Gary Bedell. (Photo by Chet Smith)

As far back as Gary Bedell can remember, he knew he had something special to explore — he needed to become a creator.

The 40-year-old Springfield artist has spent much of his life designing new worlds full of dream-like, majestically frightening creatures. His work has been featured by Activision, Cartoon Network, Attack Wagon Games, Crypt TV and Fantasy Flight Games. 

Bedell believes his purpose in life is to awaken the natural curiosity that we as humans were all born with, but sometimes forget we have. He draws deep inspiration from the great mysteries of the universe, his own dreamscapes and from fellow artists.

The versatile artist works in the worlds of design and illustration, both digitally and in more traditional ways like pencil, ink and paint. Bedell’s desire to become a master horror artist started when he was a kid and saw his dad drawing creepy creatures and muscular barbarians. The comic book craze of the ’90s sparked Bedell’s interest in creating worlds of his own. He took inspiration from the Japanese art style “manga” and the Marvel Comic “The Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (Vol. 1)”, drawn by Arthur Adam.

Gary Bedell’s illustrative work for an undisclosed client. (Illustration: Gary Bedell)

Bedell has had many years of professional experience and has collaborated with several huge companies such as Nickelodeon, Disney, General Mills, and Leapfrog, among other clients. Bedell was also a part of the team that designed the new Springfield city flag. Even though Bedell has worked in many different styles and art mediums, he never fails to add originality to his artistry. 

Bedell has learned a lot throughout his career and has worked very hard to develop his experience and talent.

He recently answered questions for the Springfield Daily Citizen and offered a lot of good advice for upcoming artists in Springfield. Here are some excerpts:

Q: How did you get your career started in Springfield?

A: The problem was I was living on my own, and I didn’t have a computer with good capabilities, so I had to work traditionally by hand for probably two or three years. So imagine trying to build an art career where you don’t have enough money to have a computer — this was in the early 2000s when DSL/Wifi and all that stuff was expensive to have. Photoshop cost a lot of money … so I had to work traditionally, pay my bills and try to get a PC for like three years.

Then I just started going to Visioncon where I was introduced to the artist Mike Decker. I started going to the shows with him, and that’s when I discovered the convention culture. I was like, “Oh man, I can start making money here.” 

Then I learned about submitting your work to comic book publishers. This wasn’t like you just sent an email — I would have to send out my work in manila envelopes. I would go to conventions and meet editors, like the people whose work I’ve been looking at forever, and have them look at mine. I think doing that is just as good as going to college. You learn either way. You know where you’re failing at, and you know what you need to work on it. You really had to put effort into doing this, especially in the early 2000s.

There were a lot of phone calls and a lot of people ghosting me and blowing me off. Envelopes I sent out then never heard anything back. There are a lot of hardships [starting an art career started] … You have to experience it all; you have to get in there and get your hands dirty. 

You guys come from the instant gratification generation, but you have to stalk like a tiger — you have to wait. It’s coming. You just have to sit back, relax, develop yourself as a person, and then hone and develop your talent — there has to be a balance.

Then, believe it or not, I worked as a dishwasher at Patton Alley [Pub] in like 2005… That’s when I met this guy named Chris Murdock … He was sitting at a table at Patton Alley [Pub] and I saw him drawing and I was like, “I draw too, can I show you some of my stuff?”… Then he was like, “If it helps you can come up to the office to meet the guys.” So that’s how I got my job at Black Lantern and worked in kids gaming — I had a lot of fun with that crew. I worked for them from 2006 to about 2012. But even after that, I was doing contract work for them. So for a period of time, I was working in gaming, then I started to get introduced to online communities like CGTalk. 

I started taking online workshops with pro artists that I’m totally in love with. That’s another thing if you want to expand your artist brain and your education, there are so many resources online. Don’t overwhelm yourself, just pick a creator or someone’s work that you like and just go watch their videos or watch their tutorials or how they do things and get out there and just do that. So I started … getting more work. Then those envelopes became emails, and then I started getting more replies back, then I started building those relationships.

Now that I’m 40, everything balances out. Even if business drops a little bit, you have to make yourself a promise that things will balance out. You have to communicate and network — you’re not going to do it on your own. It takes relationships, networking, being around like-minded people, getting out there in the community and knowing your skillset. Find out who you need to talk to and work with but stay away from toxic art communities.

Gary Bedell’s illustrative work for an undisclosed client. (Illustration: Gary Bedell)

Q: Your art invites people to look into other worlds that may not exist. Where do you get your inspiration for this and who were your mentors?

A: It never just boils down to one best artist out there … There’s a whole pack of artists who lead me up to where I am now. First and foremost though, I saw my dad draw really cool stuff when I was a kid because he’s a visual artist too.

Then I discovered Arthur Adams, who’s a comic book artist whose work is just phenomenal. He was the one that I saw where I was just like, ”I have to do this for a living.” “The Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (Vol. 1)” was drawn by Arthur Adams, and there’s a full-page scene where the Fantastic 4, X-Factor, X-Men and the New Mutants bust through this wall to save Rachel Summers, who’s the Phoenix, and it was just the most powerful piece. Like my little kid brain exploded and oozed out of my eyes, ears and mouth, and I knew I had to do this for a living. That’s when I just started drawing comics … A lot of my thought process for my art comes from dreams and seeing things in the real world and sometimes creating a juxtaposition of those things in my head and putting it on paper… In Springfield, you have that nice balance that a lot of cities don’t have of metro and nature. Like I’ll be out in nature and think, “Man, what if there was an overgrown abandoned ice cream shop in the middle of this creek with unicorns running around it?” … I love implied narrative like that but I also love storytelling. Being able to tell that from one image and being able to manipulate the real world by dreams.

Q: What are your favorite art mediums to use when creating your work?

