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About Digital Art / Professional Core Member TraciFemale/United States Group :iconfeathers-of-fantasy: Feathers-of-Fantasy
Rise from the flames!
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Deviant for 14 Years
2 Month Core Membership
Statistics 190 Deviations 6,041 Comments 76,997 Pageviews

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Cherie by TLCook Cherie :icontlcook:TLCook 1,278 73 Gold-rimmed Shadow Tanager by TLCook Gold-rimmed Shadow Tanager :icontlcook:TLCook 384 19 Morning Ritual by TLCook Morning Ritual :icontlcook:TLCook 81 4 Blue by TLCook Blue :icontlcook:TLCook 700 30 Stretch by TLCook Stretch :icontlcook:TLCook 175 8 Healer's Towhee by TLCook Healer's Towhee :icontlcook:TLCook 2,277 76 4:30 AM by TLCook 4:30 AM :icontlcook:TLCook 144 5 Smoke-tailed Phoenix Warbler by TLCook Smoke-tailed Phoenix Warbler :icontlcook:TLCook 1,477 56 Moon by TLCook Moon :icontlcook:TLCook 863 33 Fuschia by TLCook Fuschia :icontlcook:TLCook 29 0 Dogwood by TLCook Dogwood :icontlcook:TLCook 275 14 Solar Sparrow by TLCook Solar Sparrow :icontlcook:TLCook 380 20 Dragon Beach by TLCook Dragon Beach :icontlcook:TLCook 29 1 Teacup by TLCook Teacup :icontlcook:TLCook 199 13 Ilsa by TLCook Ilsa :icontlcook:TLCook 37 5 Hummingbird by TLCook Hummingbird :icontlcook:TLCook 263 19

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Is Art School Worth It? We get asked this question a lot.

I’ll preface my opinion with either way you approach the art field, you have to be motivated. Like super motivated. I want you to eat this field for breakfast. For lunch. For dinner. For that couple of bites of cake you sneak from the fridge in the middle of the night when no one is looking. (Mmmm….cake.) Because it’s hard work, no matter how you slice it.

Private art school is expensive. Not doctor/lawyer expensive, but not state-school affordable. When you’re in your late teens/early 20’s, most of us look at the amount they want to charge you, and then look at the bank note that says they’ll totally cover you (with loans you’ll be paying back forever), and sign the dotted line without as much thought as you’d hope.

I personally had gone through community college first (shout out to Chemeketa!) and left with an Associates degree and zero to pay back. I’d worked the entire time I was in school, and went half time to make sure I didn’t owe anything when I left. Which I’m super glad I did. Looking back, if you’re going to do the art school route, it saves you a good chunk of change if they’ll accept any amount of transfer credits. The classes I took at CCC were mostly the general studies that you want to get out of the way anyways, and compared to the non-art classes at AI, CCC blew them away in quality.

So is it worth it?

Yes and no. The field I work in rarely (if ever) pays attention to whether or not you have a degree, so it’s not technically a necessity. I worked really hard and got super lucky, but art school doesn’t work out for everyone. I managed to get to the point where I have a steady job in the field that pays the bills, but a lot of people leave with a degree (or not, a lot of people drop out early) and don’t manage to land a job in the field they’re aiming for. Or they do, but it doesn’t pay the bills on top of the very hefty student loan payments they have to make. Ultimately, the Art Institute gave me what boils down to two things: Program Competency and Connections.

Program Competency: You need to know at least Photoshop, Painter, or the equivalent to start working as a digital artist (as well as having the relevant drawing/lighting/etc skills.) It also helps to be familiar with illustrator, 3D programs, and other software you might find other people using in a game studio, if that’s ideally where you’d like to work. You don’t necessarily need to be able to use them fluently, but it helps the pipeline flow between you and the 3D artists on your team if you know what they’re going to need from you and how they’ll need it delivered. The Art Institute has you take classes in all of these programs, so even if you don’t end up using them, you can at least talk about them with some competency. (Lord how I hated 3D Animation.)

Connections: I made a lot of amazing friends during my three year stint at AI, many of which I have either helped or been helped by in my career. Because you’re in school with people getting into all the facets of the industry due to the variety of majors, you’ll potentially have ins wherever your friends do.  My first job was in a commercial studio, which I got because my boyfriend at the time had connections there. My initial freelance gigs with the game studios in town were sent my way because I had other friends who had also made it through those doors, and gave me a hand up. Once I got in, I started pulling my friends in as well.

