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Art School Thoughts

There’s some kinda #artschool discourse going around Twitter again. On the off-chance I can reach anyone before they make their mistake: Art schools aren’t necessary for a career in the arts. If you go to one, you’ll probably start hearing this right around senior year (that’s when I first heard it).
I’m not saying there aren’t good schools out there. By most accounts, mine was a very good one (even if they are at the center of the current kerfuffle), and I think I’m one of the only people from my class and major that hasn’t spent at least a little time working in the industry yet, so that’s something of an endorsement.
I’m saying you don’t NEED to go to one. Where your degree comes from, or even having a degree at all, will have far less impact on your career than being able to demonstrate skills and having a network of people who can convince people to take a chance on you.
No one tells you this until you’re already there and committed to the massive debt.
A cynical part of me blames it on greed and business and such. Student loan servicers need you to be in debt; art schools need your tuition money; your high school needs you to go on to college to make them look good. But I think more of it is probably that it’s just not something your teachers, guidance counselors, college admission staff etc. are thinking about. By default, it’s just not something they consider.
But it’s something you should be thinking about and aggressively looking for answers to. College is expensive, and art school is especially expensive. It may end up being worth that cost; or it may be a ball and chain that follows you around for the rest of your life.
When I look back at my decision to go to art school, it always strikes me just how naive I was, how little research I did, how screwed up my priorities were, but also how little help the people around me were (not that naive past-me would have known he needed the help). Past-me genuinely believed that you just went to college for a thing that you wanted to be your job, and somehow, you learned everything you needed to get that job: How to apply, all the skills you needed etc. and no one knew I thought this, so no one could set me straight.
It’s obvious to me now, but it never occurred to past-me that there’s nothing stopping you from looking up your dream job, seeing what companies are hiring people to do that thing, and what qualifications they’re looking for. (Actually, I tried this ONCE in, like, junior high, in like, the worst possible way, and when it failed, I just decided that meant I would learn all of that in college. Again, don’t be like past-me. He was an idiot.)
There’s nothing stopping you from finding people with that job and asking them how they got the job and what advice they have for someone who wants to do that job when they grow up. (Pros scoff at that, but I think that’s mainly because it’s a common piece of art school homework that has a reputation as something the school is making the kids do in lieu of teaching it to them themselves. I suspect they’d be happy for an independent learner to ask.)
Also, take your time. Past-me hated high school and just wanted to be done and never have to go to school ever again. This isn’t a great way to learn anything in a scholarly environment, and it’s not a great attitude to bring into a very very expensive school. Many of the people I went to art school with who seemed to enjoy the most success right off the bat were people who were older when they went to art school. These people had had jobs or studied other things before jumping into our program, and I believe those experiences helped them to work and study in ways that those of us just out of high school, living on our own for the first time in our lives, just weren’t familiar with.
I can’t give this advice to past-me, but maybe somehow it can find its way to someone similar enough to past-me that they can avoid a whole lot of hurt and a whole lot of debt. I know from experience, no one else is liable to give that person this advice, so if you know someone like past-me, please, give them my advice, or if past-me sounds an awful lot like present-you, maybe consider this advice for yourself:
1. If you have a dream job, research the hell out of it. Find out the qualifications you need, the skills you need. Learn about other people doing that job because they’re your best information about that job, and also your competition for similar jobs.

2. Don’t rush into expensive decisions. Art school can wait, and if you make it wait a bit, you might just be much better suited to make it work for you. Or you might learn enough on your own that you don’t need it.

3. Don’t make your first taste of freedom an expensive one. There’s a lot to learn about living on your own. It may be far better to get a job and your first apartment and learn all about eating cereal for every meal and figuring out how to do laundry and going to parties in a setting where it won’t cost you tens of thousands of dollars per semester to do so.

4. An apartment, a decent computer, a bunch of tutorials, and tickets to industry networking events are way cheaper than art school. It’s not the route for everyone, but even if they don’t work for you on their own, they’re all things that will help you succeed at art school.

