Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Approach A Daunting Art Project

Have you ever been faced with a task that seems so large you feel as if you're destined to fail? I think we've all been there at one time or another. In fact I think that's how many projects start. Or probably more unfortunately, it's how many projects don't start. We become so afraid of failure that we won't step up toe to toe with the fear and we never start.

I'm there right this very minute. I'm jumpy, jittery and nervous. My heart rate is up as I think about how I'm going pull this off without failing. I'm looking at a nearly blank piece of paper with a small figure sketched on it and am wondering how I'm going to make an alien creature look realistic hanging from beneath a stairwell. To everyone else, it might seem like I'm overplaying the situation. So what if it looks horrible someone might think. But remember, art is a representation of our internal self in ways. If we feel as if the art work fails, it has a tendency to make us think we failed personally. So it's important to get it right. That means the pressure is on and it's quite tense. I'm standing before a huge mountain I've never climbed before. How do I achieve this seemingly daunting and impossible task? One step at a time, that's how.

Fear and it's side effect procrastination are the first foes to defeat. So how do we deal with the fear? For me, the I have to remember is to stay positive and confident. It's far too easy to derail my own success by giving up before I even start. If I focus on what I can't do, I'm not going to get started on the things I can do. And initially, without any prototypes or other tests, there will be much that I don't know how to handle. It leaves me in a state where it looks impossible. But there are other ways to look at the problem.

There is value in recognizing what I can't do. It provides me with a list of problems I need to think about. After making a simple list of the overall goals, I start by breaking the problem down into manageable chunks. It's the divide and conquer method. If the overall problem is too complex as a whole, subdivide it into smaller and smaller units of work until you can say, "Okay, I've done something like that before."

Sometimes the problem is figuring out what has to be done work-wise. You look at things and go,
"Where do I start?" Again, we can simplify. Remove unnecessary details. At least for now. Look at the target goal. Study your subject from every possible angle. Then make some sketches. I don't care if they're crappy sketches. Just get some ideas down to start the brain thinking. My first sketch was horrible. If you look to the picture at the right, you can see it didn't incorporate any scene details. It was just a poorly posed alien.  Still, it's a start.

By the way, that initial poorly drawn sketch tells me a lot more than one might think. The rapid fire nature of sketching it out forced me to minimize details while still making it recognizable. I can now look at it and ask myself where did I put more details? The head and the tail. Why? Because they are part of what makes this look different from a lizard or a cat. These are things I will want to focus on more later though. For now, I need to draw out some bigger sketches of the scene so that I know where I want to go with this.

Now that I have a preliminary sketch, it's time to make more detailed sketches. Don't skimp here. This is my weakest point too as I haven't practiced drawing for ages. I'm rusty but that won't stop me. It simply means I'll have to expend some effort to draw a more detailed arrangement. Now I can look at the picture of the stairwell and think about how I would build an alien to hang upside down. How will it neck twist so we can see it glaring at us as its about to pounce? What about it's tail? It's claws too? If I can't visualize it, then what I need to do is find a model of something I can pose. It will be more abstract of course using some other model of a creature with four limbs to help to show how a skeleton should be posed but that's okay. It's the pose we need to understand initially.

Other ideas are to go find something that creeps around in those kinds of situations and study it. Remotely similar real life examples do wonders for helping us visualize the imaginary. Even if they aren't exact matches, they give us something tangible to look at. In my case, maybe a dog or cat can provide an example of something flexible. A cat is a good model because it is slinky like the alien. In the original movie, the alien moved slow but very nimbly like a cat. They both have tails and four limbs to. And furthermore, they both can twist in unusual ways. The alien did a fine job of being a contortionist. All I have to do is think about the ventilation system scene from the movie to realize how flexible it was.

I'll look for a cat-like armature so that I can try to pose it in a hanging scenario. I can try out an armature arrangement to see if it looks close enough. If it doesn't work as expected, then I try something else. But what if I can't even find a cat-like armature figure I can pose? Then make one of course. A few dowels and some wire will work. It's not perfect but a stick figure shows the basics. More than likely, that's the route I'll have to go anyway as I won't have much time to hunt for a store bought armature. Besides, making an armature is a good skill to possess when making fantastical creatures that don't exist in reality. We build up a  remotely similar stick figure of it so we can see it in motion.

So in summary, I've gone through the initial process of story-boarding ideas, selecting one of the ideas to make and where it will be displayed. The next two steps will be to provide in-depth sketches of what the finalized idea should look like as well as making an armature of the primary subject for posing. More later.