Realities of a Busy Artist

Article / 15 March 2021

A Quick note

What follows below are solely my opinions.

Allow me to start this by saying I'm one of the lucky ones. I get to create art and support my family by doing so. In today's circumstances I know I'm extraordinarily privileged to do what I do so if you're reading this please understand that I'm not naïve to today's climate and that I am merely expressing a sentiment that I'm sure other artists in a similar position may share.

My day job keeps me creatively satisfied. I have had times in my career in the game industry where that was not always the case. Regardless I'm the type of person that craves learning new things and creating/expressing myself through art. Like many of you this means that during whatever spare time I may have I enjoy working on personal projects. If you're reading this I assume you are like me and have numerous personal projects that are abandoned at some early stage. 

All images shared on this post are from personal works in progress, they may never be completed or look totally different once they are. Lets dig in...

Our situations may be unique

I happen to have a wife and two young kids. As a parent I want to devote time to the kids as  they are only this young once and as a husband I need to try to make time together with my wife without the circus of distractions. This typically means that whatever spare time I have is dedicated to me and the wife watching something on a streaming service at some late night hour when the kids are in cool-down mode or asleep. On top of that you can toss in the numerous games that have been proverbially gathering dust on my backlog and suddenly there aren't enough hour in the day.

Feeding your brain the creative product of others is inspirational fuel that creates a spider web of ideas and considerations. By absorbing creative media you may be pleasantly surprised by things you may not have seen coming or further intrigued by problem solving how you would have handled something differently. Either way it's good creative juice for the brain and that's why, along with common sense things like a sensible diet, exercise and getting enough rest, absorbing media is crucial to evolving your own output.

Portfolio sharing platforms such as ArtStation are great for showcasing and inspiring people in the creative fields. Naturally you may find yourself a bit intimidated sharing your work when you see masterpieces being posted on a daily basis. Please understand these amazing works don't happen overnight. Artists dedicate time and go through numerous iterations before posting something they can be proud of.

Acceptance and silver linings

I happen to be in the game industry but in any technical field knowledge is ever-evolving. If you aren't keeping up with latest trends and techniques it's easy to slip into an out-of-touch funk. I'm writing this blog because I assume I'm not alone in feeling the pinch of living somewhere between advancing my personal art/skills and enjoying my family, friends and activities. If you're like me and have chosen the family life or perhaps you have other life demands or hobbies that occupy a substantial amount of time then we can relate! I'll share with you some of the tactics I've used to at least subdue the itchy anxieties of not flexing the personal art muscles as much as desired.

Mind Games

First, I try to remind myself is that the ideas in my mind or that one concept art piece that lit a spark, whatever it may be is served better by sitting in my brain and marinating a bit longer. Yes, this is more of a mental trick I tell myself to feel less helpless but it can also be beneficial. I may not be able to "put pen to paper" but I can casually gather up more supporting art references on my smartphone and continue the pile up of idea refinement. 

Small Moves

Personal projects are a liberating free-for-alls for me without the constraints of budgets and other factors you would need to consider in actual playable game environments so this shouldn't be adding stress to your life. Easier said than done if you're obsessed with art as I am but it's okay to nibble away at a project. A couple of hours late night on a weekend here and there may be all you need to feel like your personal projects have forward momentum. 

Trust the Process

In my particular case I relish environment art so I'm looking for a total picture of composition, lighting and story-telling. You will notice in some of the images I'm posting here some popular Megascans assets that I use to save time since time is of the essence. If you can quickly throw together a rough composition without having to reinvent the wheel, I say you use that to your advantage. I've also on more than one occasion reused assets I've previously used in other personal pieces. There is nothing stopping you from swapping out assets later on in the process so don't feel some ethical responsibility to start everything from scratch. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

Also, take screenshots at the end of whatever you determine to be a session. Save all of them as evidence of how far you've come in such a ridiculously long time once the project is "done". 

So when do you call your personal project done? 

We've all heard of the Finished, not perfect mantra so try to keep in mind that this is about your personal growth. As tiny and incremental as you may feel your progress to be, it is still growth and as long as you've learned one new thing from your personal work or even if you just feel creatively fulfilled then you should be proud and satisfied with the journey you've taken.

I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, I'm just sharing how I've managed to cope with my predicaments. Do you have ways of dealing with the pressures of being a voracious artist with not enough time on your hands that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear how others cope with this dilemma.

Show your work!

If you remain a bit self-conscious about sharing work that you may feel isn't up to par for professional eyes to see you should still post it privately, or not publish it but keep a gallery view of your works next to one another. I promise it becomes fulfilling to see how far you have grown over time as an artist.

I often have artists in school reach out to me to get critiques and feedback or just to explore ideas of where they could push their art. As an up-and-comer I would have loved to have access to an industry veteran for such feedback so I do my best, time permitting, to respond to these artists and give constructive criticism at no cost or recognition. If you're interested in getting critiques you may reach out to me on ArtStation with details as to what you're looking for and a link to your work if you don't have an ArtStation portfolio. Please be patient if I don't immediately respond.

Thanks for reading. I hope everyone stays safe and has productive rest of the year.

Keep. Making. Art. 

-Alexander Alza