5. Student loans are a goddamn nightmare, and they’re not getting fixed anytime soon. They’re a big part of why I might seem to be cautioning you away from college period. They’re not as bad as you’ve heard: they’re worse. Fight for every non-loan dollar that you can get. And if you can’t get scholarships and grants, consider cutting your losses and resuming school at a later date when you can get those non-loan dollars.

Alternate locations

Hey, so I know I said I was going to get back into this, but I’ve been awful sloppy about posting my stuff since then. Awful sloppy about posting it… here, that is.

While I’m working on posting more often on my main blog, you can keep tabs on me over at my tumblr, which is also where the bulk of everything that I drew or otherwise while I was slacking on figuring out how to tell my “real” blog that I didn’t want to be a 3D artist and instead wanted to be a concept artist.

And one of these days, maybe you’ll see regular updates, simultaneously on this blog, and tumblr… and Twitter… and maybe a DeviantArt and/or ArtStation if I want to get really fancy.

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?

Holiday Update

Okay, by no means was I supposed to get so little 3D done this month, nor do I really think I’m getting away with anything here (except that, I’ve apparently got two readers at this moment, so, it’s not like I’ve got a huge audience to disappoint). Whatever, December’s been busier than I anticipated, and lazier too. I’ll figure out something enjoyable to work on soon.

In the meantime, I spent all day today in the kitchen rather than at my computer. I think I’m probably winning Christmas. Best one-size-fits-all gift in my family, I suspect. My siblings and cousins are each getting a package of spiedini:

spiedini01Deliciousness in its purest form. Fresh beef ( I’ve heard of doing it with other meats, like chicken, or swordfish, but I’ve only ever eaten or made beef. Maybe next time…), sliced suuuuuper thin, and covered in olive oil, cheese, and seasoned bread crumbs. So far as I know, no one in my family, outside of my second-cousin at whose deli I learned to make this knows how to make it. This is only my third time ever making spiedini, but I think all the practice I got today counts for a couple times.

spiedini02This is less than half of the final product. Six pounds of meat netted me eleven of these skewers, with 8-10 pieces per skewer. That meant I could easily give each of the people on my list two skewers and still cook up one for dinner tonight to make sure it was as good as ever.

spiedini03Lest you think that 3D is the only department where I’m kinda sloppy about final presentation. Also, I hate my phone’s camera almost as badly as the Static Mesh Editor for making things look less good than they actually are.

For everyone who wants to play along at home:

Apologies about my lack of precise measurements. I almost never measure when cooking; I go for what looks like a big enough pile, or what smells like enough of a given seasoning and add more as needed. It’s worked out so far, though I know I could never take that attitude to any sort of baked good…


  • Beef (I’m pretty sure I got top round) sliced thin. Definitely, get the slicing done at the butcher’s. If you have to slice and pound the meat to get it flat enough, you’re going to be sore and frustrated before you even get to the fun part. Just over 1 pound of meat will get you two skewers of 8-10 pieces, if it’s sliced as thin as mine was. (It worked out to about 1.2 lbs of meat per two-skewer package this time. The last time, when I was pounding out my own beef, because I couldn’t get it as thin, 1.5 lbs got me about the same number of pieces)
  • Bread crumbs.
  • A dry Italian cheese, finely grated. I used Asiago this time, but Parmesan, Romano, anything like that will work. If you’re not making enough that grating your own cheese sounds utterly insane, grate the cheese fresh. It’ll taste better that way. Don’t use the stuff in a can, not just for this, but ever.
  • Herbs and seasonings. Dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder is what I had available, so I used that. I’ve seen recipes that also include things like pine nuts and raisins and, though my Sicilian culinary background probably has an easier time with that than I expect most do, I’ve yet to try making them any other way than plain.
  • Olive Oil. Don’t tell anyone, but I cheaped out and didn’t buy Extra Virgin. I’m a little ashamed of that, but it didn’t ruin anything.


