Happy New Year!
Today I conducted my first annual review on 2013 and made plans for 2014, as suggested by blogger Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Noncomformity in his essay How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. A personal Annual Review an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason, only 8% of people keep their resolutions.
The truth is that New Year’s resolutions like “Lose weight.”, “Save more money.”, and “Get better at drawing people.” don’t work because they are vague and not measurable. There’s no benchmark to measure “enough” by, nor is there a deadline or reward. Resolutions have no objective goals and deadlines, systems to make the changes happen, or consequences that lead to results. They are merely the resolve to change. Even setting more specific objectives like “Lose 20 lbs.” or “Revise my portfolio” aren’t enough because ultimately we can’t completely control the outcomes of our long-term efforts; we can only control only our actions that lead to those outcomes.
The process of a review takes time, and for good reason. A full review guides you to go deeper and deeper, defining the theme for the year; your priorities by category; goals for those priorities; and finally to the next actions to take, due dates for those steps, and metrics to gauge success. And it’s flexible enough to adjust for how you work best and adapt when your goals change throughout the year.
It took me about two weeks to do mine while juggling other projects, and I plan to start it in mid-December next time, but I think it will save me much more time in the long run because it forced me to focus my efforts and get real. It helped me see where I wouldn’t have enough time to fill lower priorities, and where I was neglecting other higher priorities. For a freelance artist who need to manage their own time between deadlines and find that elusive work-life-balance, I’m finding it an extremely useful tool.
My Annual Review also inspired me to pay it forward with the lessons that I’ve learned through earning my B.A. in Psychology, working in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry, earning my M.F.A. in Illustration, and finally working in the illustration and concept art industry. One of my “reach goals” for this year is to help others by writing a series of essays on time management for creatives, including not only prioritization systems like this one, but also how to ignore distraction, change habits, and work more efficiently. After-all, we learn best by teaching.
The Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau is a first step in that process. So check it out and plan to spend some time on it. I’ll share my review of 2013 and some of the goals I have for 2014 as an example:
What went well this year?
While I don’t have specific benchmarks to compare to, I know my artistic skills developed considerably in many areas thanks to both my formal schooling and Noah Bradley’s Art Camp, in environmental and prop design, learning ZBrush, and the workflow for developing production art for games. I produced good artwork this year! I also took control of my relationship to food and exercise and live a much more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, I lost weight, but more importantly, I am stronger, have more endurance, sleep better, and feel good. Best of all, my focus has shifted dramatically from fixating on weight to other benchmarks and I’m finding that taking the time to care of my body sustains my artwork rather than takes away from it. Lastly, I set money aside to go to out-of-state art conferences this year.
What did not go well this year?
I’ve been spending almost all of my time working on my art and learning; so much so that I haven’t kept this blog or my Facebook account very well updated. I have a very long backlog of work to share. And the backlog has prevented me from reaching out as I would have liked because it was fixed in time and I am not. This is one thing I’ve identified that needs to change this year. I also haven’t taken a true vacation with my husband in years, or gone to many cultural events, and that is something else I want to change.
In 2014 I Will Focus On Building My Career
The main theme of 2014 for me will be emerging into the industry as a full-time illustrator and concept artist, though I will also be balancing other priorities such as sustaining a healthy lifestyle, friends and family, etc.
My main goals will be revising my body of work with a total of 22 finished pieces to revise my portfolio with and share the development process for my concept art. 15 of these are for my graduate thesis, 7 are for the months following leading up to December 2014. At the same time, I’ll be cultivating my professional reputation by posting here and to my social networks regularly and attending industry conferences. These, and my other objective-goals, have specific benchmarks such as revising my previous thesis work by particular dates, and a week-by-week workflow for completing new paintings.
To balance this, I’ve set my absolute minimums for fitness time (20 min/day, 6 days/wk) to stick to even under tight deadlines, and made it easier to eat healthfully this upcoming year by overhauling my kitchen and learning one new healthful recipe a month. I’ve also set dates for attending a few plays, going on day trips, and a week-long vacation this summer. The steps that feel like “work” have set rewards for completing them. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process.
Finally, I’ve arranged to continue my growth after graduation. I’m completing Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and eLearning with ZBrush now and will continue on with Chris Oatley’s Magic Box. Later on, I’ll take classes at CGMA, Gnomon, and SmArtSchool. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process. The best way to learn is by teaching.
2013 was a good year for me, but I plan to make 2014 even better, and one way I can do that is by helping you. That’s an important goal to me, and this article is a step towards that goal (not just a resolution).
Did you achieve everything you set out to in 2013? What went well? What didn’t? What are your goals for 2014 and what are the first actions you can take this week towards meeting them?
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An animated .gif of the process.
