Honesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quick water color sketch.
Another quick water color sketch.
Watercolor sketch.
Watercolor sketch.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
2 min color thumbs from the stream.
4 min color studies. The 2 min ones are super hard and this allowed me to relax a little.
4 min color studies. The 2 min ones are super hard and this allowed me to relax a little.
A happy accident. Love how the lighting played out in this one.
A happy accident. Love how the lighting played out in this one and will do a clean up on it this week.
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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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