Trying to make art that matters and talk about why.

Hi there. My name’s John. John Thomas Valles II. I’m an artist specializing in illustration and character design. I have a little more experience in that second one.

Back in 2010 (I was 15) I decided that I wanted to be an artist for a living. As a rule that’s still what I want. I’m working on that.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that I love what really good and thoughtful art directs people to think about and reflect on. I’m always building ways to talk about important ideas, but in the meantime, maybe I can help you with your important idea.

(If you’re curious, this is what I’m doing right now:

  • I post reasonably frequently on Instagram. My handle is @toonstop.
  • I talk about stuff on Twitter. My handle there is also @Toonstop. Spicy takes ahead.
  • I’m pursuing a few major missions (Apart from my overall Christian mission):
    • Filling this website with good stuff. Pictures and articles and so forth..
    • Drawing things that brighten peoples’ day.
    • Erratically starting and dropping various comic ideas. My two big ones right now are a Bible tract project and a fantasy story about a doctor and his reluctant tale of finding out why his friend died. 
  • I also teach art on a contract basis. You can ask me about this on any hire form on the website.

An Eleven-Year (and counting) Journey

Perhaps you’re interested in a little extra history. “Who is this guy, anyway?” “What does he know?” “How long has he been in this?”

It was 2010 that I had my career epiphany, but I had the epiphany about my passion in the summer of 2007. I can’t quite remember where, but my family had gone to Fort Worth for some sort of field trip or errand. Sometime during the day we stopped by a Half-Price Books store. (Which you need to stop by if you can find one!) Tucked away in a small circular shelf designed to hold folders in the top but still have room for more books in the outward-facing shelves was volume 1 of a sort of fantasy series by the name Fullmetal Alchemist.

First, I was hooked.

That book, in addition to being the gateway to a fantastic and gripping story, started something in me, you see. Suddenly I was drawing characters, and a lot of them.

I didn’t really have any plans with those characters, necessarily. I just wanted to draw. I had done a lot of drawing across my life at that time. What kid doesn’t? Classmates remembered me as the kid who drew a lot. I just kept drawing and drawing and drawing.

Then there was Thanksgiving of 2007.

I got my first computer and discovered the Internet. I discovered that everybody makes things. And not only that, but as long as you had an email address, you were allowed to share every one of your creations, if you so pleased. I learned that you didn’t need to go through any big publisher if you want to make something. You can just make something and share it! No waiting for approvals or editors, or any of that! You just make something and put it out there for the world to see!

Summer of 2008 was when I made my next great discovery. I discovered content creators who, whether through characters of established beloved properties, characters of their own, or a hybrid of the two, would create not just single isolated pieces of content, but a series of things telling a bigger story, and they weren’t afraid of different mediums, either. Whether it was writing, comics, or video, they found their format, took hold of it, and just ran with it.

Action, drama, romance, comedy, and at all levels of polish. It was just good enough to wow the normal observer, but just rough enough to let young or inexperienced creatives know that they, too, could make something. They could make something, and people would see it, and even enjoy it!

That year is also when I discovered that you can even connect with the people who make content on the internet, that you don’t have to wait for agents or pay for postage or make appointments to get connected with other people. All you had to do is write an email and they would see it, and you could build a bridge with them!

That was the year that I began to write the stories to be filled with the characters that I couldn’t quit drawing.

…And that was also the year that I learned a couple of things.

Making things regularly and publishing them is extremely hard work. And the higher quality of thing you want to make, the more time you have to spend on it.

Understand, I was still a kid then. That lesson can be hard for some grown people to internalize,  much less a child. From 2008 even up to 2017 was a fight between the power of my passion and the inertia of indiscipline. I still struggle.

But I didn’t stop learning, and I didn’t stop practicing. I continued to draw and draw and draw, and I was determined that I would not stop, no matter how hard it got, even if I didn’t have everything I needed to stay 100% on track as a content creator.

In Spring of 2011 I went to learn from my uncle, who is a successful artist, and while I learned new things about art, animation, and even digital sculpture, I was given a reminder that I didn’t want to face again at that time:

Good art is hard work.

In Summer of 2011 I participated in an artists’ boot camp, a program designed to vet and filter potential students for an illustration program at a nearby technical school. I was two years too young and I wasn’t finished with high school, both requirements to be admitted. (Requirements of the family, not necessarily the school, but don’t tell anyone!) I still passed the Boot Camp, even though I was a bit young. And I was also re-reminded that good art is hard work.

In Fall of 2013 I finished high school and went on to attend the illustration program I had been approved for two years before. I didn’t quit drawing, and I made sure to keep learning no matter what! That year I had also made new and interesting friends both online and offline. Many of those friends were artists, and they inspired me to keep moving forward!

