I’ve been on a streak past 5 years now. This streak where most of what I work on will never see the light of day. And by most I mean pretty much all of it. I’ve gotten used to it for the most part, but there are still moments where it gets frustrating. No matter how long I do this, it can be difficult to grind on something for days or weeks, figure out some new little thing that you’re proud of, only to remind yourself that its most likely destined to be shelved somewhere for eternity.
I shouldn’t complain. I knew the score when I started out doing this type of work. A fanboy love of entertainment media and the prospect of being able to contribute to that world in some way was worth anonymity. Perhaps at the core of it all was a fear to really put myself out there that played a role. It’s less of a personal investment helping others figure out their ideas.
It can be healthy to create work that you know isn’t going to be seen by a wide audience. While it might only be a few people who see it, its still necessary to give it 100%. Production work teaches you to be humble and let go. To not be so precious about your work. Its art that serves a purpose in a larger plan as opposed to being individually appreciated as a standalone work of art.
I still love the challenge of it. To take what are often very abstract ideas and visually problem solve them into coherent usable designs can be challenging at times, but its also fun as hell. The process of problem solving and realization is what I enjoy most. Often, the finished piece is something that I don’t feel a strong connection or sense of ownership to. I may be happy with it, but it’s not mine, I wouldn’t have made it on my own, and I’m often interpreting subject matter and ideas that aren’t mine, and due to this i often just don’t feel like i can take much credit for it. its complicated…
I’m soon rolling off of a project one been contributing to for almost 2 years now. it’s been a really killer gig where i got to work along side a rock star team of folks and tackle some really fun problems…but it was also a research-centric type thing, that while we ran it with the intention of developing and eventually releasing as an actual product, in the back of our heads we knew it would more than likely never be released to the public.
It takes a certain mindset to sink 40-60 hours a week into something that you kind of know that you’ll never get to show in your portfolio. Artists are pleasers by nature and we create stuff with the hope that it will be looked at and appreciated on some level, best case scenario by our peers. It’s a feedback loop that helps validate what I do and keeps those creative fires burning. At the end of the day I’m just a dumb monkey who wants to be appreciated for performing a task well. It inspires me to do it more often and push to improve.
By not being able to show my production work, it can sometimes become difficult to gauge whether or not the work was even decent. I worry that without being able to plug into that public feedback loop my work and skills will atrophy and weaken in weird ways I might not be aware of. It keeps me up at night.
You can be doing stuff for literally the largest entities on the planet and eventually have no idea whether the work you are doing is objectively even any good. Sure maybe it gets approved, but who’s really approving it? The higher it goes up the ladder its someone with absolutely not background in art, or a board room of people with little to no experience in this. So yes, perhaps its satisfied the task at hand, but am I improving at my craft at all?
There’s also the issue of keeping the portfolio current in order to secure new work. 20 years in it’s largely repeat clients, but you don’t ever want to limit your ability to secure new ones either. It can be difficult rounding up recent samples of work when most relevant examples from the past 5+ years are NDA’d.
I know I know, I could make more sample production pieces in between actual ones but there’s always the whole personal work component to it. Its those bursts of creative inspiration that’ll just randomly pop in there and blow your mind… sometimes it’ll be the smallest most inconsequential thought or event that will plant that seed in your head. But it’ll stay there, worming its way deeper and you have little choice but to submit to it. You could do otherwise, but the only way you’re really gonna scratch that itch is to embrace this spark.
That itchiness is something I’ve continued to struggle with for the past 20 something years now. trying to balance that need to get production work approved with this desire to make stuff that i want to. there are times when I’m able to keep a personal painting going in the background that i can work on in between stuff. but i won’t lie, it eats me alive the whole time. this can be especially frustrating coming up on 5 years with pretty much nothing i can publicly show.
I remind myself that I’m financially compensated for shelving my creative tendencies in favor of performing as a reliable service provider…. And anyone that tells you that you have to starve to be an artist is doing it wrong. You can make a good living doing this if you can commercialize your skill. But is making money being a successful artist? Creatively at least, thats has not been my experience.
By stifling those creative tendencies and grinding out piles of corporate presentation boards instead of some cool ass oil painting that really gets my juices flowing, Im suppressing those very feelings that got you into this shit in the first place. And that hurts a little sometimes.
I get jealous of guys who’ve found commercial success painting what they love and can just wail at it. I look at them and can see that its provided them the opportunity to really dig in and discover the layers and depth of the subject matter and techniques that they personally enjoy as artists.
I wonder if this is a less stressful existence as a creative, But then reading Jesper’s recent post about how his struggles with his own success in this arena is a reminder that no matter where we end up we’ve all got our own demons to wrestle with.
SO here I am, rolling off of this two year project that ill likely never be able to ever show anything I’ve done for it. My hope is that moving forward I can try to shift proprieties around some and make time for at least a little more work I can personally invest in, but who knows? Life gets in the way of things we want to do and usually only leaves room for the stuff you have to do. So what are you gonna do?
Since I have no professional work to show at the moment, figured id sprinkle this post with some drawings of our dogs that i’ll do when they’re sleeping and I have a minute. They make great models. Also posting a final shot of that big painting I started last year. Finally got a good photo of it.
In case you missed the video up above, here is a link: https://youtu.be/k_phYD2PEy8