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 jobs@irishopp.com or my personal email aiai-iris@hotmail.com.

Have a happy day! 🙂

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


Organizing Your Drawing Archive: naming your files

Why do you want a drawing archive? The answer decides how you will organize your archive.
For me, seeing my own progress is the most important. My archive is a bit like a timeline.

Here’s my current folder:

Iris Hopp - drawing archive folder 2015 JanuaryFirst I have my main archive folder, dubbed “Tekenstudie” (Dutch for “Drawing Study”). That folder is divided into years and then into months (1 January, 2 February, 3 March, …). My commissions have a separate folder.
The file names have a set format: date – keywords – imag/ref/life – time

1. Date
I start with the date in the format YYYYMMDD, so I can easily compare pictures from a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, … As a bonus, the images are automatically sorted! When I use “sort by date”, the computer sorts when the file was created, not when the drawing was actually made 🙂

Iris Hopp - dragons date file name example
For art made over several days, I use YYYYMMDD+DD (separate dates), or YYYYMMDD-DD (time span).

2. Keywords
Next, I pick at least one keyword. Why? When you compare old and new drawings, you understand your improvement better when you compare the same subject. We could compare this year’s dragons to last year’s calligraphy, but will that tell us how far we’ve come?

3. imag/ref/life
Now the third tag is very important: imag/ref/life. What does this mean? The tag “imag” is for a drawing made from my imagination. When I used an example, like a picture, I add “ref”, short for “reference”. If I drew from a real life object, the tag is “life” as in “drawing from life”. For a combination you could use a tag like “imag+ref”.
Why does this matter? Because the quality of your drawing changes with it. Your referenced work might be technically better, but maybe your work from imagination is more colourful and interesting. Your experience and style creates a gap between the work from imagination, reference and life… Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.

4. Time
Lastly, I keep track of how much time I spend drawing. This is a personal quirk, but I still think it’s interesting to note how long a drawing took you. Over time you get faster and it will be another way to show that you’ve improved. Or it shows you that you draw too fast! I need a course in Patience 101
If you also want to sort by medium, you can make subfolders like “Oil”, “Digital”, “Sketchbook”. I don’t do this because I like the monthly overview. Oh, and because it feels better to open a stuffed folder and saying “woah, I drew a lot that month!” than opening a subfolder and saying “oh, I made seven ink paintings”.

If you were doubting how to sort your art, I hope this helps. Maybe you have a totally different system: tell me in the comments! How many of you have no system at all, but instead a bunch of files named “gfhljehu”? 😉

– Iris

Need a place to start? Loomis: Free to Download & Figure Drawing Master

When people ask me how they can learn to draw, I always recommend “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain(Amazon link). It’s a book for everyone. Even if you never held a pencil before, you can learn to draw with it. The downside of the book is that it focuses on copying rather than using your imagination. That’s kind of a bummer. “Hey, I’m an artist, but I can’t create new stuff.”
Good news: there are more books that teach how to draw for beginners.

Mr Andrew Loomis himselfMeet Loomis, the man who will teach you to draw people from imagination!

He is an expert in drawing figures and has a book aimed at beginners: Fun with a Pencil. His book starts off so easy that you’d think it’s a joke! But gradually he adds more information and before you know it, your drawings turn from cartoon faces into real characters. His books are among the best to learn drawing humans.

The best part? You can download the books for free here: http://www.alexhays.com/loomis

I prefer printed books, but have been using the PDFs so far. The real ones are on my wish list!

Fun with a Pencil will start you off with simple cartoon heads before introducing realistic faces. After the heads, you will learn to draw the whole body – even in movement! At the end, you get a quick introduction to perspective and light.

Now, why is Loomis so popular (even long after his passing)? It’s because he teaches you a solid drawing method. You learn a skill you can use throughout your art career. For example, I applied his construction method to animal drawing 🙂

Loomis - Fun with a Pencil, example pages
A few examples from “Fun with a Pencil”


When you finish the first book, Fun with a Pencil, there will be more of his (free!) books waiting for you. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth and Drawing the Heads and the Hands are my favourites. They teach all you need about drawing humans. Oh, except for genitals. So eh… you’ll have to figure that out yourself, I guess?

So check him out & happy drawing!

– Iris