Over the past few months I’ve been a patron of artist Samantha Mash on Patreon. I fell in love with Samantha’s artwork on Twitter, and quickly discovered she’s also a fabulous person and teacher (she has some great posts about living/working as an artist, about technique and about art in general, etc). One of her Patreon rewards is a monthly art mentorship/review.
So far my mentorship has pretty focused on trying to figure out where I want to “go” with my art. In other words, What am I doing with my life?! Samantha’s insight has been great, and I’m discovering that, in addition to many technical skills, I really have no clue about a lot of “art-adjacent” skills and concepts:
- Talking about my art: I have carefully crafted my novel’s short pitch; I’ve rehearsed how to answer questions like “Oh, what do you write?” but I haven’t done the same for my art. When people ask what I draw, I mumble something about “fantasy characters” and rush the conversation along as quickly as possible. It’s not that I’m not proud of my art (and even this is questionable at times), I just don’t know what to say that won’t feel like inane chatter about my D&D character.
- Talking about myself, as an artist: As evidence, I offer this rambling blog entry! I sometimes call myself an artist, but I don’t have (m)any artistic aspirations. Unlike writing, I have no “main project” (what’s the visual art equivalent of a novel?), so it’s hard to determine what I’m working on building or being.
- Style: What is it? How do you style? From what I’ve gathered, artistic style is kinda like writing voice – a nebulous, mysterious thing that definitely exists but you don’t really know it until you have it, and it’s a tough thing to develop. Help me.
A lot of these concepts have me thinking not only about skills and works that I want to develop, but also about my existing skills and portfolio, and how I got here in the first place.
After seeing some of the gaps in my existing skillset, I’ve been looking back to see if I can find out how that happened. Some of my bad habits probably exist because I never studied art, and until now I never had a mentor/teacher/authority figure to guide me or question me. In my youth I relied on the opinions of fellow (teenage) artists, and I realise now that that may have done more harm than good – not because they were cruel (necessarily), but because those kids didn’t know any better than I did, and I may have valued their opinions more than I should have.
His foot looks weird. Is that a girl or a boy? I liked it better before you coloured it. How come she has pointy ears? How come all you draw is elves? The pose isn’t realistic; no one does that in real life.
All feedback is valid, of course, but I wasn’t prepared, at a young age, to defend my choices – to dismiss the feedback that didn’t matter, because I didn’t know what mattered. If someone were to say, “ugh, no one really looks the way Picasso paints people,” I’d be like, yeah, duh. That’s a style; it’s not supposed to be realistic. But of my own work? If someone says something looks “wrong”, is it wrong, or is that just my style?
Narrator: She had no idea.
I’ve seen a meme/prompt going around asking artists, “What would 12-year-old you think of your art now?” I’ve seen similar prompts before, but I’ve never been interested in doing a redraw or in thinking about what 12-year-old me thought about art. After all, M12 was probably very similar to my current self in that she didn’t know what she wanted from her art, either. To make pretty things? To capture character? To customize my surroundings/belongings? To be loved?
I think M12 probably didn’t think very hard about the direction of her art, but I decided to look at some oldies, anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of M12’s art on hand… so we’re gonna take Memory Lane all the way to M16’s art instead.
Clothing & Costume
First image: clothing drawn by my 16-year-old self vs. clothes I sketched a few months ago. I wanted to start with clothes because I distinctly remember having issues with clothes, especially after spending so long on anatomy. I recall finishing carefully-crafted bodies only to think, damn, now I have to add clothes that are going to totally ruin the silhouette/details (note that I had no concept of silhouette at the time, but I could still tell something was wrong).
I was not a fashionable child (nor am I a fashionable adult), but I’ve got a lot better at inventing and drawing clothes. I love adding details to characters’ outfits, and find surprising joy even in tiny details like lace and patterns. It’s not something I ever set out to draw, but as a potential part of my developing style… I like it :)
For the record, that dress was someone else’s concept – I take responsibility only for the visual representation of it :/
Portraits & Faces
Top left image: a portrait drawn by my 16-year-old self (remember what I said about elves? lololol) vs. five faces drawn over the past year. I used to draw loads of portraits, and I loved drawing them. Eventually I moved on to other subjects, and it’s only now that I’m getting back into faces – but with a different focus.
While M16 portraits were studies in accuracy and technique (anatomy, lighting, etc), I want my newer portraits to be part of a whole, and to express something more than just “a reasonably accurate face.” I want to put those faces on bodies; I want them to be different and unique; I want them to be meaningful and expressive.
Way more easily typed than drawn, but I have been making progress in my fight against “sameface”, and I’m getting more comfortable drawing more exaggerated (and therefore unique) features.
Colour & Palette
This image was digitally drawn and coloured by my 16-year-old self! Colour is something that I never really messed with in my youth. I coloured some things, occasionally, but rarely well, and I never read about colour theory, lighting, painting, etc (I did read about anatomy, portraits, etc). I experimented with proportions and lines, but I never experimented with colours. This has hugely impacted my understanding of and ability to paint/colour, and it’s something that I’m trying to catch up on now.
Colour is a fascinating topic to me because it also relates to palette and personal palette (which ties into style… I need an infographic). The first thing that caught my notice about Samantha’s art is that she uses a very identifiable palette, and so do a lot of artists I follow. I often start following people purely because I find myself thinking, “Hey – I’ve seen colours like that before! Who is that?!” This makes many artists’ work identifiably theirs, as well as beautiful. Check out this screenshot of Samantha’s online portfolio:
I’ve been looking at my own work and trying to determine what my personal palette might look like. True to my favs (and, coincidentally, true to M16), I’m feeling yellow. I’ve been trying to work with yellow-related palettes in my recent work:
And, while I take a lot of photos on my phone, my favourites usually seem to involve a mix of yellow, green, brown and grey:
I’m definitely not there yet… but I think that identifying my preferences is a step in the right direction! Samantha has already helped me immensely in this regard. I didn’t even know that “personal palette” was a thing, never mind the idea that I could pick one.
As an extra-special example of how far I’ve come, and as thanks for sticking around so long, here’s a drawing I made in 2011. This was only six years ago and I am embarrassed:
If this is physically painful for you to look at, imagine how I feel. That said… at least it’s on-brand enough to have lots of yellow..? :/
Looking Forward / Art Goals
My writing isn’t always effective, but at least I, the writer, know what I’m going for; I know where I’m weak, where I’m strong, and what I love. I know my book’s audience, and I know what I want to communicate to them. With art, not so much: who will look at this? why? what am I trying to say, and how?
I’m somewhat consoled to know that not knowing one’s artistic direction is a pretty common feeling…
…but it’s something I need to work on if I want to make my “art novel”/portfolio (?) more robust, more representative and more me. Thanks to Samantha’s mentorship, I’ve identified some technical as well as “art-adjacent” goals:
- Lean into the stuff I love: hair, clothes, fantasy; soft boys and badass ladies
- Work towards short-term goals: one-page comic, VanCAF application, prints(?), #DungeonsandDressup
- Practice(!): anatomy/poses, flow, faces, expressions, palette, composition (you know… just everything)
- Wax poetic: artistic direction, artist’s statement, big picture, style
Unlike my novel, I’m not sure what I’m really “trying to say” with my art yet… but I think I’m getting closer? What do you think?
Your turn: What do you like about my art? What feels recognizable or unique to you? What do you think it’s missing? How have you developed your own artistic style?