Honesty

I wanted to talk about honesty this week. I touched on this a bit when I wrote about self-improvement and it has come up several times since I started live-streaming a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve had time to interact with far more people than is normal for me, and these exchanges have caused me to notice things about myself that I would not have discovered otherwise. It has also caused me to really think about what honesty means to an artist.

The honesty I’m talking about isn’t the type that keeps you from taking someone else’s work and calling it your own. Hopefully, if you are reading my blog, you have a lot more integrity than that. I’m talking about being honest with ourselves. For the most part, I’d always thought that I was pretty honest with myself, but live-streaming helped me to see just how honest I had actually been.

The first thing I noticed was how much more work I have been producing. I had been working under the illusion that I was already producing a ton of work. This wasn’t actually the case, and I didn’t realize the potential I had until about two weeks into live-streaming. In fact, I have doubled the amount of work I produce. It made me realize just how much time I was wasting not doing art and lying to myself about it.

The next thing I started to really notice was where my weaknesses were. Nothing makes you realize where you rely on crutches to get you through like doing a live stream and having people watch you work. One area I knew I needed to work on and address has been color. I have been focusing on that during my stream sessions, and I am not sure I would have seen the amount of improvement I have without the pressure of live-streaming. Granted, this is just me, but there are times where I need an external motivator to drive me forward. Currently, my live streams are helping me weed out the weak areas in my art because of how honest it forces me to be with myself.

In the past, the only reason I lifted weights or tried incredibly hard to stay in shape was to play football at a highly competitive level. I don’t play football anymore and I hate lifting weights. Lol Hopefully that doesn’t sound like I hate doing art, because that is definitely not the case. It is just a simple way for me to find more motivation to improve towards the goals I am trying to achieve.

The stream has also made me realize how other people feel and think about their own art, and how honest they are being with themselves. I had an interaction with a person this week that blew my mind, and not necessarily in a good way. I don’t think it was in a bad way either, I was just kind of dumbfounded. Most of the people that participate in my stream have a solid grasp of where they are as artists, and where they are going. Every once in a while though, there is someone who walks to the beat of their own drum, which I totally support – if it’s working. But if that’s not the direction you want to go, and you’re just trying to convince yourself that you’re not wrong, you have got to just stop. Be honest with yourself and find the beat that you do want to walk to.

Now before I go on, I have said this early and often, everyone has different reasons for doing art. Some do it for fun, some do it to work things out in their life, some do it for a job or want to do it for a job one day, some have a mixture of all three, etc…Hopefully you get the point.
When I am shown work by people in my stream, I have a few questions I will ask before I continue with a critique. Obviously they are posting their work in a public forum for people to comment. But if their work is of particularly low quality and there was a lot of boasting prior to the posting of that work, I want to know a few things before I continue. I want to know the age of the person I am talking to, what their plans are with their art career, and maybe some of their social habits. The most important answer to me is whether or not they want to do art for a job one day. In this case, the answer was yes.

Now, I will try my damndest to come up with something positive to say because there is always a positive to take away, but I am not the type of person that can just say “hey that’s awesome, good try”, and leave it at that especially when the boasting takes on the form of “look at how good my work is and I just want you to compliment it.” The person I interacted with had something like 12 pages on a Deviantart site. I had a couple things I took away from looking at his site. At least he was drawing a ton, and he had a lot of imaginative ideas. However, there was not a core fundamental grasped anywhere in his art. Of all the pictures he had posted, there was little to no improvement shown, but his answers to my questions had him thinking there was improvement happening. He had also mentioned he was 20, bullied in high school and that art was his only thing.

The bullying answer made it pretty clear to me that he might take negative criticism hard if he didn’t get it from the a specific direction, and no matter how I danced around the issue, he wouldn’t give me a way in to help him improve. Eventually, the conversation ended with no conclusion. I have thought about it quite a bit, and yes, it sucks that he was bullied and probably had many other bad experiences which affected his confidence on a daily basis. But being honest with yourself is the only way through the problem. If you have a dream to accomplish something, you can’t let any negative circumstances stand in your way or dictate your progress. Hopefully this last part doesn’t come off as too insensitive, but if you hope to do what you love for a living no one is going to give you that job because they feel bad for you. You have to earn it.

There are so many resources online to turn any person in to a master artist if they want it bad enough. The only thing stopping you from accessing that information is you typing a few different words into Google. If you think you are being honest with yourself find a way to test out how honest you really are being with yourself, and you will be amazed at what you discover and how quickly you improve.

Here is a recap of some of the work from last weeks live stream.

Another quick water color sketch.
Another quick water color sketch.
Watercolor sketch.
Watercolor sketch.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
4 min color studies. The 2 min ones are super hard and this allowed me to relax a little.
4 min color studies. The 2 min ones are super hard and this allowed me to relax a little.
A happy accident. Love how the lighting played out in this one.
A happy accident. Love how the lighting played out in this one and will do a clean up on it this week.
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No one is born good at art.

