The Technique Trap

A Goldfish In A Bag

A perceptive (and talented) art student by the name of Chris Campbell recently asked me this impressive question:

“What do the animation industry pros say about us when we’re not around?”

He elaborated…

“Have they noticed any common mistakes or bad habits in current student portfolios?”

“What do most pros think we need to work on?”

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone.


…there is, in fact, one general criticism that comes up pretty much every time I discuss current student work with animation industry artists.

Just this past week, I had three different conversations with three different artists and they brought it up every time the topic of student work came up.

It isn’t going to be easy to hear.

But because I love you, I have to share it with you…

For many aspiring concept artists, the answer to this question could be the most important critique you’ve ever been given.

Except Maybe You…

What I’m about to share with you is a generalization.

Generalizations are, by definition, inaccurate.

But I think this one is accurate enough to be helpful.

…even encouraging.

I wouldn’t even bring it up if I didn’t believe there was an invaluable, essence of truth in the resounding sentiment that most current art students are caught in The Technique Trap.

It’s A Trap!

Return Of The Jedi: Admiral Ackbar yells "It's A Trap!"Techniques are fun.

Please remember I said that when, five minutes from now, I’m lobster-face-red and shouting at you like Admiral Ackbar…

Unfortunately, technique is often the only thing young artists ever think about.

Now, if I’m talking about you, don’t feel bad.

It makes perfect sense that young artists obsess over technique.

…because technique is the most apparent.

It’s the thing you see first.

Technique is the surface of the art.

But technique is also shallow.

If the only thing you’re thinking about is technique, then you might be making shallow art.

The problem with so many digital painting tutorials is that they emphasize the What? instead of the Why?

…the surface instead of the structure.

Sure, it feels great to learn how to create a cool light bloom effect in Photoshop, push pixels around with the Smudge Tool or mimic the style of your art heroes.

…but techniques (especially digital painting techniques) are small solutions for small challenges.

Visual storytelling is a big challenge.

Emotional visual storytelling is an epic challenge.

Your First Day As A VisDev Artist…

'Mulan' Development Art hanging on the walls of Disney Feature Animation in 1995.

‘Mulan’ Development Art at Disney in 1995.
[ photo by Hans Bacher ]
[ click to see more ]

On the day you get hired as a Visual Development artist for an animated film, you will have to match the style of the film on day one.

(Maybe day two if you have orientation on day one.)

If you’re part of early development, the style of the film will be less clearly defined but there will still be a specific art direction.

In most cases (especially when you’re just starting out) your department coordinator will hand you a style guide and walk you around the halls of the studio to see the development art.

You might have a meeting with your art director where she will explain the design of the film to you but I wouldn’t count on it.

She put all that time and energy into creating the style guide so she wouldn’t have to waste precious time repeating herself for every new hire.

The point is, you can’t expect the studio to keep you on the payroll for a month while you try to hammer the square-peg of your nine digital painting techniques into the round-hole of your first assignment.

In the animation industry, artistic professionalism is the ability to synthesize style, reference and story in a way that is both artful and appropriate.

You can’t pull that off if you’re in The Technique Trap.

[Want to see an example of a feature animation style guide? Check out the one Hans Bacher created for Mulan: Click here and here.]

Artistic professionalism synthesizes style, reference and story in a way that is both artful and appropriate.
-Tweet This Quote

You’ll Have To Improvise.

Scene from 'Noises Off!'Noises Off! is a comedic play about a play that goes wrong during a live performance.

You get to watch both the on-stage train wreck of the performance as well as the backstage shenanigans of the “actors.”

(If this doesn’t make sense or you just want to learn more about the play, watch this video.)

There’s a point at which the play goes so far off-track that the characters have to start improvising, making the play up as they go along, trying to cover-up and play-off the ridiculous consequences of their mistakes.

But one of the “actresses” can’t improvise. (She’s not so bright.)

All she can do is recite the lines she has memorized.

This, of course, is hilaious because all of the other characters are pretending that the mistakes are all part of the act. But nothing the actress is saying makes sense despite the fact that she’s the only one who is sticking to the script.

My point is, this is the same kind of problem that many aspiring concept artists don’t even know they have.

