Climbing the artistic staircase one step at a time: Stop Worrying and Love the Journey
I’m Ransom Getty. I’ve been working in illustration and mostly the comic book industry for over a decade as a penciller and inker. At conventions, I’m asked all the time about how to improve, how to stay motivated, and how to fight off artistic-doubt.
Art can be a solitary endeavor. Many times, while sitting alone at your desk, it’s easy to second guess your work or become frustrated with your progress. It seems as though nothing you do is working or that you may even be going backward, failing at things you used to think you did well, artistically. The thing about this is, it happens to EVERY artist. Regardless of level, type, industry, and focus, all artists eventually deal with this frustration.
Artistic progress is like a staircase; it tends to happen with spikes of rapid improvement, followed by plateaus of stagnation. If the plateau or step lasts a long time, it can seem like you aren’t making any progress, which can be maddening. I’m here to tell you, even if you can’t see it, you ARE improving. There’s no magical potion that allows you to skip to the next floor, no escalator, no elevator. You have to climb each step one foot in front of the other. This is actually an enlightening and fantastic thing because improvement only requires the will and drive to get better.
The focus to sit at the table and do it. Doing the work is what improves the work. When you see finished pieces, it’s the “mileage, not the materials,” you see. Simply starting, and ignoring all the negative thoughts that creep into your mind, is all you need to be ahead of the game. If you are starting out, or are on step three of the staircase, don’t compare yourself to artists who’ve been at it longer and are higher up. You’ll be there if you keep climbing the staircase, and they were right where you were when they started.
In order to be good at something, you must fully understand the skill set needed to be able to do the job. In a sense, you can’t know how to do something before you actually have the ability to do it. How does this apply? Well, if you are starting to see that your work isn’t up to par, or are starting to dislike certain aspects of it, then you are about to make a jump forward. That frustration is just the symptom of realizing that there are things that you can do better, and the beginning of your brain starting to figure things out. It’s actually quite exciting, and a feeling to secretly look forward to!
I can suggest an important thing: if you are frustrated with one aspect of your work, LISTEN to that frustration!
That’s your mind telling you what you need to focus on! Take the hint, and dive into working on your weaknesses! Bad at figure drawing? Make it your primary focus until you excel at it! Bad at perspective? Guess what you should be working on for the next few months! There’s no deadline for improvement, and for most people, artistic development is a lifelong journey. It’s filled with victories and frustrations -- enjoy the victories! Don’t fear the frustrations.