weeks of ibuprofen lessened the pain quite a bit. I tried several times to push past the plateau, but it won’t budge. The ibuprofen was good to take me from the peak of a pain level that I’d call “bearable”.

Ibuprofen helps tendonitis, but not carpal tunnel.

That’s why I hit a plateau in recovery. The drugs fixed the tendonitis part, but couldn’t touch the carpal tunnel.

If you’re in the U.S., ibuprofen is an over the counter drug (you can even get it on Amazon, the US is crazy!). In most countries, it’s doctor prescription only. Ibuprofen damages your stomach, so don’t use it as a crutch. Try it for two weeks, see if you get improvement, get off it as soon as your recovery hits a plateau.

So I had a few symptoms, tingling (still have that), throbbing pain, movement pain, blahblahblah, but the really bad ones were these sharp stings that I would get. Suddenly this flash of intense pain shooting through my hand… I winced whenever it happened, but carried on. Then I tried something: whenever I’d feel that zinger of pain, I would literally drop my pen. Sting, stop, drop. Wait a little, maybe do that hand-shake again. Continue.

I don’t know why but the very day I started doing that, my pain was improving.

Okay, I got a string opinion on this. The only time you take pain killers is when you can’t fall asleep due to pain. Eh, and during surgery maybe.

Pain is a warning signal. If you mute the signal, next time you draw beyond the breaking point and mess up everything beyond repair. Byebye drawing career (seriously, the fear of losing my future as an artist was worse than dealing with the pain!).

Keep this in mind when you take ibuprofen – ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory but it’s also a pain killer.

6. USE YOUR NON-DOMINANT HAND for everything else.
Use your other hand for the touchpad, mouse, typing, for using your fork, carrying stuff and opening doors. For brushing your teeth, for opening bottles, for picking your nose. Just don’t wear out your sore hand more than necessary.


Well, as in the picture I showed earlier.


This set-up is so essential that I’ll make a separate post about it. But in short:

– Put paper on the tablet. With the extra grip, you can relax your wrist without the pen slipping.

– (not visible in picture): socks taped around the pen, so I don’t have to bend my fingers all the way.

– bandage tying the pen to my hand, so I don’t have to use force to hold the pen. Also helps keeping my wrist straight.

8. DON’T STRETCH OR EXERCISE (until after it heals)

Holy damn, stretching hurts and knocks my hand out for a while. Stretching is good to prevent carpal tunnel, not heal it. It’s like exercise. Exercise is great to strengthen your muscles and prevent injury, but doing weightlifting with torn shoulder muscles is gonna mess ya up. Let ‘m heal, get back to stretching when you’re better.

How am I doing now? 

It’s the two year anniversary of my wrist pain! 😀

Yup, still got daily pain. It is sooooo much better than the worst period though and I go through daily life without problems.

At this point in time, I still can’t do yoga or push-ups unless I use my fists instead of flat hands. I’m strong enough to starts strengthening my wrist again though, got some advice from a physical therapist and I’m doing targeted exercise occasionally. I do not think my carpal tunnel is gonna heal itself. But I can live with this. The happiness from drawing offsets the pain from my mild carpal tunnel. It offsets any pain, actually. Draw or die. Ha! Jk, but I love drawing.

To close with, here’s two tips that other people use:

1. Heat pads. Keep your wrist warm. I would put my wrist on my laptop charger! Drop the pen replaced this coping method for me.

2. Massages. For me, massages caused more pain, but some folks report improvement. Try it and let me know.

I hope your wrist feels better after reading this!

– Iris 🙂

Stop hurting your hand. Hold your pen gently.

Take-away: Don’t grip your pen tightly. Just don’t.

Reading time: 2 minutes.

Here is the story about how I lost my hand.

It all starts a few years ago, when I was holding my pen like this:

You see how I’m squeezing that thing?!

Oooh, drawing with a deathgrip. Guess what I got out of it? A lifelong injury! Well, maybe it’s still reversible but I don’t want to stop drawing to check. Three-week breaks from drawing have yielded no improvement at all.

Just two weeks after starting Art school, my hand and wrist were hurting. Every day it hurt a little bit more. It became difficult to hold my pen. Quickly, I stopped pinching by myself because it hurt too much. But then it became painful to just hold a pen. Or to hold anything, really.

At the height of my pain, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bend my fingers.

So like all sane people and aspiring artists, I kept drawing.

