I graduated in 2010, and by 2011 I realized I’d not learned what I needed to know to be happy as a commercial artist. People say there’s a race during Sheridan College’s Animation Program to see who will be the strongest artist/animator right out of the gates, or who will be the one with the Disney offer or the one who’ll be known for the accolades immediately. There was a strong competitive air, and really, those who managed to stay above that haze of competition succeeded.
I wasn’t one of those students, nor am I one of those people. I might be close now, I might occasionally bob my head above the clouds to see the forest for the trees, but I get caught up. Visual Art has always come easy to me, but not in the way that people enjoyed or thought was necessarily “good”. But I was willing to learn, and I wanted to be the best I could be, so I would stay up late copying drawings as I saw them in books, or on the internet.
When I was in grade 4, we decided to make our first yearbook, and we all voted on who was the best at what — and of course I began my campaign to be listed as “best at drawing” because in my head, I thought I was pretty good. Maybe I wasn’t the absolute best, but I thought I was pretty well known. I didn’t get that title, and it was the first of many times that I realized I was not going to be the best at anything, at least not for a very long time. But I’m glad I had that lesson early on, it would have been much harder had I learned it at 18 upon starting college.
I went into Sheridan with an open mind, and probably 250ml of sweat on my clothes from anxiety. I graduated with high honours, but not the best film or best portfolio. I’d been offered an animation gig, but I very quickly realized I’d spent four years of my life animating when I really did not want that as a full time job. I had to learn to draw better, and that’s something I was pretty scared of. I was always fine or good enough at design and painting, but not really operating at a professional level. My designs were haphazard, rough, and lacked structure or appeal.
I would look at artists on the internet, and be absolutely floored by their talent and skill and have no idea how they got there. Eventually I picked myself up and started emulating them as best as I could. They were poor simulacrum but I did my best.
I spent two years doing freelance at home, small time gigs here and there making money to save up to move out, and also working on just becoming better at digital painting and drawing. I continued to follow the likes of Mingjue Helen Chen, who I met briefly while visiting my friend in Los Angeles, her now husband Ryan Lang, and Cory Loftis. I was still pretty set on Disney back then.
It’s been around six years since then, and I’m a considerably stronger artist and I’m also heavily medicated with antidepressants/antianxiety medication. I’ve somehow managed to complete things and do things I, or my professors, thought was possible with my skill level: I’ve art directed, visually developed, and even started that comic book that I was so scared of doing. I’m not really interested in going to Los Angeles, I admit, but I think that’s more Donald Trump than L.A. itself. Disney seems like a typical large company, but it would be an experience that I’d be willing to put myself through.
All that said, I see all the time now that social media is a much more present force in my life, that young artists are really upset by what they see from stronger artists. They feel a genuine anxiety, which I absolutely understand, since I’m quite easily spooked and walk around like I’m being stalked constantly. But art, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t make you upset. It’s that competitive cloud mucking up our view on what is beautiful or what is technically stunning.
I’ll look at art from Marc Laming, and think about the incredible technical line quality he puts in every one of his inked works whether it’s traditional or digital — and then I’ll look at Natalie Hall’s work and think about the stunning energy she’s able to put in even a doodle she did in a few minutes. I can look at Ryan Lang’s ability to render something to a photorealistic level using only a few smartly placed strokes in photoshop, or my coworker Roz Stockton’s (who refuses to update her blog, goddamnit) ability to look at a piece and say, hey that area there should be more yellow and it works. How the hell can she see that?
And I know now that people look at my work and go, how the hell does she draw hands like that? And I want to say it’s just practise, which it is, but it’s also the abandoning of fear that you’ll be judged by looking at another artist’s work. You can’t work in a vacuum, it simply just doesn’t track. You’ll end up working in a circle, and you won’t improve and I truly believe that every artist continues to draw to improve and be better. I also encourage life drawing, but I’m also a hypocrite because I never go.
So I hope that you’re able to find some work, and see how it’s created and become a stronger artist. I believe in you.