Ep.72: Dave Malan on how to have a successful freelancing career with 4 kids

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Dec 13, 2017 •  Interviews

I’ve worked as a production artist, an illustrator, and a fine artist working on projects big and small with clients from around the globe, including Disney, Amazon, the U.S. Mint, and Harper Collins.

Throughout the professional development, my bread and butter have been a daily exploration of shapes and compositions in my sketchbook, primarily related to human faces. I’ve become so familiar with my mechanical pencil that a unique style has taken over. The drawings have a particular iconic look characterized by cross-hatching and limited lines, which detail accurate subjects while I play with proportions to emphasize personality.

Dave is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for his Book of Drawings where he compiled his best drawings into a high quality, hi-resolution art book that you can hold in your hands.

David Malan is a professional artist of over 15 years.

Get in touch with Dave

Key Takeaways

“Big shapes and then the details! Focus on the fundamentals and you can take your art wherever you want to!”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Dave for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Dave Malan, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles

Hello, everyone and welcome back to the next episode of Art Side of Life what I chat with inspiring artists five days a week. My name is Iva and my guest today is Dave Malan, and we chat about his transition from Disney Studios to full time freelance and about art education.

Dave Malan

The the advantages were, I was able to kind of roll my illustration clientele slowly on the side. So I did quite a bit of freelancing on the side of my job.

Iva Mikles

Dave is an artist and illustrator from Salt Lake City, Utah. in over a decade, he has worked with national and international clients, including the Walt Disney Company, HarperCollins, Amazon, United States, me and many others. His influences have long included many classical artists of 19th century and the Golden Age illustrators. His word is focused on the big thing that individual and creating an outdoor story employs an accurate approach to portray the emotions of the subject and uses straightforward portraiture with highly polished painting. He will be soon shipping out his book of drawings funded on Kickstarter. So please welcome Dave Malan. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome, everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to welcome my guest today. Hi. All right. So how are you? And like, I’m super happy that you took the time from your busy schedule and joined us.

Dave Malan

Thanks. Yeah, it’s always, it’s always great to try different things and see if I can talk about it.

Iva Mikles

That’s perfect. And maybe we can start with your background. And I would like to know if you have like, maybe some creative activity when you were a child. Like, either it was a drawing or something playing with cars, and I don’t know.

Dave Malan

Yes, definitely drawing, I I’ve always been an artist growing up. I imagine that’s the case with most artists. So each class growing up, everyone in my class recognize me as the artist. They’re like Dave, Dave’s the artist. If we need a picture, go talk to Dave. And it was, I think it was, especially in high school that I really started buckling down and making a habit out of drawing in my sketchbook. It’s my family to sit and watch a movie, and I’d get out my sketchbook and draw while they watched the movie. And I really put a lot of time into it. I’m always, I’m always wondering about talent, and what it means. And I kind of feel like your talent. What talent actually is, is the interest to spend the time that it takes to get good at something. So I’ve always loved artists, or art, my whole life. And reality is that I’ve loved it enough to spend enough time to get really good at it. Adults always say, Oh, you’re such a good artist, I don’t know how to draw. But if you remember, at kinder, in kindergarten, when everyone was five years old, we were all artists, everybody drew at the same level. But most people give it up, they put it aside and just stick with it. I feel like that’s a lot of what people were talking about when they say talent.

Iva Mikles

So how old were you when you like third? Or you decided, okay, I want to take this, like professionally or seriously.

Dave Malan

I didn’t really think about it that way until college, because I knew I loved art and I was an artist. And that was my identity my whole life. But my parents didn’t know anything about art. They weren’t artists in any way. There was a few books around the house, I just didn’t understand there was any sort of realistic application towards it over your lifetime. And my parents, I think they had the idea of the starving artists in their heads. So they didn’t want me my daughter well. They wanted me to be able to take care of a family. So they always put I was good with math and things like that. They always pushed me towards engineering things that are kind of artistic, but mostly mathematic and seemed like a safer space. But once I got to college, I can’t I stumbled across graphic design first of all, and then from there illustration which illustration feels ideal to me, I think it’s the best area to study if if you’re going in trying to figure out what to study my opinions illustration, because it’s very grounded, fine arts gotten way off and, and then atmosphere with its ideas. They’re totally separated from the foundational understanding that illustration seven gives you so figuring out shapes and composition and color, they’re always the basic foundation for everything. I don’t feel like most fine art departments give me that anymore. So if you’re illustrating, or you study illustration, usually they teach you all those concepts. And then you can go out to the world, you can be a graphic designer, if you want to be or you need to be, there’s always a lot of jobs for stuff like that. You can be a fine artists and try and make that work, you can be an illustrator, there’s so many applications, if you understand that basic fundamentals. So I’m really happy with what I got from school.

