Sunday, September 20, 2009

Most rare Sunday post

Some ink and marker practice...
Someone found my blog the other day with these search words - what book? and the day came when the risk to remain in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom? anais nin

Most awesome. And fitting.

Still listening to Bobby Chiu. His common sense stay on track message is exactly what I need right now. Another thing he keeps saying over and over again is that if you want to enjoy more success you have to learn to control your mind. Don't let anything distract you from your goals. Don't complain all the time. Don't dwell on the bad things. Like people being mean to you. And wouldn't you know it, someone, a total stranger, was super mean to me today (Saturday) on purpose and for no good reason. I almost let it ruin my evening trying to make sense of a senseless act of unkindness. But I kept reminding myself of his advice: take control of my mind, decide how I want to feel. So I did some screaming therapy in my car (anyone who says I'm quiet ought to hear me scream) and went on to have a great evening at the ball park listening to Il Trovatore with friends. Not that the incident didn't flash in my mind now and then threatening to make me someone not fun to be around. But I kept reminding myself of where I was, in a ball park, on a beautiful if chilly September evening, listening to exquisite music. I told myself it was a test. Can I decide how I want to feel or not? Think of the opera. A woman throws her own baby into a fire by accident, most of the main characters die. My life is a piece of cake compared to those tragic lives.

Enough for now. I'm spending Sunday in a park, listening to comedians making me laugh at life's absurdities (Comedy Day, GG Park), with friends or without them, and sketching.

Monday morning addition
Robin Williams accepting a comedy award, the best five minutes of Comedy Day (which was only five hours actually). Just before him, some poor comedian completely bombed, a few titters, but mostly complete silence. (The equivalent, I imagine, of people walking by without glancing at your work in an art show.) So, it was even more striking when the audience roared with excitement and rose up to get a better look at him. He was hilarious of course.

This being San Francisco... a gorgeous afternoon in the park turned into a foggy evening.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I believe...

I am an excellent painter. Despite last week's failure's that is... I could make them work if/when I paint over them. But...I need to move on to other things.

This one...
I'm more satisfied with. It's an older piece I'd originally finished with flat overlays of color. Because of course I didn't believe I could handle anything more difficult. This time I started with the monotone figures in the middle (easy peazy), then went on to the more difficult figures on either side (not so easy, especially the hands).

Speaking of belief...

In my first semester of art school, my artist self still an eager pile of unmolded clay, I had the misfortune to have a rotten art instructor. One who, when I proudly handed in my final project (a watercolor painting I'd worked all week and all night on), eyed my work this way and that, hand on chin, before saying, without conviction, "Well...I guess you'll be an OK day." Well. I'm not one to cry in front of strangers (I prefer bathroom stalls), but after that parting shot from instructor dumbass, I bawled - crying out loud bawled - for five city blocks, all the way from school to the Powell Street BART station, on my way back home.

Later, I would face the terrifying Barbara Bradley. An icon from the golden age of illustration. Towards the end of each semester she would take each of her students aside, during non class hours, for a talk about their progress. Every student dreaded this meeting. Even the superstars (so they said). Because we'd all heard how former students of hers had been permanently scarred by this fifteen minute interview. Some, legend went, had even dropped out of school because of it.

My last name putting me among the first in line, I didn't have the build up of dread most of the others felt. Also I was too busy drawing all the time. So why did I still suck? That's the question she addressed during our talk.

Basically, it came down to me being too much of a tight ass. It looks like you don't trust yourself, she said. How could she know just from looking at my sketchbook?!!! But she zeroed in on my exact problem. I didn't trust myself. I didn't believe in my own abilities. Damn she was good.

It didn't help that I belonged to an unusually promising year of students. Among them were the future head of storyboarding at Lucas, future animators, art directors, story boarders, concept artists, etc., for Blue Sky, Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney, etc. Students who would go on to work on films such as Men in Black, Cars, Star Wars II and III, Madagascar and basically every major animated film since the year 2000. Studios were recruiting them even before we left school. And then there were students like me, students who, some teachers assured us, would inevitably bloom after graduation.

I tried hard to believe this. But the philosophy at the Academy was that not every student was meant to make it. The majority of you, one teacher told us, will not be working in the art field five years after graduation. So you better work your butts off.

And I did, determined not to be one of the majority. But when I languished in job after job, always waiting to take off but never quite leaving the ground, I began to wonder if I was fighting the obvious, that I was one of the majority who wasn't going to make it.

But now I see my mistake was to always take whatever job came to me first. One classmate of mine turned down Disney soon after graduating because the job they were offering wasn't quite what she had in mind - even though her remaining in the country depended on getting work. I thought she was crazy. But a year later she was hired by Pixar, to do precisely what she'd wanted to do all along, and she's been happy there ever since.

