Artist Interview with Drew Hartel

Drew Hartel  is a visual development artist freelancing in Los Angeles/Orange County California. Drew developed his skills through studying Entertainment Arts at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California. His passion of visual storytelling has been reflected in character design, illustration and animation with a particular eye for the colour scripting process to express emotion. He works in a variety of traditional and digital mediums, ranging from gouache, oil, acrylic, pastel to digital methods.



Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today? 

I, like most artists, grew up drawing all the time and somewhere around the age of 13 somebody had convinced me that being an artist was not possible almost as if people didn't actually have those jobs. So i gave up that dream and fast forward about 12 years, I'm married and have a good stable job as a produce broker - I was watching the documentary "a pixar story" and it hit me that this is what I needed to be doing. I thought that animation was the route I wanted to go down but after a few terms at a community college learning 3d animation I discovered that I enjoyed designing more than animating so i switched gears and pursued visual development. I spent a couple terms at Academy of Art University and ultimately settled at Art Center College of Design where I found the education I wanted and I spent a couple years there. It's hard to say what prepared me to be where I am today, honestly its hard to stop and even look at where I'm at because I strive to continually grow and stretch myself.


Three things I can pinpoint that really helped me in my artistic journey so far:

1. Find people who can be honest with you about your work. Whether its a professor or a fellow student - you need people who can give you honest and direct criticism about your work. The sooner you hear the truth the sooner you can confront your weaknesses and the sooner you can improve.
2. Study from life as much as possible. No matter what you're doing (storyboards, viz dev, writing etc...) studying from life will give you an authentic opinion about not just what you're seeing but your overall experience and that is something you will miss by just studying photographs.
3. Increase your mileage. Everybody has a certain number of miles they need to go through to get to the level they want to be at or to be hired. If you're going at the same pace as everybody else, you'll blend in with everybody else.  You should always be pushing yourself to go further than you normally would and accomplish more than you originally thought you could. Also surround yourself with like minded people, it does make a huge difference in my opinion.

Tell me about your style of art and how you go about this process from start to finish?

Style is a hard thing to address. I personally feel like my style is constantly changing but I have heard a great definition of style that I'll use for reference. Mitchell Hurwitz (creator of arrested development) said in an interview that style is how you compensate for your weaknesses. For him he was a dramatic writer and he got a job on a comedy show, and he could not write for comedy at all. So he compensated for that weakness by writing something that was so dramatic that you just had to laugh at how outrageous it was: thus his style for "Arrested Development". So I guess in some sense that's likely what my style is yet I truly feel unaware of it.


How do you feel the uniqueness of your illustrations for Dino Duck give the ability to tell a story?

These illustrations were actually done with the guidance of Richard Keyes (Professor at Art Center College of Design) for his class "Story in a Picture". The illustrations were meant to follow the beats of the story and to try and develop an emotional response from the viewer. The illustrations were all kind of used as a "setup" for the fifth image where the vibrant color is sucked out and you see that the young dinosaurs mother did not survive. I wanted to follow that up with the sixth image that adds a bit of dry humor and kind of speaks to there being a future after the loss of a loved one even if it seems during the moment that there is not one.



How do/did you market yourself to grow and become successful as an artist? 

I think you can tell when somebody loves what they do. I always tried to be true to myself to see if I'm genuinely enjoying what I'm doing. From there I fortunately found some foundational things that I love regardless of how they're used. Which is basically storytelling with light and color. So I try to fill my portfolio and social media sites with pieces that come from what I love and that in and of its self is a form of marketing. People will see that passion and they will respond to it. On a more practical level, social media is huge, comment often on posts that you like and try to build relationships with people. Also make your avatar image something interesting - people will friend or follow you whether they know you or not and sometimes your avatar will be the difference in whether or not they click that "add friend" button.



You work as a freelance Visual Development Artist. Could you please give some examples of your roles with clients, how you came about them and your overall experience? 

My freelance experience so far has mainly been in cinematics and games. I've gotten freelance from a wide variety of places: friend of friend, social media, professional websites (behance,linkedin etc...), job fairs etc...  My role is usually in concept art ranging from backgrounds to characters to color scripts. If I can give one piece of advice its to be very clear when setting up an agreement with somebody and make sure you’re protecting yourself, Stephen Silver is a talented artist whose written many articles on how to protect yourself as an artist when doing freelance work, I think he’s far more educated and qualified on the subject than I am.


Who and what inspires you as an artist?

I'm inspired by emotional moments in film. I'm definitely one of those people tearing up in the movie theater and I live for those moments. I think its so powerful to get people to have such a strong emotional response. I love to study the psychology of how that happens and how an artist can have a singular moment effect a wide variety of different people who all have very different personalities. I've always said that my goal is to make tough old men cry. I live for that moment in music as well - I know this answer probably sounds very broad but its truly what inspires me and what I'm constantly searching for.


From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should upcoming visual development artists put in our portfolio and what should they not? What is your advise for people aspiring to gain a career as a visual development artist?

Be yourself, tell a story, ever stroke counts and no part of your image is "not important" instead there are varying degrees of importance. Don't try to imitate your favorite artist but rather be inspired by them and naturally re-interpret what you love about them. Make sure your portfolio is full of stuff that you like to do because that’s what you’ll be hired to do.


What are you working on now and what do you see yourself doing in 5 - 10 years?

I'm currently doing freelance work mainly for games at the moment. In the next 5 - 10 years I hope to be doing more color scripts and making major decisions about lighting and color at a studio that has a powerful story to tell.


Print of Drew Hartel’s illustrations can be purchased from: