An interview with Artist and Illustrator Christine Rhee
Illustrations by Christine Rhee.
Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Christine Rhee, a talented artist and illustrator who was really a joy to talk to. Christine has had a bumpy road on her journey to becoming the artist she is today, but she’s persevered and learned to trust herself in the face of obstacles ranging from uncertainty about her life’s path, to disapproving family members, to simple lack of motivation, and has come out a stronger person for it.
Jorie McKibbin (aka Indigo Dusk): Tell us a little about yourself as a person.
Christine Rhee: Hi! I’m an artist and illustrator living in San Francisco. I have two house/studio bunnies. They love to hide in the nooks and crannies as I draw or work on the computer. I try to keep them from “helping” with my artwork too much!
Jorie: What was it about art that attracted your attention? What made you want to make art in the first place?
Christine: Looking back I think I was always interested in art. But growing up in an immigrant family, it went unnoticed. I’d draw on my own and even borrowed books from the library about drawing animals and such. I’d had sporadic public school art classes here and there, mostly craft projects. Most of those avenues dried up around middle school.
Years later, I took my first formal drawing class as an elective in the middle of my pre-med and bio undergrad degree in Molecular Cell Biology. I’d just never felt so complete and connected before! I was in trouble! While I was drawing I felt like I was finally using all of me — my heart and soul vs just my intellect and discipline. As I drew, I found energy to draw more. It was truly an altering experience. After tasting that it was hard to go back.
I’ve wandered back and forth, going for a second bachelor’s in Animation & Illustration, and back to bio, and now back to pursuing fine art and illustration. Ultimately, this feeling of wholeness and complete-ness guides me and I’ve had to learn to recognize when I’m following my more “practical” concerns vs what I truly want to do in life. Life is too short to live a lesser life than one where I can feel fully engaged.
J: What's your earliest significant memory involving art? This can be art you made, or someone else's art that resonated with you somehow.
C: I was obsessed with Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick in second grade. My teacher had challenged me to write stories to go with the mysterious lines in the book with their accompanying evocative images. I wrote several of these little short stories for the class. Eventually she gave me the book! It’s still on my shelf today. Much later, my mom happened to take me to a visiting Van Gogh exhibit at the LACMA. I just remember trying to take in all the energy, the colors, and quotes from his letters to his brother Theo. His work just felt so alive. You could feel the objects, even the air flowing around them.
J: In broad strokes, can you tell us about your journey to becoming a professional artist, and what key decisions helped you get there?
C: I finished my degree in Animation/Illustration in 2009 but I didn’t feel like an artist until years later. I felt like someone who had studied to be an artist but wasn’t sure what I actually wanted to do.
I had to commit to being an artist. I had to give myself permission to be an artist. I always felt like I had to “achieve” something greater — accomplishments, financial success, respect — probably as a result of my upbringing and a desire to honor my parents and my loved ones. It took me a really long time to sort through all my different values and desires to realize that if I really committed to it, I could achieve it all with art — to help and connect with others, to encourage others, to inspire and enrich their lives, to help them get along on their paths to being the best version of them.
The financial part I’m still working on… but nothing beats feeling so connected to myself, to other people, to that universal feeling of being a human being than art does for me.
Once I decided I wanted to do art, it was easier. I needed additional instruction to achieve the kind of art I wanted to create. I wanted a community and mentors that would help me have a positive relationship with art-making and guide me through the business aspects. i found much of that through Smarter Art School classes, Illustration Master Class and IlluxCon.
J: Many artists struggle to stay motivated and practice regularly. Have you struggled with this common problem? If so, how have you pushed past it?
C: I struggle with this EVERY DAY. From talking with mentors and other artists who’ve been at this for decades, THEY still struggle with it. I think it’s just part of being an artist. I think the key is to have many avenues leading to creating more art. I’ll share a few I’ve been relying on lately.
Personally, I find it easiest to keep moving when I’m working on project to project, especially when I know what to tackle next. I keep a folder of thumbnails I like but haven’t had a chance to work on. For the ones that still resonate, they often become the next project. I have enough of a system of working on images now (thumbnail, reference gathering, line drawing, refine drawing, values, render, color study, and color) that once I have an idea I’m excited about, I can often get back into working. In fact, I get impatient and cranky when I don’t get to work on it!
I like having a mentor or group of artists to be accountable to and share regularly with. Nothing like a deadline to keep you motivated! I’ve found a community of artists to be really helpful. We exchange ideas for how to get unstuck, give each other permission to try new things, support each other when trying something scary, and reassure each other that being stuck is part of the process sometimes and that we will work through it. It feels great to share your work for feedback or just to share what you’re working on.
Oftentimes, losing motivation is a sign of something being “off.” It could be that I’m not happy anymore with the composition of the piece I’m working on. I might have drifted from the emotional moment in the piece. It could be that I’m not relaxing or getting out of the studio enough and putting too much pressure on myself.
And finally, having a creative routine or triggers for creating really helps. For some people it’s music, audiobooks, or podcasts. For me it’s usually a visually evocative, emotional or psychological TV show in the background. It’s almost like a soundtrack and I end up watching it a few times, so even if I miss some details here and there, I really get to dig in on the emotions, metaphor, and imagery.
J: What other struggles have you faced as an artist, and how have you overcome them?
C: I was pretty fortunate in that my boyfriend, now husband, has always been supportive of my art pursuits. Though I wandered around a lot in terms of my art journey, those years allowed us to build financial stability so that I could focus on building my art career.
However, my family was almost violently opposed to my being an artist. Looking back, they didn’t really understand that art would be a way for me to realize all my potentials vs pursuing something more understandable like medical school. They even had a family meeting with all my extended relatives to discuss whether I should do art or not (the consensus was no, by the way). Even as of 2017 they were still suggesting that they would pay for my med school tuition if I ever chose to go back. Ultimately, I had to mature, commit, and learn to pursue my own goals. I had to realize they wanted me to be happy and successful as any loving family does. When I finally started making art that was meaningful to me and shared my art with them, they became increasingly supportive.
Though I learned a lot from my art program, they were extremely non-supportive of illustration or gallery art as a career path. Beyond not having the support or coursework to pursue that desire, I just didn’t have the skill level to create a finished image. I also didn’t know how to pursue those careers. Both of those required more instruction, which I found with Smarter Art School and IMC.
J: What role do you think formal education plays in an artist’s development? Do you think it’s necessary to become a great artist?
C: I was starting at almost no instruction in art prior to school so I’m all for it!
Everyone has their own way of learning. I personally really benefit from a structured approach to learning. Since I had academic rigor from pursuing my science degree, it was natural for me to find formal instruction to get the basics again. My BFA was the fastest way to learn a lot of technical and foundational skills in a disciplined way. Even though that particular program didn’t align with my longer term goals perfectly, I still learned so much about drawing, composition, color, picture-making, gesture, etc that I was able to carry over into my later studies.
It’s more a matter of discipline and time. During art school, I was studying art for 40-80 hours a week between class time and assignments. There’s just so much skill to learn to be proficient at art! Self-study is great for those who are that disciplined. If you have the desire and discipline as a novice artist to really do dedicated study, that’s great! There are so many tutorials and workshops available now! For myself, I need structure to get me to where I want to go as quickly and efficiently as possible. Otherwise, it’s too easy for life and its many challenges and demands to get in the way of pursuing my art.
I think the big caution with formal instruction is whether you have the freedom to be yourself. If you find mentors and programs that will nurture you to develop your own voice and find what motivates you as an artist on top of fundamental skills… hold on to them for the gold that they are!
J: Do you have any advice for artists to whom formal art education isn’t available? How can such artists learn and grow through self-study and peer support to overcome this obstacle?
C: For those for whom it isn’t an option…there are some great books, tutorials, and workshops out there! Muddycolors.com is a great source on a wide range of topics from masters in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy field. They also have a Patreon with once a month video demos from amazing artists! OneFantasticWeek.com is a weekly videocast that brings in guest speakers such as artists, art directors, etc and they talk about the business of being an independent artist. They also have an active Facebook group, for community building. There are other great organizations like Schoolism and ConceptArt.org that offer great tutorials and community for artists with more digital art and concept art skills.
J: Do you have any advice for budding artists in general?
C: It sounds pretty prosaic, but also extremely important… Trust that you’re an artist because you want to create things. Keep drawing or painting or whatever is your medium. The skills will come as long as you’re continuously building towards growing. There is a wealth of great tutorials, books, and mentors out there. Whatever stage you are in, focus on your next steps to get you towards your big dream. The biggest challenge is trying to hone into what that dream is! Read interviews, look at the art that inspires you and see if the life and art that those people are describing is the kind that you want. You can always work your way towards something, but no one can guarantee that that outcome will make you happy other than yourself.
J: What role did mentorship play in your journey to become a successful artist?
C: My work just wouldn’t be where it is right now without mentorships. I had my fundamentals from my BFA, but I just didn’t know how to use reference in a sensitive way or how to take images to a polished finish. Prior to my mentorship, I just didn’t have anything other than the most rudimentary figures in my work. I also didn’t have a community in the fields I was interested in and didn’t really know anything on the business side of the careers I wanted to pursue. The mentorships allowed me to build up those skills, narrow down what my next steps were, and encourage me to apply to things when I needed to.
J: How about peer support? Do you have any artist buddies you bounce ideas back and forth with? If so, how does that help keep you inspired and motivated
C: Peer support is really important too! Right now, I still tend to rely on my mentorships more for feedback vs my peers, but with the peers I’ve gained through these mentorships I know I can get real quality feedback. Also it’s a huge source of information and encouragement. We trade notes on what shows are worth applying for and attending, congratulate each other on our victories and console each other with setbacks.
There are a lot of ups and downs and psych outs with the process of creating art. It’s just not possible to continue to create and fight the good fight without other people alongside you.
J: While browsing your work, I notice that both water and plant-life seem to be repeating elements in many of your pieces. Is there a reason for that?
C: I think it’s just a natural gravitation. I’m comforted and inspired by nature and how we as humans fit into the universe and our life journey. I find the ocean extremely meditative and grounding. Living and interacting with my pets also grounds me into the present day and my body. Many of the stories and imagery that resonate with me have nature involved in some way because nature inspires and soothes me. I want to remind people that there is a larger world than their feelings and their thoughts.
J: I noticed you have a degree in molecular cell biology and immunology. I can’t help but be curious; how’d you go from studying the sciences to a career as a professional artist?
C: With a lot of denial and opposition internally and externally? Hahaha. I was definitely fully-committed to being a doctor before I found real art instruction! Once I discovered what life was like with art in it, my fate was sealed. I kicked and screamed and tried “safer” paths even within art like graphic design, art direction or trying to prepare my portfolio for animation or game studios. I had this perception that there had to be a single source of income with my work and that only gives you certain options. It ultimately didn’t work out for me. I think my interests and sensibilities are better aligned for freelance and personal projects vs a team based collaborative project and going into an office every day of the week.