I taped socks around my Wacom pen.

First I tried rubber bands to tie my pen to my hand, but they cut off blood flow. I started using tape, sticking the pen through my wrist brace, tying it with scraps of cloth, ….

A few weeks later I found a working technique:

Yup, I used a bandage to wrap my pen onto my hand and that’s how I kept on drawing.

Holy damn, do you need your hand a lot. Losing functionality in my right hand, I had trouble with:
Opening doors, using chopsticks, shuffling cards, carrying anything, opening bottles, writing, using your smartphone, mouse/touchpad,

Some of my homework that had teardrops on it. I learned to hide those stains by scanning, upping contrast and submitting the print.

Here’s my class notes before and after pain in my hand:

Guess which one is before and which one is after hand/wrist pain.

But at least I finished school.

What’s the point of this post? Am I looking for pity for my broken hand? Am I encouraging you to draw through the pain?

Nah, man, that’s silly.

I’m telling you DON’T PINCH YOUR PEN. Just learn to hold your pen correctly. You can avoid all of my pain ’n suffering. If this little story doesn’t convince you it’s important, then I… eh… well, you do you.

Now go draw. Without pinching.



Your First Week of Drawing: Drawing a Still Life

Take-away: Gather a few objects like a tree leaf, a banana, a stuffed animal or a tea bag. Now sketch one of them! This is your first still life. 🙂

Do not draw from photographs for this exercise.

Reading Time: 3 minutes+ 30-60min of practice


Hey there! Ready for some sketching?

This is part 3 of the series “Your First Week of Drawing”. Here is the previous part.

Here’s the first part: Where to Start?

Now, let’s draw some still lifes!

1. What is a Still Life Drawing?

When you draw a non-living object from real life, you’re making a still life. Think of all those old paintings of flowers and fruit bowls – those are still lifes. We will start very simple, with just one single object.

Good objects to pick for your first time are organics, like a bell pepper or a banana. Why? When you draw a banana and you make it a bit too thick or too small, then your drawing will still look like a banana. Now if you pick a glass or keyboard for your first attempt, then you have all that cumbersome geometry and symmetry. Draw it wrong? Now it looks broken. So it’s easier to avoid man-made objects in the beginning.

Here’s a good list to choose from:

My #1 recommendation: plant/tree leaves. Easy to find, beautiful curves and super-forgiving to draw.

  • plant or tree leaves (ivy is fun to draw!)klokhuis
  • veggies: a bell pepper, a pumpkin
  • non-round fruit like a banana or a pear
  • a banana peel
  • eaten apple core (a fresh apple is a tad too symmetrical)
  • small bones (why would you have that laying around though?)

If you don’t have any fruit or veggies laying around and not a single plant growing in your neighbourhood, then you can pick anything close to you. Don’t worry about finding the perfect beginner’s still life. It’s more important to start practicing today.

2. Why do we draw Still Lifes?

So why do we do still lifes? Our goal is to translate 3D-forms from the real world to 2D-forms on your paper. You want to understand volume and 3D-shapes. This will help later for perspective, shading and so on. Still lifes train your eye and your brain in a different way than grid drawing does.

Grid drawing can form bad habits – such as not looking at your reference as a whole or becoming unable to estimate big shapes. That’s why you want to do still lifes together with drawing from photographs.

3. How to draw a Still Life

There are a lot of techniques to help still life drawing, for example creating a viewfinder. We’re not gonna look at that stuff now, this is a simple get-started walk-through.

So let’s draw!

Step 1: Draw the general shape softly (= sketching)

Step 2: Mark the details

Step 3: Draw in bold lines, correct the sketch lines when necessary

Step 4 (optional): Draw the outline of the shadow. Often the edge of the shadow is a bit fuzzy, so it’s an exercise in decision-making! 🙂

Shading your still life is optional. Do whatever is more fun to you! With time and space left-over, pick up your object and draw it a few more times from different angles.

Here’s my first page:

This was a year later:

Back then I didn’t draw everyday – so you can improve faster by putting in more hours.

4. How NOT to draw a still life

Drawing from a photo of a still life is NOT drawing a still life! It’s a photo study. You’re not training 3D to 2D, instead it’s a more advanced version of grid drawing or maybe a subject study.

However, you can apply what you learn from your still lifes to your photo studies. You will have a better understanding of volume, so you can figure out what is going on in a particular pictures.