They have invested so much time and energy into learning (copying?) specific (often trendy) techniques that they would have no idea what to do if someone asked them to do more than what they have memorized.

Stop Hammer Time!

“I call it The Law Of The Instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”

-Abraham Kaplan 

Mature artists see past technique.

Mature artists see past the tools.

Mature artists aren’t slaves to software.

If your art education consists of little more than collecting digital painting techniques, it is unlikely that you’ll survive (let alone thrive) on a real animated production.

Tools and techniques will fail in scenarios where immersive visual stories are being told.

Imagination is vital and fundamentals are forever.

Technique is essential for matching production styles and creating appealing images.

…but in order to become a mature artist, you  must escape The Technique Trap.

Start planning your escape from The Technique Trap: [link]
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7 Ways To Escape The Technique Trap:

Neo Wakes Up from The Matrix.

1.) Make Consistent, Liberal Use Of Reference, Studies & Comps:

Listen to this podcast episode for some clear direction.

2.) Read Wisely:

Books like Alla Prima, Framed Ink, Dream WorldsColor and Light and The Illusion Of Life are must-reads.

3.) Call The Authorities:

Ask an animation industry pro for help.

…but not just any animation industry pro.

You should ask someone who is also a good teacher who can give you clear, actionable direction.

[You can meet many great animation artists who are also great communicators at CTN-X.]

If you’re a student or an alumni, maintain relationships with your favorite teachers.

Most art teachers I know would be delighted to continue a relationship with you past the end of the semester. …past graduation.

But you’ll have to take the initiative.

4.) Join A Circle Of Trust:

You’ll be amazed at the objectivity and progress that comes from forming a healthy critique group or collaboration.

5.) Try To Look Past The Technique: 

You can make amazing progress with the right mindset.

The next time you see a concept painting that you admire, try to look past the technique. Just try it and see what happens.

Try to disconnect the surface from the structure.

(Sometimes it’s easier and more insightful to do this with work you aren’t crazy-in-love-with.)

Record your observations and explain them to someone else. This will help to solidify the lesson for you.

6.) Prioritize: 

Spend more time drawing from observation, painting and reading than you spend learning surface-level digital tricks.

Strong draftsmanship is the antidote for soft, soupy anatomy and layouts.

Learn Techniques Within A Meaningful Context:

Detail from Chris Oatley's 'Animal Farm' digital painting.When you do set aside time to develop your techniques, it’s wise to find a teacher who answers Why? and How? …as well as What?

You might have heard me mention my new Digital Painting Course called The Magic Box: Everything I Know About Digital Painting.

This course is overflowing with cool digital painting techniques.

…but the techniques are taught within a meaningful context.

…you watch the Why? happen right in front of your eyes.

If you’re ready to start thinking like a painter, add significant depth to your visual stories and connect with a passionate, laser-focused, no-B.S. community of like-minded artists, then join us in The Magic Box today!

Please Share Your Thoughts:

Are you caught in The Technique Trap?

What is the one next action you are going to take to start your escape?

Subscribe & Get My FREE Digital Painting Kit!

[ I will never spam you or share your information ]

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }


I really love your advices I am a graphic designer and this is real in design as well and for me it’s an eye opener… Thank you :)


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Veronica!

I think you’re right. It’s probably true for every art form.



Hey Chris! What a great article! This is really a nugget of gold. You are right, we do tend to get focused to look only at the surface of things without digging deep into it.

I can’t help but compare it to when you meet someone you like. Say a handsome man (or woman, on case by case basis)! You like with his eyes, the way his nose curves, the strong jawline, and the athletic build. This calls your attention and makes you want to know more… but if he doesn’t have a great personality, intelligence, a fantastic heart and the right attitude… the whole façade is worthless. You don’t fall in love. You run in the other direction! He becomes just one more man that you met.

If a piece has a great look but no meaning behind it, you like it but you don’t remember it. You never fall in love with the art, and the artist mingles in with the rest of work with no meaning.

It’s easy to be dazzled by the technique… to get lost in it and to want to emulate it. The temptation is to dive right in without doing the hard thinking that should always precede our work. It’s beautiful… but without a reason behind it, that’s all it is: cold beauty and no heart. We have to remember that we want people to fall in love with our work!

Again, thanks for the article! Great piece!