On another level, switching from medicine to art wasn’t that big a leap. I wanted to help people as a doctor. But in volunteering at hospitals and studying the materials, I came to the realization that maybe medicine wasn’t the best way for ME to help others. It felt valuable and I was definitely making a difference, but I came home exhausted and drained. In contrast, art gave me more energy! I’d always responded to images, books and stories. Finding a great book cover in a bookstore, seeing art that moves me in a museum…those experiences feed me and helped me find meaning in my life. I wanted to provide that kind of connection and fuel for others. I still wanted to help others, but when I was making art, I was rejuvenated by the process and method I wanted to connect to others, in a way that science and medicine did not do for me.
J: Tell us about these super cute bunnies mentioned on your site!
C: I’ve been adopting bunnies from different rescue organizations since 2003. At our max, we had six! (that wasn’t exactly intentional) We have two boys right now and they’re kind of a handful, so we’ll probably hold off on adding more for a while. They like to find all the nooks and crannies in my studio and they keep me on my toes! Sometimes they try to “help” with my paper and boards. It’s super peaceful when they sit near me and nap or want the occasional pet session. They are especially adorable when they’re eating or begging for treats.
J: What motivated you to submit to the society of illustrators?
C: Now that I have a consistent body of work, I have a list of a few annuals and competitions that I plan on applying to every year. I see them as a way to share my work with the community and people who hire for jobs. For me, whether I get in or not is secondary. Because there is a jury involved, you never really know whether you’ll get a piece in or not. It could have made it or not by a single vote. I’ve also heard of people getting hired or contacted from a jury member because they saw the work in the annual, even though the work didn’t make the cut for inclusion. It’s also a nice way to interact with my existing community to encourage one another to submit and celebrating with them when they get in.
Some other competitions on my list are Communication Arts, Society of Illustrators, Infected by Art and Spectrum. I add to this list as I discover ones I’ve missed from my community and mentors.
J: Several of the pieces featured on your website are in a category labeled “Korean Myths.” Can you tell us a little about one of your favorite myths and how it inspires you?
C: My Korean Myths series was inspired by my desire to share Korean culture. Many stories get categorized as Japanese or Chinese but Koreans have their own versions too! Others are uniquely Korean. I wanted to share them since they were the stories I read growing up, in addition to the Western folklore and myths.
Many of the Korean Myths I’m inspired by have to do with transformation or growth in some way. For example, the piece with the woman and the bear is from a foundation myth of Korea. When the son of the sky god comes down to earth to make his own way in the world, he meets a tiger and a bear who desire to become human. He gives them a task — go into a cave, eat nothing but garlic and green onions for 100 days, at the end of which he will transform them. The tiger gives up in the middle and runs away, but the bear perseveres and fills the 100 days. The son of the sky god rewards the bear by transforming the bear into a human. And she becomes a beautiful woman (as a reflection of her character). He is so impressed by her perseverance and beauty that they marry. Together they are the father and mother of Korea.
I adore these stories of perseverance, chasing after your dream, transformation and bravery. They embolden me and I want to embolden others with them.
J: Where can our community find and get get in touch with you?
And thank you, Christine, for sharing your valuable time and perspective with us. I know that having the privilege to interview someone not only very talented, but humble and kind such as yourself has been an inspiring experience for me, and I hope the same can be said for anyone else reading this now.
You can checkout more of Christine's artwork on her website christinerhee.com
Now, readers, if you’ve made it this far, I hope you can come away from Christine’s wonderful example feeling ready to pursue whatever path in your lives leads you to the most happiness and completeness, or—if you haven’t found it yet—to have the courage to keep searching until you do.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and be the best version of yourself you can be!
Hiya Firiel! No need to apologize for the slowness, and apologies if I caused offense, I didn't meant to, was just making an observation. ^^ I really like it here so far; the smaller community feel is nice. I also look forward to seeing you around and perusing your art.
Hiya. I found myself in a similar situation, having been sharing my art here for a bit but only recently checking out the forums. Sadly they seem a bit slow...
Hope you're enjoying paperdemon. I quite like it here myself. ^^
I knowwww, I need to take my own advice. I did write an article on the subject, I suppose maybe I should try to practice what I preach. >.>
And thanks! I'm glad to be here. I really like this little place you have set up here. I used to share my art on Deviant Art, but haven't been for awhile. Not sure what it is exactly, but something made me loose interest. Paperdemon is better IMO.
Too bad the forums here seem a little...dead. o.o
Topic: Finding Your Muse
Don't Wait for it, Go Out and Grab It!
In Greek Mythology, the Muses were thought to be the source of knowledge and inspiration for the arts. Today we use the term more loosely, as anyone or anything that helps us find inspiration for our creative pursuits. Today, I'd like to help you find your own Muse.
See, a lot of artists think that if they wait around, inspiration will come to them. While sudden inspiration can happen, it's not something to be relied upon, as it's sporadic at best. And the thing is, there are actually a number of ways you can actively search for and find your Muse, instead of just waiting around for it.
Just Go for It
First thing's first: don't sit around waiting. I wrote another article about the importance of daily practice, and that's something worth reiterating here. You won't always feel inspired every time you practice or create something, but make art anyway. Push through the block.
“One reason I don't suffer Writer's Block is that I don't wait on the muse, I summon it at need.” -Piers Anthony
If you have no idea what to draw, just practice poses or something, but do something art related. Inspiration isn't magic; it comes from your subconscious turning over ideas and information and eventually bringing them to your attention. Give your subconscious the fuel it needs to keep doing it's thing by making sure you don't stagnate.
Fill Your Life with Creativity
One sure-fire way to make inspiration come easier and more often is to intentionally fill your life with creative things. Music is a great one, because you can listen to it throughout most of the day. Services like Pandora are especially valuable here because you can discover new artists to inspire you without having to lift a finger beyond actually creating your station and giving the thumbs up or down on various tracks.