If you have any more questions, leave a comment or mail me at (personal email).

Have fun!

– Iris





Your First Week of Drawing: Grid Drawing

Take-away: by placing grids over photographs, you can compare the angle and length of shapes to straight lines. This helps you to draw it correctly.

Reading Time: 5min + 30min practice (each day)

I uploaded a lot of pictures for this post. Let me know if the page loads slowly, then I’ll move the extra pictures to an album on Imgur ^_^

1. What is Grid Drawing?

If you read part 1 of Your First Week of Drawing (you can find it here), then you know that we want to see the world as a combination of shapes and angles. But like learning to run, you first have to go through the phases of crawling and walking.

So we take the picture we want to draw and place a grid over it like this:

The paper we will draw on gets the same grid.

What does this do? Instead of having to abstract the whole horse’s head, you can now focus on just the shapes within one square. While drawing, you tackle square by square. It’s like taking little bites instead of cramming the whole cake in your mouth.

2. Demo – Exercise Example

You can follow along with me, or choose a different picture if you don’t like horses. The other pictures are at the end of this post under “Day 1” 🙂

Choose one that you like, print it out and start sketching!

STEP 1: First we look at intersections between the big shapes of the horse and the grid.

We look at the place where the horse shape crosses the line of the grid and try to estimate that location on the grid on our paper.

To help you estimate the correct location, ask yourself questions like “Is it halfway or less than halfway of the line?”

Make as many or as little as you want – when we continue drawing, you can always add more marks.

STEP 2: Now we have bunch of dots, we can look at the shape between them.

Take the ear for example. Inside the square, what does the shape look like between the marks that you made? Is it a curve or a straight line? Does it go down first or does it go up?

We can also add in an extra dot to estimate the tip of the ear. How far from the edges of the grid is it? Breaking it down into nothing but dots and lines, we’ve now drawn the ear!

Is this familiar to you? It’s like creating your own connect-the-dots drawing!

STEP 3: Just like the ear, we keep analyzing the shapes between different marks of the grid.

Little by little we outline the horse. For a difficult shape, you can first lightly sketch it or use a dotted line before committing to the final line.

Every part of the horse is just an abstract shape that we’re expressing with a line.

STEP 4: The most difficult shapes are those that flow through some empty space, like the halter of the horse. The technique is still the same. Compare to the edges of the grid. How far up does the line go? How curved is it? 

It’s about done at this stage!

STEP 5: for the last step, you can clean up your lines and add in details. Experiment if you like, you’ll make thousands of drawings over your life time. If you experiment and you don’t like the result, you can always draw it again! And if you do like the result, you’re one step closer to creating your own drawing style.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect copy. If you look at my example for a long time, you’ll see spots where I’m off a bit or my line is not rounded enough and more details like that. But it looks like the horse in the picture, right?

So how did it go? Do you feel like you are better at seeing shapes objectively?

3. Why do we start with this exercise?

Grid drawing simplifies drawing. It breaks it up in small manageable chunks, exactly what we want as a beginner. When you look at the drawing square by square, you prevent your brain from going “Horse! Let’s symbol draw!“. Instead, the grid makes it a lot easier to see just shapes and lines.

This is easy! Can I draw with a grid forever?

Grid drawing is a temporary exercise, like riding a bicycle with safety wheels. Eventually, you will ditch the safety wheels and never look back.

You might encounter online backlash when posting your grid drawings. Why? If your drawing looks very good, but has a grid on it, people might bash you for it. That’s a compliment! See it as people telling you that you’re ahead of this stage already 🙂

We’re training your artist’s eye. Eventually, you’ll be able to abstract shapes so you can draw 3D-ideas with 2D-lines.

5. Getting Rid of The Grid

Grid drawing can teach you bad habits too. That’s why we’ll combine it with life drawing (this will be in part 3 of Your First Week of Drawing).

As we’re training your eye, we’ll slowly get rid of the grid. Like learning to walk, the first day is more like crawling. The whole picture is covered in squares!

By the end of the week, the only thing left will be a simple cross like this:example

6. More Exercises

Below are extra references, sorted by day. You can also make your own grid drawings! Use a photo editing program that you have or a site like IMGonline. What you want to do is overlaying the two images.

