Psychology of an Artistic Mind. Part 2

Prior to starting my path to become an artist in the game industry I had this idea that I could just go about my business drawing occasionally and playing video games till 3 in the morning and thought one day I would eventually make it. I am the type of person that for the most part can pick something up and become pretty good at it rather quickly. So why couldn’t I just continue at the same pace of improvement? I mean people would compliment me and tell me how good I was and they liked what they were seeing right?

Illusions, my friends. Illusions my Id was trying desperately for me to believe and hang on to. “Just play games…you are good enough at art, people tell you that all the time, but games that’s the real skill that needs constant attention. We are so f*ckin good at owning newbs, and if you play less, you will start to suck, and then you will just be a forever noob. Don’t you dare let all this gaming talent go to waste.” Sadly that seems pretty close to the argument I would often have in my head. It seems funny now, only because I can almost instantly spot people that have the same problem I did.

For me it took an external force to break my habits. I finally hated my job so much and saw the failure of the company was on the horizon. That made me realize how bad I really was at art and if I seriously wanted to switch careers I had a ton of work to do. I wish I could say I had no problems dropping games, but there were definitely some struggles in there. All three egos have problems when you try and get rid of something they do really well and substitute it for something where there is a lot of failure, with more to come.

I strongly believe the mental battle of becoming an artist is the hardest battle to fight. So much of whether you will overcome the odds and put in the amount of time it requires to become good happens inside your head. It can be a lonely, desolate battlefield at times that can be filled with uncanny beauty or become an inhospitable nightmare.

Think of the mental battle that is required to force yourself to go to the gym after not going for a couple years. When you finally convince yourself to do it and see the results that are happening. There is a mental and physical aspect to that relationship that manifests in a healthier looking body, and often times it could only take a month to see results. That really isn’t that much time in the grand scheme of things. Your superego rewards your brain with dopamine when it notices the success and results. The results reinforce the action because success has been established and is repeatable in a relatively short amount of time.

One of the first digital paintings I did. I can't even remember the amount of time I spent on this thing but it came out decent enough to convince me to go on.
One of the first digital paintings I did back in 2009. I can’t even remember the amount of time I spent on this thing but it was an insane amount and it came out decent enough to convince me that I might be able to do this art thing.

The fight to become a better artist is almost all mental, with the results often taking years to manifest. The only thing that keeps us going is the occasional drawing, painting, or abstraction, capturing something perfectly or at least good enough that our superego rejoices with the success. But in the early stages of becoming an artist, we are unsure of how to replicate our success, and failures come early and often. This results in fear, anxiety, and guilt. This is most likely why most people give up on becoming an artist. They aren’t willing to put up with the amount of time and effort it takes to get results.

The other factor that can drive us early on are the people close to us who will most likely tell you that your art is good. That’s what friends and family are for, right? However, depending on what you want to do with your art, these compliments could be the worst thing you can hear. Falling in love with compliments and being comfortable with where you are often leads to complacency, and complacency is a place where the ego loves to live. Ego will pull his nice winter quilt up over his shoulders and snuggle in for the long haul until you catch on. As an artist striving for improvement, complacency is the worst place you can find yourself. Why? Because the longer you stay complacent, the harder it is to break out of it. It’s like going down to the 7th level of the dream world. Time flies by, and before you know it, years have passed with no real improvement.

Part of this complacency is the refusal to accept that something we love so much requires hard work. “If I love something a ton, it doesn’t require work, right?” This assumption couldn’t be more wrong for a person striving for improvement. The hard part is suplexing all three of your egos to realize that you will never be done improving and committing to the time it takes to improve.

That means you need to put down the sticks, reduce the amount of time spent going out with friends, shut down Facebook, Instagram, or whatever else is consuming your time. You don’t have to completely lose your life and become an art zombie like so many of us. But sadly, that is the level of commitment you are competing with when you enter this industry. You are competing with people who go to work and get paid to do what they love, then they go home and do that some more, go to sleep and do it again.