A: I always enjoy a challenge, so working with new mediums is always a good way to keep my mind nimble and my work fresh and innovative. By working traditionally there’s no “control ‘z’” to correct any wrong turns I might take when working on a piece. This forces mindful awareness; of myself, of the brush in my hand and of the cat that is trying to walk onto my drawing board and lay down for a nap. Challenge is necessary for growth. It is nurturing, invigorating and I welcome it.

It’s hard to say because I’ve worked so many different ways, and I do that for different reasons. But if I had to break it down, I would say I love working digitally — digital to traditional and traditional to digital. I don’t just like working traditionally, but those are the main two … Painting traditionally is something that’s kind of a luxury. Mostly I work with pencil, pen and ink in my sketchbook and then go to digital by scanning at high resolution, that kind of thing.

Gary Bedell’s illustrative work for an undisclosed client. (Illustration: Gary Bedell)

Q: What have you learned from mistakes throughout your career?

A: I learned to be more business savvy and to kind of pay attention to things like that or hire somebody who is more business savvy. Even if you have a friend who’s going through business school … give them a little cut of what you’re making. You can really help each other out. Seriously, that’s something I wish I would have done early on in my career. 

Train a little harder. Put your ego to the side. Be more willing to learn things because when I was in the survival stage of my career, all I was thinking was, “Be good, be good, be good, be good, be good, or I’m not gonna make money.” It just messes you up in the head a little bit. It can also turn into depression when you think you’re not good enough if something falls through or whatever. So keep your ego in check. It’s gonna save you a lot of heartaches.

Build good relationships. Some of them are going to fall to the wayside — you’re going to have people coming in and out of your life. Just get yourself a good circle, which I had a great circle. If you have parents or whatever that are kind of skeptical of having art as a career, either prove to them that you’re right or explain to them and bring up facts why you can actually do this as a career. There should be people around you that support you who need to understand that you can make a living with art, and they don’t need to say anything that deters you from that. If they do, just keep them at arm’s length. 

Learn to say “no.” No is one of my favorite words in the universe. It helps a lot with finding out if people are serious about their projects. Before you hop into something, think about if you have time for it or if it’s going to be overwhelming and rushed. So know what you need to say “no” to and when you should say “yes.” I have to pick the things that are going to pay the bills and put me in a bigger spotlight.

Q: What are your personal dreams and aspirations you have for the future of your career?

A: I personally want to continue the artists’ group and what we do at Clever Kaiju. I want that to continue… I want that to grow. If there are artists out there aspiring to create professional work, join our Discord. We have a show and tell … a feedback session … sessions based on illustration … live events … our show “The Pen Clique” that’s aired live every last Thursday of the month. You can even watch that on my artist page on Facebook.

Discord is an app where you can find communities of chats in different rooms. There’s a great community on there. There’s no putting people down; people are just there to help each other. I’d love to see that community grow. I want to see it out there, and it still be around after I’m dead … I just want to create a funnel so artists could work from smaller places and not have to move to a big city if they don’t have enough money to go there. I want to prevent that attitude that causes artists to give up what they want to do. 

Also, on top of that, I’m the marketing guy for Tremendicon, which is taking place June 17, 18 and 19. It’s a creators convention at the Oasis… Get yourself a table out there, sell your work. You know, this is how you get out there. This is how you learn things … There’s gonna be people there that you’re going to be able to show your portfolio to … and they can tell you what you can work on or how you can partner up with someone.

Gary Bedell’s horror-themed illustrative work for an undisclosed client. (Illustration: Gary Bedell)

Q: Since you were a part of the Springfield Identity Project that designed the new Springfield flag, how did you contribute to its unique design and where did you guys draw inspiration from?

A: To anyone that’s upset about it, I’m sorry that you feel that way. I’m sorry if it upsets you. It’s not meant to upset anyone. We just had a flag that was just kind of bland and boring — we’ve been accused of being bland and boring as a city and the people in it. I don’t want people to think we’re like that. Even the people that are complaining about it, I don’t want them to be represented like that. 

It was so long ago that we did it, but we did have open submissions for the flag — so if you weren’t paying attention, that’s not our fault. One of the things that we pushed for when we got submissions was to take something from each one. There were a lot of good things that we saw in each submission. I’m not gonna get too in-depth, but I’ll just say this, I really pushed for the inspiration of Captain Marvel.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

A: I’ll add this because this is really important. If you want to advance your career, you have to think globally, not locally. You have to think globally because you can easily get caught in a trap of just trying to work too hard locally. 

Working locally establishes really good relationships when you work for certain clients. You should raise your bar locally first, for sure. You should do stuff for local businesses and your hot [popular] clients here but get rid of, for instance, the people who want personal commissions … Practice with those personal commissions and then get to a point where you work mostly with businesses. Then if someone wants a personal commission or original piece of your work, they’ll have to pay you more.

Keep your ideas to yourself. Do not talk about your ideas until you execute them publicly. Partner up with people you trust and just be mindful of their behavior … Make sure local businesses pay you what you’re worth because I noticed that there are a lot of power struggles like that here in Springfield — some people like to underpay artists. 

There’s kind of this gatekeeper mentality in the artist community here, and I just don’t do that either — so I’m going to save you from that. Get your group of people; start your own little artist community. I’m telling you people will come to you; they will. And then you can set your own terms, and then you can tell them how you want to do things.

Be confident and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s arrogance. Especially when you know yourself better than anybody else … That’s just their insecurity.

Gianna Kelley

Gianna Kelley is an intern for the Springfield Daily Citizen. She is a student at Missouri State University majoring in journalism and minoring in film studies. Kelley has worked for MSU’s student newspaper, The Standard, for two years as a columnist. More by Gianna Kelley