Iva Mikles

And so we took kind of your biggest decisions or turning points where you kind of they got you where you are now.

Dave Malan

Yeah, I think I mentioned two of them already. Starting to make a habit of drawing consistently all the time. That was a big turning point helped me grow a lot. And then figuring out in college illustration, and that there was this world that I could get into, possibly, you know, I didn’t necessarily know I can make a living with it, but and it is hard to make a living. But just discovering that that world was out there was an exciting thing for me. So after school, I got a job at Disney making video games. And I think I mainly got the job on the strength of my figure drawings, which is based off of those years of drawing. So I had to get figure drawings. And fortunately, the art director was able to recognize that if you’re, if you’re good with the art, if you can do a good figure drawing, it’s pretty easy to train you the with the tools, the digital tools, and it doesn’t take that long to figure them out. So the third big change, though, was I worked at Disney for 10 years, and it was a good job. And there was a lot of great things about it. But I always wanted to be a freelance illustrator and spend more time as a 2d artist. So I left two and a half years ago to freelance, and I’m super happy with it. That was a big, big, scary decision. Because you work for a company for 10 years, and you get really used to that steady paycheck that you get every week. And you learn how to live on that. So it was really, like I’m such I’m so conservative and careful about mistakes that I do. And I have a family. So it was really hard to get the energy up. The the bravery, the courage to lead the company, but I left and it’s worked out and I’m really happy with it.

Iva Mikles

So what was going through your head, you know, like this conversation with yourself, like when you’re deciding I want to leave and are not leaving. So how did that look like?

Dave Malan

Inside I knew I wanted to leave just about the whole time. Again, I don’t want to sound like it wasn’t a great job because I really enjoyed it. But I just knew I could do more. Something a little more satisfying to me. Like some days before you release a game. You’d have these crunch periods and a lot of overtime, a lot of time spent in the office. And I did a lot of different things. While I was there. I was a 3d character modeler concept artists. Effects, I was doing a lot of effects towards the end, which is fun in its own way. It’s very technical, and you have to figure things out. But if I was sad to come home at night from a day of working at Disney, and I knew that I hadn’t fed my art side all the way yet. So I needed to go downstairs and paint for two or three hours. And during crunch periods, we’d have these long periods where I there just wasn’t time or energy to do that. And it really like graded on me it was really difficult for me. Like I had this art thing inside that I needed to feed and I couldn’t always it would drive me nuts.

Iva Mikles

And so maybe for our audience if they would want to go to Disney, actually, because you mentioned like, Oh, I just got to this nice. How did that process worked out? Or where did they notice you or did you just send out portfolio?

Dave Malan

Yeah, with this company, I’d heard there. I had a couple friends that work there and I heard they were looking for people with a time and Uh, I contacted the art director directly, I believe. And then I had to hassle him quite a bit. I sent him three or four notes. And he was a little bit bummed. But I got the job. So that worked out. The company wasn’t fully Disney. They were like a Disney contractor when I first thought on and then a couple years in Disney bought the company. So it was full of Disney. But yeah, I just, I had to keep hassling the art director, trying to get my stuff in front of his face. And once he saw it, he liked it. And he kept me on. It know, he’s happy with his decision later on. So worked out.

Iva Mikles

Perfect. And so what do you think now? If you would give advice to young self, from your experience? Would it be like you still would work for a studio? Or would you directly go for freelance? Or is it important to have an experience in a studio before you start your own work?

Dave Malan

Yeah, there’s, there’s pluses. And there’s advantages and disadvantages. So I think about it, and it’s hard for me to imagine an alternate reality, because I can kind of remember the pressure and how scary it was to leave. And from here is like, oh, yeah, that was a great decision. But I also remember at the time, not knowing what’s in front of you, it’s very hard to make that decision. The the advantages were, I was able to kind of grow my illustration, clientele slowly on the side. So I did quite a bit of freelancing on the side of my job. Because most of the time, we weren’t in crunch time, and I could fit it in in the evenings, even though it’s hard. And there was a lot of guys that worked with it, you could see they wanted to do that. But it’s really hard to spend eight or nine hours at a job, and then go home and spend four or five hours at another job that you don’t, you don’t need the money. There’s nothing really pushing you to do that. So it’s difficult, but it was good. To build the clientele. We we always took all that freelance money, and we put it into retirement and savings and into our mortgage on the house. So by the time I actually left, we have really low debts. And that’s not a problem.

Iva Mikles

And that’s really cool, right? I guess.