Using IMGonline (overlay images):

  1. Choose the image you want to draw
  2. From the below galleries, choose the amount of squares you want
  3. Upload both images to imgonline, in the same order (image first, squares second)
  4. Choose these settings: Iris_Hopp_Demo_Of_Overlaying1
  5. Click “OK” & then choose “download processed image” on the next page.
  6. Enjoy your drawing break! 🙂

Now, here come the premade exercises… You can draw just one a day or however many you like!

Day 01 Exercise References (click left or right to choose):

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Day 02 Exercise References:

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Day 03 Exercise References:

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Day 04 Exercise References:

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Day 05 Exercise References:

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Day 06 Exercise References:

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Day 07 Exercise References:

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All these pictures are my own or public domain, which means you can share them with others and you can publish (or sell!) your drawings of them 🙂

If you have a bad day or a particular picture trips you up – don’t worry! Just keep on drawing the next one. Mileage is King.

Here’s the next part: Still Lifes

Let me know how it goes or post in a forum like /r/learntodraw!

Have a great day!

– Iris

Your First Week of Drawing: Where to start?

Take-away: If you’re new to drawing, the first thing you learn is seeing the world as shapes and angles. For your first exercise, draw this upside down picture. (link)

Reading-time: 4min + 20min of practice

Hey there!

New to drawing? Don’t know how to get started? When I started back in 2012, I spent two weeks worrying about “Where to begin?” and “How do I start drawing?“. So I decided to go back and solve the mystery for everyone else starting today. Just follow along!

What do you need? Only two things: 1) a stack of cheap printing paper (Amazon link) and 2) a pencil or a ballpoint pen.

So, there we go:

1. The Picasso Exercise

Right now, grab a sheet of paper and a pencil and draw this picture:

Yes, just like that, upside down. Why? When you’re new to drawing, the first thing you have to learn is objectively seeing shapes and angles. When you turn it the right way round, you’ll be surprised to see how well you did!

If you’re not sure where to begin on the blank page in front of you: start with the upper left corner if you’re right-handed, or the upper right corner if you’re left-handed. Then work your way down. This way you avoid smearing the paper with your hand.

I’ll wait for you to finish. See you soon 🙂

The image is Igor Stravinsky drawn by Picasso, and it’s a famous exercise from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Amazon link)So why do we start with this exercise?

2. Learning to see like an artist

As an absolute beginner, you will be symbol drawing. You draw the idea of what you see instead of the physical shapes that you see. As a result, your drawing looks off.

Here’s an example of Absolute Beginner’s symbol drawing:

symbol drawing

The difference between what you see and what’s actually there can be pretty big. For example, your brain has symbols for what an eye looks like. Some kind of an oval with a circle in it, right? But is that what eyes really look like?

Reality is diverse. First of all, the shape of an eye changes by person. Then it also changes based on the angle you’re looking at it or the facial expression of the person! Every time you draw, you’ll have to look closely at what the shape actually is. This means fighting the pattern in your brain that’s trying to mislead you.

When you look at the below picture, the first you see is “a car”. Only when you concentrate, you’ll see the actual shapes it is made of.

A car is made of many different shapes – the shapes of the wheels, body of the car, reflections,  windows and so on.

By flipping the Picasso drawing upside down, we force the brain to see lines instead of concepts. Now you’re no longer looking at a face, a hand or a mouth. It’s just a jumble of lines. Thanks to that, you draw a lot more accurately.

Your Picasso drawing doesn’t need critique or improvement – this exercise is about introducing you into looking at lines only.

The next steps will be drawing real-life objects and grid drawing.

3. Daily Practice

Do this one thing for me: sign your Picasso drawing with your first name. Now, next to that signature, write your name again but with your non-dominant hand (left hand for righties, right hand for lefties, mouth for ambidextrous folks).

What happened? One of the two signatures looks better than the other. Why? Your KNOWLEDGE is the same. You know how to hold a pen and you know how to write your name, so why the difference?

Well, your dominant hand has had a lot more PRACTICE writing your name. What I try to show is that knowledge is not enough. You will have to draw every day.

Mileage is king.

Try to look at your week. If you have a really bad day, when would you still find time for a quick doodle? Right after your wake up? Lunchtime? Before bed? Block that time slot for drawing. Just a minimum. If you can only do 20 minutes, do 20 minutes!