Notes: Armor was arguably most elegant in the late 15th century – it’s my favorite period for all things hammered into metal suits. Both Italian and German armor were popular (and used by both Spaniards and Britons). But German armor, like German clothing fashion at the time, was sleeker than the Italian styles. The fluting, as seen here, both highlighted how closely this style of plate fit the contours of the body, and lent strength to the overall structure. This particular set of gauntlets allowed the knight to move his fingers independently of each other in battle, rather than knitting them together into a metallic mitt.
Patterson, Angus. Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe.
Photo Reference from Historic Enterprises.
The Golden Age of Illustration was the period between 1850-1925 in which illustrated magazines and books climbed to the height of popularity, containing a wealth of art that embellished both fiction and non-fiction subjects in mass-circulation books, magazines, and posters. Illustration had never before, and has never since, been such a popular or vital form of art in the US. Why did it end, you ask? In the beginning, photographic technology furnished artists with not only reference images, but also empowered them with techniques such as line-engraving and half-tone; though by the turn of the century photos began to take the place of illustrative art. Now they are the mainstream form of print art.
Key characteristics of this era were the strong values (contrast between light and dark) and clear silhouette shapes, and N.C. Wyeth’s works are among the best examples of those features. His subjects are also really interesting – he embraced both American themes, rich with cowboys and indians, but also themes like knights and pirates, in popular children’s books such as Robin Hood, Treasure Island, and Ton Sawyer – and established these characters visually in the minds of young readers for generations to come. You might even recognize some of them below!
My first assignment this year in Noah Bradley’s Art Camp is a series of master studies, both compositional (gray-scale) and color studies. For all these reasons, I began with studying the work of N.C. Wyeth and set out to learn about his arrangement of shapes, establishment of values, choice of color and subjects. It sounds kind of strange to those who haven’t tried their hand at copying a master, but I feel like when I’m doing it right, I ‘channel’ the artist and get into his head and understand his decision-making process. I take these lessons and then use them in my own work, like adding tools to my tool-belt. After-all, to understand something you have to ‘stand under’ it for a while, set your style aside, and make the subject of study more important than you. Part of the reason N.C. Wyeth was so successful was that he studied under the master Howard Pyle and took his edicts completely to heart. The practice of studying under masters has faded almost entirely from art school, but fortunately, we live in an era when the masters are at our fingertips and we can study under them in the comfort of our home studios.
When mimicking N.C. Wyeth, I noticed not only the strong dark shapes against light backgrounds that I’d read about from this age in art’s history, but also how masterfully he arranged the shapes to carry the eye through the composition. Composition is a balancing act – one element on the left balances one on the right, what’s below balances what’s above. I also noticed that Wyeth liked to pick only a few hues and then made the best use of them through their less saturated tones. To my eye, the ones with fewer hues seemed the most striking – hm, something to keep in mind…
- The Golden Age of Illustration: Popular Art in American Magazines, 1850-1925.
- N.C. Wyeth: American Imagist.
Do you get bored setting up your perspective lines when drawing a landscape or cityscape? Want to save time and get back to the fun part – drawing?!
Well, thanks to Johnny Quan, a member of DigiPaint, the Facebook critique and resource network I founded for Academy of Art University members, I learned about a fantastic tool today which was developed by FreddieArtMedia at DiGi Art QuickTools. And even better, it’s free! So, with thanks to his generosity and a nod to his awesome work, I’m sharing it here with you! Go to Digi-Art QuickTools here or here to download and then view the tutorial below. Enjoy!
The single most important skill a professional artist must learn to manage is also the most difficult master: time management. Closely linked to that is mastering self-motivation. I’m not talking about the motivation to achieve long-term goals like securing work or even changing the art industry. We all want that. I’m talking about the commitment and fortitude required to to your mind, eyes, and drawing hand every single day.
I’ve met many skilled artists and a few that blow me away with their work. But I’ve also heard as many complaints about how they either haven’t grown as much as they wanted to, or need to be around other artists who are working in order to get their artwork done, or burn out during finals, or are distracted by other activities (like playing games or browsing the internet). If this sounds familiar, then take it as a sign that you aren’t managing your time well. And if you aren’t, then it will kill your career if you don’t learn how to.
Why is that? Well, a few reasons. First, while you are doing other things, your future contender is training right now for that job you will be applying for. While you are inching along they are growing by leaps and bounds. Only the best get hired, only the best get commissions, and only the very best change the industry. The time to train for those juicy assignments is now.
Second, if you are a student and can’t deliver on your assignments for classes, then how will you deliver on assignments for your clients or art director? If you’re already working and unable or unwilling to deliver on time, then your reputation is already suffering. The field is very insular. That means everyone is connected and you will (or are already) developing a reputation for missing deadlines. Someone less skilled, but dependable, will be hired over you. If you are a student, you are building your reputation right now with your instructors. When you apply for work and ask them to recommend you, they will remember if you turned in late or incomplete work and won’t want to put their reputations on the line for you. The same is true with employers.