If you have made it past the time-commitment stage, but you aren’t improving as an artist, or getting the attention/response you want from your art, then you are probably doing something wrong. Either your work is not conveying a message correctly, or it’s boring, lacks design…the list goes on and on. It takes time to identify the problem areas in your own artwork. It’s funny how easy it is to spot the errors in other people’s art. In fact, our egos will jump all over that opportunity. “Look! Haha, I am not the only one that has issues” it shouts. But when it comes to our own art, the blinders are turned on full blast with the AC and max power, “Everything is cool here, nothing to see.” If that’s the case, then you are going to grab your egos again, drag them to the top rope, suplex onto a table, and change things up.

The best way I have learned to combat the blinders is to constantly disconnect from what I am working on. Walk away from it often. I need to constantly figure out a way to look at an image that I am working on with fresh eyes. We can get so caught up with one little shadow not looking right and destroy the whole image just to make that one unimportant shadow look right. Why? Yup, you guessed it – Ego. It’s the need to convince ourselves we can make anything look perfect and bend to our will.

One of the biggest things I have learned while trying to become a better artist is that it is a nonstop battle with my egos. Have you had an ego attack like one of these?

  • Refusing to step away from a painting because you can’t get something right. Then you eventually go to bed at 5 in the morning, pissed off because you couldn’t get it right but you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore. You get crap sleep because your dreams are mocking you. But then, you wake up to look at the painting and instantly realize the problem and how to fix it in less to 5 minutes.

  • Not using the color picker. Because you should be able to defy the evolution of your eyes and brain with how they perceive color.

  • Not using a reference. Because you should know what a donkey looks like from all angles and every lighting scenario. Of course you should, since there is one sitting in front of this computer right now trying to draw a donkey he thinks he can draw without looking at reference (but really can’t). Or is that a jackass? Punch your ego in the face and use the reference. It will look better and be so much faster.

  • Not using your pencil to measure the model in a figure drawing or life drawing session. Because you know you can eyeball the sh*t out of this pose and nail it. Then, the once beautiful, unsuspecting model turns into Quasimodo on your page.

  • Refusal to use the lasso tool case. Because you can paint that edge just as crisp freehand. Two hours later, you think you’ve nailed it, walk away, and come back a see the hairy, uncrisp edge from the seventh circle of hell.

I could go on for days. What is important is that you know what kind of artist you want to be. For me, speed and accuracy is the name of the game. I need to generate ideas quickly in order to effectively do a job. Maybe some of these things don’t bug you, and maybe you are happy with where you are as an artist, but that is why every single person’s art journey is their own journey. The most important thing is understanding who you are and where you want to go as an artist. Then, don’t be afraid to change directions or walk down a side path if an opportunity arises. And if your egos give you grief about it, slap them in the mouth and tell them you are in charge here.

Feeding the Fire was the topic for this painting. Another 30 min painting for a group on Facebook called spit paint.
Feeding the Fire was the topic for this painting. Another 30 min painting for a group on Facebook called spit paint.
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Psychology of an Artistic Mind. Part 1

This post has turned out to be far more than I intended it to be and due to its complexity and length, and I am going to break it into two parts. I originally started down a path that led me to an epiphany. Ultimately, everything I have been talking about for the last couple weeks about preconceived notions are tied directly to the subject of this post.

As artists and designers, we often find the most simple designs to be the most beautiful, and often try and make that happen in our own work. What we find, however, is that the most simple ideas are often the most difficult to portray or discover. My attempt to explain what is happening in my head day to day is no different.

