When I was a kid, I was encouraged to be artistic. To draw or color. To experience and experiment with my environment. To create with abandon and never look back. To engage with objects and colors with no rules. My teachers praised my work and submitted my work in National Competitions in Washington DC (my home) and I placed in all of them. I was told to enroll in the AP art classes in High School. I was encouraged by other artists I knew growing up. I was told art was a noble pursuit.
Yet, there was a secret. A secret no one told me when I was a child because to be creative in your youth is to experience childhood. We should sing, dance, paint, sculpt, whenever we can. But . . .
As I got older, expectations were set out for me. People said, "Art school is impractical. You'll never make any money. You'll be a starving artist!" People said, "You should put your art away. It isn't okay to pursue any more. You need to focus on sports for a financial scholarship and take classes that will get you into Ivy league schools." People said, "You are talented. But not talented ENOUGH to be an artist".
In the next breath I was told to follow my dreams, as long as that dream isn't art. Art is a dirty word.
I tried the "practical" route. I went to University and got a Bachelor's in "something not art". I then went and got a Master's Degree in "anything but art". I graduated and got a job in "not the art field". Guess what? I was fucking miserable!
I lost my job in the 2008 Financial Crash in the US and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I just didn't really see it at the time. I lost my job. I cashed out my little savings to live off of while I tried to find ANYTHING else. I ran out of money. I nearly lost my house, my car and almost defaulted on my student loans. It was still the best thing that ever happened to me.
I got to see what I was made of. I had to be creative to find a solution. I had adult responsibilities. I had bills to pay and a dog to feed. Life was bleak. What I did have was a steady stream of part time commissions as a budding miniature painter. It was the only income source I had. I made that shit WORK!
I started finishing commissions ahead of schedule. Then I painted nearly everything I had in my stash and started to ebay pieces off. Usually for a pittance of about $25. It was frustrating but it quickly snowballed into me doing commission work regularly and even some freelance work for Reaper Miniatures from whom I lived 2 miles down the road. I was seeing success. ACTUALLY SEEING IT. And yet, I hated my work. It was okay. It wasn't great. I looked up to Marike Reimer, Jen Haley, Anne Forester and many others who were already the Greats of the early 2000s. I wanted to be one of them but struggled to get there. I had so many ideas and didn't have the skills to reach those goals. I thought I'd never get there.
I experienced bouts of depression followed by manic periods of creation and seeing improvement. Then I'd plateau and hit a slump again. I got frustrated. I got down on myself. I listened to the haters. But I never gave up despite feeling pretty frustrated at times.
This is called "The Gap". Where you want to be an artist or a writer. You want to create beautiful works of art. You want to do a number of things but your skills just aren't up to snuff. You hate you work. And you have a hard time overcoming that disappointment in your own lack of skills. You compare your work to that of others. You think they must be born with some crazy amount of innate talent.
Those of us Making This Shit Work in the art world have all been there. Yet, we do our fans and our admirers a disservice. We never talk about our struggles. We don't want to be seen as weak. We don't want to discuss the difficulties we may have faced or our frustrations we may still experience. We make everything look easy because we've painted eyes thousands of times and can whip them out in 5 seconds. We know how to paint textures now after struggling to get nothing but smooth surfaces on an entire piece and realizing it looks weird. We have been through all of the hurdles the Up&Comers are experiencing but we don't discuss it.
Well, Let's talk about it!
I started painting when I was 21. After many years of denying myself ANY creative outlet. I didn't even draw in the margins of my notes any more. I had completely given it up because "it wasn't practical" and I was told "you can't make money arting". And yes, this includes my parents. They were pretty staunchly against their child becoming a professional artist. However, my dad was incredibly proud of my accomplishments before he passed. He realized he did me a disservice by trying to make me follow HIS path, instead of letting me follow my own. My mom seems to be pretty impressed with what I have forged on my own too. The fact that I paint for collectors, I teach students regularly and I've traveled the world to engage in artistic endeavors shows I am now successful. So, despite their warnings time and again, they have seen that everything turned out okay.
After about 5 years away from art all together, I started dating a guy who was into Dungeons and Dragons. I was introduced to the world of Roleplaying Games and Miniatures. He taught me how to clean mold lines, prime my miniatures black ALWAYS because it makes Drybrushing WAY easier. Then you pick at most 4 colors, drybrush it all on and bam! You got painted minis baby!
I have struggled to learn over the last 12 years of my life. I've pestered other artists and was probably pretty annoying at times. I took classes when I could at Conventions. I went in search of the Silver Bullet that would make my work look gorgeous with minimal effort. I asked for recipes to help. And I've learned the secret. Yes, that's right! There's a secret! It's a pretty good one too. It's the one thing those of us who know it never share, right? If we did, then everyone would know it by now!
Sit down. Buckle up. I'm about to tell you.
Are you ready?
Like really ready?
For sure ready?
Okay, here it is.
Yup. That's it. The secret is PRACTICE! And OFTEN! You wouldn't expect to have a hot body after a single 5 hour session in the gym and never have to go again. Seems pretty obvious. In fact, you'll probably just cripple yourself if you did that. Well, art is pretty much the same. You need to practice in short bursts frequently over the course of the week. You will start to see improvement more rapidly in your skill, how quickly you can knock out a sketch, your color choices will be more natural, you will be get better.
Here's what it looks like when you spend 12 years practicing and learning from others:
I want YOU, the reader, to know, that I too struggled to get where I am today. And my journey is not over. There is always more to learn. And yes, even I get a little discouraged sometimes when I see the amazing work coming from others. But you know what? That means you have someone you can go to with questions. You have people you can learn from. You have new and exciting aspects of your craft or art to discover and it will be amazing!
I struggled to learn on my own. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today with the help of Jeremie Bonamant Teboul, Roman Lappat, Matt DiPietro, Ron Kruzie, Marike Reimer and the many others who've given me advice and encouragement over the years. However, if I hadn't practiced what I learned from them, I wouldn't have advanced.
The best advice I could give to anyone would be:
There is no silver bullet. You won't be able to create stunning masterpieces overnight. It will take time and take practice, frequent practice. And that is okay. Your journey is your own. Compare your current work with your previous work. Never compare your work to that of others. Take the compliments to heart and shrug off the haters. Your journey is your own. It is personal. It is private yet on public display. We bare our souls to the world constantly. Keeping that in mind, we should all be kind to each other and we should encourage one. Your journey is your own.