Third, if you can’t motivate yourself to work on projects you don’t initially enjoy, you are going to be very unhappy working in the industry and your work will suffer as a result. We and our clients get out of our artwork what we put into it. Most of the time, you won’t get to work on something you feel innately passionate about because it will be someone else’s idea. You won’t always have other artists to depend on to set your work schedule and atmosphere. Instead, you need to develop strategies to motivate yourself and get the job done on schedule and without burning out. Find a way to be passionate about creating art for its own sake. That’s why you’re doing this, aren’t you? Because you love to draw, paint, and design, right? If you don’t enjoy spending hours every day creating, you need to find a different line of work. If you do have that motivation, that passion, that hunger to create and improve, then an art director shouldn’t be able to tell which pieces in your portfolio you enjoyed creating more – and if asked you should be able to honestly answer that choosing one piece would be like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.
Are you ready to get to work, but just don’t know how to organize your time? Remember, this is a lifestyle change, and they say it takes 28 days to establish new habits. If you’re ready, use these tips for 28 days and I guarantee you will be more productive and grow faster.
Five Tips for Better Time Management
- Write down your goals and break them down into realistic, bite-sized, lists.
- Start with your ultimate goal and aim high! Be ambitious and aim for something like, “I want to change the art industry forever.” or “I want to be spoken of in the same breath as [insert favorite artist here].” or “I want to found my own company.” This is the point where you put a ceiling on your success. So shoot for the moon; that way, if you miss you’ll hit the stars.
- Work backwards and break that goal down into self-development goals for each month, then week, then day. These are achievements you will make outside of your assignments. It is the first step to organize your time and it will put you in a goal-oriented mind-frame. If you like, you can set aside rewards for each goal you meet. As a bonus, it will feel great when you get to cross those goals off your list!
- One of my mentors, Michael Buffington, once set a goal of drawing 1,000 simplified but realistic heads. Even as a professional, his craft improved immensely. Not many artists have that kind of commitment, but his book of 1,000 heads is set to be published in order to inspire other artists.
- Assign daily routines.
- This critical for those who procrastinate or burn out when deadlines approach. It’s important to both pace yourself and balance other demands on your time. If you have a blog or online portfolio, set aside time to update that. First, set your priorities – list them and put them in order in terms of both importance and immediacy – be ruthless about this but don’t forget your non-work needs. Then set time aside in order of your priorities. If you have a significant other, set aside time with them. Set aside time to network, research, get inspiration, exercise, eat, and sleep. If you don’t, your body and/or support network will quit on you, it’s just a matter of time.
- On a similar note, get dressed in the morning. Yes, it’s fun to work in your Pj’s all day at home and nobody will know if you do. But getting dressed for work is a routine, even a ritual, for establishing your working mood. You’ve already established this mindset for work and school, just apply it at home to counter that all-too easy temptation to goof off or spend too much time consuming information (See No. 5). It’s surprising how preparing yourself like this to work will set the tone for your entire day.
- Break down your projects.
- Feeling overwhelmed by a looming project? Try breaking it down into smaller bite-sized pieces. Focus on the project one stage at a time and then look at it in terms of 20-minute-intervals. You can work for 20 minutes, right? Well, when you’re done, take a 5 minute break. Don’t forget to set your timer!
- Pay attention to how long it is taking you to complete your tasks, and revisit your lists. You’ll want to update them and re-evaluate your short-term goals and bring them into line with how long it takes you to complete your tasks. Eventually, it’ll take less time to accomplish them, but for now this is a reality-check and a good way to adjust your pace. It’s also important to keep track so that you can give clients and/or your boss an accurate estimate of the time it’ll take you to complete a project.
- Set up an efficient workspace.
- Decide on the area you want to do your work in. This will depend your personal preferences and on what you are distracted by. Some artists can’t work if they’re by a computer connected to the internet (that includes smartphones) which are constantly pinging for your attention with email and Facebook alerts and texts. However, some artists need online reference photos or other resources and will instead need to turn off those alerts and summon the self-control not to give into temptation. Whatever space works for you, carve it out and make it your own.
- If you live with someone else, set up a sign that lets them know if you are available to chat or not. Have a kind conversation with them about what it means. This will both ensure that you can maintain your focus and that you won’t have to defend your boundaries against your well-intentioned roommate or loved-one. It’s pro-active and prevents arguments. If you’ve set aside time to be with them (see No. 2), they should be able to respect your work space and time.
- Keep your workspace organized and clean. Some people, like me, can’t think very clearly among a lot of clutter. But even if you like to work with everything related (and not) spread out over your workspace, you probably still won’t like your artwork marred by a glob of yesterday’s lunch.
- Draw Right Now!
- The availability of information (both related to artwork and not) is a wonderful thing. It inspires and motivates us to create something new and learn new skills. But too much consumption and not enough production will cripple your career. So take action!