From Fall of 2013 to Spring of 2015 I kept drawing and learning and somehow managed to keep a fire of passion alive. I was drawing every day, learning every day, and the passion and skill showed forth in my work. (Sometimes in personal work more than my school work, as a fellow creative observed…)

But for everything I was doing right, I still didn’t get the traction to regularly publish work. I also discovered that life doesn’t wait, nor do bill collectors. I was working full time and studying full time. I’m grateful for the help that friends and family lent me during that period, but the rent still ended up becoming too expensive for me. I couldn’t finish my degree. I needed to move in with family to make sure I could still live.

I was reminded that life, as well as good, consistent art, was hard work.

From Summer of 2015 to Winter of 2017 (the part of Winter that occupies February) was a haze of different things. A delivery job, pressing into my art, family health crises, and participating in a long-distance relationship. It was challenging, and almost maddening at times! I was gone 12 hours a day working ten hours on the road for my money and drawing for two hours at coffee shops and delis because home was too far away!

My father, another successful creative professional, was witness to nearly every artistic pursuit I was engaged in, from all the way back in 2007 to this day. He, too, was a crucial mentor, and saw me through successes, failures, and every time I tried something new. As hard as things could get, he invested readily in my craft because he could see as clearly as I could that it was destined to go somewhere. And he was always encouraging me to stick to what I wanted to do, no matter how hard it could get.

Then came February 28, 2017. I moved to Michigan. I couldn’t stand being so far away from my then-girlfriend (who is my now-wife), and I had to find work that paid my bills and left me alone at night to hone my craft. This decision didn’t come lightly, either. I had thought, talked, and prayed about it for months beforehand. I made the decision and saw it through, and I felt so free, afterward. I felt too free, actually, and nearly as tired as I could be, too. Which was a very, very bad combination.

I got lazy and nearly lost all of my momentum.

Enter Sean McCabe and his book Overlap, which released in September of 2017. This guy, who had been starting businesses and making his own money for years had written down nearly all of his knowledge for people to learn from. How to conserve enough energy after your day job to invest in your passion, how to make financial space for it, how to get friends and family on board with it, how to persevere in your passion, and how to make money from your passion by way of an audience-driven business.

Overlap had all the behind-the-scenes info on how to be successful. And suddenly I understood how the people I watched and admired all the way back in 2008 got their audiences, kept making things, and even made money. Specific practices tied to real, observed results. Both for himself and for the people who had been taking his classes and reading his works. And I had all of that practical knowledge in hand when I bought my copy!

But for as deeply as the book broke down the steps, strategies, and necessary attitudes for success, there still remained the great obstacle that never went away, after a whole decade. The essence of the lesson was unchanging, though the understanding of how it specifically affected me was certainly more developed. And the quality of the work itself wasn’t the only concern anymore.

Art that connects with people and tells a story worth sharing is hard work. Getting your art out there, where people can’t ignore it, is hard work.

Did this rediscovery crush the dream?

Was all that work and time fruitless?

Of course not.

That was the day a new resolution was established. That was the day I committed to show up every day for two years. September 30th, 2017 was when things began anew for Toonstop (and you can see that first step right here), and when I determined that I wasn’t going to make any more excuses, or settle for being mediocre.

Good art is hard work. Getting people to see your art is hard work. Life itself is hard work. Publishing consistently is hard work.

And from that day forward, I had determined that I would do the hard work.

What 11 Years Produced

That’s 1665 words to tell you an 11 year story. 11 years and, one way or another, I’m still here to tell the tale. But what does that mean for you, my reader?

Toonstop has three great objectives right now.

•I’m here to share stories. Not just any old story that wanders and meanders without a point. I’m here to share stories that bring joy and/or share important ideas. I desire to make things that are worth reading, represented by characters that resonate with my readers. These stories aren’t yet out in the open for everyone to see, but I hope you’ll come along with me as they come to life.

•I’m here for inexperienced creatives who want to learn how to tell their own stories, starting with great characters. I’m here to set an example that teaches new creatives that you don’t have to wait around to make something. Two hands and a desire to work is all it takes, and you can just go! Go and show your vision to the world! If you’re an artist or designer reading this, and you’re unsure of yourself, you have permission to go and create something no matter how good or bad it is! In fact, stop reading and go make something right now if you can!

•I’m here for producers who need solutions for their visual art needs. We live in a complex world that needs all kinds of things, after all. But your business needs the visual solution that’s just right.

If you’re looking to hire and you want to see some concrete demonstration of what I can do for you, or if you’re an ambitious young creative seeking to learn how the professionals do things, I invite you to have a look at my process, or my timelapse videos.

If you’re here to hire and you’re already convinced, however, why don’t we start working together right now?

One last thing to consider:

If you’ve made it this far, you might be chewing on the idea of John Valles II, between the writing and the photograph on this page. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, I intended to design a character right into your head. The idea of John T. Valles II, the journey he’s been on, what he does, and what he stands for already has a framework in your mind. Think about this experience, and how this can apply to your character design needs.

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