Is May the month with the most art challenges? I think #mermay has been around the longest, but now there is also #myticmay and #misadventuremay… I’m skipping all of them, as I need to rest a bit from the challenge I undertook during April: Plein Airpril!
As the name suggests, Plein Airpril is all about completing a plein-air painting each day during April. It’s initiated by Warrior Painters and there are prizes to be won for both traditional and digital painters. You don’t have to do all your paintings outside from life (which is the definition of working en plein air), but it is encouraged. I did a mix of both painting from life and from photographs (I shot myself).
I hadn’t planned to join this challenge but when I saw Audra Auclair joining on Instagram (and had read there were prizes involved), I decided I wanted to do this too. I really enjoyed painting studies earlier this year and this could be just the thing I needed to pick that up again.
I hoped I wouldn’t regret this hasty descision – April looked already like it was going to be a busy month! It sure has been a hassle to make time for the paintings from time to time. Luckily I could finish a few in advance so I didn’t have to paint during my vacation in the last week of April. But overall, I’m glad I did it! I tried a lot of new brushes in Procreate, and I think I found a new favorite. I also learned that when painting form life, you don’t have to get the colours exactly right to achieve likeliness, as long as the relationship between them is accurate. Technically speaking: if the values are right and the colour temperature is in the ballpark, you can increase contrast or saturation, it will still look ‘right’.
I experimented with simplifying shapes too, especially in noisy backgrounds. Sometimes it looked nice and stylized, othertimes like the blur from a photograph with a shallow depth of field – and sometimes it didn’t work. But that’s what experimenting is for!
If you want to see all the paintings, go to my Instagram page where they were posted daily in order!
Last Monday I had the opportunity to draw from a life model again – something I did as much as I could when I was still studying. After my graduation I occasionally went to Schets Sessie 2.0 but these stopped in 2020. With things opening up again, I hunted the internet for new opportunities and I found one in https://modeltekenclub.nl/!
Apart from being good practice, I find it also really enjoyable to draw from life. Perhaps because I get the chance to work much larger than I regularly do.
I do hope more people will show up next time, though; I was the only one! An almost private modelling session is nice but I also go to meet new fellow artists… Next week is the next session, who knows!
When I’m on a deadline and have to use most of my working time to meet it, my mind always comes up with the most wonderful ideas and things to do. I guess that’s a natural thing; your brain is probably urged to look for quick wins instead of the hard task at hand. After finishing a rough deadline just at the end of January, I had time for these creative urges again!
I really felt like painting and study the fundamentals again. Maybe it’s because I struggled a bit with large assignment I had to wrap up last month – I think the immediate reason is twofold!
Firstly, I watch a Dutch tv show called Project Rembrandt, an artist competition for amateur painters. During the competition the participants have to complete technical excersises, such as life drawing and still life painting. Seeing other artists paint and practise really inspire me to do the same!
Though the show claims to be a contest for amateur painters, among the participants are a graphic designer, architect, game art student and illustrator. Appearently going to an art academy and having had painting lessons does not exclude one from the contest. I think that’s not entirely fair to the participants who had no creative training whatsoever. On the other hand, the people with creative professions didn’t get judged considerably higher or better; While our illustrator and game art student made it to the finals, so did our geologist. In the end it’s fun to watch, and that’s wat matters, isn’t it?
A trip to the Van Gogh museum
The second reason I really felt like painting lately is a visit to the Van Gogh Museum with my sister last week. Van Gogh is the prime example , perhaps even the origin of the troubled poor artist trope, but seeing his work does the same thing as the tv show: it makes me want to paint. You can feel his enthousiams and work ethic through his paintings, and that’s just really infectious!
But what his story also shows, perhaps, is that you can become an artist without formal training, and later in life too, if you persist. Van Gogh was 27 and had tried various studies and courses before he decided to become an artist. And even though he briefly studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels, he is mostly self-taught. I’m sure he would have loved the wealth of information and study material we have now at our fingertips with the internet.
