If you’re an illustrator or concept artist, I guarantee that your art will eventually cause pain.
I know it hurts to even think about but it’s true.
The good news is you can put pain in its place so it actually serves a purpose instead of just bringing you down.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t mean to romanticize pain.
I’m not validating the whole “tortured artist” act. Self-punishment will just make you self-centered. …and crazy.
Pain is not a reward. Pain is not awesome. Pain is not an end in itself.
But pain is proof.
Pain is proof that you’ve discovered the limits of your ability.
Pain forces you to decide.
When you reach points of pain, you decide whether you’re going to accept your limits and work within them…
…or practice until you move past them.
So You Think You Can Paint?
Last night, my wife Angie and I were in the audience for the live season finale of So You Think You Can Dance?
For those of you who don’t know, it’s a reality competition show in the vein of American Idol (but way better).
I’m a HUGE fan.
So You Think You Can Dance? has significantly enhanced my appreciation for dance as an art form.
It has given me fresh perspective on my own work, improved the way I communicate and made me wish to God I was capable of this:
Falling Is Failing:
So last night, the judges were going on and on about Tiffany. She’s one of the Season 9 finalists.
The judges said that, throughout the entire season, Tiffany hasn’t fallen once.
I’m no expert, but I’ll bet that’s an important quality for a professional dancer.
…the whole “not falling” thing.
Tiffany’s Job Description:
Become weightless for two hours.
Glide, twirl and spin in distinctly stylistic ways while remaining in-sync with the music.
Regardless of your mood, express the appropriate emotions with every movement of every part of your body.
Transfer those emotions to a studio audience of hundreds and then to a live, television audience of millions through the performance.
Try to look good while you’re being hoisted, thrown and swung upside-down by some dude who is also trying to remember it all.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot…
I can’t even clean my own bathroom without giving myself a concussion.
Not falling is amazing.
On the show, before each routine, they show these cute, video montages where we get to see the dancers working with the choreographers, explaining the story or the thoughts behind the routine, telling embarrassing stories about their dance partner and so on…
The editors of the show often pick clips that will make us worry that the dancers aren’t ready for the performance.
Sure, they do this to create suspense, connect us with the performers and hold our attention but they’re really just saying with video what everyone in the audience is already thinking:
“Are they going to fall?”
When one of the dancers initiates a gravity-defying movement, you can hear everyone in the audience hold their breath.
As a professional dancer, you simply can’t fall during a performance because you’ll break the spell.
Falling Is Fixing:
So, falling is painful. Falling is embarrassing. Falling breaks the spell.
Falling during a performance is a big deal.
…but nearly every week there’s some major wipe-out during rehearsals.
The dancers fall constantly.
In a recent episode, one of the girls took a flying leap onto her partner’s back at which point he was supposed to catch her backwards and twirl her around in front of him.
It didn’t go that way in rehearsal. She completely over-shot his back and SMACKED the dance floor face-first.
She laughed it off, got back up and tried again.
Of course, she didn’t fall during the actual performance.
So last night, while the judges were going on and on about how great Tiffany is, it hit me: Good dancers do all of their falling during rehearsal.
Rehearsal is where they discover the limits of their abilities.
Rehearsal is where they reach the points of pain.
Rehearsal is where they decide whether they’re going to accept their limits and work within them or practice until they move past them.
Rehearsal is where they plan to fall.
That girl who landed on her face had to practice that leap over and over and over again until she got it right. Through practice, she calibrated her body to the creative vision in her mind.
The Fall Of The Illustrator:
…and the final painting is the performance.
Just like the dancer’s rehearsal, this is where you discover your limits, reach the pain points.
This ‘planning stage’ is where you plan to fall.
The pain you experience while planning your painting, forces you to decide whether you’re going to accept your limits and work within them…
…or practice until you move past them.
You need to sketch, thumbnail and make comps over and over and over again until you get it right.
Through practice, you calibrate your drawing hand to the creative vision in your mind.
If you fall during the performance, you’ll break the spell.
And that fall, my friend, will not help your career.
No Pain, No Painting:
The Dancer’s pain is immediate and physical.
The Dancer has to rehearse because she might literally limp home bloody if she doesn’t.
The Illustrator knows she should be rehearsing but because she’s not risking a bloody face or a broken tailbone, she skips rehearsal, opens Photoshop and leaps right into the performance.
It’s ironic that she thinks she’s avoiding pain.
She tells herself that she can plan and paint at the same time.
Yet she keeps falling during the performance. …the same way every time.
The truth is, she’s afraid of the pencil’s brutal honesty.
She’s afraid of falling.
And she thinks that Photoshop will always be there to catch her.
It’s completely natural to be afraid of falling.
It’s completely natural to want to avoid pain.
But the truth is, whether you’re a dancer or an illustrator, pain is inevitable.
No Jobs And No Fans.
In this culture of Digital Painting, Ctrl+Z and Speedpainting it’s tempting to just leap into every painting with no rehearsal.
But would you advise a dancer to just leap into every performance with no rehearsal?!
Of course not!
Whether by injury or embarrassment, it could mean the end of her dance career!
Just like the dancers, you can practice at the pain points on your own terms, during rehearsal, where you plan to fall…
…or you can fall during the performance in front of an audience which will cost you jobs and fans.
If you struggle with the planning stage (as most artists do) then subscribe to my FREE Email Mini-Course called The Key To Great Paintings then listen to this podcast episode: Improve Your Art Before You Start.
Now go get a pencil.
You’re late for rehearsal.
Comment & Share:
Tell me about a painful experience you had as a concept artist/ illustrator that ended up improving your art in a big way…