I suggest starting every drawing session with a 5-minute warm-up. The warm-up can be anything, just get your hand moving. Some draw lines and circles, others make funny doodles. Here’s some of my warm-up doodles:

You can just throw away the warm-up page afterwards, it’s purely for getting your blood flowing. This is not only a physical exercise. By making bold marks on the paper, you will feel more confident when you are starting your actual drawing afterwards.

4. Common Questions

The exercise took me longer than 20 minutes. Is that bad?

No, it doesn’t matter. Your speed will vary depending on how comfortable you are making lines. If you doodle a lot, you will draw it in 20 minutes. If you only use pen and paper for writing, or not even that, it might take you up two full hours! Do whatever is comfortable for you.

I started the exercise, but there’s no more room for his head on the page. Did I fail?

The exercise is about analysing lines, not drawing the whole picture. You did great!

Picasso was just the first step. Are you ready for more?

Here’s the short version of the next days: grab some simple objects like a banana, banana peel, tree leaf, lemon, stuffed animal, sock or tea bag. Every day, pick one, put it in front of you and draw it.

Combine this with drawing from photographs. For photographs, put a grid over the image and a grid over your sheet of paper, so you can work on the drawing one little square at a time.

Here is part 2:: Grid Drawing. Here’s part 3: Still Lifes

If you have any questions, leave a comment! You can also email me at (work email) or (personal email).

FZD FAQ: Is FZD a good school? Is it worth it?

My Graduation Wall.

Take-away: FZD is great for some and horrible for others. If being a concept artist is your number one life goal, FZD will be awesome. The teachers are helpful if you work first and ask questions second.

Reading Time: 4 minutes.

This is a FAQ of the questions I get asked most often about FZD. I also have a post about applying and getting into FZD. It doubles as a review of the school!

1. How did it work out for me?

The FZD program was great and I’m working freelance now (busy busy busy). Oh, I also got married to a fellow FZD student. Going to the school was the best decision ever!
My freelance stuff is a bunch of small jobs, I’m not comfortable yet. I’m also doing marketing art, product design and illustration besides concept art.

2. Will I have a job after going to FZD?
Maybe. You do not have a guarantee of a job. It’s overall positive – fellow class mates get hired one by one. Even the student that was struggling the most got a job in-house.
But that’s not everyone. You’ll have to job hunt and keep crafting.
Feng told us that the average graduate has to apply 200 times before landing a good job. It seems a lot less, but maybe the average gets skewed by a few graduates having a hard time.

Creature design. FZD, term 02.

For me, without the school I would have 100% guarantee of unemployment (I tried to get commissions before FZD and landed a total of two times $20 bucks). At the moment of writing,  I’ve got three ongoing projects. Prices:
 1. open-ended illustration project, currently just crossed $1k.
2. a $500 product design project
3. a $750 illustration project

…I should be drawing instead of writing this post.

So yeah, the before-and-after is damn spectacular for me. But you see that it ain’t big bucks either. On top of that I hesitate to work hourly. I’m still slow.

3. What are classes like?
There’s a boatload to say about FZD. Have you read Alex Jessup’s post about his experience? Here’s an excerpt:

The workload is killer. What’s your studying style? Do you crunch and then crash or do you work with a steady daily schedule? People will brag about not sleeping, but then miss a full day when their body crashes. It could work for you, it might not.

The workload will be your strength when job hunting – being fast in delivering. Speed is still a weakness of mine, so I rely on communication as my personal strength.

4. Is it true that the teachers don’t help you?
Have you come across the angry internet guy hating on the teacher? I felt the opposite – everyone was so damn kind and helpful. Why the difference? You have to show effort first.
If you have questions, show the teacher your failed attempts. Be respectful, for example by arriving on time.

Two side notes:

  1. People compare the school’s curriculum to Scott Robertson’s books (How to Draw & How to Render). Let me add some nuance: Scott Robertson is the theory, and FZD is the practice. The school showed me how to apply the techniques and then made me do a ton of exercises.
  2. Teachers change frequently. At the moment, Feng doesn’t teach personally anymore. His replacement, Charles, is a splendid dude though.

5. Is FZD a good school? Is it the right school for me?
I had all those questions before going. Will it be worth it? Can I handle the work? Am I good enough?
To know whether you will fit in the school, just ask one thing. Is becoming a concept artist your number one life goal? Yup? Then you’re good. You can have doubts, worries and insecurities. It doesn’t matter. All you need is that drive that this is what you want. You would be unhappy and die full of regrets if you don’t pursue this in your lifetime. A burning inside telling you that you want to work the very hardest that you can. That does not mean being confident. That means being ready to fight despite feeling scared.
You doing your research is already a good sign. Some people were surprised to find out what the school was like!