- Maybe you’re staring at that blank page, ready to draw but afraid of creating something lame. The key here is to practice on cheap paper. Take out cheap copy paper, newsprint, or even the blank backs of junk mail you have laying around. Start with warm-up exercises and move on to quick 3 minute sketches. If it’s a bad drawing, you only have to live with it for 3 minutes before moving on. The important thing is to get those bad drawings out of your system and start carving away at those 10,000 hours to master your craft.
- So unplug yourself from social networks, email, the work of other artists, your phone, and this blog. Stop consuming and start producing! Stop thinking and start drawing now!
This article sums up the the best advice I’ve heard given to illustration and concept art students:
And here I’ll expand on it:
- Carry a sketchbook and one or more sharpened pencils with you at all times. Many artists prefer Moleskin or a tone-paper sketchbook and two Prismacolor pencil pencils (one white and one dark toned). Tone paper lets you use the paper itself as a midtone, which means that you’re building up both shadows and highlights with your colored pencils instead of just shadows (as with graphite) or using the lift-off technique (the lift-off technique involves covering white paper with a medium tone of graphite or charcoal and then erasing it where you want the light tones and highlights to be). It’s much more cost-effective to use tone paper than to use white paper, and you’re less likely to smudge everything if you avoid using graphite pencils. Prismacolor color pencils have wax in their core which prevents smudging, and designers often use the Color Erase type in the industry because they’re so erasable.
- Artists should never be idle and never take the day off. Waiting for someone? Sketch. Standing in line? Sketch. Riding the bus? Sketch. There are people and objects and environments all around you. This will teach you to draw quickly. You can get creative and turn people into characters and simplify enviornments for animation too.
- If for some reason you are without a sketchbook, then this is what you do: draw without drawing. Don’t just look, see! Then memorize what you see. Note of the shapes and forms and values, then close your eyes and imagine it. Open your eyes and compare that mental image to what you see. Then draw it when you get home. This is how you build your reference vocabulary so that you can late rearrange these elements when drawing from your imagination.
- Set deadlines and goals. My instructor, Michael Buffington, challenged himself to draw 1,000 heads last year. The project took him three months, and in that time his skill improved dramatically even though he was already at a professional level. If you’re weak with drawing hands, then set a goal of drawing 500 hands. If you’ve got realistic heads down, switch to character heads and draw 500 of those.
- Remember to have fun. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or bored by assignments, but find a way to make them fun. That’s why we’re in the game, after-all, this is part of being creative. An art director shouldn’t be able to tell which projects you enjoyed and which you didn’t by looking at your portfolio. Don’t trash talk yourself either. You are selling yourself and your work, so be mindful of the impression you give. Just be passionate about what you do and show that you have fun creating.
- You’ll probably find that your artistic vision and knowledge improve more quickly than your skill level does. This can make you feel disappointed in your work. But if you keep practicing, your skill will catch up and you’ll start to like your drawings more. It’ll be hit-and-miss in the beginning, but everyone goes through that. With pencil-mileage comes consistently good work.
Finally, I’ll leave off with a helpful quote:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
— Ira Glass
- A-level work can be published in industry; so if you are consistently getting A’s then should be out working instead of taking out loans for school. Most students get C’s at AAU, with a few stars getting the infrequent A-. So feel good about getting high C’s and low B’s, especially before midterm. Grades are no more or less than feedback on your work. No one will care what your GPA was in school, they will care about your portfolio. However, aim for A-level work so that you will have a professional portfolio.
- Related to No. 1: If you are offered a job while in school, take it! The goal is to get work, not necessarily to get your degree. The timing might not be right when you graduate; in fact, it probably won’t because you’ll be competing with other graduates at the same time. You can always return to school and finish your degree if you so wish, or even receive educational reimbursements from your employer if you want to continue studying while working.
- Almost everyone in school is great at something and weak in other things. I’ve realize that compared to other beginning students I have more experience rendering texture and painting digitally; I also have an intuitive knack for picking colors. But while I can copy a figure given enough time, I have trouble imagining the human body in other positions or from different points of view, or capturing gestures quickly, or simplifying and stylizing it for animation, or foreshortening it. Once I have that down, I won’t need to learn much about how to “wrap it” in shade or color. If you’ve been admitted into an MFA program, you have something to offer and something to gain from school.
- Attitude is critical. Remember the tortoise and the hare parable, “slow and steady wins the race”. There are a number of experienced students, but some of them are complacent and others are resistant to trying out new things. However, with an excellent attitude towards learning, you can rise head and shoulders above other students with time, dedication, and practice. That’s the same attitude needed to get work in industry and to be the very best at the tasks you’re assigned. The artists with that attitude are the ones who are promoted, not the ones who are envious of senior artists on the team.
