Chapter 6 – Alternative Education

So How Can You Realistically Get started Today?

In school I did intense research about how to succeed as an artist for 4 years. And since then my search has continued. In all of the books I’ve read, listening to my favorite teachers’ lectures, and in all of the websites I visited, I only find bits and pieces of information about how to make a living without working for a studio as a production artist. It is not likely that you will find an online community that gives much information about how to succeed outside the industry. And even if you find some information here and there by doing extensive research, you still won’t find detailed instructions on how to make it happen for yourself. For this reason I have begun sharing what I’ve found. I’m adding some online tutorials and some articles about how to push the level of of your work. To learn more take a look at one of the new video tutorials or read some of the other helpful articles I’ve posted on the site

As an artist you also need an audience. The popularity of your work will determine how much money you can make off of it, but without being part of a community it can be difficult for your artwork to get any exposure. The more people that know about your work the more opportunities will come your way. This is marketing – the ability to sell yourself as an artist. Even if you have the greatest work in the world and a website to show it off, if no one knows about it and no one ever visits your site then you might as well be on an island. I’ll soon be adding a student gallery to the site where you can submit your work. By showing your work on my website you automatically gain the attention of all the other artists like yourself showing their artwork. You can find a group of artists with similar skill level and compare your work, or you can take a look at the more advanced artwork and learn from them.

The Best Things in Life are Free.
Free in the sense that they shouldn’t cost you money.
The most valuable things I ever learned I learned from a free bible study. A person who hardly knew me met with me once a week for nearly 6 months. I didn’t have a car at the time so he drove an hour to meet me and an hour back to his school. Sometimes he would pick me up and take me to the church which was another 45 minutes out of the way to learn from some of the lecturers at that church. He lived in Pasadena, I lived in Los Angeles, and the church was located in Orange County. On many occasions he would pick me up, take me to church, then take me home and return to Pasadena paying for everything. Any time that I learned a lesson he could end up driving a total of two to four hours. Before I finished the lessons his car got totaled by a car that was not insured. He was not reimbursed for his loss and then he asked another church member to pick him up, then pick me up, and drive us to church. This person then had to drop everyone off and return home. Why would people go to such extremes to teach someone else for free? I wasn’t aware of it at the time but since then I have realized the value of education. Education makes the world a better place because it eradicates the ignorance which destroys so many lives. Ultimately we must educate people to make our life and the students’ lives better. The benefit is mutual and absolutely necessary in life.

This is ultimately a business model that works. It makes the world a better place and it provides better lives for those involved. Teaching people for free may sound crazy to you but for me it makes sense because I’ve seen what it does for those involved. The person I learned the most from was born in a small village in Korea. He started the bible study I mentioned earlier. He taught people at his own expense and still spends all his time teaching. He has become world renowned for his writings, his drawings, his poetry, his proverbs, and for his teachings. He also founded an international sports event and an international modeling organization to help young people escape the dangers of the entertainment industry.

Where you live Doesn’t matter

I was born in Waco, TX and was raised in a small town 45 minutes from Houston, TX. My town is so small that we don’t even have a McDonald’s or a grocery store. We have to drive to the next town to get almost anything. I grew up in a Christian home and began drawing at an early age. When I was 11 years old my dad asked me to draw designs on helmets so he could paint them. A year later we had a business custom painting motocross helmets and Harley Davidson motorcycles. In highschool we moved onto painting show trucks. Since then I’ve had three trucks featured in magazines. When I was in junior high school my uncle gave me a computer with photoshop and illustrator. I taught myself desktop publishing and illustration. Very soon thereafter the internet became popular and I taught myself flash and web design. After I graduated from highschool I came out to Los Angeles to study animation. That is when my training really began. I had been drawing comics for a long time, but I learned that there is a huge difference between artists and trained artists. There I began the long process of learning the fundamentals. I attended anywhere from 8 to 16 hours of drawing classes year round for 4 years. I was only given 8 weeks of vacation per year, and it was during that vacation time that I drew the most. At one point I was attending figure drawing classes in the daytime and sketching from animated films before I went to bed at night. My school was computer intensive so I was also learning 3D programs at the same time. I worked part time at the video cage renting out cameras and keeping up the green screen room, so I learned video as well. I had already taught myself flash, photoshop, illustrator, and web design. Now I was also learning 2D animation, 3D animation, motion graphics, and digital video production. After 4 years I produced my first book, The Art of Shaun McMillan, and created some animated shorts. At the end of my fourth year I learned bible study and moved to Orange County. Since then I’ve worked professionally as a flash animator, story board Artist, character designer, illustrator, and web designer. I also managed to develop my own digital graphic comic, 5 websites, and helped my brother start his own company. Now I’m teaching Photoshop and Motion Graphics classes at Westwood college and I’m only 23 years old! I’ve only just begun to work on the projects that I’m really excited about and I’m looking for other artists who would like to the same.

I learned from my teacher that you must always keep learning and pushing yourself to try new things. I am currently helping to teach the bible study that he began 30 years ago and on top of all that I am also learning to play soccer, tennis, and the guitar. My family was so into extreme sports when I was growing up that I never got involved in any regular sports. Inspired by my teacher I recently decided to do something completely new for me – sports and music. He showed me that there really is no limit to what you can accomplish in one life as long as you take action.

