Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

Eiryss 3 — Thumbnails

Having gotten a number of large projects off my plate, including a short film called [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 that you may have heard me rambling about and a life-endangering post-birthday celebration in Las Vegas (which I both thoroughly recommend as well as warn earnestly against), I found myself with a couple spare hours to start contemplating this next incarnation of the infamous WARMACHINE mage-hunter, Eiryss.

It’s been a while since I did any real drawing, so I thought I’d ease into things with some very rough thumbnails of poses and weapon ideas. I did these with an ink pen so as not to get too caught up in details or accuracy. When you draw in ink, you don’t have the luxury of erasing, so the mind stops worrying about making things perfect. It’s essentially doodling. When I have a chance to do exploratory drawing, which is rare, I’ll do it in ink.

Normally, I don’t start with poses. That’s usually the last thing on my mind. I like to start with a solid concept of the garb and trappings (aka the costume) and then find the best pose for it at the end. But because I’m rusty, I thought some pose exploration would help me get back into the character of Eiryss. There were also a lot of comments and suggestions about her pose in the previous blog entry, so I thought it’d be fun to show which ones were  bubbling up to the top in my mind.

Just warming up…

First, let’s get this out of the way — hood down, and bald head (if there was still any question) exposed. However, I am digging the ‘optional hood up’ idea, and I think I’ll try to implement that, but I’m going to compose the image hood down with the expectation of seeing this lady’s full set of tattoos once and for all. The image here, which is the first doodle I did, looks NOTHING like it should — it’s just a warm up — but I included it for fun, showing how I might approach the location of the tattoos we’ll see, which of course will only be seen in the art and on FULLY PAINTED figures (I’m looking at you, non-painters), not on the final sculpt itself.

For the pose, I keyed to several comments about how Eiryss primarily uses her crossbow in action, so I started with an idea to do a dynamic, leader-ish pose with her crossbow aimed and her saber held in her trademark reverse grip(1). I’m looking for a little more presence from this character, though, so my next thought was to get one foot up on something(2). I don’t know what that ‘something’ is, yet, but I like where this going. While I really love the scenic base that the Angel of Retribution is on, I heard a few people bemoan this feature, and I understand why. But I think I can get away with just a little bit of a scenic feature that will allow a more dynamic pose and help separate her from the pack.

About this time, my mind wandered into a different space looking for an entirely different way to approach this figure and this is the one I like the most at the moment (3). I don’t think the scribbles are doing the idea justice, but rolling with the idea of the foot up on ‘something’, I thought putting her in a deep stride, hunched over like a stalking predator might really bring this character home. I have some ideas that I’m going to playing with in her new cloak design, and I’m liking the idea of this extra long cloak (don’t start on functionality, this is fantasy!) dragging on the ground behind her as she slinks over this ‘something’. I want to achieve some symmetry in the way her arms are posed — shoulders back, elbows up, saber in the reverse grip, crossbow…er…<record screech>.

The ramblings of a mad man…

So the crossbow is giving me some issues. It’s not playing real well with my idea for this pose and I’m thinking it’s time for a redesign. Eiryss’ weapons have never been particularly flashy, anyway, but now that she’s hanging more with this apparently well-funded religious cult, I think she could have access to some upgraded weaponry. Problem is, this version has already gone through play test and the crossbow and ‘bayonet’ function the same as her previous incarnations. What’s that mean? I need a ranged weapon that is believable POW 10, and it has to have a blade on it. BUT, it doesn’t have to be a bayonet because she doesn’t actually have BAYONET CHARGE in MkII. That gives me some flexibility!

I noted a few comments about how a pistol crossbow might be cool — my only dilemma there is whether we’ll believe a pistol crossbow could be POW 10, but again I think I could fall back on the superior weaponry Eiryss now has access to. Also, it’s a one-off, so maybe it’s crafted a little better than normal for some extra POW? For the blade, I thought of something more integrated and less protruding, but then I had a thought — how about a reverse blade on a pistol-crossbow, similar to Garryth’s weapons? Now we’re talking. I’m really digging this because then she can wield both blades in a reverse grip, while still holding her crossbow in a useful position. It’ll give me that symmetry I’m looking for in the pose, as well as a cool evolution to her accouterments.

My mind may change, but this is what I’m thinking right now. This is a figure that I think would look bad ass leading my Mage Hunter Strike Team or a unit of these other Retribution bad asses that you’ll be seeing shortly.

Next I’ll start working on the costume and we’ll see how it comes together.

(Please link to the article, but please do not repost or link directly to the images.)

