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Five and a half things I wish I’d known when I started: Paul Arendt, Art Director and co-founder

By Paul Arendt, February 2, 2016 · Failbetter

When I try to think of industry lessons to offer other people, I get a bit nauseous. So let’s cheat: if I could step back in time to the founding of Failbetter, this is what I would tell myself:

1. Make your mistakes early

You’re always under time pressure, so it’s very tempting to zoom through the planning/sketching stages and get onto the meat of a drawing. But the further you wade into a piece of work, the harder it is to fix fundamental errors. So there you are, three or four hours into a complicated illustration, and you realise you’ve put the elbows on backwards. And that horse looks like a cow. And that skull looks like a butt. Make your mistakes early. Draw thumbnails. Create silhouettes to check your composition. Get feedback. Iterate. These exploratory stages have another vital function: they give your imagination the time it needs to properly visualise the final product.

2. Study figure drawing and anatomy

Unless you’re making nothing but textures and empty environments, you need to be able to execute a reasonably convincing human form. The good news is that figure drawing gives you the keys to pretty much everything else; construction, perspective, composition, and so on.

3. Use multiple references, especially for imaginative work

That thing you are drawing? You do not know what it looks like. This goes double when the thing doesn’t actually exist.

4. Drawing is bad for you

In one way, art is a lot like exercise; practice brings visible improvement, and you lose your edge if you don’t do it every day. However, inevery other way art is nothing like exercise at all. Long hours hunched over a tablet are not going to improve your health, and if you want to spend the rest of your life drawing, you need to plan some exercise into your routine.

5. Sometimes you will suck

You wake up one morning and you just can’t draw. If you’re a professional you do it anyway, but every line is a struggle, you hate your work and you hate yourself. This isn’t something that can be avoided, and it happens to everyone.

You can mitigate the effect in various ways; I find swapping between digital and paper helps. I’m also a big fan of alcohol and despair. The best treatment though, is the knowledge that your misery is temporary. It really is. And for me at any rate, these periods of block usually presage a “levelling up” phase, so perhaps what I’m feeling is my subconscious struggling to internalise something important.

5.5 Save your work every hour. Set an alarm if you have to.

Seriously, how hard is it? Idiot.

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