How to get better

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Frank Stockton
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How to get better

Post by Frank Stockton » Sun May 20, 2007 6:46 pm

Hey Guys,

I recently received the following email from a Flight poster, and I thought it was a helpful email exchange so I decided to post it here with my response.

enjoy

Hello Frank,

I saw this posting of yours on flightforums:

"Lastly, make sure you really believe that you're a great artist.

This final part is the most important and the most overlooked by people who decide to put in the time to become good at art (or anything, for that matter).

Most people tend to think they are AWESOME artists, but never put in time to really improve and move forward. He'll go through life thinking "my stuff is soooo bad-ass!" but the rest of us all know he's not really that good.

The other type of artist, who is in the minority, is a crit junkie that puts in countless hours in drawing workshops and reading books and learning from different teachers but in his heart doesn't believe he is a great artist. The ironic thing is he believes he's better than the cocky guys mentioned above, but will never really reach full potential because he refuses to believe that he is truly a great artist. His confidence dangles by a thread of compliments picked up here and there from folks who are working on the same things. "


This comment really struck me because I believe I'm of the latter category, and I know a few other folks who are the same way. I've been told by teachers that being in either of these categories won't allow you to move forward in your work. Have you ever been in the position of not believing you're a great artist? And if so, how did you overcome it and how did it help you?

I spend a lot of time drawing and just practicing with the meager hopes of ever escaping mediocrity. Consequently I belittle my own work often and rarely show it to other people.

I would really be interested to hear your opinions on this, since I really admire your work and you always seem to have sage crits on the forum.

_______
Hi there,

Wow, I posted that a while ago.

Anyhow, I'm glad you brought it up. Actually, I was working on a post that was basically text-only about what it takes to get better, what it means to improve, etc. But I've been kind of slow because I have a strong feeling that no one on Flight really wants to read anything.

I've been reading up a lot lately on how our brains think and learn things--and have been sort of surprised--but also not surprised--to find that a lot of the ideas I had on my own about learning and improvement are more or less congruent with a lot of psychological studies into the process of learning.

Fortunately for me, I grew up with parents who would always tell me that what I was doing was AWESOME, and not only that, but that it was the BEST. And they actually believed it.

Looking back at the art I did as a kid, I've found that a lot of it isn't really that great in my eyes today. However, that doesn't matter, but what really did matter was that while I was making it, I was continually reinforcing the idea in my mind that I was an awesome artist. Every time I did a new drawing or painting I would step back and sort of "parent" myself and go "wow, this is really great! look at what i did!," while at the same time thinking "hmm, I wish I could make this part a little better, though..."

Fortunately, you can train yourself to think about your work in ways that will help you to improve by leaps and bounds.

1) Realize that art is a process, not a result. Illustration is a result, because we're talking about business and a product, and different rules apply. But you're going to have to get to a level with your art before you are able to make a product out of it. Are you following?
Whenever you make something, practice letting go of the end result. Allow yourself to LOVE how it feels to put ink on paper. LOVE the attention and detail that go into stretching a canvas, or even sharpening your drawing pencil with an Exacto blade. The details are what create the whole. If you love every moment of the artistic creation, it WILL come through in the final result.

2) Ask yourself what you LOVE about this thing you've just created. Step back when you finish, and give yourself time to breathe easy and appreciate what you've done. If you have a difficult time enjoying your work, make a list of 10 things that you're happy with about the piece.

3) Ask yourself what could be better? about this thing that you've just created. Be very specific. Try to visualize the same piece with the changes you wish you could make. If you were to go back in time and re-do the entire piece, what would you have done differently? Sometimes this could be a "duh" kind of thing like gathering better reference, or doing a better starting drawing, or allowing yourself to freestyle somewhere. The point is to be intimately specific about what you would change, and NEVER vague, thinking things like "oh its just terrible." Eliminate those useless and detrimental thoughts from your brain circuitry.

Those three things will take you very far with your artistic improvement.

Some other thoughts:
You mentioned that you belittle your art sometimes, and don't like to show it to people.
1) NEVER belittle your artwork. Only constructive criticism is allowed from here on out, until you die.
2) DO show your work to people. Show it to a mix of laymen, pros who you look up to, and artists in your peer group. Have people tell you what they think. Don't take anything personal. The point is to develop a thick skin to criticism. You'll notice, by the way that when you start to get good, your peers will tend to tear it apart, or say nothing. People are very insecure. If you're really good, you're going to be threatening to others who think they're good. Get lots of critiques and take everything with a grain of salt. When someone gives you advice or a critique, take it with a grain of salt, every time. Roll the advice around in your head for a day or two. Ask "do I agree with that?" and decide, after your emotional response has subsided, whether or not you agree with their advice. I always avoid blindly taking advice.

