The Nature Of Failure & Confidence In Your Work - A Perspective
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So, it's my birthday. I told myself I was gonna do nothing, but I feel like working on some projects. But before I do, I'm gonna do something a little peculiar, I'm gonna present a failed project of mine, go into detail how it failed, and explain
how to deal with failure in art as best I can -- and how I deal with failure, myself.
What qualifies me to talk about this? Shit, I dunno, honestly. I just feel like it's important to talk about things, and explore the nature of things we do as passions. I've done Source art for about ten, nearly eleven years now, and I've been doing traditional and other digital art for about as long as I can remember, honestly. Lemme just preface this whole affair by saying that I don't intend to patronize anyone in this thread, or with how I speak. If I seem like a tosser -- sorry, I
have a very over-thesaurusy and flowery way of typing. I don't consider myself an authority, and I don't intend to speak to you, the reader, as an authority-- I intend to speak to you on the level, and share my experiences with this in the hope that it might help you come to some conclusions yourself, enlighten you to the workings of others, or perhaps even help you.
II come across as pretentious at all here. I don't consider myself some MASTERMIND ARTISTÉ GIVING THE PLEBS AN INSIGHT, I just figured, shit, I'm a person who makes pictures, maybe I should broach this topic with others who make pictures.
With that aside...
For as long as I've done this I've never really felt confident in my work, and, talking to others, I understand this is a trend with artists, especially perfectionists -- we drive ourselves by degrading our work and telling ourselves we'll do it better next time. For me I've always hated what I produced, but the process of creating it, the joy of creation, is too boundless to pass up. I have too much fun DOING it rather than seeing the end result to ever stop making art. So, thinking on that a lot lately, I've started to realize what's important, if you struggle with self-confidence, is to identify when you've made something inferior, and take actions to correct it. Learn from it. Improve from it. Step up on your own terms. Give yourself a reasonable, rational goal, and reach it.
It's very much less so here nowadays (praise god) but it can kinda seem dismissive and dissuading to receive criticism at times, especially on the internet. Nobody wants to be told they're bad, or that they had a flaw, and I think it's really important as an artist to understand that you're not your works -- just because you made a bad work does not mean you are a bad artist, nor will you forever stay one. A lot of people I know who get into art, whether in SFM, in GMOD, or even just trad art, they get really fucking upset when they make something that just didn't work, and more than a few have outright quit art forever because they received really harsh criticism. It saddens me, because I honestly do think that the means to make beauty are within all of us.
Just sometimes-- it doesn't just work.
To analyze this we're gonna look at my latest and biggest failed project: Fahkeet.
The basis for this image was a scene in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number which many of you will know about. The character in use at the time takes a lot of drugs, and goes on a hypnotic, hallucinatory rampage, slaughtering minions and several animal-masked bosses. It's a real fuckin' trip, and the aesthetics of it have been something I've always wanted to replicate because I love harsh colors, surrealistic styles, and the idea of a protagonist who is outwardly joyful or apathetic while inwardly they're terrified and fighting for their lives in a hellscape nightmare.. In fact I've tried to pull this off with this previous image:
(Click for full size.)
An image I also consider a failure, though for a myriad of reasons -- I was inexperienced with SFM at the time, it came off the back of a long session of posters, the skulls don't have the ethereal effect I was going for, the background isn't very interesting, etc. It was an image that I don't remember whether or not I posted, but even if I did-- it wasn't very good, to be honest. The color direction is good in the background and I still love the lighting on those skulls, but the overall aesthetic direction is muddied and confusing, and the editing is frankly sub-par to what I can actually accomplish.
It's a bad photo, and I wrote off the idea of doing a Fahkeet image, despite wanting to, for a long, long time.
Come a couple months ago, mid-April, and, on a day off, I decide to do it again. While listening to the aforementioned Light Club track again late at night I had this image in my mind-- of the Son, the hallucinating protagonist from the aforementioned Hotline Miami level, leaping from a glittering, over-lit shard of glass to another, as the monstrous, animal-masked Fans loomed at him out of the darkness, and on a similar shard of glass, some mutilated, mutant mobsters would be reaching out for him, while Richard, the game's representation of death and calamity, would be morosely staring over the affair in the background, back-lit by a mushroom cloud.
It was gonna be fucking great. I had a very vivid and solid concept. I had a whole night to work on it, and I had a myriad of assets and a hell of a lot of pumpin' neon tracks to get me going.