Dave Malan

We never had debt from the school. But there’s there’s a lot of money set aside for retirement and savings already. And the house mortgage is very low, because we’ve put a lot of money that so just not having debts or anything. The lower you can set that amount coming out, the less stress you have, you know, I don’t need as many jobs because I don’t have as many obligations.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. Because I think at least from my experience is like, I don’t know, so many people like when you were working with the like depth on the like, either from studies because a lot of schools in Europe are you know, for freeze, and in us, you get all of these credit cards, and you can go below and these kinds of things. So it’s like a different approach, I would say as well, maybe in different areas. So as you mentioned, like okay, no being in debt, it’s really important, basically.

Dave Malan

Yeah, yeah, getting as far ahead as you can just relieve so much stress or just not spending as much. Just keep things really cheap, as much as possible. That’s another hard thing is when you make a good living, working with a company, you get used to that living, and it’s hard to separate yourself. Like I said that that regular paycheck is one of the big difficulties of going freelance was changing my mindset. And all of a sudden, you have to kind of be able to look at a one year span, because I’ll have like a month with no work at all. But over the year, it adds up and like I’ll have a busy month and then a really low month. And at the beginning that was really stressful to me, I’d figured out the math, I knew how much I needed each week, and then nobody would call and it’s like, well, I don’t know what to do. I’m stuck. And it was stressful. But taking the long view where you look at it over the whole year, you can see that you worked out okay, so you need a lot of savings to be able to do that.

Iva Mikles

And when you are working now do you combine different income streams you know, to build the income table so if you lose one leg then it’s still working?

Dave Malan

Yeah, I’ve got a lot of different clients. My wife is actually a good illustrator. She’s a she’s a very talented and we have For kids now. So we had the fourth kid, right as I was leaving just to add to the stress of leaving the company and going freelance, we found out we were pregnant. And I was like, Oh, no. But I had already worked up the courage to actually do it. So I was like, I’m not stopping now. I’m going to do and. But over the years, as we had more kids, it made it harder for her to find time to do her own illustration. But since I’ve been home, we can play around with the schedule a lot more. And she has a lot more time. So her works picked up quite a bit. And it’s, it’s helped as far as stress as well, because we have two income streams. But yeah, I’ve got a whole bunch of different types of things going all the time. All kinds of different clients, as much as you can diversify it, the better. Because every time something disappears, if it’s if it’s the single leg, and you don’t have to worry as much as if you’re dependent on it.

Iva Mikles

And she’s working also freelance.

Dave Malan

Yeah, she freelances. So she does kind of textile designs a lot. And she’s really good illustrator. She’s got a fabric line and things like that. So Natalie, mainland studio, I think is her handle?

Iva Mikles

And how do you guys work out with the studio? Do you have a studio at home? So you kind of like change? Or each of you has a different studio?

Dave Malan

Yeah, she’s got an office through the wall here. And I’ve got this office, we’re just in the basement. We’ve got a couple of rooms in the basement. And then yeah, we just figure out how the schedule is going to work. Like if she’s if she’s got big projects, then I’ll try and lighten up my load and take the kids and

Iva Mikles

yeah, so How old are the kids.

Dave Malan

So we got a 246 and eight year old

Iva Mikles

and perfect. So a lot of energy. Yeah.

Dave Malan

And it’s nice to have four because they keep each other going with their energy. And we don’t have to, we don’t have to work with them as much. But that’s another thing I love. I really liked being close to my kids. And working in a working in a studio. You know, especially during crunch times, you lose whole days, you know, you’ll you’ll go to work for 16 hours and the kids won’t be awake when you leave. And there’ll be asleep when you wake up. So when you get home. And now I can zone in pretty well people ask if if the kids are trouble, but I can zone in on my art and I hear running around upstairs, but it doesn’t distract me too much. So for me,

Iva Mikles

and how do you plan your day? Do you take like breaks every hour to get a coffee, tea or whatever? Or how does it look like your everyday

Dave Malan

zoning ins probably the best description I will because once I’m in I don’t like around 1230 or one i i break out a little bit and go grab lunch real quick. But yeah, for me that time just flies by in the morning, usually I do kind of business the things and then all figured out today kind of in maybe three hour blocks where I’ll work. And I can just work solid. lately. For the last hour, hour and a half, I will put it all aside and do an oil painting. Just kind of quick things to make that better. And oil oil painting would be what I would like to do eventually in the end. So it’s been nice to do that as a regular thing. Along the idea of the drawings where if you can make it a habit, that’s how you get good. So I was going to head painting for every week for three hours. But I noticed that wasn’t enough to progress. I was kind of, you know, maintaining my level. So spending an hour or two a day on it. That’s how you really start to get better.