I see and hear artists talk about skills related to how to paint and draw better – the technical side of being an artist. I feel this or I feel that and that is the result of how I got the image. I don’t know if I have ever heard an artist talk about the mental side of being an artist. I am going to attempt to do that. The closest thing I usually see is, how do you get your ideas, or how do I stop procrastination. Keep in mind that I am not a psychologist, and I have never played one of TV. All of these conclusions are being drawn from personal experience,
reading, and observations.

image from http://www.simplypsychology.org/

According to Sigmund Freud’s Structural Model of the Psyche, the psyche is made up of three parts: the Id, Ego, and Superego. In the first draft of this post, I used the ego to describe all the battles happening in my head, but it didn’t capture what I was trying to communicate.

Egotism vs. Egoism
Egotistic or egotistical is often used to describe a feeling of vast self-importance. It’s a weighty word isn’t it? Being egotistical refers to someone who is excessively conceited or vain, even narcissistic. You hear these terms applied frequently in the art world. There are many artists that have that reputation, and you can instantly tell when you are dealing with one of them. But all the artists I personally know are awesome people, and egotistic is the last word I think of when describing them.

Egoism is a preoccupation with oneself, but not necessarily feeling superior to others. The truth is, you actually have to have a certain degree of egoism to improve as an artist. It doesn’t matter if you are working for the entertainment industry or you are creating art for some lofty ideal or cause. Being an egoist means you always seek to improve as an artist. Improving as an artist is about improving yourself. If you seek to improve at a significant speed as an artist, you will choose to work on your art over doing anything else. But even reaching this point is a challenge in and of itself.

The Id
Let’s take a step backwards for a second. I want to talk about the Id. Freud says that as newborn children, we are completely driven by the id. The id is completely unconscious and is the instinctive part of our personality. To oversimplify, “Id touch oven, oven burns Id’s hand. That hurt! Id not doing that again.” Id can be thought of as your fight or flight instinct, but what the id wants most is to be happy, and Id wants it now. Id will do whatever it can to make that happen. It doesn’t take long of the id running things before the Ego develops as a result of our interactions with the external world.

The Ego
The ego is developed to keep the id in check. Where Id doesn’t care what it has to do to feel pleasure, Ego wants to feel pleasure but will delay gratification in order to achieve it in a realistic manner. Freud says the ego is relatively weak compared to the id, “like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse” (Freud, 1923, p.15). The ego is responsible for rational and realistic thinking and problem solving but has no concept of right or wrong. Enter into the picture, the Superego.

“like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse” (Freud, 1923, p.15).

The Superego
The superego is attributed to morals and values and is developed by one’s surroundings and society. The superego is also responsible for your dreams and aspirations or your ideal self, such as becoming a master artist, or mastering some kind of skill or occupational goal. It makes you have expectations that the image will look beautiful and punishes you with guilt and anger when that doesn’t happen. The superego is also the reason you feel guilty when you choose to play games or do some other activity instead of drawing or painting when you are trying to achieve the goal of improvement. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is not. Just like the id, the superego needs to be held in check.

Generally, I am not a fan of disassociating what is happening in my head into seemingly different identities. When parts of the psyche are given a face and name they achieve an air of being uncontrollable, when in fact the opposite is true. You will need to learn to control these things if you hope to become the best artist you can.

If it helps you could use the cartoon depiction of the id, ego, and superego if you would like. Think of the id as the devil on your shoulder, the ego is you in the middle, and the superego as the angel on your other shoulder. I like to think of the id and the superego as two different dragons I need to beat back into their lairs with a big stick.

Ego: I fight with the Id and superego every day. It is the constant battle that wages in my head, that no one can see and no one knows about. It’s a battle that happens in everyone’s head whether they realize it or not, and it’s an epic battle with so many twists, deaths, and betrayals, it even puts the Game of Thrones to shame.

When I don’t feel like doing work and just want to play games, or binge watch a show on Netflix that is id wanting to just be happy now! When I then feel guilty about playing games instead of working, that is my superego telling me I am not living up to the best person I can be or tell me I am working too much and need to spend time with my family. Which isn’t a bad thing.

The times when the superego becomes a problem is when I am trying to spend time with my family and superego makes me feel guilty for doing so. The mind is a complex place and a lifetime won’t even be enough time to understand what is happening up there.

