More words. Which is to be expected: I'm a writer, after all. The images are mine too. Again, to be expected. I studied design too.
If you'd like to read (or see) more, mail me.
Explanation: A post for Cubebrush, an online marketplace for artists (especially VFX, 3D and Concept Art).
Explanation: Press Release for a project by Karel De Mulder, Creative Director and prolific artist.
Belgium creative turns cock-ups into art, and art into money.
We’re bombarded with unsolicited advice, from every phone and feed.
A popular example is “learn from your mistakes.” YouTube gurus will tell you that each screw-up is a teachable moment. It’s how you grow. And/or get rich. And/or get happy.
Karel De Mulder isn’t so sure.
Karel is a Creative Director and partner at agency AIR. He’s also a veteran mistake-maker.
Recently, Karel was tanking his car. For reasons unbeknownst to anyone (including Karel) he left the gas station with the pump’s nozzle still protruding from his car. Thanks to physics, the nozzle snapped off.
Within twenty-four hours, seventeen people had called Karel an imbecile. Inevitably, they also pointed out that Karel would learn from his mistake.
Maybe, Karel thought. Maybe not.
Perhaps there was another way to look at the situation. Perhaps he could treat this mistake less like a lesson, and more like a gift.
He returned to the gas station and asked for screenshots of his failure. The screenshots became a limited edition art print. Which sold out in less than two days. Which led to an exhibition. Which led to more prints (5,000 this time). Which led to press coverage. Which led to an award.
Karel was able to repair his car. And then some.
Encouraged, Karel has decided to open a webshop: earnfromyourmistakes.com.
Here, iconic artists sell their errors. Intended for people who make mistakes (all 7.5 billion of us), Earn From Your Mistakes showcases funny, visually-arresting, narrative-driven artworks about extraordinary gaffes.
Yes, occasionally we learn from our mistakes. But frequently we just blunder on, making the same mistakes over and over.
So if you can’t always learn from your mistakes, perhaps you can celebrate them instead. And make a buck.
Forget oil and coffee, let’s turn cock-ups into commodities. Contact us at email@example.com
One of my Concept Art teachers was Peter Han.
Do you know Peter Han? To me, that’s like asking, “Do you know Elvis?”
But you’re not me. So I’ll explain.
Peter is a drawing teacher; specifically, he teaches a type of loose technical drawing called “Dynamic Sketching.” Watching him draw is like watching magic: a world conjured from nothing, with a pen instead of a wand.
In a lecture, Peter once noted that “drawing is talking.”
Those words struck me: as well as illustration, I trained as a writer. Like every committed neurotic, my frequent question to myself was: “Who am I?”
Peter’s observation implied that it didn’t matter. Words. Images. It was all one big blob of communication. Which led to another implication: if words and images are one, what can writing teach us about visual art?
A little later, Peter suggested we take a few Graphic Design classes. He said Graphic Design would help us understand Concept Art, especially simplicity, composition and shape language.
So I did. I took more than a few classes. I studied Graphic and UI Design for around a year and a half.
Turns out Peter was correct. Design in general does indeed have something to say about Concept Art.
And after that, I updated my advertising training with a course in Digital Marketing.
That too influenced how I looked at art.
Here’s what I learned. Maybe it helps.
The harshest advice first.
The above is a quote from Steven Pressfield, novelist and screenwriter. Like me, Pressfield worked in marketing. More specifically, advertising. And while he’s decades older than me, Pressfield and I were taught the same attitude.
My creative advertising teachers would rip work from the walls and stamp on it. Why? Because it took more than two seconds to understand our layouts (and, possibly, because they’d done too much cocaine back in the Eighties).
“Nobody gives a shit what you think.”
Almost twenty years later, I studied Digital Marketing. Nobody was stamping on anybody’s layouts anymore. However, I found similar ideas: in marketing, the elements of communication are given different weights. For example, design is about half as important as the most important element of all: messaging. A gorgeous layout matters less--considerably less--than whether an audience sees themselves in what you have to say.
“Nobody gives a shit what you think.”
If it’s any consolation, nobody gives a shit what I think either.
Another of my art teachers, Marco Bucci, made a similar point.
As Marco is kinder than your average advertising macho, his phrasing was a little different.
For all the evils of social media, Marco told me, it teaches clean composition. Because our work is presented as a tiny box in an infinite stream, thumbnails are paramount. To an extent, the work is the thumbnail, now more than ever.
Only if an audience member likes this mini pattern of shape and value will they click.
In other words, we get two seconds to grab someone’s attention.
Like an advert. Damn you, Late Capitalism.
Compared to Graphic Design, even the simplest bit of Concept Art is maximalist.
That’s because Graphic Design is the commercial version of Abstract Art.
Graphic Design, day one: you’re given a series of white squares. And a black dot (Pardon me: a “point.”)
What do you do with the black dot?
Well, you could put it in a white square, top left. Or top right. Or in the middle.
If you’re a rebel, you could place your dot halfway off the canvas, so it’s cut in two.
Maybe you scale the dot, make it so big that the white square becomes black.
The possibilities are as boring as they are (almost) endless.
Naturally, there’s a point to the placing of points. What exactly do you need to communicate? How much can you say with almost nothing? By writing a title under your layouts (“Fear,” “Joy,” “This Is Dumb,”) your ultra-distilled visuals become proper messages.
And once you’re done contemplating a dot, they give you… another dot.
Knock yourself out.
This task got me thinking of Molly Bang’s book “Picture This: How Pictures Work.”
