The Culture of Failure

drumpf

Hello Everyone,

Two months of 2016 already down, and it appears the rest of the year will be over in a blink of an eye. Now I am not a political guy, and I rarely engage in political talk. So this is not a political blog post, but more so what irritates me about the majority of people’s mindset on failure.

I saw this image going around this week and it got under my skin. Now let me make this clear, I do not support Donald Trump or the dumb things that come out of his mouth. But this meme goes against every aspect of my mindset. This is a perpetuation of the ‘failure is bad’ culture. So things like this can really piss off those who understand the power of failure and how much a person can learn from it.

Look, you can’t deny Trump is a successful figure. Every time he has gone bankrupt, he has come back stronger, and I can guarantee you there are far more failures that aren’t on that list and are even more colossal to him. However, it is clear he has never let those failures stand in his way of success. Do you have to like him? No! Do you have to think he is a good person? Nope! But this isn’t about Trump, it is about perpetuating the idea that failure is a bad thing. Think about this idea before you share something like this on social media, or jump on the hate bandwagon for a mistake someone has made.

The reason I think this meme is a problem, and that most political ads are terrible, is because they emphasize how bad failure is. This is the worst possible thing you can do for someone who hasn’t figured out how to use failure to their advantage. Like the kids who have a problem raising their hands in class because they are afraid they will give the wrong answer and all the other kids will laugh. This is the last thing these kids need to see. It just instills an even deeper fear of failure.

Everything you do has both negative and positive aspects. You don’t focus on the negative aspects of everything you do during the day, do you? So why is it that many people choose to focus on the negative aspects of failure? By doing this, you’re practically ensuring that your learning process will be slow and cumbersome.

I realize that every person is different and reacts to failure in their own way. So let me put this into the context of team sports. Generally, I am not the type of person that encourages rewarding every single person for their efforts. But do I think there is anything wrong with every kid getting a trophy at the end of the year? No. I do, however, make sure that every single kid I coach knows the difference between that and a championship trophy. So why do it at all? It’s because I know how hard I push those kids during the season and I remember my own experiences in sports.

Looking back, I don’t think I even cared about the trophy. I just wanted to hear what my coach had to say about my performance that year. The trophy just got chucked into the closet. While I know for a fact that kids learn from failures, I believe a majority of kids lack the ability to assess their failures and execute a better strategy to not repeat that failure without outside reinforcement. This outside reinforcement often comes in the form of a negative response to an action. Yet, countless studies show kids learn best from the acknowledgement of their own and others’ successes. I remember that when my coach said something awesome about another kid and didn’t say something cool like that for me, it really stuck in my head. I would make a note of it and remember to add that to my repertoire of skills for the next season.

As adults, most of us have the ability to evaluate our successes and failures and then act accordingly. This is why we don’t need a trophy at the end of every year. If I enter an image into an art contest I don’t expect a participation trophy, because I am an adult. My effort was not good enough to warrant acknowledgement. I will take some time to evaluate why those other artists were good enough and then compare and contrast the elements of my image and move on to the next 10, 100, 1,000 images. However, I think there is an incredible number of people out there who become petrified by fear and never enter a contest again.

You have to fight that fear of failure, what is the worst that is going to happen? Are you going to jail because you made the wrong first mark? What is it that you are really going to lose by screwing up? The thing about failure is every time you fail you are one step closer to succeeding. Since you just failed you are that much faster and more efficient the next time around. If you embrace the fact that you are going to fail all the time, you will start using that knowledge to improve. “Welp that attempt didn’t work but I have this, this, and this, that I can use in the future.” That is what is amazing about failure. It arms you with the tools your need to succeed.

I have reached a point where I realize that failure sucks, but I am still going to put my head on my pillow at night and wake up the next day, knowing the world will keep turning regardless. I know I will still have my wife and kids and family around me, and I know that I can teach my kids that failure is nothing to fear. I know what success feels like and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that comes from that. And I can show my kids from the millions of failures that as long as you didn’t give up, you will find success.

The reason it is good to acknowledge the positives in young minds and give trophies at the end of the year is that you are building a foundation of success. We are teaching kids from a young age what success feels like rather than, ”failure sucks, so I don’t want to experience that again.” They may sound similar but I can guarantee the mindsets are wildly different and the results will prove that. The first breeds the mindset of “I am going to go all out to achieve my dreams, goals, and desires”, while the other breeds a cautious, fearful approach to life.

In today’s world we seem to emphasize the bad and failures, but only acknowledge the good. If we want to live in a better world, we need to celebrate the good and merely acknowledge the bad and failures. By doing this, we will encourage more young minds to grow and strive to be wildly successful, with a mindset that breeds the desire to achieve and give back.

