Work in Progress

Building healthy habits as a game artist

The habits we develop as people and professionals have a significant effect on how we think, react, and feel — they help shape who we are, which in turn determines our path to success. Of course, success means something different to everyone, but all success requires building a better version of yourself to reach your goal.

I would like to share a few simple habits artists can employ in pushing themselves to be the best they can be. The good news is these actions are simple to pick up and put into practice, so you can get started today!

1. Break things down

There are many fundamental skills that go into outstanding artwork and it takes time to master them before you can start developing your own unique style. At the beginning there will be a lot to take in; perspective, colours, tones, composition, and more.

You can make this learning curve less steep and scary by breaking down your goals, starting with what you need to practice the most. If you are a beginner in a particular area with a complex set of core principles, like digital painting, start with daily studies of something simple, e.g. an apple: consider how its shape is in a wireframe form, where the lighting and shadow are coming from, colours, etc. When you feel more confident, you can start exploring more complex works. (Don’t forget to seek out constructive feedback on how to improve your work, be it from online forums or your real-life peers!)

The key to being consistent in this is never to get carried away and overwhelm yourself with too-high expectations right out of the gate. Becoming as good a painter as Artist XYZ will seem impossibly distant when starting out, and dwelling on these dream payoffs is where you are most likely to procrastinate or even skip steps to get to your ultimate goal. Setbacks and hurdles are part and parcel of being an artist, so don’t rush — learn to take small but significant steps as a beginner. Your journey as an artist is never-ending; take your time to ensure you absorb all the knowledge you can.

2. Practice self-discipline

Self-discipline is the mental fortitude to do the things you say you will, consistently, regardless of how you feel. With this in hand, you’ll stand a chance at controlling your doubts and distractions to progress and get things done.

If you need to improve your gesture drawing, for example the movement of your characters’ hands, you need to practice to get better at it. The first few days or weeks may be challenging and not something you look forward to. Yet, the more you practice, the more of a habit it becomes. You will also start to better understand each line you put on the paper: the contours, where the joints are, the twists and pinches in the muscles, etc. Now, if you compare your current works to two weeks ago, you will realise that drawing hands has become second nature. This sense of achievement will help get you more motivated to apply this same focus and rigour to other aspects of your work and see how far you can take it!

The most naturally talented artists may get further sooner than others, but the real key to mastery lies in ambition and consistency. Talent might offer an initial leg up, but ambition takes you further: in the long term, constant and considered hard work will build the foundations of your success.

3. Surround yourself with the right people

You are the company you keep — at the very least, you’ll find you tend to take on the values of your immediate peers. If the people around you have low standards, you will work to that standard. If the people around you have high standards, you will want to be better and up your game.

I am sure you’ve met some friends or colleagues that, through active support or example alone, have helped you improve your mindset and drive. It could be that you worked with a good leader or team player, or just someone who genuinely pushed you to do better with constructive, detailed, and honest feedback on your work. These are the kinds of people you need in your corner if you want to grow as an artist. Think of it as a chain reaction: when you improve, you help elevate others, and vice versa.

We all know someone who has the potential to make it big in their chosen field but due to a lack of encouragement or instruction never quite gets off the ground. Don’t let it be you.

4. Stay curious!

Some you will know all to well what I mean by a “creative block”. There’s nothing like the frustration of feeling you’ve run out of ideas for your work. Having the right people around you might help you see your path more clearly, but ultimately staying curious and open to inspiration is what will see you through the tough times along the way.

Curiosity is the basis of creativity. Protect your hunger to understand the whats, hows and whys: it widens your perspective and builds your knowledge of all the developments in your field. Never be too shy to ask questions, even if they sound basic to you. It is usually through these questions that we realise what we’ve overlooked — and what to explore next. Most great artists have picked up a vast amount of knowledge in this way, and it makes their own ideation process much smoother. All they need to do when stumped is ask “what if”, mixing all the ideas and themes they’ve absorbed until something triggers a creative breakthrough.

So, get curious and explore things outside your comfort zone! For starters, don’t just stick to the styles you know and love. I know anime aesthetics are awesome, but see what happens when you try out games and media you wouldn’t normally. Not only will the new techniques on show train your artistic eye, you might also find it a brand new source of inspiration!

That’s all from me this week — I hope you enjoyed the article! If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Work in Progress was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.