Creaturiste's Laboratory

Techniques, works in progress, and everything that doesn't fit in the portfolio. Comments and questions are encouraged, custom orders are welcome!

Monday, March 10, 2014


One of the greatest realization/lesson in this lifetime for me can be summed up in only three words: THERE ARE LEVELS. This means so much, in so many fields and situations.
For me, it means I have my place, no matter how insecure I may feel about my work at any point in time.  For the beginner, it means they can begin NOW.

Basic method, but perfect for low budget allowed. LEVELS!
What it means to me about the arts: there are many levels of technical skills and artistic sensibilities, but there is space for all of them, even on the market, from the very bad to the god-like. Some people at a low level of skills can still find an appealing style and occupy a niche, sometimes for their entire career, sometimes even without much discernible improvement. They still get paid, and they still inspire the folks who have not been exposed yet to the top quality stuff, they might even be the spark that inspire a future genius in their field. Find your public, grow with it (or not), and you'll have your place, says this lesson.

Don't get overwhelmed, get excited!
 It also says: get inspired and fueled rather than discouraged by the work of more advanced artists.
At the sight of the works of a "genius", I used to say: "I'll never reach that level, so why should I even bother, sigh...".
Nowadays, I've reached a point where I can think and say aloud: "Wow! Such potential! Imagine if I even reached a fraction of that level! Exciting! Let's study this work and find out what it means to me, and how they achieve this effect!!! Let's write them a letter to thank them and ask for specific advice!"

This is also about humility. Real humility does not mean weakness. It is a strength, to gracefully accept a compliment, and appreciate where we are in the present, compared to others in our fields, based on our own observations.  No matter how much someone(or many) might admire your work and extol your virtues in front of others, there will always be better skilled artists than you, and of course, artists you would not dare call them by that term, according to your own sense of appreciation. Horrible quality works get published, sold, even become popular items for the masses. Some of those successes cannot be explained! Yet you have your place, the other artists have theirs, even though all the places keep changing, adapting with the person at their center.

Being proud of your work is good, even necessary for self promotion. There is too much false modesty in this world. Still, boastfulness is usually bad, for it hurts other people's feelings. "I'm good at what I do, I'm an expert in these aspects, I've done it professionally for 15 years." is completely acceptable, while "I'm the best, I'm a living legend the likes of this person and that person, look at my contributions to this AND that famous piece of work!" just sounds bad. You are name dropping, trying, desperately, to elevate yourself, to prove that you are worth something, when the work itself should be enough to prove it. Even if you are indeed a living legend, it should be up to other people to call you that, and if you truly deserve the title, accept the compliments with heartfelt gratitude and humility. People who care really appreciate down-to-earth folks, since we tend to assume someone of great skill to be snobs. Let's change the face of success, let's encourage honesty and self-awareness!

Virgil, my 1st finished puppet. 
Some people will not take the opinions or the advice of a younger person. Age is too often seen as the automatic bestowal of wisdom. I've met elderly people with the wisdom of intoxicated teenagers.
Give me an experienced teacher of any age, and I'll try my best to learn. I once worked for a company who had this attitude: "We've been doing this for 30 years!" was their justification to keep on doing it the same way and refuse input about improving the quality and safety of their giant puppets.  GIANT puppets. This means heavy, bulky, and potentially dangerous.
 I've met two people so far who admit that they got permanent physical damage (nerves and muscles) from working with that company.   I risked my life TWICE with that company before I decided not to work with them anymore. I love my work, but I have to protect myself so I can keep doing it. Their designs were too heavy, the center of gravity was not respected, everything screamed anti-ergonomics!  One good thing came out of that, besides the paycheck: I learned a lot about what NOT to do.  And when years later, I built giant puppets with a team of people with a large range of skills, I made sure that we were not potentially risking someone's safety.

There is no age to be passionate and obsessive about a topic, to the point of becoming an expert. So, there is no shame in learning from a younger person than you. Indeed, there should be enthusiasm about such a young mind with such potential.  