Also, keep a sketchbook that you don't show to anyone, that's intended solely for playing in. Make it the opposite of anything you do for "practice." Work in it an hour a day and focus on letting go and being uninhibited. It's actually a good strategy to TRY and make some UGLY pages in it. The sketchbook is the garden where you plant the seeds that are going to eventually spring up into your unique and original artistic voice--but if you don't take care of them and let them get trampled by other people, they'll never grow big and strong enough to survive on their own.

I hope that was helpful.



sincerely,

Frank Stockton
"I do not get discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward"
--Thomas Edison

http://www.frankstockton.com

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Lestrade
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Post by Lestrade » Sun May 20, 2007 9:00 pm

Excellent post; contrary to what you wrote, some of us—well, I can only speak for myself—are in fact literate!

I think this all falls under the category of "common sense nobody listens to." It all makes perfect sense, but how often have any of us followed this before? I definitely think everyone should, if they don't already.

The point of insecure peer reviews rings particularly true for me. I find I'm the opposite; I like to think I'm helpful and honest with people, but I don't find that true of most folks I talk to. Could be a cultural difference too.

Anyway, thanks for posting this and giving me something to chew on.
BenjaminRivers.com - Illustration | Comics | Joy

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Post by Coffee and TV » Sun May 20, 2007 11:22 pm

Thanks, Frank. Great advice.

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Og
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Post by Og » Mon May 21, 2007 8:48 am

me like read. read good. you smart.

I mean, uh, that's actually some great advice, Frank. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with the rest of us.

On a slightly different note, don't ever stop writing, Frank. If you can express yourself even half-intelligently, you owe it to the world to do it. Sometimes I feel it's a disappearing art.

Have you given any thought to putting down more thoughts like this into book form? Zen and the Art of Art - or - Know You're Great and Be Great, by Frank Stockton... :D
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Post by angeldevil » Mon May 21, 2007 8:55 am

I think a lot of artists have had sage advice similar to this at some point in their development, I know I have. The issue is applying it. I've never grown a very thick skin when it comes to criticism, maybe it's some chemical thing. I'm married to a film critic, you'd think that would help, but...

The weird thing is, since I work as a designer as well as draw comics, most of my fear and self criticism only applies to my comics. I may be nervous before I head into a meeting to show my client my latest round of concepts but not afraid to the point of copping out. But if it comes down to doing a portfolio review at a convention or sending my story into an editor for consideration, well, I find an excuse not to do it. Which may be a big reason I haven't had a story printed in ten plus years. I'm happy while I'm drawing the panels, I get weird when I look back over it.

But, seeing this post, I will make a real effort, again, to apply those standards to my comics as well. Thank you.

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Frank Stockton
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Post by Frank Stockton » Mon May 21, 2007 9:49 am

Hey guys,

I'm shocked anyone actually read this, but also pleased.

Lestrade, I think most of the stuff I wrote really is common-sense, but perhaps more accurately put, it's the "elusive obvious."

ageldevil, I know how you feel about that "crippling fear" that you experience that keeps you from doing what you love. A former girlfriend once told me that passion is love + anger, and I think she was right. You have to have a bit of anger within you that outweighs the fear of failure.

On a professional level I understand that you feel more at ease while working for others--if the thing stinks--well, you did your best and it was their deal anyway; but if your own thing stinks, that falls back totally onto you.

The thing that will give you the thick skin you need in order to take big artistic strides is realizing that a criticism or rejection of your artwork is NOT a criticism or rejection of YOU. Anything someone says is simply FEEDBACK as to how they're responding to what you've created.

A good book to read if you want to learn to get good at anything is "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

And Og, I've got so many ideas about artistic development that I've scribbled down here and there--
Some day I would love to write a book, but after I'm very successful and people will want to buy it. haha.

Thanks for reading,


Frank
"I do not get discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward"
--Thomas Edison

http://www.frankstockton.com

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Post by emcguire » Mon May 21, 2007 6:00 pm

Being honest with yourself
The above link is to George Pratt's blog. He did Enemy ace, some wolverine, batman etc, and he's all around an awesome artist, lots of good advice on there. This post had a lot to do with some of the stuff you guys have mentioned, definitely worth reading.

