Monday, January 21, 2013

Personal Piece Update 7

I probably could have written several updates about this piece in the last couple weeks, but it would have been almost completely pointless given that the changes were redundant from day to day and concentrated in a fairly small portion of the painting. Essentially I've been repainting the face over and over again and have reworked it somewhere around ten times. However, I think I'm finally pretty close to where it needs to be at this point, so I figured it was actually worth throwing together this update. At long last.

Admittedly this is not the best photo quality-wise, and I once again failed to eliminate my painting rag casually hung over the top of the canvas. Still, you get the idea. At least I hope you do. Point is, the clouds and environs outside the window are starting to come together, and as mentioned before, so is the face.

Buuuuuuuut that's about it.

Still, I'll give you another shot where the face is more prominent so as to highlight what I've spent so much time working on.

So, why was the face so challenging and why was it so important? Simple. I shot a model for this painting, and rather than using the model as an analogue of some generic fantasy woman, I wanted to achieve a decent likeness. Now, it's been a while since I've gone after a good likeness and I'd actually like it to be a decent one. With that in mind, while I may have had a serviceable face painted to this point, it was wrong enough for me to be bothered by it. But then, I know the model and have seen the reference. Long story short, she's a lot closer to what she needs to be for my happiness, so I feel like I can start to move on again. Unfortunately, I've got assignments and travel that will keep forward momentum to a minimum.

Anyway, that's about all I've got. I wish I had more to tell you, but alas I do not. Until next time....

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Regarding the Funk

Unexpectedly I got quite a few emails, messages and questions about the last post and I thought it worth addressing some of the recurring questions asked and comments made.

First off, several folks pointed out that it sounded as though I were complaining about something that they themselves were aspiring to do and were quick to point out how lucky I am to be working on projects like Magic: the Gathering. So, how dare I complain about being unfulfilled.

I'm not going to argue my good fortune. It's true, after all. Magic is a great client that has treated me insanely well. While I do have complaints, they're minor ones that aren't the sort of thing that would cause me to walk away from anything. The issue of lack of fulfillment, as I see it, is not client or project specific. It's not even their fault. The shortcomings are my own. Of late, I've found my ability to turn many of my assignments into things that get me excited rather lacking. While I think I've kept my work to a certain level of quality, there's a spark that I feel is missing. If I'm not excited about something, it's impossible for me to make exciting work, and I feel like it's only a matter of time before that becomes apparent in the end result (if it hasn't already).

The actual cause for all of this is multifaceted and is something that has resulted in a lot of soul searching. Unfortunately, I don't have any clear answers apart from genre fatigue and a permeating sense of temporariness in much of my life. There are lots of things that add to the mix, but I'm working on it. The crux of the matter is that it's not really the fault of the clients, so please relax.

Second, I've been asked by a couple folks what I'd actually be excited to do. That's a hard question for me to answer. To be honest, I feel like I've suffered a degree of creativity drain. The increased prevalence of style guides in the industry has allowed parts of my brain to disengage to a certain extent. I'm not thinking about cool ideas as much as I once did and instead follow the art orders and style sheets as per the clients' needs. Designs I can call my own are increasingly rare and cool idea pieces seem even rarer. When I finally sit down to work on my own stuff, more often than not I find nothing but static and cobwebs occupying my brain.

On the rare occasion that an idea actually pops up, however, it almost never gets off the ground before I fall out of love with it. Indeed there are only three or four pieces floating around in my head that have lasted over the course of the last several years. Even among these ideas, I'm unsure if any of them are really worthy of the finite time I have to devote to them when not working on commissions or doing the various other tasks necessary to make life's machine run smoothly. I do not work quickly and so I need to feel confident in the value of the end result. Admittedly that's a pretty twisted way of looking at things for a guy who likes the process so much, but there has to be a payoff somehow for me not to feel like I've wasted my time on something when I could have either made a couple bucks more on a paid gig, or spent that time with my loved ones.

I guess the short version of this answer is that right now the ideas aren't flowing, but I know that I'm pretty excited by the few ideas I do have. Truth be told, I've only recently started asking myself what I want out of my work and pondering how to get it, and the lack of answers is certainly a huge factor in my current state of mind. I have faith that I'll figure it all out and come back around again. In fact, I can already feel it beginning to happen. So I guess I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Third, am I having issues with the industry? Well, there's an element of that, yeah. In fact, it's an issue that has been weighing on a lot of people's minds of late. The truth is that within fantasy gaming art, there are very few companies that pay well. Even those that do provide decent compensation cannot guarantee enough work to keep an illustrator above the poverty line. This issue was discussed quite honestly and at great length during a panel at IlluxCon this past year that can be listened to here.

While there continues to be a great demand for quality artwork, the glut of talent and limited amount of funds makes for a very difficult environment indeed. In the dozen or so years I've been illustrating professionally, rates have simply not increased — and in some cases they've even gotten lower. Since the cost of living has continued to go up, the only way to keep the lights on is to shoulder more and more work (which is what led to the limited time available for personal work mentioned above). So, it's getting harder and harder to make a living doing this job — especially for someone who works traditionally, like myself.