- A lot of students resist learning certain techniques, styles, or subjects because they think they won’t use them later on. In my character design class we’re learning to become “style chameleons” during the first half of the semester and “building our design vocabulary”. Many students want to stay in their comfort zones and draw in their own style, but that will kill the career of a new artist in industry. Learning to draw in different styles is a survival skill. If hired by a company (say, Disney or Lucas Arts) you would have to draw in the style of the particular project you’re assigned. Everything you learn adds to you “Batman’s belt” – your set of tools available for every occasion. Never stop learning. Keep your tools sharp. For more on this, read Dresden Codak’s article on Draftsmanship: Increasing Your Visual Vocabulary.
- Is it better to generalize and be able to do many different things, or to specialize and rock at one thing? In other words: “is it better to become a swiss army knife or a scalpel?” The answer: ideally you should become a swiss army knife with a scalpel attached. Be a rock star at one task and then be able to do many different tasks for a project as well. That is the best way to get yourself established in the industry and to keep yourself employed.
When I was an undergraduate at Reed College I studied the history and literature of renaissance and mediaeval Europe on the side while earning my BA in Psychology. I realized then how the mediaeval system of turning an apprentice into a master is a near perfect analogy for the transformation of any layman into a specialist through our modern educational system.
Brief Historical Context
In the mediaeval, renaissance, and enlightenment eras (before industrialization) skill-based and intellectual professions were acquired by apprenticeship. A master took on apprentices and would teach them the craft and provide room and board in exchange for their labor. Sometimes families paid the master for their children’s apprenticeship if there was enough demand for it.
Sometimes children of nobility, gentry, or the very upper-middle class would receive tutoring or attend grammar school in language, history, arts, and the like not to become masters themselves but to become well-rounded — also in exchange for pay. William Shakespeare serves as an example of an English Renaissance middle-class education — he is believed to have attended King Edward IV Grammar School until he was 14 years old. Whereas the ideal for a gentleman’s education in Italy was described by Baldassare Castiglioni, who wrote at length about the importance of being competent in several areas in his Book of the Courtier by the age of 27. I came to understand that this is where our modern ideal of a well-rounded education in high school and undergraduate school came from.
If a boy was younger son of a very well-to-do father and didn’t stand to inherit, he might attend university and focus on one profession like medicine, religion, or law and become a “doctor”. This is where PhDs (medical doctors and doctors of philosophy) came from. Only the very wealthy could afford the time to learn a trade as specialized as medicine or law or instruct at a university.
Yet for most of the middle class education was very specifically focused on teaching crafts and services to be used in employment and in association with guilds. Once an apprentice proved himself with his skill-craft, he graduated to journeyman. Journeymen often worked for their master but collected wages, lived separately, and began their own families; or they traveled to establish their own shop (as the term “journey man” implies). Only when the journeyman was accepted by a guild and took on apprentices was he considered a master in his own right.
Apprentice: 1. One bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specific amount of time in return for instruction in a trade, art, or business. 2. One who is learning a trade or occupation, especially as a member of a labor union. 3. A beginner; a learner. The Free Dictionary
Journeyman: 1. One who has fully served an apprenticeship in a trade or craft and is a qualified worker in another’s employ. 2. An experienced and competent but undistinguished worker. The Free Dictionary
Master: 5. An employer. 9. A male teacher, schoolmaster, or tutor. 10. One who holds a master’s degree. 11. a. An artist or performer of great and exemplary skill. 12. A worker qualified to teach apprentices and carry on the craft independently. The Free Dictionary
Modern Roles in the Sciences:
Well-educated youth = undergraduate
Apprentice = employed undergraduate in the field of his major
Journeyman = MS (Master of Science) degree obtained, or unfunded/untenured/associate professor/”not established” PhD
Master = “established”/funded/tenured PhD/writer of grants
The process of becoming an expert in a modern field is more complicated and variable between professions. In the sciences, this process was illustrated by Matt Might below:
Matt Might aptly represents the layers of education towards gaining a PhD (doctorate in philosophy). Notice the pink circle surrounding the green one and juts out a little to the side? That’s the Bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate, like I was, studies a wide variety of topics but majors in one particular area. Today’s range and degree of undergraduate education is different from mediaeval tutoring only in that it has a specialization at all. The master’s degree (dark pink) is built upon this slight specialization with further focus. Finally the PhD (red), which with his unique discovery, punctures through the known threshold of knowledge — thus making him an expert in his field among experts. Each of the outer layers builds upon the last, more general knowledge. Right up until that last dent through the frontier of discovery, every layer is gained through schooling and mentorship with increasing autonomy and focus.
In my case, I had a well-rounded education in history and literature, language, the hard sciences, a touch of philosophy and the arts, a dash of physical education, and my major in Psychology (what some call a “soft science”) by the time I’d gained my BA (Bachelor of Arts). I felt like one of those fortunate few who were educated by many different tutors and fashioned into a well-rounded student. Of course, I also had to make a living, so I had a focus and needed to find a master to give me work in a lab. Much like an apprentice, I obtained employment and exchanged my labor to be in the same “shop” as a master (“established” PhD) and her journeymen to acquire skills and the good recommendation of my superiors.
