Breaking into the Industry - Part 2 with Troy McDevitt

I've been thinking about how to introduce my next guest for a couple of days now, and I can't seem to get it right in my head, so I'm just going to wing it here on the keyboard. Troy McDevitt (Troyboy for all you forum goers) has been on my radar for some time now. I first saw his work when I was lurking around on the ConceptArt forum. Eventually, I joined the Clubhouse forum and I finally had a chance to chat with him online. Troy is not only very talented, but he is very generous with his time and honest critique. Over the last year or so, Troy and I have built an online friendship that consists mostly of sharing work online and both of us complementing the other on a job well done (ahhh, the perfect friendship). But more than that, Troy has been a great source of inspiration, information and just plain 'ol coolness. Although we haven't met face to face (Troy, you still owe me that talent sharing handshake - lol), I'm glad to say that Troy is my friend. And now, for a real treat, Troy is going to share with us his adventures in "Breaking into the industry".

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I just want to start off by thanking Alfred for the opportunity to contribute to this great blog he started and express how honored I am to be included with these titans of the collectible sculpting community. It just reinforces the fact that i must be doing something right.

Alfred basically told me to ramble on about anything that I thought could be helpful or mildly interesting, so I'll do my best to keep things on point and hopefully keep from boring you, the reader, to death.

I don't think there's one single path to being successful as a sculptor in this field, so I'm just going to relate how I came into it, what my experiences have been and how I've managed to stay busy and self-employed.

My background is graphic design, which I made my living at from about 1990-2003. I had played around with clay and Super Sculpey for a few years prior to that, but nothing that would lead me to believe I had any special talent for it. It wasn't until 2003, when I decided that I'd had enough of graphic design that I considered sculpting as something other than just an occasional hobby. I rented a booth at a large bridal show in Baltimore, MD, printed up a banner and a few flyers from Kinko's, and took the wedding cake topper I made for my own wedding, in the hopes that it might generate some interest. 

Well, needless to say, the interest was beyond my wildest expectations and from that point on, I basically did nothing but custom wedding cake toppers (which looked like the bride and groom) from late 2003 until late 2007. In that time, I made over 120 toppers that shipped all over the world and I didn't miss a single deadline. That time period was some of the most valuable of my life, and my career, as I truly learned how to be fast, interact with customers, and always hit the deadline.

Now this is as good a time as any to mention that I've always been a comic book, sci-fi and fantasy geek and while I enjoyed the actual sculpting I was doing, after four years, the subject matter began to get really stale and the siren call of my nerdy passions were singing out to me. While browsing online, I stumbled upon The Clubhouse, and it was all over from that point on. A new world opened up to me that I had no idea even existed, despite the fact that I was well aware, and in awe, of the misc. statues in my LCS (local comic shop). Soon I was ordering Amazing Figure Modeler, KitBuilder's Magazine, visiting other forums, and most importantly, communicating with like-minded individuals and professionals who were helpful, insanely talented, and above all super, super nice people.

I stopped taking cake top orders and began focusing on building up my own portfolio with the type of subject matter that I loved and grew up on. Early on, I had little else besides some average sculpting abilities and an absolute determination to succeed.

It began very slowly, but gradually, I began to improve and the work soon followed. I knew, from my previous cake topper experience, that I would initially have to charge very little in order to build up my portfolio as quickly as possible. It's much easier to get work when you can actually show real-life examples. Talk is cheap and results speak for themselves. An online portfolio of finished work should be your number one priority!

The one way that I knew I had an advantage though, was in the fact that I knew how to be professional and hit my deadlines. A major part of "being professional" meant, keeping in contact with your clients and always returning their e-mails or phone calls in a timely manner, making sure all the details of a sculpt are defined in the beginning to avoid any misunderstandings, and never letting your ego get in the way, which essentially means being able to take criticism or make changes, even when you don't agree with it.

In the short time I've been involved in this community, I can't begin to tell you how many stories I've heard of incredibly talented sculptors doing serious harm to their reputation by not being able to follow some, or all, of those simple guidelines. Talent doesn't mean a thing if, at the end of the day, the client isn't happy. Along the way, you may come up against a customer that cannot be pleased, no matter what, but as long as you handle yourself in a professional manner, and stick to your agreements, you should be able to keep your public image intact, and in my opinion, there's nothing more crucial in this business than a good reputation.

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Most of my work up to this point has been garage kits, or one-of-a-kind pieces for small kit producers, or individual collectors, but over time, my skill-level has improved and larger opportunities have begun to present themselves. If there was one individual that I needed to thank for helping me get to the point that I currently am, it would have to be Randy Bowen

Back in Feb./March of 2008, I sent Randy an e-mail, out of the blue, introducing myself and submitting rough busts of two pretty obscure villains (Ringmaster and Man-Ape). Randy decided to take a chance on me, and I officially became part of the Bowen Designs sculptor club! Since then I've done several more busts for Randy, and a good many assignments involving modifications of some sort. The ability to show potential clients the work that I have done for a company such as Bowen Designs has been absolutely invaluable to me and I don't think I'll ever be able to thank Randy enough!

In addition to Randy, I've also made some real, solid friendships with many of my fellow sculptors on the forums, and several of my clients, which has been one of the most enjoyable and satisfying end results of this particular career path. A happy client can keep you busy for years to come, and a good friend will offer you a trusted, second pair of eyes and honest critiques, which we all need from time to time.

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I work seven days a week, approximately twelve hours a day, and I absolutely love it. I go to bed thinking about sculpts, and I wake up thinking about those same sculpts. It takes quite a bit of discipline to stay on target and not get distracted throughout the day, but if you're serious about making a living at this, you'll put aside everything, but friends and family, to stay focused and continue working every single day. I miss quite a few events because I have a deadline to hit, but that's the price you have to pay sometimes to make a name for yourself.

Don't be afraid to ask professionals for help, but don't become an annoyance, and don't ask silly questions. You'll improve by observing, studying and practicing. Don't ask an established artist, "How do you sculpt hands?". He (or she) sculpts them by practice over the course of many years. There isn't a magic "hand" tool.

If you don't get a response, don't be offended. Many professional sculptors receive a ton of e-mails or pms each and every week, and it's extremely difficult to respond to them all. Remember, nine times out of ten, they're under extremely tight deadlines, and unfortunately, questions from new, or up-and-coming, sculptors has to be delegated to "low priority". Follow up later with a reminder e-mail, but again, don't become an annoyance. Most pro sculptors I know will eventually try and get back with you.

Make sure you're open to criticism, but don't let it crush you. The point is to improve yourself, and, after working on a piece for days, or weeks, it's often easy to overlook minor and major flaws. Once again, a good group of respected friends in the same field is crutial. If you strongly disagree with someone's opinion of your work, especially someone you don't know, don't engage them in a ten-page online battle. It's ridiculous.

Well, if any of you have managed to work your way to the end of this "War and Peace"-length article, I apologize for that time in your life you can never get back. I hope, at least, you were able to take any of the info I've provided and use it to help advance your own career goals in this weird little underground hobby of ours. Thanks for all the support and encouragement so many of you have generously provided me with in the short time I've been doing this. I've got some big, exciting projects that will be unveiled over the course of the rest of the year, and I look forward to seeing more amazing work from you all for many, many years to come!

Well, I don't know about you, but I think that was a fantastic read. Thanks again Troy for doing this. For the rest of you guys, you're definitely going to want to come back for Part 3 of Breaking into the industry... Trust me, it's a great read as well. So come back next week (or most likely this Friday since I'm going to be gone for a week), for Part 3 with Walter O'Neal.