Also, make friends with creative people, or if you already have creative friends, pay more attention to their projects. Ask what they've been up to lately. Inquire about their creative process and share yours. This sort of back and forth is great for fostering creativity and idea-generation for all parties involved. Relatedly, Susie Sahim, aka BogusRed, PaperDemon’s own creator and maintainer, wrote an article on how pancakes helped her be more productive as an artist, which talks about how meeting up with your creative friends can help all of you help each other be more productive.
“I am my own muse, the subject I know best.” -Frida Kahlo
Additionally, you can try things like visiting art museums, galleries, concerts, etc, etc, etc. Basically, don't just make art; observe others who make art—of all shapes and sizes. You might be surprised what ideas and flashes of inspiration strike you as a result. And not to mention, being surrounded by creativity is just fun!
Turn to Another Medium
It's not uncommon for artists to dabble in more than one type of artistic medium. Using myself as an example, I occasionally toy around with writing, and I also play an instrument (badly). I'm nowhere near as practiced in either of these endeavors as I am with visual art, because visual art is my chosen medium (granted, I don't think I'm very good at that either, but see my first article on artists being our own worst enemies). But that's not important. The fact that I dabble at all is helpful when it comes to helping to inspire my art.
The reason this can help is that if you get a block in one medium, you can go to another one for awhile. Sometimes if I'm suffering from a bad case of artist's block, I'll pick up my ocarina (and yes, I first heard of them from Legend of Zelda, but no, they were not made up by that game and are in fact a real instrument) and play some songs, or add a couple notes to one of the songs I'm writing.
Often, this will help dissolve the art block or even give me some new inspiration purely from the joy of what I'm doing. Blocks in one medium don't always translate to others, so switching around like this can be to your benefit when it comes to keeping the creative juices flowing all the time.
Exercise your Imagination
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” -Albert Einstein
These days, our lives are filled with entertainment that does the imagining for us, leaving the average person's imagination sadly underdeveloped. TV is a fantastic example of this; when you watch a movie or TV series, the writers, actors, special effects team, and so on have already done all of the imagination legwork for you, and all you have to do is sit back and watch.
Video games are a bit better as they're interactive, and therefore can involve a degree of creativity—sometimes a lot of creativity. That said, depending on the game, it's often a similar case to TV: the imagining has been done for you by the game's writers and developers and so on.
Mind you, there's nothing wrong with watching TV or playing video games. Hell, my partner and I spend almost every evening binging one TV series or another, and I spend at least half of my leisure time playing video games. And in fact, in moderation, they can be good for fostering imagination, because you can pull ideas from or become inspired by feelings evoked by games and TV.
The trick is to avoid doing nothing at all but pre-imagined amusement like TV. Supplement your gaming or netflix binging habit with a good book every now and then. Books are great because they require you to imagine; you get the basic outline of what's going on and being said, but your imagination fills in the blanks.
Music is also great because you can close your eyes and pay attention to the feelings that the song evokes in you, and perhaps even imagine your own music video in your own mind for the song you're listening to.
Finally, how you engage with media like TV and video games is important. If you just sit back and watch TV without thinking much at all, you're doing your own imagination a disservice. However, if you think about the things that are going on, make predictions about what's going to happen next, and speculate about miscellaneous things in the universe or even come up with your own imagined scenarios for the characters in the show, you're giving your “imagination muscle” a pretty decent workout.
The point is, when it comes right down with it, how you engage with media is even more important than what media you engage with.
Look Around You
Inspiration is all around us, if only we know where to look. Most of the time, people go from place to place without really noticing their surroundings. We get so used to our given routines or routes that we never stop to appreciate what's around us.
Next time you're driving to work, walking to school, browsing the store, or anything else in your daily routine, take a moment. Stop moving. Listen. Watch. Appreciate all the little things going on. Things like a bird's nest in a branch of that tree you've passed a million times and never noticed. Or a little side street you never realized existed. The lively chatter of children playing. The melodic song of birds and wind rustling in trees.
“Nature's my muse and it's been my passion.” -Frans Lanting
Being more aware of your environment and present in the moment can help nurture your creativity a great deal, and not to mention it's just relaxing.
“And muse on Nature with a poet's eye.” -Thomas Campbell
Finally, consider making a sojourn to the wilderness every now and then. I don't care whether or not you're the “outdoorsy type,” or if hikes and nature walks “aren't your thing.” Do it anyway. Find a national park, national forest, or even just a grassy field without another human being in sight, and go for a walk. You'd be amazed how calming and even inspiring the natural world can be without too many humans around to mess it up.
Prompts, Prompts, Prompts...
When it comes right down to it, sometimes no matter how well you follow the guidelines above, you still can't think of anything. When this is the case, look for your muse in prompts and other tools specifically designed to help jumpstart your creativity.
I've already covered this particular topic in another article, so go check that one out for specific ideas, under the “But What to Do" heading.
What We've Learned
- You're not going to find your muse by just sitting around
- Surrounding yourself with creative people and things can give you the creative fuel to stay inspired.
- If you get stuck with an art block that you can't seem to shake, try another creative endeavor for a while, then switch back.
- Limit your exposure to pre-imagined media like television, and/or change how you engage with it.
- Read a book now and again. Books give you a story and framework and ask your imagination to fill in the gaps.
- When you watch TV, keep your mind active; speculate on the characters and situations in what you're watching.
- Pay more attention to your surroundings; you'd be surprised what tidbits of inspiration await you around every corner if you know where to look.
- Prompts can act as a jump-starter for your imagination, helping you get the creative process started.
