Industry Interview: Tin Salamunic
Where did you do your art studies and how long have you been a commercial
I received a BFA in Communication Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University and I’ve been a Commercial Artist for a little over a decade now. College helped me acquire a better understanding of the industry, but as with most artists, the real studying happened outside the classroom. I drew nonstop and carried a sketchbook everywhere I went. To this day, I consider myself a sketchbook artist first and an illustrator second.
You post a lot of environment sketches - how important is it for you to get out and draw from life?
Life drawing has always been my best teacher. The scenery around us changes interminably and being able to capture and compose precise moments with just a few shapes and lines is incredibly gratifying. While I love drawing people, being able to capture an entire environment gives me a sense of permanence. To me, drawing from life isn’t just about refining techniques, but preserving memories. When revisiting some of my older sketchbook pages, I can still recall everything about that day and moment: the temperature, the light, the smell…everything. You could say my sketchbook is an unspoken, (personal) visual diary and I’m the only one who can read between the lines.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your own personal projects?
There are so many incredibly talented artists out there; it’s easy to get visually stimulated just by just browsing the web. But, my biggest inspiration comes from video games. I’ve been a gamer and video game collector my entire life. Video games are the reason I pursued the arts as a career and they keep me motivated on a daily basis. They’re also incredibly therapeutic when stressing over projects, so keeping a console next to my work desk retains my sanity (hahaha).
Do you get as much time as you'd like on your own personal stuff?
It comes and goes in waves. There are times when I’m doing several client and personal projects at the same time and then there are times when nothing happens for days, or even weeks. The unpredictability of time and motivation can be both dreadful and exciting.
Being a commercial artist can often be challenging with multiple deadlines and projects - how do you keep on top of your workload?
Being disciplined is just as important as having skills. I treat my freelance career as a business, which means learning how to organize and maintain every aspect of it with painstaking attention. But it’s never easy. In fact, there were several times when I was so overworked trying to meet deadlines, it affected my health and overall well-being. This isn’t a career for everyone and it only gets tougher the longer you do it.
You've worked on some pretty cool projects - which have been your favorite and given the chance what would you really like to work on?
My favorite projects have been with art directors that let me “do my thing.” Those are the magic words. In educational illustration, for example, it’s typical to go through dozens of revisions before a piece is approved. This rarely ever leads to happy results. But when an art director allows me to tackle concepts the way I want, no matter what the project is, then that’s always my favorite assignment. But if I could choose, I’d really like to be creative director for a game developer…so who knows what the future holds.
What’s the most important thing, to you as an artist, when you are conveying an emotion in your work?
Trying to be honest with myself. If I’m not emotionally invested in a piece, it shows. This is one of the hardest things to deal with when working as an illustrator. Realistically, I’d say I’m happy with one in every ten pieces…but that’s not always good enough to stay on top. As an artist, you’re always expected to deliver your best. So what’s the secret? There is no secret. I try to treat every single project as if my career depends on it. So when I end up with lackluster results…it can be devastating.
Which part of the artistic process is the most satisfying to you?
Inking. It’s the most satisfying and euphoric process for me.
What advice would you give to student starting out in illustration?
I could sit here all day and tell you how wonderful it is to be a freelancer, to work for yourself and to draw for a living…but the reality is rather bittersweet. Whether you’re an illustrator, an animator, a sculptor, a photographer or a writer, you’re headed into one of the most competitive industries with nothing but your skills and determination.
No one knows who you are and many will try to take advantage of you. It’s a matter of survival. It’s a matter of developing thick skin. I taught illustration for nearly five years and knew hundreds of talented students with great ambitions and goals. Only a handful of them fought their way to a successful career. That’s the bittersweet reality.
On the flipside, it’s entirely up to you whether you succeed or not. Are you going to face failures as roadblocks or opportunities to better yourself?
Once you are out of school, there won’t be any teachers to offer advice and no classrooms and assignments to help you stay disciplined and structured. You’re on your own. Even if you succeed, things become more challenging over time. Every day new artists enter the scene and it’s up to you to find ways to stay relevant and offer clients something that the newcomers don’t. If all of this sounds too pessimistic and too difficult, then this may not be the right career choice for you. However, if you still feel driven and motivated to keep pushing despite not knowing what lies ahead, the rewards are most definitely worth it. Remember, you are your own boss…so might as well start acting like it right away.