I would like to leave you with a quote that a good friend of mine said to me when she read this piece. “Show me a person who has never failed epically, and I will show your a person who has never tried epic.”

What is your biggest and what did you take away from it?

As usual here are some sketches from last week.

16Feb26StreamMoreSketches

Brush Tool

StreamSketch16Feb25

StreamSketch16Feb27

I normally write these posts on Saturday mornings but don’t post till Monday so I can reread and have each post edited, which allowed me to see this peice from John Oliver which is pretty awesome, and seemed fitting since the post started with Donald Drumpf.

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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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November Warm-up Environment Thumbs

Here are some warm-up environment thumbs. I like to do these to get my brain functioning at a normal capacity. Not quite as many as last month, but I was messing around in 3d quite a bit more as November moved along. Counting left to right, sets 1,2,4,and 5 are done in traditional medium. 1 and 4 are with pencil, and 2 and 5 are with an ink wash. 3,6,7, and 8 are all done digitally. I was messing around with abstraction and composition with a lot of these, and set 6 are abstract value comps of master paintings. I would call them the value essense of master studies. Hope you enjoy.

NovEnviroThumbs

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Self-Improvement

First off…Happy late Thanksgiving if you are from the Americas, and Happy start of the holiday season for everyone else.

This week I want to talk about self-improvement and how it relates to becoming a better artist/designer. The topic came to me this week as I was trying to help my son with his Math homework. Helping my son was like staring straight into the past and looking at myself at his age. Man, I hated everything about math. (I know exactly why now, and no longer suffer such afflictions these days.) Like younger me, my son fights tooth and nail when I make him go back and redo the math problems he gets incorrect. He gets frustrated and exclaims how bad he is at math.

I was always lazy and rushed through math work, it took far longer to do and understand because I never took the time to understand what I was solving. My son is the same way.The math problems he really suffers with are story problems. The truth of the matter is my son is quite good at math, but he lacks the patience it takes to extract information and then organize that information in a way that simplifies the problem.

timegraph

He doesn’t understand that story problems are hard, not because of the math, but because of the skills and processes that go into getting the information to solve the math problem in the first place. He just assumes that because it is math homework, he is bad at it. It is my goal to try and help him understand that there are different skills involved in completing math problems and the same goes for every other subject.

He also needs to understand how his mind works in order to get the best results and enjoyment from each subject. Sadly, this is not something the American public school system seems to understand, much less do anything about it. They teach the students facts and concepts, but they don’t teach them how to think.

Like many of us, my son also suffers from the affliction of caring what others think about how he arrives at an answer. In his eyes, (and younger me was the same way) someone isn’t as good at math if they need to keep track of numbers on their fingers, or if they have to use extra paper. I told him, “Who cares as long as you got the answers correct and didn’t cheat by copying someone else?”

Proof of horrible figures.
Proof of said horrible figures.

I use this example because I never understood the different skills involved in math, and I gave up on the subject when I was a sophomore in high school. I think this is how people often feel with art. Too frequently, people give up on becoming an artist before they give themselves a chance to even scratch the surface of what takes to be an artist. The comment is usually, “I drew a stick figure, it looked like poop, and therefore I can never be an artist.” I draw some shitty looking stick figures all the time and I have been arting for quite some time. If you want to improve yourself, you have to give yourself time to improve.

This idea is also relevant because I don’t think we are a society that takes time to reflect on ourselves. Social media keeps us too busy in other people’s lives to really understand ourselves. If you don’t understand your deficiencies, or how you think, operate, or learn, how can you ever hope to improve to your great potential?

There is a saying, “you have to help yourself before you can help others.” Social media has made it so easy to offer our solutions and criticism to others that we don’t take the time to think of solutions for our own problems or give ourselves constructive criticism. On the other hand, when we do criticize ourselves, we can be so hard on ourselves that we may fail to take the steps to improve.

Art skills take time.
Improvement takes patience.

“That drawing sucked…welp…I guess I’ll move on.” No. If you want to improve, ask yourself, “what worked in that drawing? What didn’t work in that drawing?” Identify what made that drawing suck and fix it by studying the areas you don’t understand. Redo the drawing. Then do do it again to ensure that the knowledge sticks. That is learning and drawing with intent to improve.

Self-improvement should be followed by self-assessment. If you can’t identify your strengths and weaknesses, you will never make the gradual improvements necessary to reach your fullest potential. The difference between a person who self-assesses and a person that doesn’t, is self-awareness. By being self-aware and reflecting on your weakest areas, you’ll be able to pinpoint which ones are most important to your happiness and goals. Those who don’t go through this crucial step may feel overwhelmed by trying to address all of their weaknesses without any idea where to start.

