No Half-Baking

As an artist, facing an empty piece of paper is always daunting. Even worse is making that last brushstroke and seeing all the things that you could have changed. I don’t think there’s anyway to avoid that feeling, but it can be reduced. A lot of problems at the end would have been easier to solve in the beginning. As we have learned by trial and error do not half-bake your art.

original doodle
Tyra’s original sketch of “Escape From Babylon”

Any idea sounds like a groundbreaking masterpiece at first. But as you go along things can fall-apart along the way. When you analyze the problems after completing a painting, what went wrong was the fundamental structure. The idea wasn’t thought through, the design wasn’t solidified, or perspective or value wasn’t drawn correctly. These errors are near impossible to repair with final glazes. The sooner you can fix your mistakes, the better. It’s always tragic to erase a lovely detailed part or a drawing because you put it there as an after thought.

Epic Couple sketches
Notes and Sketches

Tyra and I make narrative paintings, so we start with stories. Our ideas for narrative and composition get more fleshed out as we go along but we like to start out with an idea of what we want. As a painting is worked more questions get raised, what does the environment look like, what is the lighting, what is the subject wearing. We have found through painful painful error that it is best to answer these questions as soon as possible. If you notice something is not turning out successfully, that’s not the time to procrastinate. Go ahead and change it while it’s easier to do so. Going further won’t make that part go away.

We try our best to have the best art we can. Every time we draw and paint we treat it as if it is going to be the best thing we’ve made. Not every thing will be successful, but that’s okay. Even when we catch errors in finished work the important thing is that we learned something from it. If you forget to add something in your painting and notice it later, that artwork will always be there to remind you not to forgot about that aspect the next time you paint.

Escape From Babylon complete
Tyra’s “Escape From Babylon” completed

– Taisa Willoughby


How we stay motivated!

Sometimes it can be difficult to stay the course with goals in general or find the motivation to slog through. As artists, we rarely get instant gratification. The type of work we’re doing requires hours of study, revisions, and good chunk of time watching paint dry. How on earth do we pull through?

For us the number one thing is a famous verse from the Bible

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen

The entire chapter goes on to provide illustrations of instances in which biblical figures took massive action because all they had to go on was the belief that their actions and faith would do something down the line. We personally make concerted daily efforts on our art because we believe that our hard work and diligence will pay off. Yes we plan systems to set ourselves up for success, we don’t have everything exactly figured out. We do have everything that we need to succeed, and what we don’t know can be learned or outsourced. We chose to believe that if anyone has been successful at something there’s nothing stopping us except the limits we place on ourselves!

We don’t treat our work like a side hustle. Maybe compared to our family, spiritual or physical health our art takes one for the team…but we’ve already spent enough time and effort on this to just not do it. We took our art seriously before anyone around us did. We could haul off and become accountants and our friends and family would be fine with that. They believe in us and support us because we show through daily action that it is important to us. To anyone struggling to get people to support them, don’t cry and complain. You can show people better than you can tell them.

Jauntycats don’t hide old work. We bare the cringe to ourselves frequently so that we can see it. Not only do we allow our past failures to make us better, we see what we do right and keep doing those things. We are not children who coddle ourselves or each other, we put our feet to the fire so every piece becomes the new “best thing ever.”

The problem with relying on willpower alone is that sometimes you don’t feel like being productive. That, added with the fact that you don’t see results of your work right away, can make the urge to quit unbeatable. We structure our lives in a way that encourages productivity even when we don’t feel like working. We don’t play games on our phones. We don’t watch daytime television at all *ahem Gunsmoke* We set bedtimes for ourselves. We meal prep so we don’t cook every single day (or waste money on fast food). We don’t live together anymore but are in the habit of calling each other to check in. The major part of the reason Jauntycat Graphics exists is so that we support each other.

We don’t wait for inspiration, we approach things in a logical way to make sure that we get something productive done most of the time. If systems break and negatively impact the day, improve the system. i.e. I stopped waking up on time because I hit the snooze button every morning for 2 months straight, causing me to wake up 3 hours late DAILY. I couldn’t get all of my chores done so I was stressed, the dog had to hold it, hubby missed breakfast, I didn’t start working until 1pm! My solution was to put the phone across the room at night so I have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm. Issue resolved.

We don’t always work on just one project until it’s finished. It helps to have a couple stacked up and be on different stages in all of them. I may be working on a drawing and glazing something at the same time. Taisa may be working on thumbnails for the next piece in the morning then go into a detailed ink drawing in the afternoon. We set up daily, weekly and monthly task lists so that we know generally how the day is going to go.

