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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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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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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