Iva Mikles

And how do you approach learning or do you go outside to skate? Or where do you learn from just so you see your progress

Dave Malan

learning as far as illustration, or

Iva Mikles

maybe with all your work so either if you feel comfortable already with illustration, like this is like Okay, I like this style, and then you want to progress more with oil painting. So maybe how you approach that.

Dave Malan

Yeah, well, I feel like my drawings are good and they’re in this good spots where I just need to work on them to keep them getting better. I don’t really focus on learning with that. But with illustration and oil painting They’re not at that level. And both of mice see a lot of area where I can improve. So when I get an illustration job, I try and think, especially when it’s a tedious, not exciting illustration job, I try and think, How can I take this project and use it to my advantage. I taught a university class A couple years ago, and I was trying to beat this into the kids, because you go to school your whole life, trying to, and they teach you, they kind of brainwash you, maybe there’s America, and it doesn’t happen everywhere else, but they kind of brainwash you to get a good grade. So your whole mindset is, what do I have to do to make the teacher happy. And these kids go to Lm to university, and they still have that mindset. They’re spending a whole bunch of money to try and please the teacher. And I’m like, That’s stupid. You’re not here to make me happy. You’re paying for a service when you’re here. So you should think of every assignment as How can I accomplish this assignment, but do it in a way that I’m getting the biggest benefit from it? And I think about that same question when I’m doing illustration job. So I try and just find some, some weakness, or some thing I would rather I would like to get better at. And I’ll just do what the art director is looking for. But improve myself as I’m doing it. That makes that makes the jobs a lot funner, especially when they’re tedious. And I get better with him. Similarly, with oil painting, most of that’s not for our clients. So copying great Masters is a really good thing. I like to do that for an hour each day. And you can do the same thing with illustration, just, if there’s some aspect that you want to get better at, find someone who does it really well copy their, their piece as closely as possible. You know, don’t, don’t post it as your own, obviously, but copy it, just so you can learn. Because they’ve answered all the questions. And when you’re, when you’re copying, you’re really studying it. And you’re picking up those questions, those answers and figuring out how they did

Iva Mikles

it. But how would you maybe approach it because for for younger kids, it can be overwhelming, you know, if you have this amazing piece of art? And would you look at maybe Okay, now I will focus on copying color or the composition? Or, you know, certain aspects? Or would you go for like full on drawing.

Dave Malan

Um, yeah, I copy master paintings for an hour. So obviously, it took that took the master 50 or 60 hours, and mine’s a poor representation of it. But just by trying to copy it, I have to study little aspects of it. And I’m picking up a lot of these answers that the master picked, that the master knows or already answered. So you’re internalizing a lot of that information, just by just by copying what they did, don’t get most of mine, I wouldn’t show people because they’re not, they’re not great, but I’m learning by doing it. So I can definitely feel a lot of progress by doing that.

Iva Mikles

And what’s your take on you know, the brick school versus you know, like self thought, or like online classes where this you are like experience? Or maybe what would you advise young people?

Dave Malan

Um yeah, I did. The brick school, I feel so negative about it now, because all these kids are going and spending tons of money and coming out with not that much. But especially when you go in with that mindset, I was just talking about where you’re there to please the teacher, you’re not getting any information, you can get that piece of paper, but that doesn’t help you in any way. I feel like art is such a great field to be in. Because it’s, you can show exactly how good you are most most business schools, it’s that piece of paper that they want, because that’s the only real way to have of grading that candidate. But we can show how good artists so I think you just have to think about how much debt you’re taking on and how much that’s that’s a little chain you’re going to have to drag around until you pay it off. So what’s going to make you the best artist and make you the best at the fundamental things and you know, whatever where you can get that information, I worked with a guy that was super talented, and he got the job right out of high school, he got into video games. So he never went to any school. And he would always say how he wished he had gone to school. And I was like you didn’t miss anything here way ahead of most of us, is so talented. And then there’s another guy who actually got laid off, sadly. And he had gone to some really expensive school, and he had tons of debt. And he was not a good artist, he was like, I feel I feel so bad that you, you burned, you know, four years of your life and all that money. And it really hasn’t helped you when I look at your art. So

Iva Mikles

because I see maybe as a, you know, like, advantage of these schools is like, you get contacts, and then you have the maybe if it is in a certain town you want to work later on, then you have this network of people maybe.

