Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Artistic Self-Loathing (Introspection!)

I’ve been turning my attention to video games lately. I just bought a slew of them, and more will probably be en route on my birthday. I really like video games, of course, and I routinely play them. But the last few days have seen me delve into that virtual land with unfettered resolve, popping in Uncharted and playing for like two hours instead of doing what I should be doing: drawing. And that’s what I do. In order to escape my own terrifying lack of artistic skill, I retreat into somebody else’s wonderful preponderance of it. You will notice, when I post pictures, that my gaming library is filled with games that value art direction (with some exceptions). Those guys at Insomniac and Retro Studios, man, they’re freaking amazing. Likewise, I’ll often engorge myself on printed or web art drawn by artists who make my most complex pieces look like stick figures. I had this same crises a few years ago, after discovering Lackadaisy Cats. I’m having the same crisis now, but this time it extends to a subject I always thought I was good at: prehistoric animals. I met Lukas Panzarin at SVP and looked through his portfolio. A lot of unfinished work was in there. Unfinished work that put mine to fucking shame. I also met Mark Hallet, one of my paleo-art idols, and looked through his most recent works. I was similarly floored.

It’s probably my own stubbornness. I straight-up refuse to pay for a proper Photoshop and the kind of computer that would support it (Mac). Similarly, I don’t like painting--I’m not a patient guy. I do like doing digital work, but Photoshop Elements is distinctly crippled compared to its full-priced sibling, and I have a very small scanner. The amenities required for proper digital art are prohibitively expensive (a Mac, Photoshop, maybe Lightbox, Manga Studio, and a bigger tablet). So the work I do is generally pencil-and-ink stuff, though by no means detailed! No cross-hatching here. Very often, there is no shading. Usually, there is no context. Any why? Because I don’t have the patience to sit down and read a book about Mesozoic foliage.

I bring this up because I have two kind of “uber-projects” in mind that I’d like to start on in the next few months. Both of these require a degree of artistic skill that I do not have. The first is an honest-to-god webcomic, structured a bit like Lackadaisy or Dreamland Chronicles, that would demand I learn how to draw people, and learn how to draw people. And not just women, but men, too. And architecture, to a degree. And rock formations and backgrounds and context and all the crap I’ve been avoiding for almost 27 years. This is incredibly frustrating—I have such a crystal-clear idea in my head for this, but I don’t have the skill to put it on paper. And it seems like no matter how hard I practice, I rarely learn. Does that make sense? The second project is about dinosaurs. I have absolutely no hesitation with the writing—I’m a good writer—but the level of detail I want in the art is going to be hard. I know I can probably do it myself, but it’s gonna take a long-ass time. I’ll have to confront a different batch of demons here: perspective, detail work, and, most likely, heavy digital editing.

Granted, these feelings (about everything) have been building over time. I really can’t stand my own habit of drawing things from the side only, but it’s easy and quick. Now, I know I can draw dinosaurs from different angles (I have before), but it takes longer and requires more effort. It seems like there’s a maximum amount of effort I’m able to drain into some of my art. Maybe I’m just in a rut, or at a crossroad, or something else. I guess it boils down to this: I’m impatient. I’ve got these great ideas in my head and I want to be able to put them on paper NOW, not later.


Anthony said...

I get that too, and thats why most of my stuff just becomes a throw-away piece chucked online somewhere, posted to twitter and left at that.

Glendon Mellow said...

Whoa Zach!

You've articulated so many fears and inspirations at once. I've felt a lot of those emotions towards my own work in recent days too. The class-crit yesterday had me shaking my head, wondering who the hell I think I am am trying to draw portraits.

Concerning the materials you're using, I know this is cliche, but it's cliche because it's true: it's not the materials, it's the hand behind them.

I don't know what your opinion of my art is, but it seems some people like it. And I have been producing most of it with an 8 year old laptop with a busted screen (washed out pixels in the top right-hand quadrant) and an ancient version of Photoshop CS. When it finally died and I had barely enough money, I bought the sweet machine I'm using now which is not a Mac! I couldn't afford one either). I loaded up Photoshop Elements 6, and I can't tell the difference yet in terms of features.

