This is an extra long, long blog, a lot of which is not streamlined. My appologies if some thoughts are a bit redundant or overdrawn.
This week I have been looking through old work back from when I was in highschool. My work from this time period had two very distinct styles, before and after reading "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." Before I read this book my work had a very organic look to it; things were very loose; people would bend and backgrounds/objects would look almost abstract. Near the point where I got the Marvel book, my style had evolved to a point where i used solid lines (In the past everything was sketchy). So there was a confidence about my drawings. At the time I was very frustrated becasue what I did was not as "good" as the things I saw in magazines, on tv and in comics/manga. So wishing not to be left behind, i took the Marvel book and copied, copied, copied. I copied almost every drawing in the book; I copied the techniques; i tried to teach myself to ink, to lay out pages, to do everything. I tried so hard to bring structure to my work that I ended up killing all the personality I had built up, all the fun parts of my drawing. My new work, while it was technically better, was a bit stiff and was definetally not as fun to draw. It looked very nice, even by my standards now I am impressed I was able to make what I made at that age. This is the very first example in my life of what I call a personal rebirth as a person and as an artist.
The years past, I took drawing classes, examined my work over and over and over. I tried and tried to become that which I loved the most. My influences were always too impressive for me to ever get near. I felt stuck, and felt my work was going nowhere. The next time thins changed was back in 2001. I remember this clearly becasue at the time I had been stuck in my technical rut for so long, I felt as if I was doomed to forever walk the mediocre artist path. But at this time I began a project that lasted me a good 5 years of my life. A very long fan work titled "Bass: Rebirth of Amp." This was a Megaman themed comic that i started as a fun project and eventually turned into a massive, 300 page black and white giant. I began drawing the comic with an extreme cautiousness; working slowly on each page; taking a week at a time if needed to finish each one. Then one day I was hit with the realization that the comic was slowly evolving into something very, very stylized. I made the choice to take a risk and dive back into the less technical, and more stylized art I had done as a child and teenager. This reulted in a comic with a lot of personality. To this day I count this work as my first real success as an artist. Without realizing it, I had again been reborn; with my whole outlook on art and life changed.
Even though I had experienced this sort of reimagining of myself twice now, I still did not understand it. I still believed that I was reaching for some imaginary top of the cliff. I worked like crazy, made several comics besides my Megaman work. These were my first ever original stories put into print. The first did fairly well, selling a few copies (how many I don't recall) however the second was criticezed by friends and a few people I knew because of some mistakes I had made in the layout and printing. At this point in my life (around 2006) I had just been accepted into art school (School of Visual Arts). There is one point in particular I remember from this time, that shaped my mentallity going into school, and many years after that. A few words of "advice" from a "professional" who felt I did not meet up to their standards. "It takes a certain amount of work to become GOOD. You have to think of yourself as being on a sort of scale and the more you work the closer you will get to being GOOD. When you are GOOD, then you are ready for the professional world." and of course the delightful "Just don't quit your day job" remark. So with this in mind, I threw out all of my past achievements, my work and all that, and believed I was on this sort of scale below my peers. This was possibly the WORST thing that has ever happened to me as an artist. Not only did the previously mentioned individual damage my ego, they also managed to destroy any sort of belief I had, that I was on the right track to getting what I ultimately wanted, a career as an artist. This was the third time I had changed my whole way of thinking about my life and art, due to some sort of life event.
This sort of thing (either for the good or the bad) continued to happen, and still happens to me to a small degree today. My ideas of who I am as a person and as an artist are continuously being reborn. Thankfully now, that I am out of my teenage years, past my early 20's and moving along as an adult, I have found a strong sense of self worth and firm artistic principles to adhere too. I still have times of being reborn, finding I lack in some areas, or finding I was doing things right all along, however I have been able to now adopt an attitude of "I am the one who decides if my work is good or bad, not an outside individual." In particular i like to remember a saying from one of my instructors in college, Sal Amendola, that "your work has value, economic, spiritual, emotional... ect ect." Sal had an understanding of more than just the technical aspects of comics, he understood the spirit of creativity and of being an artist.
So after a lot of work and personal searching I have realized several things about these artistic rebirths.
*A person usually gets bored with their work when they have nothing to challenge them, this is the best time to work even harder; most likely you are about to come upon some artistic breakthrough.
*Experimenting and going outside your comfort zone is VITAL. By doing this, you will find so many things you would not discover otherwise.
*Making mistakes is ok. Make as many mistakes as you need in order to find a way to make something work for you.
*You alone are the sole judge of your work. Others may say things or tell you "facts" about your work or things about art in general, but in the end you are the one who decides what is ok and what isn't.
*Popularity does not equal skill. Just because you do not have millions of fans, does not mean you are a failure as an artist. Keep in mind the things you have done right.
*You will always change and grow as an artist. All artists change. Change shows an artist is not trapped; embrace change, learn from it. Your artwork will shine from the changes you allow.
*Get advice from people you trust. Don't be like me when I was younger and believe anybody with their name on a book knows better than you. Go to someone you know will give you good, helpful advice. Just because someone acts sincere doesn't mean they are. Just becasue someone acts tough or nasty, doesn't mean they know about art. Big words, or bad attitudes do not equal comic smarts.
*Art is subjective. This is a big cliche, but it is true. What one person, country, race, time period, artist believes is all based on TASTE. As human beings we have a large number of experiences throughout our life that shape what we like, what we believe in, what we work for. These experiences build up what we feel looks good, or makes us happy. As a culture we have shared experiences that we all love. We have art we all believe is "good." Sometimes when a person goes against what is believed to be correct by a culture or perhaps, a very well known artist in a culture; that person is criticized and told their work is no good. Try to remember, everyone is born, lives and dies someday. Enjoy what you draw, don't ruin your fun becasue of a person (or multiple people's) attitudes about your work.
*Be proud of yourself, but at the same time, never injure another artist's love of what they do. You should have high self esteem, you may ever view yourself as a god, but if you cannot treat your fellow artists with respect you don't deserve any. Remember you are only one out of millions of others who do this art thing.
Right now I try to approach my art remembering all this stuff, the experiences good and bad, the changes, the successful and unsuccessful days. This has resulted in a much more balanced approach to my art and my life in general. I see art now the way the universe was seen in Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix manga, as a never ending circle where each person is an integral part of a huge infinite whole. This way even the most unskilled artist can see themself as important, and as having the potential of going beyond what they are. And even the most skilled artist can see themself improving if they wish to; growing to something they were not before. Art is about change, growth, being reborn all the time. The more you do this, the more you will learn. You are never too old or young to learn more about art. This is what makes art so fun, the enjoyment of knowing there is always something new to discover, something out there you can find that will make you happy.