Play it to your Strengths…
When looking over your projects as a whole how closely do you look at the generalities? I would wager that if you noted some basic elements form each one you would soon have a list, but you would also see that many of the items on that list are repeated. Maybe it’s a color or type of character, or even point-of-view, but ultimately you will find that many of your creations have similarities.
It’s not a bad thing, unless you are failing in the same way each time, or succumbing to the same cliché time and time again. What these similar elements inform us about, in my opinion is many-fold. They define our “style”; The things that set our process apart from everyone else even if they were given the same tools, criteria, etc. Those repetitive elements are how we understand and communicate visual language. Other more significant pieces of knowledge we can take away from looking at our works as a collection, are our strengths, and inversely our weaknesses.
We can define our style, our go to iconography/colors/gesture/setting/etc. and we can set ourselves up for success in that way. This is our “bread and butter”; the things we know we can succeed at and will come away with favorable and respected results. We know these elements fairly well, and so can adjust them in ways to keep things somewhat fresh but at the same time safe. ‘Safe’ can be a troublesome thing sometimes; it doesn’t teach us as well as when we get out of our comfort zone. This is where knowing your weaknesses is invaluable.
When we see what we do well, we should also be able to discern what we struggle with. Maybe those pitfalls aren’t present specifically in any of your works but you infer it by its absence. For example, I tend toward drawing and painting, muscular, typically alpha-type heroic men, depicted in interior settings, often alone. I tend toward warm vs. cool color palettes, and two light sources. My style tends toward realistic rendering of exaggerated anatomy, and sometimes impractical clothing, poses, and weaponry. I can do those things fairly well, without too much struggle. What can be gleaned from that is: I need to practice more with the female form/animals/monsters and exteriors/landscapes. I need to try new palettes form time-to-time, and include more figures, along with more believable/realistic elements. Your weaknesses will be different from mine, depending on craft and a multitude of factors, but can nonetheless be derived form your strengths.
What you should take away is not where you fail, but rather where you need to focus your practice. You probably won’t produce a portfolio quality piece with your first venture with new elements and that is perfectly fine, so long as you learn something new. Eventually the hope is that you can produce equal levels of quality across many aspects of your craft. Do yourself a favor, don’t try to tackle it all at once though.
While we want to stretch ourselves a bit, we don’t want to hate what we are doing the entire time we are doing it. So take 1 element or a few small ones, and decide the next time you create, you are going to try to work those things in and improve on them. For me, it could be that I am going to stick with my male character, bristling with weapons, and attitude, because i know I can create that, but instead of him existing inside, I am going to put him in an open airy scene. The time after that, I can try to incorporate more figures, etc. I can work up to tackling all of the various things that I struggle with, but not punish myself with trying to master them all at once.
If you find yourself struggling to nail down what it is you need to work on, ask a friend, family member, spouse, respected colleague, or even an admired professional in your field. Everyone sees things differently, and so each of these individuals can point out something new. Sometimes joining an online community can pay dividends; immersion will do wonders for improving your skills.
Remember, play to your strengths, observe your weaknesses, and push yourself to learn with each and every new effort.
What are some things you do consistently well? If your weaknesses aren’t obvious, how can you use knowledge of your strong-points to infer on where you need to work? What groups, communities or individuals do you turn to most when you need input?
PS – For you freelance artists out there, I highly recommend following Jon Schindehette’s, “The ArtOrder” (http://theartorder.com/) and purchasing Noah Bradley’s, “The Art of freelancing” (http://www.theartoffreelancing.com/) and following Noah’s blog (http://www.noahbradley.com/blog/) (You can see Noah’s work at http://noahbradley.com). All of these resources are invaluable founts of knowledge, experience and passion for the artistic community. Jon’s career as an artist, art director, mentor and main contributor/moderator of, “TheArtOrder,” has had him dealing with things both new and old; he often freely shares his experience as well as put’s on art challenges, in hopes to enrich the community at large.
Noah has a youthful and fresh take on the industry. In recent years he has become a very big name and has released invaluable knowledge in his “The Art of Freelancing” video seminar. It is, arguably, one of the single greatest contributions to the field of freelance art, and is especially fruitful for recent art school graduates. Please take a look at all of their hard work, and continued efforts to educate us all.