The superego is responsible for so many people giving up on the arts at such a young age. It is the same superego that caused me to be embarrassed to be seen counting on my fingers doing math in school. Or why you didn’t want to raise your hand, even though you knew the answer. Part of the problem is every portion of our psyche (id, ego, superego) love so much to be right, and will reward us with dopamine for doing so. But more than anything, they hate being wrong. The superego fears help and thinks it can do everything on its own. I have come to realize that so much about becoming a better artist is learning how to punch your superego and id in the mouth, telling them to sit the f*ck down.

Hopefully you will return next week as I continue this topic, discussing a little bit more about the battles with my psyche and self-discoveries that have helped me improve as an artist.

Enviroment Thumbnails from this week.
Enviroment Thumbnails from this week. Click for higher resolution.

references

Simply Psychology Id, Ego and Superego McLeod Saul 2008 http://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html

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It’s Not the Brush.

I remember the day I realized digital art was a thing. I was deep into one of my drawing spells, frustrated with how things looked on the paper. I just couldn’t get what was in my head on to the paper. So I did what so many of us do, and went to the Google’s. Google! “How do I draw better?” I came across people drawing things directly in Photoshop. What was this sorcery, and how do I take part in it? Surely this is my answer to be instantly better at art. My brain and all the power of Photoshop…it will be instant improvement. Right?

That was eight years ago, and I was still in the middle of trying to get my degree in business management. Clearly, I had all the intention in the world of using that degree. At any rate, when I finally got my hands on a Wacom Intuos 4, I was sure the answer to all my lack of art powers had arrived. I unwrapped that bad boy, downloaded the drivers and I was in it to win it. Fast forward 10 minutes later. F*** this! How the hell am I supposed to draw when I can’t see my hand? Thus began the cycle of starting, getting extremely frustrated, then stopping, then starting, etc.

I never really did get a handle on using a tablet. I can use one now if I need to, and accomplish the same things, but I still hate the disassociation of not being able to see my hand while I draw or paint. It is just the way I am.

The truth is, having access to powerful tools such as Photoshop, Painter, or Sai don’t make us better at anything. The ugly truth is, we may even take a step backwards. It’s like in the Disney movie Aladdin, Jafar wished he was the most powerful genie in the Universe. He got what he wanted. All the power in the universe that he didn’t understand, and then was confined to a tiny lamp.

After I got my tablet and attempted to use Photoshop, it freaked me out, and I became Jafar trapped in a lamp. The surface of the tablet was too smooth and the way the brush moved on the screen was too hard to control. My brain had really nothing to reference how to get better at this sorcery. So I turned to Illustrator and the pen tool.

At the time, it felt like a cop out, but now I realize it helped me with my confidence in using the tablet. The pen tool allowed me to place lines exactly where I wanted them while I was practicing with the tablet. Sure, the mouse is much faster with the pen tool, but I had a fancy new tablet that needed to be used. The reason I realize this is valuable now is because I was improving my hand-eye coordination with my tablet by doing something that I was already confident doing.

How many of you have a similar story or are still struggling with this issue? The reason for this story is to smash away the preconceived notions that we have when it comes to art. The truth about improvement is that you are going to follow your own path of discovery and there are a million things I can share with you about becoming a better artist, but if you aren’t ready to hear it, it won’t matter.

What brush are you using? What program is she using? I tried that brush and it didn’t do that for me. How do I get better at art? How do I get better at drawing? is coming to town. She is going to share all her secrets to success. Are you doing dude? Did you see that new tutorial? I totally get it now. Nope.

