I remember being in 2nd grade drawing a squirrel from a photo in an encyclopedia (encyclopedias surfing was my favorite pastime back then) and when I showed my mom the picture I'd drawn my older said I traced it.
That was when I knew I could draw. But that wasn't my first experience that I remember about art. I remember drawing a tree in kindergarten and was so proud and when the teacher came to my drawing and didn't praise it as I thought she would, and instead praised some other kids tree, I was horrified. I looked at my tree, then looked at hers, then again at mine and started to see my mistakes.
I've been looking at my mistakes every since, and I still do.
I was known through elementary and high school as 'the artist' and spent most of my free time (and a lot of classroom time) doodling strange creatures and aliens. In high school I went through a 'tortured rotting corpse' phase that had people questioning my sanity, but they were done as an anatomy study and a drapery study all in one, including some textural study and exercises in visual storytelling... the exercise being showing how these people died (or were killed) through clues in the art. Most of itlooked like the stuff you'd see in The Walking Dead.
I was awarded a 1 year scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design, at that time one of the top ten at colleges in the country. I finished my first year with grades ranging from an A- from the toughest anatomy teacher in the school, to failing art history. I was more interested in how to make my aliens look real than how art evolved. Though I learned a lot... it wasn't what I wanted to learn.
Fantasy and sci fi art was not offered as a course.
I didn't (and couldn't afford to) go back and took a year or so off from art and drank a lot of beer and played a lot of guitar. Eventually I had seen an ad somewhere where a fella from Parkersburg WV was giving portrait lessons and teaching people to market to schools by photographing and drawing portraits of the football team and cheerleaders, then matting and framing them and showing them at school functions.
I paid $200 for that class out of the last of my money at the time. I also bought the mats and frames from this fella. The marketing technique sucked, probably because I hated sports and always felt it was invented to keep people out of the library. So I eventually gave up that part of the business. But I still advertised that I did portraits and it spread mostly by word of mouth.
I found myself becoming a little OCD about making pointed ears on faces I would draw, and eventually, I developed fantasy portraits. I would take someone's photo, then composed a fantasy portrait around that photo that would show the same lighting direction.
Though I didn't make a lot of money doing that, it became my process for inspiration. I would look at a photo of someone, draw it full body, and add my fantasy /sci fi magic to it to create my drawings.
Back then, in my early 20s, I was strictly pencil, black and white, no color. I tried experimenting with chalk pastel and color pencil together, but could never get the quick coverage and high contrast I desired for my illustration.
After my color pencil /chalk pastel experiments were a fail, my mother in law suggested I try painting on some clay paint.
I chose black, the most difficult to draw I was sure, asks found that Prismacolor Pencils adhered quite well to the paint... and even looked like velvet art (which was actually a thing back then).
But being broke I thought maybe Tempera (having the same matte surface) might work just as well, and it did.
Everyone said "Oh no, you can't mix oil/wax based and water based media together". Well they were wrong. I watched old Bob Ross shows on Sunday mornings to learn to paint, then added detail with the Prismacolor pencil. I was able to complete a painting in 8 hours. I was invited to send some art to a gaming convention art show one day and that evolved into sending art to sometimes 50 art shows a year.
What I learned from doing commissions all these years helped me reach the level I'm at today. As I'm still taking commissions for now, I believe this is the time in my life where I can start applying what I've learned to my own inspired work. You'll start to see some of my 'extras' as I add more work to my site. At some point I plan to create a Patreon and let you folks sell prints of my art and learn some of my techniques, so come back. Once I gather a good collection of art I'll be hitting the gaming convention circuit again.
At first I sold my originals, then I started color copying them and selling them as signed numbered prints, keeping a record of how many I made and sold. Though I was doing pretty well, I felt more like a mat cutter and warehouse packer than an artist. I continued until this internet became a thing, then eventually I changed my venue.
I hit the library and would read all the 'Idiot' books on Windows and the Internet. I found a book on how to do your own HTML and got a free website on freeservers.com and build myself a website. I Google Searched "Fantasy Art" way before I knew anything about SEO, contacted the top websites (which were collections of fantasy art) and would share my link with them and let them show my work on their sites.
That got me seen. Before long I had people asking if they could use my art in their email siggies (back when THAT was a thing) and I said "sure if you include my website". That won me more exposure.
It wasn't long before I learned digital art - mostly from the myriad of Youtube videos on the internet. I started getting commission work from a guy in California who wanted me to create wallpaper murals that he could then print and sell. We worked together for probably 8 or 10 years before he retired. But 90% of what I learned I learned from doing the art he ordered.
Sometimes I'd find myself researching how to do something and find I'd need that very trick on the job I was doing for him. I didn't make a lot per hour, but I was learning as I was getting paid, and that was more important.
As I evolved into 3D programs, I found another steady client from Austin Tx who built monument signs lit by solar. He would propose jobs to his clients and have me create the images in 3D and apply various metals, woods and stone textures to them and place them into the photos of where they would be constructed so his clients would know how the signs would look