Alright, your muse is out there somewhere. Time to start looking!
So, one of my next articles is going to be a compilation of videos and video makers of a "how-to-draw" nature(it was originally just going to be YouTube, but Bogus Red suggested to include Vimeo too, so keep that in mind when you make suggestions). Thing is, I have fairly specific tastes and only know of a couple how-to-draw youtubers that I follow, so I wanted to poll the community for your favorite.
If you know of anyone who makes videos helping to teach people how to draw, please let me know their name/screen name, a few details about them and why I should include them in my compilation, and a link to where I can find their work.
Thanks in advance for your helpful suggestions!
Hi all. I go by Indigo Dusk here. I've been contracting with Bogus Red for a bit now writing articles for the site, and I've posted some of my (crappy) art here too, and yet I never thought to check out the forums until now. So hi and stuff.
I'm a late 20-something queer autistic visual artist and freelance writer. I have an obsession with elves (as in the tall, pointy-eared fantasy race), water and hydromancy/water magic, puppies, video games, sour candy, my wonderful girlfriend, and being really really gay.
Honestly I'm really boring and not very good at art, but I try. Also I use they/them pronouns, if you please.
Topic: Art and the Internet
How the Ubiquitous Nature of the Internet Has Affected Artists and Their Work
Over the last couple generations, many major technological advances have radically changed the way we all live our lives and interact with the world. That said, few, if any of them compare to the sheer scope and widespread use of the internet.
A vast interconnected system of computer networks that spans the globe, the internet has fundamentally changed the ways we can interact with the world around us. It wasn't that long ago, historically speaking, that it would have seemed a downright preposterous notion that one could have a device in one's home that could be used to communicate with people on the other side of the planet, find and share information, entertainment, and just about everything in between, from all over the world, let alone use of such devices being widespread and commonly found in most every household in developed nations
“The cosmic mind of artists is like cyberspace without the equipment” -Dr. Lorne Waring
Among the many things that have been affected by the dawn of the internet age is the way that art is made, shared, viewed, and influenced. Art is more visible and prevalent in our society than ever, communities of artists are easy to find and join thanks to the internet, and digital tools are more prevalent and accessible.
Of course, it's not all good. The internet also makes it easier for people to—either intentionally or accidentally—steal credit from an artist and hurt them in the process.
I'm going to take a look at all of this and more in today's article, so buckle up and keep reading the little pixel-formed words on your screen that compose this humble piece of internet content you're currently in the process of consuming.
There's certainly no doubt that the internet has caused the general visibility of art to skyrocket. At one point in time, you would have had to actually go to wherever the original piece was physically located to be able to see it. The printing press and similar innovations allowed some kinds of art to be more widely reproduced and distributed, but it was still very limited. Nowadays, though, you can find a digital version of just about any famous painting by simply doing a Google search for it. And what's more, you can discover all kinds art you never even knew existed from the comfort of your own home.
“…the Internet is an extraordinarily seductive representation of the world” -Virginia Heffernan, Magic and Loss
Further, as artists, we have a better platform than any in history to show off our art to any and all who care to look. With the internet, any of us can post our art and have it be visible to anyone with an internet connection. We can use sites dedicated to the purpose (like Paperdemon!), or we can even purchase our own domain names to create an online portfolio.
As a result of this, artists who would have otherwise had little to no recognition or exposure can gain a measure of recognition and feedback they might not have found otherwise. This can help nurture and promote the growth of new artists, helping to ensure they don't give up as easily.
Further, the internet as a means of distribution of art helps ensure that more people get to see a greater amount of art at any given time than would have been possible, or even imaginable, just a few generations ago. This means art gets to be appreciated and enjoyed by more people, and is a greater part of the average person's life, whether they are artists or not.
If you want to get better at art, you need to practice, that's for sure. But it also doesn't hurt to learn from others, whether it's taking formal art classes or just comparing notes with fellow artists. Once upon a time, artists had to live nearby, generally in the same city, for this to be feasible. With the advent of the internet, however—and its myriad forums, message boards, instant messaging services, and so on—this is no longer the case.
“We have to come together, worldwide, and 'think.' We have a tool - the internet - to let us do that. Let's use it wisely.” -Jimmy Wales, Co-founder of Wikipedia
YouTube is absolutely bursting at the seams with how to draw videos of all shapes and sizes. On-line classes are becoming common in a variety of areas, including art. Sites dedicated to discussion and sharing of art are growing more and more ubiquitous. All of these things help ensure that the aspiring artists has plenty of support and inspiration out there, so long as they seek it out.
Having ready access to advice, critique, compliments, reference material, and inspiration from one's peers is a sure-fire recipe for taking an artist and making them better and more passionate about their work. Thanks to this, it is easier than ever before for the average person to pick up art on the side—whatever else they may have going on in their life—and to learn and grow and become a skilled artist with nothing more than a desire to learn, and a connection to the internet.
Digital Art Tools and their Increased Prevalence
I can't speak from experience here, because I work almost exclusively in traditional media due to a combination of limited finances and most digital tools being outside my comfort zone as an artist.
And besides that, this section could be an entire article in and of itself. Nevertheless, it would seem complacent to write an article on how the internet has impacted the art world and not at least mention the increased availability and prevalence of digital art tools.
There is no one right way to make art, and an extensive variety of tools and methods for art-making have existed throughout history. Thanks to technological advancements in recent generations, though, there are a growing number of ways to create what we call “digital art.”