A new year, a new chance to try to keep regular updates going! Most of January I worked on a project that I can’t show until late summer, unfortunately. The little time that remained, I worked on another project that will be under the hood for even longer I’m afraid! So what can I actually write about?! Luckily I always try to make time for personal work, so that will be the focus.
Music Album Cover
Back in December I had the opportunity to join a workshop by Maarten Donders focusing on art for music albums. We worked in pencil and charcoal, creating different sketches of associations we had listening to the music. I liked the sketches I made so I continued working on them in Photoshop – trying more collage-like techniques to keep the traditional feel of the sketch intact.
I had been very inspired by an article by Rafael Sarmento in the issue 206 of ImagineFX. In his article, Rafael shows how he reuses old artwork and painted textures in new pieces, very interesting! I really liked the playful approach he had, just moving, resizing and distorting images until it fitted in the piece. Although he uses Procreate, I figured I could use Photoshop just fine.
Using this new technique took much longer than I expected – it’s not only the extra time it takes going through folders finding nice textures. Still I liked the proces, it adds a layer of unpredictability I like and by using only images you made yourself, the result is guaranteed something you!
Other news: I sold my painting of Trico (The Last Guardian) on Etsy! I didn’t really expect selling those originals, Etsy doesn’t seem to be the best marketplace for things like that, I think. I put the piece up in September as an experiment – I’m not too attached to them and just keep them in a drawer, while someone might want to adopt one! There is a market for fan art on Etsy, that must be why this piece eventually sold. Nevertheless I’m happy, hopefully this is the start for more! I’m much more happy knowing someone gives the piece space and attention than when it just gathers dust in my studio.
Global Game Jam
And of course January isn’t complete without the Global Game Jam! Just like last year, the jam was held completely online. I got actually quite some sleep this year, haha! The theme was duality, and after a short brainstorm we decided to make a game about a dog chasing chickens, and it’s owner clearing up the mess. We ranked 7th of all Dutch games made this year, which is quite nice!
A few days back Rembert Montald gave a talk at a Discord server I’m in. Rembert works at Riot Games as a Storyboard Artist and shared his methods and techniques for drawing human anatomy.
Rembert is an amazing artist and I don’t want to discredit anything he said or believes. Life is different for everyone and we all take different lessons from it, Who knows, I might change my mind about the following ideas in a few years down the road.
That said, during his talk I recongised an attitude I notice in more artists working at AAA studios in film, games and animation, which I’m going to dub ‘the cult of mastery’ from now on. Rembert told us he didn’t feel ready for the industry yet after graduating from art academy, and wanted to continue his studies before trying for a job. He moved to Croatia because of cheap living, got a part-time job to survive and devoted the rest of his time to study and practise. He even hired a private teacher to improve his anatomy knowledge.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s actually pretty remarkable if you decide to improve your skills on your own: it takes a lot of discipline! A lot is said about the disconnection between art academy courses and the industry, especially the entertainment industry – the vast majority of artists I know have learnt their technical skills online and by themselves instead. Secondly, as anybody in a creative field, perhaps really everyone, should be prepared to keep honing your skills during your professional life. You better like to learn new things!
What irks me though, is that a lot of these artists somewhat promote the idea that the only way to work at these large prestigous studios, or get work in the industry in general, is by devoting all your free time to practise your technical skill. It is often flavored with a “my work is not even that good” attitude, despising any work they made older than a year and praising old masters. Bonus points if John Singer Sargent is their favorite artist. I even encountered some toxic cases online saying you’re not a real artist if you don’t practise all the time.
Now I think I do have some discipline, learning myself C# and things, but no way I could force myself in drawing hands for months, hours per day, with the sole goal to master my anatomy skill. I do practise regularly and try to study new subjects when a commission asks demands it. But art or illustration isn’t technical prowess alone, isn’t it?
