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My name is Mel.
Design makes me feel better about things.
This is my work.

To contact / ask for advice / ask questions about me please feel free to use my tumblr ask


So You Want To Do Lots of Things With Your Life [Advice from Sandy Smolan]

This is mostly through emails, but I’ve been asked the following question at least three or four times: I love doing a lot of things. How do I choose a focus? What do I do? I’m worried that I’ll spread myself too thin and end up jaded because I never took the time to fully indulge in any one thing.

My answer usually tends to be: find a focus, but open to learning everything and exploring as much as possible because everything is related in the end. I don’t know about you, butwasn’t even satisfied with that answer yet. But it’s okay now because I’ve finally have a good answer for this. This answer came from Sandy Smolan.

 I met Sandy today. Rather, I met him a long time ago, but I had no idea who he actually was. I know him from work but got truly acquainted with him over a campfire today. Among many other incredible things, Sandy’s been nominated for the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Directing and is one of the top TV directors in Hollywood.

But above his accomplishments, Sandy is cool because he’s incredibly sweet, humble, and does what he loves.

I asked him basically what you guys asked me because I have a lot of the same anxieties about the future. This is more or less paraphrased, but he said to just "embrace all the opportunities you get. Really embrace them. You’ll find your way by having as many experiences as possible and indulging into each of them." It’s not about just sorting out the good from the bad. Its about just being able to take it all in and to go along for the ride, therefore getting the most out of it but appreciating both sides of the experience in one way or another. 

It might seem a little repetitive to what I have said, but understand how much more valid and meaningful this kind of advice is from someone like Sandy as opposed to me.

Sandy’s done everything from fictional narratives through dozens of prime-time dramas in Hollywood to documentaries about the transformation of a group of illiterate women in southern Nepal. So this is advice from a guy who has a lot of different interests and enjoys hopping around from one thing to another just as much as I do. (If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I’m an illustrator and graphic designer and am attending school for ID) True, he has a “focus,” that being directing films, but “directing” is broad enough in itself. He built a career by focusing on his genuine interests (which includes leaving his hand print on his work, film, and telling stories, among other things), sharpening his his skills, and the being very open to opportunities at hand. So basically what I’m trying to say is don’t worry about finding a conventional focus and tunneling in on just that. Focus on finding the sweet spot:


The book Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career edited by Jocelyn K. Glei goes into this a bit more if you want to read more about it. 

It explains that “an intersection between just two of the circles doesnt cut it. A love for basket ball and a connection to an NBA scout won’t help you if you lack the skills to play ball.”

Thanks Sandy!

Anonymous: I noticed in the pipeline introduction video that you were using a wacom cintiq, and I want to become an artist at valve someday. (im only 13) My family is supportive but sadly this computer is way out of our price range. Do you have any suggestions that may be a bit cheeper?

Hey that’s all super rad! Good on you for being proactive. But, don’t worry about getting a cintiq. They’re just really nice fancy toys that are lots of fun. They make things go a little faster, but not so much that its actually worth the cash in my opinion. In fact, most people don’t actually even use cintiqs at Valve. Most people just use medium sized tablets (most of them being intuos wacom tablets or something of that sort.)

If we’re talking about costs and what things you should know before buying a tablet here are some things you should know:

I started out on a small blue Bamboo Fun Wacom tablet ($99). (I don’t think they even sell this anymore) I had it for about four years from freshman year of high school until my senior year. (its the small blue one on the left.) The active space is about as small as a starbucks napkin. I now use a large intuos5 pro tablet ($499) (right). 


This is the last thing I made with the small one:


This is the first thing I made this with the large one:


So here’s the scoop: Your drawings wont get significantly better with a better tablet. Your drawings will get significantly better with better skills. You don’t need a cintiq. I get asked about this a lot and the answer is honestly, just get a tablet that allows you to have good drawing skills if your intention is to draw with it. If its not, then naturally, that’s an entirely different story.

 When you’re drawing it’s best to be able to draw with your whole arm and not your wrist. I wouldn’t recommend the small one because I was always drawing with my wrist with it. Drawing with your wrist encourages smaller strokes and therefore slower work and less fluid drawings.

I’d recommend buying a medium sized one because it encourages good drawing habits like arm/shoulder movement, has more levels of pressure sensitivity, and its portable. Honestly, the large one can get a little clumsy and haphazard. Plus it’s more expensive. But, to more explicitly state a point I made earlier, the larger your tablet gets, the more levels of sensitivity it gets, so that’s a plus with my big old behemoth of a tablet. Something to also note is that these two drawings were only made a month apart with the same brush set and techniques. The reason why the second one looks all buttery and smooth is because there was a large jump from  512 levels of pressure sensitivity to 2048 levels of pen pressure sensitivity and tilt recognition.

It’s also touch sensitive, but for me it’s kind of an annoying thing that I turn off. I believe the regular intuos tablets don’t have that.

So what you’re probably looking to buy is this cutie: a medium sized intuos. The site says $199 but i’m sure you could find a cheaper one.


ps. buy a protective cover for it. protect your baby.