Dave Malan

Yeah, they’re all different I, there’s a few contexts that I got, I really enjoyed going to school, it was a fun time. But one example is we left school without any digital training. Because for the most part, the teachers, they’re a few years behind the actual industry. So they didn’t really know digital, they didn’t know how to teach it. And I got out and started doing it. And I thought, well, that’s done that they didn’t teach me this, this is the greatest thing in the world for doing an illustration, you can work fast, it’s easy to make changes you email at all, or our professor give us these horror stories of working as an illustrator and doing his oil painting and then putting it in the oven so that he could FedEx it overnight, get it in all his really tragic things is like, Well, that was solved by digital illustration. I don’t know why you guys wouldn’t focus a little more on the digital part. So yeah, I enjoyed it. And I got some contacts. And it was a good, good way to figure out the world. But it’s also kind of separated from the real animation world. And all that all the professors are so great. You think of them as great artists, and then you get out into the real world. And it’s second, I guess they’re they’re not the best. And so everything evolves so quick. So

Iva Mikles

who inspired you the most? Maybe then did you have a mentor?

Dave Malan

Ah, no, I thought about that question. And I don’t really have a good answer for it. I feel like art for me is just, it’s a really internal kind of struggle. It’s, it’s just all going on inside. And there’s there’s a few artists that I’ve come across and teachers that I really admire, but it seems like the best answers just, it’s internal for me, I’ve always just pushed myself and you don’t have a good answer, I guess.

Iva Mikles

And if someone would want to do what do you do now? Do you have like, favorite tools or mediums you work with now? And maybe something you started with?

Dave Malan

Um, yes, so. So the best basic tool for everything is the fundamentals that I’ve talked about, you need as much as you can get really good with the fundamentals. I think drawing is the basis to everything. Because you learn those things not color, but you learn shape, and composition and proportions, and all these really important things by being a good drawer. Once you’ve got those, you can apply them anywhere you want. Like I was saying before, computers are really great, especially for my illustration work. I do it all in Photoshop. But it’s so easy to make changes, adjust things and push them around. But the programs you can learn them pretty quick. They’re, they’re not that hard. It’s being a good artist is really hard. So you don’t want to jump straight to the program and think that’s gonna solve all your problems. It’s it’s being a good artist that’s really going to make you help you grow and allow you to apply at wherever you want to want to play.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, and do you have also maybe favorite like pencil your sketch with your favorite oil thing?

Dave Malan

Yeah, I’m not really a tools guy. So no, people people ask a lot on Instagram what what pencil I use? I use a mechanical pencil. So you know the LEDs, this tiny little piece, the mechanical pencil part. It’s just a holder for the lead. So whatever fits your hand best is the answer to that but All my brushes are kind of grimy, and “beep” yet, I just don’t think that much about the tools. And it’s not very interesting to me to spend time figuring out brushes and things. There’s, there’s some disadvantages to that for sure I, sometimes I come across new things, and I’m like, Oh, that’s great, that would have saved me a lot of time and struggle, because I’ve been using these crappy supplies.

Iva Mikles

So, for example, now, what do you came across i, okay, I love this.

Dave Malan

One thing, maybe I go to this head painting class every Thursday night, it’s not a class, it’s just a model sitting there. So that’s for three hours. And a lot of times students will come in, and they’ve got these cheap canvases they bought at the craft store with a really heavy texture. And they sit there and do a bad drawing on it or a painting. And I go till you need to throw those away. I’ve got boards that I just paint Jesso on. So they’re nice and smooth. It depends on what you’re trying to do. So that those might work for some people, but most mostly how these kids are painting. When you’ve got this heavy texture, every time you put down a stroke of oil painting, it steals the paint when it’s got all these holes in there they are. So you see these kids just scrubbing on these things. And it costs $10 to go there and paint from the model. So I’m like you’re wasting $10 so that you can save $1 with this. With this crappy canvas, you’re wasting $10 plus three or four hours of your life, just by a little bit nicer stuff that works better. And mostly students don’t. Don’t take that type of information. But you, that’s my example of when better tools can save you a lot of trouble. Because I scratched away those crappy canvases for years.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, but can you give me the brand new, like, what do you use actually, now when you like, Okay, this is a good one.

Dave Malan

I’m not really I don’t think that much about it. Michael Harding paints. They’re nice, nice and smooth. So this is what I paint on. It’s just masonite board. And then I just saw real quick. So yeah. It’s hard for me to think of great things. Because like I said, I just don’t really think about the tools that much. I think about the art a lot. But the tools. There’s a lot of guys I worked with at Disney that were really into the technology and each new tool that came out, they like to figure it out and just didn’t interest him at all.

Iva Mikles

And so if you create your artworks and paintings, where is the inspiration coming from mainly? Or how do you combine your inspiration? Is it from life moments? Or is it from old movies? Or how do you do it?

