I’m not dead

Okay, I’ve admitted this to myself a million times, but never said it publicly:

I never wanted to be a 3D artist. I never enjoyed it. I never wrapped my head around all the abstractions in 3D art (shaders, any map less straightforward than a diffuse or specular map), never came close to figuring out the right poly-count on the rare occasions when I even got close to getting something into an engine (but hoo boy do I know how to freak out about poly-counts…).

I’ve spent my entire life poring over books of concept art, for pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I’ve always loved seeing that what-if: the wildly different ships we might have seen in Star Wars, the completely un-prawn-like aliens that eventually became the creatures from District 9, the countless designs that eventually got finessed into the weapons of one of the dwarves from The Hobbit, literally any piece of mass entertainment media whose concept art I could find. That’s what I always wanted to do.

And it’s that first point that holds the majority of the key to why I’ve gone two and a half years without using my blog (and why hackers have spent more time here than I have, hence one of my last posts is just gone…), why I improved at a glacial pace and wound up backsliding pretty regularly.

But, at the same time that I knew I wanted to be a concept artist, I also wanted to work in video games. And as a listless teenager, I latched onto the most prestigious school I could find offering a major with the word “game” in its name. This major, in a supremely poor fit for me, was split off from a phenomenal computer animation program and, especially in its infancy, focused overwhelmingly on the 3D side of things. For— I’m pretty sure, last I heard— everyone else graduating from that first class, that wasn’t a problem. They either developed the knack and passion for 3D to get that career, or figured out enough on the side to get into a related position (the folks who went on to become tech artists, game designers etc.). I didn’t. I didn’t get it, didn’t catch that studying on the side, posting my work on forums like Polycount, doing side-projects for the sake of additional learning, tracking down tutorials pretty much constantly, were supposed to be a major part of my education, and I was too caught up in sunk costs and just wanting to be done with school to even consider switching majors or schools to find something that would actually teach me what I wanted to do, or at least not waste so much money that I didn’t have.

(Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling out my school. The fact that it seemed to have worked for the rest of my class and for every subsequent class that I remain in touch with, suggests that it is indeed a good school and a good program for students who weren’t me.)

And so I graduated, after four years of probably straight C’s, with a mediocre portfolio demonstrating modest skills in something I didn’t actually want to do. Much like the proverbial person who tries to get into QA and work their way into the job they actually want, I had this notion that I would buckle down, build a slightly less crappy portfolio, get my foot in the door as a 3D artist and start learning concept art on the side until I could get the job I actually wanted.

You can guess how many of those steps happened. Oh, I came close. I tried a variety of techniques over the years to cut down procrastination, started a lot of projects aimed at going back to the fundamentals and finally grokking 3D art, did a handful of art tests and sent out my resume and portfolio all over the place.

The one thing that never happened was the one that’s probably closest to the root of my problems, at least where art is concerned: Admitting that 3D wasn’t what I wanted to do, and wasn’t something I enjoyed. As long as those two things were true, I was never going to get better, never going to get employable, never create art, never feel like I’m not lying through my teeth when I call myself an artist.

So there it is: Creating 3D art for games is not my jam. It’s not my passion, it’s not what I want to do with my life. It’s something I haven’t touched for two years and will be okay with never touching again if it comes to that. I don’t see a future for me in creating 3D art.

I’ve always regretted not learning to paint, digitally or otherwise. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t see where Game Art & Design was heading with our first class and say “You know, I think I want to switch to Illustration.” I’ve always regretted that it wasn’t until senior year that I even figured out Gnomon was a thing, much less a resource at Ringling’s library.

And it’s been very hard lately. I let myself be convinced to try being a ski bum, which is a brutally expensive lifestyle. When I get a break from a 60+ hour workweek, the last thing I want to do is bang my head against the wall, creating art that’s nowhere near the standards I hold myself to.

Going forward, I am going to take the first baby steps into learning the skills and pursuing the artistic career I actually want. There will probably, eventually, be some redesigns of this blog to be more “concept art” and more “anything I’ve been doing more recently than 2011”, and I guess more frequent updates, especially once I get into either creating more art digitally or just get better equipped to post sketchbook pages (currently I have to either take a terrible cellphone picture or carve out a chunk of time to scan stuff at the library).

So, yeah, it already feels better to admit what I’m actually after instead of pretending I’m interested in a field I’m not. Now I just gotta keep this motivation going.

Anyone got any resources they’d recommend to the beginning self-taught concept artist?

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