Gray Area

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage and came across something I had completely forgotten existed. There’s a reason I leave the sculpting to the professionals, but these little guys occupy a soft spot in my heart and I’ve never been able to throw them out. They’re the only miniatures I’ve ever sculpted or ever will. (The astute observer may recognize some pilfered bits from other games…)

When they're this cute, you don't mind the probe so much!

WARMACHINE wasn’t the first miniatures game I ever sat down to design. Almost two decades ago, I booted around a number of game ideas with a wargaming buddy. The one that made it furthest into development couldn’t look more different than WARMACHINE or HORDES. It was hard core sic-fi, deadly, highly complex, and took about five hours to play a game, which we thought was pretty good back then! There was also no world to it — it was purely an exercise in game design. But we each had our own ‘factions’ that we brought to the game, and mine definitely reflected my influences over the years.

It was the mid 90′s. X-Files was the coolest thing on TV, X-Com was my favorite computer game, and crop circles were regular news items. Being a lover of UFO mythology since Leonard Nimoy hosted IN SEARCH OF when I was a kid, I loved anything to do with the idea of extra-terrestrials, and I wanted to be able to play with them in my favorite hobby. A couple weeks and a pound of Sculpy later, I was raiding towns and abducting hapless victims with an elite tactical unit of well-armed alien Grays.

So, it’s almost twenty years later, and what am I doing? Making movies and games about bug-eyed aliens. I guess the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same…

(Don’t worry, I promise never to sculpt anything for Privateer!!! But if you haven’t checked out [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, please have a look!)

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

Today I turned 40. Thank you for your condolences. But I’m finding it’s not so bad, really. I had a much harder time turning 30.

For me, the transition between 29 and 30 was accompanied by a major reality check. You might be an adult in your 20′s, but it seems you’re not expected to act like one. It’s almost like a free pass to enjoy the most irresponsible time of your life. You party, you take chances, you accumulate stupid debt on futons, lava lamps, and unwise automobile purchases, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Thirty, though — at thirty, you better have your shit together. You’re way past your college years, way past that time where it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone knows you’ll learn from them, and no one is going to be bailing you out when you blow it anymore, at least they shouldn’t. When I hit 30, I found myself with no higher education to speak of, a pending layoff, and a fledgling company that at that time was actually on the express elevator to financial DOOM! I’d used up all my ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and had no idea what the next year would hold, much less the next five or ten. I remember spending a day soul searching, looking for some sort of road sign to life that would point me in the right direction and guide my way. I never found the sign. There was no bolt out of the blue or grand epiphany. Instead, I just kept doing what felt right in the moment, and everything seemed to work out okay.

I’m waxing nostalgic today — not because of the years behind me, but because I realized today why my birthdays as a kid were such a special time for me. Every year for my birthday, my mom pulled me out of school and took me to the movies, and for me it was the greatest day of the year. As long as there have been big, blockbuster movies, the biggest and the best have come out in May and June, right before school got out for the summer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BLADE RUNNER (technically released a few weeks later than my birthday, but I remember seeing the poster when I went to see THE WRATH OF KHAN)  — the best of the best usually dropped within days, if not weeks of my birthday! Somewhere, my brain re-wired to associate my favorite movies with my birthday and I’d look forward to the big event for months. Today, as I’m pining away for the release of Sir Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS, I realize that at 40 years old, 30 years after the release of BLADE RUNNER, very little has changed about me.

I love movies, toys, and games today just as much as I did when I was a kid and I think no amount of years behind me will ever temper that. I eagerly await every new phase in my son’s development, and quite selfishly, so that I can once again shamelessly indulge myself in these things I love (not that I’ve held back much, mind you). The one thing that has changed about me, though, is my perspective. The passage of time doesn’t provide any insight to life, but experience — the mileage — does. Between 30 and 40, I managed to rack up some serious XP. Most people would equate the mileage to the toll living takes on your body, and I’ve got more than my fair share of squeaky parts. But in my mind, I think unlike cars, that mileage has an upside — wisdom.

Some of the best wisdom came from those summer movies:

“Imagine what you will be, and it will be so.”
–Russel Crowe, GLADIATOR

“Goonies never say die!”
– Sean Astin, THE GOONIES

“No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”
– Yoda (Frank Oz), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

You don’t have to be a Jedi master to be wise. You just have to learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop making mistakes in my 30′s like I thought you were supposed to, but I did keep learning from them. One lesson, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have feared turning 30. In fact, it’s turned out to be the best decade of my life. Worrying about getting old, I’ve realized, is a waste of time. Embrace the mileage. Just keep doing what feels right in the moment, and everything turns out okay.

Now I’m not saying I’m eager to turn 50 — that’s REALLY FREAKING OLD! But right now, 40 feels pretty damn good.

Thanks Mom.