An inspirational story of putting the best foot forward everyday. From Starbucks barista to working in big name TV, artist and director T.G. Hopkins took control of his career when he decided to start taking advantage of every ordinary day by doing whatever he did to the best of his ability.
T.G. started his animation career in college while interning at an animation studio, quickly picking up a job as a storyboard artist and dropping out of college. T.G. continued his artistic career for a couple of years before hitting a plateau. “Eventually work started to dry up a little bit,” T.G. shares. “I moved back in with my parents and got a job at Starbucks. I felt like I had moved backwards in my life and I was pretty depressed.” An obstacle artists of all mediums face, T.G. started to feel discouraged in his artistic path.
A creative working a not-so-creative job, the days became long and T.G. became frustrated. “At a certain point a switch clicked and I thought to myself ‘if I can’t do a good job at the job I’m doing now, why would anybody want me when I go back into the industry?’ and so I channeled all of my energy into being the best Starbucks Barista anybody had ever seen.” He went out of his way to spread kindness and positivity in the workplace. Hopkins started remembering drink orders, customer names and doing the art on chalkboard. Despite his environment, he didn’t give up his artistic identity. “I actually started telling people I was an artist instead of being ashamed of how my career panned out” This was a turning point for T.G.
Small job offers started to come in through the customers' notice of his Starbucks chalkboard art and can-do attitude. “It turns out the director of Sharknado was a regular at my Starbucks and after talking to him for a bit he told me he might have some work for me to do on an upcoming commercial” After one thing led to another, Hopkins seized the opportunity and began to open up doors left and right until he had done work on all of the following Sharknado movies. After kicking his foot through the industry door and doing work for some of the biggest names in entertainment (Rick and Morty, Bob's Burgers, Central Park & more) , the many following opportunities to come gave T.G. the start of a successful career in his field of interest and a plethora of knowledge he enjoys sharing with others.
Through his work in several artistic fields, different jobs in production, and many years of industry expertise, T.G. has a very well rounded view of what the industry looks like and looks for. We sat down to unpack Hopkins' mind.
ADVICE FROM T.G.
“Always have the courage to ask. There’s so much to be learned from just asking. There’s no shame in not knowing something especially when you’re making the effort to learn. There’s also a level of humility to learn, to accept that there are things you won't be doing perfectly and people will tell you. Take that as a good thing. What they're telling you is valuable. You don't have to take it all to heart but be conscious of what will help you and work with that. Find strategies that help you, you can ask about those too. For me it's note taking and list making. It's all a learning process”
“We artists are not stereotyped as the most social people, we can be very internal. So it's important to lean into your social interactions at a job or with people in general as a sort of training tool. People aren’t just hiring what you can do, they're hiring who you are and what your character is. Are you kind? Do you get defensive when your work is critiqued or do you take the criticism and give them what they're looking for? Are you consistent and on time? Also learn on how to adjust depending on who you’re talking to. The production side and the art side of TV can be very different. Artists typically tend to be less conventional and push the limits. Production can be more structured and clean cut. When you’re at work think of it like a family reunion. Sure you can say those jokes with your cousin but when your aunt comes around don’t let the F bombs fly. There’s a level of respect and balance you must maintain”
BE EASY TO WORK WITH
“Learn how to tell somebody’s else's story. I know as an artist you have this idea of always ‘standing out’
and doing things your own way but if you're working on a big project it's really not about your own vision. When you’re working on a TV show they want to see that you can draw THEIR cartoon, not your own cartoon. You’re making somebody else's dream come to life, until it's your time to tell your own story so be willing to be versatile in your work. Have different styles in your portfolio so they can see you’re able to do that. ”
Get a mentor. They can help you learn the ropes when you’re first starting. If you can get someone to believe in you that is a better artist than you, they can teach you a lot. They can also give you advice on whether to have "that" conversation with a boss, or whether you should say "that thing" in the meeting. Somebody you can ask questions too and introduce you to others
“There’s certain styles, camera angles, and character views that go into the visual of a show. They're all different for each show and it really makes the show what it is. When I tested for Bobs Burgers the first time I didn't get on. I studied Bob’s Burgers more and worked on another project until I was good enough and knew the show enough to work on it.”