Self-improvement is followed by self-assessment, if you can’t identify your strengths and weaknesses you will never improve to your fullest potential.

Remember, we don’t have to fix every weakness at once, and we don’t want to kill our motivation. Take an honest look at your abilities, embrace your strengths, and pinpoint the most important areas. Better yet, find someone whose strength is your weakness and recruit them to help you.

I often talk to my son about these kind of things on our drive home from football practice and when I am helping him with homework. Ultimately, I know he will never understand what I am talking about until he discovers these concepts for himself. I am confident that one day my son will figure all this out on his own, because his old man was able to put two and two together to make art.

Do you know what your best strengths are and what are some of the weaknesses you wish to improve? Furthermore, do you know which weaknesses are not as important to improve because they don’t fit your goals? Let me know in the comments.

Some vehicle sketches from a warm up session.
Some vehicle sketches from a warm up session.
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Getting Serious about Starting

Last week was just about creating something, it didn’t matter what. It was about getting the creative juices flowing. Likely, if you have been away from creating for a while or just getting into it, that worked for you. This week’s post is for those of you who have been creating (drawing, painting, sculpting, modeling, etc.) for a while, or maybe you just started and are ready to get serious about your passion. Where do you start? Starting to create is easy: pencil… paper… move hand around page, and done.

Inktober Drawing
Ballpoint Pen Inktober Drawing

The real improvement comes from focused study and practice. This is how I approached prepping for my career and this is just my observation from the best artists I’ve seen. I have spent a lot of time stalking…I mean studying their work habits. The good news is if I can do it, you can do it. I am married with three kids and didn’t start my art study habits until after I was married and had two kids.

So roll your sleeves up, because this is where the hard part starts. Truthfully, it never gets any easier. It will require a lot of work, time, and frustration. But the knowledge, rewards, and self-fulfilment will change the way you view the world. A word of advice though; proceed with caution and don’t let this undertaking consume you, because it will if you let it.

I am guilty of many 18 hour days, and quite a few beyond that. You will hear this from a lot of artists, but as your mom always asked, “If everyone else jumped off the bridge would you do it too?” These are not healthy habits. The simple fact is, your brain can only take so much in a day. If you focus your time, you can accomplish the same amount as you would have if you told yourself you had 18 hours. Turn off all the distractions and get to work. Take a break when you get frustrated or hung up, and let your subconscious turn the problem over for a while. You need to allow your brain to process and chew on all the information you are ramming into it. I know there is research and science behind this, and Google can lead to all that stuff in case you want to call B.S.

Enough of the preaching, let’s get to the nitty gritty. It starts with knowing yourself. What are you most passionate about when you create? There are three main categories: characters, environments, and vehicles. If you are like me, you love them all. If that is the case, well, I’m sorry. You have a long road ahead of you. What about animals, creatures, and props you ask? I lump animals in with characters, and creatures tend to be animals, so you saw what I did with them. Props I lump in with environments because they use the same knowledge.

Pro tip: go outside and draw from life.

Male Jaguar at the Woodland Park Zoo
Male Jaguar at the Woodland Park Zoo

All the answers you need are out in the world. If you love drawing characters, go draw people (they are everywhere) or join a life drawing class. If you love drawing creatures, go to the zoo, a local farm, or anywhere there are animals. If you are the type that loves to create environments and vehicles, those are outdoors and everywhere also. Keep in mind you should also draw people and animals because they should be living in the environments you create.

Fundamental
: forming or relating to the most important part of something → (That something being your art education.)
: of or relating to the basic structure or function of something

Fundamentals. You will hear this word time and time again and with good reason. Take this word and ingrain it into your soul. If something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t look right, you most likely to be lfailed to understand or execute a fundamental element. This applies to everything you undertake in life, not just being a good artist. (I will link a story of my first job in the game industry as an example)(Here is the link).

Value Study of Ceasar Statue
Value Study of Augustus Ceasar Statue

So what are the fundamentals of art, or more specifically, concept design? First and foremost: arm control. Then comes composition, shape, perspective, anatomy, value, color, and understanding how to use your reference. The great wide internet is filled with knowledge of how to become a better artist. Some of it is utter crap, but there are a lot of great people to learn from out there. I will link to the books, websites, and videos that I found the most helpful learning the fundamentals.

In a later series, I will break each one of these elements down from my vantage point, and likely the resources I link to at the bottom will do a far better job than me. Most importantly, don’t burn yourself out. Enjoy the journey and value the lessons you learn along the way, because those are the things you will take with you through the rest of your life. The images you make just sit on a wall, in a book, or in a file somewhere.

If you like what you read let me know in the comments.

John Singer Sarget Master Study.
John Singer Sarget Master Study.

