SPREY Log #19

With the first half of my mentorship with concept artist Nik Hagialas over and having started to attend Dorian Iten’s The Shading Course as a supplement, I have new insights to share whether mentorships and courses are worth it for us self-taught artists.

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: My mentorship turns out to be a great catalyst for personal and creative growth and moving towards a better art quality. I’d say the two biggest achievements of the mentorship so far are not even teaching me more routine in the design process or doing homework.

Firstly, the mentorship showed me where I really stand, what my current and true skill level is. You could say I crashed and burned in week 2 with studies, that went over my head in complexity and art fundamental knowledge, but I didn’t take damage from this at all. On the contrary. Now I know where I am and what is still missing. That’s also where the Shading Course comes in. I can’t work around missing knowledge in the field of light and shading. And as there’s no time to learn all of this in the mentorship itself, I went out there and was lucky to find Mr Iten’s course. Would recommend to everyone, as it starts at zero knowledge or a completely intuitive person like me. I don’t know how, but I survived on pure intuition on this point. I have tried to read Scott Robertson’s “How to Render” in the past, but it feels like reading a telephone book. I’m asleep after two pages. I recognize there is a lot to be learned from Robertson, but I can’t do it with closed eyes.

As for the second, even bigger benefit of the mentorship, I don’t know how Nik saw it, but he somehow knew a lot of my problems stem from a lack of confidence. And he did not “fix” me or anything, he just gave me a push into the right direction. One of the weirder homeworks was to post on Instagram both in story and the timeline. I don’t see myself as a very beautiful or interesting person, but I complied. And after a couple times of showing my face, I started taking an interest in videocalls, now I will make a videocall whenever I can, with a proper webcam. And I started streaming again just yesterday, now with showing my face and talking to the audience. I am surprised with how many conversations with great people I’m having lately. And I feel well integrated into many groups and some friend circles. Nik did not fix this. I am almost becoming someone else from within myself, much more outgoing and probably better balanced. I also started working on my looks in a modest way. Now that I see myself too all the time I am better motivated to see a more polished version of myself. A lack of confidence is a silent killer. My Manul Zine that I am about to finish right now had a delay of more than six months…and I couldn’t explain why, I just couldn’t finish it. I was just lacking confidence. I wasn’t confident enough to pull that off or believe in it, when the Manul illustrations really are one of my most successful projects. Just so you wait until my mentorship and the Shading Course is over, SPREY should sweat nervously already. I feel like I’m better equipped for it right now already, and in a couple of weeks that will be even better. On the other hand I don’t know whether I will return to SPREY as is or rather tackle something more downscaled.

See you next blog post!

SPREY Log#17 – From now on you only paint

Welcome back! My break took a week longer than expected. After I filled my head up with new storytelling knowledge I knew I would need time to digest that in silence. Also, I had to go back to drawing. I felt homesick for it and for SPREY already. But I didn’t want to just jump back and do what I always do, not this time.

I can be on my own, sit and draw forever, but I ultimately cannot know where I actually stand with my art that way. What I think about myself and my art does not matter, as I am not the person hiring myself for future art jobs, so it would be great to know what potential employers would think if they were confronted with me right now. Following that logic I decided to invest in myself and ask a more experienced artist for guidance. Also I was a bit tired of being out there in the void by myself. So I booked a mentorship with concept artist and illustrator Nik Hagialas. He delivered that needed guidance from the first assessment already and so much more.

Apparently I’m not far away from the level I would need to be competitive in the concept art pro scene, but I’m not entirely there yet. That is a great thing to know. And that is also a great moment to go into a mentorship as it possibly could cut short a last, long episode of searching from further years to months. At this point I have one week of doing study and design homework behind me that was tailored to me and my specific needs. The feedback session for it is up tomorrow, so I can’t tell how it objectively went yet. But subjectively, I took so so much from it already, I feel like a new artist.

