2 steps to win at school

There is one big problem with the way most art classes are taught – I’m a teacher and even I do this, because this is what most students expect. But if you know what to do, you can make art school work for you.

This post follows up on my earlier post, The Artist, not the Tool.

I learned from personal experience that creation must follow the learning process.  And this is crucial in art school.

Learning and creation can’t happen simultaneously!

People tend to follow the same patterns when trying to use 3D software, and schools buy into the same line of thinking.

What happens is an artist has a ton of creative ideas they are trying to express. And the professor wants to accommodate that creativity. As a prof, I always want to see new and interesting art.

But at the same time, students are trying to learn a complicated package like Maya.

And this is where the problem happens!

Step 1: learn it until it’s second nature.

This is how Maya or any art tool works: as an artist, you must master the tool well enough that you don’t need to think about it anymore.

Just focus on learning new techniques.

Only at that point, can you simply create, without worrying about how it’s going to happen. But most art students focus on what they want to create first.

My advice is that when you’re working on a project for a class, or you’re trying something new, don’t get attached to the results. Focus on the process and on solving problems.

Learning this 3D stuff isn’t easy. It’s super-specialized knowledge. So specialized, in fact, that I like to compare learning Maya or Max or whatever to a jumbo jet.

Like a 747.

Everyone has seen one of those cockpits, with all the levers, buttons, and readouts. Using a 3D package is like trying to fly one of those bad boys. Picture being thrown behind one of those control yokes without any training, and it is completely overwhelming.

2 steps to win at school pilots

But the pilots don’t even think twice about it. I mean, listen to how bored those guys sound when they talk over the intercom – they clearly aren’t worried about it, because handling those controls is second nature to them.

Step 1 means that you are putting your artistic ambition to the side for a moment, so that you can learn your craft.

You can always come back to your great ideas later. In fact, if you’re still excited about it days or weeks or months later, that means it is probably a good idea.

But putting that ambition aside leads to another benefit.

Starting over again and again.

You can easily throw everything out and start over. Wait, how is this a benefit?

Most artists get really attached to their work. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it will take more time to fix it than it would to start fresh. This is totally natural.

But the second time you do something, it gets much easier and it takes less time. While learning, the goal is the process, not the end result.

And then, when you understand the process well enough, that’s when you sit down and try to make something that looks really great.

Step 2: create

Time to realize your artistic inspiration. It’s production time.

Don’t try to add any new techniques, don’t try to do things a different way, just use the process you already know and make something with it.

That’s how the pros do it!

In a professional pipeline, projects are locked down in just this way. Software versions don’t change, art direction gets locked down and doesn’t change, everyone knows the target they are aiming at.

For school, stay focused.

Figure out your priorities.

For a character creation class, this might mean doing a nude anatomy study instead of doing a space marine.

For environments, it might mean making your apartment, or something more down-to-earth, instead of building a space station or medieval castle.

If you’re in school, then you’re still learning, and you should make that learning your priority. That means being less focused on your artistic desires, and focusing instead of learning the tools of the trade.

The end result of whatever you’re working on isn’t your focus.

Instead you focus on the process. And if you have to start over fifteen times, great, because by then, you should have some pretty strong habits developing.

After school, let ‘er rip.

When it is time to create, don’t hold back. Use everything you’ve got! Practically speaking, this means that you wait until after school finishes to make a demo reel. That’s how I did it.

2 steps to win at school lostBut whatever course you choose, don’t try to change your plan in the middle. Stick it out and finish it up or you’ll just end up lost and confused!

6 thoughts on “2 steps to win at school”

  1. If you spend your school days doing nude anatomy studies, you will need to figure out for yourself how to do that space marine, work on a marketable style, without any support from teachers. That is, on graduation, you will be unemployed for a while

    1. The few students I’ve ever had that left school with a ‘marketable style’, already had a strong artistic base going in. The vast majority of students need to develop the basics before they can even figure out what their particular style is.

      And yeah, expecting to be unemployed after school is the way to think of things. It’s time to polish your art and make a new and better portfolio. I think a lot of people assume it is normal to get a job right away. Jobs aren’t that easy to come by!

      1. In that case, I suggest paying attention to the many schools that make their students waste their time and money on substandard portfolios, demo reels and industry nights that are just meant to promote the school, and will never get them a job. Beware of the schools that market themselves as ‘career college’…

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