Kratom is probably one of my favorite discoveries I’ve made in the last few years and it’s a damn shame how few people know about it. I love optimizing my health, nutrition, and supplements—but I rarely talk much about that. I’m an artist and most people want to hear me talk about making art. But kratom has been an amazing help for my art & work.
I’ve always struggled with energy, focus, motivation, and mood.
I’m usually pretty slow and low-energy. I have an awful time with focus (yay for ADD). As much as I love art and everything else I do, I struggle like crazy to actually motivate myself to do anything.
That’s where kratom comes in.
What is kratom?
Kratom is a natural plant powder that tastes vile but provides a wonderful energy and mood boost. I think of it like coffee, but no jitters and a nice bump of good vibes. Also if you’re like me and caffeine doesn’t do much for you, then give kratom a shot. I think you’ll be impressed.
How do you take kratom?
There are a lot of ways to take kratom and most of them are kinda unpleasant. I think it’s a testament to how much I like kratom that I still take it even though it tastes disgusting.
It’s a bit like a gritty, super-bitter matcha or green tea. It’s pretty gross. But people do mix it like a tea. Pour some hot water into the powder and add some honey to take the edge off. If you’re going to make a tea, though, don’t use boiling water! Let it cool off from boiling or use a kettle that lets you specify a temperature under 200℉ (that’s about 93℃). If the water is too hot apparently it can denature the kratom (or something science-y like that) and reduce the effectiveness.
But if you don’t want to have sorta-gross tea, there’s still hope! The best way for kratom-newbies to start taking it is in pill form. It’s not the most cost-effective way to take it long-term. But it’s a quick and easy way to dip your toes in the water. Pro tip, though: be sure you drink plenty of water after taking the pill. Burping up kratom powder is a wildly unpleasant experience.
They also have actually tasty options now. There are pre-mixed little energy shots. There are even gummies!
Nowadays, for the sake of time and cost efficiency, I just mix the powder in cold water and chug it. I don’t necessarily recommend that as the best method. It’s probably one of the worst ways to take it but it still does the trick for me. You should probably use a shaker cup (like people use for protein shakes) to get out all the clumps. Clumps are gross.
If you’re going to take the powder form, whether in a tea or a disgusting powdery shot, be sure and buy a milligram scale. Pretty much any of them will do. I own this one from amazon and it’s nothing special, but it works for me.
Where do I buy kratom?
The only people I’ve heard who have had bad experiences with kratom are those who have bought it from less-than-reputable sources. Other stuff gets mixed in with the kratom and they have a bad day.
I don’t like having bad days, so I always buy kratom that I trust. You can usually find it at vape stores and the like, but I’m lazy and I buy everything online. I found Happy Hippo Herbals and they’re the only place I’ve bought kratom for the last few years. They make great & safe products, they have really good prices, they have an incredible selection of different strains, and they ship extremely quickly.
If you use this link or my discount code, NOAH15, you get 15% off. It’s an affiliate link so I’ll make a few bucks if you order some kratom through them, so obviously I’m biased. But I’ve been recommending kratom to my friends for years and have been referring people to this same site regardless. This isn’t just spam. I really think they’re awesome.
Don’t be an idiot
I’m not a doctor and I’m not giving you medical advice. I can barely take care of my own body, much less anyone else’s.
Kratom isn’t super well researched and you can find a lot of “kratom will save us all” and “kratom is literally the devil” stuff online. I have no idea where exactly it’ll end up, but probably somewhere in the middle (as with most things).
So be sensible about it, read some more stuff, and try tiny amounts of it, especially when you’re starting out. If you take too much you can get pretty nauseous, which is never fun. Also take days/weeks/months completely off. It’s pretty easy to build a tolerance and I hate being dependent on anything. So don’t be an idiot, be smart, go slow.
I am extraordinarily blessed to do what I love for a living. Somehow in the last couple decades I’ve turned a hobby into a profession and then into a lifestyle. I thought that some aspiring artists out there might be encouraged to see the road that someone else has taken.
It’s been a hell of a journey to get where I am today and there have been some brutal bumps along the way, but I love the life I’ve been given. I hope you get a kick out of seeing how it’s gone so far.
Note: this article was originally published 7 years ago on Medium and this is an updated version. It turns out that a lot can happen in 7 more years, some very good and some very bad. Maybe I’ll update this in another 7 years.
2003–2006 (14–17~ years old)
I didn’t want to be an artist.
I wanted to make video games. I was a nerd. I took programming classes at the local community college when I was 14. I made art (and always had), but only as a hobby.
Most of my artistic interests at the time were in making pixel art — primarily because I could use it in the games I was making.
I also found the ConceptArt.org forums (they have, notably, since taken a nosedive — but that’s a story for internet-drama history). This was in the forum’s heyday when a slew of amazing concept artists and illustrators were active on there. I constantly browsed and sometimes posted. It was a goldmine of information, inspiration, and sharing. It was where I discovered that there were people out there who got to paint beautiful, amazing things and made a living from it.
I took some drawing classes at the local community college, alongside a few programming, graphic design, and general ed courses. I also had my introduction to painting there.
2006–2011 (18–23~ years old)
In 2006, shortly before my 18th birthday, I had a pivotal week. With typical teenage audacity, I decided to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
Within a week.
I spent the week writing lists. Pros/cons. Writing about what I wanted in life. Sitting around thinking. Taking walks in the woods.
And eventually came down to a few distinct choices:
Programmer. I could make games for a living. I wasn’t a prodigy, but I was a fairly adept programmer for my age. I had made some games and I had a lot of fun doing it.
