Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 - Losing my religion

2014 was a good year and a bad year for me artistically. The highs were REALLY high and the lows, well, the lows added to a growing dissatisfaction about my art and the work that I have been doing. To tell you the truth I am a little uncertain of how to even address this past year in words. It can be summed up in a lot of personal emotions, transitory epiphanies, and gut reactions. Let me see if I can find some words to go with it. When it comes down to it, in 2014 I lost my religion. I lost my faith and my joy in making digital illustrations.

Hitting the wall

Long story short, I hit the wall in 2014. When I hit this wall it made me truly want to walk away from fantasy illustration. I have talked about this wall in previous years and have even hit it several times. Most notably in 2009 when I started my illustration career over pretty much from scratch. This year was a lot worse. I didn't feel optimistic or excited about getting back up after crashing. I knew I was getting close to the wall again, but I didn't realize this would be a game ender or a complete game changing event. The impact I had with the wall was deep and painful and it cut like a knife. I just wanted to sit down, give up, and play video games the rest of my days. All this was happening while I was having the best year of my career.

I felt really dumb being so unhappy with my work when these type of things were happening, but I was feeling the effects of years of growing dissatisfaction.

2014 had me achieving some really exciting levels with my work, being acknowledged for said work, and, to me at least, it felt like I was taking my spot in the fantasy illustration community that I had sought out for a long time. Unfortunately, my efforts felt completely unsatisfied with my work and my efforts felt fruitless and hollow. Please understand, this is how I felt about my work and in no way reflects my opinion or the interactions of my clients. They are awesome and I am always happy to work with them, but personally, the act of making my art had lost the urge to continue making it. This of course is EXTREMELY frustrating when I am making the best paintings I have ever made and getting some really exciting and challenging assignments.

Changing the game

I hit the wall… now what? Walk away? Yeah, that is one option. What about if I changed the rules I was playing by?

I had a pretty good feeling why I was dissatisfied, I didn't feel like I was actually making anything. This is a feeling I have felt growing ever since I attended my first Illuxcon in 2009. I finally saw what the top names in the industry were making, what the actual paintings looked like up close and in person. The possibility of working with traditional media got under my skin in 2009 and has festered there ever since. Of course the reality of the situation is that I work and have worked for almost my entire 15 years of my art career, digitally. Digital painting ended up my weapon of choice and I learned to be a painter by painting on the computer. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot and working digitally allowed me to correct and fix things easily and quickly. Looking back now, it was a good thing I cut my teeth with digital, but now, nine years in as an illustrator, it was just not fulfilling me as an artist. My days consisted of eight hours working on a computer at the day job and then I would go home and work all night on a computer for my illustrations. I was burned out.

Don't like the game? Change the rules.

SO… I am now working traditionally. August 2014 was when it all happened. Since August I have not produced any digital work. It has been scary. It has been nerve wracking. It has left me with a lot of self doubt. I have questioned my decision to switch to traditional paint more then once. It has also left me satisfied and excited about making art again. It has resulted in eight (starting up on a ninth right now) traditional painting for clients and one personal painting being created since August. All approved. I am also working larger with my drawings! I produce my drawing at 100% the size of the final painting, so I have a ton of big new drawings as well as new paintings.

*SECRETS in paint*
A mix of 11 x 14 and 9 x 12 with a couple of odd sized orphans.

The drawings are even larger, a mix of 14 x 17, 11 x 14, and 9 x 12.

Do I have a lot to learn? YES! Is my traditional work currently at the same level as my digital? No, but I feel like I am moving closer with each painting. Also, they will never be the same, they will always be somewhat different, but they are getting closer and closer to each other. For years people have asked me if my work was acrylic or oil and some of my peers even thought I was already working traditionally. Well, now I am, and my personal tastes have lead me to a combination of acrylic and pencil with maybe some gouache thrown in. I have been testing the waters with tradition medium for the last several years both personally and a couple times professionally. Everything finally came to a head and I realized I had two basic options, walk away or start fresh with traditional media.

Personal Star Wars pieces and studies done in 2014 as I experimented, learned, and slowly moved toward the switch to full traditional work. These are shown in the order they were created and range from March til July 2014.

Of course, if the client or the project requires it, I will work digitally for an assignment. I am not stupid. I understand my skill sets and know my ability level with each of them and will make the choice as needed. Thankfully, since August I have not been required to use digital media to complete my work. My clients have been understanding with my transitions and continue to give me exciting assignments. Exciting assignments that are now ACTUAL paintings. You can hold them in your hands and hang them on your wall. They are physical object that live and breath in the real world and are not merely ones and zeroes.

