How badly do you want to be an Artist?

As I grow older I’m noticing that a lot of the clichés I was told and subsequently rolled my eyes at growing up exist for a reason; they’re all based on truth, boiled down to the lowest resolution possible. I realized a while ago that I can do just about anything if I put my mind to it, and this is something that I believe is inherent in just about everyone. 

“You can do anything you set your mind to.” 

Apparently Ben Franklin said this, but it being the internet I’m not entirely sure if it’s accurate. 

When I was in high school I wanted to be an artist and go to art school despite the earnest dissuasions of my guidance counselor.  When I was in art school I wanted to do concept art professionally. When I left Firaxis games as a concept artist, I wanted to do concept art freelance. Notice a pattern?

While I firmly believe that one can be anything they want to be, there is a catch. Your ability to achieve your goals is limited by what interests you, which is to say the things that either come easily to you or put you into a flow state with regularity.  See my previous video on Block and Flow for more information. Talent works into this as well, and we all have things that we’re just better at than most people, either due to our genetics, epigenetics, or the environment we were raised in. 

While I achieved all those goals in art, I also wanted to be a chemist in high school, wanted to be in a successful band, wanted to be a competitive gamer, and  wanted to start my own VR company . . . but I accomplished none of those goals, because I wasn’t interested in them the same way as I was in art; I didn’t want them badly enough, and not having accomplished them means little as a result. 

I’ve been remodeling a house for the last 4 years and have learned that I’m pretty decent at putting up insulation among other things. Conceivably, I could start a business doing that specifically, but I feel that it would be like trying to swim upstream, as I was only doing it out of necessity and not out of enjoyment. I don’t recall finding myself in flow often if at all while doing insulation. While I’d like to believe I could do it as a business, I don’t think I’d want to make it work. 

By contrast, when I decided to pursue concept art as a career path, It was as easy to focus on  as getting into a warm bath; I was spending 80% of my day doing art, working as an intern doing 3D modelling, and in my free time working on my senior thesis based around concept art. Then after graduation, staying at work after hours making art for a better portfolio to break into the industry. In a way it wasn’t even a question; I’d been drawing art about games my whole life, from Myst, to Magic the Gathering, to Warcraft. I suppose I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do early on in life and have a family that was supportive of that desire. 

For those trying to figure that out I’d say think about the things that engage you, get you into a flow state, and the things where you’re constantly interested in learning. 

A mentor and previous art lead I worked under once told me “If you’re not learning anything, it’s time to move on.” This pearl has taken me a few years to digest and unpack, but I think I’ve got an understanding of it now. My thoughts are that anything that’s interesting to you is interesting because of the fact that you’re learning something as you do it. When you play a game with someone, you’re learning both how to play the game from your perspective and how your opponent is playing. Because everyone is totally different, games never really lose their charm due to the fact that you’re always learning something. 

We humans enjoy solving puzzles of various types; in my case the puzzle I’ve been most consistently interested in is how to represent something from the mind in such a way that it is readable to others. I’ve always been most interested in realism as a form of art, as a way of capturing the images that I see in my imagination or even the world around me. There is a beauty that I want to capture somehow so that I can show others the things I see that they cannot.  

Like any good puzzle, representational, realistic art is difficult and I often fail at it. Art is a torment because you’re never really going to be able to represent what you want with 100 percent resolution, and it would seem to me that my skills will never be to a point where I’m entirely content with the outcome. In fact most work I do has a half-life of about 2 weeks, after which point I begin to dislike it.  This can be demoralizing, or it can be inspirational. 

I think there are two mindsets you can fall into as an artist, and I’ve seen both time and time again.  One looks on a piece of work that they admire and thinks, “Wow, I’m never going to get there.” The other looks at a piece of work that they admire and thinks, “How do I get there?” As the late and great Randy Pausch said:

“. . . the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop the other people. ”

Nothing worth having comes free. Are you going to turn away from the brick wall after falling, or are you going to figure out how to get over it and try again? 

To be anything you must first meditate on and decide on what you want most. You must figure out what your goals are. Think about what comes easily to you, what skills you possess already and how they can work in tandem to accomplish your goals. Break down how to get there as best you can, then figure out what you need to fulfill those goals that you don’t already have. 

This won’t happen overnight for most. It takes concentrated effort to figure out who you are, what drives you, and what you want. But it’s the first step in being whatever you want to be. 





Bryce Homick is a freelance concept artist with over 10 years of experience in the videogame industry. For business inquiries please click here.