Welcome to the other side, I hope you all made it through the New Year’s alright.

Over the Holiday break I have immersed myself in fixing the major weaknesses of my art. There are several things I have just been ignoring or putting off. There are still preconceived notions about art and how to work that I am tearing down in my own psyche. It is amazing how many of these preconceived notions there are.

I think I have mentioned how I struggled with the idea that art skills were something people were just gifted with at birth. I struggled with this issue big time early in my art career. It nearly caused me to quit hundreds of times. It is difficult as a new artist to look at good or professional artwork and imagine that artist in their adolescence being frustrated when they were trying to convey an image on a page or tearing pages out of their sketchbook because their anatomy makes no sense.

Let’s get this out of the away: No one is born good at art. Nobody is born good at anything. Even the prodigies weren’t born with the skills they needed to execute their profession. They just had an environment that pushed or nurtured them from a very young age. Just because someone has mastered something by age 12, don’t discredit the amount of hard work that went into that skill.

No one is born good at art.

Often, when I hear professional artists talk about this issue, they compare becoming a great artist to being an athlete that plays professional football or basketball. I think these are probably the two worst sports analogies that can be made. Genetics play a big role in these sports. There is no denying the immense amount of hard work that had to go into becoming a professional football or basketball player. They are elite because they worked harder than anyone else, but the average height of an NBA player is 6’7”. I can’t make myself grow taller than my genetics allow barring new scientific discoveries. However, if I was that tall and never practiced shooting a basketball or dribbling I wouldn’t be in the NBA either.

Example: Kam Chancellor 6’3 231 lb Pro Bowl Strong Safety for the Seattle Seahawks. Go Hawks!

NFL athletes are another breed of human. Again, I am not denying the amount of hard work these guys have to put in to get to the league, but they are essentially your modern day comic book characters. It is insane for a man to be 6’2”, 254 lbs and able to run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds. These athletes have to have a genetic bone structure that can support that amount of muscle mass, and the power generated from those muscles when they are exerted.

Now obviously these guys have to practice the skills needed in order to operate at the professional level for these sports. However, I think comparing what it takes to become a good artist to a sport like golf is more accurate. It may not be as sexy but it is far more accurate. I am not a golfer but I can imagine the amount of time and practice it would take to become a professional golfer. Almost anybody could become a professional golfer if they practiced enough and in the right way.

Based on stories I have heard. Frank Frezetta was born with a Photographic memory. Image from www.frankfrazetta.org
Based on stories I have heard. Frank Frezetta was born with a Photographic memory. Image from www.frankfrazetta.org

Based on what I’ve observed from really good artists, it seems they fall into one of three categories.

Born with a Photographic Memory. This is the one genetic trait I can think of that can give a person an advantage from birth. This is also known as an eidetic memory. I think most of us picture every great artist as having this talent when we are starting out. But this is so rarely the case.

Starting Young . It may seem that some have been good at art their whole life, but this can be because they have been drawing since they can remember. This doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard. They just put in an incredible amount of work early in their life. Eventually, they probably hit a point where they refined their skills with focused study.

Anthony Jones didn't start working to beome an artist till his 20's. www.robotpencil.com
Anthony Jones didn’t start working to beome an artist till his 20’s. www.robotpencil.com

Starting Old. Then you have people who love art and don’t start till their 20’s 30’s 40’s, and become amazing artists. I fall into this category.

Often if you ask an artist who has been creating art from a very young age why they draw some of the things they do, they find it difficult to communicate because it is so natural to them. This leads to the idea of art being a magical talent that someone is born with. Let’s run with this line of thinking a second.

At what point in history has art been such a viable profession? It has probably only been in the last century, maybe even half century that anyone has been able to just pursue the life of an artist without living in abject poverty or having a wealthy patron. Many of the artists in history came from a more privileged background that gave them access to a mentor or to attend a prestigious art school. Now I could be completely wrong about this because I don’t have a whole lot of art history in my education. (Which is why I will be doing some art history posts with more facts and less hypothesis in the future.)

What I do know is that in the past (and present), schools that had credible arts programs tended to be very expensive. Add to that the artists who have started so young they’re unable to articulate how they’ve learned to do certain things and the fact that out of 100 people off the street, only one could probably draw anything better than a stick figure and you get a generation of mystery. This all leads to the preconceived notion that art is a skill reserved for those born with natural skills. It lends itself to have a mystical air about it, when that isn’t true. It is a skill that should be taught like math or science. Unfortunately, art hasn’t been regarded as important as some of the STEM disciplines in the traditional academic model.

Fortunately for us, the internet has completely changed how art education or any education can be consumed. In fact, art education has never been so available to the masses as it is now. Becoming a good artist is not magic, it is not something someone is born with, and it is not a gift. There are no shortcuts, there are no special brushes, or tricks that are going to instantly make you a good artist. Becoming a good artist is just years of extremely hard work, and if you love being an artist that work will extremely fulfilling.

What is something you are currently struggling with in your art journey? Let me know if the comments.