Nik has found a brilliant way of teaching. He helps you discover yourself by confronting you with a training IP brief, that means he gives you a document that describes a story, it’s setting and characters. You can choose what you want to design, environments, characters, props, vehicles, there is a need for everything in that training project. But in your four week mentorship you realistically only have time to do one thing, so you have to choose. For people like me that are interested and capable of doing many of these things, that is brilliant. I always had such a hard time to understand myself and what I should specialize in as I know that if forced, I CAN do anything. And see what happened. When I read the document I at first went for the props, of course I did. I was told you shouldn’t even try it as a character designer as too many people want to be one and clog that field. Nik told me to delete that from my memory, everyone is needed. So without that restriction I immediately, and I say immediately, went for elite android AXEL and started designing with such a fire and passion that I didn’t even recognize myself at times. Even now, if I think that there is more work to do on AXEL, I can’t help but be happy because I’m burning to continue. And other people seem to enjoy my work on AXEL as well, the spark is strong enough to ignite their interest as well. I’m grateful for the great people in my life every day. Thanks for all the critiques, feedback and suggestion this week and just thanks for being on that journey with me.

And I have no idea how Nik did this, but he also “fixed” my art further with a simple instruction. He just looked at my stuff, listened to me and my symptoms and just said “From now on you only paint and you will paint until you can paint.” I don’t know what he saw but his instinct was absolutely right. I wouldn’t say I am good at painting right now, but even when trying a bit, my art quality instantly shot up, also noticeable and mentioned by others. Also, painting skills feed from drawing skills, so I’m banking on what I kept building up over the years anyways. It was just that I shouldn’t stop at drawing, I should go further. No “being sensible” limitations. So I will paint on and see what happens down the line.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #06 – You Vs You

I had a blast last week, this week is more of a pain. What’s the difference? I took an extended weekend off and therefore lost all momentum. Now I’m fighting strong resistance to spend another lazy day every morning. It happens to all of us. Sometimes that voice is louder, sometimes you’re faster at your desk working before the thing even had it’s morning coffee and could try to dissuade you from starting. That is a great place to be in, a great amount of momentum. Obviously I can’t get back to me from last week but I can get my momentum back through doing the work. Also nobody is above breaks, we need them to process things or take care of matters that do not revolve around the craft.

The War of Art

I’m rereading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art right now and probably heavily influenced by it right now. Just by quantity it must be my favorite book. I’m reading it the third or fourth time now and I’m amazed how I still find new things that are relevant to me right now and weren’t before or how I could forget so many important points since the last reading. It teaches you the mindset how you actually get to write the book of your dreams, paint what you know you should have been painting years ago and so on. It can’t do the work for you though, that’s on you. What The War of Art can do really well is remind you that you are your worst enemy if you let your inner resistance get the better of you. Resistance almost becomes a mystical villain entity in the description of it’s nature and it’s ways, but maybe that is exactly the playful approach needed to cope with it. After all, if you are a creative, how do you like the prospect of lifelong anxiety and struggling and knowing it’s you that does that to yourself? And it will never go away. With discipline and experience you’ll just get better at distinguishing actual fatigue, actual important tasks that can’t wait from anything that broadly falls under comfortseeking and procrastination. Give The War of Art a chance, if you are interested in this cluster of topics. Steven Pressfield even gives a part of The War of Art away for free as a series of videos you receive when you subscribe to his newsletter.