I rather split my ‘study time’ between technical skill practise such as anatomy or composition, and trying out new tools, software or techniques. I think these forms of ‘play’ are just as important as the technical stuff for being creative. We are, after all, asked to bring something from ourselves to the table, aren’t we? Rather than providing the client with meticulous rendered anatomy that is perfect, but also universal, we should add something that only we can. I could go even further: if your drawing skill is perfect but you don’t put something from yourself into it, why should I hire you? There’s always someone who will do it better or cheaper.
And this is where I think devoting all your time to technical exactness also hurts you: you need time off to nurture and explore what makes you you. You need those walks outside, fun conversations with friends, games to play, books to read, even those mindless minutes in line before checkout in the supermarket. Art is about life, so how create art if you don’t live life?
If the cult is right and a life devoted to study is the only way to get in AAA, I’m happy to do small indie projects for the rest of my career. It might not be so prestigous, but if it pays ok I’m happy! I’d like to paraphrase Cécile Dormeau here: I am being paid for the work I do, so it is appearenly good enough. It’s not good enough for all clients, but that will never be the case anyway.
I also don’t believe you have to study so rigourously all the time to get to the top, really! There are examples of artists who have followed their own path and found succes that way, such as Loish and Iris Compiet. And let’s not forget, knowing the right people is just as important as your portfolio. There are always multiple ways.
What also worries me, is that people who don’t have that immense discipline to practise their skills daily will believe being an artist is not for them. Discipline is a good skill to have, but so are soft skills – which might be even more important in the equation of succes. When starting out you will hear that your work is not good enough a few times. It happenend to me and still happens sometimes – but that doesn’t mean you have to block the next months for rigorous training. Keep making work and learn at your own pace!
So, if I would be in any position to give career advice (which I don’t deem myself to be with only two years of experience), I would say:
Yes, work on your technical skills, as they are foundational for all representive art, stylized or not
But focus too on the things that make you you, be it stylistic choices (the way you draw hands), subjects (horses, fighter jets, anything), or just your opinion on the world!
Have fun! This is the most important as it will lead you to what makes you you. And it keeps you going!
The art tests of last month didn’t result in jobs, unfortunately, but I think it was good practise nevertheless. In any case, new work to add to my portfolio!
As my official C# course has ended, I’ve continued my studies with the book Fundamentals of Computer Programming with C#. Where the course went over the fundamentals pretty quickly so you could start building something fast, this book goes really in-depth. And it contains excersises after each chapter, so I can really use it to improve my programming skills! Most of the excersises focus on math problems, brings back flashbacks from my math classes in high school! So far I’ve created programs that calculate prime numbers, numbers from the Fibonnacci series and find a sum or product in a given array of n numbers, things like that. Not sure if it helps making games, but it makes sense to me to start with the fundamentals.
Tabletop RPG & board game ventures
This month I also reached out to board game publishers and tabletop roleplay game publishers. I realised I loved doing full illustrations as much as I like doing concept art or game assets, so why not try to get more illustration jobs?
Within a few mails I got a reply from a board game publisher, whenever I might wanted to illustrate upcoming board games published in 2022 and what my rates where. I was suprised I got a foot between the door so quickly, but after I send them my rates they replied they didn’t pay more than 80 euros per character illustration. That would come down to about 10 euros per hour – quite far from what I usually ask for such work, of course.
Someone else got back to me asking if I would be open to do an illustration for $200 (about €160, before taxes). I hestitated at first, but decided to go for it, you have to start somewhere, right? Unfortunately the person changed his mind and wanted me to do four black-and-white illustrations for $50 each instead – each of these illustrations containing one or multiple characters and a background – in no way doable for me without getting below minimum wage.
I was quite shocked by this, to be honest. Are these rates normal? And how do people making a living if this is what you get paid for such an amount of work? After asking around and doing some more research, it dawned upon me that these are actually quite standard rates, though there is a lot of variation between companies. Illustrators working in this field all supplement their income with taking on work from other sources or have a partner that can fill in the gaps, I suppose.
So yeah, in my experience, video games pay way better!
Swim On Zine
Let’s end this post with a visual component: here’s a little preview of the shark illustration I did for the Swim On zine! This collaborative charity art zine paying tribute to all kinds of sharks, containing 100 illustrations by 76 artists. All proceeds made from the zine will be donated to WildAid (formerly sharksavers.org).