Graphic designer. I took design classes at the community college as well and had picked it up extremely quickly. I had even freelanced a little, though I always hated working for clients and taking feedback from them.
Carpenter. My dad builds houses for a living, and it was always an option (and, I suppose, still is if this art thing doesn’t work out for me) for me to take over the company.
I decided to become an artist not because that’s what would make me the most money, or what I was most “talented” at, or even what I necessarily always enjoyed the most. It was simply something that, in my gut, I just knew was the right choice. Without anything better to go on, that’s what I relied on. In hindsight, I think I could have been happy with any of these choices. I think they were all good paths and each could have brought me a lot of fulfillment. Sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to replay life with these other options. But art’s the one I picked.
From this moment, the fear began. I spent every day of the next decade or so, with some variance, utterly terrified of failing. Of not being good enough. Not making enough money to support myself. Being a horrible, embarrassing failure. And while I would have a healthy dose of failure later in my career, at the time I saw any failure as the worst possible fate I could meet.
So it was this fear that propelled me to improve. I don’t think fear is necessarily the best motivator, but it’s the one I had.
My first decision was where to go to art school. Incidentally, no one had told me not to go to art school, so I started researching schools. I figured if I was going to do this whole art thing, I wanted to do it right. So I looked up rankings and decided the Rhode Island School of Design was where I wanted to go. It seemed mighty prestigious and like I could learn to make some damn good art there.
I got in. Barely.
I was wait-listed. But eventually got the call that I had been accepted. Unfortunately, it included no scholarships at all. The entirety of the approximate $35k tuition would rest on my shoulders (not to mention living expenses). This was a financially tough time for my family, so every dime would come entirely from loans.
I wrestled with the choice as long as I possibly could.
And decided not to go. I would, instead, reapply the next year after working on my craft and improving my portfolio in hopes of receiving a scholarship.
The first thing I did was sign up for a class at nearby University of Virginia to take figure drawing. I had never done any figure drawing and felt that lacking in my application.
I also began taking private lessons with a local portrait painter I was luckily introduced to, Henry Wingate. He was trained classically and taught me some of these methods of slow observational drawing.
A year passed and it was time to reapply to RISD. I did a fresh set of their required application drawings and sent in a portfolio of new work.
I still remember the day I got the letter from RISD. It was a big envelope. I think I confused the mailman with how enthusiastic I was.
I had gotten in with a $20k/year scholarship.
The following months I would scramble to secure the student loans in order to pay the remainder of the costs. My parent’s financial situation, thanks to the housing crisis, was still bleak. So as much as they would have loved to have helped, it was on me (and the good people at JPMorgan Chase).
I made it to RISD. And then I worked. I mean worked. To RISD’s credit, they are effective at making their students work hard. My classmates and I put in insane hours working on our craft. If it takes ten thousand hours, then I was getting there as quickly as I could. Art consumed nearly every hour of every day. When I wasn’t in class, I was probably working on homework, drawing in my sketchbook, or strolling through their art museum.
The academic year came to a close. I had made friends and did more art than I should fit in this post. But the financial realities of staying for another two years until graduation were coming to the forefront. Tuition was rising and my scholarship was not. To stay would mean ending up with over $100k in debt. I really wanted to be an artist but I was terrified of being saddled with such a daunting load of debt.
So I left.
I transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University. I had grown up in VA and still lived with my parents there, so I was able to get in-state tuition. The school accepted me before I even officially applied. VCU didn’t have the prestige that RISD had, but I would be able to get a degree and continue my study of art.
During this summer before I went to VCU, something extraordinary happened. I had spent the entirety of my artistic life avoiding landscape art of any kind. I found it painfully boring. I would even go to a museum and walk straight past all of the Hudson River School painters. I wanted to see the epic narrative paintings or the incredible portrait paintings. Not dumb ol’ landscapes.
But this summer I actually walked outside with my paints. I did the first plein air work of my life. And I loved it. Every minute of it. The heat, the glare of light, the wind blowing my paper around and bugs flying into my paint. Everything about it just felt… right. I had grown up in the woods of Virginia and it felt like a dream come true to get to create art and experience nature at the same time.
So with this fresh outlook on what sort of art I thought I should make, I went to Richmond to attend VCU. I made a new group of friends. We were all assigned to fill sketchbooks. While I had always had sketchbooks and filled them up from time to time, VCU seemed obsessed with them. Our professors made sure we were constantly working in them, often grading us largely based on the number of pages filled.
Let me take this opportunity to admit: I am not a very good draftsman. I’ve always felt more comfortable painting than drawing. And despite filling a sketchbook or two mostly with line drawings, that didn’t improve all that much. So I started painting in them. I knew I could fill a page a lot faster with a brush than a pencil.
Besides drawing my friends, sometimes family, and often strangers, I filled up my sketchbooks with studies of landscapes (from life, the masters, and photos). I knew if I wanted to make good landscapes, I needed to study them a lot.
But still, as any good art student does, I continued to work on my figurative skills. But during this time I noticed an odd sort of trend. People said much nicer things about my landscapes than my figures. Particularly odd considering less than a year prior I had been adamantly opposed to doing landscapes at all.
But the work I was putting in wasn’t enough. I knew that even though I was learning and improving, I needed to work on stuff that my classes weren’t covering. I needed to pursue the work I wanted to be paid to do. So in my evenings, after I was done with classes and homework — VCU, thankfully, had a considerably lighter homework load than RISD — I would do imaginative sketches of landscapes. Ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours, you might have even called them “speed paintings” back in the day. They were tools for me to learn how to develop an entire scene, color palette, and mood in a very short amount of time.
This was one of the most important exercises I have ever done. This is where I took the years of study and began really applying them. The skills I began to develop in these have been immensely helpful for my work in the years since.
People responded positively to them. I was finding something that worked for me. I even had fun doing it. But I knew that I had to do more if I was going to get paid to do this. Everything I did was unfinished and that’s not usually what people are hired to do. I had to finish some of these.
I am an obnoxiously impatient person and I had a hard time working on a piece to completion. I would get sick of something and just want to move on to the next piece. Which is often what I did. So I was sitting on a pile of unfinished work and my junior year was coming to a close.
I buckled down and forced myself to finish just one piece.
I had done it. And I was proud. I had produced a piece that, despite all of the flaws I now see in it (and they are many), was at a fairly professional level. The lighting is pretty good, the composition is solid, the space and atmosphere is believable, and I had forced myself to take enough time that most things are decently rendered, at least for my standards at the time. If you don’t look too closely, the piece stands up pretty well.
During the remainder of the spring semester and into the summer, I worked on finishing my first portfolio of work in hopes of perhaps landing some client work.
This is the point when everything tipped.
I had spent all of these years working to acquire a base of skills in art and at this point, I had done just that. I was far from being perfect, but I knew I had attained a professional level. And all before my senior year in school.
It felt amazing.
2010–2015 (22-27~ years old)
During September of my senior year I took a day or two off of classes to drive up to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania for Illuxcon, a fairly new convention for fantasy & science fiction illustrators. I had gone the year before and walked around, talked to a few people, and come away profoundly inspired by the amazing work I had seen there. I even showed my work to a few artists and got some much-needed feedback. It had been my goal to come back, get a table at their showcase event, and impress everyone. That was my mission.
And to some degree, I think I succeeded.
I came back with the portfolio you saw above and I did make a splash (giving away hundreds of free prints didn’t hurt). I went from entirely unknown to someone worth noticing. And the art directors noticed too. It was wonderful and exhilarating and I’ll never forget the pure joy of that night, showing off my work and chatting with some of my artistic heroes.
All of this work and networking led to my first jobs. There’s a little overlapping of timelines here, because the work started rolling in during the summer before my senior year and kept up all through graduation. So I was somewhere between student and professional for about a year there.
Working professionally felt incredible. I was working hard to do both class work and professional work. The constant need to churn out finished work was a lesson in efficiency and productivity. I didn’t want to drop the ball as soon as I had “made it.” Despite all of this, I didn’t want to stay working at this level. Most of the jobs paid terribly and I knew I couldn’t live on those rates. I had my sights set higher, on more prestigious and well paying jobs.
I wanted Dungeons & Dragons.
I had met with the art director, Jon Schindehette, at Illuxcon and received a very positive review. So I was hoping and waiting for the call. And one night, on the way out to dinner with some friends, I got the email. Jon wanted to give me some work.
Three commissions, in fact. The biggest one being a cover piece for their online magazine. Wow. The brief was still titled, “Sam Burley.pdf”, after the name of a fellow illustrator who I suppose was originally intended to do this piece. I did not mind in the slightest being the second tier artist.
The success with that piece and others led me on to being a consistent artist for D&D for the years to follow.
And still, during this time, I forced myself to continue producing personal pieces. Just for myself, my portfolio, and my own satisfaction. Professional work is always limited by the constraints of the project and the deadlines that come with it. But personal work? Complete freedom! Freedom to explore whatever subjects & themes I liked and to spend as much time as I needed to make them as good as I could.
This last piece is very important for me. Hope of Glory is the piece I used as the cover of a postcard mailer I made for one of my classes during my senior year (I did, reluctantly, still do my homework). Among the many art directors I sent it to was the art director of Magic: The Gathering, Jeremy Jarvis, with a quick “Would love to work with you sometime!” scrawled on the back. Magic was and remains one of the most coveted jobs for fantasy artists everywhere. They pay well, have a huge fan base, and only hire very good artists. Plus it’s pretty fun.
And a month after graduation I got an email from him. I was sitting at a stoplight when it came in and I’m not ashamed to admit that I lost it a bit.
It was an amazing road working with Wizards. They were with me for most of my professional career and constantly challenged me while giving me room to grow. I worked for them for nearly 10 years before being fired. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Soon after graduation, I moved back in with my parents. I was doing well enough with freelance work that I could have made it on my own. But I had $40k in student loans that were weighing me down. So I humbled myself and moved back home. I know how fortunate I was to have a comfortable home to live in while getting my career off the ground. The early days of any career are often pretty hard and I’ll always be thankful for my parents for all of the support they gave me.
I spent the following year working. A lot. Harder than I had ever worked before. Taking on as much work as I possibly could and pushing my skills to be the best they could be. Somehow, some way, by some miracle, I paid off my loans in precisely one year, one month, and one day after graduation. Just past my (insane) goal of paying them off within a year.
Some of the most ground-breaking improvements in my art at the time are in these two personal pieces:
Around that time I started getting annoyed. I got annoyed with how students are taught and with how art schools take advantage of eager young art students. I saw too many of my peers taken advantage of. They charge tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and give too little in return.
So for one thing, I wrote that angry rant that a few of you might have read. It pissed off a few people but it has helped a lot of artists over the years find alternate routes to pursue their dreams. I’m pretty proud of that.
In 2013, I started Art Camp. It was designed to be a summer program that ran for 12 weeks and would teach students the very basic, fundamental exercises they should use to improve their work. They’re all of the exercises I had spent the last several years doing. I had seen so many students who were motivated but utterly confused as to how to improve. So I put together a little program to guide people through the process. And it blew up.