I have no ill feelings for digital. How can I? I became an illustrator working digitally and currently my best of the best work is still digital. I have been able to make the transition from digital to traditional as easily as I have because of all the things I learned working digitally. Over the past few years I have developed a work flow that lends itself to working traditionally. One of the things I have realized through all this is that I am in fact a descent digital painter and I know a thing or two about painting and art. Surprise surprise… I actually learned something over the years. Who knew? I thought I was just fooling everyone and sneaking onto my assignments. I also realized just how fast I could work when painting digitally.

What next?!

My short term goal is to make a lot more paintings and drawings.

I have the Gen Con art show and the Salon at Illuxcon this year to look forward to and I am VERY excited about filling up my space with traditional paintings and drawings. Acceptance into the Salon at Illuxcon has been one of the most immediate and encouraging events since switching to tradition painting. Exhibiting nothing but traditional paintings and drawing has been a secret goal of mine for years now, I was just too afraid to admit it or reach for it. Such a goal felt impossible to realize.

My Showcase table from Illuxcon 2014.
Still SO excited to be part of the Salon Weekend show this year at Illuxcon!

I am sure my decision to switch to traditional media will have unforeseen outcomes, both positive and negative. That is the way the world works. Already I am realizing I am much slower while working traditionally. Obviously I am still learning a lot as I work, but there is the nature of the media with prep and drying times. I am also not happy with the digitized versions of my images. I am really loving how they look finished and varnished, but the version I send to the client feels a little diminished. But I am trying different options and working to resolve this.

My gut tells me that my client list has changed since this time last year. These changes are not necessarily connected to me switching to traditional or even have anything to do with me at all. These things happen and have happened before. Clients come and clients go… and then they sometimes come back. I am staying positive about this, it is out of my hands if I choose it to be, or I can engage it and see what I can do to change it. I am also optimistic that my general malaise and negative feelings about my work that I have had will now be going away. This is something I have been all too aware of and these feeling do not help anything or anyone. Really, I have NOTHING to complain about or feel bad about. I need to shut up and paint.

Why complain when I can paint horribly unflattering self portraits! RAWR!
...or ARE they flattering?
Self Portrait 1: Pucker Up - 5 x 7 - Acrylic, pencil, and gouache on board
© 2014 Christopher Burdett

It will not always be easy and it will not always be flowers and unicorns. What is? It is work. Work is hard. Work sometimes does not go the way you expect it to, but you learn, grow, and adapt.

Hiring myself

In the year to come (and hopefully beyond) the one thing I need to do more then anything else is to hire myself as much as possible. This was my one big epiphany as I looked back over 2014. I can be a client as much as anyone else. I do not need to be constantly worrying about what my next client assignment will be, I have more then enough ideas and personal projects to fill my schedule for years. It is well past the time to act on these ideas and finish some of these projects. As much as people like my client work, the biggest responses from peers, other artists, and strangers has been from my personal work. I would be foolish to not act on this. I need to make my voice heard and make the work that I am personally compelled to make. There will always be someone there to make the next Star Wars illustration, but there will never be someone else able to make the monsters that I have in my head.

Only I can make these particular monsters. These are mine to share.
This is my world in my voice and I need to share more of it.

Wrapping it all up…

What can I say… stay positive, roll with the punches, and start over if you have to. If you stumble and fall after you have had success, it does not take your success away or diminish your achievements. Follow your heart and gut, but make sure the brain has the final say so. …and of course, DRAW MORE!

If you have any questions or would like me to clarify anything, let me know. I hope my ramblings have been helpful, useful or at least mildly amusing. I hope 2014 was a good year for you and here's to 2015 being even better.

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

For more samples of my work or to contact me regarding my availability head over to my website:


  1. It speaks to me as growth of an artist. We often forget that all artist, famous or not, must go throughout growth periods. If we stay stagnant as artist then we shrivel up a bit, we are creatives and we must constantly create. I love the fact that the hands on visceral work is calling you and that you have taken up that mantel. I believe it will move you forward to new unseen vistas, and a higher plane than if you had continued with digital alone. I commend your courage, for artists changing course, when one is highly successful in one area, to challenge yourself in another media or style is not easy matter. Rawr!!!

  2. An artist must stay true to oneself. Go for it. (Also if you ever feel like sharing your best solutions for making digital images of your traditional work I'd be interested in what you have to say.)

    1. Thanks! So far I have been scanning my work. Attempts to photograph the work has not gone well.

  3. Very interesting post; Thanks for sharing this. Congrats on making it into the IlluxCon Salon! Those five monsters are great I especially like the first one with his cloak, tentacles, and jellyfish lantern. In reading more illustrator biographies (currently finishing Howard Pyle's) and in talking with more experienced illustrators I keep hearing that all or most of the large jumps in their careers came not from commercial work, but from personal work. So, I think hiring yourself more is a great idea. I know I am eager and excited to see more of your personal work.

    1. Thanks, Lance! It is a constant struggle to want to work on my own work and the temptation to work on a piece of client work. Trying to make time for both is the constant struggle.

  4. Replies
    1. A tool caused what? Not really understanding your question.