What does it take to get better?

30 Dec

With the year 2010 closing in, many of us think of things they want to get better at in the new year. So I wondered what things should be done to improve oneself, especially if you think of yourself as an artist, more specifically a visual artist or illustrator.

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

To put yourself in the correct mindset, watch these two videos from TED. Watching those always gets me all juiced up about creating something, even though the talks are somewhat motivational and philosophical.


Scott McCloud – Understanding Comics


Adam Savage – Obsessions

I also did some soul searching, trying to figure out what I have learned in the past year. Many thanks go to Jerzy Drozd and Mark Rudolph of the Art & Story podcast for giving me creative ideas and inspiring me to keep going with my creative pursuits.

Generally speaking, you need an able body, an inquisitive mind and sacrifice some of your free time to improve yourself. It is basically creating the circumstances and then do the work.

But what do you need to concentrate on, specifically for something creative? You make something where there was nothing before. How do you do that, what should you be concentrating on? What should be your guiding principle?

In illustration, the artist rearranges simple forms, puts them in a pattern and joins them to convey a message. My idea of a guiding principle in the case of illustration is to think things through before you start actually creating. What you should be thinking of is how to keep things interesting, so people will spend time with your work, rather than glancing over it. The best way I can think of is to use contrast. Not just light and dark, but on all levels, sharp and fuzzy, warm and cold, exact and ambiguous, happy and sad, etc.

You should get obsessed with contrast, learn the principles, break loose of them and play with alternatives, things you would not expect. Work things through, edit, re-edit. Obsession fuels your passion for the arts, keeps you focused.

However, set yourself limits, especially time limits, because there is never enough time. Working within those limits forces you to be succinct, to only give an impression of what was in your head, just enough to get the mind of the observer trying to complete the image. Your image should be open-ended, though give enough clues to avoid misinterpretation. What can I leave out, what should be put in?

Since most things we do are applied, theory should be treated equally, acquire enough knowledge to enable you to start a project, and if it was not enough, or the wrong kind of knowledge, seek more or better knowledge. Acquiring knowledge should never become a goal in itself, though, unless you want to become very academic and only think about doing instead of actually doing. The clocks keeps ticking, tick-tock.

This learn-as-you-go principle prevents that you spend too much time on things that will not make it into the finished piece. It is very akin of just in time (JIT) or keep it simple stupid (KISS). Don’t be naive about your art and craft, but don’t over-complicate either. Keep it balanced, work in short cycles, after which you evaluate what your weaknesses are and what you need to improve.

I can only hope 2010 will be an excellent year and will exceed your expectations. Have a good one.

That is all.

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