  1. Mix bread crumbs, cheese, and herbs and spices in a large, shallow bowl or plate.
  2. Fill a smaller bowl or plate with a little bit of olive oil. I found it’s easier to have a very shallow pool of oil and refill it frequently than to go really full and have every slice of meat just drenched in the stuff.
  3. Dip a slice of meat in the oil, then in the bread crumb mixture, coating both sides thoroughly with both.
  4. Move the meat to a cutting board or other clean working surface, and roll it up tightly.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with each slice of meat, setting the finished rolls very close to each other so they can’t unroll. Alternatively, you may wish to skewer each roll as you make it, but I like to use two skewers to make it easier to turn them while cooking, and it’s a lot easier to pass one skewer at a time through all the pieces of spiedini than it is to push two skewers through one piece of spiedini at a time.
  6. Cook, either in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil, or on a grill or in the broiler after brushing spiedini with olive oil. Regardless of your cooking method, they only need about 3-5 minutes a side.
  7. Serve with long pasta (e.g. spaghetti or linguine), tomato sauce, and crusty Italian bread.

Hopefully we’ll be back to 3D before too long. The design of this website really doesn’t lend itself to too many more cooking episodes…




Technical Difficulties

I really do hate my tendency to make excuses (and I really would rather be done with the chair than dragging it out any longer than needed), but this has been a week of just about everything going wrong that possibly can, so I think this time it’s warranted (all the other times, less so). My Maya license expired on me in spite of me taking the exact actions suggested by their built-in authenticator. My tablet seems to think it’s a funny game to just sort of go narcoleptic if I let my stylus get more than, like half a foot from it, and my computer has been running extremely loud just about all week in spite of a thorough cleaning.

So, if I don’t make my self-imposed Wednesday posting deadline, or if I make it in a less spectacular fashion than I’d hoped, that’s what’s up.

Thursday Night Update:

And, for no apparent reason, UDK refuses to launch tonight, and I really don’t have much time to troubleshoot it right now on account of needing to be at work early and all day tomorrow. So, I guess the bake and my WIP textures aren’t getting thrown into this update. Not much point making a separate post when all I’ve got, then, is the one screenshot from Mudbox then.

chairRound3_sculpt_20131119Alright, hopefully I can get the UDK shenanigans sorted out, and hopefully, I’ll only need to have reinstalled one program in the week of technical difficulties…


Usual [at-least] Weekly Update

Has to be delayed, on account of this throbbing pain behind my eyes  that’s been bugging me all day and kept me from my plans to steal away every chance I got in between visiting with family from out of town to try and finish up my new and improved sculpt of the chair. I was considering screengrabbing where I’m at and suffering through making a post with a bunch of caveats about what’s left, but I figure, instead, I’ll just finish up tomorrow (mystery headaches permitting) and make my weekly update just a day late, covering the whole redo, through High-Poly and sculpting.

LeMat Revolver Process

I recently discovered the LeMat Revolver, a Civil War-era pistol with a built-in shotgun. I was looking to try my hand at some weapon modeling, so I decided to create a LeMat.

There are several models of LeMat Revolver that I’ve found reference for, and there were certain details that I could only find up-close and/or exploded view on certain models, so my revolver is an amalgam of several variants.

Revolver Blockout as of 05/21/2011. Still need to figure out the ramrod, the multiple-configuration hammer, and how the firing mechanism in the back can work. Handle and trigger region are still far from complete. Cylinder still needs to be recombined and border edges merged and softened.

Revolver Blockout 5/24/11. Remodeled the handle. Finished the ramrod. Remodeled the hammer and continued trying to figure out how best to make the hammer and firing pins fit so that it could conceivably strike in both positions. Hammer position still needs work, as it could fire the revolver portion but would not be able to strike the pin for the shotgun. Handle still missing some modeled details.