Several years ago, I made the decision to put away miniature war games and focus on art. The idea was that the artists who I admired didn’t just get good at it. One day, they made an actual, active choice to be a better artist. They intentionally decided to begin doing the work of being an artist. I realize that it might not sound like a huge epiphany. I mean, it’s pretty obvious really. Coming to that crossroads of working a regular job, and then going home to play games, or working for myself, creating something new was a big deal though. That decision changed the course of my life.
I began looking seriously at artbooks, mining techniques and inspiration. I’d go and draw my apartment complex in the mornings, slowly beginning to learn to see my world and tell it’s story. I’d spend my lunch breaks sketching story ideas and characters, and eventually telling illustrated stories about my life as a dad. Looking back, even with four years of art school behind me, I still knew so little of the craft of making pictures. Heck, I’ve been doing this professionally for ten years and still feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. I still have a lot of work to do.
The year I got my first job, I went to an art conference/workshop in Montreal. Needing to have a portfolio for the workshop meant that I stopped to make one, and having that made it possible to get hired to a small graphic design shop when I got back. On portfolio review day, they asked me what I wanted to do with my art. What was my end goal for being there. I don’t know that I’d really thought about it before that, you just made a portfolio and got a job, didn’t you? I just wanted to make things and tell stories, so I told them that I wanted to illustrate role playing games and children’s books. While those are two very different markets, that statement set me on a new path, narrowing from “I want to make art” to “I want to tell stories.”
First though, I had to make more art. A lot more. I wasn’t there yet.
That first job at the graphic design shop was hard. I had to produce drawings quickly that were good quality, and were things that I wouldn’t normally draw. There was a lot of pressure, but I was building a visual vocabulary as well as expanding my portfolio. Which allowed me to get work for an indie game publisher called Hex Games.
Role playing games don’t pay well, but I got to do a lot of work under someone else’s direction. It gave me the opportunity to draw a lot MORE things that I probably wouldn’t have drawn otherwise. I began to learn to draw backgrounds. I learned more about painting cover art. I became good friends with the people at Hex Games. Work that I’m passionate about helps me grow in ways I never really imagined. I believe in Hex’s mission (whatever that is) and love working for them.
The whole point here is that even as a professional, there’s room for growth. It’s important to keep striving for mastery of our craft. It’s important to do the work that we love, as well as the work that keeps the lights on. Maybe if we do enough of both of those things, they’ll eventually be the same thing.
Thanks for joining me today. If you enjoyed this post about my personal journey, and would like to see more like it, I’m doing daily INKtober drawings accompanied by journaling over on my Patreon page. If you’d like to help support this and other projects like it, Patreon is a great place to do that. Check out my pledge page here for more details. https://www.patreon.com/redherringjeff