Restarting the Art Engine 1/3
3rd Jul, 2020

This is the first part of an article which runs my issues with creating art. I detail my confusion about the difference between being an artist and an illustrator, there is a bit of pop psychology, and my plans to get back on track. It is a tad long and waffly, and that's after I've drastically cut it down to a 'mere' three parts! If you are not an artist or find pop psychology interesting, there is not much for you here, but, if what I write here is correct then maybe something creative will come of it in the future? Time will tell...

The issue

Do you ever wonder why you don't do the things you know you should do? You would have thought that getting back into art would be easy; start practising again, get in the flow, produce a few pieces, and then contact games companies for work. Easy eh? I've done it before, so what's the problem? Well, it used to be easy. Now, not so much. It's not that I don't want to; so why am I not doing it?

When getting to grips with something complex, as your psyche, it's probably easier to think in analogies. At least in the early stages. We live in stories; it's how we navigate and orientate ourselves in the world. Once we have a clear narrative of the issue, it's much easier to figure a solution. To that end, I think of my artistic instincts as 'an engine', that is always ticking along in the background, and I rave it up when you want to do some work. Except my engine won't rev 🙁

Like most problems to do with modern engines, it probably the electrics: the wiring. So, let's break open my brain schematics and take a look under the bonnet (hood for my American cousins). Time to reprogram my Electronic Engine Management System, plug in some ideas and see if we can get a connection—time to find a spark.

My wiring problem maybe ADHD, masked for years due to the pressure of my role as a carer. Though nothing is certain, the mental health team will be getting back to me some time in the future after we had a little chat. In the meantime, I've been looking to overcome my barriers to producing art, and counter any potential ADHD to boot (or whatever it turns out to be), I've been watching YouTube videos on ADHD and motivation/ focus. The best ones seem to be a rehash of stoicism (habits makes the man) with a few pointless tricks thrown in. However, one video struck me like a bolt of lightning; they suggested using artwork that ties into your goals to inspire, artwork that means something to you. Nothing new there. Then they suggested creating that artwork. I thought 'I create artwork', and I shrugged my shoulders as if it was nothing, and then; BANG! For some reason, I didn't think of my Black Library art; I instantly thought of my old (really old, like 20-year-old) 'grand project' for 40K. I felt a sudden compulsion to gaze upon my early works, back to where it all started, my first portfolio that was rejected but got my foot in the door with the Black Library. I wanted to look with fresh eyes at works I'd not seen in decades. Spark found.

Grand Project

I never called it a 'grand project' back in the day; it was merely 'work', and how I organised my process for creating art in a logical way that made sense to me given the limited time I had. When I had the time, I'd super-focus (apparently a sign of ADHD), and work on a production line of ideas. I had 12-20 pencil sketches on the go, all trying to find the most dramatic composition, with the most flow, and maximum impact. I'd pick one and work it up in acrylics. When finished, I'd pick another, the best one, the one that looked like it had the most potential. All the time I was adding to the sketches, the better pushing out the weaker. Always pushing forward, trying to capture something that had an impact

Looking at half-forgotten works, you'd expect them to alien, as if created by another hand, the younger you. Yet, as soon as I saw them, it was like I painted them yesterday. There is something about tangible paint that delights the senses, and the smell of old papers, Frisk CS2 board, and plywood! I remembered the sweet smell of Liquitex paints, of cracking open a fresh pot of cobalt blue (£7 back then). Yep, splitting open those dusty old portfolios turned out to be unexpectedly emotional—my reminiscence of the joy in crafting, of having a true mission.

Female Space Marine?

Sort of... The artwork opposite is one of my favourites; the Female 'Ultramarines'. The artwork is not dated on the back, but it's more than 20 years old. I've never posted it online, and I haven't look at it in decades. The painting was inspired by Sister Sin in the back of Rogue Trader from '87, back when we all thought the Sisters of Battle were 'Female Space Marines'. That is no longer the case. I wanted her to be heroic in the same way as Ellen Ripley from Alien, and be believable as Space Marine. More a stern matron, than pin-up. The armour is slightly feminised but nothing like the later Sisters of Battle who, ironically, also came out in '97: the same time I was taking my portfolio to Games Day to try for a job. When the Studio saw my portfolio, their first words on seeing these glorious gals was 'there are no female space marines'. To which I replied; 'I know', surrounded by all the shiny new Sisters of Battle, which GW had just released (which sucked the wind out of my sails). Nonetheless, they seemed to like it, but they couldn't use it. There again, they didn't want to use any of the art in my portfolio form back then. This was a big disappointment for me. My mission didn't work out.

As none of my early acrylic paintings were up to GW standards, I packed them away and never looked at them again. I certainly never posted the art online, as they were all failures. Usually, I bin failures, but for some reason I kept these? I'm glad I kept them. Perhaps my subconscious knew they were valuable to me, or maybe I'm looking at it through rose-tinted glasses? At the time I put it down to not being good enough, now I'm looking at them and thinking it may be a mix of inexperience, and styleI didn't paint like a GW artist.

