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.


  1. Wishing you all the luck in the world - and taking to heart some of these lessons as to my own creative frustrations.
    Thank you...

  2. Good Luck! It sounds like you are doing a lot more than I would be, so I'm already impressed.

  3. Good luck! You truly deserve it! I honestly wish I had half the drive you have.

  4. That feeling of having flushed all my creative energy down the drain - that's how I felt as a newspaper journalist. I realized that to enjoy being in news one has to love news, not writing. Your energy sounds great and the paintings are wonderful - well done:)

  5. I'm feeling this amazing vibe from you, Cheryl, and it is so inspiring. So glad that your creative energy and focus is gaining pace. Visualize your success and let it manifest! Wishing you all that you wish for, my lovely. Go wild, girl! xx

  6. Creative people have a balancing act to perform that non-creative types don't understand.

    Sounds like you're in the process of analyzing and perfecting your version of that frustrating age-old balancing act: life/work/art/self-doubt/finances/relationships/drudgery/inspiration
    promotion/love/rejection/ and so on and so on and so on.

  7. What a charming group in the chair - remarkable work, I would not have thought it was your second, looks so accomplished. Very good post about the creative life and a good kick in the pants for me. Thank you for this very articulate post.

  8. I so want to believe this for me( it is much easier to believe for you):"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." Really nice.

    And, I love the Sephora print.I like the lines, layers and shadows. Beautiful. keep up the good work, lovely you!

  9. You really inspire me with your honesty and your drive to keep going, even when you feel you haven't been. Your talents are huge, and your ability to adapt to a new medium so quickly is fantastic! You capture something special in so many of the pieces you do. These two digital creations have that something I can't name--and I love it.

    Can't wait to see what else you come up with!

    Oh--I'm sure you've heard of it, but I saw some animation by a company called Pandapanther, and the sweetness in it made me think of your illustration. Here's a link to the video:


  10. I wish you all the luck, Cheryl. You have the skills, that group on the chair is fantastic! Your art is good. It seems to me like you have discipline, and you certainly have drive. So keep at it. Rejections are terrible, they really drag you down. But dont let them take your enthusiasm. How many artists got rejections? How many? But the good ones kept on working. So keep on doing your art and please show us what you are working on.

  11. Keep at it, you're really talented and that dream studio will be yours one day - and when you get it, you'll appreciate it even more so because of the work you had to put in to get it. Keep following that dream, none of us know how close or far away we are from achieving them, that's why we can never give up xx

  12. I wish you luck, love, patience, succes, joy, happiness & health (no migraines!).

    PS. The paintings are wonderful.

  13. Wow! I never knew that it was so complex. I hope that you decide to pick up the brush and "practice" like was suggested! Loving the paintings!!!!!!!

  14. Hi Cheryl!
    OK, so you've got me thinking again (why does that knock my socks off every time? You'd think I'd be prepared by now!)
    Bobby Chiu, expressing what we know but need to hear... working relentlessly, dealing with the cracks in the dam, moving forward despite frustration and financial worries, sustained by the anchor that is one's life work, knowing that this will pay better and better dividends as we strive through time...

    Bobby, our motivator, says from the top of the mountain -- "I'm an independant artist. I make art books and teach digital painting... Art has been my savior. It gives me freedom. Half the time I feel like I've already retired. I sleep when I want, I get up when I want, and I just do what I want all day: Art. What could be better than that?"

    We know this is possible because, as we move forward each day, we see glimpses of our future selves and our potentials intermittently peering at us from blue sky through ever-shifting and slowly expanding openings in cloud-cover. The harder we work, the larger these openings get, and the easier it is to see through the lies we'd been marinated in from childhood. We see how staying true to our bright and warm core will yield the true security, that the only "real job" is one created from the whole cloth of our souls. No matter what it takes, no matter the trials and tribulations, the only path is the one lead by the heart.
    Anything else is true slavery, the real hell on Earth, the death of the Soul.
    Beautiful post...
    David (((((+)))))

  15. I love a boost and some momentum from someone in your field. Keep going and you will find your dream!

  16. you have a great plan and a hell of a drive to make this work. kudos to you, man. excellent, and you deserve great success for all of your efforts!!!!

  17. Thanks for sharing this with us! I can hear your pain and frustration, but the lessons about the fruits of those experiences is clear. I'm going to go about my day with inspiration to do what needs to be done.

    I love your digital paintings.


  18. It's amazing how friends and family can suck all the life out of you. I have been way too available for everyone else---except me. Time to practice. Thanks for the great blog entry and thanks for following mine!


ALL ANONYMOUS, JUNK COMMENTS WITH BLOG OR WEB SITE LINKS ARE AUTOMATICALLY DELETED! No one, not even I, ever see them. So, please don't waste your time.

But comments from fellow artists, friends, and anyone genuinely interested in this blog and my work are always welcome though! :-)