The Bittersweet Taste of Fame


I’m not a very good artist.

I mean, I’m OK as far as it goes. I can get the job done or at least figure out what needs to be done. But when it comes to guys like Matt Cauley or Kerry Gammill or Dave Hudnut (all guys I know and worked with) there’s just no comparison. And I’m cool with that.  To be honest I never wanted to be an artist; I’m self-taught in the sense that I doodled in the margins of my school papers, and taught myself how to paint just for fun in high school, but I was never one of those guys that just HAD to draw. The ones that spent hours practicing, or laboring over tiny details, or studying the great artists to figure out the secrets

Nope. I just did it until I got bored and then I’d rush through the rest to finish it. I didn’t want to grow up to be an artist, it was just a hobby. It relaxed me, and I wanted to keep it that way. Sadly, life decided that I would end up having no marketable skills and I somehow backed into a career as a designer, first of toys and now of promotions.

The good news is that I’m quite good at computer programs like photoshop and illustrator. With those, I don’t need to be a good artist, I can fake it. But it is somewhat of a regret that I never really learned how to draw well. Now that I’m in my late 30s new skills don’t come quite so easily anymore, and I sometimes really struggle to get something looking how I want it to. It was much harder when I was a toy designer, as my puny skills meant that while I designed a lot of stuff, someone else would do the final artwork. Oh, I was able to design some nice display pieces, but they were almost always not my style or done by committee (which is kind of the default in any graphic business these days). Still, I was able to put my stamp on things by slipping in the random otter or hyrax onto the item.

Once I moved to doing promotions for big companies I got a lot more freedom to design display pieces, but it was still directed by multiple people within the agency and the client.  It was my art, but not necessarily what I would have done given free reign (but then, given free reign I wouldn’t be making ads, either!) But most of what I do serves the client, and not me, which is how it should be.

c0f60e2f75b3So what’s the point of this post, you ask? Well, I was in Wal-Mart the other day and for the first time I saw some of my own artwork, in my own style, there on some product! It turns out that a while back I was doing some design options for a pool chemical company. They wanted some pieces that would evoke “summer fun” and I presented the usual stuff- photo montages of kids playing in the water. But literally at the last minute, I decided to slip in an extra option that no one had asked for: just some very retro style kids on a stark graphic background. At that point, I was moved to a new account and handed that one over to another very capable designer and didn’t think much about it. Well, it turns out they liked my concept and ran with it!

doggogWhich leads me to the bittersweet part. I mentioned before how I wasn’t a great artist. But I can fake my way through an awful lot. I did those designs in about 25 minutes, with the thought that if they didn’t like them it was no sweat and I didn’t waste a lot of time but if they got chosen then I would redraw everything to be really nice and very tight. But everyone really liked the art as it was! So the only modification that got made was adding goggles to the dog. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not ashamed of these or anything. But here is my own artwork untouched by anyone else, finally on store shelves (more or less) and it’s the equivalent of a rough sketch! Ah well…

BTW, you can find these on the neck of some bottles of pool chemicals in Wal-Mart, just over from the toy section. It’s a fold-out brochure on how to treat your pool. Whee!





  • I am so going to snag one of those when I go to work tonight! Very cool, very cool!

  • One of the only action figures I’ve kept carded (on purpose) is the Mario figure you designed for Wendy’s some years back 😉

  • ToyOtter

    Ah, but the beauty of that card is that it is resealable! 😉

    Not sure how many people used it or cared, but I fought hard to get that little flap put into the back so you don’t have to destroy the card to get the figure. I also fought for a peghook, even though it wouldn’t be on pegs.

  • sweetness. If I mail you one of these bottles, will you sign it and send it back?

  • Well, first off, I was surprised to see my own name mentioned in your opening comments. That *really* meant a lot to me, Jason!

    But, more importantly, I think you might be missing the point about your own contributions. Sure the pool art only took 25 minutes, and like you said: you viewed ’em as a rough sketch.

    I think more importantly, though, is the WAY you did them. You didn’t HAVE the luxury of time. You had a limited bit of time to produce them, and you threw caution to the wind. You drew them just to draw them, and without someone directing you or allowing yourself the opportunity to overthink them, you simply ‘did it.’ The art came to life simply by coming from within you.

    That’s really the best approach to art in the first place. Sure, we can get some better concepts or approaches if we keep developing them, but often times it’s the random, spontaneous stuff that’s also the most effective. That’s why the artwork of a 3 year old is often times so much better than the artwork of a 13 year old. They don’t overthink it or worry themselves as to whether it’s good or bad, they simply do it for the sake of doing it.

    And I think that’s the perfect example of what you’ve got here with the pool art. It’s simply fun art, and they’re an absolute joy! On top of that, they’re even more bold and focused than your Wolverine piece. That’s still a fun, well-thought out piece, but you can see the hesitation in it, whereas the pool art you simply nailed it. You put pen to paper and “did it”, pure and simple.

    And, for me… THAT is the sign of a true artist.

    Speaking of, you sent me some stuff recently to look at for another project you had in mind. I kept forgetting to respond, but without going into details let me say that you’re a freaking GENIUS. I love the concept, and, yet again, you are a huge inspiration to me. Go for it!

    Sorry for the long ramble, but I think you may have just inspired me to commit to my own blog now. About time I contribute something, right?

    Great stuff, Mister Otter. But then, I never expected anything less!

    aka Iron-Cow

  • I think your illustrations look great. Congrats. I’ll just second what Matt said: sometimes the 25 minute rough sketch is better than the belabored final product!

    And what do you know, I will be shopping for pool supplies this weekend :-)

  • Jason Geyer

    Wow, thanks for the comments, guys!

    Yeah, I like the illustrations (and Matt, I agree about how sometimes faster=better. Sadly, I’m such a procrastinator and impatient that nearly all my art is fast regardless. 😉

    But I would have liked to clean these up just a bit and refine them. There are some swirls onthe background that were masked off the edge of the original piece that are now on the actual art that make me cringe. And the shadows on the kids are all over the place.

    Still, I’m happy with the look and more importantly that the client took a chance and went for a neat design over safe photoshop work. That is VERY rare in this biz!

    Also, for anyone who wants to see that Mario figure card Jeff referenced:

    It was also a design by committee (my original didn’t have the Mario icons in the silver Gameboy sidebar, and it wasn’t so busy) but it still turned out much nicer than most QSR toys do.

    And it was only $1! Take that, Hasbro Hulk figures!


  • What Matt said. don’t think, just do.

    and congrats!

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *