Learning To Create

This is a repost from my Tumblr blog, which I like enough to bring here.

It’s really difficult for me to admit that I’m an artist of any capacity. A lot of times, I consider that sort of term to be dedicated only to the working artist. You know, the ones who actually get paid for their work. The ones who end up creating things for everyone. The ones I admire greatly, to the point that I consider them to be living on Mt. Olympus while I’m stuck at a temple waiting for a chariot up a very steep road.

The place I work at now is a place where I don’t get to really create for myself. I create for other people. When I’m done there, I seldom get to make things for myself at home. There is an effort, of course, when I’m able to do so, but it’s hard to be that focused after toiling a retail job for 7 hours a day. You end up taking the opportunity to decompress and that ends up becoming an 8-hour decompress and you need to go to bed. That’s how it is for an adult, I guess. Don’t recommend growing up.

And that “9-5 Job, Now Do Nothing For Hours” mindset is something I need to work on, to be sure. In my mind, I see myself as someone who needs to be able to do something. I can’t make art to decompress, because art is supposed to be something important. I toil and toil, thinking about the process I need to decide on doing. “How do I become an artist like my favorite artists?” “What is the correct methods of learning it?”

How do I climb the mountain and join the greats?

In my monthly stint of introspection, I was watching a friend play Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. To this day, it may still be my favorite game. Watching it again brings back a lot of genuinely good memories, both inside and outside of the game. The charm that filled the game’s varied and interesting world and cast has still yet to be matched for my personal tastes. And for years, it was the game I played whenever I needed a good pick-me-up.

Watching him play it for the first time and getting to hear the same sort of reactions I had to it 14 years ago ended up bringing an…odd memory back to me. And it involves this image.

Perhaps not this specific image in particular – the internet could have phased out that one- but something similar to it.

See, back in 2004 I was just getting in on the whole Internet thing. This was back when people used what was called an “internet forum”. This was a place where people can post their thoughts on a wide range of topics, such as: “How do you jump in Metroid?”, “This game sucks”, and “Do you think Kingdom Hearts 2 will be on Gamecube?”.

I was part of one forum for a good part of my teenage life. I started at around January of 2004, in fact. I suppose I consider that a turning point in my life if I remember it to that degree.

I was fairly active in that forum. And as I began to make my posts, I began to notice something. At the bottom of every post was what you called a signature.

Copyright Falcon 2018, filed under the Trademark of Best Girl 2004

They were a cute little way to signify that you were the one who was making the post. It was one of the small creative outlets this particular forum had given users, though you still needed it to be both 45-ish pixels tall and kept at a low file size to help those with 56k modems.

Typing that out makes me feel really old.

There were people who were making these small images underneath their posts and the cool, hip guy I was as a teenager was like “OH BOY I WANNA DO THAT TOO!”. Of course, in order to create this sort of stuff I had to be…sneaky.

Back then, I found a pirated copy of Paint Shop Pro 7. It worked decently enough for me, but as I was a young lad with strong moral values – I didn’t even curse until well into my later teens, the frickin’ twit – I felt extremely guilty doing this. So for my birthday that year, I ended up getting a legit copy of Paint Shop Pro 8. It was at that point, I suppose, that my desire to create stuff was ignited. I was thrown into the wide world of graphic design, making sigs for myself and others.

I eventually upgraded to Photoshop 7 – after throwing away all of those moral values and growing the confidence to say the F!!!-word – walking even further into this new world for me. I started making signatures for people in flashier ways, abused lens flare to the point of blinding half of Nintendo fanboys, and even dabbled in creating wallpapers for people to use. This was back when 1024×768 was the norm, if you can believe that

I talk about this because when my friend was playing TTYD, I decided to look up art of some characters again, and found Vivian – one of the party members in the game – once more. Only, this time, in a way higher fidelity than I had 14 years ago.

Proper quality

In general, I’d consider TTYD as the game that first got me encroaching into graphic design. This was not due to the game’s art, which is still fantastic, but because of so many people suddenly wanting signatures of their favorite new party members in that restrictive 48 pixel height.