How to Draw – Scott Robertson

How to Render – Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson’s YouTube Channel

Framed Ink – Marcos Mateu-Mestre

Color and Light – James Gurney

The Gnomon Workshop

Feng Zhu’s YouTube Channel

James Paick Gumroad

The Collective Podcast

Muddy Colors

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Getting Started: Motivation for starting your Art Journey

What better way to start a blog off than by talking about getting started? I see this question posed to talented artists time and time again. How do I start? Where do I start?

I still have problems getting started all the time. It is a recurring issue, and I can’t speak for any other artist, but I am fairly sure I am not alone. It is a issue you will face many times throughout your art journey. However, the simple answer is: anywhere. Just start. Emulate Jackson Pollock and spit on the page. Give yourself something to respond to.

Just start to write, scribble, or paint, your brain will start working to solve a problem. Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to attempt to beat this topic to death, and then step on its grave.

You might be saying, “but that still doesn’t answer my question.”  But it really does. If you are early in your art journey just start somewhere, anywhere. Process will come later. “But that’s not how (artist name here) does it.” How long has (artist name here) been working as an artist? 5, 10, 20 years? That’s why, they have started so many projects and they know how to get through the starting phase. You need to discover this too.

How often do we talk ourselves out of doing something we should do for reasons like: “that’s not how (artist name) does it.”,“I don’t know the right people.”, “School is expensive.”, “Art supplies are expensive.”, “I don’t have the right markers.”, “I don’t have a Cintiq, Photoshop, or a tablet.”, “I don’t have any ideas.” The list goes on and on.

Could these just be excuses we make to avoid inner turmoil and confrontation? Avoidance of those deep, dark questions: am I good enough? Was I born with the right talent? If I invest all this time will I be that good?

If these are the things holding you back, I can tell you that all you need is a pen and a piece of paper to practice. Start with the fundamentals if you need a place to start. One day, you’ll see that these will be the foundation for every image you create. The difference between the really good artists and not so good artists is time, and not letting nagging questions and problems hold them back.The only thing holding you back is you.

Here is another way to look at it. How many times have you seen someone’s collection of art books and said, “Man, I wish I had that? I will never have a collection like that.” And then done nothing to start your own? Keep in mind, you are seeing several years’ worth of items and books.  When the person started the collection, I bet they bought a book once every few months. Every artist has a couple terrible books in their collection that were bought only because they had no idea what to look for. Every time they see that book, they smile inwardly, knowing their collection had to start somewhere. Without a starting point we have nowhere to go, so just start.

“The only thing holding you back is you.”

Onward, Copic markers are amazing, but expensive. Better wait till Christmas or your birthday so someone else can foot the bill and buy that sweet collection, right? No. Why not? Because if you’re like me, that 36 or 72 marker collection is going to overwhelm you. What pen do I start with? How do I blend these? This looks like shit, I’ll just use a pencil.

The better option is to buy two markers for $5 each. (C1 & C5, T1 & T5, W1 & W5, or N1 & N5 would be my suggestions) Copic Markers and Refills for a good price. That’s two cups of coffee, or four energy drinks. (For how many times this example has been used, coffee stands should be out of business.)

Buy one pen every week for a full year, and you’ll have a nice collection of 42 pens. Give or take a few, because you need to buy some refill ink. If you aren’t refilling that pen, you’re just throwing it in the trash, along with your money.

Incoming Tangent: For $8 you can refill a pen about 15 times. Think of every refill as buying one new pen. That brings the total cost of that pen down to 86 cents per refill.  Buy one more refill and you are down to 67 cents per refill. That’s almost Bic ballpoint pen cheap.

The point being, instead of waiting for someone to foot the bill, you can take matters into your own hands, buy two markers, and practice everyday. By the end of the year, you will have a badass collection of markers and be far better at using them than had you waited for someone else to buy them for you.

“By the end of the year, you will have a badass collection of markers and be far better at using them than had you waited for someone else to buy them for you.”

Let’s bring this thing home. If you are like me you see all these awesome paintings, designs, and images in museums, books, and Google.  You wish so badly that you could be that good. You might often have the thought, “How will I ever be that good?” Relax and take a deep breath, you are looking at skills that took years, or even a lifetime to achieve. They started just like you need to start. They took it one hour, one day, one painting, or one drawing at a time. Eventually, all those ones add up eventually you will hit that magic 10,000.

Just start, who cares where or how. Just grab the nearest thing you can draw on and draw on it. Now! Your mind will do amazing things, if you let it. You just have to give it a push and turn the engine.

Last months enviroment thumbnail warm ups.
October’s enviroment thumbnail warm ups.They is a mix of pencil, Copic markers, and inkwash.
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