VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: THE ESSAY BELOW WAS NOT WRITTEN BY ME. It was written by the talented dawnchapel, and it struck a chord with me. Since he has not posted it to Tumblr himself, I am sharing it on my own Tumblr with his kind permission. I hope you will find it as inspiring as I did.
Also, I recommend that you check out his Astolpho FA account for an idea of his current level of artwork in comparison to the old samples included in this post.
Alternate title: This Should be Easy by Now
When I was finishing up college, around 2005, I was worried that I had hit my ceiling as far as my art skills went. I believed this because the highest-profile artists I remembered from the internet as a teen on Yerf didn’t seem to have developed at all in the several years that I’d been aware of them. Today a lot of the folks who were really hot shit in the late-90’s wave of furry are lucky if they break 2k followers on FA.
So when I saw how widespread this phenomenon was - of folks’ artwork not evolving or changing or improving at all over the space of ten, fifteen years - I thought it was a rule. I thought once you hit 25, you hit your level cap.
Mercifully, this turned out not to be true. Here’s some old stuff of mine (and, fair warning, most of the old stuff of mine on FA is primarily babyfur stuff) -
• 1998(!) http://www.furaffinity.net/view/1795633 (Commissioned by snuggems on FA)
• 2004 - http://www.furaffinity.net/view/6034863 (Commissioned by yut on FA)
• 2005-6? - http://www.furaffinity.net/view/3041282(Commissioned by Kammypup on FA)
• 2006 - http://www.furaffinity.net/view/1737467 (Commissioned by Dark-paws on FA)
• 2010 - http://www.furaffinity.net/view/8951431 (Commissioned by JaviRoo on FA)
• 2010 - http://www.furaffinity.net/view/3448224 (Commissioned by overzen on FA)
I don’t really believe anymore that you eventually hit an Idiot Point where you can’t learn anymore, I’m starting to believe now that it has more to do with being willing to challenge yourself. If you want to stall out in your mid-20s, find formulas that you’re comfortable with, draw only from your head and never rely on reference images (or worse, consider drawing from reference ‘cheating’), and only draw a very small range of subject matter. Always be satisfied. Never be curious.
I also used to think (especially where comics are concerned) that I would get ‘faster.’ That there would come a point where my facility with the tools would allow me to create artwork that represented the peak of my ability at a much faster rate - but the problem there wound up being that that horizon, ‘the peak of my ability’, was always receding. I guess to some extent it’s true - if I wanted to draw something that represented the peak of my ability five years ago, it would be pretty trivial to bang out in a few minutes now, but then again I wouldn’t be able to look at it without cringing.
For me, artistic growth has primarily to do with directly engaging the fear of failure. We don’t want to fail, we want to produce masterpieces every time we sit down to draw. That leads to a powerful temptation to stick to safe territory, which results in bland, repetitive artwork. Watercolor is a very unforgiving medium, which is why I spent the last few years working primarily in it - if you make a poor decision in watercolor, you have to live with it. When I was working on my comic (especially the most recent story) I had a rule of drawing at least three radically different camera angles per page - this a lot more interesting, visually, than page after page of talking heads, it makes the environment as much a part of the story as the characters, and it’s also scary as hell to have to draw wide shots or high-angle shots or radical close-ups all the time.
Until you’ve done it enough. Then it’s safe and familiar and it’s time to find something new to be afraid of.
I try to set little rules for engaging fear in my artwork all the time. Am I afraid of color? My rule, when I started drawing under the name Astolpho, was to only upload completely colored artwork, no sketches, no lineart. Am I afraid of life without undo? Ditch digital, paint in watercolor. Am I afraid of not being able to erase my mistakes? Only ever sketch in ink. Don’t use pencil. Am I afraid of trees? Make a comic full of them. Look for things I’m not doing, parts of this dungeon I haven’t explored yet, and jump right in there, torch blazing.
The internet is still full of folks who are way more skilled than I am, but at least now I’m much more confident that there is no upper limit. Always be curious. Never be satisfied.
- By dawnchapel (http://dawnchapel.com/)