1. What tools do you use the most when producing your art?
2. I hear you about life drawing. Are there also any books or videos/dvds you might recommend to starters? *I'm going through "Keys to Drawing" by Dodson, and "Manga Pro" by Colleen Doreen right now.
3. What do you consider one of your most valuable experience/s?
4. What are things beginners should avoid (either in practice of the art, or on the business end)?
For regular pen and ink stuff:
I tend to use Prismacolor non-photo blue pencils for loose sketches and fiddle with it till it looks like something I want to go forward with. Paper is usually regular printer paper. Cheap. Takes maybe 10-15 min. Sometimes longer if it's not clear in my head. Send that off for approval.
Next...Over that I'll use a mechanical pencil (regular ol mechanical pencil, HB lead) and pencil in the image. Lightly at first then heavier as I get it down pat. 1-4 hours. Send it off for approval.
Next I take what I've got and in Photoshop make it really dark by adjusting the levels. Then I adjust the hue & saturation. Hue =215, Saturation =100, lightness = 90 (which turns the lines I penciled non-photo blue). I print that off on a sheet of heavy index card paper. http://www.wausaupaper.com/Printing_and_Imaging/Brands/3102.aspx
Super smooth bristol board paper. No bleeding of ink.
For inks I'm using a copic marker #100 Copic Ciao. http://copicmarker.com/products/markers/ciao/ It has a brush end with a nice fine tip and a broad end for filling black areas. I've used india ink and dip pens and brushes, but I'm loving the copic markers right now. For finer work I have Micron Tech pens. http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival I usually use a 1 or 2 mm for fine work and an 8mm for outlining. Ink right over the printed page where your "pencils" are. By this point your hand should be really used to where the lines go, so inking should be fairly easy.
One note, I tend to work on images at 2x magnification. So if I'm turning in a half page illustration, I produce a full page illustration and reduce it down for submission.
I have a number of templates, rulers, compass and protractor etc. Of course my most important tool is a Wacom Intuous 2 9x12 tablet. That way I have a large surface to draw on digitally and use a stylus pen instead of a mouse. Best $500 I've ever spent (like seven years ago).
For some digital work I cut out a lot of steps and go straight to Photoshop. I'm using CS3 now. Another expensive tool.
The book I almost always recommend is How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. That's what got me started. It has a lot of the basics of how a body is put together drawing-wise: a frame, breaking the body in to basic shapes (boxes, tubes, etc.) and defining from there. The basics I learned in there I still use and I got the book in the early 90's.
I think my other "must have" book is Anatomy for the Artist by Jeno Barcsay, an oversized Barnes and Noble book. It looks at human anatomy from every angle. From the bones to the muscles to the whole fleshy thing. I reference it all the time.
For using PS for digital coloring I started out using Adi Granov's tutorial on combining digital and traditional art styles. http://www.imaginefx.com/-2287754330544769555/Combining_traditional_and_digital.html It's a really good start.
After that I admit I'm a big proponent of using photo references. I can't speak for everyone, but almost every big "name" I know, if you look at their work, they use references. A LOT. Whether you sketch while looking at a ref or use photo manipulation to combine photography and drawings...references are a HUGE resource. Take advantage of it. (Note, photo refs are fine, but I have to recommend against riffing off anyone's drawings. Get permission, use stock photos or Public Domain photos, but leave drawings well enough alone.)
Being pushed. If left alone a person rarely pushes outside their boundaries. They take jobs they know they can do and stay in their nice neat little worlds. I've learned more, faster and better by getting in to work that was /slightly/ out of my pay-grade and growing in to it through stress, long hours and being forced to work harder and smarter to get the job done.
NOTE! I'm not saying write checks your body has no way of cashing. I'm saying write the check and go $20 over. Overdraft a little. Only once have I fallen flat and in that case I did the very best i could and communicated that with the Art Director. AD's don't expect miracles but they do want to know if you aren't going to make the mark; and know ASAP.
Things to Avoid-
Ego is a double edged sword. What I do isn't art. Not really. I think Picasso is art. The Sistine Chapel is art. Todd Lockwood does art. I do illustration for a buck. I do what I'm told and draw what is expected of me. Ego is checked at the door. My art directors usually know what they want and give me the lee way to to do it, but I avoid pushing that boundary too much.
A lot of guys doing this have these massive egos. They think they are good, and want to do what they want to do. They do it their way. They give Art Directors ulcers.
The Art Director can make or break you. If you become a primma-donna "Artiste" you become a headache and there is a line of guys just as good if not better lined up and hungry for the work. Remember that! (There's lots of ADs out there, but it's a small world, and people talk. Your Rep is everything.
The other edge of the sword is that you need to respect yourself and your work. Starting out is hard but be wary of people wanting freebies. Be careful in doing freebie work: make sure it is REALLY worth it. There ARE some instances where it is worth it (doing the Art Order competitions for Jon Schinderette
Thousands of talented, educated young men and women come out of school every year wanting to be an artist. Over half won't at all. Of the remaining half only a fraction survive the first few gigs because they give up. It's hard work. Ego often gets in the way.
I started out doing people's D&D characters. A thousand years later...I still do people's D&D characters. Never forget why you love this, why you do it and where you came from.
An artist is something you are, not something you become. You shouldn't really change...it's something you already ARE. Becoming an "artist" isn't some coming of age thing or something to attain. The pretentious guys forget that. Think they've "arrived". Stay who you are, be yourself and do your thing.
I love my job.
Editorial caviat: 100% of this is my opinion on the matter. There is no one true way to any of this. There are exceptions to every rule. I don't know everything. I'm no Jedi Master. Hell, I'm not even that good as far as all this goes. I do ok, and and keep busy year-round. But that doesn't make me an expert on anything. I'm glad to share what little experience I have with anyone wanting to do the same thing and I hope that you take all of this with a grain of salt, develop your own path once you get comfortable and share what you know for the next person. Pay it forward. Have fun. Love what you do.