Looking back I am surprised at how difficult it was to learn to draw properly and how little of an idea I had before I started school. But when I look at how expensive art schools are I wonder if it is absolutely necessary for every artist to go through the same financial difficulties to become a properly trained artist. If you are considering art school then email me at and let me know your situation. Depending on each person’s situation there are some schools that are better than others and each has it’s own qualification requirements. Almost every good art school requires that you show a portfolio in order to qualify for the program. And what they are looking for in a portfolio could be totally different than what you expect. They will definately want to see lots of life drawing and animal sketches. Before I attended school I had no idea what that was or how to properly produce such sketches. I’ll soon be starting some online drawing classes to help young artists get a better idea of how animators and painters draw. Every artist should have a clear understanding about composition, storytelling, how to use space effectively, accurate figure drawing, sophisticated cartooning, strong use of perspective, and strong design skills. Without these fundamentals its difficult to produce anything remotely professional.

The training required to become great is extensive. It goes far beyond high school or college. The learning process never really ends. And to do all this without going to school could be impossible without the encouragement of fellow artists to challenge you all the time and a good teacher to give you direction. I may soon be offering lessons on how to draw, how to animate comics, how to get started building websites and merchandizing your work, all online and free of charge.

The Lifestyle of a successful artist might be different than you imagined. We work long hours trying to perfect our work all the way up until the last second before deadlines. You want your work to be strong before you put it out into the world. Artists rarely become rich because the only way to make big money is to sell the rights to your creations, which puts their fate in the hands of people we don’t trust. Often times if we don’t work we don’t get paid, unlike business owners and real estate owners whose money keeps making them money whether they hustle or not. Sometimes we work and we still don’t get paid. But if you love to create then the chances are you will do it whether it pays off financially or not.

As an independent artist you will experience many dark times. Times when all of your hard work seems to have come to nothing. Times when you’ll see your work and hate yourself for not having any skill. Times when work you thought was good gets rejected by the audience. It’s difficult to manage your levels of motivation. Only as much as you do will get done, and after doing a lot of work it can seem endless. Sometimes you only have yourself to encourage you and finding it within yourself to keep going can be very difficult. It’s hard to keep working when you could just as easily sit back and relax. The pressure of deadlines will loom over your head if you procrastinate, and we always feel like putting off some of today’s work until tomorrow. Being self motivated is a constant difficulty. But do not focus on these negatives. You must always remind yourself of the alternative. If you don’t push yourself then you may easily find yourself in a position where you will have to take a crummy job to pay your bills. Then you won’t have the freedom to do your work as you please. Freedom comes with responsibility, and you don’t want to lose that freedom. Think of the worst job you’ve ever had and be thankful that you aren’t doing that anymore.

I find it helps to look at your favorite artists and remind yourself of why you got into this in the first place. I still love to watch Pixar films. They are so full of inspiration and heart. They encourage me to reach for the stars. Look at the masters of the past. Read your favorite comic. Read Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts. Post up your favorite artwork around your desk. Read art books. Constantly encourage yourself. If you are motivated by competition then look at the work of your peers. Look for fresh ideas. Read a good book that is completely unrelated and try to relate it. Your brain needs stimulation. Feed it. I heard that someone once asked a great artist how he got so good. The great artist replied, “If you want good shit, you have to eat well.” I concur. Constantly copy your favorites and try to find what it is fundamentally that makes their work so good. Try to catch the spirit of their work. In this way you can teach yourself and make them your teachers. Many great artists have come down this path and have passed away. But their work remains. If they put their heart and spirit into their work, then their spirits are with us when we study their work. In this way you are never really alone. Keep in mind that we have a history that lead us up to this point. By pushing forward you make all the work you did up to this point worthwhile. If you give up then you not only lose the opportunity of this moment, but you have to reap the reward of all the work you did up to this point.

Your attitude towards your work is directly related to the quality and quantity of your work. With $90,000 of debt and a history of jobs that I hated I find motivation by telling myself that this is my one and only chance at freedom. If I fail in this moment then how do I know that it won’t ultimately cause to me to fail in the end? You have to kill your mentality and resurrect it everyday. I believe this is what Paul meant when he said, “I die everyday.” in 1 Corinthians 15:31 It is not physical, it’s mental. Your mind wavers so easily but you must grab your heart and be determined in your mind. Focus your mind and see just how much potential you really have.

Now is the time to take action. Create some artwork. Upload it to an online community. Create a website at Upload some designs to merchandize at Compile your work into a book and publish it at Email me at and tell me what you think. Do something. If you fail to take action then you just wasted your precious time reading a book that will ultimately do you no good. If you need an idea then ask me and I will personally help you get started. I have so many ideas I’d love to get started on but I’ve already begun so many projects and I’m learning so much that I can’t put it all to action without some help. So if you need an idea I will immediately give you something to do that I am sure will be innovative and new. If you need technical help then visit the education section of the website and learn something new.

You may never be more motivated to get started then you are right now. So if you fail right now then you are likely to fail tomorow and the day after as well. This moment is symbolic. It represents the rest of your day. And your day represents your life. If you fail to take action right now, it is like failing to accomplish the hopes and dreams of your life. If you succeed today, then is a great chance you make more progress tomorow, and the next week, and the next year, and so on. Your motivation is not likely to remain at this high level so it’s important to get connected to someone who can help when it is more difficult later on. If you get discouraged then another fellow artist can encourage you at that time. But if you are by yourself with no one to reach out to when that time comes, then it will be too late to try and make a connection. For this reason I strongly suggest you become a part of a community. I’ll soon be creating a forum where artists can upload and critique each other’s work. I’ll also be constantly updating this website with new inspirational ideas, tutorials, and examples of impressive work. So keep in your bookmarks and pay us a visit every now and then. If you want to receive updates on the website then you can subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking on the square orange link in the right collumn.

Good luck. I hope you find your way.

~Shaun D. McMillan

Chapter 1 -Your life as an Artist

Chapter 2 – What every artist should know BEFORE Art School

Chapter 3 – The Industry

Chapter 4 – Freedom as an Independent Artist

Chapter 5 – What do I need to Make It On My Own?

Chapter 6 – Alternative Education


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