Digital art is a somewhat loose definition, but is generally understood as any piece of art that uses digital technology prominently in it's creation. In other words, when I draw something in pencil and ink and put it in my scanner, it's traditional art, even though it's been “digitized” by the scanner. If I draw something using an image editing program, a digital tool like an art tablet, etc, etc, that's digital art, because the digital technology was an integral part of it's creation.
The ubiquity of the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for digital art. Software and physical tools abound, and range from prohibitively expensive to entirely free. Further, it's easier than ever to learn how to use your fancy digital toys thanks to the power of collaborative art communities, as mentioned above.
Credit Where it's Due, Please
As with most things, though, the internet doesn't come without it's downsides—both for the art world, and just in general. One of the more problematic issues in the art world that the internet has only helped to run rampant is the use of art without credit to or consent from the artist.
Now that anyone can have their own “space” in the internet (be it a blog, their own site, etc, etc), and anyone can find a piece of art and simply hit “copy” and “paste,” or download and upload someone else's art, or create highly derivative work from someone else's art, it's easier than ever to steal credit from hapless artists who've posted their work on the internet.
This can be very harmful to artists because it redirects attention away from the actual artist and toward the “thief.” Any recognition or appreciation an artist could have gotten from viewers of the improperly credited work is lost.
There are things artists can do to mitigate art credit theft. For one, clearly state your rules for use of your work on the description or caption. Secondly, if you ever catch someone else claiming credit for your work, or using it without permission or proper credit to you, be vocal about it. Clearly assert that you are the original artist, and back up your claim with a link to your original posting.
You can also “watermark” your work, making it harder for others to steal and plagiarize it. A watermark is a sort of faint marking on the art, similar to an artist signature, that can be very hard to remove without it being clear the art was altered.
Further, please remember that if the art being stolen was taken from or posted on an art sharing site, to contact site moderators and/or administrators. At PaperDemon in particular we take art theft very seriously, and offending members are banned.
And for those who wish to use other people's art for their own purposes, I want you to remember two very, very important things: obtain permission, and credit the artists properly.
Check the caption or description of the work you're interested in using. Sometimes artists will state our preferences and/or permission for use there. If not, send a message, and remember that they are allowed to say no. Do take no for an answer if it's the answer you get.
As for giving credit, follow whatever preferences or requests the artist has for how to credit them. If they don't specify, fall back on this rule of thumb: include the name and/or screen name/handle of the artist, and link back to where you found it so others can check it out and support them.
What We've Learned
- The internet increases visibility of art, and can help “small-time” artists be seen.
- On-line communities of artists can help each other learn and grow.
- Digital art tools are even more plentiful and readily available thanks to the internet.
- The internet also makes it easier for people to steal credit from artists.
- This can be mitigated by the artist taking precautions and the would-be thief obtaining permission and crediting properly.
Hey, you made it through all the digital content above this line! Nice job consuming internet media.
Now, go check out the rest of the site if you haven't already, maybe even make an account and upload some art, or leave some comments on stuff you like. Go crazy; the Internet's not going anywhere anytime soon.
In the last article I wrote I talked about how all art is valid and valuable and you should find happiness in your work no matter how bad your brain seems to want you to think it is.
In that article, I briefly touched on how skill is still a factor (though relative lack of skill still doesn't mean your art is bad) and that it can be improved through continual practice.
Today, I'm going to look a little closer at that fact, and how you can motivate yourself to practice a little each day and gradually improve your art skills as a result.
Incremental Improvement and Sudden Improvement
Sometimes improvement happens in fits and bursts, and sometimes it happens just a little, tiny bit each day, known as incremental improvement. Both are great, and any improvement is good, but whereas sudden improvement—when something suddenly “clicks” and you become immediately better at that thing—is less reliable, whereas incremental improvement is, by it's very nature, something that can be worked on a little bit each day.
“Practice makes better”—Brian Lies
Furthermore, sudden bursts of improvement can be made more likely by practicing good incremental improvement habits, i.e. practicing a little bit each day. The reason for this is that sudden bursts of improvement are usually the result of your subconscious mind finally getting enough information, and having enough time to process the information, that something difficult and formerly hard to understand suddenly makes complete sense.
The upshot of this is that if you practice each day, you'll not only get the tiniest bit better at what you do every day (and believe me, it does add up), but you'll also make it much more likely that you'll make sudden breakthroughs. While you can't control these sudden bursts of improvement directly, you can give your brain the fuel it needs to make them happen more often, by practicing every day.
Habits are hard to break, hard to start, but easy to keep once they're in place. Practicing art a little each day might be difficult to hold yourself to at first, but give it a few days, maybe a couple of days, and if you stick with it, suddenly you won't be able to imagine going through a day without practicing.
“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.” —Walt Stanchfield
The reason for this lies in how exactly habits form. It's understood that habits are formed and reinforced through a three part “habit loop.” A habit loop consists of a cue, followed by the routine (the behavior itself; in this case, practicing art every day), concluded with a reward.
A cue is something that remind your brain it's time to do something. You can create a cue for yourself by consistently practicing art at the same time of day, in which case the time is the cue. You can also put it right before or after another daily routine, like say, practice art when you get home from work. In this case, arriving home from work is the cue that reminds you it's time to make art.
The routine is the habit itself. In this case, the routine is practicing art. Make sure that when your cue happens, whatever it may be, you actually practice art, thereby reinforcing the cue and the routine.
And finally, a reward is, well, something that rewards you for completing a routine. These come in two flavors: intrinsic and extrinsic.
“Create with the heart; build with the mind.” —Criss Jami
An intrinsic reward is the good feeling you feel by doing something you find rewarding in and of itself. It is a reward attached to the exercise, rather than something outside of it. Quite simply, if you enjoy the activity, it's intrinsically rewarding. Hopefully, even if it feels like a chore at first, you come to enjoy your daily practice in time. After all, if you decided to be an artists, you must enjoy making art one some level, right? Find that spark of inspiration, of creativity and wonder, that led you to make art in the first place. Hang on to it tight, and let it fuel your daily practice.