(On a side note, I didn’t list “Art Skills” here, because while they did give me some, and I had a few great teachers, I did a lot of working on my drawing skills outside of this venue.)

Would I have the career I have if I’d tried to go the self-taught route? Probably not. But it’s definetly way more possible now, due to the current nature of the internet.

The “Self-Taught” Route

One of my younger (like, born the year Jurassic Park came out young) 2D cohorts is entirely self-taught thanks to internet how-to’s, youtube videos, and online courses. He’s ridiculously talented (although I’d never say it to his face.) You can find his work here:

He’s got a lot of drive, and you absolutely have to if you want to take this route. No one is handing you a course syllabus. You have to research the teeth out of the area you want to work in, craft a baller portfolio in the style that they look for, and really get into the art community socially. But it’s absolutely doable. I asked Forrest if he had any recommendations for kids looking for some instruction online, and he sent this over as a place to start:…

It lists tutorials, brushes, tools, art channels, etc. There’s also sites like  that have tutorials for purchase that I’ve found super helpful.

If you’re interested in distinctly concept art, he also recommended Brainstorm:

It’s not an accredited school, but it offers classes in exactly the skills you’d need. You wouldn’t come out of it with a Bachelors, but you also wouldn’t come out of it with an unbearable amount of student debt.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the college experience, don’t think you have the discipline to work on your skills and get a portfolio together on your own, or just don’t have the resources to make it without outside assistance, art school may be a totally valid direction for you. A costly direction (seriously, so expensive) but a valid one. If you’re super driven and think you can bunker down and get your skills and portfolio together solo, it’s entirely possible to make it without art school if you want to. It just takes a whole lot more footwork.

Thanks for tuning in! I hope I was at least able to give you some food for thought if you’re in the position of considering either of these options. Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Listening to: Pod Save America
  • Reading: Blogs
  • Watching: Seth Meyers
  • Playing: Castle Clash
  • Eating: Triscuits and Cheeeese
  • Drinking: CoffeeCoffeeCoffee


TLCook's Profile Picture
Artist | Professional | Digital Art
United States
Hey there! I'm a concept artist now mascarading as a Senior Producer/Art Director for a local video game company, SuperGenius Studio. I still paint in my downtime, when I'm not chasing my two year old, working on our house, etc etc adult-cakes.

Find me elsewhere!


Flag Counter!


Wow that is weak. Hey Traci I still think your wounderful. The work you did for me means a lot to me. I would still like you to sign it someday.
Fri Jul 27, 2012, 11:42 AM
I mean, I know I'm not top tier here, but come on.
Fri Jul 20, 2012, 1:07 PM
Okay, srsly, getting added to someone's collection entitled "Not quite a fav, but still cool", how is that not condescending? (Especially when their favs are like, shots of crap cosplay?)
Fri Jul 20, 2012, 1:05 PM
I <3 shoutboxes!
Fri Oct 7, 2011, 10:04 AM
Thu Jul 14, 2011, 1:41 PM
Comic book? >3
Fri Aug 20, 2010, 5:49 AM
Sat Feb 13, 2010, 4:38 PM
Wed Jan 27, 2010, 1:28 AM
Fri Jan 22, 2010, 3:05 AM
congrats to DD :party:
Sat Jan 9, 2010, 12:50 AM


Add a Comment:
Loulin Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2019  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Love your gallery :heart:
I particularly enjoyed your entire bird series - so many colourful and sweet characters. Hard to pick favourites of course but I really liked today's DD: "Cherie" and "Moon" (With a little shout-out to Lord of Thyme as well ;) ).
TLCook Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2019  Professional Digital Artist
Awww thanks! :D I'm glad you're a fan! 
MidoriEmerald Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2019  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You're so freaking talented and your art is SO FREAKING CUTE, I'M CRYING Love Heart   
TLCook Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2019  Professional Digital Artist
GURL you too nice! :D 
lucytherescuedcat Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Welcome to :iconheavenlybackyardbird:
We hope that you enjoy our group, it is a pleasure to have you as a member! Looking forward to seeing your beautiful work in our galleries! Please, feel free to contact us, if you have any questions or suggestions! Have a great day! Heart
WannabeGirley Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I love your birds arts!
TLCook Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2018  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! :D
WannabeGirley Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You are welcome
Linope Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2018
Just wanted to tell you that your art's wonderful~
Keep up the good work and have a great day!
TLCook Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2018  Professional Digital Artist
Hey thanks! :D
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