Ever look at your art and realized it stinks? Like “how could I have ever have drawn that” kind of stinkage? I had a moment like that recently. I did this piece last year and tried to enter it in a book. Naturally it didn’t get selected. I totally can see why now. The face is anatomically incorrect, the colors are blah, and I was trying emulate somebody else’s soft style and it just never quite worked.
While studying the work of people you admire is a great way to discover new techniques, in this case I felt hindered the entire time. It just never clicked. As much as I like Ruoxing Zhang’s super soft style, it’s just not me. So I’ve been reworking it slowly in between projects. Here’s a before and after:
Much better. It’s slow going as I am really focusing on the tiny details. I have found that varied brushes have really helped this piece evolve. I have also learned not to be afraid of hard edges and texture. I really think my use of texture is what gives my work it’s realism.
The whole process had taught me four main principles:
1. Don’t Get Cocky
You think it’s hot but really it isn’t. Sometimes it takes an honest buddy to tell you the truth. If you can’t find one I suggest conceptart.org. They’ll hand your butt to you but at least you’ll have a fresh pair of eyes. Be humble and accept crit with grace. You’ll get better much faster when you realize you aren’t all that.
2. Step Away
If you are like me this is hard. I tend to get “in the zone” and nothing else matters until it’s done. The problem is your eyes get accustomed to seeing the piece and you lose your ability to detect mistakes. In my case, it took months of leaving the piece alone before I could see what was wrong with it. You don’t have to wait that long but give it a day or two. Flipping the image also helps you to see things in a new light which can point out mistakes you otherwise missed.
3. Sometimes it’s Better When You Don’t Make the Cut
Boy am I glad that image didn’t get selected for publication. The last thing I want is to turn off a client because of a poor image. It also pushes you to do better when you get knocked down once in a while. Some of my most painful art experiences have driven me to new heights. I’ve come to know my own ambitions much better after having them tested.
4. Your Ability to See Mistakes Increases as You Get Better
I was surprised by how much was wrong when I did this piece just last year but that’s a good thing. It means I have improved! For most of us, the process of getting better takes a long time. Stick through it. Sometimes you can see your mistakes but you just don’t know how to fix them. Times like that are the most frustrating of all. I stumbled across this profound quote by Ira Glass which seems to sum it up well:
That doesn’t mean it won’t be a difficult process. When I decided to try digital painting at the end of 2009 I knew it was going to be painful. Hours of work got me sub-par results. I’ve come a long way. I still learn new things every time I paint. So keep it up!
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