Dave Malan

Yeah, when I was thinking about this, it feels like, I’ve got to like this subconscious part that’s doing all the artwork. And then I’ve got my conscious part that is worried about getting better as an artist. One of your questions was where my ideas come from. And I don’t have a good example, I have a really good cancer. But one thing I thought about is, some of them, I really want really nice ideas that I’ve come up with. I kind of wake up with them in the morning at the very beginning. So I feel like it’s the subconscious part that’s doing the art. And my job is just to be a better artist.

Iva Mikles

as well. So you wake up like, Oh, this is what I saw. And then you do a sketch, like right in the bed or something like that.

Dave Malan

Now, it’s not really a dream. It’s just like, I wake up and I’m like, Oh, here’s a good idea. I heard that you’re more creative when you first wake up, and it’s good not to have your phone by your bed. Because if you pull your phone up and start surfing around Twitter, you’re immediately focusing your brain on something. So especially lately, I’ve left my phone downstairs to to save me from the temptation, because I want to but when you first wake up, you’re your thoughts. They’re just kind of floating around and they’re much more creative. Yeah. And it is a funny thing. I’ve noticed that my best ideas they it’s something that I just think about at night and I try and come up with something and I just kind of like juggle with the idea of For a couple of days, and a lot of times, it just kind of appears when I’m not thinking about it actively. My brain is just working on it. So yeah, I don’t have a good example. Or a good, good answer for where my ideas come from.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. So do you have like a strange inspiration as well, something other people find strange. You know, some people love like plants or I don’t know stuff anymore, or something special.

Dave Malan

No, nothing strange mine, mine’s probably to be to not strange. I really like doing faces, they’re really interesting to me. And I like the challenge of making them as lifelike as possible, or maybe maybe finding the life in them that a photograph doesn’t get. I’ve done a lot of caricatures in the past. And I do less of them now. But I think it’s really informed the way I draw. Because to do a caricature, you’ve got to think about what this person really is. And take the features that really emphasize that personality and exaggerate them. And I feel like I do that now. But really subtly, still thinking about the same ideas. So what is it about this person that that makes him this person who just kind of exaggerate those things and try and try and find life that a photograph doesn’t really capture? So a photograph is it’s kind of like, scientifically accurate. But I feel like there’s like a deeper truth, I guess, maybe something that’s more accurate. That you don’t capture with it with the camera. And maybe it’s not exactly. perfectly proportioned. But it’s more interesting, because you’re, you’re finding the personality that’s in there.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. Because also, it’s the same when you are like thinking about colors. So the picture is not always exactly what you see, and kind of learn how to observe, and how do you kind of approach the observation or observing part of where you decide like, I want to paint this?

Dave Malan

I don’t know, I think that’s part of the subconscious parts. It’s funny when I talk to the people ask you these questions. And it’s like, this is something that I do every single day, most of the day, and I should know the answer. And I obviously do know the answer, but not consciously. It’s hard to, like, if I’m teaching figure drawing, and they ask about some thing, a lot of times, I’ll have to, like, sit down and like, do it, and then observe what it is I’m doing, because I’m not actually thinking about what I’m doing.

Iva Mikles

Like the creation of the process, maybe,

Dave Malan

yeah, it’s it, it’s hard to figure out what it is you’re doing. And I feel like that’s where you really want to get as an artist, I definitely feel like my drawings are in that in that phase, where it’s going on in the back of my head. And I’m not fully thinking about it. When you learn sports, when any sport like swinging a golf club, at the beginning, you learn the mechanics of it. And you’re not that good at hitting. But you’re figuring out the mechanics, and you do it over and over and over again. And eventually, you get that into the into the subconscious area. And you can hit it nicely without actually thinking about, and then from time to time, you’ll think about it and you’ll hit a bad hit, because you’re thinking about it too much. And that’s where I feel like my art really thrives and it’s got its own kind of voice, definitely with the drawings I’ve gotten in this place where, you know, I think about some stuff, but not most of it. Most of it’s this really natural process. And most of my drawing, I do it in the evening, I turn on a show, after the kids, I’ll go to bed. So like nine till 11 The last two hours of the day, I’ll just draw. And it’s this super relaxing thing. It’s how I wind down from the day. It’s it’s not an effort at all really to draw for me. A painting and illustration are still efforts like I still have to think about it a lot. So hopefully, I’ve still got the time in my life to get those things into that. That really natural realm.

Iva Mikles

So so it does have a flow and Yeah, and so what about the the project you’re working on now or something exciting coming up, you want to share?

