As I look through my RSS feed at other blogs of artists - artists I respect and look up to, I see a lot of positivity. There is an incredible community of well-wishing, support and good vibes. Everywhere I look, I see the message, "You CAN do it!" It's really, really inspiring.
It's not me.
I wouldn't say I'm a pessimist, but I was born to take things apart. I come out of movies I love and I analyze the things that didn't work. I look for tangents in the paintings of the "Ancient Masters" (sometimes I find them!) The glass with me is basically never "full".
We all have our self-images, the way we see ourselves and our interactions with the world. For me, I fight demons, and fighting requires constant vigilance in a world where you can never let down your guard. One of the biggest of these demons I've been facing recently is discouragement.
For those who don't know me, my entry into "the arts" came in 2003, when I picked up a Canon 10D digital camera and became a photographer. Before that, I got a degree in comp sci and math, and had been doing database marketing for Fortune 100 companies. For some reason, there was an itch that wasn't getting scratched with my day job, and telling stories with images did the trick.
It took me about 2 years to "master" my craft to the point I was doing fashion photography in NYC, and I was a year into that when my wife and I moved to Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan to teach English for 2 years. Miyazaki, while beautiful on the whole, is in the middle of nowhere, and I was in Nobeoka, a blue-collar town built around a chemical factory. Not a lot of models there!
I adjusted. I started making pictures using 3D programs like Poser and Vue. I thought of it as "virtual photography." I couldn't model objects, but I could take other people's objects, build some environments, and use my vision to create a story. By late 2007, I had realized that the limitations on that medium were too constraining for me. "No problem!" I thought, I'll become a matte painter! I've taken a ton of good pictures, how hard can it be to just start collaging photos together to make the stories I want? Turns out, it's pretty hard when you don't know how to paint. I started trying to paint in photoshop. Turns out, THAT's pretty hard when you don't know how to draw.
By Spring of 2008, I had worked my way backwards to the simplest of tools, the pencil and paper. I drew constantly, albeit badly, and came to the conclusion that everyone starts at the same level. If you start drawing at 6 or and 33, you kinda draw with the same line quality and ability. Of course, when you are 6, you get praised and your picture goes up on the fridge. When you are 33, most people look at you a bit funny! The advantage is, at 33 you can apply your lifetime of work ethic and understanding to improve significantly faster.
In 2009 I moved to Vancouver, BC, and in September started art school at Emily Carr University. It's been four and a half years, and in December, I will graduate with a BA in Illustration.
Why the backstory?
I wanted you to know where I come from, because, when I look back at the last 10 years, I see so many life lessons that can help me deal with the discouragements I feel now.
First off - I need to do this. There was something missing in my life before I started doing photography. I can't give up, it is simply not an option. As discouragements settle in, REMEMBER WHY YOU ARE DOING WHAT YOU DO.
Second - You will try things you are not ready for. That does not mean you will never be able to do them. When I tried matte painting, man, I was *bad*. I didn't have the skills to meet my vision. I have been doing some plate extensions for warm-ups lately, and you know what? They look pretty good. When I think about it, that is kind of amazing. The "end goal" I was reaching for in 2008 is what I do to warm-up in 2013 before I engage my creative muscles. Was I sad back then when my mattes looks awful? You bet I was....but:
Third - What you want may very well change. In 2003, if you had told me that ten years later I would be striving as hard as I could to be a visual development artist for feature animations, I would have laughed you out of the bar. In 2008, if you told me that I would find matte painting too restrictive, I wouldn't have believed you (mostly because in 2008 I could never imagine me being able to draw or paint to a level where I could do something with it.) It is critically important to have goals. Goals keep you going, and keep you solving problems. It is also critically important that you let those goals shift over time. I know many, many artists who are doing really cool things that have nothing to do with what they planned when they were younger. I'm not saying to settle, I hate the entire concept of settling for something when what you want is out there over the horizon. I am saying that you are allowed to discover that you really enjoy being an assistant pig-keeper (usually, you figure that out right before they crown you High King, and you have to spend the rest of your life mediating drunk nobles over cattle disputes.)
Fourth - There will always be people you look up to. There will also be people who used to be better than you that you now feel like you have surpassed. Those are fine. There will also be people who seem to speed past you. Those are also fine. I have a GOAL, but I am doing the work for the PROCESS. I love to draw. I love to paint. How well the people around you will probably affect you, I know it does me. We are human, it happens, but remember, you are doing this for you.
So - Discouragement. It's going to happen. I love painting and drawing, and care more about it than anything else I have ever done. I still get discouraged. When every one of my friends get into an art show I don't get a call-back about, I get discouraged. I can tell myself that it just means my style isn't what they are looking for, but I still get discouraged. When I get told "Your characters don't measure up to your environments, and you should probably just take them out," I get discouraged. I don't hear "Your environments are really good!", I hear "Your characters suck!"
Also, in my experience, there is a weird skill level in the middle, between noob and pro. When you are a noob, you get encouragement. When you are a pro, you get (and deserve) praise. You will rise above noob, but it's a long hike from there to pro, and the positive reinforcement can be scarce on the ground. It is discouraging to see people of much less skill than you getting kudos, while you get seemingly reamed for the smallest of things.
You can't really get discouraged if you don't care....I guess you can, but only for a little bit, because then you quit and move on to something else. I am not going to quit. I need this. Discouragement is just a phase. When I lived in Japan, I studied judo at my high school with the judo club....they were much better than me, but the coach was amazing. He said that judo means "The way of efficiency." You live a way, you don't practice it. It doesn't matter how technically good you are at living a way, it is the authenticity in which you try that counts.
For me, I try to practice "'The Way of Visual Storytelling." Like any road, there are steep parts and easy parts, but it is the trip as a whole that counts. I'm going to be discouraged; I'm going to be elated. There will be days when the goal seems impossibly far. That's the key to a "Way". The only thing that really matters is the next step. I may never be a visual development artist for Dreamworks, but no matter how discouraged I feel, I can pick up a pencil and make a mark. There are no good or bad marks when measured against the long term. Really, there are no good or bad paintings either, they are just footsteps on the Way.
6 years ago