Do you ever start working on a piece and you have a vision in for it in your mind—you know exactly how you want it to look—and you start off strong and then… it just falls apart? I’m not sure if it’s because my visions isn’t actually THAT specific to begin with or because my skills just aren’t at that level yet.
That’s what this piece was like.
Real quick, before I get into that, I just want to give you a little background about it. I created this piece as a reward for anyone who donated $20 or more to my 2017 Extra Life campaign. Extra Life, if you aren’t aware, is a really cool gaming marathon for charity. Gamers from all over the world play video games for 24 hours to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. It’s a really awesome even and I really enjoyed being a part of it for the first time this year.
I played Final Fantasy 6, which is my all time favorite game, so all of the rewards I offered donors were FF6 related. When I started the campaign I wasn’t sure what the top tier reward would be—just a high res digital file of something. This started off as a sketch of the game’s main character Terra in my sketchbook and I realized it would make a really cool art nouveau piece. I roughed in some other characters from the game and put the basic design together.
At first, my biggest struggle was to fix her anatomy… like… it’s definitely a noob mistake to draw a woman in profile and draw the breast from a perfect side angle in the center of the chest—that implies she has one boob, smack in the middle of her ribcage.
From there doing the linework went pretty smoothly. I’ve been doing a LOT of linework lately so I’m getting more comfortable and starting to work faster. I did the linework in Clip Studio with the g-pen tool because of all the software and tool I’ve tried, Clip is hands-down my favorite for linework.
I actually did a video about that last week if you want to check it out.
So once the linework was done and I put down flat color I honestly felt really good about this piece. Like, really good. The design was cool. The anatomy was decent. And the linework was pretty solid. I felt like, “Oh wow, I’m doing this art thing. I’m actually proud of this. This is what I want to represent my skills and my style.”
That’s huge. If you’re an artist, you know what I mean. To feel like you’re reaching that level that you want to be at. You’re doing it. You’re doing the thing. You’re making good art, confidently. Everything’s coming together. You got this!
So I decided that when I was finished I was gonna get a HUGE tapestry made and hang it in my office… and it was gonna be the first piece I ever hung that I didn’t criticize or cringe when I looked at it.
Then I tried to shade it.
I no longer felt this good feeling.
I wasn’t doing the thing. I was right back to feeling clueless and struggling. As annoying as it was, this feeling actually made much more sense to me. I know that feeling well. It’s the feeling that makes me say, “You know what? Good enough. It’s done. Better luck next time.”
And you know what? There’s actually nothing wrong with that! There’s nothing wrong with going with the “finished not perfect” mantra and moving on. You’re still learning. You’re still making art. And even if you’re not making amazing art, effortlessly, that’s not the thing. The thing is actually just drawing, even when it’s hard. Even when you feel like it’s not right. That’s honestly the most important part of being an artist… you know, that whole, making art thing?
And even though I felt like the shading wasn’t that great, a few times, I did say, “You know what? Good enough. I’m done. Then I would come back the next day and say, “You know what? I’m just gonna work on it a little more.”
I went through that cycle for about a week. Then I walked away from it altogether for a few days.
I got depressed.
Not, “I’m gonna give up on art” depressed, but definitely like “I’m just gonna watch cartoons and eat junk food and not think about it” depressed.
I kept looking at my flat colors and thinking it just looked BETTER than my shading. The shading looked muddy to me… and I felt like it detracted from my linework… and I was really proud of my linework. I couldn’t just leave it flat though, could I? It would look unfinished, right?
Maybe cell shading? Eh, I’m not super good at that either. But it seemed closer to what I wanted.
I posted it on Twitter and in some art groups and asked for help. Most people said the shading looked pretty good… and I started to realize I was probably overthinking things and beating myself up over nothing. Yeah, it’s not this PERFECT vision, but it’s not bad either.
Between getting feedback and just taking a break, I was able to look at my problem with new eyes. I spend hours looking at art that I liked. I looked at art with really good linework that was colored, but the shading didn’t take focus away from the linework. I realized there was a middle ground I wasn’t seeing before. While flat color looked a little lifeless and unfinished and full on shading looked too busy to me, I realized I could split the difference. I ended up just adding some subtle gradients and soft shading in a few places… just enough so it didn’t look flat and unfinished.
Someone had also suggested that I add a white outline around Terra to make her stand out from the background. I was honestly a little skeptical at first, but I tried it anyway. That was the moment I KNEW this piece was coming together. I actually go so emotional, after like a month of working on this, I cried. I was streaming at the time, and it was kind of weird and really embarrassing, but welcome to being an artist!
So that’s the story of how I got my groove back, or figured out my coloring style or whatever. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out or anything, but this piece helped me move forward for sure. I realized that one of my strengths as an artist is my linework style and that I shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions that showcase that.
Some people might think I just shied away from shading, and maybe I did. But I think I actually just learned an important lesson about there not really being “supposed to’s” in art. I realized while working on this piece that I love drawings that look like drawings. Not everything has to be painterly or realistic or super detailed to be finished. Not everything has to look a certain way to be good. I’m REALLY proud of how this piece turned out. I think the drawing is pretty and I think for whatever reason, I was fighting what it was really meant to be all along.
I know that sounds kinda cheesy and like I’m just trying to be deep or something, but it’s really how I feel. So, #sorrynot orry..
Also, I DID in fact get the tapestry. And it IS the first piece of mine I’ve ever hung up that I don’t make sad faces at every day. I DO noticed mistakes, but like, not as many as usual so whatever, I’ll take it!
Anyway, if anyone else is struggling with their current skill level or trying to figure out your style, I don’t really have any advice other than keep going. I’m right here with you. To risk being cheesy again, let’s chase our dreams together!
By the way, this will be available again to anyone who donates to my Extra Life charity campaign next year. Follow me on Twitter if you want updates about that.