Monday, April 9, 2012

This is why I fail… or, I really need to shut up, get back to work, and stop thinking so much.

First off, some disclaimers before I start this post…

1) I am not looking for sympathy or the approval of others with this post.

2) I have a great set of regular clients that give me exciting challenging work, so I really have nothing to complain about.

3) If you are reading this and you think I am referring to a time in which I worked with you… please understand I am trying my best to improve and learn so that the next time around there will be a more satisfactory conclusion and I mean no disrespect or blame to you.

4) I am writing this because I think we all stumble, misstep, and make mistakes along the way and not all are by our own doing, we just need to learn from them and learn how to accept what happens.

5) These events I am about to describe are EXTREMELY ATYPICAL for me. The fact that one, let alone several transpired is the main reason I am writing this post. I try to be very up front and frank here on the blog about my personal journey as a working illustrator and I wanted to share this aspect of it. Anyone looking to employ me should not look at this as a warning of possible out comes, this is hopefully a learning tool.

With that said… man, do I really feel like a failure lately. Why you might ask? Well, since January I have been taking a lot of risks by trying new things and sometimes when you try new things they don't always turn out the way you want them to. While I can't talk about too many of the details, I can talk about how I feel and how I am trying to learn the most about these experiences. Ultimately, I feel an actual failure is an event you do not learn from… and I am trying my best to learn all I can from the ups and downs of the last four months. Usually this is the kind of thing I would save for my end of the year post, but so much has happen and it is all so fresh, I wanted to write about it now. I stand behind the idiom of 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' and if you don't take risk, putting yourself in a position to fail, you can't hope to accomplish new things, reach that next level, and complete that life long goal. Being an artist is really nothing but a long series of risks… you risk out right rejection, you risk failure, and you risk not being able to express your inner voice with your current skill level. But here we all are, risking away, hoping that we succeed…

Thanks, Yoda!

The long and the short of it is that I concluded working with several clients this year in manors that I found less then satisfactory. Is some of this as a result of my actions? Most definitely. Are all of these events my fault? I am not sure, they sometimes feel that way. Several of these clients were new and the work was a little outside my typical fair. They were all still monsters though, just more concept oriented rather then illustration. Was this my first mistake? I got my start working as a concept artist and I still do tons on miniature concept designs and I have to design new monsters for illustrations all the time. That said, it really all started with me saying a single word… "NO".

I was gearing up with a new client, a lot of paperwork and contracts. A protracted lead up to actually getting started on the art and by the time it actually got to that point I was REALLY uncomfortable at the whole situation. Was it a communication issue? Was I getting cold feet because I had to wait so long to get started? Was the project just not really suited for me? When it was all said and done I had to walk away from the project, I had to say 'NO' and thank them for their time. Everything just didn't feel right and I was a little (a lot) uncomfortable about several of the key aspects that had developed in regards to project. Did I make the right decision? MOST DEFINITELY. Do I feel good about doing what I did? No. I acted as professionally as I could and it was a really exciting project, but I felt it all just got 'weird'. I knew I could not, in good conscience, move forward with the project and do the best job that I could. It made me feel like complete crap though. It was a couple months of lead up time and effort and then *poof* it was all gone. Is this my fault? Is there any fault to be placed? Or is this one of those things that will eventually happen and I need to accept it and move on. I will say that I completely stand by my decision today, still don't feel any better about it.

Following this set back, I geared up on anther exciting new project with a new client. A lot to take in, a lot to get familiar with, and a lot to adapt to. I thought I did the best I could at the time. It was a great deal to absorb and a little (a lot) overwhelming at times. I did have to conform to a style guide, but this was not my first time doing so and I bet it won't be my last time doing so. Work moved forward and things felt good for the most part… like I said, a little overwhelming and a little frustrating at times but these things happen, not all projects are sunshine and puppies (metaphorically speaking). The whole thing felt similar to when I first started in the gaming industry working on Dreamblade. Since it was a similar feeling and situation, I stayed optimistic. While I was waiting on some feedback I received an unexpected email… the project was being shuffled a bit and my involvement was no longer needed due to several new constraints. My time on the project would be compensated and I was thanked for my time and effort. I am familiar with being laid off due to projects coming to an end or being cancelled mid stream, happened plenty of times in LA and not every game I have worked on saw the light of day. But this felt different. Did I just get fired? And was it because I was not up to the task? Was I… a bad artist? There were a lot of signs that point to no on all accounts… but this feeling in my gut says yes. The fact that I keep thinking and over thinking about it is not helping my view of what transpired. No matter the reasons… these things happen, and I need to be ready for them.

