15 Biggest Mistakes Made by Artists
Being an artist, professionally or recreationally, can be extremely rewarding. There are no rules to art which is what can make it so exciting- it's all perception. Art is where one's creativity can be tested. Anything is possible with practice and an imagination. There are, however, challenges that effect even the most seasoned artists. We decided to ask several professionals from all backgrounds some of the mistakes artists make.
Here are the top 15 mistakes artists make.
1. Not Loving the Process of Developing Art
Alejandro: Understand that being an artist is about loving the process of developing art than just having amazing finished art to present all the time. It is all about learning how to love both the frustration of failure and the excitement of discovery.
Always tell a story with your work, understand that the attention to design, art fundamentals, personality, and mood will allow your clients to become engaged in an image. This is a trait that separates the great artists from the rest.
2. Lack of Artistic References
Kurt: I have found that a lot of artists start making environments, props and textures from their mind's eye, without gathering reference. I like to spend some time researching the asset I am going to make, try to understand how it works, what parts are movable, and gather a lot of visual reference. Even if you think you might know what your prop looks like, doing these things allows you capture the subtleties of a surface and make it feel more believable and realistic.
Tom: I'll often see a post on Facebook and the person has said they created art and used no references proudly...and it shows. Every professional uses reference. You won't always see them using reference but that is only because they have likely spent countless hours studying whatever they are drawing. They are using reference... that reference is just already in their heads. I see this one a bit and it drives me crazy. I don't know why some artists take pride in not using the tools available to them.
Alejandro: As a visual problem solver, concepts generally need to have a sense of design, a sense of functionality, and a story to tell. If you find yourself with not knowing how to move forward on a visual problem, then you probably do not have enough visual reference.
3. Focusing on an Unimportant Aspect
Clinton: Artists naturally want to make sure every detail of every model, texture, and asset are perfect. Sometimes you'll find that those crazy amounts of details are unnecessary and immediately lost when placed in the actual project or scene you are working on. It's always best to block out your shapes and meshes first to know what will be used and where at. Knowing this will allow you to visually see how each asset is used and what are the most important details to account for and what to spend you time on.
Think strategically, if the asset is a background element don't spend as much time on it as you would something directly in view of the project. There are so many hours in the day to create awesome artwork, use them wisely!
4. Underestimating the Scope or Scale of a Project
Clinton: One thing I find that I always underestimate is the scale of a project or scene. This is something you will always been terrible at when first starting in the industry but come to understand more with each project. Most artists have grand ideas of what they want to create or what they want to see in their work in their final results. These ideas are usually based on some kind of influence, whether it be from movies, games, or other visual art forms. It tough, but always keep in mind, especially when creating personal projects, that most of the visuals seen in games or other such media were created by larger teams over the course of many years. Realizing this can help you to understand what you, personally are able to accomplish within a set timeline. I find a good rule of thumb, when it comes to personal projects, is to really zero in on what message you want to convey and how big or how many assets do you need to convey this message in your work. If you go in with a really loose idea you'll often find you will quickly lose interest and feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required to finish the project.
Creative Assembly: Spending too much time polishing one small corner of the project can be a mistake– it's important to take a step back once and a while, take a look at the bigger picture and don't lose context.
5. Failing to Show Your Progress
Clinton: Many new artists and veteran artists alike make this mistake! Show your work and progress online and to other artists and friends when possible. The more feedback you get from your work the better result you have. Show works in progress even if you are not happy with where it is. Most times you'll overcome these hurdles much easier with a few words of advice from the artistic community. I try to post my work on places like facebook groups, polycount, and artstation for feedback.
Creative Assembly: Far too many aspiring artists sculpt for their game art portfolio, but that's only ½ of the job. It's important to also show the end result, the fully finished game models.
6. Lack of Communication in a Leadership Role
Alejandro: As a leader, your words carry weight and have impact in the minds and moods of your coworkers, understand how to communicate and approach each individual, being aware of every individual and the way they prefer to be communicated with. Learn how to efficiently and clearly direct and give feedback with ought having to berate or bring down the person.
Practice giving critiques and be able to have a debate about artwork with respect.
7. Allowing Yourself to Plateau
Kurt: When making 3D art, it is easy to put your head down and continue making environments and props using the exact same workflows that you have become comfortable with. It is important to challenge yourself; try different techniques and programs to remain flexible and expand your skillset. If you always hand sculpt your tiling textures in zBrush, try using Substance Designer to achieve a similar result, or vice versa. Forcing yourself outside your comfort zone will get you thinking of alternative ways to create art, and improve your problem-solving skills and ultimately improve your quality of work.