Approval

And now I’m expanding on a nugget of wisdom from The War of Art that moves me a lot at the moment. Do not hope for things to become a success. Do not seek support or followers for support’s or followers’ sake. It is true that no one is waiting for your unproven creations with open arms, but you also do not need any approval by anyone to start making them. Seeking support and followers are open invitations for yourself to distract yourself instead of doing the work. This rings so true to me as it resonates with the experiences I’ve made over the years. I had my share of ambitiously trying to build a following on social media. To be fair, back then I had no clue what I was doing in general and how to get anywhere, so I’m excused. But other than that I never had success with anything of that sort. First I thought that was bad and that I maybe wasn’t born to be a successful independent artist if no one would ever validate me and no audience would ever show up. My opinion on this has been changing over the years though. I do have an audience. It is just not the stadium filling audience of a rock star. And it’s not in your hand whether someone likes your work, they do or they don’t. You can make everything right to please the highest amount of people in theory…and they might still be indifferent. Of course you can put effort into how you present your works and how you interact with other people, but you are not entitled to anything. Pressfield reminded me that the first task of the artist is not to garner a following or support before they even start creating, the task is to create the art. Not any art, but the art that the artist knows they truly want and should be creating if they are honest to themselves. While to some people this sounds obvious, it is usually the thing the artist is afraid of the most and has the strongest fears of getting hurt when it flops.

I have been also very confused in the past as I couldn’t give a simple statement about what type I am and how I would fit in into the art world. Trying to fit in probably is a waste of time, too, but you do want to have a direction you can work with. Therefore I was also confused what I am supposed to make. But as I like to say, mileage is the remedy. This time around good old mileage, the state and process of having drawn hundreds of pieces, hundreds of pages of it, is slowly giving me the answers I was craving.

I’m scared of concept art, therefore I should keep doing it

I was scrambling to become anything and of all things I became a concept artist. Funny enough, I’m apparently repeatedly telling my friends that I don’t think I have what it takes to be one, but I keep getting paid work in that field. I think what irks me about concept art is that it takes the design of things as one of the natural phases of creating art and declares that a finished thing. Other people give you briefs, tell you what you should do, and again, a group of other people, actually interpret your ideas and make the actual “assets” out of them and someone else got the last word of what makes it into the final product. I know a group of people can create bigger and more complex things than a solo creator, just because there are more man hours and more experts of various fields at work at the same time. But still, it feels unnatural to me to just generate ideas and not actually create, at least from the place of limited experience that I have right now. Maybe I will understand more after I have shipped a couple of games myself and worked on more projects. Also don’t get me wrong, concept design is an amazing and incredibly helpful field. My comic profits anytime I learn how to design things better. I guess my concept artist would take the work off my shoulders to have to design the costumes for the scenes, how the locations look like and what has to be there for it to look believable, what fixed light and color schemes I have for the scene, shot thumbnails and so on… but then I would draw the comic and people would just see that. Maybe I am making the same mistake, with a remnant of looking at things through the eyes of the audience, in awe about the vision that looks so consistent, focussing on the story told, not the nuts and bolts of what makes it work and how it does that.

Thinking about it, what if my past and current approach to SPREY is too complicated as it tries to follow the rules of a “professional” process usually undertaken by a team? Not trying to rationalize anything, just a thought. Maybe it is just a natural, flowing development. As I learn more about design, art fundamentals or anything, I’m eager to apply it to my work. Then things first blow out of proportion, take too long, frustrate me a lot, but once I’m used to it, I relax and things deflate again, now richer for a trick or two that I don’t have to look up every time when I want to use them and that keep influencing future work.

Back to defining myself though, I crave to release new zines. The Manul one and the Lickbook 2 one for example. It would feel so satisfying to have those finished and out. Not making the mistake to “hope” for a big breakthrough, it is for real about creating them, just as with SPREY. I’m happy if people enjoy them, but they don’t owe me.

Climbing up a cliff

At first, I did not realize I lost my way. I thought to myself, what could it hurt to take a week off? To prepare some things for the next chapter of my comic Street Prey (SPREY)? Being nice to myself for a change yielded some surprising results. My art almost instantly „improved“ now that I suddenly had a bit more time to breathe and experiment. And quick first successes made me want to exercise more. At the same time my concept art career received a massive boost with my first gig as a concept artist for a small indie studio.

