Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Artistic Struggle of Inspiration

I think any artist working today will tell you they struggle from time to time. Struggle with what they do creatively, with how they feel about their art, how others see it, whether it's what they want to be doing. I've heard some say if you're struggling it's because your art is taking that next step and you're becoming aware of what's wrong with it more and are striving to make it better. I kind of feel like I'm hitting that step a lot lately. I've learned so much over the past year, mostly thanks to my involvement with the Oatley Academy - the ideas that Painting Drama has implanted in my head has kind of opened this pandora's box of learning for me, and I'm aware of *so* many new concepts.

The downside to that, is that you also become aware of all these things in your work, and how... lacking they are. And I'm prone to thinking my work is lacking at the best of times, let alone when I suddenly have this knowledge. So I draw tonnes, and I get super down when I realise that *everything* I'm doing is terrible. There is a fine balance between trying to shove everything you know into a piece and making it horribly stuffy and losing the idea that you fell in love with, and going with the pure idea, but making it technically sound so that others can respond without immediately seeing the flaws.  I sometimes think I swing too much to the former, especially when I look back at my older works. Back when I didn't know so much about everything all I cared about was the idea. Once you gain that awareness it starts feeling like a long slog back to the point where you can just care about ideas again. Summitless mountain, to be fair.

So when the Inspiration contest swung by from The Art Order, with a couple of timely posts from Jon Schindehette and others, I decided I would take part. I'd been struck by an idea a week or two earlier about ideas being lanterns and how they kind of float past you and you grab the ones that take your fancy. Having doodled a few super quick thumbnails in a tiny sketchbook, I took the 4 I liked most and drew them up properly, digitally. The results to that are here: 

So having decided on number 4 for it's old world illustration kind of feel, I set about being dramatic! I've wanted to get back to traditional for a while, so I went out and bought  a 20 x 30" illustration board. Only trouble is once I'd transferred the image I realised I loved how it was looking and there was *no* way I was going to get it done in a month. Plus I needed new, expensive paints. Not gonna happen! So I went back to the drawing board. I needed a smaller more manageable piece that still had the vibe of inspiration for me.

Those who've followed my work for a while might remember this piece: - a piece done in memory of a man who was and still is a huge inspiration to me. So as far as the contest theme goes, it doesn't get any bigger than that for me.  I wanted this piece to be quite specific in it's emotional feel. The Fae and the Dragon, on a more equal footing, but to still have a sense of mentorship or authority in the Dragon, and the Fae to have this 'set loose' kind of quality. On top of that I wanted to utilise a more unusual camera view, and have it have a sense of motion and still have this size disparity between the two to get a sense of narrative (that this tiny Fae could suddenly be flying around this huge Dragon fearlessly). Most of all I wanted it to feel upbeat or at least content -  no melancholy at the loss of this man in my life, but my joy at the flame he set ablaze in my for all things artistic.  All of these things were important to the feel of the piece and the sort of emotion I wanted to portray. No small order. And this piece has plagued me for the last couple of weeks. I'm sure I know the image I want is in me, but I've fought it every step of the way. Here's all the doodles and thumbnails I've done so far. Some are pretty decent, some are okay, but none of them capture what I'm *really* after, and I feel like that next step for me is to stop just accepting 'close enough' and fight for that extra push. 

The first 9 thumbs weren't bad but they didn't get that sense of awe, or any real feel of connection between the two characters. Not like how I wanted. I felt frustrated. These weren't bad thumbs, why was it so hard to get the actual feel I wanted? Posted them up on the PD group for feedback. Got mixed reviews, which made it even harder and people weren't seeing what I wanted to. Sometimes feedback with thumbs like this can be a double edged sword when you're not sure which you want. 

So not to be bested, I spent 40 mins at lunch the next day revisiting the ideas with a little of the feedback I'd gotten. After this I felt better. These felt more in line with what I wanted. They had that feeling I was after. 


However when I sat down to try and flesh out the thumbnails I'd grown to like I hit a major wall. HUGE wall. NOTHING came out right, my details were garbage, my colours were shit. I spent a whole day working on these only to come away from it feeling dejected and terrible about my own skills. It shouldn't *be* this hard, I should be *better* than this, shouldn't I? Cue the artistic spiral of doom. I'll NEVER be good enough. Though, to be honest, doing this hungover probably didn't help. 

 So slight silver lining time. After looking at my thumbs again I decided the bottom one wasn't too bad, if I did it in a more illustrative flattened style like the colours suggested. At this point I went back to looking at art. Anything I found inspiring. I trawled my pinterest boards and my faves. It's dangerous when you're in the wrong mind frame looking at art like this, it can drive you further down, but thankfully I've never been of the 'holy crap I'll never do that' crowd, I'm more of the 'it'll take me ages to get there' crowd. And it started to work a little. You wouldn't believe how long I worked on that left hand thumbnail. I gave up on working grey into colour using layers - it seems I work best in just black and white, or just colour. Combining the two is haaard. I worked for the most part of a day on that little thumbnail, moving things, overlapping stuff. I gave up by the end of the day as I was starting to get sick. But just there in that thumbnail was a glimmer of hope that I might be able to get the image I want. It's not there yet, not by a long shot. If there's anything this is teaching me it's that sometimes iteration just has to be done multiple times to get what you really want. And that if you're struggling, it's usually because the image has promise but you're not quite getting what it needs. And I lack a tutor or someone I could just ask to fix it for me. 

So the point of this huge long post, other than posting dragons, is to reach out to those who feel they struggle with their art. Those of you who've expressed a desire to be able to draw like I do, but don't think you'll ever be able to, or those who start a piece only to reach utter despair with it because it's not doing what you want. We all suffer with that, we all have our bad days. Perseverance is key. Sometimes you have to know when to let something go, but sometimes you have to know when *not* to let it go too. 

I felt it was worthy sharing my own struggles because I do tend to just post my good stuff and be like hey guys, like my stuff! Not to say this stuff here isn't good, but I think it's worth noting that I do struggle with it, and that art isn't a breeze for me. Sometimes it feels like I'm literally ripping these drawing out of my fingers, and sometimes I could bash my own brain in for not getting it. But when I get through that little shitstorm of emotions, it's totally worth it for a piece I can be proud of.