Vehicle/Creature design. FZD, term 03.

How do you figure out whether you have that obsession? It keeps haunting you. Maybe it’s only a small voice. For example, this blog is an obsession of mine. I decided to not spend time on it. I just went to FZD, now it’s time to focus, yaddayadda. You know, tackle my freelance career first.
But every single day, I thought about posting here. That’s 714 days between now and the last text post. Every single day. I tried to push it away. It’s time to draw, goddammit! Until I finally caved. I simply didn’t have peace without working on it. That’s obsession. And I feel the same about concept art.  A day without drawing and I’m itching and aching.

The school was good for me – I had fun, made friends and it launched my career. At the same time, I don’t recommend the school or a concept art career to anyone. It’s so damn competitive. It will kill you if you don’t love it.

Boom. What other questions do you have? You can use my work email or my personal email

Have a happy day! 🙂

My First Month of Drawing in 2012

So I got accepted into FZD…

20150415 - pitbull cartoon sketchGuess who’s going to art school? Yes, I am going to study at FZD (Feng Zhu School of Design). This is a quick long blog post on four topics: 1. Applying for FZD 2. The Entry Test 3. The Interview 4. Why so serious?
Whew. The last months it felt like my days were going nowhere and suddenly I got into this amazing design school. Why does my first post feel so far away?

“My plan is to create a portfolio and go to art school.” – that was only January.

Here I am.

Next destination on my art journey: the class room. And a pretty fancy one. I’ve always regarded FZD as the best art school out there. During the interview, they said “We treat our students like professionals”. That appeals me. That scares me as well. Since last year I had been thinking that I had to study there. When? I didn’t know yet. Maybe when I turned 35 years old. Maybe next year. Well, apparently I’m going in less than two months…

  1. Applying for FZD

I’m very insecure, I beat myself up constantly. At times, I’m afraid to draw. But soon I’ll be forced to draw 18 hours a day, regardless of how timid I feel about it.

Look at the students’ gallery on their site, or the before & after section. These guys are good. I feel they learn more in a few weeks than I managed to self-study in three years.

When applying, I was very focused on the artwork. I kinda ignored the English certificate that was also a requirement. Well, first lesson learned: if you need an English certificate: do that as soon as possible. I looked at getting a certificate only when I felt ready to apply. Guess what? They have the exams just a few times a year and after that you have to wait at least two weeks before you get the results. By the time I had everything, the February and June intake were both full.

On the plus side, the FZD staff is quick and helpful with replying to any question. Seeing both June and October getting full, I applied for the October waiting list, with the February intake as my back-up plan. I was busy with the application procedure for over a month, due to the time between the various stages, and suddenly everything went very fast two days after the interview. We’ve got a spot over for June. Wanna come? HELL YEAH!

  1. The Entry Test

Next up was the entry test.

The entry test is different for every intake. Every student has to take it… at least, that’s what they replied when I asked, but I suspect that if you’re really really good, you can skip it. There are a few fellow students who didn’t have to take it, and their portfolios are mind blowing. (hey, how do you dare outshine me before we even started…). Anyhow, if you look at the sketchbook section on the school website, you have an idea of what they’ll ask. First off all, it will be line drawing. Secondly, you’ll need perspective.

Oh man, I suspected this before I even got the design prompt. Why? Because my portfolio was devoid of anything mechanical or structured. By the way, this is the portfolio I used:

Iris Hopp - Portfolio

Don’t take it as an example, I’ll explain in the interview section what they didn’t like about it 😉

Now, I was eating myself up for two weeks. I was convinced I would get vehicles designs as the test’s theme. Why? Because vehicles are my weakest area. Guess what I got? Vehicle designs!

Here’s what I made:

2. Sketch Sheet (1)
Sketch sheet 1
2. Sketch Sheet (2)
Sketch sheet 2
3. Final Design

Again, don’t take my work as an example. I have no idea whether they liked it or not. If you want a reference, look at the school’s sketchbook gallery. That’s what they gave me as a final submission reference.

They clearly said: “We want to see how you think on paper.” There’s only one thing you should never do: cheating. Never cheat. So no copying or tracing. The test also has a deadline of 50 hours after starting, so it’s possible that they want to check your punctuality besides your drawing.