Tools only take you so far. Concepts, and discovering your tools take you farther, no matter how limited your tools are. You're right some tools make things faster, but often innovations and techniques can still happen.

I'm glad your last paragraph sounds more like a battle cry than a white flag: I think you have a lot of talent and your best work is ahead of you. Carl Buell once said something to the effect of painting being one of the few arts where you get better and more sought after with age, not less (like say, a pop star).

Keep going man. Crossroads are healthy things.

Traumador said...

have to say, i'm impressed with this post man. it takes a lot of bravery to admit these sorts of doubts (even if not entirely unjustified ;p )

i totally know the feeling of considering ones self untalented! there is of course no instant cure. just as glendon says practise practise practise.

i'm no amazing artist, but i like to think i've come a long way over this year. i've found setting small achievable goals with each project can lead to a lot of improvement. trying to match the best in the field from the get go is a disaster waiting to happen.

make it about just you and your art. forget everyone else you could compare yourself too..

i had a similar collapse on self esteem, when i started one of my blogs... you might of heard of it, ART Evolved :P

however i use all you way more talented people as a positive challenge rather than a daunting one. i work myself one weakness or aspect at a time, to try and step by step earn a spot among you guys. i think this year i've made some huge progess! so think small, and you'll find huge success will sneak up on you!

as for tech, you seriously do NOT need a mac! they are only better straight out of the box. if you want to seriously pimp up your puter for graphics a PC is the way go. you can upgrade them and customize them in so many ways a MAC can not be... plus there are way more software options on IBMs

also you don't need proper photoshop to do cool graphic stuff. i've been doing all my stuff with coreal paintshop pro. granted i'm starting to hit the limit of what i can do with some of my software (more my 3D program), but there is still plenty i can improve on within the confinds of my current setup (as i'm to poor to buy new stuff too!)

so indeed as glendon states keep fighting the good fight, and don't let your CURRENT "limitations" stop you from reaching and conqueoring the next ones. as i'm sure any artist you could ever talk to never considers themself perfect!

ScottE said...

Patience, practice, and perseverance. Three things every artist needs. If you have to make do with what you have, then you make do, and jealously lay aside money for pro-level tools (like the Mac) for the future. (And contrary to what anyone believes, anyone who can afford a PC can afford a Mac; it's the software that will eat your budget.)

Meantime, it wouldn't hurt to put aside gaming for a while and work on drawing, if you feel the need. No one knows better than I how difficult drawing is. But having to sacrifice something to make drawing happen, is commonplace with artists with day jobs.

ScottE said...

as for tech, you seriously do NOT need a mac! they are only better straight out of the box. if you want to seriously pimp up your puter for graphics a PC is the way go. you can upgrade them and customize them in so many ways a MAC can not be... plus there are way more software options on IBMs

There is no truth to these statements, except that Macs are better out of the box.

I recommended a Mac to Zach because it's doubtful he's going to want to spend significant time tweaking and troubleshooting hardware and software when a Mac--even the lowest end Mac--is more than adequate for his needs.

These statements you've made haven't been true since 1988, if then.

Glendon Mellow said...

"contrary to what anyone believes, anyone who can afford a PC can afford a Mac"

ScottE, perhaps pricing is different in the U.S., but for me in Canada, when I was recently shopping around for a new computer, the cheapest Mac was about $1200. I like Macs, a lot, but that was way out of my budget. Instead I got a pc with 750 GB hard drive, 4 GB Ram, triple core processor with a nice big 20" screen and a printer scanner for about $900 including the 14% tax.

I wasn't able to go over $1000 and its a lot more powerful than the cheapest Mac which was out of my price range. I just don't think it is literally true that you can afford a mac if you can afford a pc.

(Sorry to take this so off-topic).

ScottE said...

Glendon, the pricing difference in your estimate is only $300. Even a used system should have been feasible under your budget.

Considering the volume of systems I've administered, a PC is not cheaper, not in the long run. In my experience, the "extra" cost of using a Mac pays for itself within the first year or so.

(Then, too is my help policy to consider. I will not assist PC users out of their plight--I leave them to fend for themselves. Friends who use Macs get it free, just about whenever they need it, because the hassle is so minimal by comparison.)

