PK 044: Silencing Your Inner Critic. Interview with Artist Byron Slaybaugh

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Motion designer Byron Slaybaugh has had to make many choices as an artist.

鈥淚t鈥檚 hard to set your聽inner critic aside, but it鈥檚 very important to do this. You just never know what possibilities could open up.鈥滭/em>


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聽Reel FX.

However, he didn鈥檛 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鈥檚 almost like there were simply too many things to choose from.

Should he opt for a 鈥榮ensible鈥 career like many of his contemporaries鈥?or should he go for the career that, deep down, he always wanted? Luckily, the path was about to become clearer.

He says: 鈥淏ecause I was considering psychology as a career, I ended up going to one of those orientation meetings. But it wasn鈥檛 for me. I ended up walking out after just 15 minutes!鈥滭/p>

So how did he know becoming an artist was the right career path? And, how can you learn more about silencing your inner critic?

鈥淚 was always drawing and making stuff from an early age,鈥 he explains. 鈥淭hen, 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: 鈥淩emember the Plastic Wrap filter in Photoshop? I put it on just about everything!鈥滭/p>

And, because he wasn鈥檛 afraid of the program, he soon learned lots from making as many mistakes as possible.

But it wasn鈥檛 just Adobe鈥檚 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: 鈥淚 remember being blown away by Toy Story in my junior year. I think that鈥檚 probably the first time I鈥檇 thought of art as a viable career.鈥滭/p>

However, Byron Slaybaugh鈥檚 journey from aspiring Photoshop wizard to motion designer wasn鈥檛 entirely straightforward.

鈥淚 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鈥檛 get a single one!鈥滭/p>

However, all was not lost, because one day, his mom picked up a brochure for The Art聽Institute of Dallas. It wasn鈥檛 on his list of chosen schools, and it didn鈥檛 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: 鈥淚 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鈥檛 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.鈥滭/p>

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鈥檇 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: 鈥淚 thought to myself: 鈥楾his is the best I can get right now, so I鈥檓 going to make the most of it!鈥滭/p>

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鈥檚 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鈥檚 actually got a lot of work from doing this.

鈥淒on鈥檛 be shy,鈥 he explains. 鈥淎fter all, what鈥檚 the worst that can happen? That they don鈥檛 get back to you? No. The worst that can happen is that you don鈥檛 send that email and reach out to them in the first place.鈥滭/p>

鈥淎s artists, we鈥檙e often our own worst critics. We tell ourselves we can鈥檛 do things because we don鈥檛 feel our work is good enough. It鈥檚 hard to set that inner critic aside, but it鈥檚 very important to do this. You just never know what possibilities could open up.鈥滭/p>

Although he鈥檚 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聽career, and has worked on everything from award shows and video games to TV commercials.

Although he graduated in compositing and visual effects, he鈥檚 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鈥檚 main work has been designing UI elements in films and games (where the characters interact with objects, such as the inside of a superhero鈥檚 mask etc), but he鈥檚 constantly diversifying because he doesn鈥檛 want to pigeonhole himself.

He says there are so many different avenues for an artist working in the industry to explore, and explains: 鈥淚 can鈥檛 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!鈥滭/p>

His advice for artists starting out who want to know more about silencing your inner critic?

鈥淚t鈥檚 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鈥檙e lucky enough to get an internship, don鈥檛 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.鈥滭/p>

Listen to this week鈥檚 show and learn:

  • How to make the right choice for your art career
  • Why聽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聽hungry to聽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!

People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Byron聽on Twitter
Byron on聽Vimeo
Byron on Behance
Byron on Pinterest

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