Like, a lot. I set out to get just 25 students to sign up. I ended up with hundreds.
Art Camp has grown and evolved in the years since and I’m honored to have helped thousands of artists pursue their own journey in art.
At the heart of my work has always been my personal work. And so in 2013 I finally told everyone that these pieces were part of a cohesive world that I call The Sin of Man. It’s a primal, fantastical world full of strange magic, weird creatures, and mysterious gods. I don’t know where this road will lead me, but I love making the work. There’s still no end in sight and sometimes I feel guilty about that. But I’m in no rush to stop creating this work. It’s a world that I love spending time in.
I was traveling the world, creating art for a world of my own design, and helping aspiring artists make better work. I can barely begin to express just how lucky I felt to have the life I did. I may have worked at it, but it’s hard to feel deserving of so much.
This is the point in my story where this article ended before. But as with all good stories, things had to get worse for a while before they got better.
2015–2020 (27–32~ years old)
This was an odd time in my life. I had some of the best moments of my life and some of the worst. I created some of the best art I had ever made but also felt stagnant and burned out. I suppose this was my coming of age moment. I had a lot of lessons to learn and life conspired to make sure I did.
Behind the facade of social media bliss, I was increasingly unhappy. I was the most stressed, anxious, and generally unhappy that I had ever been. I struggled to address the issues causing it and instead tried to cover over the problems by throwing myself more into my work. It helped, but it didn’t solve the underlying issues.
I continued my pursuit of teaching and put together Art Camp 3: Landscapes where I taught everything I had learned about landscape painting. I’ve never been satisfied with the approach that other instructors take with landscape painting and wanted to take a swing at it myself. I’m proud of the result. I think it’s the best course I’ve ever put together.
Soon after that course finished, I went into hiding.
My rosy picture on social media did not fully nor accurately portray what was going on behind the scenes. I had reached a slump. You might call it burnout, even. I lost a lot of the joy in my art. I contemplated a career change. I wanted to get away from things and find a new direction. I left social media.
Right at the brink, when I considered giving up my career and going into hiding, there she was.
I met a girl when I was passing through London. We had a single date and I wondered if I’d ever see her again. Life was kind to me and I did see her again a couple months later in Costa Rica. We fell hopelessly in love. We were engaged less than a year later.
I had never been happier.
I had the best years of my life with the best woman in the world. I made the best work of my career and felt hopeful about the future again. Things were really damn good.
We started 2018 by traveling. I proposed to Rachel on a beach in Bali and we came back to America, married, and continued building the life we both always wanted.
I managed to dig myself out of the mental pit I had occupied for a while. I had found my love of art again, thanks to her. I even got back on social media, which was probably a mistake. But things were looking up and our presence was growing online. It was fun to give people a little glimpse into our blissful marriage & partnership which we called Team Bradley. We even made hats.
As 2019 began, we started a business together: Reference.Pictures. What began as a little side project became our primary focus and income by the time 2020 rolled around. We had a blast dressing up and shooting pictures together and building a successful online business.
2020 was a hard year for a lot of people. But 2020 hit me personally in a way I had never expected. 2020 was the year that my life and career irreversibly changed.
I was cancelled on June 21, 2020 and nearly everything I had spent the past 17 years working towards evaporated. All freelance work dried up, my income from my online businesses was decimated, and I was shunned from nearly every social circle I was in. I’m not proud of the things I did which led to this. It’s embarrassing as hell and I’m sure plenty of people will think I got exactly what I deserved. I absolutely understand why people feel that way and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. I’m just here to tell my story.
2020–20XX (32+ years old)
I had to find a life after my catastrophe. Everything that I had staked my income and self-worth on was gone. Any respect I had earned was gone. I had to rebuild. I didn’t lose everything and for that I am still grateful. I see the blessings I still had. People still supported me and wanted to see me heal. The mob was huge and angry and scary, but I couldn’t let them dictate my future.
Amidst the death threats, the loss of work, and the harassment of my wife, it felt like carrying on was impossible. Like something I was not entitled to. Like it would only make things worse. But this all happened because I’d wanted to be better, because I believed in taking accountability and doing the hard work to create positive change. I wouldn’t let fear stop me from using what I still had to help and inspire others.
But first I had to heal. So for a while, I didn’t do any art. It was the longest I had gone without drawing in probably 20 years. When I finally did return, I fought back tears as I drew those first lines. Art was tied to a lot of pain now. But art was how I had dealt with strong emotions in my past and I thought that I could find healing in making art again.
I had spent the last ten years focused heavily on painting landscapes. They had some figures in them from time to time, but everyone had known me as a landscape painter. I wouldn’t say I resented that label, but I did feel bad that I couldn’t paint figures as well as I wanted to. So I set about fixing that. What better time?
So I became a student again. I’ve always loved learning and it was incredibly gratifying to return to that. I drew and painted every day. In many ways, 2021 became one of the most productive years of my life. I only completed a handful of “finished” paintings but I did hundreds upon hundreds of studies. I learned more about figure drawing and painting than I had in the previous ten years combined.
My wife, Rachel, is also an incredible artist. But before we got together she hadn’t had the opportunity to pursue art full time. So getting to witness and participate in her education and growth over the past 5 years was inspiring. Seeing her studying always makes me want to study. She has also been the most perfect source of encouragement and critique. She’s always applied the correct shove to get me and my work headed in a better direction.
I was afraid for a long time that I could never have a successful online business again after my scandal. I feared that without the backing of those who had turned against me, anything I did would be squashed, ignored, or attacked. So in an effort to face these fears and to heal, I challenged myself to release a new reference pack on Reference.Pictures every single week in 2021. This is far more than we had been doing before but I wanted to see if I could do it.