An extrinsic reward, on the other hand, is a reward outside the action being rewarded. For example, buying a candy bar that you only let yourself eat once you've done your daily practice would be an extrinsic reward, because eating candy doesn't have anything directly to do with making art.
While all artists can find intrinsic motivation in there work to some degree or another (if we didn't, we probably wouldn't have become artists), sometimes it's still really hard to motivate oneself to draw when you could be doing something else. Here are a few more extrinsic motivators to help you spur yourself along. Treat these as rewards to give yourself after you've finished your daily practice!
Watch a bit of TV, a youtube video, web-series, etc. If you still have more to do afterwards, limit yourself to 20-30 minutes.
Play a video game for a bit. Again, keep it to 20-30 minutes if you've got more to do in the day.
Make yourself some coffee, tea, a milkshake, smoothie, etc, etc.
Treat yourself to your favorite sweet treat; cookies, candy, cake, pie, whatever you like!
Take a nice relaxing soak in the bath.
Do nothing at all for five minutes. You'd be surprised how relaxing it can be.
Reward yourself at intervals.
The above all make great daily rewards, but you can reward yourself for sticking with it over longer periods of time, too. Buy yourself something nice after practicing every day for a week or two, and again after a month or so. Here are some ideas of what to get yourself for under $20
A nice pair of fuzzy socks for wearing around the house.
A new book
An older video game (they drop in price as the years pass) that you've never played before.
Get a tasty bottle of wine. There are plenty of brand you can get for $20 or less that still taste great.
Get a new, luxurious lotion
Treat yourself to your favorite restaurant, either eating in or ordering take out to eat on the comfort of your own couch; whichever sounds more appealing to you.
But What to Do?
So now you know how daily practice can help you improve as an artist, and you know how habits work, and how they're formed. But what now? Just that knowledge on its own doesn't make daily art practice magically happen, and even the most rewarding of rewards can't always solve this problem. What's more, sometimes the hardest part about practice, and making art in general, is what to draw this time. Even if you want to practice art, not knowing what to draw can make it really hard to keep the habit.
Luckily, there's a number of things you can do to motivate yourself to practice every day, and to keep yourself inspired and creative.
Try making the cue for your art practice habit something exciting. You could set a daily alarm where the alarm tone is your favorite song. You could put art practice right before or after something in your daily schedule that you enjoy. Make sure you don't slot art practice after something that leaves you tired or drained. Try to make it so that when it's time to practice art, you're excited, even pumped to get to work on your latest creation.
Find a list of prompts. Just search on Google for “art prompts” and you'll get all kinds of results, from premade lists to generators.
Open a physical dictionary to a random page, and put your finger on a random spot on the page without looking. Whatever word your finger is on (or is closest to), think of a piece of art you can do for practice that has something to do with that work
If you don't have a physical dictionary, both dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com have a word of the day feature that you can use in the same way as the above tip.
Go outside! Find something compelling to draw in the natural world, or in a city street, a neat-looking building, and so on.
Take a break! Daily practice is great, but it is possible to burn out of creativity, in which case, forcing yourself to forge on can eventually just make things worse. If you need to, take a day, a week, or a month off from making art, including daily practice. Just remember to come back to it; when you do, you'll be refreshed and better than ever.
Remember that everyone is different, and a daily practice habit may just not be for you. If you've tried over and over and done everything you can think of to make yourself practice each day and it just never sticks, consider that maybe a daily practice habit isn't for you. Instead, try every other day, or a certain number of times per week. Whatever works for you. There's no shame in having different needs and stamina levels than others.
“I spend as much time as I can sketching from nature...When I look into a river, I feel I could spend a whole lifetime just painting that river.” —Alan Lee
Here are a few links to art prompt generators and other useful tools for inspiration:
Has several categories of prompt generators to choose from, including characters, objects, environments, and more.
A Pinterest search for art prompts. There are several potentially useful lists here.
The Inktober initiative, besides being a neat challenge you can try every October, also includes 31 different art prompts every year.
Another handy prompt generator. You can generate a list of prompts however long or short you wish, and make them simple—ranging from a single word to a short phrase or sentence—or elaborate, such as the following example prompt I generated to try it out: “Create three pictures on the theme of blood on the snow. The first should depict depression, the second joy, and the third paranoia.“
What We've Learned
Improvement tends to happen both incrementally and in sudden bursts
Daily practice causes incremental improvement, but also makes sudden improvement more likely.
Habits are the backbone of things like daily practice.
Habits are formed by a three part loop, involving a cue, a routine, and a reward.
The reward can be intrinsic or extrinsic.
A habit is most likely to stick if you use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
If you don't know what to draw, it's much harder to keep an art practice habit. To counter this, you can use prompts or random words to inspire yourself.
Practice can feel boring and stale much of the time, and can be a very hard habit to keep consistently, but the long-term rewards of regular practice are very much worth the effort. I hope the content of this article can be of some help to artists who, like many of us—myself included—have trouble keeping a regular practice habit. Best wishes; I can't wait to see your practice pay off!
Topic: Your Own Worst Enemy
Being an artist is no cake walk by any stretch of imagination. It can be a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, but there's a whole host of roadblocks one can face, including (but definitely not limited to) lack of motivation, injury or disability, and...oh, right, the fact that everybody's a critic, and there's no shortage of people willing to tell you what you did wrong without actually giving you any helpful advice on how to do better.