All of these questions and thoughts were running through my mind, until I realized the real secret is there is no secret. There is no hidden world in the wardrobe. Every professional artist practically shouts it out when they give their presentations, and post their tutorials. Hard work and time – that’s it. If you don’t understand, design, shape, contrast, composition, form, value, anatomy, light, perspective, contrast, color theory, or have no muscle memory, the brush the artist is using or program the artist is using means nothing. It is window dressing. Sure, it is inspiring to watch what they are doing, but the focus is in the wrong place. Inspiration is a powerful thing but can only take you so far. I know this because this was how my brain worked before I realized I wasn’t improving. I would watch tutorials and then try to do the same thing. I couldn’t even come close to producing what that artist was doing. I was so focused on what other artists were doing rather than focusing on me and what I needed to do to improve.

Once you start to focus on yourself, improvement will follow. At first, you will have huge canyons that you will have to build bridges to get over to the other side. But as you stick with it, those canyons get smaller and eventually turn into puddles you only need to hop over. Once you get to that point, you’ll know how to solve the deficiencies in your art, because you will have put in the time and hard work to understand how to improve. Now you will understand why that artist is using that brush and understand the struggles they were talking about and the steps they had to take to get where they are.

Here are some tips:

If you are struggling with your tablet. Hide your mouse for a month and only use your tablet to operate your computer.

If Photoshop is overwhelming. It can still overwhelm me at times. Get rid of all the options except the brushes tool, and then get rid of all your brushes except for a simple round brush, an airbrush, and a painterly brush. I will upload a set that can be found here.

Improve your hand-eye coordination. Practice drawing straight lines, ellipses, curved lines, pen pressure by going from thick to thin lines. Do this on paper, do it with your tablet.

Don’t limit yourself to working on the computer. Drawing or painting with no CTRL+Z will do wonders for your confidence and speed over time.

scan1922

scan1934

A few watercolor explorations of some space dudes.
A few watercolor explorations of some space dudes.
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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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Welcome to 2016

Hello Everyone,
Welcome to 2016. I hope you all had a good new years. As you can see this isn’t one of my typical blog posts. I have let the Holidays run a little longer this year, but it is time to get back to the into it. If all goes to plan next week I will be back on track, but I will leave you with one of sketches from last week. Also if you haven’t already. Go follow me on twitter or instagram, there is work I post on those sites that doesn’t get uploaded here. So go check those out to keep up with all my posts.

20 Min Test Sketch
20 Min Test Sketch

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Happy New Year! Now get to work!

Just kidding. I do want to keep it short this week since we are right in the middle of the holidays and I have trouble saying no to work.
This week I wanted to show a lot more sketch than blog, since I have been calling this a sketchblog. So that is what will follow my short rant about New Year’s Resolutions. I am not a fan of making resolutions.I am a firm believer of if you are going to change something in your life, why are waiting for a specific first day of the year in order to make that change? Just do it, why wait? Make the plans, execute the change.
Don’t get me wrong I have goals for what I would like to accomplish in 2016 but if something isn’t working in my day to day. I will fix it.

In 2016:
I want to be better than 2015 me.
I want to be faster at drawing and painting, and create more work than in 2015.
I want to spend more time with my family.
I want to spend more time outside.
I want to grow this blog and add more content, like videos, and live streams.

Those are just a few of my goals for 2016. Let me know what your goals are for 2016. See you next year.

I will start off with this little diddy. Really fun image to work on. There will be a series of explorations, as well as process behind them.
I will start off with this little diddy. Really fun image to work on. There will be a series of explorations, as well as process behind them.
A lighting demo I was thinking about making, but forgot to hit record. :)
A lighting demo I was thinking about making, but forgot to hit record. :)
This is about a 30 min sketch. I love the feel of this sketch and it will be one I take further.
This is about a 30 min sketch. I love the feel of this sketch and it will be one I take further.
20 min sketch. This one is less successf
20 min sketch. This one is less successful.
10 min sketch. This has potentiol but my brain farted on a further direction.
10 min sketch. This has potentiol but my brain farted on a further direction.
A man and a rock?
A man and a rock?
These are some warm up sketches, to get my brain to function.
These are some warm up sketches, to get my brain to function.
In this image I was trying to improve the compostion and graphic reads of my enviroment work.
In this image I was trying to improve the compostion and graphic reads of my enviroment work.
40 min sketch. I spent alot of time trying to find the shapes for this one.
40 min sketch. I spent alot of time trying to find the shapes for this one.
This is another 40 minute sketch and I love the story telling aspect of this image.
This is another 40 minute sketch and I love the story telling aspect of this image.
30 minute sketch. This is another one I will explore further.
30 minute sketch. This is another one I will explore further. The graphic shapes are there, it could use some good clean up.
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Find your passion and enjoy the journey.

