Today’s post is going to be all over the place, but let’s see if I can corral the crazy long enough to make some sense out of what’s in my head. I’d like to talk about some of the common statements I’ve heard regarding getting better at art and why I think we are our own worst enemy.
1) I Can’t. I’ve been told directly “I can’t do what you do”.
Here’s the thing about Can’t. If you say you can’t, you won’t; simple as that. I know you’ve heard this before, and you’re having the urge to blow it off and move on, but bear with me here. I used to feel the same way. “No, you don’t understand, I REALLY CAN’T” is what would run through my mind. I’d look at Brad Rigney’s work or Dave Rapoza, or Drew Struzan, and I’d say… I can’t do that.
What I should have been saying (and what I say now) was “I can’t do that… yet”. I eventually realized just that. It’s all about Perspective. No, I don’t mean the technical foundation of 1, 2, 3, etc point perspective with vanishing points. I’m referring to the way you allow your brain to think when you’re thinking about the things you can’t do.
I was chatting via Twitter with another up-and-coming artist about failing. My philosophy on failing is that it’s probably the number one most important thing to master in your creation of artses.
Thomas Edison said (this is my number one favorite quote when thinking about progressing in my art career): “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
He actually said a lot of things about working your butt off to get where you need to be:
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
If you work on changing your perspective to “I Can’t” and into “I Can Learn How”, you will become excited to try. The next step is to work on training your brain to not be overly disappointed when you inevitably fail a number of times before succeeding.
An artist on Twitter said this, “I dont learn something from every failure sometimes it takes a while, n by the time u overcome it u don’t notice” (Excuse the Twitter speak, character limits and all that). The important thing in that statement that the artist didn’t even realize he had acknowledged was this: “by the time you overcome it…”
Ah, but you DID overcome it.
I have a specific example with my own art that is relevant to this. I did a couple of cards for Fantasy Flight Games, and when all was said and done, something was still “off” about them but I couldn’t really place what it was. Moving on, I painted an unrelated personal piece called Gun Merchant. One of the things I wanted to experiment with in that piece was distance in the background. I took the time to figure it out and long story short, I nailed it (in my opinion). The piece still has other issues that need working out (visual hierarchy, focal point, etc.), but that just gives me more things to learn in the future, and that’s exciting. I realized while looking at it is that THAT was what was wrong with the Fantasy Flight cards. I wanted to email my Art Director and ask if I could fix them! Of course I couldn’t, they were already headed to print. But in those failures, and the subsequent success of that particular thing in another painting, I learned something new. Now, I CAN do that thing.
Long story short; You CAN, you just have to fail to do it.
2) I Don’t Have Time.
Here’s a worldwide secret for you: None of us have time.
Let me ask you a question. Do you watch a lot of TV? Do you watch a little bit of TV? Do you play games? Do you go out to bars every weekend? These are the things (among many others) that are taking the time away from you working on your art. I’m not saying at all that you can never do these things, however, I am putting it out there that if you truly want to succeed at your art and meet your goals, you are going to have to cut back on the distractions. This is true for things other than art, by the way. Working out is one of those things that nobody claims to have time for.
The bottom line is that you have to organize your priorities. For example, I was a beta tester for World of Warcraft, and played steadily for the next 8 years. I wasn’t even a hardcore raider or anything, but it consumed hours of my day, week after week. “Why am I not progressing in my art?” Well, I was spending 4-5 hours a day in WoW, but only and hour tops on my art. Guess which one I was good at? It wasn’t the art.
When I was at a point that I was ready to take my art seriously and understood that my “don’t have time” was just an excuse for myself to justify why I am not where I want to be with it, I realized I had to sort out my priorities.
I gave up WoW cold turkey. I haven’t played in three years. Do I miss it? Oh yeah, nearly every day. Will I ever play again? Very likely, in the future. You don’t have to give up your time sinks entirely, you just have to put them lower on the priority list. You can’t paint 24/7 and expect to maintain that momentum without burning out, so those distractions are actually very beneficial in smaller doses. Instead of playing WoW, which I knew for myself to be a huge time sink, I chose things that were easier for me to walk away from while still providing a mental break from the grueling process of being the best artist I can be. I started working out and watched a little TV instead.
The reward has been immense, by the way. In the last three years, my art has improved by leaps and bounds, and I’m getting work in the very industry I want to be in. I had a table at Spectrum and attended IlluxCon. I’ve been cold-contacted by Art Directors about games they’re creating. It is happening for me now, and there is NO REASON it won’t happen for you if you’re willing to sacrifice a few things to achieve it.
3) I Can’t Afford Art School.
Psh! Who can!? Art school is ridiculously expensive and I can tell you that I personally have a raging hate boner for school loans. But guess what, you don’t really need art school. (side note: art school is great IF it’s what you want to do, I’m NOT dogging art school itself)
This industry is evolving, and it’s very exciting. There are so many free and inexpensive resources out there, that you can learn nearly everything you’d learn in art school by sitting at your computer and paying attention. I will say it can be pretty overwhelming because there are so many available resources, but that’s just a matter of figuring out what you need to learn first and what’s most important to you. I will write an entire blog post about this in the near future, and I’ve touched on it in the past, but rest assured that you can get all the education you need just be being a part of the community, and all that requires is reaching out and involving yourself. There’s no secret handshake or initiation ritual to go through to be One Of Us. Trust me on that one. Go to conventions and speak to other artists, artists you admire and look up to, and you’ll very quickly learn that nearly all of them are as excited for you to be One Of Us as you are.
One of the coolest things I realized at IlluxCon was that I was learning more about how to get started with oil painting than I’d have likely learned by taking a class. By taking a class taught by one instructor, I would learn how that instructor likes to paint. Well, how do I know that’s how I would like to paint?? I spoke with industry pros and such majestic creatures as Patrick Jones, Michael C. Hayes, and Annie Stegg, and each one had different tips and methods. I gleaned from them what I want to try, and mentally dismissed the things I wouldn’t be interested in. For me, this was way more effective than sitting in a class learning one way. That said, for you it may be different and in that case, finding a local oil painting class could be beneficial! It’s all about finding your own path.
If you start to feel lost and overwhelmed, reaching out to the community will help. If you’re interested in how one artist does something, ask them how they do it. Obviously, don’t expect a full on class from them, but they may be able to help you find your own path. I get extremely intimidated by people I feel are leagues above me, so I tend to reach out to people I feel are just a bit beyond me, and it’s more comfortable. Again, your own path! You may be perfectly comfortable emailing Donato Giancola well before I ever am.
So, this blog post is getting really long. I may turn this into a bit of a series if I get the chance, so stay tuned. I hope this helps you out some, and please feel free to leave feedback or contact me if you want to discuss things!