Now I’m getting back to finishing paintings, using some of the new skills I’ve developed. It’s helped me make more of the work that I want to make without feeling embarrassed by the quality of the figure painting. I still have more that I need to learn, though, so I’m still studying when I can. The road of learning never ends.
I’m not sure where things will go from here. At the time of this writing, I’m nearly two years away from the cancellation and things are good for me. I love making art and I love the life I have. I have become, in a strange sort of way, grateful for everything that’s happened. I’ve lost a lot but I value what I have even more.
I don’t know the best way to end this article. And maybe that’s as it should be. Too many people try to impart wisdom and forget about their own survivorship bias. Aside from some obvious suggestions (e.g., try not to blow up your career), I feel like the original ending to this article still works, so I’ll leave you with that:
I hope that, in some small way, this post serves to encourage fellow artists on their journey. It can take a long time and seem hopeless. It can be exhausting, discouraging, even depressing. But if you stay at it, someday you will make it past those obstacles.
Because if you just keep going, eventually you’ll find yourself somewhere.
My life ended on June 21, 2020 and I want to tell you what that’s been like.
I was cancelled. I don’t want to rant about why this is so unfair nor to prove my innocence. No matter your take on what happened, I want to share what that felt like so that you might see why cancelling those who are attempting to grow is such a counterproductive and potentially dangerous trend. If you’re interested, I recorded a podcast at the beginning of this year where I talk about the experience and I think it gives a pretty good overview of what happened to me.
June 21, 2020
I woke up to several people tagging me in a twitter thread for my sleezy behavior at some art events many years ago. I wasn’t that person any more and I wanted to apologize for being an asshole in the past. I had apologized privately for everything, but I hoped it might show my sincerity and commitment to being better to address it publicly. So I wrote up a statement saying I had slept with women at events and sometimes I was a dick. The statement was heavily (and perhaps hastily) worded in an effort to convey my understanding of the gravity of hurting people and my desire to set a good example. The internet, though, misinterpreted some of what I had said and began accusing me of rape. No one has ever accused me of raping them. But twitter latched onto that narrative and couldn’t let it go.
1. The End
Shock, confusion, emptiness. A pit in my stomach that didn’t go away for a long time. After the initial supportive replies to my apology, things took a dark turn. While I was apologizing for hitting on girls and sleeping with them and hurting people’s feelings, the internet misunderstood and assumed I was admitting to rape.
At first I was in disbelief. Maybe it was just a few people. There are always outliers online. But the narrative spread. And once that was out there, I didn’t see any way to correct it. Because if you say “I’m not a rapist” then the response will always be “that’s what a rapist would say.” There is no defense I can make because there are no actual accusations against me of that. Now that people view all of my words & actions through a lens of assumed guilt, it’s a hard climb out of that hole.
I froze. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. As I saw the thousands of tweets rolling in over those first few days, I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t think anyone really knows how they’ll act in those moments, but it felt like the best and most sensible thing to do to not respond for a while. My well-intentioned words had already dug me a hole and I was terrified to say anything else. My voice had been entirely silenced, taken away and used by others to say something completely different. Maybe I should have been slower writing my apology and it wouldn’t have been misinterpreted. So maybe now I should be slow to say anything more. What if I made things worse?
The dark night of my soul
I think my low point happened when the story was picked up by some bigger online blogs. Not because they made things worse or that I have any delusions about their journalistic integrity (I was never asked for a comment by any media outlet or blog that shared this story). But there was something about seeing it there that made it so real. It took it out of the small social circle that apology was addressed towards and made me a monster to a much larger circle.
I don’t think I can fully describe the heart-wrenching pain of seeing your life & career crumbling around you and feeling utterly powerless to stop it. I thought I was fast approaching my inevitable and permanent end. I don’t cry often, but I cried a lot that night.
The 48 Laws of Power mess
I feel like an idiot about this one.
I’ve read the 48 Laws of Power and I found it an interesting book. I naively saw it only as a way to understand & categorize the crazy power plays historical figures have made. I made some desktop wallpapers to remind myself of those various laws because I have a poor memory and wanted to remind myself of them while I was reading a bunch of history books. I didn’t make this clear and people dug this up later while I was being cancelled. They inferred that these were laws I based my life around and viewed everything I had done (including my apology) through this lens.
I kick myself for this one a lot. I should have realized that it didn’t look like I was sharing a useful resource but instead a handbook on how to be a sociopath. To clarify: I don’t think this is a good book to base your life around. I think it can be used abusively and I see that now and I was too wrapped up in the “more knowledge can’t be a bad thing” to see how likely it would be that people would use it badly.
My career ended. I had worked for about 10 years as an illustrator. I understand why the companies fired me and don’t blame them. Nobody wants to invite a shitstorm.
The only client I was still working for when this happened was Wizards of the Coast (working on Magic: the Gathering) and they put out a statement saying they wouldn’t work with me any more. They recommissioned other artists to repaint a lot of the soon-to-be-published paintings I had done for them.
I’m disappointed by the way some of those working relationships ended, though, and I wish it could have been done a little better. But that’s the way it went.
I haven’t worked for anyone in the last year. I’ve been offered some smaller and private commissions, but I’m taking this time away to work on myself. But going through this gives me an extreme empathy for anyone who’s cancelled and doesn’t have an emergency savings fund.
I stopped making art
Art is my life, my passion, my hobby. I live and breath and think and love art.
And I stopped for quite a long time.
I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pencil for a couple months. It was the longest I had gone without making art in about 15 years or so. Probably longer.
