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An argument against being a 'game art monk'
by Jeff Parrott on 02/21/13 05:20:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[Work really hard on developing your art work and skills. But also take a break! It will actually improve your art and your artistic eye.]

Artists are extremely motivated people. Well maybe not in the traditional sense of what you’re thinking motivation is. Maybe we don’t strive to climb a corporate ladder or max out our 401ks.

But Artists want to eat, breathe, and live their art. We, as Artists have a desire to learn new techniques, push ourselves to new limits, be motivated by peers, and generally improve in our art. Ideally that is wonderful and every Artist should strive and achieve this goal of being the absolute best Artist they can be. But that is not a realistic or healthy goal, even when first entering the field.

Starting out as a student or entry level Artist is extremely difficult. Not only is the act of obtaining a job hard, but also keeping the motivation, pace, and not burning out. At first glance, if you want 'X' then work, eat, and sleep 'X' so you’ll continually get better at that and be able to start getting paid to do 'X.' That’s a fine approach for students.

The risk that comes with that amount of immersion is massive burn out, becoming stagnated, and not having time to let your artistic ‘eye’ take a break. If you are in school, work, work, work, and take a day off once a month or something similar.

If you are working a day job and making art at night then do the same. Taking a day off once a month is ok. Even if it’s taking your significant other out on a date every week or two that is more than enough of a break.

Now please do not read this and think “this guy wrote a great piece for me to validate slacking off and not doing any art for 6 months.” That could not be further from the truth. You should stay focused and dedicated to your craft (game art, I imagine if you’re reading this). You should also have a balance to the process of becoming that great Artist you want to be.

Achieving that balance is the hardest part of this whole thing. I recommend for those of you that like schedules make one and stick to it. It sounds lame. But 8-10 hours of crunching polygons, textures, and animations gets you 2 hours of video game, movie, or significant other time.

Maybe that whole process is a bit rigid for you. Create a new project then take 2-4 days off and then rinse and repeat. That is the way I tend to work nowadays. Knee deep in 3D painting, sculpting, and modeling for a couple days, month, whatever the course of the piece or project takes.

After that take an appropriate (emphasis should be on appropriate) time off and relax for a bit. Taking 1/5 or 1/6 of the time you worked on the project off is another healthy approach.

Having this balance makes you a well-rounded person, better candidate for a job, and also prevents you from becoming burnt out. Which is when you’ve focused so long and so much on one task or set of tasks that you have trouble finding the drive to complete those tasks anymore.

That is something as an Artist pushing yourself and your art to the zenith of it’s potential should be avoided at all costs. You can relate it to being a runner and overtraining yourself so much that you get injured and cannot even compete.

Taking that time off also allows you to bring other influences into your art. Go to a theme park (if you’re near by) and try to not be inspired to want to make art with all the amazing set designs. Go see a movie and work in some of the places, concepts, and ideas from that movie into a future piece.

Taking that all-important break will motivate you in areas you were not previously thinking about. Incorporating a hobby into your art is another amazing motivating thing to do. If you like to skateboard on the weekends take a day and go to a skate park. Maybe take pictures of the park and make that your next project. It will force you to take time off to do some “research”.

Do you art push-ups, get your artistic abilities as maxed out as possible. Just don’t be afraid to relax every now and then. Thanks to the community for the additional input. Please feel free to comment below on this.

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David OConnor
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Cheers Jeff, I think you are right. There is a Scandinavian saying that supports your perspective: "You learn to swim in winter and you learn to ski in summer". Basically, it means that the things we learn mature in our minds while we are engaged in doing something else. I'm not sure if it is true, but it makes some sense.

Oscar Gonzalez
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This is very true. I tend to follow this path naturally. At my job I make game art everyday and mostly is the same thing but not every asset is the same, but still I run the risk of getting burn out. Then when I get home I work on my project/environment or sculpt. When I take days off I usually play my video games (the ones that I still need to finish due to not enough time) and they help me get motivated as well. Also, I don't know if this happens to many people, but when life gets in the way with family get together or occasions, you could be spending your day (usually a day off or holiday) on the couch talking bla bla bla with family while in your mind you are like "I wish I was home doing my 3D stuff" and that moment is when you get really really motivated! but your stuck there. The point is that sometimes this time off happens naturally and they will help you get motivated. :) Play games and look around the environment, that could help too. It works for me.

Christopher J
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Great article! As an artist I suffer from significant burn out. The studio that I work for has outsourced like 99% of its art for the past few years. I have to spend my private time working on my skill and polishing up my portfolio since I have barely anything that I can use from work… I feel like I have no life and have neglected my friends and love ones.

Mentally it’s not a good place to be and I’m never “fresh” when I’m working at home after being at work, and it’s a struggle to get motivated. But, to the point of the article… I know that in the past and even now, when I do take a break from a piece of art, I try to do something new like take a walk in a park that I’ve never been to or watch a new movie. I feel like my brain is a bit “cleaner”. So when I get back to the piece I’m working on, I can see things I didn't see before. It’s like looking at someone else’s work and its easier for me to find the flaws or see a better ending for it. The brain is like a muscle, you work it out then let it rest, the strength follows the rest.

andrew kristovich
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It was good to read this so thank you jeff. I have learned the truth to this in many facets of life and i am always amazed at the growing that comes from it.

Christopher Totten
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Great article, I am a strong believer that game artists need to not only take time away from work, but also admit to their own limitations.

At the end of last year, I was the lone 3D artist for a mobile platformer with a studio where we all had other day jobs. As a result, I had to spend most of my weekends away from family and friends working on the game. After running myself into the ground, I'm being much more protective of my personal time: making time for family, housework, church, etc. Most importantly, I'm offering students places to help on projects, so I do not have to crunch on every asset. As a result I'm much happier and my art is much much much better.

Jonathan Rush
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Great read, Jeff!

Jeff Parrott
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Thanks guys! Glad it makes sense to people.