Gaining XP: Art with Amanda Shouse

Amanda Shouse is a 25-year-old artist currently living in Aurora, Colorado. She’s one of those girlfriends I can talk to about things I don’t normally have in common with my other female friends: a love for video games, appreciation for anime, and a certain level of knowledge and enjoyment of “internet culture.” At the same time, however, Amanda is very different from me in that her creative passions are things I have zero talent or knowledge in: painting, illustration, and other 2D art. I loved having the chance to sit down and interview her about this aspect of her life, and especially appreciated her candidness about something pretty much every artist (from any creative field) has in common: what it feels like to go through the rut of a creative dry season. My instinct is always to clam up, to not share my ideas or goals I want to have, in fear that I won’t meet them and just look like a “failure”— but Amanda is honest about the struggle, showing great maturity about the up-and-down life of a creator and encouraging others in the process!

How did you fall in love with art?

I’d say elementary school — I always loved my art classes. I remember about 4th grade thinking that my art teacher was terrible, and I wished we had a better art teacher because art was so awesome and the teacher made class kind of boring. Then in 6th grade, I had a good art teacher, and I always loved the projects we did.

What do most people not know about your type of work or your personal creative process?

Well, some people don’t think about different ways of painting, for instance. Watching Bob Ross — he paints with a palette knife — that’s not something everybody thinks about when painting, and that’s a tool I really enjoyed because of the textures you could get with it. In terms of process, there are some artists who can just imagine a scene (or whatever they’re wanting to depict) in their head, and portray that. I’ve always had more trouble coming up with an imaginary thing. I tend to base my artwork on a photograph I took, so that’s almost always how I work. I wind up working from a reference that I made rather than just creating something off the top of my head.

“Not Lobsters”

You’re currently “unemployed” in the traditional sense, partially due to a temporary living situation from your husband’s job, but you’ve been streaming on Twitch on a regular basis and continuing to advance your art skills. How has this season of your life affected the way you practice your craft?

I’ve been in more of an artistic rut lately — the inspiration has not really been coming. But it’s also hard because in moving here, I couldn’t bring all my art supplies. So even if I were to suddenly be inspired, I’m very limited by what I could do because of the few supplies that I did bring. Even prior to being brought here, I was having trouble being confident in my abilities, so it was hard for me to even think about getting a job in the art field because I didn’t feel like I was good enough.

With Twitch, I had previously dabbled on YouTube and always liked the community aspect of it, but I never really got that with my videos because I was a small YouTuber and hardly anyone would find the videos or comment. Being in an artistic rut and in a new place, I didn’t really go anywhere where I would meet people or make friends or anything besides church, so the fact that there were these other people online that I started getting connected with, on Twitch, was nice because I started having that community.

In the first few months of regularly streaming [games], I did try a creative stream. I tried starting a painting — the first time was an “I’m going to sketch this out” type of session, then the next time I would start painting. Unfortunately, that’s still sitting in the apartment, waiting to be finished. But it was nice because there were people who were encouraging about that. The downside with creative stuff on Twitch, especially a year ago since it’s still in its early stages, was that because there aren’t as many people doing it, trolls very easily came in and liked to ruin people’s fun. But even though I haven’t done a creative stream in a while, some of my regular viewers who just liked to watch me play video games are like, “Hey, you should do more art work!”

There was one time I tried to brainstorm some emotes, because emotes are a big thing on Twitch. I had some sketches and one day I did do a digital art stream where I was sketching them on the computer and coloring them and everything. Even though I look at that and think, “That’s not anywhere near my best work, these are not that great,” people were still really encouraging about it. Even though I haven’t quite gotten out of the rut, it’s nice to get encouragement from these semi-random people online, especially when they’re also like, “Hey, I might be interested in buying some of your stuff! You should get an Etsy account!” …which I still need to set up and get figured out!

Down the road, would you want to do art for video games or be involved in game development at all? Or are they separate hobbies of yours — you love playing games, and love creating art, but don’t necessarily want to go into game development?

It’s definitely been a dream in the back of my head that I could do art for video games. It’s one of those confidence things, too, though — I’d love to do it, but I’m not sure that I could. A lot of the stuff that Jon [Amanda’s husband, also a gamer and aspiring game developer] likes in particular are more of the retro, pixelated styles, and for whatever reason I have a harder time translating what he wants into a pixelated image. If he asked me to make a realistic character, I feel like I’d have an easier time doing that, but with some practice I’m sure I could work with the other styles.

Coffee cup design Amanda created in college

I went into college thinking I would do animation or digital art, but I still wasn’t sure which direction at that time. I wound up going graphic design for a little bit, then realized graphic design wasn’t at all for me, but that was the only digital option they really had for art at ACU. So I thought “I’ll just go the traditional route.” One of the classes we had was one of those “we’re trying to prepare you for the real world” type of things, all about your plan after graduation. And as that class progressed we were forced to try solidifying what we wanted to do. I was like, “Well… I’ll just say I’m working towards doing artwork for games.” Around that time I was also taking an English class on games, and one of the projects toward the end was to come up with the basics of a game idea. It didn’t need to be fully fleshed out, but we came up with our story, I made little digital character sketches, and it was probably around that time that I started seriously leaning towards the thought of doing art for video games.