In an effort to try to get into blogging regularly, I’m following Joni van der Leeuw‘s example and try to write regular blogs about what I did the past weeks. I like writing but it’s one of those things that quickly drop to last place on the to-do list and therefore never gets done. I’m opting for monthly updates now as weekly seems a bit too much effort (and I don’t know how much I have to share anyway), but we’ll see!
MerMay has come to an end, and so have a lot of projects I worked on the last three months. Yes, my planner is almost completely empty: that means hustling for jobs again!
I applied for a few job offers, though, and last week was nothing else than drawing art tests. I suddenly found myself drawing only space suits and ships the whole day to meet the deadlines, oops!
Indigo is the most important game industry network event of the Netherlands, always taking place on the last Friday of June. Just like last year it was held completely online. Met new people, some who might hold exciting opportunities! I have a few more meetings next week that spilled over, fingers crossed!
And last but not least: I’ve been learning how to program in C#! Back in April I had a few meetings with a career coach (a free opportunity I thought wouldn’t hurt) and I did some tests to chart my interests and skills. Guess what? Even though I’m a creative person (duh haha) I’m also quite happy doing analytical stuff. In fact, I’m the opposite of the chaotic artist cliché, I’m actually a very organised person, starts work every day at the same time, never comes late to meetings, etc. And the fact that I’ve had a self-build website in my teens and installed this website myself too shows I have affinity with code the very least!
So my career coach strongly advised to look into programming. There is, after all, a high demand in developers. I came across a C# course I could participate in for free due government subsidy, so I took my chance! C# is after all the scripting language in Unity, probably the most popular game engine.
This is not a career switch, though! I do not want to give up all the time and energy that I’ve been putting into finding my way around illustration and game art. I just think that knowing my way around code will be a valuable asset. And it would be cool to develop my own little games, wouldn’t it?
If you follow a bunch of artists on social media you’ve probably seen a few in passing: themed ‘art challenges’. They are usually named after a specific month the event is taking place, for example Inktober, Junfae, Plein Airpril, etc. I’ve participated in my share and now MerMay has ended, I’m ready to share some experiences and learned lessons!
Back in January I stumbled upon the hashtag #creatuanuary, a yearly event on Twitter where people design a creature according to a prompt list every day during January. Being a creature enthousiast, I simply had to participate. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw something for all the prompts, though, so I just picked a few I liked the most.
The prompt for this one was ‘bloodsucker dragon’. Many entries were combining mosquito or leech features with dragons. I thought it would be more interesting to look at vampire bats, not in the least because bat wings are traditionally the inspiration for dragon wings – studying them would help me draw better dragons in the long run too!
For the Tibicena (a demon in the shape of a large black dog with red eyes, hailing from the mountains of the Canary Islands), I combined the heavy build of a bear with more wolf-like hindquarters. I wanted to make the beast appear rugged and hardy to be able to survive in the harsh conditions of the mountains.
In the end, though, I was only able to bring three prompts to a finish. What went wrong with #creatuanuary is that I put in too much effort in each piece, which made them take too much time to finish in one or even a couple of days. In hindsight, that was probably also the case with the Inktober challenge last year, which I also didn’t manage to finish: I wanted each piece to be good, so I put in a lot of time, which I couldn’t keep up.
So for MerMay, I wanted to do things differently. I decided to a) not to use a prompt list or plan what to draw exactly ahead, but see where it will take me and b) try to prepare myself by making some sketches in advance. This turned out quite well: by making time almost every day to sketch and paint a little, I found myself creating little watercolour paintings which I could paint quite quickly and felt like small paintings rather than sketches.
I did prepare a list of interesting sea animals for inspiration, but that was all. I just let the drawings take me, and in the end I did quite some fish creatures that only vaguely resembled mermaids, but that was fine too! I found a way to create small pieces with little effort to keep up with the treadmill of social media, but most important of all, have fun with it!