Dave Malan

Um, I’ve got a big exciting one for you. A musical group right now, but I can’t talk about it there’s two or three that are a little less exciting. And then I feel like the bigger more general thing that is interesting to me that I’m developing is the oil banding right now. And just spending time getting that better. And yeah, that might be a good example. There’s this oil painting back here. I did it a while ago. And I feel like I’m getting better fast enough that it’s hard to do a big piece like that. Because you’re so much better by the time you finish it that. It’s like, well, I see nothing but problems.

Iva Mikles

And that’s your daughter, right?

Dave Malan

Yeah, that’s my little girl. And it came out just way too boring, static, it was too close to the photograph. So I’m, I’m trying to push myself and do things that are less. Less close to the photograph, I

Iva Mikles

can pick up more kind of with the movement or something like lifelike as you mentioned. Right?

Dave Malan

Yeah. Yeah. More artistic in a way that’s not just copying and photograph. And photo realism is is not really interesting to me. It’s hard. When you get too close to that there’s, there’s not. There’s not much aesthetic to it.

Iva Mikles

So how long does it usually take you to create a piece like that?

Dave Malan

Um, that’s, that’s probably 30 hours or something. I’m pretty quick. But I only spend a couple hours I’m not spending four days on and so it takes us probably a couple months or something.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. And if you think about, like these creations, and you talked about, like ups and downs, what would you kind of consider is the most difficult or the worst moment so far in your career? And then, you know, kind of what was the takeaway? Or what do you learn from it?

Dave Malan

Yeah, um, I told you about leaving Disney and going freelance. That was a really difficult period. Because especially towards the end, I was doing the really technical stuff. And I think what was most stressful to me was that I knew I should have been in a different place. And I knew that I was probably good enough to be an illustrator. And I just wasn’t brave enough to take this step. So it was a really frustrating thing. And that came. That was a feeling that intensified quite a bit when you’d go through these really heavy overtime periods. And I would spend a day doing really technical things. And I’d come home and I just needed some art. But you know, it took all my energy, and you have to go to two months without spending much time with 2d art. And it was really, really frustrating for me. So making that leap was was a good thing. And it worked out really well. And it’s interesting. Once you kind of set a goal or a place, you want to go to how things arrange themselves to help you continue down that path. Or you can just identify things that will help you along. And then, and when you do hard things you grow, and you get better because of it. So it’s the struggle is a good thing.

Iva Mikles

And what would you say was like the best advice you ever received or something maybe you wish you knew before you started the whole career?

Dave Malan

Um, yeah, I mentioned before our infield. It’s always felt really internal to me. And arts felt like that. And the career in general has kind of felt like that. I feel like I’m just battling with myself to figure out things. I remember when I first got out of school, I would get frustrated with the teachers, because I felt like there was answers that they weren’t telling me. And then once I got out into the real world, and I realized there’s not really answers to how to be successful as an artist, everybody, everybody just finds different ways to approach it and has different angles on it. I talked to a lot of illustrators right as I left and went freelance. And it was kind of the same thing I’d asked like how Do it, how does it work? What are they? What are the good shortcuts? And none of them had a good answer all these really, really talented illustrator for years and years, and none of them had good answers really even of how you find good jobs or anything, the markets really fluid. Everything’s changing. So you just you get by.

Iva Mikles

So what would you have like as a dream scenario, you know, in like, 10 years or so where you cannot fail, and you’re not afraid of anything. And this is like, Okay, this is how I imagined it.

Dave Malan

Feel like I’m pretty close to full happiness right now. I was just thinking it recently, I don’t like you always think it’d be nice to be rich. But at this point, I’m thinking, I’ve got everything I need, it’s what I want the most right now is to make enough to continue this lifestyle, I guess, I’m really happy with it. If I had my ideal situation, I would oil paint a lot more. And there would be a few illustration jobs that I wouldn’t do. Some of some are less exciting than others. So it’d be nice to get out of some of them. But yeah, I’m pretty close to what I’m what I want, I love being able to just come down and paint or draw or create illustrations for nine hours. And they’re all a challenge, but nice growing,

Iva Mikles

do you have like, favorite books or movies or something you would recommend to our audience, you know, the checkout.

Dave Malan

When I thought about that, when I thought about that, so much of what was interesting to me is not art related,

Iva Mikles

which is good as well.

Dave Malan

I’ve read economics and history and philosophy and all kinds of different things lately, that are really separate. And I feel like that’s all really good stuff. You. You grow yourself as a person. And you’re kind of feeding that subconscious area that’s doing a lot of the art for you. And we talked about travel before we started here. And I love traveling to Europe and seeing different exotic things, and especially the history and the art. And I feel like all those experiences feed you. And I guess he kind of round out yourself as a person and that serves your art. It’s not a it’s not a surface thing for me at least where you know, I read something directly for a painting. It’s just feed yourself as a person. And that will come out as an artist, I think.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. And something stands out maybe from the books or something with you already then maybe like, Oh, I’ve literally come in this to a friend or give me this gift.

