Junkyard Sam

Letters to an Imaginary Friend


The Posturing Birds

Birds can be nasty, often failing to keep their opinions to themselves. This Tall Bird is critical of the
girl's posture: "Stand up straight, or you'll get stuck like that." A passerby defends her, "Hey buddy, your posture isn't so great yourself." Meanwhile, a ghost chimes in "He's just trying to help!" To which the other ghost replies, "Stop it. You're just posturing."

My watercolors molded.

Today I finished a couple of sketches and set out to do some actual watercoloring... With real watercolors. I got inside, very excited, and discovered my palette had mold all over the watercolor squares. I eventually cleaned it out, but I'm taking this as an omen... that I should just keep going with my process:

I draw with real pens & pencils. Scan it in. And then I color with my Intuos 4 Wacom tablet.

There's a nagging feeling not coming from myself that I shouldn't be using digital in my coloring. I really need to squash this, because there are only TWO reasons to not use digital:

1) Gallery shows.
2) Selling originals.

But here's the catch... Even if I worked in traditional watercolor, gallery shows won't work out for me because I would have to price my work much higher than it would ever sell for to be worth it. However, I can still take part in gallery shows by submitting high quality prints. Thing is -- my prints in shows always sell. I've only been in a few group shows, but my work sold 100% of the time even when not a single other work sold in the show!

A lot of that has to do with price point... Originals have to sell for an incredible amount of money.

So that's that. My decision is made and I'm not going to think about it again. I am an artist. I am an illustrator. And I am a printmaker. That's that. I have a refined process that I'm happy with and I'm going to keep working in it indefinitely.


Sleep & Watercolor

Well that piece was a bust... I need to sleep more, I can't be arting on so little rest. Maybe I should dial things back a bit and do the next 100 drawings with real watercolor before writing it off?

To digital or not to digital

I always do my drawings with a real pen and pencil, but I always feel bad that I don't embrace watercolor once and for all and just leave my computer behind...

But tonight I was working on a new drawing and I fell asleep several times while working on it. So I ended up with some dots and lines that would mean the whole thing would be a throwaway if I could edit that out in digital.

Life is too short, and I have too much game industry work and too many kids to fully embrace pure analog media. It's just too easy to put many hours into a piece and ruin it right at the end.

It's 2015. There's no need to live under such tyranny... I'll be coloring this new piece in digital.


Begin a Drawing by Extracting & Using the Formula of Another

A great art director Daniel Dociu was once baffled by a strange question to which he responded, "Why would you ever just sit down and start drawing? You should have a specific goal; You should draw with intent. To sit down with no reason ... and just randomly start drawing is insane. Something only a crazy person would do."

Likewise, randomly sketching is something that never led to anything useful for me. So if you wish to draw but don't have something in mind... what do you do?

One answer is to convert someone else's drawing into a FORMULA. Once you analyze the structure and content of a work of art, you can then replace the individual parts with your own and no one will ever know.

Done correctly and skillfully there's no theft here. The end result will still be original. All you're taking from the source is information and structure -- the formula.

On a Positive Note!

I didn't mean to sound so negative about life as an artist in the game industry. Things could be worse - like any job NOT making art! But that said, it took me a long time to get back to the roots of why I wanted to be an artist in the first place.

I was always excited by artists like Deth P. Sun and Michael C. Hsiung. They courageously made careers by doing their own unique thing. But their drawing styles are different enough from mine that I couldn't get direct inspiration in a how-to kind of way.

But then I discovered Mattias Adolfsson. He's the most prolific artist I've ever found. He draws NONSTOP and has published literally thousands of drawings over the last decade. And what's really cool is --- he just draws whatever comes out naturally, and then uses spots of watercolor to bring it to life.

His blog goes back to 2006 and if you scroll back you can see an incredible evolution. His work was always good, but by 2015 it has evolved with some kind of polished nuance even though it's still fast to me.

