Nine Thoughts about Hacking in your Art Education

I've been talking lately about the Art Hacker state of mind. I believe it can make the difference between getting stuck in the grey zone of the average starving artist or being successful in your art goals.

I want to share with you 9 key thoughts about Art Hacking that have been accompanying me during my art journey.

Be a holistic learner in an analytic mind

Holistic learning is basically when you don't try to learn but instead feed your center of interest of the moment. You usually don't try to label the activities you do as "learning" and even less as being math or history or science. You're just having fun with a topic you like.

Conventional learning is like trying to fill the floor of an empty room with boxes someone else gives you. You can't add another box until the current one is full and no spaces are allowed between boxes. So if they don't have the same size, you need first to figure the arrangement that makes them fit perfectly.

Holistic learning is more like throwing random things on the floor and start moving them around without thinking about it, and connect them with strands of wool when you feel it looks cool. Quickly, you start to have a huge web all over the place and you play to imagine path from one point to another.

Holistic learning is more efficient because once you start to have a few isolated webs, connecting them is easy and very fast at covering the floor.

The problem with holistic learning comes when you don't work on your analytical mind: You just keep connecting things that "looks cool" or without really thinking about it. It creates big knowledge holes in between webs strands that can become overwhelming. To avoid that, you can start to look at the mess and try to see patterns, decide where to throw the next things and then filling the gaps on demand gets easy.

To put it another way, try to learn a little about many things, then you will learn a lot about a few things when you need it.

Reference the Old Masters

History acts as an incredible filter on Art and only retains the best. This is why referencing the old masters is essential, because their work is so strong that it crossed centuries to get to us.

Connections with aristocracy, aesthetics and themes fashioned, schools or workshops have little or no impact on collective memory.

Learning from the old masters, you avoid the inevitable noise in contemporary concept art streams and only get images that work at every level. You calibrate your eye onto what history has retained as the greatest art of their time.

Every day, I gather paintings from old masters in folders so I can quickly comeback to them when I need to pick their brain and composition skills.

Learn to see the beauty around you

Referencing the world around you, is the second most important thing you can do as a concept artist after studying from the old masters. Beauty is everywhere, in streets, concretes volumes, flowers, people, nature, rainy days, sunny mornings, slums, trees, roots, space, nebulae. Learning to spot compositions around you is essential, because even without a camera you can practice your artistic eye. I have a camera that I often use, but I shoot less and less because I almost never comeback to my photos. I use it as a view finder: what I'm interested in is the composition I see on the moment.

You can train your eye to see frames of various size in your vision and start practicing composition anywhere. Focus on abstract shapes, patterns of light and dark.You can also practice your creativity by imagining a short story about each composition you spot around you.

I can only encourage you to practice "seeing" sessions. Study from life is fantastic, but you have to focus on reproducing and translating. When you just go out to see, you're free to make connections you probably wouldn't otherwise: You can simply move your body around and understand how various elements play one against each other.

Stop thinking drawing/painting, think image making

Until the advent of printing and photography, the only way you could create an image was to put pigments on a surface by hand. There's a huge emphasis on drawing and painting skills in the art education literature of pre XXth century, because nothing else was possible.

It made sense at the moment to stress how important drawing skills were. A realistic rendering on top of a bad drawing falls into the uncanny valley and looks terrible if not terrifying.

Visual artists were, before anything else, image makers who only had drawing and painting as the core techniques for their craft.

Today, things are different. The display support and the creation techniques are extremely diversified. With virtual reality we enter an era of rapid growth in unseen art creation media. 

I have a huge admiration for skillful painters and pencillers and I learn from them every day. But there're tons of tools and media like 3D and photobashing that can bring your concept art skills to the next level.

Thinking "image making" is allowing yourself to solve problems by any possible mean, even by drawing and painting.

This is Art Hacking spirit: Whatever works.

Turn your bad habits into super powers

This idea is kind of funny, but it really does a great job at accelerating the learning process.

There's no recipe, but here is an example:

If you think you're lazy because you prefer binge-watching series than working on your anatomy and composition, then binge-watch tutorials. Many people argue that watching a tutorial doesn't help if you don't follow along.

I think it's half true: It doesn't help if you watch it only once.

When you want to impress your friends with how well you know the dialog of Breaking Bad, how many times are you going to watch a single episode? Yes, a dozen times. Take your favorites tutorials on your phone, watch them again and again. And when you'll know them by heart, you'll find yourself wanting to do something with that knowledge and at that moment practice will come on its own.

Who knows, maybe you're utterly skilled at binge-watching and that "bad habit" can become your stronger skill.

See through a billion eyes

Old masters didn't live in our time. Seeing the world through other contemporary artists eyes is a good way to widen your artistic vision. Photographs, film directors, concept artists, 3D modelers, traditional painters, sculptors, there're probably a billion artists' eyes to look through.

To cross-reference with the previous thought, I've turned my own procrastination issue into a daily art hunting habit. Every day on twitter, I'm sharing my discoveries, mostly painting but sometimes photos, movie stills, sculpture, architecture. This allows me to look at hundreds of different images per months and I'm learning a damn lot.

If you think you suck...

... then you're on a good track, very good track. There's no worse service you can do to yourself than thinking you're good. Not because it's rude or pretentious (who cares?) but because it hurts badly your potential improvement.

If you can keep in mind how bad you are compared to what you'd be able to do if you fixed the problems in your previous artworks, then you put yourself in perpetual forward motion. This is why cultivating an analytical mind is so important: Use the holistic knowledge to have an intuition about what doesn't work, then reference the old masters, nature, contemporary artists and methodically break your art into pieces, spot your mistakes and fix them next time.

You have the right to suck, be proud of it.

Work in series

There's a reason why so many artists in history have been working in series. It's because this is the most efficient way to iterate over your mistakes, understand and correct them. When you keep changing subject every artwork, it becomes harder to identify what doesn't work and do better in the next piece.

Working in series also allows to establish a process that can be used with a stronger chance of good results. This is especially important in a work environment where clients, art directors, decision making crew want a given result in a controlled amount of time.

Once you have a process that you tested a dozen times, you know for example that a 12 thumbnails sheet takes half a day and refining two thumbnails the rest of the day. You can tell others with confidence what they can expect from you and deliver it in time with a consistent quality.

Put in the hours

I'm bringing that one last but I can't stress how important it is: Put in the hours and realize what it means. People out there are hard workers. If you think you work hard, then remember someone is working much much harder than you to make it.

A number often heard in the concept art field, is that to make it as a freelance artist for animation, film, AAA games, you need around 10000 (10K) hours of effective, focused training. I use a little app called "Hours" on ios to track my effective learning/production time, and on a 14 hours work day, it rarely totals 10 hours.

If your school offers a program of 35 hours per week, you should consider working on your side in the evenings and on weekends and double that number.

Schools are awesome, being with friends and experienced teachers in a lively environment is invaluable. Please don't take anything I say as an encouragement to drop out of school, I wish I had a chance to go to an art school when I was 18, things would have been easier for me.



Did you find yourself applying this already? Is there anything that bugs you or seems a completely bad advice?

Let me know what you think in the comments below or in the Facebook group!