Dave Malan

Yeah. Yeah, there’s another idea that I thought of on YouTube. There’s a ton of really good movie breakdowns. Some of them talk about cinematography, which is super interesting to me. Here’s a channel it’s called channel, Criswell. And he’s got one about CRI swell channel, Criswell, okay, both those names together, and he like breaks down movies, he’s got one that’s on color, and one that’s on composition. And they’re so good. It’s so interesting, all these really deep thoughts that movies can contain within them. And I feel like especially these days, so much money goes to Hollywood that they’ve really refined their craft and they’ve gotten really good at it with good movies. They make bad movies too. But there’s a lot you can learn from movies that are that is really interesting and can really round out your art.

Iva Mikles

Perfect and do you have like a favorite quote you like or you live by?

Dave Malan

I don’t have good answer for that either. I think I’m really understated with stuff but I just did a drawing a book of drawings on Kickstarter, and I named it book of drawings. I just really straightforward i guess i i like the the the authenticity of it by people have mentioned that my my Instagram profile, when I post pictures, sometimes I leave the edge of the paper or I leave the spiral bound on that sketchbook on there, because I think it’s interesting it like rounds it in reality and it’s it’s it is what it is and that’s what some Interesting to me. So I guess that’s going back to I don’t really have a call, I think on on a notebook, I’d say book of drawings or something straightforward like that. And what

Iva Mikles

was your experience with Kickstarter?

Dave Malan

It was okay. It’s a, it was stressful to think about that. And I really don’t like the idea of pushing my art on people. I love social media, when I came across blogs. And I found this way, because I was creating the art regardless, I found this way to post it somewhere and people can come look, and I love that there was a community that was interested in and did a lot of people like my art, and that I’m able to share it. But with a Kickstarter, I had to like, kind of push people and say, Come by my work, and it was really uncomfortable experience for me. I don’t like being out like that. But these were all drawings that I post all the time. They’re good drawings. And I’ve been selling them here and there. And so they’re kind of disappearing into the world. And it was very good to sit down, scan them all out and compile them in a book so that they’re, you know, at least collected as they disappear over the years.

Iva Mikles

And where people can buy your stuff is the the society cigs or other platforms.

Dave Malan

Ah, no, so far. Dave mainland.com is my base site. And I’m this books out being printed right now. It’ll be year by the fall in that country. I’ll set up a store and make it available after that

Iva Mikles

on the website. Yeah. Perfect. Good. Yeah. So we will put the link down below in the show notes so people can check it out. And the last question I want to ask you is about the firefighter. Future? And what do you like to be remembered for in like, 100 years?

Dave Malan

Yeah, when I thought about that, I thought I’m, I’m pretty happy making Rs. I love especially that I can make a living and I can do it all my spend all my time on it right now. And I love being able to share it through social media or whatever. And it’d be great if people remembered me for whatever reason, but I don’t care that much. I, I’m I’m happy, being able to push myself and grow by pushing myself and going through the struggle of art. I was listening to this guy that was talking about that the best goal you can make is a goal that’s just a little too far to ever actually get to. So that you can always work towards it. And art art seems ideal for me. That’s exactly what art is, you can never get good enough. And the better you get, the more you can see problems. So you done work on it forever. So 100 years from now. I don’t worry too much about it. I am happy making the art. It’s all it’s all internal for me. Like I said, I don’t I don’t really need the satisfaction, I guess.

Iva Mikles

So you just enjoy the craft. Yeah, yeah, perfect. And thank you so much for being here. I’m super happy that you took time off. And if you have like parting piece of guidance or key takeaway for our audience, before we say goodbye, you can share.

Dave Malan

Yeah, I think my key idea for people is focus on the fundamentals. And then you can, especially in a business way, focus on the fundamentals. And you can take it wherever you want to take it, if you and it’s the exact same idea with drawing general to specific so I work on my big shapes. And then I work down to details. If you go straight to details, you’re gonna miss the big shapes. And that’s like a perfect life lesson. I feel like work on the big areas. And then do the details. Once you’ve got the big areas figured out. So it’s a great life lesson.

Iva Mikles

Awesome. And thank you so much again for being here. And this was great. Good. Thank you. And thanks, everyone for joining today and see you in the next episode.

Iva Mikles

Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you so go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast, because I post new interview every single workday If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube, thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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