Of course, as artists, each of our very worst critics tend to be ourselves. While this may not always be the case, it's often true that we criticize our own work more harshly than anyone else who ever lays eyes on it. There's a reason for this, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Today, we're going to talk all about the phenomenon of artists being their own worst critic in full detail. We'll go over:
Why it happens
How to look out for it
How to counter it and prevent it from paralyzing you and keeping you from making art.
And do note, this is a problem that can and often does arise with just about any type of art, whether it's visual art, writing, music...the list goes on. I'm going to be using a lot of examples from visual art, because that's my medium, and as such I'm familiar enough with it to draw examples and analogies from my experience. But if you're another kind of artist, bear with me, as I'll try to make this as general as possible while still being helpful. Keep that in mind as we forge ahead, and if you or anyone you know is an artist of any sort, I hope this will be helpful to you in confronting your own inner critic.
Why This Happens
There are a number of reasons why this phenomenon might occur, but one in particular stands out: as the creators of a given piece of art, we know it intimately. We see every insignificant mistake, every little slip-up, and we're painfully aware if our work does not measure up to the exact idea we were trying to convey, because we're intensely focused on the work throughout the entire creation process, so of course we notice every little mistake.
Further, we as artists tend to be keenly aware of our problem areas. Some, like drawing hands, are very common weak areas that tend to be shared among a lot of artists, especially new ones. Other problem areas may be more specific and personal to you. Either way, it doesn't make a difference, the point is that—while being aware of your own weaknesses can be a very, very good thing, because it can help you improve—it's also a double-edged sword.
See, being so keenly aware of your weak points means you're more likely to think poorly of anything you do that involves those weak points. It's frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of thinking things like “I am really bad at drawing hands, so all the hands I draw are sub-par,” which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because you've set yourself up for failure.
How to Recognize It
It might seem like this would be a pretty obvious phenomenon for the person that it's happening to, and to be sure, sometimes it is, and if you're already aware that you're your own worst critic, you can skip this section. For those of you who aren't sure, however, let's talk about that.
Commonly, an artist might not think they are being overly harsh on themselves, they may just think they're identifying problem areas to help them improve. There is a difference between these two behaviors.
If you really are just casting a fair yet critical eye on your work, you'll be able to focus on the bigger picture. You might have an inner dialog going something like “I did well on this part, but could work on this part. I'll try to learn from this.” However, if you're being overly critical of yourself, it'll be more like “and this is wrong, and this is wrong, and this is wrong...I'm a bad artist.”
As you can see, being overly critical of yourself can spiral into self-destructive and self-loathing territory, whereas being realistic about your work looks at what you did right as well as what you did wrong, and gives you ideas of how to improve your art.
This is a very important distinction. One behavior accomplishes nothing but make you feel bad and can even stunt your growth as an artist and prevent you from improving. So pay attention to your inner dialog, and when you can't trust yourself, trust your friends and family to tell you if you're being too harsh on your own work.
Two people can look at (or listen to, or read, etc) a given piece of art and come away with two very different ideas of the quality of, value of, and emotion evoked by the piece. And the thing is, they're both right. And so is anyone else who experiences the piece and forms different ideas on it.
You'll hear the phrase “art is subjective” thrown around so much, it can be easy to forget what it means, exactly. Does it mean that your art is horrible because someone said so, or because you think so? No. Maybe it's horrible to some people who feel that way about it, but that's all, and those peoples' opinions do not dictate its worth to anyone else!
Does it mean that there's no such thing as skill, so there's no point in practicing? Nope, doesn't mean that either. Skill is a factor and practice does improve your skill gradually.
What it does mean is that no one person can tell you how to feel about your art. What it also means is that all art is valid.
How to Counter Negative Thinking About Your Art
Remembering that all art is valid and that art is inherently subjective, as well as the fact that being overly critical of your work doesn't help is important, but sometimes just being reminded of these truths isn't quite enough to get out of a slump. So here are a few pointers to get you back in front of your sketchpad (or your painting canvas, or your musical instrument, or your notebook, or your word processing software, etc, etc, etc).
Take a break. There's no shame in taking some time away from your work. You may find it helps you gain a fresh perspective.
Commiserate with other artists. Being one's own worst critic is such a common problem that it affects almost every artist out there, so if you have any friends, family, acquaintances who are artists, complain to them about your woes; they'll probably understand, and it can be helpful to vent.
For every piece of negative criticism you hear about your work, or say to yourself, find at least one thing you did well, too. We learn equally from both our mistakes and what we've done well.
Remember that every bit of art you make is progress. Even if you think a piece of art is horrible (which it probably isn't), the act of drawing it still honed your skills, even if only a small amount. Incremental progress is still progress.
Similarly, focusing on quantity of art produced will actually increase your quality in the long term. So remind yourself of this, and if you make something you think is bad, don't loose any sleep over it, just make another one! (and another, and another, and...)
What We've Learned
It's very common for artists of all kinds to be more critical of their own work than anyone else, and this is often taken to unhealthy levels.
This happens because, as the creators of a given work, we are keenly aware of every detail, and by extension, every mistake.
The reality is that all art is valid, and nobody but you can decide how to feel about your art.
To counter this line of thought, you can take a break, comiserate with other artists, think of positive things to say about your art to counter the negative, and focus on producing more art to keep practicing and getting better, rather than stagnating as you bemoan what you've done wrong thus far.
So next time you cast a more critical eye on your own work than might be healthy, just remember that the most important thing is that you enjoy making art. You can always strive to improve, but improvement rarely happens reliably by hating yourself and your work.
Now, what are you waiting for? You're out of excuses. Go make art!