The 5 Commandments of CROM



Hey guys! I’m thrilled to be writing another article for I AM THE TREND. Like all of us I read many articles about technique, business, design etc. Well I’ve had some things on my mind that will add to the arrows in your quiver. I’m going to talk with you about some virtues to withhold in your work and life based off of my experiences.

I titled this article “The 5 Commandments of CROM” because these are points from my instructors that have stuck with me still after 6 years at The Cleveland Institute of Art. These instructors were my gurus that shared or said something I believe was good mentoring to become a quality artist and person. I notice as we go through life we find quotes or passages that stay with us and help mold us. In case you are wondering “Who is CROM?” he is Conan’s god, I am a little obsessed. More importantly I reference CROM because it’s my way of acknowledging the gurus, mentors and instructors that help us become who we are today.

COMMANDMENT I:Though shall not create race lines!

I had a specific illustration instructor John that was an old war vet. I think he was ready to throw grenades and take up arms at anytime. He kicked my butt for 2 years and certain advice he gave to me still rings in my ears. So race lines, what does that mean? I remember for a specific project I was trying to ink hair and the lines were all evenly spaced. What my instructor was trying to tell me was to see the whole picture and understand what the whole piece needs and of course don’t draw evenly spaced lines! I’ll take it a step further draw with diversity and originality. When I discovered art nouveau I studied Alphonse Mucha constantly. I of course would study every line he drew trying to adapt it to my own. Lines in my drawings started out evenly spaced, race lines. They made no sense and line weight and boring. I get what he was telling me.

What I learned: Sit back, take in the whole drawing (design, painting, etc.) and understand what needs to pop, what needs a thick line, thin line and where you need flow for characters, text, color, etc. DIVERSITY

COMMANDEMT II: Though shall strive for 100% but you will not achieve this every time.

This was probably the most surprising and encouraging advice I received from John. He was a tough drill instructor and gave no smiles. One day myself and other students were hanging out with him during a critique thinking he was going to snap our necks at anytime, when out of nowhere he says “We strive for 100% but we don’t always reach it.” I’ve never felt so relieved that it’s ok to make mistakes. Notice I didn’t say I felt so relived to be lazy and be ok with it. After 5 years of art school and being force fed discipline it was time to know this.

What I learned: I learned there is no way in hell I can give 99%. I’m all in every project. It’s what drives me to be the best every project I work on. At the same time you win some you lose some and you know, it’s fine because you put your whole heart into it. I think I exhaust myself after each project but it’s the competitive side and the discipline that drives me to produce quality work.

COMMANDMENT III: Though shall produce a quality drawing!

One fall afternoon John gave us an assignment and he began his ritual of what he was looking for within each piece. He always stressed to be professional, present it well and above all produce a good drawing. Ok kind of obvious and elementary but it still sticks with me. I can’t allow myself to create garbage!

What I learned: My name is on everything I produce. I put 110% into my work. I put 110% into my clients work. When dealing with clients think of it this way you have been hired to serve them. Provide them the ultimate value for what they are paying you for. Don’t cut corners. The most difficult is keeping your cool and remaining a professional even if a project goes south. Why, because that’s integrity.

COMMANDMENT IV: Though shall not create crap!

I remember a certain project I got lazy with and thought I could slip one past the sarge (John). I saw him walking  to my desk probably after he just tore someone else apart.  I think he was about to throw me out the window after he saw my work. Haha! His exact words were “Steve, that’s crap do it again!” Oh the kindness from this man.

What I learned: He called me out! I had to own it and produce quality. Can you sense the discipline the guru taught? After that day I still hear “Steve that’s crap.” I don’t believe that but that’s the voice that keeps me honest. I guess I learn better that way. Learning is so vital no matter what stage you are at. Learn and apply with excellence.

THOUGHTS: How do you learn? It seems my pattern was from a drill instructor. Find the mentor that suits your personality.

COMMANDMENT V: Though shall learn from the one you hate.

So true… almost. I still wonder if I will learn something from Jackson Pollack. As the commandment says I hated my first year painting instructor. I thought the dude was so full of himself acting like he was given the blessing of CROM himself. So how did it change, how did I change? One day he displayed his work for us. My jaw dropped. Dude was sick awesome at water color and blew my mind with his oil paintings. His style was similar to John Singer Sergant, my favorite painter. Bonus! He almost seemed shy to show his work. He ended the presentation by saying “You are learning from me, I am learning from you. We’re in this together.” That ended up being my favorite class and instructor at CIA. I always wish I could have been his apprentice.

What I learned: Don’t judge the guru, he really is that good. I received an understanding of his words after I gained experience and people were asking me questions about my technique or my work. Understand this, you are above people and people are above you when it comes to experience, knowledge, skill, etc. There is always someone to learn from and there is always someone to teach.

Here is a quick example I love referring to. In the movie 300 (2nd greatest movie ever made after Conan the Barbarian) King Leonidas explains to a character about the battle strategy of his army. Each soldier protects the other soldier next to them. This is why they are so effective. Now I’m not saying we all sing happy songs together but it’s all about relationships and value rather than hording what you know and cut throat competition. The best satisfaction I have felt in the arts is teaching. It makes me a better artist. At the same time I know there is someone better than me (I guess ; P) and I’ll need their help.

WRAP UP: So what do these commandments boil down to?


These are my virtues I carry not just in the arts but whatever I’m doing.  There is no honor in being cut throat or selfish. There is no virtue with apathy.  There is great reward learning from a guru/mentor or peer because one day we will be the guru teaching the young and aspiring.

I hope this article helps you and gives you something to think about and inspires you. Adapt it to your life and think about where you are at. Learning and education never ends. We are all gurus, mentors and starving to learn more. Impact those around you!

Until next time guys, by the way Tee Madness was sick! I’m calling my shot for 2012. I’m going deep!

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  • amazing article and filled with stuff every illustrator needs to or should know.