I picked up on the vibe that the apprentices like me would someday go on to graduate school, gain our PhDs, and make our mark on the world. However, we were warned that many many of those with PhDs but are not “established” remain there (like journeymen never accepted into the guild, always serving a master) never to obtain the funding necessary to set up their own labs and get tenure or grants and have to assist with the studies created by those who do get the funding. Once published (starting with our dissertations), we would have to keep publishing until (and beyond) the point when we would be “established” as masters in our own rights. That’s why they say “publish or perish” in academia.
Modern Roles in the Arts
Now, I’m focusing my expertise on illustration, and the analogy is somewhat different when applied to this field. While the sciences require certain skills, they are institutions based on knowledge. They are more like the old medieval universities of law, medicine, and religion which required a great deal of schooling as well as mentorship dolloped on for good measure. If one chooses to practice medicine, therapy, or psychiatry (a combination of the two) this requires yet more skill and thus more mentorship and a longer period as a “journeyman”.
However the arts, while requiring certain knowledge, are institutions based on skill and the emphasis is more on mentorship. A student is first schooled in the masters before developing his own style and specialization.
Well-educated youth = undergraduate
Apprentice = MFA student prior to midpoint review and internships (roughly three semesters)* or a student of one or more masters.
Journeyman = MFA student prior to graduation* and/or prior employment or building a client base. Outside of the educational system, apprentice and journeymen are separated only by skill level and regard by the artistic community.
Master = MFA graduate* and/or with employment or client base and a mentor in the artistic community
*In the artistic field, an MFA isn’t a pre-requisite for employment and mastery (as an MS or PhD is in the sciences) and several experts are very successful without modern degrees. However, many argue that going through art school to gain a degree is a faster way to develop the skills and portfolio necessary to obtain mastery, work, a personal style, and “establishment” in the field. A Master’s degree can also be a pre-requisite for teaching, which is one of the main ways to mentor other and be paid to do so (and achieve “master” status).
For the Purposes of This Journal
The analogy isn’t perfect. The stages of apprentice, journeyman, and master don’t map perfectly to the modern stages of expertise. Being an MFA student doesn’t make me a mediaeval apprentice nor a journeyman exactly, and I won’t necessarily be a master by the time I have my…well, Masters in Fine Arts degree.
So instead, I will draw the line between apprentice and journeyman midway in my career as an MFA student. Right now, I’m a married adult with my own residence, and yet I don’t have quite the skill to work under the experts yet. I am placing myself in something like an apprenticeship under the masters until the School of Illustration at AAU decides at my midpoint review that I have the skills necessary to carry out my own project. Then I’ll regard myself as something like a journeyman. Not “established” or able to work entirely on my own, but with greater skill and autonomy than an apprentice. When I graduate I’ll be like a journeyman on the road applying to enter a guild, open my shop, and become a mentor. Once I’ve joined a guild like The Society of Illustrators as a full member, receive steady commissions and/or employment, and either teach or offer advice at conceptart.org and other communities, then I’ll consider myself a master.
I’ll be logging my journey here and offering an insider’s view of the process. Thank you for reading. If you have any thoughts on this analogy, or your experiences in school or developing your expertise, please feel welcome to comment here.
A year ago today, I was the lone research coordinator/assistant for a psychiatrist at Stanford University facing impending lay-off. I had feared economic instability my entire adult life and had thought that full-time work in the sciences and research would keep me securely employed; and here I was facing exactly what I had planned to avoid. I’d received formal notice that by the end of March I’d be grouped with the 10% of unemployed Americans.
Today, I am a new MFA candidate at the Academy of Art University School of Illustration with a primary focus on Concept Art for games. I’m happy I was laid off from research coordination!
It turned out that my lay-off was the beginning of a clusterwin, a simultaneous chain of positive events. At around the time I was informed of the life-expectancy of my job, the special edition of Mass Effect 2 arrived in the mail, complete with the art-book for the game’s pre-production. I had seen concept art before, even created some, but the illustration of the Illusive Man that made a profound impression on me:
The original title in the Mass Effect trilogy set a new standard for emotionally engaging digital actors. To push the quality bar even higher, the art team painstakingly developed sophisticated concepts and new technologies for the characters of Mass Effect 2. Personalities and back stories were woven into every detail of the designs, and several characters were born out of production paintings like this one of the Illusive Man. Capturing more than just his appearance, the painting portrays a moment that defines the spirit of the character.
– Mass Effect 2 Collectors’ Edition
This is it! I thought. This is what I want to do.
I realized that Concept Art is the synergy of everything I had done before and everything I wanted to do. It is my calling. I conferred with family in the entertainment business who then referred me to friends at Alligator Planet LLC who in turn gave me an invaluable start. I enlisted in art classes at the local community college and applied myself – earning a 4.0 GPA and building a portfolio over the course of the year. I received feedback and encouragement from my peers and instructors in school to make the leap. Joe Ragey, who taught me about storyboards and using Corel Painter to create digital art, gave me particularly valuable information about which art schools to apply for.