To me, if one finds that they're not really in love with their work and it's not paying particularly well, it's only natural for one to question the value of continuing down that path. Curiously, despite my funk, I've decided to keep illustrating for the time being. Were I to win the lottery, who knows? But right now, I'm going to keep at it.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who wrote in, messaged me, and called. Good to know I still rank in some peoples' monkeysphere. I should have the belated update on the personal piece tomorrow or on the weekend. I'm behind due to an incorrectly remembered schedule and the hurried preparation for last week's Magic Grand Prix in Atlantic City preempting any painting I might have gotten done.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Where I Stand After 2012

Had I not caught the flu a week ago, I might have written an update sooner. But alas, no. The flu, I did get, and so I'm forced to try and catch up with the rest of my life which kept moving while I was down for the count. Since to this point I was either coughing too hard or too drugged out on cold medicine to pull such a post together, I'll go ahead and get this obligatory look back at 2012 over with. Please bear with me.

If there is a word I spoke more than any other over the course of last year, it would be "funk." I mentioned my funk several times on this blog and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure I've ever made clear the reasons for it (though I must admit to being a little unclear about the reasons, myself). Suffice it to say that I've been pretty dissatisfied with the work I've been doing, have been pretty unfulfilled by the assignments I've been getting, and overall I feel artistically underdeveloped. I feel like I should be further down the road than I am quality-wise, and I'm really questioning the financial value of the whole endeavor. In addition to these feelings, a variety of external reasons prevented me from completing as many paintings last year as is typical for me. On the other hand, the few paintings I did complete were quite a bit larger than my work tends to be, so it's probable that I came close to covering the same amount of surface area over the course of the year. All the while, I crept the closest I've ever gotten to throwing in the towel and calling it quits as an illustrator.

Yeah, you read that right. I almost walked away from it all. In fact, that idea still isn't off the table for me. Despite several attempts to kickstart some sort of positivity over the course of last year, I never quite managed to shake the cloud that I saw hanging over me. While I was getting increasingly frustrated, I didn't want to make any rash decisions, either. So, in the waning months, I committed to a different approach for the beginning of this year. Perhaps less work wasn't the answer. Perhaps I needed to try and power through the doldrums by taking on more work. I agreed to a few appearances at Magic tournaments, and began accepting assignments again at normal numbers. I figured taking this route would either succeed in rebooting my point of view or reconfirm all my feeling about the job and at least inform the next step — be it to walk away or veer off in a new direction. Either way, it would be a step forward.

Now, whether this plan works and 2013 shapes up to be a good one is, of course, a mystery. At the very least I'm optimistic about it all, as the number 13 has always been pretty lucky for me. 'Course I don't exactly buy into all that kind of stuff, but I'll take what I can get at this point. What I know for sure is that I'll be signing a whole lot of stuff in the near future, will be back to painting away at some paid gigs again, and will hopefully find my way back to being at least a little okay with myself and my work.

In the meantime, I'll go ahead and answer some questions that one or two of you may be pondering. First, what does this all mean for my personal work? Even if I were to walk away from illustration, I wouldn't walk away from painting. The personal work would get done. For the time being, it'll just have to return to the background. I know that I want to complete the first big piece, but I'm also not in a rush. As I've said before, I'd rather take my time and not flub it in then interest of getting it out of the way. While I already have plans for a second large piece, the idea isn't going anywhere and there's no reason for me to rush things. I may end up with plenty of time to commit to its completion in another couple months, so I'm not too worried. Besides, I should have another update by the end of this week.

Second, what about the blog? With all the writing and travel, will you continue to update it? The short answer is yes. Whether or not I've overextended myself for the coming two months remains to be seen, but I don't see why I can't post something up here once or twice a week during that time. Will it necessarily be updates of new work with pictures and such? Not likely, as I don't have a whole lot coming out anytime soon and the stuff I'll be working on can't be shown. But I do happen to have more than a few posts in various stages of abandonment that I should be able to bang into something more serviceable. Will they be valuable? Dunno. Will they be entertaining? Couldn't say. I'll try on both fronts.

Third, what was that big earth-shattering evento teased in the last post? I still can't say. I've already mentioned that it's not impending children or any kind of marital woes. It's also not major illness or a puppy (that last one being much to my wife's chagrin). I'll leave it at this: the rumblings are big, the impact would be substantial, and it'll be hanging in the air for another three to five months. Maybe I'll be able to talk more about it then, maybe not. Point is that I can't really shed more light on it so this'll be the last I speak of it until I can. In fact, I probably should just have not even brought it up again.

Anyway, I've got a a plan to start implementing. Sketches to do, laundry to wash, etc. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that 2013 will bring more upbeat and positive things both for me, and for all the folks reading this. Also, I sincerely hope yours is flu-free 2013, alas it is too late for me.