I would get private messages in the forum asking for sigs with Mario, Goombella, Koops, Yoshi, Vivian, Bobbery, the X-Nauts, Bowser, Peach…Rawk Hawk a few times…even had Zess T. the cook in there. It was wild.

So imagine my surprise going through Google Image Search for a post about Vivian and finding an image of her that was extremely close to the kind of art I had to work with back then. I worked for a long time trying to figure out how to deal with the blur of the pisspoor scan with its low resolution and JPEG artifacts. Back then, finding official art was pretty difficult alone, and official art that actually looked like it was scanned with proper care? You were basically stuck with what you had and needed to figure out how to hide it. The people who could find clean concept art became our dealer providing the good shit while we provided our services to others.

Otherwise, you just worked with what you had. This was problem solving. Back then, you didn’t have access to as many tutorials as you do now. You absolutely didn’t have as much access to tablets. Those were from Wacom only and they were expensive. So you were essentially on your own, only getting help from the occasional artist who decided to make small tutorials on the forum.

Thankfully most of the people for signature requests were also teenagers as well, who just thought you were amazing for doing this for them.

I suppose all this reminiscing got me thinking about that mountain again. The paths up the mountain are long but they’re rarely ever getting longer or shorter, just easier to traverse. Nowadays, tablets are so much easier to acquire and art programs have gotten a lot more manageable. Art you want to look at or study or even use for your small projects are readily available, with services that makes buying personalized art easy and supporting artists even easier.

The knowledge about art programs and processes is nigh-infinite at this point. You can get a young artist’s commentary about their own virtues of art in a single tweet at lunch and get an experienced artist’s commentary at dinner. You can get atelier-level art lessons for free on Youtube.

Almost anything you want to learn is feasible now. Climbing the mountain is easier than ever.

So naturally, with my inferiority complex in full swing, I always have to ask myself why I haven’t started climbing the mountain yet. Why haven’t I just started the trek up the mountain pass already towards becoming a technically-skilled artist?

And the answer is, I am.

It’s just at my pace.

When I was a kid playing make-believe with others in the playground, I was making steps. Throughout all my teenage years of making signatures for people, making wallpapers for others, and even making a properly-awful sprite comic, I was making steps. When I was getting people stealing my sketchbook and making marks over my drawing of a Sonic character at lunch in high school, I was still making steps. When I was being critiqued by people for my skills in ways I felt were unfair or spiteful, I was still making steps. Every time I open Photoshop or SAI and stare at a blank canvas and will myself into making a mark on there, I’m still making a step.

Every step further from the start point, which is far and away from where I am now.

In my mind, I still can’t help but feel like where I should be is as some sort of master of art, but it’s really not fair to me. In hindsight, if I had drawn something every single day with intent, I could be a technical genius with knowledge of all the principles of design lodged firmly in my mind. It sounds amazing, but that’s not something I did.

Considering “what could have been” ignores what I am now. I am someone with knowledge in these various programs for over 14 years. I’ve dabbled in multiple projects, some in my own design. I can consider those things invariably shit, but the stuff I did there was stuff I did on my own terms, which I learned from. I wrote fanfics, did signatures for people, made wallpapers and webcomics, designed websites, did roleplaying, made a storyline based on friends’ characters in an MMO, and played tabletop games creating characters that became some of my favorite creations in my lifetime.

I would never want to trade that away for some sort of technical skill level-up. I’ve made too many great friends because of all of this. I am who I am because of how I’ve gotten here.

Learning how to create is all about taking the opportunities as they come along. Even this post is, essentially, me seeing one image online after a game session with friends and getting a nostalgia blast for something completely unrelated to the game itself.

The act of creating is simply doing. If you do, you create. If you create, you create art.

If you create art, you are an artist.

Don’t let your inner thoughts dissuade you from that fact, ever.

Thanks for reading.

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