Chris Oatley

I tried a dating/ physical attraction metaphor but couldn’t get it to work.

But you nailed it, Mari!



I learned from the best…
You are always using wonderful metaphors in the PD1 videos!


Britny Lewis

Thanks for another great and helpful blog post! I think students, myself included, sometimes think story artwork just instantly comes together after a few sketches and cool techniques. It’s so much more than that! I wish I worried more about the ‘why’ rather than how bad my work actually looked when I first started out. Becoming a great artist doesn’t happen overnight. If the concept isn’t solid from the beginning, then no amount of technique will save it from becoming static.

Thanks for the links to the podcast and the book recommendations. Framed Ink came in the mail the other day! ITs AMAZING. I have The Illusion Of Life too. Both are great. Thanks Chris!


Chris Oatley

“Knowing is half the battle!”

It’s amazing how much progress just by watching out for The Technique Trap and simply trying to avoid it.

Great book choices, too!


Seth Rutledge

So true…and it applies to more than visual art. When I was writing electronic music, someone asked a friend of mine how he knew if he’d written a good melody. My friend said, “I play it on a piano, with no effects, no bassline and no drums. If I find myself humming it later, it was probably a good melody.”

Emotional resonance and good storytelling are the foundations of good art. Technique is great, but all the fancy rendering in the world won’t make a memorable piece.


Chris Oatley

Brilliant, Seth.

Very well put.

I sort of feel like we could just replace my entire post with your comment and it might have been more effective. 😉


Tegan Clancy

Too true Seth! Underlying quality in any art-form can never be beat, theres a reason why you cant get The Beatles music out of your head for a week!



I think I might stuck in the other end of the spectrum. I practice anatomy and stuff a lot but I’m completely clueless when it comes to tricks in digital painting and inking, etc. The article was still very interesting though ^^


Chris Oatley

Good point, Olof.

I’m sure that is true for a number of artists, Olof.

“The Practice Trap” has crossed my mind before but now you really have me thinking about it.

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

…and how you think the practice trap is different from The Technique Trap. …if it is different at all.


David Hansen

I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Practice Trap, Chris. I have a problem with never finishing personal work, but I can do studies and thumbnails and homework til the cows come home. I used to be able to finish personal work all the time, but since art school I actually just seem to get too intimidated halfway through a piece and freeze up, whereas practice stuff doesn’t worry me at all.



I feel that too. Every time I get the idea that inspires me to create an art, I always got this feeling that my foundation is not good enough, so in the end I sticking to practicing the basics (line and anatomy for most) instead of creating the piece. This get stagnant, and it makes me unable to create a complete artwork for a long time.


Ed Raza

Chris, great article and discussion.
I have the same issue as Olof. I love life drawing & painting and studying nature. When I want to put down a pencil or paint stroke it goes down where I want it to go and it’s exactly the right color pressure angle etc. It feels natural. But when I get down to doing a digital illustration I struggle. I feel there is a barrier between me and the illustration I want to create. I usually just end up at a result through trial and error rather than being in full control of what I want to paint. I wish I knew more Photoshop painting techniques.
Can you further elaborate on what is “The Practice Trap”?
Thanks for the insight and incite Chris!



Since I don’t now much about different techniques I guess falling into the technique trap could’ve happened quite easily to me. Before I read this article, if I would’ve found a technique that I got to work I would’ve probably only used that one technique since it worked. This article has however opened my eyes more to the fact that technique is not what’s most important and that one should be able to be flexible with techniques. This was really enlightening. What I’m now really interested in is if you have ideas regarding how someone not very good with techniques in general should go about exploring techniques in a way that doesn’t lead to the technique trap. Being stuck in the practice trap means that you have a lot you want to express but can’t really do it in a satisfying way, so hearing more about escaping the practice trap and how to explore techniques could be a really interesting topic.



I’ve realized recently that I more clearly understand the process of good art-making, and it’s time to work on technique more. I’m finding that technique is way easier to learn this way (it seemed so confusing or mysterious before), after taking PD1, after learning the ‘Why?’. Maybe I’m behind my classmates on technique, but I don’t care, because my head is full of vision, ideas, and heart, and that is the most difficult part of the process IMO. Now I’m working on the basics to allow these visions to come out in methods I’m not quite capable of now. That said, I’m still pretty into the style of art-making I am capable of. It’s pretty exciting in my art world right now.