I investigated the schools, compared my options, conferred with admissions representatives at different schools, debated between shooting for a second BA or an MFA, assembled my [download id=”3″], held my breath, and clicked the button. It was December, and I’d submitted my application to join the Illustration School Graduate Program at the Academy of Art University in Spring 2011. A week later I heard from my admissions representative that the Director of the program had not only accepted me as a student, despite how I didn’t come from a formal background in the arts, but he also waived one of my required classes!
I can’t fully express the feeling I had at that moment, let alone the feeling I continue to have. Needless to say, I am beside myself with excitement for this opportunity, to immerse in artwork, and work towards my calling. It’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, and that’s exactly what I need from school. Here’s to a new year, and a new career!
Title: Glowing Underground Keep in Digital Watercolor & Chalk
Medium: Digital watercolor & pencil in Corel Painter 11 & Intuos3 4x5Wacom Tablet
Size: 6.1″ x 8″
Notes: I was inspired by Minas Morgul from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Notre Dam and created an image that could be used in a childrens’ book. I prefer to sketch directly in Painter rather than scan in one created on paper as it involves fewer steps and the result is cleaner. I used the Sketching Pencil variant in dark grey on Fine Hard Grain paper. Then I switched to a Pavement texture and colored it with the New Simple Water variant of the Digital Watercolors brush. I created the grainy texture of the stone with Variable Chalk. The carved figures lining the door are thematic. Women on the right and men on the left, and from inside to outside they are soldiers, scholars, and merchants young to elderly. Created as an educational project.
Introduction: For a quick view of the Howitzer Dragon Cannon, summary of the goals for this piece, how the reference photos were chosen (and the history behind them), see the Howitzer Dragon Cannon in my portfolio. There I go into more detail on why I selected the reference photos in Step 1 (in short, to make a plausible artillery piece for a fantasy or steampunk setting).
Below is a step-by-step tutorial for how you can create your own howitzer dragon cannon and make your digital image look like an oil painting with thin charcoal accents. This tutorial will introduce you to some of Corel Painter 11’s features and include tips on how to save time and produce artistic effects easily.
Requirements: Corel Painter 11 and a tablet (Wacom, Bamboo, or Cintiq). Ideally Photoshop CS3 or newer too (steps involving Photoshop will be marked as optional).
Click the images to expand them.
Step 1: Choose your Reference Photos. I chose a howitzer cannon with a shield at a 3/4 turn towards the viewer. The wheels were particularly interesting to me, which combined with the lever in the rear, made this particular cannon easily mauverable. But most importantly, the shield will lend itself well to blending with the second reference photo of a frill lizard. It will be a lot easier of you choose two compatible reference photos when making a new piece of art that will be a blend of them. I chose a picture of a frill lizard that was also at a 3/4 turn and rearing up a little. I could flip the photo into a mirror image, but for this project, all I need to see is the basic shape of the lizard’s head and frill. I can imply that the fore-claws will be wrapped around the axel and covered by the frill.
Step 2: Initial sketch. I created the initial sketch in Photoshop, but you can choose to begin directly in Painter (see below). To make your sketch in Photoshop, open the howitzer cannon as a new file, then make a new transparent layer. Make sure to lock the Reference layer, sketch only in your Sketch layer, and label the two appropriately. You do not want to draw directly on the reference photo or you will wind up doing a lot of erasing later on or start over. The screen shot below includes how to arrange your layers, a dark color, and a thin brush. It also helps to turn the grid on by going to View:Show:Grid.
If you are sketching directly in Painter then you’ll have the same basic goal and principles, just applied differently. In Corel, you can open the reference photo and click File:Quick Clone. This will lay a translucent (semi-transparent) sheet of canvas over your reference photo to draw on. Adjust how transparent this canvas is by holding down on the topmost icon of the two squares overlapping above the vertical scroll bar. To toggle the tracing paper off, just click that icon once. Choose a thin solid brush, like a Pencil or Pen variant. To view the grid, click the icon of a grid, also above the vertical scroll bar.
Step 3: Open your sketch (created with Photoshop) inside Corel Painter as its own layer above the canvas and label it Sketch. Don’t worry, Painter will preserve Photoshop’s layers. Just go to File:Open and find your Photoshop file. You can hide (click the eyeball in the layers pallet) or delete (click the trashcan in the layers panel) your reference photo layer now. Note that this step does not apply if you made your sketch in Painter. Lock your Sketch layer down.
