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Cracking Creativity Episode 27: Lee Moyer on learning from others, dealing with criticism, and his Kickstarter game

Lee Moyer is a polymath and illustrator who has been working for over 35 years. He has worked with book publishers, theaters, and game developers among many other things. In this episode, we talk about a lot of topics including learning from others, how to handle criticism and information overload, and his Kickstarter project The Doom that Came to Atlantic City.

Here are three things you can learn from Lee:

How to become a better artist

Lee is a big believer in learning from those who came before you. He never had a traditional art education and doesn’t think it is necessary to become a great artist.

In order to become a better artist, he studied under other artists and absorbed their knowledge. This allowed him to learn under the best and the brightest instead of going into debt by going to art school.

He is also a big believer in joining forums and learning from artists on the internet. These avenues make it easier than ever to become a better, more refined artist.

The importance of criticism

Lee believes criticism is an important part of becoming a better artist. Instead of letting criticism get to you, learn from what others are trying to tell you.

People who critique your work are using their own time and energy to give you constructive feedback. Listen to what they they have to say and instead of taking it personally. If people didn’t like you, they wouldn’t bother to critique you.

Dealing with impostor syndrome

Everyone must deal with impostor syndrome. Even the late, great B.B. King was not immune from it. In order to overcome your feeling of not being good enough, you have to know and believe your work will turn out well.

Even when you feel like nothing is coming together, you have to work through it. You need to be stubborn enough to work through the lulls in order to create something great. Just keep working and you will be fine.


  • started career young, never went to college, has been working for over 35 years
  • learned to do all his art without the use of technology
  • works with book publishers, theaters, game design and Kickstarter, docent at the Smithsonian, worked with game developers, Hasboro, Electronic Arts
  • the beginning of his artistic journey
    • had an appreciation of illustrations of John R. Neill  for Oz books (art nouveau)
    • Norman Rockwell and other illustrators gave him great love
    • competitive family told him the only way to compete is to not compete
    • started displaying art at science fiction conventions
      • startled by seeing art at these shows and by how bad they were
    • started doing shows at age 15
    • engaged in live role-playing games and got to work with them
    • worked with Keith Baker of Gloom who also wrote the rules for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City
  • art from conventions and art he created for conventions
    • realized he could draw whatever the hell he wanted
    • showing humor works every time
    • witty art seemed to be the most popular
  • what makes his work stand out
    • volume, does a lot of work but not in the same category or style
    • Norman Rockwell and others being inspired by other artists
    • taking the vernacular of others and adding it to his skills
    • studied amazing art abroad

“Variety is a curious hallmark for an artist. We live in an age of the specialist… but for me, it’s important that I be able to create, good original work in motif, in a period that I really love.”

  • how he learned art
    • learned under Stephen Hickman – book covers and Tolkien calendar
    • Michael Kaluta  – comic Starstruck
    • didn’t have actual schooling, but learned under other artists
    • freeze framing movies and painting them
    • finding your own great references instead of just using the ones from Google image search
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  • learning from other people and combining influences
    • art education in America vs going to museums and studying the greats
    • using gray scale to learn
    • applying tricks from one style of art into other styles
    • J. C. Leyendecker
    • painting in other people’s palettes

“When we study the works of other people and we study them closely, we can accidentally absorb. We can soak in it. We can get it right almost accidentally.”

“It’s really fun to watch other people learn from the best and the brightest.”

“Once we realize there is nothing set in stone, that everyone is learning from the best people they can find, I think it allows us to learn from the best people we can find.”

  • choosing people who influence his work
    • we don’t choose who influences us, it just happens
    • influenced by personal taste, personal growth, and taking it all in
    • you have to be careful of what styles you use, because they carry a lot of baggage
    • poster Lee created for 39 Steps play

“Certain jobs cry out for a certain style, but others get a specific style imposed on them.”

  • method that produces the best results
    • there isn’t a method that always works
    • he doesn’t have to create the same type of work every day, if he did. he might get sick of it
  • the process for creating with different styles
    • each style has its own method and steps
    • Glen Orbick – pulp fiction covers

“What I’m trying to do is study and learn the techniques of the people that I respect instead of re-creating the wheel every single piece I do, I’m trying to study and I’m trying to learn.”

  • keeping track of all his influences (Jump to photos of his reference photos)
    • has a 10 ft shelf with books in alphabetical order
    • he knows where they all lie on the shelf and where to find them when he needs to reference them
    • also pulls a lot of inspiration from the internet
  • referencing people and things when creating
    • the very best artists take photos for reference
    • has friends pose for him and a photographer take shots for reference photos
      • would rather art direct than take photos himself
    • hands out cards to strangers to pose for his art
    • created  literary pin-up calendars for charity
      •  hired a black model for shoot because he didn’t have one
      • the woman had been given a card 6 years ago
    • created an illustration of an animator friend as a white walker for George R.R. Martin
    • friend Becca asked to be made into a moon fairy
  • art direction vs. art creation
    • when you can’t do something yourself, you should bring on other people to help you
    • for large companies like Electronic Arts, the key is being the best communicator you can be
      • talk about specs, mood, what you are looking for, and how to get there
      •  you need to be positive, proactive, and keep moving forward

“You gotta do what you gotta do. You’re only as good as your last gig.”

“When you’re working with other people, you have to be aware of the big picture at all times and you need to be able to convey that picture.”

  • B.B. King and the impostor syndrome
    •  “I developed in my head that I’m never any better than my last concert or the last time I played, so it’s like an audition each time” – B.B. King interview on Fresh Air
    • being a professional and knowing and believing your work will come out well
    • there’s nothing as deflating as seeing how bad your old work is, and yet it is also exciting

“Impostor syndrome is a thing, but when you’re deliberately an impostor, when you’re working in these areas that other people have been so brilliant at for so many years,  it’s a little hard to not let that pressure get to you.”