Depending on your intake, you might get observational drawings or design options. Buildings, vehicles, environments, … You can prepare by practicing drawing and by practicing perspective. That’s it. 🙂

There’s something else I learned from the entry test, but it only clicked a few weeks later. I’ll first talk about the interview. 🙂

  1. The Interview

You’ll hear everyone say the same: the interview is pretty chill. I still prepared for it. If you can prepare and do better, why wouldn’t you? Preparing for interviews is the same as preparing for exams.

First step, brainstorm about the questions they might ask.

Second step, prepare your answers to those questions.

Third step, whatever you can’t answer, plot it out or look it up.
As often, the most important question to ask is “why”. Why do you want to study art? Why do you choose FZD? And in my case, why now, after already completing a bachelor degree?

That’s actually what makes the interview so pleasant – you get to talk about your dreams and your inspirations. Heck, you can talk about television series and video games and travel all you like.

So yeah, my first tip would be to prepare it by inventing questions as described above. My second tip would be body language. If you’re an international student, you’ll do the interview by Skype. For me that means no control on stress and slouching and even showing some nervous ticks. For all presentations and interviews I’ve done so far, it helped me tremendously to watch my body language. Straight back, chest up, slow breathing. Oh, and smile. Here’s the TED talk that explains why it works:

Your body associates a confident attitude with a safe situation, so your stress levels will lower and you will do better.

Now, I spent the last few paragraphs talking about how relaxed the interview was, but actually I didn’t feel good about it. They emphasized the stress and little sleep, I felt like an outsider because hadn’t been submerged in games, movies and series for years and most of all, it bugged me that I had such a huge shortcoming – lack of creativity. They pointed out the contrast between my portfolio and my entry test. They said I might have to take a second entry test. They asked to send life sketches and “representative” drawing.

This will forever stick with me: my portfolio is sterile. Their words, not mine, but I fully agree. What is representative of my drawing? Unfinished, quick, goofy. My portfolio was sterile because I only wanted to add finished work, instead of sketches and doodles. In a way the sterile feeling is representative. When I try to finish something, I worry about how it looks, about which colour to use, about how I’m doing everything wrong. The fun goes out of it. On top of that, I’m afraid to experiment. “But I don’t know how to draw this!” I exclaim in despair and then I never draw it. Hallways of castles, crown princes, dream scenery: it seems too difficult and I put it off.

They want a creative portfolio, regardless of drawing ability. I’ve always avoided subjects that didn’t match my ability. I’m insecure and afraid. Why do you think “practice perspective” has been on my to-do list for so long?

So I felt pretty awful after the interview, thinking I had been doing everything wrong and that I might never make it, because hey, I lacked the courage to make mistakes.

But here’s lesson 4: have fun.

  1. Why so serious?

I had fun with the entry test. It was weird, I was ready to be all serious and boring about it, but in their mail they literally said “do your best and have fun.”

So I decided to have fun. And it was great. That’s why my entry test submission didn’t look as sterile as my portfolio pieces.

There is a conflict between “fun” and “drawing” for me. Pretty weird, ain’t drawing all about fun? Nah. I am afraid to fail. Causing me to fail.

I failed at creativity and at having fun. As a result, I just drew less. My pen hovered above the page, yet didn’t touch it. “But I don’t know how to…”

Well, dammit. Perspective, construction, anatomy, I’m going to learn that at school. The next weeks before school starts, I have to prepare in a different way – I have to break my self-imposed limits, my drawing shyness. So far it isn’t working. Heck, I’m telling myself to just doodle along for the next month! When did fun ever require courage? We’ll see how I’ll manage next month.


20150305 - girl woman people painting imag 2h30min
Challenge accepted.

Now the next challenge is preparing all the practical stuff in just a month, seeing how I’ll only be back in Belgium after a two weeks. Aaaah.

Singapore, here I come!

– Iris


Portrait studies three years apart

While procrastinating, I looked at my early work. Here’s my first digital portrait study:

Iris Hopp 09032012 digital

And here’s my latest portrait study:

Iris Hopp 20150205 - portrait study ref 2h

After feeling in a slump for two weeks, I managed to cheer myself up 😀

There’s still room for improvement! Up to the next before&after!

Maybe that’s a trick to remember? Go back & look how for you’ve come – even if it’s been only weeks.

– Iris