I have been messing around with watercolors lately, and they have been super fun and rewarding.
I have been messing around with watercolors lately, and they have been super fun and rewarding.
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Advice for Students

Yesterday, I finally got around to turning in my graduation paperwork for the AA degree I finished two years ago along with the BA degree I just completed this past quarter (yes, I can procrastinate like a pro.) As I was heading out, I dropped in on a class called “Portfolio Review.” The class was doing a dry run for the students who would be presenting in front of a panel of industry professionals next week. I only saw the last few, but generally, the portfolios reflected nearly every other portfolio review I had ever attended. With the exception of one or two students, the rest just weren’t industry ready. I’ve heard this comment from art directors and industry professionals across the country.

So why does it happen and with such regularity? First of all, this is by no means a criticism of the particular college. In fact, quite a few students accomplish more in two years than a lot of students do in four. However, many other students squander their time at school and then blame the instructors or administration for their own shortcomings. Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve heard horror stories of bad instructors and have even met a few myself. But even then, it’s still your responsibility to the get the most out of your class.

Often, when an instructor is running late, I hear students say, “If he’s not here in 15 minutes, can we leave?” Two things go through my mind when I hear this.

1. You are an adult choosing to attend higher education, so you can leave whenever the hell you’d like.

2. Why are you even here?

I know that sounds judgey I’m not saying that I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to be at school. I’ve definitely felt frustrated when a class seemed utterly useless to what I wanted to do, yet was still required for my degree. I’ve had plenty of those days, and taken a lot of classes like that. I realized though, that I needed to take control of my own education to get whatever I could from the information presented and find a way to apply it to my life and work. I firmly believe that this type of mindset is what separates students who are able to transition into happy, working professionals from all the other apathetic “artists” who are still blaming someone else for their inability to get a job.

So let’s break down the things you can do to get the most out of your education.

A quick sketch I made for an instructor forced students to really think. Drinking students tears.
A quick sketch I made for an instructor forced students to really think. Drinking students tears.

– Get to know your instructors.
They have a wealth of information they don’t include in their lessons. This can happen because there simply isn’t enough time, or they believe none of the students really care. Remember, they have chosen teaching for a reason, so you will often find them to be more than happy to share their knowledge with people who authentically seek it out.

– View every assignment as a job brief – even the little ones.
When you approach an instructor’s assignment in this manner, you change the project’s meaning. It takes on a different light. The end result will look far less like a school assignment and you will often discover things you never would have had you just regurgitated the instructor’s assignment back to them.

hikertentsketch

– Know your path and walk it.
If you are in a class and a project doesn’t line up with your goals, don’t be afraid to change the project to benefit you. Obviously, you should be prepared to explain your reasons. Since most of your instructors come from your desired industry, they will probably understand and may even be impressed by your out-of-the-box thinking and initiative.

– Create your own assignments.
Don’t be complacent by settling for mediocrity. Always push yourself further than you think you can go. Sometimes, it can be difficult to stay motivated, so if you can find someone as dedicated as you are, buddy up and hold each other accountable.

– Know your competition.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s likely that your competition isn’t the student sitting next to you. Give yourself a pat on the back if you are the top student in your program, but you aren’t just competing with your classmates. You are competing with all the industry professionals currently doing the job you want, not to mention the top students from every other program in the world. The Games and Entertainment field is an international, multibillion-dollar industry, that continues to grow at a ridiculous rate. Research the curriculum of other top programs around the world and extract whatever you can about what they are learning. Incorporate it into your own education. Those programs often post the best work online, so compare your work to what you see there. Start a folder of the industry professionals you most admire and compare the quality of work. Remember, you are striving to be a professional with professional level work. When you compare yourself to other students, you are only striving to have the best student work.

Anatomy Study turned 3d.
Anatomy Study turned 3d. I just wasn’t picturing the Skull properly. So I made my own reference.

– Help others.
The best lessons I have learned and the greatest epiphanies I have ever had come from teaching other people how to do something.

– Don’t put the industry you are striving for on a pedestal.
The pedestal is for things you can’t or aren’t supposed to touch. When you hold your desired industry on a pedestal, you make it something more than it really is. At the end of the day, that thing on that pedestal is still just a job. Obviously, working on games isn’t digging ditches, but it’s definitely something within your grasp.

– Network and Socialize
This goes along with not putting your industry on a pedestal. Don’t view the people in your desired industry as a whole different species of person. We all had to start somewhere. Reach out to them and most will be more than happy to talk with you. In fact, they likely suffer some of the same insecurities you do. Attend industry events and be yourself. By sharing your experience with others, you make it easy for them to do the same.

– Be passionate about what you are doing.
Most importantly, you have to love what you do. Choose projects that you are passionate about because those will ultimately turn out the best, and you will be far more motivated to work on them.

– Never stop learning
If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will never stop learning new things. You will always look for new, better, and faster ways to accomplish what you want to do.

Some character roughs for a personal project.
Some character roughs for a personal project.
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