I still love receiving your newsletters in the morning. It’s a great way to start the day. Thanks for writing Chris!


Chris Oatley

You nailed it. Extract technique from story and compositional structure.


Dave Groshelle

A lesson worth reciting over and over again throughout one’s career! When using Photoshop I have a rule! If I can’t do what I’m doing with the software on a canvas or on paper then it adds nothing to my knowledge base and I don’t use it. I may use a filter to save time but I could have done it by hand.
This flows into watching tutorials. I’ve learned to read the undercurrent of of what I’m being shown. Some things can only exist in software. Dismiss these and store away what is universal.


Chris Oatley

Hilarious and poignant, Dave.

Great stuff.


Yesid Soacha

Hey Chris, let me tell you this article hit me right in the feels haha, i have spent way too much time on techniques, on how to’s and you know i can count with my hands how much of my work have a story to tell, and is a little sad, but from now im going to be more conscious of the content of my images, thanks for this and the amazing blog entrys, you are one of a kind.


Chris Oatley

Thank you, Yesid.

I really appreciate your encouragement. It keeps me going!



I just needed to say that Noises Off is hilarious!
I saw it once, probably laughed more during it than any show I’ve ever seen.

I’ve read half of the books on that list. Now I need to stop using them as an excuse to not practice.


Chris Oatley

I thought there might be a few fans of the play out there. Yeah, it’s super-funny.

So glad you’re reading, Benjamin!


Diane Kress Hower

Techniques steal away the artists voice and limit the use of art elements and design principles, slowly over time or abruptly. I think this is true in any type of visual art. Great post, Chris!


Chris Oatley

They definitely can. Thanks, Diane!



Great post. To a certain amount I can agree with your opinion. It is technique that allows us to be productive and it is the the power of improvisation to incorporate big visions into our work. If used wisely, technique can be effective and I dare to say that his is what you want to convey. Personally I find technique alone boring, I never really read any tutorials or howto guides, because what keeps me into the digital realm is productive experimentation. While I´d throw away thousands of canvasses and papers in a year, I don´t feel that bad kicking pixels into the bin. And it is definitely the practice of years in tradititional media that helps to define a certain look, students who are only starting in the digital technique are missing great opportunities. One quote from Randy Pausch brings it to the point: “You´ve got to get the fundamentals down, otherwise the fancy stuff isn´t going to work!”


Chris Oatley

Great stuff, Fantasio!

It sounds like we agree on all counts.


Kira Dennis

Another great post, so glad to have you here to explain all these things to us. I always send these along to my fellow students [whether they ever read them is out of my hands].


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Kira! You’re awesome.


Ian Topple

This was a great article. I’m glad I do spend more time drawing from observation than from surface digital tricks although learning digital tricks can be fun and it does teach you more on how to use the tools which I think is important.


Chris Oatley

You’re right, Ian.

The intent is not to poop on the technique party. I mean, I’m about to release a Digital Painting Workshop packed FULL of Techniques!

Techniques are great! It’s just that they get misappropriated.


Jessica Leslau

Hi Chris,

Great article as always. Insightful, clear and concise. This is really very useful indeed. My ambition is to be a visual development artist, but like many, get stuck in all the digital techniques and processes which are so standard in the industry now. It’s lovely to hear the advice given here; to keep observational drawing and storytelling at the forefront. I’ve been worried about how slow it is usually for me to learn new techniques (digitally especially) So your article is more than helpful, it os gold! Thank you! Keep up the great work! (Double thumbs up) 😀

-Jess Leslau


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Jess!

No need to worry about learning techniques quickly. It sounds to me like you’re moving in the exact right direction.



… It hurts! This article poked right on my weakness. But thanks for the poke Chris.

So many times I WOWed at a great artwork and thought “Man, if only one day I can manage all the techniques, I will be able to draw like that as well…”
I’m glad that I’ve read this right on time. Thanks for the wise words.


Chris Oatley

HAHA! That’s hilarious, Nan!

Please let me know what happens as you start looking past the surface!