If only I could go back in time and talk some sense into myself. But here I am, older, wiser...

and starting to believe in myself at last.

Some free day at the Academy of Science sketching...With the summer tourists gone and the kids back in school there were no lines to wait through.
This fish stared at me the whole time I was drawing him. I wonder what he was thinking? The museum has been newly renovated, with lots of new aquariums - but no fish roundabout! So, even though I give the place a thumbs up for cleanliness and architectural design, it was missing something without that fish roundabout. The experience of standing in a gigantic room watching large fish swim round and round you made you feel like you were in their world, not the other way around. So, boo Academy of Science! What were you thinking leaving that out?!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank you, Bobby Chiu

Last Monday morning I was running through my mental to do list, trying to decide what to work on that day, what new piece of artwork which could, if it was good enough, get me into the studio, gallery or agency of my dreams.

But where to start? What to do? An illustration or painting? Some character designs or the short story I'd left unfinished? In one week I'd received three rejections. Three more to add to that already thick pile. So whatever I did it had to be better than good. Because the walls of my apartment were shrinking. And pressure - from parents, from depressed friends demanding I be problem free for them (could I ask them to return the favor without sounding like a bitch?), bills, my own unfulfilled expectations, all of them pushing in on me from every side. I was drowning and feared sinking deeper if I applied my time to the wrong choice. And my sister, my support of last resort, was unreachable, in Fiji, until she called with her new number. So round and round I went. Until I'd given myself a better than good migraine and had to lie down the rest of the morning.

Great. Just great.

Later, my head still aching in a dull, unrelenting way, I wandered around the internet looking for useful things, or something useful to do, ending up on the Imaginism blog. I clicked on one of their Youtube tutorials. Then another, and another. What I'd taken to be lessons on storyboarding or digital painting were instead the artist, Bobby Chiu's meditations on life and advice on how to succeed as an artist as he paints a digital illustration in forty minutes or less. Tutorials, basically, on how to persist in the creative endeavor no matter what.

In one video he explains how artists should never take a crappy art job just for the money...Like I've done. Time and again. Because I assumed any art job was better than not working at all. It robs them of their enthusiasm for art, he says. You go home, after a long day of creating crappy art, art that is useless for your portfolio, and you're not going to feel like working on your own stuff. And before you know it, your skills have stagnated along with your career. Viola. My life.

Another thing he talks about. Practice. Like an athlete, hands, tone, line, color. The work of other artists, how do they think? What can you learn from them? Practice, for ten, fifteen hours a day. Always pushing oneself to the next level. Have I been doing that? Now and then, yes. But consistently, no. I've gotten lazy. I've been spending more time looking for work, or distracting myself from my state of unemployment, than I've done practicing the very skills I want to be hired for. The drive I had in school, where I went from all day drawing classes to extra life drawing workshops at night, every day of the week (except Sunday where I went sketching) had been burned away by too many crappy art jobs.

But not any more. Inspired by Mr. Chiu, I dusted off the Wacom and began painting digitally, a skill I've long desired to learn but had deemed so difficult, so frustrating and counterintuitive to one used to the feel of oils and brushes, that I gave up after two or three very tight but not very good paintings.

Back in school I would have continued on despite the frustration because my drive to improve was so intense. Frustration, he says over and over again, is nothing more than the cracks in the dam. It means I'm starting to learn. And I'd given up just as I was starting to take off. Never mind. Nothing for it but to start again. Eight hours later I'd completed the image in my previous post. A nice start. Pat myself on the back.

Another subject he talks at length about, his theory that bad things now equals great things in the future. Because current difficulty, he says, is nothing more than the universe asking you, Are you sure you really want this? Because if you are then you're going to dust yourself off, despite setbacks and disappointments that would make less resilient souls consider plan B, and plow forward. Where good things await. Have faith.

I listened to these videos every day last week. And much of this week, too, as I worked for eight, ten, twelve hours each day. (Except Sunday and Monday when I went out sketching. Sunshine + sketching = happiness. My dream studio has glass walls, and a glass ceiling, with trees on one side and the ocean on the other.) I am retraining myself to work at the level of enthusiasm I used to work at, to have the same kind of optimism and belief in my future I had back then. I imagine, throughout the day, a more satisfying way of living, one without so much struggle, a life I am fully capable of achieving. And, at night, I see my next painting in my imagination, and I can feel how it should be painted, though I'm not at that level yet. But, as I said somewhere last week, I know I will get there. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Filling the blank page

Hey folks,
Sorry I haven't been visiting so much this week. I'm still keeping busy. But instead of trying to distract myself from my situation, running off to the seaside for half the day and so on, I'm diving into my artwork, taking advantage of this opportunity to learn and improve as much as possible.

I've got a lot to learn. But I'll get there.
more details later,