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.
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.
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.
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.