I agree with @Seth Rutledge that this applies to more than just art. I work in software development and this is true for this kind of work. The same programming languages and design patterns are not necessarily the best for every problem. Also, if you don’t understand the fundamental structure of the problem, you won’t be able to fix anything if your technique doesn’t work out well. You may get a result that works when you use your favorite point-and-click tool that does lots of the work for you, but it might not be the best solution. And if you can’t do it without the tool, then you’re missing the depth you need to be truly good and innovative.


Chris Oatley

Great stuff. I’ve never thought about it in the way you and Seth and Dave Groshelle are describing. But I think there’s really something there.


Tony Enriquez

Wow Chris, another great post! I must admit that I fiendishly did this. Focusing on the technique too much and the “wait, how did you make that line look like that?!”

Your posts have brought clarity to me and this one is another great example. It really helps to take a step back and focus on what your trying to do with your art. I often wondered, like Chris Campbell what pro’s really were really thinking when they looked at my portfolio, and now I have a better understanding.

Thanks for the inspiration!



Chris Oatley

Hey, Tony! The pros I have talked about it feel this way. I can’t think of anyone right now who disagrees. …or who thinks it’s an entirely different issue.


Tegan Clancy

Fantastic advice Mr. Oats! When I was training at art school I was a sucker for technique and over applying detail, and it got to the point that the instructors stopped me at my underpainting. Over working something with technique don’t make it better. I totally agree with All 7 ways to escape!
Circle of trust has lifted my art like nothing else. Caring less and creating messy studies have become some of my favourite pieces. Advice from CTN has been life-changing, and framed Ink blew my graphic design mind back into the art world.
I think you missed the 8th Step, listen to all artcasts episodes and be rewarded with positive inspiration!


Chris Oatley

HA! Awesome. Yeah, I forgot to add that one. 😉



“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
― Oscar Wilde

Maybe this fits? Sort of? A bit? I dunno. In any case, great advice!

I feel as though I’ve been stuck in this rut, wherein, I work on a piece until my wrist goes numb because ‘I want to try out this new technique I learned’ or ‘I want to improve my style’ or whatever. But, I think, armed with this fresh perspective on painting (particularly digital painting), I can finally start to create art that actually has some manner of meaning.


Chris Oatley

While I only disagree with one word – “nothing” – I do think he’s onto something. It’s easy to overlook the “spiritual” or “intangible” aspects of what we love about stories when we’re focused on how to create in a particular medium.



This article is right on time for me! I recently ran into a wall in my drawing progress. My goal is to draw through one mile of paper (5760 pages)
I am at 1178 currently. I have spent a lot of money on ImagineFX mags, books and Gnomon workshop training videos. I started to slow down at about 800 pages because all I was doing was making myself construct things using “Proper Technique “I kept going bit by bit until I hit 1000 pages. I then constructed a Gantt Chart with my own self imposed curriculum of anatomy, perspective and the like. I was so academic about this that I was sucking the joy out of my work. I didn’t want to do it anymore.

When I realized what I was doing I just started drawing from life and reading stories and just observing the world around me.
I gave away all of my imagine FX magazines and most of my art technique books. Except for a few favorites. There is nothing wrong with technique books. But I realized that we have to feed ourselves with stories and observations that are everywhere around us.I look forward to hitting my next goal of 2000 pages soon. I think this article nails it.


Chris Oatley

Tommy, you’re awesome. Do you have a blog? I want to know more about this…


Kevin Cameron

I think a better question (and one that’s on my mind a lot) relates to style matching. Rather than ask about technique, what are good practices at studying style that result in creating new content in that style, not just the content you used for study?

Another curiosity of mine deals with diversity of styles in pre-production – in many “art of” books you can see a fluctuation in nuanced style. However there is a story being told as artists develop characters, environments, etc. match an overall narrative tone & outlook (matching the director, lead artist, and/or creative director’s lead I presume). So where concept art breaks between “be in this style” and “be in this story” and how it’s determined always fascinates me.


Chris Oatley

The follow-up to this post is, in fact, about style.

I originally addressed both topics in this one post but really, it’s two different things. Style is a synthesis of structure and technique.

Amazing thoughts about production. Pretty much every animated production begins in a very exploratory way and the style gets slowly focused over time. The art director(s) are typically the one(s) leading that process.