I was invited and had the pleasure of being a part of a portfolio review panel I mentioned last week for students just finishing their two year degree in game design. The students work ranged from amazing to sub-par. It was clear from the work displayed which students were passionate and knew what they wanted to do, and which students were unsure of their direction.

With the students who were unsure, you could tell the difference between the students who were unsure of their direction, and who were unsure of their direction because their work wasn’t to a standard they wanted it to be, and knew the amount of work that lay ahead of them. That led me to reflect on my art journey for this blog post but I still wasn’t sure what this week’s blog post was going to be until I was watching a Vsauce YouTube video this morning.

The host Michael was talking about Super tasks (I linked his video) near the end Michael was talking about the difference between Neanderthals and Homo-sapiens and the difference in our exploration habits. Neanderthals were content with stopping when they reached a body of water or some other resource, while homo-sapiens have always strived to conquer every barrier that stands in our way, which has led to our population of this planet.

Study of Frank Frazetta's Sketches.
Sketches trying to understand Frank Frazetta’s Sketching style.

Furthermore, this difference contributing to our desire to reach other planets, and is ultimately why Neanderthals are extinct and our species lives today. He has a terrific quote at that end of his video, “If you want to solve problems you don’t just solve the ones that are there, you find more and make more, and go after the impossible ones, fostering a love an obsession with problems is how you solve problems. “

We as artists and designers are problem solvers, no matter what kind of artist you are when you set out to accomplish the next project you will be solving many complex problems. The problems may be for commercial purposes, they may be with the world, or maybe they are personal, but they need solving just the same. I often reflect and tend to do more reflection near the end of the year. I often wonder what my purpose as an artist is, what am I really contributing to the world? I still don’t have the answer but I know this is my passion.

Michael then went on to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupérym who said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t just assign them tasks like getting wood. Teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Neither one of these quotes I have mentioned are intended for artists but they are fitting just the same. Is the exploration of other planets a matter of life and death? Possibly, as it certainly increases the future generation’s chance for survival just as spreading across the surface of this planet did for us.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/AltamiraBison.jpg
Cave of Altamira

Is art itself a matter of life and death? Who is to say that art and storytelling doesn’t hold the same implications for species survival? Is it a type of sustenance that homo-sapiens need? Is that something that is even measureable? Why are there examples of it dating back 40 thousand years? Art has always been something that has evolved with the human species. It must carry some importance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_painting#/media/File:SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b.jpg
Cueva de las Manos

I don’t think anyone has come up with an answer to that question and it might never be answered. If you know of answer please leave it in the comments and I will correct my statement in the next post. Obviously, the reasons behind our art and storytelling today are far different than in the past, but the desire to master the skill or any other skill is just the same as reaching for the stars.

It isn’t easy and never will be. It takes a lifetime to accomplish and even that may not be enough time. However, if it is indeed your passion, pursue it! Don’t be content with stopping because you’ve reached a certain point. Don’t let anyone tell you that just because your idea lives with the stars that you can’t strive to attain it. Even if you don’t get all the way there, you will probably find yourself in a far better place and feeling more accomplished than you could have dreamed, and you will look back on your journey – glad you that set off on in the first place.

I think this video from Neil Tyson Degrasse is very fitting for this post, and as always I will leave you with some sketches.

A page out of my Sketchbook.
A page out of my Sketchbook.
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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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