This is very important seeing as how this may include people whose relationship you value. We aren’t saying to totally kick these people to the curb but set boundaries for your own sanity. Maybe you just don’t talk about your goals around that person or only spend certain amounts of time with them. If you are around that person and they’re negative, be stubbornly positive…turn everything they say into something not so bad. Just because they have that view doesn’t mean you have to buy into it. If they get mad at you turning everything into a positive stand your ground. They are entitled to their opinion, you’re entitled to yours. If they insist on arguing with you about your goals, tell them assertively something along the lines of (this may be different depending on the relationship or their specific complaint) “I understand that you have that view but I’ve looked into this, this is what I’m choosing to do.” Flat tone, don’t yell or scream, no whining, don’t attempt to appease…no upward inflection in your voice as that suggests that you’re asking. This is your life, you’re not asking…you’re telling. Practice beforehand if you know you’re going into a hostile situation. Once you TELL the naysayer that you will stick to your guns do everything you can to be successful! Just don’t go back and demand they pay your way.

If it’s media that you’re consuming that is negative, turn it off. There are 2 reasons either of us watches the news…to see what the weather is or if there’s a serial killer loose in our area. We curate everything else very tightly. We don’t engage in things to make us feel panicked or to put us in a victim state. We surround ourselves with solution oriented material or at least do what we can to mitigate negativity. We no longer force ourselves to ‘tough things out’ just to prove we are ‘real’ grown ups. Life is too short for that.

We hope that this post could be of encouragement. Like and share if you think someone could use tips on how to remain on this straight and narrow path to be awesome!

Focus as an artist

Requiem Hand close up
Close up of “Requiem” by Tyra Oliver

I recently came across a question from a former classmate expressing the desire to develop a portfolio. My first question to him was the same question Taisa and I were asked years ago.

“What type of work do you want to do?”

That’s something most of us take for granted so for a moment we looked like a couple of deer in headlights. We were at the stage of learning fundamentals, so we just assumed at the time that art was just art. If you are a person who likes many types of subject matter, with a wide range of influences you want to do everything. You have the super cool drawings you want to do, you have to be able to paint realistically, in both traditional and digitally if the internet is to be believed. You have to make money so you want to do what is considered practical or a “marketable skill” so that your mom, dad, best friend, and cat feel secure in how you spend your time. The only choice it seems is to be great at all the art right now. That’s right! You must be a world class web and graphic designer by day and a concept artist making comics AND characters for video games by night while selling still life paintings in galleries on the weekends AND your aunts all want dog portraits so you have to do that. You saw a girl on Instagram who paints beautiful florals so you just have to learn to paint perfect florals to sell at fairs. There’s that guy who draws all the awesome fan art and makes money with that so you have to have that to sell at conventions.

Let’s say you do dabble in everyone of these areas, someone will ask “oh you’re an artist that’s cool, what do you do?”

If you are as awkward as 20 year old Tyra you’ll stall and stammer and the person will glaze over. No singular thing about the work stands out as great. No resounding confidence in discussing your mish-mash of work because you don’t even care about half of it. The only reason you did it was because a teacher told you to do it, your mom told you to draw more flowers, or you just wanted to copy a character from a show. You may feel it was too stressful of an interaction to ever talk to that individual about this ever again. No chance to increase your network, no chance to have someone connect with your work. All of this culminates into an inability to convince anyone to look at, much less spend money on, your art.

When we imagine our careers we need to slow the heck down and think logically. There are only 24 hours in a day and we all need sleep, time with family, a day job with a commute time. You don’t have to be the greatest artist in a field in order to get work but there does need to be a reasonable level of expertise. If an artist wants to get work doing something, and get quality clients the best way to do it is to have a body of work. The artist and potential clients should both be confident that the artist can consistently produce a quality result. The only way to produce said body of work is to spend significant time on a narrow set of skills. This cannot be done if you are trying to be all things to all people. Not being able to meet expectations consistently will cause problems with any clients you get. This is not to say that an artist will be stuck doing this one thing for the rest of his/her life. Different influences can be pulled in, different mediums can be used to experiment or reinforce skills. Even though we feel as if we have to do everything, most artists who have a wide range of work have just been doing it a long time, James Gurney being a notable example. As you focus on a discipline, it allows you to “nerd out” about what you do, chase rabbit trails. When you have fun with it, it shows in the quality of work and the way you discuss it. It creates a level of confidence that attracts people to your work and makes you feel great about what you’re doing.

-Tyra Oliver