“It’s hard to set your inner critic aside, but it’s very important to do this. You just never know what possibilities could open up.”
Silencing your inner critic can be one of the hardest things to do as an artist.
In this interview, we talk to Byron Slaybaugh, a successful freelance motion designer who previously worked at Reel FX.
However, he didn’t set out to be an artist.
At first, he even considered psychology as a career. And, it took a whole lot of soul-searching to make him change his mind and follow his true passion.
Like many students, Byron was overwhelmed with options in his final year of high school. It’s almost like there were simply too many things to choose from.
Should he opt for a ‘sensible’ career like many of his contemporaries….or should he go for the career that, deep down, he always wanted? Luckily, the path was about to become clearer.
He says: “Because I was considering psychology as a career, I ended up going to one of those orientation meetings. But it wasn’t for me. I ended up walking out after just 15 minutes!”
So how did he know becoming an artist was the right career path? And, how can you learn more about silencing your inner critic?
“I was always drawing and making stuff from an early age,” he explains. “Then, during my freshman year at high school, I started to learn Photoshop. Luckily, I had a really supportive teacher who gave me a book on this subject and said I could do that as my art project.
How Byron Slaybaugh Learned From His Early Mistakes
Looking back now, he can laugh about his early attempts at digital art, saying: “Remember the Plastic Wrap filter in Photoshop? I put it on just about everything!”
And, because he wasn’t afraid of the program, he soon learned lots from making as many mistakes as possible.
But it wasn’t just Adobe’s slick software that inspired him. It took an early introduction to the work of Pixar studios to convince him that art was the way to go.
He says: “I remember being blown away by Toy Story in my junior year. I think that’s probably the first time I’d thought of art as a viable career.”
However, Byron Slaybaugh’s journey from aspiring Photoshop wizard to motion designer wasn’t entirely straightforward.
“I looked at going to all kinds of art schools such as Ringling, but the Academy of Art in San Francisco was my number-one choice. However, I took one look at the cost of going to schools like these, and knew there was no way I could afford it. I applied for all kinds of grants and scholarships, but didn’t get a single one!”
However, all was not lost, because one day, his mom picked up a brochure for The Art Institute of Dallas. It wasn’t on his list of chosen schools, and it didn’t have all the facilities he was looking for, but Byron soon realized that going here was probably the best option he had.
Going to Art School. Yes or No?
So was going to art school a good or bad experience for him?
He says: “I always remember a tutor talking to us in our first quarter at art school. He was asking us to take a good look around, because half of us wouldn’t be there by the time we got to the fifth quarter. I wondered why that was at the time, but it soon became apparent. There was no hand-holding at all. You were very much left to your own devices.”
Looking back, Byron Slaybaugh has mixed feelings about art school. He says the teaching was often lacking, with out-of-date information being presented by tutors who’d been out of the industry for 10 years. However, despite his frustrations, he took it in his stride and kept working towards his end goal.
He explains: “I thought to myself: ‘This is the best I can get right now, so I’m going to make the most of it!”
And make the most of it he did. Although he may have reservations about the quality of teaching he received, he says the contacts he made there and the overall experience of going to art school have helped shape his career.
In fact, becoming friends with animator Randy Hayes (who was in the year above), gave Byron his first paid job and that all-important link into Reel FX.
Why Artists Need to Reach Out
He’s still a firm believer in reaching out to people and letting them know about your work, because getting approval from others can be a great way of silencing your inner critic.
In fact, he’s actually got a lot of work from doing this.
“Don’t be shy,” he explains. “After all, what’s the worst that can happen? That they don’t get back to you? No. The worst that can happen is that you don’t send that email and reach out to them in the first place.”
“As artists, we’re often our own worst critics. We tell ourselves we can’t do things because we don’t feel our work is good enough. It’s hard to set that inner critic aside, but it’s very important to do this. You just never know what possibilities could open up.”
Although he’s known as a motion designer these days, Byron prefers to describe himself as an animator. He wears a lot of different hats in his freelance career, and has worked on everything from award shows and video games to TV commercials.
Although he graduated in compositing and visual effects, he’s had to change gears in his career to focus more on design and animation. He says he loved working on a recent project with Justin Harder (see podcast 041), where he got to do lots of hand-drawn 2D animation.
Byron Slaybaugh on Diversifying Your Art & Silencing Your Inner Critic
For the last two years, Byron’s main work has been designing UI elements in films and games (where the characters interact with objects, such as the inside of a superhero’s mask etc), but he’s constantly diversifying because he doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself.
He says there are so many different avenues for an artist working in the industry to explore, and explains: “I can’t tell you how much need there is for artists to work in all these different areas. For example, I know artists who specialize in creating dust and water effects for movies, games, and commercials!”
His advice for artists starting out who want to know more about silencing your inner critic?
“It’s cool to say you want to work at Disney or Pixar etc, but what are you actually planning to do there? You need to narrow it down and focus on one area.
“And, if you’re lucky enough to get an internship, don’t ever take it for granted. Take advantage of it, and soak up as much information as you can – after all, art is a continual process of growing.
“You need to ask yourself how much you want this and how hungry you are to learn. These are the people that really stand out in this industry.”
Listen to this week’s show and learn:
- How to make the right choice for your art career
- Why reaching out to people is always a good thing
- Why silencing your inner critic is so important
- How to reach out to other artists
- Why you should always be hungry to learn more
We hope this interview has helped you learn more about silencing your inner critic.
Got any tips and techniques of your own you’d like to share? Tell us about them in the comments box below – we’d love to hear them!
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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.