So I decided to take a similar approach of "just drawing whatever comes out without thinking too much about it." No more invisible art director over my shoulder screaming at me to make art a certain way, or to draw a certain thing, or to be "more painterly" or any other demotivational criticism... And suddenly my art became pure, and fun. I worked faster, freer, and with more life than I ever did before.

And last night I completed my 40th drawing this way. While that's nothing compared to Adolfsson's archive, it's a good stretch for me... but most importantly is I'm having fun with it.

I'm talking about the kind of fun my kids have with art! They don't have stress or worry about drawing, they just create because it's fun.

My point with the last post I made was that if you have to worry too much about commercialism in your art -- particularly when making art for other people in their style -- it can kill the sort of joy you see in the eyes of children when they draw and paint. I'm getting back to that!

So while my recent works aren't technically as "good" as some of my older pieces - what's happening is people are responding to them more because I think people can tell when art is more genuine. Nothing ruins art, music, or writing more than "trying too hard."

The best art comes naturally. It may be high detail paintings like some people enjoy doing, or it might be crazy rough sketches or weird mermen like Hsiung's work... but when it comes naturally without trying too hard people identify with it and like it.

And that positive response to your work just makes creating even more fun!


A Sad Truth About Working as a Game Industry Artist

Recently I've become haunted by a realization:

Very few artists who work in the game industry create their own art outside of work. Why is that?

Think about it - artists study their whole lives, dreaming of all kinds of great art and projects they want to make. They get themselves into art school, and eventually a job -- and then it ends. 99% of game industry artists are little more than digital construction workers drawing and building things according to other people's instructions and style.

As a job that's great. Money. Stability. It's even challenging and fun. But something about working as a game industry artist seems to destroy the soul and leave behind a sad, empty shell. At least as creativity goes.

My friends would argue against this. They'd say all their creativity goes into the game they're making. They'd say, "Well I don't WANT to do any work outside of work. Why should I? Work pays better and I need to rest."

Okay. Valid points. But is this what any of us dreamed of doing? Meanwhile life for game artists has just continually deteriorated over the years. Back in the 90s we worked on small teams so we had a big influence over the product. We had nice offices. But then we got pushed out into cubicles. Now even cubicles have been taken away. Game artists are just on a floor amidst tens or hundreds of other people at shoddy desks. Meanwhile many games don't even list us in the credits anymore.

Game artists are disposable these days. The industry is filled with new people begging to work. They'll work for free, even, desperate for internships or contract work with no benefits.

Things have definitely gotten worse... but it's not a popular thing to talk about. People will deny it, and you'll have no friends if you discuss something so dark as this.

But even aside from any of that - the saddest thing to me is how few game artists ever create their own art outside of work.

I understand, and I don't mean to criticize anyone. It's exhausting to make art all day for someone else and then go home and make art for yourself, too.

But I think part of this is how we're trained to become so critical of our own work. It's a business, after all, and you have to stand out amidst competition or get dropped in favor of some other better, faster, harder-working artist.  Your art director is highly critical of your work because it has to be the best. In weekly review meetings your team will see your work and criticize anything less than perfect. After a while people get insanely critical of their own work in order to spot flaws before someone else does. Sure, this leads to making "better" art... but it comes with the cost of killing the creative soul as an artist.

So it's no wonder game artists lose their natural love for creating their own work. Arguably the best way to completely die as an artist is to become an artist in the game industry.

So long, Patenaude.

I don't have many artist friends that I can really talk to about art. All my artist friends either work in the game industry (and therefore do very little art outside of wrok) or else they just aren't artists at all.

There's one guy I can talk to about art. Brian Patenaude... and as a result I think I'm guilty of sending him emails that are too long. And too many of them!

Today I had this idea - instead of writing to Patenaude what if I used my Blogger account to write this nonsense to myself? It would give me a place to put it, and who knows - maybe someone will identify with some of the stuff I'm thinking about and respond here. Or not.

Either way, that's what this 'blog' is... I won't be posting art here - I'll just be sending notes to myself. So if you're looking for the good stuff, go to http://www.junkyardsam.com because this is going to be a wall of noise and hellish externalization of my interior dialog.