This was a great refresher on what I need to be focusing on. I tend to fall in that rabbit hole of technique envy, and I totally lose focus because of frustration. Keep the tips coming!


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Melissa!



It’s actually really weird, just two days ago I got my ImagineFX magazine ( I love that stuff ), really excited to finally get into the how’s of colouring in a certain manga style. I was interested in the ‘technique’ precisely in the main workshop. This post came to me at a such a good time, because it really opened my eyes. I seriously have jammed myself into the Tecnique Trap, I’m not thinking about my drawings as a a whole, the feel of it, the spirit. Lately what I’ve drawn has been pretty static poses, but I’ve been focusing on how it looks in a technique point of view.
Thank you so much for this, now that I’ve realized it I hope it’ll sharpen me. I hope that my next step to avoiding this terrible trap is focusing on ‘what’ I’m drawing, what do I want to tell with the image, the story of it, the feel of it, what can I do to make the emotion come through to the viewer. My subject is the main point of it, whether it’s a character or a scenery or something. Thanks a bunch!


Chris Oatley

I heart ImagineFX. They are such great people and it blows my mind that they pull off such an incredible magazine month after month…

The Manga styles evolved for a reason. The reason so many artists go wrong with Manga is because they are just copying and not considering the “Why?”

…also, they aren’t trying to invent or push the medium forward.

…but every few years someone comes along and does something really creative while maintaining a Manga sensibility.

I just wish more artists who were interested in Manga, would attempt to create new recipes and not just microwave the leftovers of what’s popular.



I know right? It’s spectacular work that they do, and they never fail to amaze me with what they have to offer (:

I hear you on that one. Even though I’m not a manga-styled artist myself, drawing mostly fantasy-creatures, the techniques have always interested me, but it’s sad to see how it’s not evolved, like you said. Overall I think there’s a certain following in it, which wants to do that sort of work and be “true to the origins”, but I’d dare say you could do that while still bringing a bit of new flavour into it as well.


Mark Keller

Chris, this is an awesome post! I ran into this trap when I would grab a magazine or book and learn the technique, only to not really see (vision) that technique in my own art. I wanted to learn it but it just didn’t seem natural – kinda like I was forcing it. I also get stuck into thinking the software would help me get that edge but it just isn’t so. Sure I could add a nice texture overlay but it just felt flat and uninviting.
This post is a rethink, for me, on how to approach my art (one of the many you inspire). Here is one take I have on the technique subject (now that you’ve opened my eyes). As a musician, guitarist, I know when someone is really reaching into themselves versus someone who is playing ‘techniques” s/he has learned. These “techniques” may sound cool but they are often misplaced, stylistically mismatched, and over played. S/he may have the “technique” down but it sounds so unnatural and plain (sometime even painful to hear). By looking at art in its many dimensions (layout, composition, etc.), instead of technique, I am beginning to understand how this works with art too.


Chris Oatley

Yep. You nailed it.

Bob Dylan Vs. Yngwie Malmsteen



I think it’s so great that you’re doing this, it’s one of the only sources of advice for people who want to get into concept art! :) So thank you very much!

I’m definitely a sucker for technique, and the tip about trying to look past it in concept art is a very useful one because usually with that level of skill in a work, we forget to look past it to the essence or soul.


Chris Oatley

You’re welcome, Saachi!

Thanks for the encouragement!



Your tips are wonderful, I definitely find myself falling into the technique trap way too often, especially because I’m trying to get into a good art college. Being an aspiring animator, it’s good to know where I may be tripping up so I can fix it earlier rather than later. Thanks!


Chris Oatley

Great news, Gabby! You’ll save a lot of time and frustration this way!


Luis Escobar

Couldn’t have said it better myself bro! Great post! Wish you the best.


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Luis! Can’t wait to catch up with you about



The technique trap is a common problem in all industies. I study design, and I can say, that if designer relies too much on their computer technique, you basically can tell which 3d software was used to design a particular lamp or chair – we depend on the program too much and we don’t use our creativity. that’s why we are encouraged to draw and make real-object models before 3d models.
Thanks for the article Chris, You’re awesome :)



This has definitely answered my dilemma, i was caught in the practice trap, then after realising this got out but ended up in the technique trap… But the tips you’ve given i think are really gonna help me balance things out


Mike Pascale

Hey, nice post, Chris! I’ve been boarding in other areas since the turn of the century (and was a sr. AD before that) but just getting started in animation.

