What is an Accidental Expert?
PART 1 in a series: Explaining the title of this newsletter.
In 2016, I spoke at ICON (The Illustration Conference) about the evolution of my digital brush business, KyleBrush. There was a slide in the 20-minute talk about how my unusual obsession with the brush settings panel in Photoshop, combined with my restlessness when it came to artistic styles and/or mediums became a recipe for innovation in a previously little-explored arena: custom brushes. Additionally, I had always been interested in how far digital tools could be pushed to emulate the look and feel of traditional materials. My spending an inordinate amount of time playing around with something that fascinated me (the brush settings) and making a lot of random stuff (hundreds of unique brushes, both weird and practical) was helping me along to becoming an expert, though I didn’t realize it at the time. In short, I accidentally became an expert at making Photoshop brushes.
With no real goal in mind other than satisfying my own curiosity (which had the added benefit of making my own illustration work easier and faster to produce), I built up a library of unique and powerful tools that would change my life, the lives of my immediate family members, and if you’ll allow me to say so, the lives of thousands of my fellow digital artists.
At first, the KyleBrush business was successful enough to allow me to be more choosy with my illustration assignments. Then, as it grew, it allowed me to take more time off from illustration when I needed it and spend time with my family. After two years, it became my primary source of income and I only drew what I wanted to draw, and only with my favorite clients. I even had time to produce my first picture book, ‘Please Say Please!’ with Scholastic. And then, things got complicated and a bit difficult to manage: rampant piracy, customer service emails, competition ... I’ll write a separate post about that soon. Also, my body broke due to years of stress. More on that in a separate post, as well.
Finally, through luck, timing, the right friends and colleagues, and help from experts of other kinds, the business was acquired by Adobe and I joined their teams to work on drawing and painting initiatives. Kind of a perfect ending and certainly not one I could have imagined when I was just sitting at my desk trying to make a digital brush feel like a No. 2 pencil.
How is this story useful for anybody else? For you?
This brings me to one of the things I want to do with this newsletter: I want to break down the steps I took to build something from scratch into a weird business with half a million customers so that others can hopefully apply what I learned (and am now better able to understand with the benefit of hindsight) to their own lives, side hustles, online businesses, or whatever else. Maybe you are already an expert at something, but you never considered it as a skill or interest around which you could build a successful business. Maybe you are already an expert at something and don’t even KNOW you are an expert. I was in both of these camps.
So, here is my question to you this week:
Is there something you have been doing your whole life that you do better than others? Remember, this could literally be anything at all, big or small. A specific skill? A way of thinking? Organizing? Explaining? Calculating? Making something easier, faster (slower?), smoother, more enjoyable, more powerful, weirder, funnier, safer …?
Think about it. And if you wish, please share your thoughts in a comment on this post.
In the next issue, I’ll start with the first necessary ingredient in cracking the entrepreneurial code that helped me get from zero to Adobe: FUN.
Things I Recently Built for You
I recently released two things that will help digital artists work a lot faster in Photoshop.
44 Actions for Digital Artists – These actions do a bunch of things in a single click: clean up scanned line art, create comics backgrounds from photos, set up color flatting layers, increase or decrease line weight, generate palettes from your foreground color, and more.
Lasso Fill Plugin – At long last, you can draw with the lasso tool without any extra key commands to fill color, deselect, etc. - just make your shape and move on. More updates are coming to this tool soon.
Digital Art Tip
There are hundreds of millions of colors available to you every time you start a digital illustration. Unless you are James Gurney and understand color theory better than 99% of your peers, this range of colors makes it difficult to pick and choose harmonious colors for your art. I have a foolproof method for making palettes that are always harmonious - watch here.
Until next time, take care of yourselves, take care of each other and remember to be kind. Ciao for now.
Thanks for sharing, Kyle! Love this sentiment and learning about your journey. I’ve had a hard time self-identifying as an expert, especially in areas that aren’t my primary job. I’m at the point of growth where I’m aware of what I don’t know and that sometimes stops me from sharing what I do. Even if it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, I’m better than many people at it but there are so many people better than me.
Obviously even experts have things they are still learning in their field; I would love to get your take on different criteria that can help build confidence in one’s expertise level, especially absent of traditional means (like degree credentials or job titles). Maybe a “You might be an expert if…” with more examples as a follow up!
Thanks for the post Kyle. Gets one to think more critically. I think for me, it comes from experiencing something in real time. For example, I consider myself to be pretty motivated and educated in terms of taking our household income and maximizing it in terms of savings rate/investing rate. While I do feel I am more educated than most, my "education" can get in the way sometimes and I end up overthinking or over optimizing. This can lead to underperformance (which is tough for a Type A personality). I am coming to realize more that being directionally accurate is more important than perfection.