Getting back on topic, artist needs have shifted dramatically over the years. Speed is now a far less relevant a concern than it was even 5 years ago; and any working artist is smart to value stability and reliability over a slight (and perhaps imperceptible) increase in processor speed.

There are tasks which absolutely should benefit from using the high end--HD and SD video benefit mightily from a MacPro vs. an iMac, for example.

But for anyone like Zach, an iMac is plenty fast enough for moderate 3D work and for all the 2D work he needs to accomplish and more.

My workstation setups, for those that might be interested are as follows:

10-cpu MIPS-based renderfarm supporting an SGI Octane2 with 8GB RAM and 2gb Fibre Channel RAID, for running Maya Unlimited.

A 5.7-year-old PowerBook G4 with 1.25 GB RAM and Wacom Cintiq display running Adobe CS3 (upgraded from PS 7, which I used for the first 5 years of the life of the laptop)--this compares rather well against my day-job workstation, a 4x2.66 GHz Intel MacPro running CS3 and CS4--there is only a small difference in speed between them concerning CS's performance, not enough for me to want to run out and buy the latest and greatest from Apple every time they release a performance upgrade. 2D work is simply not that hungry for power, and, let's be honest, a G4 is actually fairly powerful, just not fast.

The idea that an artist needs the fastest system they can afford of whatever type is no longer true. (I think I stopped dispensing that advice back in 2000.) Even the lowest end Mac will run Photoshop at print resolutions without issue.

Zachary said...

I agree with Glendon--the price difference between a "high-end" consumer PC and a "low-end" Mac are pretty gut-wrenching. The Missus and I were shopping around for a new com-poo-tor a few years ago and looked to Macintosh for aid. Their low-end machines cost roughly $1200. We got our PC for less than $900. It doesn't have too many problems--most of them are related to many programs being open at once (slooooow).

I certainly make do. It's my knowledge of the software that's so very lacking. I should take a class. I should take a LOT of classes.

Sean Craven said...

Hey, Zachery,

I'll tell you flat-out that I've had a number of periods in my life where I stopped drawing/illustrating for years at a time because I hated myself for not Doing It Right.

This is genuinely painful stuff, especially when you've got very specific projects in mind that require a skill set you don't have.

May I suggest that you take a formal drawing class from a local community college, arts center, or independent teacher?

You've already got some fairly developed art skills. Tell you what, they'd be well complimented by your doing some observational drawing and other traditional exercises.

You've got a solid grasp of composition, your color sense ain't bad at all, and your line renderings are quite attractive.

I think that if you spent a while being challenged to do work outside of your comfort zone, when you got back to working on your preferred subject matter, in your preferred style, you'd be amazed.

Give yourself a chance to experiment, to do work that doesn't directly relate to your intended projects. A lot of the time the desire you have to produce a very specific type of work can keep you from functioning, because you'll never live up to your vision.

This is true of all of us; we dream in fire and work in clay. Just accept that -- and work in clay as best you can.

I'm not making light of your position. But I think you need to do some exploration rather than worry about your plans. You might find that you're not just a better artist than you think you are, but that you're a different type of artist than you intended to be.

It happened to me...

ScottE said...

Apple ( ) has a perfectly viable system starting at $600.00 USD.

ScottE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...


I see what you mean exactly, I seem to be going through the same thing at the moment. I too lack patience. I have certain projects that I would like to do with my own art, but I don't feel like I have what it takes. I get overwhelmed by everyone else is work to the point where I will not draw anything.

But I had to start thinking that everyone who has really amazing work, had done a lot of practice to get to a certain stage, and it didn't happen over night. I think the key to getting better would be to take small incremental steps at a time, and forget about where other are at, but where you want to be. I know that's not easy, cause I'm trying to do that now myself right now.

lantaro said...

Look on the brightside, boss. At least you don't draw like me.

Peter Bond said...

All the tech talk aside (though I'm siding with Scott on the Mac issue!), everyone seems to have written the support and advice I was going to give. It just strikes me when reading your post, that the main thing to work on is, as you said, patience. Patience is key. I like you work, Zach. Don't fret.

ScottE said...

The best comment here is Sean's: "This is true of all of us; we dream in fire and work in clay. Just accept that -- and work in clay as best you can."

Something for every artist to remember. I know I keep forgetting it.