How and Why to Become an Artist/Illustrator

The sheer number of artists and illustrators is increasing every day, but it’s not easy to find work. The industry relies on a long chain of middlemen from artist to publisher before the final product reaches consumers. It also has some tough barriers for new artists trying to break in, such as an expensive process with no guarantees that your work will be seen by millions of people or make you any money at all. Artwork may look pretty when viewed online, but there are many expenses involved in creating high-quality products like prints and canvases which can cost up to $5k USD per piece! There are several ways for aspiring painters/illustrators looking for success outside the mainstream market including selling their art on sites like Etsy or selling directly through social media websites such as Instagram

The “how to become a successful illustrator” is a question that many people ask themselves. In order to be a successful artist or illustrator, you will need to have the right skills, work ethic and attitude.

Ted Slampyak artist in his office.

We’re back with another installment of our So You Want My Job series, in which we speak with guys who work in coveted positions and ask them about the realities of their employment as well as tips on how men might achieve their goals.

Ted Slampyak has kindly agreed to speak with us today. Mr. Slampyak is an artist who works on movie storyboards, most notably for the film Terminator Salvation. He also creates the daily comic strip Annie. Any guy who has ever doodled has fantasized about being compensated for his work. But, before you put in your application for the free art talent test offered on the back of a matchbook, listen to Ted’s conversation to learn more about the field.

Visit Ted’s website, Storyteller’s Workshop, to view examples of his work.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What is your age? What school did you attend? Describe your employment, including how long you’ve been there, and so on.)

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I graduated from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 1983 and have worked as a freelance artist ever since. I’ve lived in New Mexico for nearly twelve years.

I’ve been professionally creating comics — comic books and comic strips — since graduating from college, and I’ve always done it as a hobby. While in college, I had my first piece published in a few science fiction fan club publications. I’m now working on the Little Orphan Annie comic, which is still published in newspapers around the nation and online.

Since college, I’ve also started sketching storyboards as a means to put my comics abilities to use in a job that pays well! I worked on storyboards for the upcoming Terminator movie last year – but more on that later!

2. What inspired you to pursue a career as an artist? When did you realize you wanted to do it?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling tales via drawings, even before I could read or write. It’s always been the most effective approach for me to envision and communicate.

3. Has someone ever tried to scare you away from becoming an artist by telling you that you wouldn’t be able to earn a living at it?

That is an excellent question! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no I can’t think of anybody who has ever tried to discourage me. It’s conceivable that some did, and I was just unaware of it. My parents were supportive, but they urged that I attend college so that I would have a degree to fall back on whether I pursued illustration or anything else. And I’m pleased I went to art school because it exposed me to so much more than I was aware of as an artist.

4. How should a guy prepare for a career as a comic strip or storyboard artist?

You must be able to transmit varied moods, camera angles, and accentuate different aspects, which is even more vital than being able to make beautiful likenesses. That implies you must understand how to prioritize what people view and how they “read” pictures. Composition, lighting, and detail are all science and art that influence how the reader perceives what you’re exhibiting.


And, for Pete’s sake, learn professional lettering for comics. It’s just as vital as the drawing, yet many artists overlook it.

5. Do you think going to art school is a good idea?

I would advise you to get acquainted with as many styles, as many ways of perceiving, sketching, and painting as possible. If approached correctly, art school is a fantastic method to do this, but it is not the only one. I immersed myself in the aspects of the craft that I wasn’t as skilled at — composition and graphic design, typography, light and shadow — and then applied what I learned to my comics work.

Art school, of course, may be a fantastic place to meet other artists and form connections with individuals who understand what a vanishing point is.

I’ve taught at a few of art schools, and I’ve seen a lot of young kids there who are afraid to try new things or realize that what they’re doing isn’t the greatest way to accomplish things. Why are you wasting everyone’s time? What are you doing here? If you don’t want to be a student, don’t go to art school.

6. How did you get your start in the comic strip industry? Do you have any advice for guys who want to follow in your footsteps?

My first project was to create, write, and draw my own comic book, Jazz Age. Because there were no online comics in the 1990s, I had to locate a tiny publisher willing to publish my book. Many storytellers nowadays develop their reputations and create followings on the internet. “Jazz Age” is still accessible, even though I haven’t worked on it in a while.

The Jazz Age never had a big circulation, but it appeared to find its way into the hands of all the right individuals. Other artists and authors whose work I liked had all heard of the book. At the very least, they were courteous!

Despite the fact that Jazz Age seldom paid much, if at all, I believe I landed just about every paying position I’ve ever had in comics, including Annie, via Jazz Age. It’s been a fantastic portfolio for me throughout the years, so the time and effort spent on it was well worth it.