“Picture This” is the missing link between Graphic Design and Fine Art. It’s an extreme example of those exercises you get at the start of an art course: don’t paint a scene or a person or a laser blaster, paint a shape. Then add more shapes, large and small, in various concentrations. Only when you’ve worked out an “abstract” composition do you get to add light and anatomy and atmos and blood spatters and young ladies in impractical armoured bikinis.
Bang makes a game of recreating Little Red Riding Hood in the simplest of shapes. How can you represent a creepy forest? With artful God Rays contrasted against dark purple shadows, creating a clever vignette of lost edges?
Bang doesn’t think so. How about a couple of angled lines?
No bark. No leaves. Certainly no God Rays.
And it works.
Part of my life savings were spent paying novelists to mentor me in fiction writing.
If you’ve ever considered writing a novel: don’t.
Start with a short story.
One theory of short story writing: describe the most important moment in a character’s life. Don’t show them brushing their teeth. Unless brushing their teeth is the most important event in their lives.
Various writing theorists disagree vehemently with such advice. Maybe you consider the celebration of every-day life to be more interesting than a formulaic hero’s journey. In which case, go ahead: break out the toothpaste.
But it isn’t the easiest solution. For better or worse, the most entertaining story coincides with a “crucible” moment in your character’s made-up existence. In story theory, the crucible is the time of greatest challenge, the moment when a character’s true nature is revealed.
Battling your nemesis with nothing but your best friend and a gold ring. Getting divorced. That disturbing moment in Hollywood movies when someone makes the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
All are crucible moments.
If a story gives you a few thousand words to describe the crucible moment, a picture gives you the blink of an eye.
But it can be done: take the very famous Simon Stalenberg.
There are lots of reasons to love Stalenberg’s work. His brush control, hard surface design, creature design, his unique sense of setting (e.g. retro-future suburban Scandinavia).
I’d argue that part of what makes Stalenberg great is a feel for narrative.
The moment spaceships appear above a snow-covered housing scheme.
The moment a police car arrives to arrest a kid for playing with his mech.
It’s this ability to capture a whole story in an image that blows me away. It also explains why Stalenberg writes award-winning illustrated stories.
For some reason, a lot of creative advice contains the word “shit.”
The above is from Chuck Wendig.
Wendig is a manically-productive author best known for his Star Wars novelizations. He also writes a very funny, very sweary newsletter.
Of all his many, many tips, this one stays with me.
I have virtual cabinets overflowing with unfinished novels, stories, screenplays and business plans.
I have actual filing cabinets overflowing with unfinished sketches, paintings, and anatomy studies.
Why do I like Wendig’s advice? Quite possibly because my shit remains decidedly unfinished.
What’s this got to do with art?
On a recent ZBrush Live stream somebody commented, “I would have stopped working on this while it still sucked.”
How many times have you quit a project because you couldn’t get the eyes right? (It’s always the eyes. Or the hands). How many times have you consigned your PSD to the abyss of an external drive because the colors are muddy?
How many times have you done this knowing that if you just kept going, if you just finished that shit, you’d turn a corner and step into the light of “I might show this to another human being after all?”
I don’t know: as we established, I’m not you.
Me? Many times. Many, many, many times.
Like a High School essay, let’s end where we started.
I’d like to offer a spin on Peter Han’s “drawing is talking” observation. A caveat: Peter Han is Peter Han and I’m an advanced beginner (at best) so this is going to sound pretentious.
But whatever. This is the Internet: another semi-qualified opinion won’t make a difference.
I grew up in Scotland. My favourite writers were AL Kennedy, William McIlvanney, Alan Warner, Alasdair Gray, Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks (Elon Musk names his drone ships after AIs from Banks’ novels).
I’m guessing you’ve never heard of these writers. But I loved them. I loved them because they wrote how Scottish people talk.
Not like the BBC. Not like Hugh Grant. Not like posh folk.
For better or worse, I liked people who reminded me of me. Super talented versions of me, but still “rough.” Able to embrace the messy, always evolving, non-standard spirit of language.
Excuse me while I summon another art teacher. In a Q&A, perspective instructor Roger Oda referenced a load of artists he liked, including Adam Haynes. Roger said, “Unlike most commercial artists, Adam can actually draw.”
Roger had a point on both counts: Adam Haynes can actually draw, and a lot of commercial artists can’t. At least, not in the traditional sense.
Perhaps not being able to draw explains their appeal. After all, the Art Directors hiring them can’t draw either (trust me, I’ve worked with enough of them).
Besides, there’s a lot to be said for an Outsider Art vibe, and the raw emotion you can convey when you’re not hung up on art rules. As a professional graffiti artist once advised me, “Don’t go to art school. Once you know the rules, you can’t go back. You lose what makes you you.”
Was he right? No idea. I have quite a bit of formal art training, and I’m still me. Mostly.
I do know that imperfect is how people talk; it’s what gives them a unique voice. Their use of fragments and hesitation. Their patchy grasp of grammar. Their slang and dialect. Their unnecessary repetition (in dialogue theory, it’s called running repairs). Their unnecessary repetition (in dialogue theory, it’s called running repairs). Their unnecessary repetition (in dialogue theory, it’s called running repairs).
In other words, not like the BBC.
One last bit of art teacher wisdom. Just one. Promise.
My drawing teacher Patrick Ballesteros critiqued a study I’d done of a Model T Ford. “Your lines are very straight,” he sighed.
He drew a loose, slightly curved line over my own. The new line just barely matched a vanishing point. It stuck out beyond the tail of the Model T.
“Don’t worry,” Patrick said, “You’ll get better.”