The idea of drawing was too painful and the combination of trauma and anxiety and depression was too much to overcome for a while. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t face it. What could I possibly paint that would mean anything anymore? What was the point of creating, of expressing, of feeling joy again?
Loss of friends
I lost a lot of friends.
They work in the art world and if they were seen supporting me they would be brought down too. The social media network is a giant standoff, everyone standing with guns drawn and carefully eyeing one another, anxiously waiting for the next wrong move. If you don’t shoot the person everyone else is shooting, then you might be next.
So I don’t blame them. Truly. It’s taken a fair bit of work to get me here but I understand why they need to be where they are and doing what they do. I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s life or career by asking them to support me.
The part that hurts the most, I guess, are the close friends who didn’t even shoot me a message before jumping onto the social media bandwagon. When you form close friendships, there is a vulnerability and trust that, when things get tough, you’ll at least have their generous assumption that there is more to the story. I’d hoped at least for a “hey Noah, what the fuck?” Instead they reacted immediately and disowned me publicly and I haven’t heard from them since. That hurt. It made me look back on many years-long friendships and wonder if they were ever what I thought they were.
The worst pain I experienced in the past year wasn’t because of anything that happened to me. It was the effect this had on my wife.
My wife was a new artist who entered into this social media world over the past few years. Because of my sometimes-controversial online image (mostly due to my let’s-be-arrogant-to-hide-my-insecurity bravado of my younger years that got me into this mess in the first place), a lot of professional artists who she had looked up to had been generally shit to her. She had to deal with a lot early on. I won’t get into that here because that’s not my story to tell. But I’ve always felt bad that my past has hurt the person I care for the most in this life.
My cancellation added whole new layers to the shit she has to deal with.
My womanizing at events predates ever meeting my wife. But people went so far as to call her a rapist, a sex trafficker, or at best a rape apologist. The online world expected her to divorce me and when she didn’t many more people who claimed they would support her, shunned her.
I’m still not sure how to forgive myself for all of the pain I’ve inadvertently directed her way.
But in spite of everything, she has stuck with me and is the reason I’m still alive today.
I didn’t kill myself or try to, but I sure saw the merits of not existing any more. The brink has never looked quite so appealing.
If not for the love of my wife, family, and friends, I dread to think what might have been.
2. The Valley
Healing, changing, learning, and growing
I had changed my behavior long before my apology was written last year. I had figured out why I had done what I had, why it was unhealthy, and how to change. I wasn’t that person any more. So it made it hard to show the internet much “change.” Because in recent years I’ve been doing my best to be a positive presence in my community. I made art, made resources for artists, and tried above all else to help other artists and make people feel good about their journey.
It’s a bit harder to show transformation when that transformation has already happened. It’s like a “before and after” weight-loss post without a before picture. Ain’t quite as impressive.
So my healing had a lot less to do with my distant past and a lot more to do with the trauma I had just endured.
It took a while to acknowledge that being cancelled constituted trauma. Trauma is something that, until recent years, was generally viewed as being a narrow spectrum of experiences and, because of that, I didn’t feel I deserved to use that word to describe what I went through. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m taking that word away from other people who have endured different trauma.
But recognizing my experience as trauma helped me find the tools to heal from it. I learned that, when you remove the massive scale and severe implications of my specific situation, lots of people could relate to the experience of having their voice taken away, of being shunned from a community that was dear to them over a misunderstanding. I realized that that trauma is much less unique than it felt.
I got harassed a lot in the months following. I received a bunch of insults, hate, death threats, etc.
It never made sense to me that these strangers hated me so viciously, but I also don’t know what they’re going through in life and the pain they’re carrying around. Maybe a little more empathy in the world would be a good thing.
Bitterness & hate
I don’t want to be a bitter, hateful person and I have done everything in my power to try and prevent that from happening. It would be so damn easy to slip into that way of thinking. But it’s not who I want to be. I know that continuing the cycle of hatred will only bring more misery.
I’m not really proud of this but I’ve fantasized about revenge on some of the people who betrayed me. I’ve got plenty of dirt on plenty of people and could get a lot of them cancelled too. Many of the people who loudly criticized me or stood by the wayside watching it happen did so because they are ashamed of and scared by their own less-than-admirable behavior in the past, and it was incredibly tempting to drag those people down with me.
But it’s not the right thing to do and it’s not the person I want to be. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it.
I read a lot of books that helped me and I wanted to share them here. I imagine some folks who are going through their own cancellation (or another pain) will see this and I want to share a few of the things that helped me:
I’ve always been a pretty bad meditator. I’ve meditated on and off throughout my adult life but never consistently. But I’ve meditated a lot lately. It helps me to understand and face my feelings and return to the present. When I’m spiraling down into feelings of hurt and hopelessness, this practice helps keep me grounded in the present. Meditating isn’t making me some super-powered millennial entrepreneur, but it’s helping me cope with life.
I had some unexpected friendships grow out of this and some others who have stuck with me through this whole ride over the last year. Those people who have messaged me over the last year, even just to say “hang in there” have meant so much to me. I experienced the power of true empathy, and it has in turn made me a better person.
To all of you who have helped support me: thank you. You have no idea how much every single message has meant to me.
I also became friends with some other people who have been cancelled. I’ve been able to encourage them and they’ve been there to encourage me. If you’ve been cancelled and want someone to talk with who won’t shame or judge you, shoot me a message. I’m always here to talk. I know that sometimes a listening ear can make all the difference.
I ran a lot. I don’t like running, but it seemed like good therapy. It gave me time and space to let my brain process all that had happened. And it helped to fill my days when things were hard.