What I ended up with was this:
It's garbage, isn't it?
After a lot of tinkering, the simpler, black-void 'jumping from glass to glass' idea didn't work out. It was interesting, but it didn't pop at all, visually. I have no photos of that stage of the process because it only existed in the project file, and I had no intention of actually documenting the production process of this image -- this is all retroactive. But suffice to say it would have been a boring "black room" pose, and we all know that shit is boring. A perfect idea was, actually, not a perfect idea. It needed iteration and work and tinkering. The fact I literally broke a tooth (for unrelated reasons, I wasn't angry or anything) during the production of this was also a hindrance.
The final image was composited out of several different versions of the basic render, which you can see here:
Each iterative version added a new layer I had to blend between. The green layer had to be stripped out then manually re-added for the 'front layers', and the back layer had to be combined with a (modified) version of the ingame destroyed Miami skyline. There were several layers -- ghosted versions of the characters, scan-line layers that were custom tuned, saturation modifying layers, overlays, noise layers, blur, focal blur, distance, etc etc. You know how it goes.
All of this you're asking "why do I need to know?" and that's because -- I did everything by the book. I did everything according to plan. I followed all my own rules, I followed the artistic guidelines I know (as far as I respect them, since I believe in breaking conventions so long as the end result looks good) , and-- it's just bad. It's just straight up bad. Yeah, there's things I can do to improve it. i could reduce the level of PP. I could take a more dynamic angle of the Son. It's not, at all, an impossible concept. It's very doable.
But I gave up then and there, upon seeing my final process picture. You might ask why I didn't notice during the editing, considering both the image and editing took several hours apiece. The simple answer for that is I'm an idiot, and the full answer is that I believed there might be something I could do to make it pop, in the final picture. Just that one little trick that might make it work properly, you know? I've had that before -- shitty images turned into sheer diamonds, by one editing quirk, or one filter misuse, or just plain battering away at an image.
Here, I just couldn't do it. The image COULD be made good, but I couldn't. And realizing and respecting, scrapping the image, not-posting it, and moving on that was beneficial.
Why? Because two days later. I ended up making this:
https://files.facepunch.com/forum/upload/229956/dd1ad455-6838-4956-b160-fc3599ac36e7/mark pinochet seven.jpg
Now yeah, it's not groundbreaking. It's not the best image ever made, but by god am I proud of this image. And it's rare for me to have genuine pride in a work, because I regularly view what I make as trash, and I just try and make each successive image less-trash than the last, you know? But this image was a miracle. It happened on a whim. I went into SFM and just decided "ahh fuck it, I'll bash out some Jacket pose as a bit of practice, I'm out of shape." It's no stroke of genius or mastery of talent, it's just a simple image made with a formula that works, with no frills, no pretension, I just banged at it and it came out. Overthinking can cripple and overcomplicate things, and trying to rush to fill a grand
design, a master-image that you MUST make TONIGHT or you'll lose the spark, can often kneecap you.
Just persevering with myself, I made an image that I could actually sit back and go "Huh. Yeah. That's actually pretty decent." and I was able to post. An image I could take pride in for once. I looked at my Fahkeet XCF, I looked at the image itself, and I took it as an example of what not to do. Over-editing? No. Simple, sharp editing, only. Overdone colors, overblown to simulate the 'neon haze'? Out the window. Strong, defined colors, but not ones that overblow the camera... etc, etc.
Now I know this sounds like I'm wanking myself off here, but-- trust me when I say that this is not to just go "Bloimey I made gud pickshur me", it's to explain that-- you might think it sucks, sometimes. You might get upset and you might be angry that your image isn't gonna work, or that it looks bad, or that you can't make it work. But believe me. Just pick yourself up, look at what you did, what worked, and what didn't, and learn from that. This sounds like, secondary school level learning, but it's so easy to forget and hard to remember when you're staring down the barrel of several hours of work, and realizing that it might be useless. It's incredibly easy to echo-chamber yourself and completely devalue your work, when really there's always a chance to do better than last time. You can always improve.
Pick yourself up, take a deep breath, and start all over again.
Anyway-- thank you for reading this (if you did), and hopefully I've given you some sort of insight into my artistic process, and hopefully that gives you something to think about, y'know? Even if it's just "Huh, that guy's a fuckin' freak", I
hope I've given you some kind of perspective you might not get otherwise.
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