“Felicia Day Morph”

What are some video games that inspire you because of their art style?

The art in games definitely plays a large part in how well I like a game. The games with artwork that has stood out to me are Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, Kingdom, Stardew Valley, The Tales game series (recently being Tales of Zestiria), Bastion (and Transistor), BioShock Infinite, Fez, Mini Metro, and Tomb Raider (2013).

What helps you recharge your creative batteries?

Since I do base a lot of my artwork off of things I see, which often tends to be nature, just going out and looking at nature helps to some extent. I remember in high school I wasn’t feeling particularly artistic or anything, and I was watching this anime and thinking “Man, this art style is really awesome, I wanna create now!” So some anime and video games occasionally — there will just be times when the artwork triggers something and makes me think “I need to get back to creating.”

“Abilene Details”

Sometimes in college when I had projects that I couldn’t just walk away from for a couple of months, if I was having trouble sitting down and working on it, I’d turn on some music or pull up a TV show or movie and let that run in the background so my brain had something else to do. That helped me push through some of those times.

What always gets you excited about your craft?

Acquiring new materials makes me feel like, “I can’t wait to use this and create something new with this!” Similar to the previous question, going out into nature, taking a picture and thinking “this would really work well for a painting.” That one I started for the Twitch painting — we were in Missouri and there was this forsythia bush, and I looked at the composition I had snapped, just with the way the branches naturally were and everything, and I couldn’t help thinking it would be such a great composition for a painting. So things like that just make me think, “I can’t wait to do this, I’ve got to do it.”

Even if you never “succeeded” in your field, why do you (or would you) keep creating?

I didn’t start creating things because I expected to become famous or make a ton of money. Art was just something I enjoyed and saw as something worthwhile. To some I may not seem to be a “successful artist,” but as long as I can bring a smile to others, make them think about things differently, and see the beauty in the things around them with my work, then that is success to me. The only way I feel I can fail at that is by never creating anything. I definitely do not intend to ever entirely quit creating art.

What is a daily (or regular) discipline you’re following right now, related or unrelated to your craft?

I feel like that’s something I’ve always had trouble with: having a regular discipline. I mean, there were times when I was required to do a sketch a day, and that’s probably something I should force myself to do because it helps. Even if it was something mundane, like drawing a random item in the room, that’s still at least helping you to practice and keep working at it even if you’re not creating something entirely new that you’re super proud of. Other than that, Twitch has been the regular thing that I’ve been doing. Definitely having the accountability of the regulars who come and watch really helps with keeping you on schedule.

In what ways have you improved over the past few years? What do you still struggle with?

I struggle with self-discipline! Forcing yourself to do things you really don’t want to. I have definitely gotten better at trying to come up with things that are more abstract, or doing artwork that isn’t necessarily based on things that I see. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered that, but initially all I’d ever think of would be realistic things, and I really got pushed out of my comfort zone in college to try more abstract things and play a little more with emotion or whatnot… like I tried some texture paintings that weren’t supposed to be anything in particular, just supposed to be intriguing to the eye. So thinking outside my traditional box is one of the things I’ve gotten a bit better at.

I’ve definitely improved in talking about my artwork. There are some people who could talk hours and hours and hours about their work, and I remember back at my senior show, I was like, “Um… yeah, I don’t really have anything to say in general, but if you want to talk to me about something specific… sure!”

“Stamp Collector”

What are your creative goals right now?

I don’t think I’ve really set any goals recently. I had grand intentions. Even though I wasn’t bringing all my painting stuff with me [to Colorado], I was going to bring stuff for basic illustration, and thought, “I’ve got the mountains to work from!” I had plans but nothing ever came of that. I even contemplated at one point making some fake weapons, whether it was original or based off of something, but I haven’t done that yet either. I have things that I want to make goals of, but haven’t really sat down and made it something I was going to work towards. [Pre-goals!]

Are there any tools, books, or other resources you would recommend to others starting out in art?

Just look at art in general. Obviously go back and look at the classics, and not just the Renaissance either, but get a taste of different styles and see what appeals to you and see what stuff makes you excited, and go from there. I never relied on books very heavily — most of the art books I have are stuff I got in college. I just think that looking at things and getting ideas and finding what’s out there is a good place to start.

What other advice or words of encouragement would you give to other creators in your field?

Don’t be like me. [chuckles] Just kidding. Nah, I mean, it’s hard to remember, but not letting yourself stop you from making the things you want to make, which is advice I need to remember to take myself. Sometimes you have to branch out and try something new. Sometimes you might enjoy that more, sometimes it might steer you back to the thing you had been doing, and maybe you’d just lost interest. It’s good sometimes to take a step back, just to reevaluate and make sure you’re still doing something you want to do, and if it’s still something you’re passionate about, don’t give up on it! If you have to take a break from it for a while, then do that, but ultimately, keep going!

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If you would like to get in touch with Amanda, you can find her on Twitter, on Twitch, or her personal website artbyalms.

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