Suddenly I have new perspectives for my work. Suddenly I got a first contract pay in that was very real. My true luck is not the money itself, although I appreciate the pay very much, but that it caused a massive boost in professionalism in me. I have studied hard since then, even harder than before. And this lead to more gains. And then more good things started happening to me, because it is always like this. Only if you have some momentum already you are given more. By now I‘m thinking that studying the ways of concept art and focussing on this for a future day job might be or bring me closer to my ikigai.

I am still committed to making my comic and everything else on my to do list. It just seems that the concept art training I‘m seeking out is the key to push things to a completely new level I could never have imagined sitting in my old comfort zone. How did that all start? Imagine I was browsing Artstation and Pinterest and thought I wish I could bridge the gap. I thought and wished that for a long time, months, maybe years. I wish somebody could teach me, anybody. What if I could have a shred of the Feng Zhu School of Design? And then suddenly this opportunity came up to take part in a course inspired by his school and Youtube channel. I knew it was an important decision. I would have to make time for it constantly, a lot of time, while also working my contract and continuing SPREY. I haven‘t regretted a single moment. I also took up the good habit of setting aside at least 20 minutes a day to study a bit about business. I still have no idea what I‘m doing, but I still know more than before already. Time passes really quick at the moment. I am realizing that you sometimes get the best results when you focus on one or a maximum of two projects per day. But this thesis needs more testing.

I took this day to go over the last week a bit. I realized I did so so much that I cannot sensibly squeeze this together in one blog entry. It might make it harder for you to learn something from it if you are inclined to do so. So I’ll split the week up in several entries that I will post over the next days. Hopefully I will catch up to the present, soon.

To my surprise – I drew lightnings all week as warm-ups and actually finished that mini- lightning project fornow. The first tasks in the course were all about (re)discovering simple line drawing exercises. Just by chance did I discover that lightning must indeed be my personal element. But I will not stop at this and will explore other elements in the next weeks. Learning at least the basics of how to draw them and spending more time with them and documentaries on how they work are an investment for lifetime. Fire, water, rain, earth, all the elements, weather effects and natural phenomena – that is never going to go out of fashion. You just have to find your own way of how to deal with understanding and depicting them.

See you next time!

100 Days of SPREY – 57, 58

This week turned out to be both amazing and absolutely terrifying, pushing me outside of my personal comfort zone in so many ways. My original plan was to dedicate the week to doing concept work for my own comic and start uploading a daily panel beginning next week as we are used to by now. But now I am confronted with a uniquely new situation. I made the jump and signed my first freelance contract as a 2D concept artist.

The first client is the hardest to get, the second client the second hardest one, and so on, so that step is huge no matter what scope the actual project has.

Now at least for the time of the gig I have new responsibilities that clash with the wish to keep working on my comic and general drawing exercises in the same way I was working before. What is more, while going into overdrive with research and focussed work to do my best for the gig I‘m realizing how inefficient my ways were. And I‘m shocked how bad my past art actually is. On the one hand, I was incredibly delusional. On the other hand, the delusion kept me believing I could become a professional artist one day and made me work hard to get there. I just failed to understand why the world didn‘t see my greatness. Now I understand. And it‘s okay. That all is a thing of the past now.

I have finally reached a level where I‘m employable. And now that there is no delusion clouding my perception anymore, I have the chance to actually see my strengths and weaknesses in a balanced way and get really good. I even discovered a direction that I can go with achievable goals on the way there. I will go videogame prop design. I still believe in myself as a great storyteller and I believe in Street Prey, but I also need an income. Street Prey as it is right now cannot provide that and will need much more work until it has reached a level of quality that attracts an audience. I will of course do the work, but I need to adjust my efforts in a way that I don‘t starve on the road. That too is a prerequisite to do your personal work well. I know I can learn a lot working in the art industry. A lot that will help Street Prey and any other personal work in the future.

I need some time to sort my things now and I can‘t make a prediction how long it will take. Not because I do not want to commit, but because that is the first time I am in a situation like this. So thank you for your patience and see you next blog entry!