My issue was always the opposite–not enough focus on the technique, but I still got some valuabe insights, especially the book recommedations! (I’d also add Francis Gelbas’s DIRECTING THE STORY and Walt Stanchfield’s indespensible DRAWN TO LIFE.) But yeah, when I was a student, and early on, it was always about technique. That’s why I was so lucky to attend one of Joe Kubert’s classes–he taught us a lot about the “why.”

Oh, and as a guitarist for the last three-plus decades, I think a much more accurate example is Malmsteen vs. Joe Satriani. Or Brad Gillis vs. B.B. King. Dylan is primarily a songwriter! 😉

Thanks again for the good stuff. I wish you the best of continued success!



“The more technique you have the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is the less there is. ” – Pablo Picasso



This is exactly what I was trying to explain to my Fine Art students who are doing digital art for the first time.. fantastic article!


Zachary Hunt

Thankyou Chris, I believe I needed to hear this. I’ve never been one to get too caught up in the techniques of other artists, but the ‘spirit’ of my work has been dominated by my obsessiveness of the technique I used, making it less interesting and sort of static.


Keith Williams

I shall takes these words to heart, wonderful advice.


Evelyn @Evie_EE’ve made my brain stutter. Thanks for the helpful information. I’m book marking this page to refer back to the links you’ve provided. I believe this may be the final key to unlocking a dream. It’s times like these that I want to throw something like money (or something similar in value) at the screen to show my gratitude. But for now, a thank you for your invaluable advice.



this is exactly why I wanted to join the academy. The main reason I’m joining is because I want to be motivated to draw more drawing more and have more fun in drawing, just to grow my creativity. And also to get in contact with more creative people.
I don’t want to become a professional artist, I want to become a professional game designer. And I believe that making my creative world bigger is the most important thing to do right now.
Learning the techniques is fun and I absolutely love drawing and digital painting as a hobby, but it’s not the main reason I wanted to join the academy.


It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future
and it’s time to be happy. I’ve learn this put up and if I could I want to counsel you some
interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article.
I want to read even more things about it!


Chris Perry

You’re truly about the ART of animation. Do your research spend time sketching and understanding form. Do your homework before you do the final. As a Magic Boxer myself I can attest that you are about the bones that lie beneath the animation skin.


Gwenevere Singley

I think I was caught in some kind of technique + style trap during some of my student years… Every week I was obsessing over either some new style or some new technique, it was all over the place and it took me a while to get back to a mindset where I could focus on ideas again. On the flip side, messing with a million styles made me VERY adaptable when it comes to matching project styles.

Something I would add as a recommendation to anyone caught in a technique trap: DON’T limit your artistic inspiration to concept art! Or digital art. Look at ALL kinds of art from all sources, old art, new art, ancient art, weird art, art from other cultures, art in media you think you’ll never touch, art from fields or genres you think you’ll never deal with, art you think you don’t like, all of it. This can help you break out of the “concept art tunnel-vision” mindset (or whatever other tunnel-vision you’ve become trapped in.) It also makes you more adaptable and enlarges your visual vocabulary immensely.

Also if you’re in any kind of rut (technique or style,) it can sometimes help to try something TOTALLY different from whatever it is you’re doing, just to break the habit. Like, if you’re stuck in “nine digital techniques” mode, try some crazy traditional media like stone carving or etching. If you’re stuck imitating a generic-slick-concept-art style, try something radically different like cubism. Exploring wildly unfamiliar territory can be fun and mind-expanding. As long as you don’t end up constantly flitting from one thing to the next like I did for a while… 😛



This is brilliant! Thank you, this made my day.



I love that you follow up with this post about fighting the technique trap with a call to action for your Magic Box academy. This is precisely the hesitation I had with signing up. I didn’t want to learn more “cool techniques”… ok, alright, I do, but I am ready to take things further and work to create a great painting more than a file with great technique.

One tip that I frequently resort to, is simply to jump back into a traditional medium to freshen my mind and eyes! xx


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