Annie comic strip ted Slampyak illustration.

Annie is a cartoon character.

7. How did you get started as a storyboard artist? Do you have any advice for guys who want to follow in your footsteps?

Over twenty years ago, I began creating storyboards for advertising firms to market their concepts to customers. I relocated there as the number of movies and TV series produced in New Mexico increased.

Breaking into the industry isn’t very difficult. Simply put together some nice examples and distribute them. Get hold of film scripts and create sequences from them – particularly for films you haven’t watched before. Volunteer your services to student films so that you may demonstrate your abilities.

There are several websites where experts may list themselves. Get to work on them and provide your samples. They’ll fetch you some queries if they’re good.


8. What do you prefer between your two careers as a comic strip artist and a storyboard artist, and why?

I enjoy both of them, but I wouldn’t like either of them as much if they were the only ones I had. Even though I’m not the writer, comics allow me a lot of influence over the tale since I do everything else. Storyboards allow me to work as part of a huge team and interact with a diverse group of individuals — plus they get me out of the house. Switching between the two, as well as performing other freelance illustration work, provides me with a lot of diversity and keeps me fresh.

9. Is it possible for a guy to earn a living performing only one of these activities, or are they the kind of employment that need additional income?

Comic books are notoriously underpaid. If you’re fortunate, you may be able to become engaged with a lucrative project, but only at the highest echelons. Annie is fortunate in that she pays me fairly and provides consistent work week after week, which is uncommon in the freelance illustration business.

Storyboards sometimes come with a nice day rate, especially if you’re in a union, but it might be difficult to obtain enough work unless you reside in a large movie town like New York or Los Angeles. More and additional areas, such as New Mexico, are drawing film companies to their area, and as a result, more possibilities are emerging.

10. How do you strike a balance between job, family, and personal life?

We both work from home since my wife is a freelance artist and designer. When you have to work late hours, this helps since you can still see each other even if you can’t do anything together.

However, that balance must constantly be kept in mind. I strive to keep my weekends as free as possible, and if at all feasible, I attempt to complete the day’s work by 5:00 p.m. Maintaining a clear boundary between “work time” and “home time” — even when both are at home — is critical for closing the laptop and putting it away for a bit.

11. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work?

The finest part of doing a comic strip is seeing your work in print, whether it’s in a comic book or a newspaper. Getting nice feedback and watching your viewing statistics rise once it’s been put online. It’s the closest drawing can come to applause.

It’s the praise and comments from the director or DP (Director of Photography) you’re working with that counts when it comes to storyboards. Last year, I worked on Terminator Salvation for over six months. It was a dream come true. I worked closely with McG, the filmmaker, in a collaborative environment where I was encouraged to submit ideas, some of which made it into the final edit of the film. It was just as exciting to witness those few minutes as it was to see my name in the credits at the end!

Terminator salvation scene storyboard ted slampyak illustration.

Storyboard for Terminator Salvation


12. What is the most difficult aspect of your jobs?

Whether you’re feeling creative or not, both occupations demand creativity. I can’t pretend to be enthusiastic; I have to come up with fresh ideas and produce my own. It may be a draining experience. Plus, since I work from home and don’t have anybody looking over my shoulder with the comics job, I need the discipline to stick with it and finish it on time, even when it’s almost impossible to remain at the art table.

13. What is the most common misunderstanding regarding your jobs?

The most common misunderstanding about storyboards is that they don’t exist at all; many individuals have no clue what storyboard artists do or what a storyboard is. They understand what a storyboard is when I explain them it’s basically a script in visuals.

When I tell people what I do, they ask, “Oh, do they still publish that?” The greatest misperception I see about comics is when they ask, “Do they still publish that?”

14. Do you have any more advice, recommendations, or anecdotes to share? Be on your best behavior at all times. Dress professionally and convince everyone around you that you’re easy to work with, that you pay attention, that you accept criticism effectively, and that you’re ready to view the project through the eyes of the customer. It’s important to remember that customers aren’t simply purchasing artwork; they’re also employing an artist. You. You, as much as your work, are the final result.

Also, constantly make an effort to advertise oneself. Don’t anticipate hard effort alone to have people talking about you, like I did when I first began. You must spread the message. As an example,



Tips for becoming an illustrator include getting a mentor, finding a job that pays well, and taking art classes. Reference: tips for becoming an illustrator.

Related Tags

  • how to become a self-taught illustrator
  • what education is needed to become an illustrator
  • how to become an illustrator without a degree
  • becoming an illustrator at 40
  • how to become an illustrator for a publishing company