The first time I picked up a pencil again after all of this I fought back tears. Art was tied to all of the pain I went through and I couldn’t draw without thinking about all of the trauma.
But once I started doing art again, I kept it up. And in a way that’s been its own healing journey. I’ve reclaimed art as my own. It’s a hobby again and I think I enjoy it even more now.
3. The Beginning
A brand new life
I’ve got a whole new life now. Not everyone gets a chance to start over again but I have. Everything is out there. Every bad, embarrassing, or awkward thing I’ve ever done has been shared on the internet. All of my friends and family know everything. All of the darts have been thrown. Every shot fired. Everything burned.
But I’m still here.
There’s a weird sense of invincibility that I’ve begun to feel. When most of the doors in life shut on you, it opens all sorts of unexpected opportunities. I know now what I can endure and that’s given me the strength to boldly face whatever comes.
I used my new life as an opportunity to reinvent my art, too.
I considered doing the pseudonym thing after all of this happened. Just change my style a bit, make a new persona online, and carry on. It wouldn’t be that hard. But I decided against it. OR DID I!?!?
Yeah really. I thought it would be better to just be me and see what I could do with my art.
I went back into student-mode and have done a lot of studying art this year. I’ve been working on improving my skills and strengthening my weaknesses in art. It feels good and it’s been fun.
Back to work
I accidentally started a business with my wife a few years ago making reference pictures for artists. It was a lot of fun and surprised us with how successful it was.
I let it sit for a long time after this. I was scared to get back to it. I was scared to work with models again and put stuff out into the world again. Pretty much every move I made online was met with harassment.
But I did it. I started launching new weekly reference packs at the beginning of this year and it’s been great. I love getting back to helping people with what I make. The harassment has died down and now I get to make these useful resources for artists again.
My income is still a fraction of what it was before, but I’m learning to appreciate everything I have even more.
Social media is still shit
Shockingly, I ain’t fond of social media these days. I post on there and it’s pleasant enough. But the effects personally on mental health and collectively on societal health seem pretty bad to me. It can be so damn toxic and I look forward to more distance from it. I think if I totally left now I’d be too tempted to permanently resign myself to obscurity. There’s nothing wrong with obscurity, but I think it would be unhealthy for me to not have an outlet for my art. Art isn’t the same without a viewer.
More real life
I’ve spent a lot more time with friends & family in the last year.
I was a bit of a workaholic before and didn’t devote enough time to those I love. I’m glad to have the time and sense to spend more time with the people who really matter to me. I’ve learned the value of presence and feel less like I have to justify time spent enjoying life. After what happened, I thought I’d struggle to feel joy again, but one of the greatest surprises in all this has been that I’ve actually come to feel it more.
What comes next
I really don’t know.
I plan a lot less these days. I don’t know what the future holds for me. So I guess I just focus on what I can do each day.
I make stuff, I love those I care about, and I try to grow and learn as a human being. I’ve learned that everything else is beyond my control, and that it’s better to work with what we have than mourn what we don’t. I’m grateful for every day I’m given.
I love reading books on art. Not just the kind with pretty pictures, either. But the kind with words. It baffles me how few of my classes during art school actually had required texts. Thankfully I was lucky enough to stumble into the world of art books on my own, and I believe I’m a better artist for it.
Here are ten books that I sincerely believe every artist out there should purchase and read—at least once.
If you’ve ever started to have thoughts in your head about “am I talented enough?” or “why do I bother making art?” then you need to read this book. You also need to read this book if you haven’t had those thoughts yet. It’s a quick read and very enjoyable. I don’t think any book will get you back to your easel faster than this one.
Sometimes I read too many books on technique, so I like to balance it out with some theory and emotion. Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit is a classic. You won’t find out the “best way to draw anime” in this book, but you might just discover why you’re making art in the first place.
It’s small, simple, and entirely profound. In my opinion the single best book on composition available. The illustrations are all made with cut paper, so all frills are left aside, leaving only pure design and composition. Molly Bang uses a number of comparison pictures to show you how design actually works. You can probably sit down and read it in one go, but you’ll find yourself returning to it time and time again.
Though this might, at first glance, seem to lean heavily towards the genre illustrators in our midst, this book is great for artists of all types. James Gurney is a phenomenal painter and an equally fantastic teacher. He writes clearly and to the point. No matter what sort of art you want to do, I think you’ll find something pertinent in here.
This is James Gurney’s second book, and it’s easily as good as the first. I’ve done quite a lot of searching for good books on color and light and didn’t find anything useful enough to recommend… until this. James Gurney has done extensive research into how light and color work in the real world and how it applies to art. He balances the scientific understanding with artistic flare in the most eloquent way possible. The other resource I’d recommend for learning color theory is Marco Bucci’s youtube channel.
Short & sweet. A small bite-sized book with tons of little nuggets of wisdom. It can be a little off-putting in its format (mostly transcribed critiques of images, but without the images), but it’s worth it. Some people also find it a little wishy-washy and not solidly academic enough, but I find it completely refreshing and hopeful. I don’t think any other book has been able to instill quite the passion for painting that this book exudes.
Written by one of the most influential artists of our time, Alla Prima is an essential tome of observational painting. Richard Schmid can, at times, come across as all-knowing to some people, but he does so with a fair bit of justification. His own skills at painting are incredible and he does a remarkably good job at putting everything into words. It’s the priciest book on this list, but it’s worth every penny. It’s been expanded since I originally put this list together, and the update is fantastic. Better printings and even more images to ogle.
It can feel a little dated at times—like when Harold Speed talks about the “new brush” known as a “filbert”—but it’s a timeless book. Anyone starting out painting and looking for guidance should pick this up. The more advanced readers can find some equally useful techniques as well.