“Fear is excitement without the breathing.”

“For me, when I started out, I knew that I was terrible, and any time a job came out well, I knew that I had gotten lucky.”

  • getting over impostor syndrome and being willing to make mistakes
    • he is able to overcome it because he is stubborn
    • didn’t have a backup plan
    • be stubborn and just keep working
    • being naive and not knowing what mistakes you’re making
    • being terrible at Photoshop in the beginning and being drunk with power

“Almost every painting goes through a phase where you just feel like it’s not going to work. It’s not going to come together this time. It’s a failure, and pretty much, you work through it, you’ll be fine.”

  • whether young artists should go to school or skip it
    • believes skipping school was the smartest decision he could have made
    • degree from Rhode Island School of Design being more expensive than Harvard
    • forums like Deviant Art, CG Society, critique groups help you learn and grow
    • working under great artists and doing the work
    • learning from other artists on the internet, Fred Fixler,  Ken Adam, and Youtube

“I would learn from the best. I would go to illustrators gatherings, I would show my portfolio to everyone in sight. I would listen carefully, in a way that took me a long time to listen because no one ever gave me this advice.  Listen carefully for the things that you don’t want to hear.”

“The thing that took me longest to learn is that every time someone looked at a page in my portfolio, and flipped the page quickly, it probably means that piece doesn’t belong in your portfolio. It’s probably not good enough.”

“By getting out into the world, we can meet our fellow artists, illustrators. We can talk. We can learn.”

“Do the work. Work hard. Pay attention.”

“Everything that we can learn, we can teach ourselves, or we can be open to finding other people who will teach us.”

  •  dealing with criticism
    • peers in junior high being better artists, but not sticking to it
      • they let their ego get in the way from hearing they were the best
    • When you listen to critique, there’s a few crucial things to remember:
      • if the person didn’t like you, they wouldn’t bother to critique you
      • if they say things that are harsh or cruel, they aren’t any more harsh than business at large
      • chances are, they are being helpful and constructive, which takes their time and energy
      • realize that people are taking the time and energy to help you out
    • being mentor to illustrators in Portland and helping them grow
  • dealing with information overload and selecting what to use in his work
    • grew up believing the most polished work was the best work
    • in digital age, polish is easy
    • finding the right group of people who are inspired by the same things
    • knowing what you like and don’t like
    • it all comes down to personal taste
    • didn’t have a signature for a long time
    • having a couple recognize his signature at San Diego Comic Con and not knowing why they recognized it

“If you are working digitally, work with some rougher tools. Let some happy accidents accrue, and you and your work will be the better for it.”

“Figure out what you want to do. Do it really well and figure out how to tell people you do it really well.”

“It’s all well and good for me to be able to do the work, but it’s important that people know that I do the work… and there’s a lot involved in that.”

  • Kickstarter gameThe Doom that Came to Atlantic City
    • origins and working with Keith Baker
    • working with Z-Man games of Pandemic fame
      • owner sold game company to European game company, new owner didn’t want it
    • someone from H.P. Lovecraft film festival approached them to do a Kickstarter
    • asked for $35k, raised $123k
    • person running Kickstarter spent the money and said no one would get the game
    • Keith and Lee’s names were on the line
    • even wrote a white paper on Kickstarter
    • so they made the game available for people to download and play themselves
    • other game companies approached them to provide game at cost, but they didn’t want backers to pay again
    • Cryptozoic came through and said they wanted to give game to backers and continue to publish it
    • now made through Renegade games
    • FTC came out with ruling against Erik Chevalier saying he would have to pay backers
  • morning routine
    • eats breakfast, does yoga
    • as long as work gets done, doesn’t care when it gets done
  • creative influences
    • creativity is a fascinating subject because it applies to so many people, fields, and subjects
    • Small Gods project – an hour a day, once a day
    • They Might be Giantsdial a song
    • Jonathan Coulton
    • musicians only doing 10 songs
    • Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan’s interaction about Cohen’s Hallelujah, and Cohen asking about All Along the Watchtower
    • we all move at the speed we are capable of moving at
    • fond of mashups and people who can jump genres
    • Andri Magnason – job for each book to betray his readership
      • challenge is figuring what’s new and exciting
    • Max Raabe & His Palace Orchestra
      • covers of Queen and Britney Spears songs
    • Postmodern Jukebox
      • not liking everything they do and why that’s a good thing
  • books, resources, tools on creativity
    • travel as being a creative catalyst
    • the more you travel, the more you see
    • inspiration can come from anywhere

“I never know where inspiration will come from. Creativity, I like to think I have already, and it’s just a question of priming, and using it, and encouraging it.”

  • definition of creativity
    • had his brain scanned, because he’s never done it, it gives a fascinating read out, and gives him new understanding
      • helps understand his workflow and why he craves order
    • you should do new things all the time

“I think that creativity is freedom. I think that we all get trapped in convention… Creativity comes from letting go of but these are just the things we do. And the more we free ourselves of the strictures of what is done, what is known. The more we experience, the more we allow our curiosity to take hold, the better.” | Facebook | Twitter

Reference photos mentioned in the episode:

1. The Morgue – these icons represent large photos I have taken and use as reference:

 1. The Morgue - these icons represent large photos I have taken and use as reference:

2. The Virtual Bookshelf. Most of these artists are otherwise not represented in my vast library (either foreign, too young or, sometimes, the subjects of books too old to have proper reproductions in color).

2. The Virtual Bookshelf. Most of these artists are otherwise not represented in my vast library.

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