Advanced Computer Studio // Anna Jones, Kate Whitley, & Eliott Lilly guests

My Advanced Computer Studio bunch has determined their personal professional goals, and are close to finishing their logos. In the meantime, we have invited professional guests to speak to us through Skype and Google Hangouts to answer students’ questions. Sarah Qarqish and Morgan Welch of HannaBerry Workshop from Jackson, MS were our first guests and visited the class in person earlier this semester. Read about it HERE. (Update: Sarah and Morgan were married on Feb. 21st!) Each guest chosen to visit has goals in common with students in my class, and are willing to impart their wisdom of what to do (and not to do) until and after graduation.


Our second guest of the semester was my longtime hometown friend Anna Jones. (2/9/15) We were even room-mates while attending Mississippi State University for one year. Anna is an interior designer for The McCarty Company in Tupelo, MS– an architecture, interior design, and construction company. She specializes in healthcare, eldercare, and higher education interior designs, and works closely with the architectural team. They carry out a number of large projects in the state of Mississippi, and are currently working on dorms for Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Anna kindly answered the interior design students’ questions with her honest and humorous nature. She had us laughing for most of the conversation! Anna really stressed that the things they learn in their classes is necessary knowledge and needed for the real world. She also gave them a lot of portfolio tips.

Kate Whitley
Kate Whitley

Our third guest was my undergraduate friend Kate Whitley. (3/2/15) Kate graduated from the Mississippi State University graphic design BFA program a semester before me. (See her undergraduate portfolio HERE.) We had a number of classes together, and it has been really nice to see her flourish since graduation. She even married our talented fellow design classmate Dave Whitley and they currently live in East Nashville, Tennessee.

Kate is the designer behind Little Things Studio, a small business that operates through her Etsy page and craft shows. She sells printed goods such as posters, calendars, bookmarks, stationary, and even iPhone cases. You can keep up with her on her Facebook page. Kate also has an Etsy page for her beautiful hand-painted scarves. She stays busy doing the design work she loves, but sometimes freelances too. Most recently she did custom hand-lettering work for the devotional app SheReadsTruth.

Kate offered a wealth of knowledge about the business-side of pursuing an online design business. She has a natural knack for all things business and marketing related, as proven in her family genes. Below is a list of quotes she said that were noteworthy (and I hope she decides to write a book about starting an online design business one day!):

  1. Be a penny pincher.
  2. Take one decision at a time.
  3. 90% of businesses die in their first year. Make it a goal to not to be in that 90%!
  5. Love your customers and clients.
  6. Use your Mississippi hospitality while speaking to others.
  7. Trust yourself.
  8. Let people into your life that will encourage you, and not feed you lies.
  9. If you don’t have confidence in something [such as a method of art and design], start doing it and work on it!
  10. Be really good at everything or really good at something specific.
  11. Where do you shine?
  12. Have an attitude of confidence in yourself. Value yourself.
  13. Have a solid vision for yourself and work toward that.
  14. [On finding business advice] Find people that will spend time with you and let you pick their brains.
Eliott Lilly
Eliott Lilly

Our class’ fourth guest is a new friend to us all, Eliott Lilly. (3/4/15) Eliott is a freelance concept artist who works for the video game and movie industry, specializing in environment, vehicle, and weapons designs. He has worked on several AAA video game titles including F.E.A.R. 3, Rage, DOOM, and currently Call of Duty. (The students and I felt a little star struck!) See his portfolio HERE. You can also keep up with his Facebook page. He currently resides in Dallas, TX.  He also teaches introductory concept art classes to college students, including Drawing IV at Mississippi State University with Professor Alex Bostic through online streaming.

Eliott spent time explaining the job of a concept artist, because it’s a fairly new field. Such artists must be good at illustration, rendering, problem solving, and willing to “wear many hats.” So much of the job is trial and error. Eliott may be assigned a project to design a video game weapon, and he must figure out how it will look and operate. After so many sketched drafts are presented, he may move on to the digital creation, and eventually something be approved to be polished up to the point of looking realistic. Then a video game designer will put those concept images to work in the game.

Eliott is a major encourager of students making the most of their education, and putting the skills to use so the education is not a waste. If you want to learn something to make yourself more marketable, find mentors that are willing to help you get there!

Below are some great tips he mentioned on developing a portfolio and finding a job:

  1. Find what makes you happy, and pursue the heck out of it.
  2. Don’t follow trends. You’ll just be “another.” Bring something new to the table. Do YOU. Show it off. Someone, someday will see it and give you a shot. BE THE TREND-SETTER.
  3. Your art has to grow. There has to be change with your best work ahead of you. Try new things. Take risks.
  4. Make your ideas solid. Don’t make “polished turds.”
  5. Spend money to get the quality tools you need to produce your work.
  6. NEVER put mediocre work in your portfolio that will put any doubt in the employer’s mind that you are the one for the job. Portfolio images need to instill trust.
  7. When applying for jobs, research companies and their focus. Find the names of people who work there, and research those people online to measure your work against theirs. If your work doesn’t completely match up in quality, work on your craft longer and pursue the job again later.
  8. It’s hard getting a job immediately. Try marketing yourself early and often to people you want to work for to put you on their radar. Send them printed images of your work with a link to your website. (In this online-saturated world, it’s nice to receive a physical item in the mail and can help set you apart.)
  9. To be a freelancer, you have to know a lot of people, and a lot of people have to know you.
  10. Marketing = experimentation.
  11. Create a LinkedIn account (the Facebook of the professional world). It’s a great way to find out who’s who. Contact the people who inspire you. Keep up with them online, and develop some sort of relationship with them.
  12. Do all you can to get people to look up your portfolio website.
  13. Go do something that will be available to the public eye. Build an audience. Do it with intent. Post videos and tutorials. People will see it, become inspired, may look up your website, and lead to new work for you.
  14. BEST WAY TO FIND A JOB: Create the opportunity by doing something for yourself that you have a passion for. A job will find you through that.
  15. Success is when opportunity meets preparedness.

He had SO MUCH GOODNESS to offer that we visited for about 2 hours, and we loved every minute of it. His encouraging nature uplifted the upperclassmen in facing the job market for their generation, because he provided great, reasonable tips to help their chances of making it in the world. As a freelancer in the video game and movie industry, finding new jobs is a common practice for him, because once a project wraps up, he’s on to finding the next job– the next project.

The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games: An Insider's Guide for Students by Eliott Lilly
The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games: An Insider’s Guide for Students by Eliott Lilly

Elliot also has written two books about concept art! The headline title for both is The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games. You may pre-order one book from Amazon now, subtitled An Insider’s Guide for Students. The other book subtitled How to Start Your Career as a Concept Artist will be available online around the end of this year. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in this field to buy these books! He was a fantastic guest for our class, and we imagine his books will be awesome and informational, as well.