Step 4: Color your canvas (or tracing paper) with the Color Picker tool. Choose a color from the color wheel, by mixing in the pallet, or by sampling an image of your choice. I chose a solid parchment color because this would allow both light and dark values to show off the artwork best (and it suggests the kind of unbleached paper that might appear in a game this prop would be used in). I’ve included my color set in the screen shot in Step 5, and you can view the color swatch codes, or contact me for the file. The result of the colored canvas layer and the sketch on a transparent layer is this:
Step 5: If you’ve worked with conventional paint, you’ll be familiar with this concept of creating an underpainting. The goal at this step is to create a new layer under the sketch that is shaded with dark opaque blue-green colors. Later, the overpainting will have translucent yellow overtones which together will give the dragon depth and realism to the skin. Remember, this should look like a painting of a dragon on a 3D object, and the person who would have painted it in-game would have used this traditional technique.
Note that all of the dragon layers are separate from the cannon layers. This is because different parts overlap and obscure each other (like the foreground wheel over the dragon) and we want the freedom to have full and complete brushstrokes on the dragon without having to later erase the parts that wouldn’t be visible. Also, if we make a mistake on either the dragon or the cannon, it’s an easy fix in its own layer.
First set up brush tracking so that your stylus will respond to your particular strokes. Go to Corel Painter 11: Preferences: Brush Tracking and make a sample stroke at the speed and pressure you’ll be using for the underpainting. Feel free to repeat this step as you use light, sharper, more detailed strokes.
Create a new layer called: Dragon Underpaint and file it below the Sketch layer. Choose the Oils brush and a variant like Flat Oils or Fine Camel Hair. Experiment by trying different brushes in a clear area of the canvas and see which you prefer. Make loose strokes and follow the form of the dragon. Don’t worry about being too realistic, in-game this would be a painted decoration on the cannon, not a living animal.
Step 6: Create a new layer called Dragon Overpaint above Dragon Underpaint and below Sketch. Notice I chose yellows and yellow-whites for this layer? I’ve switched to a thinner smeary brush variant with lower opacity and detailed areas that would be exposed to light. The main source of light comes from about 10 o’clock but there is also light coming from about 4 o’clock. This means that the exposed ridges on the dragon’s face, frill, body, legs, and tail all have higher concentrations of yellow, particularly yellow-white. In some places I’ve added off-white at higher opacity with a thin brush to imply a shine. Lastly, I’ve used some dark blue-green and feathered in shadows on the dragon behind the foreground wheel.
Step 7: Here I’ve cleaned up the image and added more details. I’ve erased the parts of the dragon on both the Under and Overpaint layers to get a sense of what would appear from behind the wheel. I’ve also colored the teeth, eyes, and added a yellow brow decoration. I’ve added yellow to other areas of the dragon to create more depth.
Step 8: Now we’re getting to the fun part. Make two new layers above the dragon layers called Cannon Underpaint and Cannon Overpaint respectively. Lock the dragon layers. In Cannon Underpaint we’re going with deep reddish-bown and dark gold colors to compliment the blue-green of the dragon. Choose a flat 100% opacity setting for your brush.
But first, before you paint, there’s an easy way to select the areas you want to paint and isolate them within the same layer. Go to the Sketch layer and select the magic wand tool. In this layer, you are selecting part of the sketch so click on the area you’ll want to paint. Edit: With the lasso tool you can add to or subtract from an active selection by holding down the Shift key and drag with the Lasso, or hold down on the ALT/Option key and drag. Hold down the shift key if you want to add more sections. In this case below, only some of the spokes were selected with one click, so I held down the shift key and clicked on more spokes. Then do not paint in the Sketch layer, instead click back to the layer you were painting in (in this case, Cannon Underpainting). Keep that Sketch layer locked throughout the rest of the tutorial.
Edit: I recommend turning your selections into layer masks to save time on your project. Selections can be saved as Channels (or Layer Masks if you prefer) which you can return to without having to make your selections by hand a second time. Layer Masks can also be edited with brushes or special effect commands, giving you a lot of options. To turn a selection into a Layer Mask/Channel, choose Select, Save Selection, or click the Save Selection as Channel button at the bottom of the Channels palette. Then you can load the mask as a selection later on in your project.
To make the textures of the wood below: Select sections of wood you’ll be painting in one brush stroke (either by hand or using a Layer Mask), like the very front of the cannon. Go to your Cannon Overpaint layer. Then in the mixing pad, take dark reddish brown, red, light brown, and mix them just a little bit. Select the Sample Multiple Colors option there (with the size you want to sample) and the dirty brush. Use a smeary or clumpy brush at about 70-80% opacity and make one broad stroke over the plank of wood you selected. You may want to command-Z and redo this a few times until you have the angle of “grain” you want.
To lay the foundations for the shiny spokes, use the same method but with gold colors on them. This time, instead of brushing with the direction of spokes, brush in a spiral outward from the center of the wheel. Use the same technique with the dark grey barrel, but include very dark greys on either side and very light grays in the middle. Use the Selecte Multiple Colors tool in the mixing pad to make a gradient and use the Dirty Brush setting before going back to the canvas.
Continue to Howitzer Dragon Cannon Tutorial: Part 2…