Alejandro: It is important to have a path for yourself as an artist, to always improve and to be able to visibly see that improvement. Find a few outstanding artists that you really can relate to and challenge yourself to meet that quality bar.
8. Undervaluing Yourself/Becoming Jaded
Alejandro: In our industry there will be high points and low points, it is important to love the entire process and not attach your sense of self-worth to the company you work with or the critique an art director gave you.
Mistakes and failures will happen, but do not allow those to negatively shape who you are. Use that very valuable experience may it be positive or negative and become a better person because of it.
9. Not Understanding How to Function in a Monetization Based Economy
Tom: The biggest one I see are artists undervaluing themselves and not charging enough for their very specialized skills. In the end it hurts everyone, especially when a lot of people work for free to get some experience.
Alejandro: It is essential to recognize the skills that you have built up and discover how to monetize them for your survival. Invest in yourself and learn how business works and it will allow you to see the matrix code of those people paying your salary. As an employee, keep in mind the saying: "You steal the throne or make your own", this means that you will need how to run a business or make one of your own.
10. Forgetting About the Fun Part
Alejandro: Any person can learn to use digital art tools, but an outstanding artist will know how to utilize their vision, design, and art fundamentals to engage the viewer and tell a story with their work. You are doing it wrong if you are just approaching your work with a "by the numbers" approach. Therefore always sharpen your fundamentals, challenge yourself to do different things, and surround yourself with new inspirational visuals. Also read books, they are a huge help and allow your imagination to flourish.
Art by: Zhengyi Wang Concept Artist- ArenaNet
It is imperative to be known for your own brand of creativity. The best artists are those who are irreplaceable, we don't just admire Sparth because his incredible understanding of the fundamentals, but also because of his own signature he injects into his work.
11. Stretching Yourself Across too Many Specialisms
Creative Assembly: If you're a 3d artist working to improve your portfolio, working on your own concepts, don't weaken your portfolio by learning concepting and modelling at the same time. Focus and show world class art, not just your ability to use software and press the right buttons!
12. Unrealistic Deadlines
Creative Assembly: Time estimates are realistic and it's important to acknowledge this early on, always add 30%! Optimism is great, except when you're scheduling.
13. Presenting Illustrations Rather Than Concepts
Creative Assembly: Prospective concept artists, is your portfolio actually illustrations rather than concepts? It's important to show an understanding of the workflow, and ensuring that a 3d artist could actually build your concepts.
Marc Brunet: A common misconception among young artists is that the concept art field is simiar to being an illustrator. This couldn't be further from the truth. I always advise to look at those 2 careers as 2 different physician specialties. Would you consider a Dermatologist the same as a Pediatrician? Of course not, yet they are both medical doctors. Artists are the same; Illustrators and Concept Artists have completely different careers and specialties and should be treated as such. Pick one, and go for it 100%.
14. Not Recognizing Industry Needs
Creative Assembly: While it's important that you focus on what you're passionate about, be aware of what expertise are actually needed within the industry. There are way too many people that want to be concept artists but there is a huge lack of prospective UI, VFX and technical artists!
Marc Brunet: The number of available positions for studio jobs is a lot more limited than most would imagine, and they vary greatly depending on the actual position. Too many artists go to school, invest months/years of their life to study or practice for a career only to find (much too late) they chose the most saturated career option possible.
A good rule of thumb is, if the technical aspect of the job is hard to get into, then you are much more likely to find a open position for that job. For careers with low technical difficulty and ease of access such as concept art or illustration, you'll find much fewer positions available simply because of the massive number of people gunning for them.
15. Irrelevant Portfolios
Marc Brunet: If your goal is to eventually land a job in a studio, it's extremely important to tailor your portfolio and work on art for it. Working on art that you love is great, but you also have to work on art that is relevant to your goals if you want a successful career.
If you're looking to land a job as concept artist for a stylized game like Blizzard's Overwatch, then you'll want to make sure you have a lot of art in your portfolio that would fit in that and universe. Why would they hire you otherwise? Same thing if you're a 3D character artist looking to land a job @ EA DICE working on realistic war games, you better make sure your portfolio isn't full of cartoon characters!
Thanks to everyone below for providing some great advice:
Clinton Crumpler- Cubebrush Store Owner, Environment Artist, Teacher
Kurt Kupser- 3D Environment Artist
Tom Lopez- Cubebrush Store Owner, Concept Artist and Illustrator
Alejandro Rodriguez- Recruiter, ArenaNet
Team of artists from Creative Assembly