Also written by Harold Speed, this is a classic drawing book. It covers design as well, but all through the lens of drawing. Since drawing is the basis for all that we artists do, it makes sense to do a little reading on the subject.
I could put every book Andrew Loomis wrote on this list, but sadly they’re all out of print (and consequently obscenely expensive). This one, however, was recently republished and is easily and cheaply available. There were PDF’s going around for a while of all of his books, but since they’re being republished I question the legality of them now. All that said, this is a figure drawing book for the ages.
And there we have it. For a total of just over $160 $285 (inflation sucks) you have an extraordinary art curriculum that I would dare suggest is better than you can find at most art schools. These are all books that I have come back to time and time again. As my skills improve and I read them again I discover all new gems contained within them.
Do your art a favor and read any of these you haven’t already.
P.S. Libraries are amazing! Not only should you look in your local library for copies of these books, but you can also browse through free apps like Libby to see if they have ebooks of any of them. Libraries are great and so is saving money.
I will no longer encourage aspiring artists to attend art school. I just won’t do it. Unless you’re given a full ride scholarship (or have parents with money to burn), attending art school is a waste of your money.
I have a diploma from the best public art school in the nation. Prior to that I attended the best private art school in the nation. I’m not some flaky, disgruntled art graduate, either. I have a quite successful career, thankyouverymuch.
But I am saddened and ashamed at art schools and their blatant exploitation of students. Graduates are woefully ill-prepared for the realities of being professional artists and racked with obscene amounts of debt. By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816. As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100.
This is embarrassing. It’s downright shameful. That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual.
Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain’t usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you. An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.
Don’t do it.
Don’t start your career with debilitating debt.
Please. I beg you. Think long and hard whether you’re willing to pay student loan companies $3000 every single month for the next 10 years.
You’ve got other options.
You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.
There are excellent atelier schools all over the world that offer superior education for a mere fraction of the price. Here are a few:
There are more. Many, many more. And none of them will cost nearly as much as a traditional four year school. Art Renewal Center maintains a fairly good list of ateliers that you could attend.
And then there are the online options. The availability of drawing and painting resources is incredible.
Sitting at a computer I have direct access to artists all over the world. I have the combined wisdom of the artistic community to pull from at my leisure. For less than a few grand a year I can view more educational material than I would see at any art school. You can get access to most online art programs for the cost of a few days at the average art school.
With all of these options it can be a little daunting. So you know what? I’ve come up with a plan for you. Do this:
[2022.04.08] Update: Many of the resources I had originally recommended in this article no longer exist or are not the best that are currently available any more. As such, I’ve updated this article to better reflect my current recommendations:
$1040 ($20/week x 52 weeks) – Weekly figure drawing sessions. Look up nearby colleges and art groups and find a weekly session to attend. OR, for less money and potentially more value, buy some good Reference Pictures and use those to study your figures from.
$??? – Sign up for some online art education. There are an insane number of great resources for online art education. But here are some of my personal favorites:
$29 – Learn Blender. I think all artists should know some 3d these days. It’s cheap, it doesn’t take too long, and it’s a skill with so many applications that I can’t imagine you could regret spending a month or two becoming competent at it. Also Andrew Price has an insane amount of good content on Blender for free.
Free – Study other things for free. Suggested topics: business, history, philosophy, English, literature, marketing, and anything else you might be interested in. Also Udemy, Stanford, Coursera, etc. The barrier to knowledge is less about accessibility these days and a lot more about buckling down and actually using the resources and learning the things.
$500-900~/month – Find a mentor. A lot of artists offer private mentorships these days. I think this is one of the best possible ways to speed up your progress. A mentor that’s invested in your progress will be able to give you pinpoint accurate suggestions for how to improve and what you need to work on. The prices vary wildly for this but you can start by asking if some of your favorite artists offer any mentorship. LucidPixul is an example of what you’re looking for.
$500 – Throughout the year, use at least this much money to visit museums. And not just art museums. All museums.
Free – Create accountability. One of the great advantages to attending a school is the camaraderie. So use the internet to create your own. Go join a Discord server where you can give and receive critique on the work you’re developing. There are many different ones out there that can suit whatever flavor you prefer. Some of your favorite artists might run their own discords and that can be a great way to find link-minded, motivated peers.
The rest – Materials. Buy yourself some good art materials to create with. Whether digital or traditional. Don’t skimp.
If you’re working digitally, I’d suggest an iPad Pro or an M1 Macbook (with a little Wacom Intuos to go with it). I started out using Photoshop but I use Clip Studio Paint more and more these days. And I like having one less subscription in my life. I’ve heard good things about Krita and it’s free, which is always a perk. I use Procreate on the iPad when I work but Clip Studio Paint is also on there (and I’ll probably switch over soon).
There. For less than a quarter of the tuition for RISD you’ve got yourself a killer education. You’ve received more quality, focused education than I think you’ll find at any art school.
There has never been a better time to be an artist. I’m inspired by the sheer quantity and quality of internet resources available to artists.
But I encourage all aspiring artists to think long and hard about their options. Student loans are unforgivable through bankruptcy and can wreck your financial future. Establishing a career while under the unceasing brutality of student loans makes an already difficult task nearly impossible.
Find another path. Art is a wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling pursuit. Don’t ruin it with a mountain of debt.
Disclaimer: I do not mean any offense to any of the educators at art schools. I have numerous professors who I consider close friends. This is neither an attack on you, nor your teaching abilities, nor the value that you provide for your students. I’m talking about the schools, not the artists teaching at them.