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.
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.