Monday, November 7, 2011

Belated Summer-of-Painting Post Mortem

It's been over a month since my last post; it's been over two months since the end of the project itself. By this point, I'd be shocked if anyone was actually still reading this blog.

Basically, in the last two months, my biggest Quest fear was allayed: that this project was an ambitious but overall useless effort. The illustrations I've done in the last month and a half show a better understanding of color and paint handling and drawing, though I have a long way to go in all three areas yet, and I'm working faster than I was last year.

For those playing along at home, the quote that got me through this summer was, '"What you can, when you can" - to suspend the manic urge to fulfill your potential and instead focus on doing what is possible, with the materials to hand.' That was pretty much what I needed at that moment - a mantra to keep myself focused on the present, day-to-day effort to improve. I was smarting hard from the previous year, where I overreached and overcommitted and failed hard and repeatedly.

I've outgrown that quote now. I can't settle for the possible; it's time to push again. I'm middle of the pack (where 'the pack' is the very small pond of 'the SVA Class of 2012 Illustration Department'). At my best I can break into the lowest ranks of the top - but that's at my very best, and those historically have happened beyond my conscious control. Telling myself to calm down and concentrate on doing what was possible is what enabled me to claw my way through last year's Thesis project and this summer's Quest - but, having survived that, I've realized that I don't have anything to gain by that frame of mind.

Randall Munroe said it perfectly: "You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process."

I want this so badly - 'this' being a career in fantasy illustration. I look at Donato and Dan Dos Santos and Tristan Elwell and Tyler Jacobson and Rebecca Guay and Eric Fortune and Kinuko Craft and John Jude Palencar and I want to be them. I want to wake up every day for the rest of my life and paint.

I won't get there by being middle-of-the-pack, and I won't climb above middle-of-the-pack by taking reasonable steps.

The three newest illustrations I've done, each one completed within the last month and a half, have all been ambitious, and all of them have failed to do everything I wanted of them - but each one has been better by far than anything I did last year. It's been hard, to say the least, and exhausting, and often frustrating, but I'm growing so fast I can feel my bones creak.

I'll let Elizabeth Bear, who is much smarter than me, say it:

"...spectacular failures, big reaches. They're scary. They're also necessary, because it's climb or die, strive or stagnate. If I'm not on the verge of failure all the time, I'm not working hard enough."

"Reach, reach harder, stretch higher, and grasp something a little bit better than if you contented yourself with assured success"

"There's more honor in over-reaching and failing with ambition, than in limited success. And if we measure our goals by the best of the best, at least we're unlikely to run out of challenges."

It's exciting; it's exhilarating. I'm gaining confidence, and I'm getting results. It also makes me a little skittish - it smacks of hubris to that part of my mind that constantly smacks me down - but, to quote Elizabeth Bear yet again:

"The first step to moving the world is picking up the lever. The second step is accepting that you have the strength to put that sucker where you want it. You gotta wanna. But you also have to believe you can."

I'm learning to believe that I can. This weekend, I attended Illuxcon with Joyce Li, Andrew Ryan, Greg Opalinski, and Cristina La Venuta. I showed my portfolio to everyone I could, and it was extremely gratifying to hear the positive feedback. The keyword was 'potential' - I'm not there yet, but I have the seeds of something, and for artists and art directors alike to tell me that made me prouder than I can really express.

This is the year for me to get my ducks in a row. It's my last year of grace before the Real World, and I intend to push for every minute of it.

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