PK 010: Shane Madden on Swapping Drawing Cadavers For Designing Harlequin Book Covers

PK 010: Shane Madden on Swapping Drawing Cadavers For Designing Harlequin Book Covers 2 podcast shane madden 01

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Lost Coast by Shane Madden

“You can read all the art tutorial books in the world, but the only thing that will make you a better artist is to walk the walk not talk the talk.”

When Shane Madden landed his first paying art gig at 16, he knew he could become a professional artist. He dreamed of becoming an animator or maybe even drawing comics. Instead, he swapped animation for illustration and scored his first job out of school drawing diseased human body parts (ewww!) before becoming a freelance artist who designs covers for some of the world’s biggest book publishers!

What Was Shane’s Journey As An Artist Like?

Shane’s journey from doodling in grade school to paying the rent as a professional artist spans the gamut. Like many creatives, he changed course early in his career – switching from animation to technical/scientific illustration. Why? “The repetitive nature of working as an animation artist just wasn’t my cup of tea,” he explains.

During his studies, Shane learned the nuances of all kinds of projects – from instructional manuals to anatomy text books. However, it wasn’t until after he graduated that something dawned on him, something that would change his life forever. By working only in traditional mediums, his career options would be limited. So, he buckled in and taught himself Photoshop to stay ahead of the game.

How Did Shane End Up Drawing Human Body Parts?

While he transitioned, Shane used his final year at school to do a co-op placement as a medical artist, a placement he turned into his first full-time job.

As a medical artist, Shane worked with cadavers and assorted human body parts, creating instructional illustrations for medical text books. Contrary to what you see on television, it was definitely not a scene out of CSI! He hunkered down, listened to music on his headphones, and spent eight hours a day producing detailed drawings of dismembered limbs and diseased human organs!

As you can imagine, there’s no room for error in this line of work. Because doctors would be studying these images in the future, everything had to be accurate. Shane says he found this period of his life “very humbling”, but also very beneficial to his future as an artist. But, to this day, he still gets squeamish about needles!

How Did He Go From Cadavers To Book Covers?

Artists by nature want to evolve and Shane is no different. And since he definitely didn’t want his legacy to be drawing body parts, he decided to change course – making several stops along the way. From art directing to being an illustration professor, a comic colorist and concept artist to name, he finally decided to be his own boss. He started his company by cold-calling as many art directors as he could in search of work. Eventually, after countless rejections, false leads and the sound of crickets, he dropped lucky. Very lucky, in fact. The art director he spoke to happened to work for one of the biggest book publishers in the world.

Although he never imagined he’d end up designing book covers and becoming a photo manipulation artist, Shane says he loves his work. You can see the results on bookshelves everywhere you go and, having produced around 100 covers last year alone, there’s a good chance it’s Shane’s work you’re looking at!

What’s Shane’s Advice For Artists?

Shane believes the best way to improve your art skills is simply to work hard, put your 10,000 hours in and do the best you can. You can read all the art tutorial books in the world, but the only thing that will make you a better artist is to walk the walk not talk the talk. Believe in yourself, be supportive of others, and remember that you can always find work as an artist if you look hard enough.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why changing your original plans isn’t a bad thing at all
  • How ‘word of mouth’ can be an artist’s ultimate marketing tool
  • Why supporting other artists is so important for creativity

People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Shane’s Website
Shane on Youtube
Shane on Facebook
Shane on Twitter
Shane on Vimeo

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