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Post by Greatnation » Mon May 21, 2007 8:02 pm

I agree. And to contribute a little more than that:


I'm about to finish highschool next wednesday. I've been taking art in school my whole trip through, and have had everyone tell me that my artwork is great. I hear this from my parents, peers, teachers... etc. Well anyways, then around three years ago I discovered several different online art communities and was absolutely blown away at how I could have possibly been satisfied with the stuff I was making, especially since I had ambitions about making it a career.

So then, by next winter I had enrolled in a figure drawing class at the local community college. The first day of class, was the first time I had ever even heard anyone say anything negative about something I had done. Not only that, but my instructor just sat next to me and started drawing over what I had done. It was mindblowing! Up until then, the thought of someone else even accidentally marking my page was frightening! But seeing her say something, and then sit down and show me- really got the idea into my head that a crit is not just a crit, but an essential part of the development.

So yeah, I'd like to say that I've come a ways since then and I am nothing but absolutely excited for college next year.



(PS Frank, your website is funky, and I would totally buy your book)

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Post by angeldevil » Tue May 22, 2007 11:10 am

I like this topic. Frank has good insight.

I have been working in the arts since I was 17, so I've had some experience dealing with my own ego (and lack of) in practical situations. My experience is this: Comics presents a unique problem-- people who don't read comics often don't respect what I do or view it as art. Hey, that's enough to give a person a complex as is. On top of that, comics people can be a pretty tough bunch if you aren't A) established or B) working within a genre's specific esthetic. Which is why Flight is neat. It's a mix of everything and non-genre specific.

I hope young creators have an easier time if then I did starting out, but it will always be a rough business.

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Post by ZidaneTheKing » Tue May 22, 2007 7:39 pm

Great advice and I'm sure we'd all love to read more.

I have a question that I think is relevant: Is it possible to just not be good enough? Or can hard work carry you through no matter what?

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Post by Vince » Tue May 22, 2007 8:26 pm

It would think this post was preachy if it weren't so goddamn true.
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Frank Stockton
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Post by Frank Stockton » Wed May 23, 2007 4:24 pm

ZidaneTheKing wrote:I have a question that I think is relevant: Is it possible to just not be good enough? Or can hard work carry you through no matter what?
Absolutely relevant.

In my post I was talking specifically about "artistic development." In terms of that subject, the answer is whatever you think it is (if you think you're not good enough then you aren't).

However, I made a distinction at the beginning of my post that we were talking about "artistic development," not "illustration."

To be successful as an illustrator (that being any person who sells their artwork with reasonable consistency), you need to have a product that someone else is willing to pay for--so in that sense, yes you could just "not be good enough" to where anyone would pay for your product.

There are two things that you need to make a living from your artwork:
1) a product
2) a marketing plan (and duh, you have to follow it through as well)

Not to have a business talk.


good luck,

frank
"I do not get discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward"
--Thomas Edison

http://www.frankstockton.com

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Og
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Post by Og » Wed May 23, 2007 5:20 pm

The later chapters of Frank's book will deal with explaining Marketing and Business Plans to Artists. :)
Last edited by Og on Wed May 23, 2007 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Nunumi
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Post by Nunumi » Wed May 23, 2007 7:23 pm

Hey thanks for taking the time to write all this! :)

For my part, I don't really know in which of those two I am into. For I feel quite often that AWSOME stade you're talking about, but it only last for a week or two. I mean, I finish an illustration and then I'm "Gosh I did this awsome awsomness???" And then I look at it a week or two later and it goes more "WHAT?? I actually showed this thing to people???"

The way I've found now for improving, which is probably not a good and recommandable one, is that I'm hanging around with many artists better than me. Even if their ages ahead of me, it still kind of gives me the feeling that such talent is accessible, even for me. So I practice. And try to get better, and eventually reach their level if I'm lucky. But I think it may work for me only because I'm kind of a competitive person. Some of my friends would probably get there moral down looking at such talented people.

But I don't think this method will work for long. It drains a lot.

Maybe I should concertrate now on your way #1. Why do I do this already? Is it cuz I love that?? O_o probably yes... ^^;


I really liked the part you said about keeping a secret sketchbook of shame :) Someone told me it's really important to allow you to make mistakes. Because it is through these mistakes that you will find a style of your own and an unique personality in your drawings. I agree with that now. But I still find it hard to allow me such a thing. I would so like to make that perfect drawing I had in mind. But I guess that'll never be possible ^.^

Was anyone ever able to really get on paper what they exactly had in mind????

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Post by Greatnation » Sat May 26, 2007 7:21 am

A freind recently showed me this thread over at conceptart.org.

I think its pretty relevant to this discussion, you can see how this guy was able to progress over 6 years.

http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=870

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