The dangers of SNOBISM
As one's sense of observation and appreciation for excellent quality work keeps growing, a steep price is often paid: we become a lot more difficult to please.  This seems to go for most things in life, from preparing better food at home than in restaurants, to comparing every show we see with the masterful exceptions that blew our minds and artistic sensibilities.  The sense of dissatisfaction can be such that we may feel betrayed, that our time has been wasted, that we just experienced garbage.
Amateurs, every last one of them!!!
Learning to appreciate something for what it is, deciding to see the potential instead of the current limitations, to get excited about specific successful aspects of the work even when the whole was a dire disappointment.  The snob-in-becoming should try to keep their opinions private until that condition is cured or is at least under control. I'm working on that aspect these days.  THERE ARE LEVELS and ways to express our opinions and advice, so that finding the proper approach can help, instead of hinder and hurt other people's feelings.   Of course, it is best to offer the help and opinion, and wait for permission before we start offering a lecture on how things can be improved.
If they don't want the input, we must respect that.

Most artists have areas of expertise where we know more than the person we are interacting with.  This doesn't automatically mean we are an expert at anything else. Quite often, a genius in one field is a dunce in another.  So again must we apply a healthy does of humility, to learn from those who have better mastery of some knowledge or technique we need.  Some of these experts for the method we need may be amateurs in other aspects of the same field. Let's exchange, let's be each other's teachers, let's all grow together, instead of competing.

People often ask me what I think about their work, or something they admire in another artist's work.
Before I express my own views, I must ask them a few questions and state a warning:
•"Do you want my honest, profesionnal and personal opinions, or do you just want praise and reassuring?"
•Are you ready to hear constructive criticism?"
•I'll be as brutally honest as I need to be to take my point across, but my intention is always to help, not to hurt your feelings. 
•I only offer specific advice when I am comfortable (with experience and skill) with the topic. I may give general directions to other approaches that MIGHT work, but I'll mention that it is not tested.

Even after I preface with the above statements, I occasionally get the reactions I tried to warn against.
Some people become overly defensive and sensitive when their work is the subject of scrutiny.

For the sake of an eventual harmony on this floating ball in space, let's all learn to balance our emotions and intellects!

Opinions/Taste VS Objectivity 
When told about aspects that need improvements, a lot of people will revert to the old: "That's just your opinion" ditty.   Excuse me?  Opinions and tastes are personal of course, but quality work can be evaluated by the objective mind, backed by experience and a sense of appreciation of the skill and subject matter. It is especially easy to demonstrate in the case of figurative work.   Anatomy can be respected or distorted for artistic or fantasy reasons, but anyone who claims that they are doing accurate work based on anatomy while their work demonstrates nothing of the underlying principles of it is simply lying, and not only to themselves.
"What is Art?", is a question that became a debate that may never be resolved.
We can more easily evaluate what is in front of us, observable. And when someone shows me art they consider superior, I better be able to see/feel the work and intentions that went into it, or else I'll just lose interest, and focus on art that really makes me feel or shows me some technical skills.
Again, there are levels, and that is the salvation for a lot of us artists or art lovers, but it does not mean we are ready or willing to appreciate all those levels on an individual basis. We have a right to choose what we love or expose ourselves to, and that doesn't makes us insensitive or culture-less. 
Still, it is good to try to expand our comfort zones. We may learn something, we may FEEL something new!

Two months of work = $$$
I don't care what your level (of skill/notoriety/) is at the moment you do the work, you should be paid FAIRLY(at least), in money, goods or services.  A lot of beginners make the mistake of working for free, fearing they are not good enough yet to be paid, or thinking they'll get "good exposure". Exposure doesn't pay the bills (or you art supplies).  No matter what many artists and members of the general population may think, Art is valuable, and is genuine work. we don't usually ask other service providers to work for free, but artists get such requests constantly.  Let's educate ourselves, and then the masses, leading through example.  Charging less than what the work is worth doesn't only hurt your wallet, your self worth (as a working artist) but also the business at large: the general population customers has come to expect cheap labor from artists, except from those few who "made it".
What distinguishes a super skilled unknown artist with an average-skilled trendy artist who has become a favorite of the Art world?  Many things, but one of the most obvious aspect would be the number of zeros at the end of the check for each piece sold.  This person is not expected to work for free. Why?  They are an artist too!  Maybe their situation has made it clear enough that their work has monetary value.  We need to do something to that effect as well. we need to educate the masses about the value of the work we do. "Without art, a society has no identity." I tried to find the source of this quote, but at the moment, nothing springs forward in searches.
Another tack at it, with my own words: without artists to design every space and every object we use and appreciate in our daily lives, there would be no joy, and even the practical would be less so.