Quick on the heels of this set back, I did some work with a client I have previously worked with. I have not done a lot of work for them, but I have several assignments under my belt. In fact, I feel that my last assignment with them came out really well. When this current assignment was all said and done… well, it didn't feel too amazing. Not really sure what transpired, but it felt like I dropped the ball and I am not sure when and how it happened. The work was approved and accepted… but something just felt off about everything at the end. My gut told me I would never be working with them again. Not the kind of thing my gut usually tells me, but it sure felt right in this situation. Again, I could be totally over thinking this and I could be completely wrong… but I have been doing this for a while and I would like to think I am able to read a situation objectively. I will admit I have been in the situation were the work I turned in was not up to the level it needed to be, due to my own skill level at the time and because I psyched myself out from over thinking. Thankfully this has not happened in many years. But I have been there, I have had it happen… but I was a much less experienced artist at the time. Only time will tell. I feel like I should be able to go to the art director and voice my concerns… but what is the best way to say, "Hey, I think I really dropped the ball on that last assignment, not really sure what happened, sorry about that. Can I get a do over with another assignment and I promise you I won't let you down"? It is that simple? Would it make me look better if it was true… would it make me look like a complete freak job if I was mistaken?

The coup de grace to my recent feelings of failure was a more personal artistic leap. Back in December I tried my hand for the first time at painting traditionally. By the time I was done with my second painting I was feeling really good about how it was going. Recently, I had an assignment come in with a trusted client. I asked permission from my art director to attempt to do the assignment traditionally. I of course assured them I would give myself plenty of time to be able to do the assignment digitally if something went wrong. I got the go ahead and I was extremely excited to get started. Long story short… I crashed and burned. I had everything planned out, knew what I wanted to do with the light and color, I had a detailed drawing to work from, I had all my ducks in a row… and nothing went as planned. The paint fought me every step of the way and I was never able to get it under control. After several days of fighting it I knew I needed to give it up and start again digitally. Working digitally the painting came together extremely quickly and turned out much better then I thought it would digitally, let alone traditionally. The AD was very happy and I was… well, I felt like I failed. Did I bite off more then I could chew? I guess so, though I didn't feel that way at the time I started. Should I let this stand it the way of me making more traditional work? Of course not… though I now feel flustered and unsure how to proceed. I produced a much better piece then I was expecting to, it just came about in a different way then I expected it would, and for that I feel like I failed. I know it might sound silly as a third party observer, but it was/is incredibly frustrating and demoralizing.

What did I do in response to all this (beside freaking out and feeling like I am a failure)? Well, the first thing I did was take a step back. Figuratively and physically. What elements were shared by all these events, what correlations and connections can be drawn, what mitigating factors can be attributed. Well, I was working on all the assignments, so I am a shared element. All four involved me doing something new and or different then the work I am usually focusing on for myself and my clients. I was out of my comfort zone and was learning new things as I was creating. I was working on most of these assignments at the same time or with a lot of overlap with each other. It should also be noted that while this was all going on I was also doing work for one of my steady clients and that work turned out great (IMHO) and it went smoothly and quickly.

Now things are beginning to take shape. I was out of my comfort zone, working on new types of work/assignments and in one case new media and I was experiencing a time crunch. I think I can see where I should have been a little more mindful of the bigger picture - while I was not necessarily taking on more work then I could do, it was new work requiring a lot more revisions and process time. Since all this has passed I have refocused on my core clients and the type of work that I really enjoy and excel at. I think I need to continue to take baby steps with working traditionally, I need to crawl before I can walk. I also need to be very careful when taking on new and different work. I think now that I could have done more to limit my work load and focus on less. This might explain some of what happen, and it could very well not. But the point of this is to learn from the ups and downs and make sure that when the next opportunity comes that I do everything I can to ensure that I am not the weakest link. Only time will tell with what the true fallout from any of these events actually is, but by then there will hopefully be plenty of other opportunities and adventures to over think and get flustered about…

That is all for another Monday on the blog, see you back here on Wednesday! Until then...

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  1. I know you're not asking, just venting, but I do feel for you. The only words of encouragement I can offer are a paltry "buck up chum". Like you said, art is about risks - even more so when it's how you pay the bills. I've said it before and I'll always say it - you are a fantastic artist not just because of your talent, but because of your outlook. You show progress, you learn from your mistakes, you move on. Take a break, catch your breath. You still have a your table at your convetion(s) do you not? To make a fitting Skyrim reference: you are Talos. I am merely a worm writhing in the filth of my own corruption!

  2. Hey Chris, I've actually been going through a lot of the same stuff myself lately so this post really hits home for me. Thank you for sharing your story. I read a lot of blogs and follow a lot of artists and not all of them talk about these kinds of experiences so openly. After reading your post I feel better about my own problems because despite your own difficulties and things not going as you originally planned, you've managed to keep things going and even turned your failed traditional piece into a successful project overall which is really cool. Thanks for the great post Chris.

  3. It takes a good man to take risks, it takes a great man to admit it when he is wrong.

    Take care.