The work was a failure, and therefore the 'grand mission' was a failure, but every failure is an opportunity to learn.

On the plus side, my portfolio got my foot in the door and started me on a new path. With my caring commitments, it was going to take me five years to turn things around and improve enough to be commissioned by GW (Black Library). I had a different style to what they wanted, and it took a while for me to transition. I pushed through, driven by my desire to be a 40K artist. During this time, the Black Library were very patient with me. It was like banging a square peg into a round hole. It took a while for me to lose those square edges

Once I was in my flow, I started working freelance. There were limits as I was a carer at the same time, and you can only earn so much before they take the money, and I was not earning enough to be independent, and I couldn't work more because of my caring role. A bit of a bind, but I cracked on as I was a GW artist! (sort of 😛 ). The problem was, while working at my dream job for the Black Library, I ground to a halt.

At the time, now 10 years or so ago, 13 I think, I thought it was because of my caring role, but now I am not a carer, and I am still not painting. Then I thought it was the commissions, not enough marines, but looking through my gallery, they were all fun concepts. Something else led me to grind to a halt, and for the longest time, I didn't know what it was. I simply "didn't feel like it", which is odd as it's painting and I used to love painting, and it's not like my imagination has shut up. Looking at my old work, I feel a spark I was not expecting to feel, and I have to wonder if my missing edges, knocked off in becoming a GW artist, was where all the fun was? Are those discard shavings, on the floor, important - do I want my edges back?

The path not taken

My first portfolio may have been a 'failure', but it got my foot in the door, which unfortunately lead to a dead end. Now it seems to be serving a new purpose; provoking self-reflection. Reminding me of what was, and prompting me to consider 'another path', reconsider the past, and my thoughts drift to an imagined fork in the road.

"Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on.
And it makes me wonder."

Led Zepplin - Stairway to Heaven

Now I'm wondering. In my current state of mind, I seem to be reevaluating things. Looking at my past with 'new' eyes. I do not have any regrets about the path I took, as everything is a learning experience; the issue is that I do not understand why it didn't work out. I'm now vaguely aware I may have missed something.

All I know for sure is my subconscious is 'buzzing and it won't go', but I'm not sure what it's trying to tell me. Dreams have become very vivid, lots of nightmares, but fascinating and 'pretty' in a macabre way. Though, this may have more to do with my research for the Political Sphere in Spheres of War (I'm doing to politics what I did to Warhammer 😛 ). Something is going on, hence me writing this; the revs are increasing. You cannot escape your subconscious, art is always there until you die, all you can do it block it. The old path I was on led to a dead-end. I have banged my head against that dead-end for long enough; though the dead-end was less of a brick wall and more like wading into quicksand.

That's not to say the Black Library was like quicksand 😛 Other artists seemed to wade through with ease. I figured I'd push through using my force of will: if they could do it so could I! The more I struggled to push forward, the more I sank until I was immobile, and I didn't know why. I had plenty of theories, friends and family had plenty of ideas, the internet has a lot of ideas, but not of them hit the mark. All this led to the failure of my last commission, and I wasn't asked to do another. On the plus side, I was no longer in 'quicksand'. It's as if the Black Library had plucked me out of the quicksand, put me down on the shore, and left me wondering how to get across. Like a lemming, I'd wade back into the quicksand! Every time I waded into the quagmire, I ground to a halt, and would have to retreat back to the shore, looking for another way. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a way across.

It wasn't Black Library's fault I didn't know what was going on in my head. They were very patient considering. It wasn't my fault either, but I like to take ownership. So I made it my fault, because if I'm at fault; I can correct it. The problem was I couldn't figure it out. All it did was lead me to try again and again, at something that was not working. It's only now I'm starting to see, some ten years later, what went wrong. Going back to before the fork in the road, I remember that my rejected portfolio was fun to paint. On the plus side, it was good enough to get my foot in the door with Games Workshop, and I am starting to wonder if it was good enough, with work, to start down an alternate path?

To get to the bottom of this, we have to go back to this imagined fork in the road and address why I missed it in the first place. Back in the 90's, the world was very different: social media wasn't a thing, let alone dedicated art social sites, and direct to public sales. Facebook didn't exist until 2004, Myspace was 2003, DeviantArt 2000, and ArtStation turned up in 2014. For me, Games Workshop was the only game in town. I have to ask myself, was my situation merely a product of limited opportunities? Did I really have a choice back then that was compatible to me, or has technology revealed a previously hidden path to me that I am only now seeing? Or am I delusional, and I'm still in the quicksand, but technology has thrown me a lifeline.

I have a feeling the lifeline has been there for a while, but I wasn't looking for it, so I didn't see it or recognise it as such. That's the thing about focus; it blinds you to so much. This website, my thoughts on Artists Unchained (which now reads like a poor man's Patreon), Paypal, all lead to an alternative way of doing things. I'm already on the alternate path and have been for a while, but it never clicked with my artwork, and still hasn't. Time to dig deeper, put aside the analogies, and analyse the past.

Which makes me wonder, what is an artist anyway?

Part 2

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