If someone approaches you to work for them, they must have felt something desirable in your work.
THAT has value too. So does your time, your experience, your total focus, the sleepless nights, the emotional roller coaster that often comes with creating something we are passionate about.
Look at what the usual fees for the work (of similar levels) are at the time, and start getting comfortable with charging those amounts. My old fear was that I would lose work opportunities if I "charged too much".  Sure, some customers get surprised at "how expensive" my fees are, but then I try to educate them about the differences between a ready-made toy that has been mass produced, and the unique piece I am custom-building for their needs.  I cannot compete with the cheap prices and assembly lines, but I can offer some things that are hard to beat: originality, rarity, customizations, all adapted to the needs of their project, and their personal tastes.  A lot of them change their minds and hire me, some even going to the extent of finding additional funding for their projects.  Those who are unwilling or unable to hire me at the time, can either go for the mass produced items, or reach someone else at another level, and there is no hard feeling.  Some do business with me in later years.

But, I don't have any talent!
I constantly meet people who ave been brainwashed into thinking less of their own potential.
"I wish I could draw or paint! I couldn't even draw a stick figure to save my life!"
For me, talent is something you are born with, an affinity, a special ease with a technique that most people have to struggle to learn to reach any level of acceptable quality.
I can say right now that I wasn't born with any obvious talent that I can use directly in my work. I had to work very hard, despite the obstacles of having no formal training in sculpture, painting, or drawing. And I still keep working hard, pushed b my constant dissatisfaction.

Skills are honed, nurtured, pushed and sharpened over effort and time. You have one functioning eye, and can write your name clearly enough so that people can read it?  You have what it takes to draw realistically. What, you don't have arms? Use your mouth to hold a paintbrush!
You get the picture, skills take effort! And determination, and patience, and faith, and definitely passion.

Before the age of photography, even scientists had to learn how to draw realistically to represent their findings, so the subject was thought in most schools.  Nowadays, in our world of super specialization, we think of artists as a separate group of people, with almost magical skills (though we often don't respect them, paradoxically.  A scientist who can also draw today seems a strange concept, an admirable rare specimen of a renaissance person. 

Anybody can perform the various techniques of Art, following time and effort. Not everybody has what it takes (but they CAN learn it) to become a full-time Artist though. 

Many artists have it, that feeling that we are not good enough; that we don't DESERVE to work in our field; that there are FAR better artists who don't even have the chance to do what we do;
that our work is not good enough to be sold/published/publicized.
When my mind whispers these doubts again, I just reply:
 Thank you for your opinion, but...
•THERE ARE LEVELS and there is space for all of them in this world.
•I keep getting better and always do my best, so my customers always get my best possible work.
•People appreciate my work or they wouldn't keep hiring me (many repeat customers, some abroad).
Self doubt: NOT good enough (will redesign in clay)
•I contribute to bringing people smiles, stories, reflection, escapism, and life lessons, through the stories that are performed with my performance objects.
•I share my techniques to keep the ball rolling, and that makes me feel amazing as a bonus.

You are good enough! Start NOW, keep at it, and you'll soon reach levels of comfort where you'll feel that you have accomplished something. Then that feeling of dissatisfaction will come back or increase, and you'll be pushed to accomplish even more, or you'll give up if you don't keep working.
 Life is ever expanding, ever changing, so let's embrace that aspect into our work.

Impostors are those who pretend to be what they are not.  I LIVE my work. 

THERE ARE LEVELS, and appreciating what level I am at in the moment, keeps me satisfied and fueled for the project I must finish NOW.  Of course, as a project is over and my mourning of its departure is done, new challenges happen, and I make dang sure I keep stretching my comfort zones, get better in my work, and reach THE NEXT LEVEL.

But we have to start NOW, with what we have NOW, learn along the way, and keep at it!
This work in progress illustration started from a bunch of random doodles. It keeps evolving and changing as I put more time and effort into it.  Then end result will likely look very different in composition and complexity, but the main feeling and story are already present, I think.


Lilac Grove said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lilac Grove said...

Oops, I just saw this blog from March! Excellent advice Mathieu!!!