Break Down Your Artistic Goals So You Can Succeed
Many worthwhile artistic pursuits have high walls to climb. You have to learn how to break down goals to make your own life easier. Anyone with big dreams has to know how to do this. I recommend this podcast if and when you get some time. (You see me link Sean McCabe a lot on this blog because he is just really good at teaching these kinds of things. I just write about them because for some reason the artistic community at large is just not connecting with these ideas very well.)
As a fair warning, this post largely has to do with breaking down goals attached to the act of creating art. If you have specific goals that you would like to see broken down, please get in touch at the bottom of the page! I’d love to help you find a way to succeed.
What are you trying to do?
Do you want to tell stories? Do you want to create beautiful pictures? Are you interested in teaching things, or breaking down difficult ideas? Or are you interested in products? (Which I will address in a separate article since there’s a whole other process involved in that one.)
What do you want to do?
Your goals probably have incredibly specific breakdowns that you can develop from your more broad ideals.
There’s ideas like “make comics”, “animate”, “paint”, “draw”, and those are fine goals. But they are incredibly broad. Be specific!
What do you want to paint, draw, or animate? Who do you want to paint, draw, or animate for? How well do you want to paint, draw, or animate? And why do you want to paint, draw, or animate?
I wrote a little about this a while back. Defining your goals so you know better what you’re about is incredibly important. But today’s article is intended to be a practical development from that point.
What are the tasks involved?
I can’t list out every single task in telling you how to break down goals. That’s going to be on you to do the big homework involved for your specific big objectives.
But I can help point you in the right direction and show how to break down goals for a few kinds of projects anyway.
In every case, you need to know “what” and “why” when it comes to what you’re trying to do. “What” are you trying to make. “Why” are you trying to do it.
Though this break down of example goals is rather basic, it can perhaps help you to understand how you should break down your own goals.
This one’s easy enough, and it feed into the other tasks. Your drawing starts with plans, usually in the form of thumbnails or big sketches until you’ve developed a decent idea of where you want to go, ideally without spending too much time lost in trying to make an idea perfect.
Once you have your plan, it’s really just a matter of adding detail or cleaning up until you’re happy with what you’re looking at. In more plastic mediums like graphite or digital you have plenty of room to clean and refine.
You want to really develop your forms, your composition, and plan your lighting as early as possible and in such a way that only your final results show through.
If you’re moving into something like ink, charcoal, or even just color pencil you have to be ready to commit to your strokes, and the ability and confidence to do this can come either from sufficient sketching and planing, or from enough practice in the art of applying the right stroke the first time.
Painting is generally a natural evolution from drawing, though it can stand entirely on its own as a practice and discipline. There are several methods to approach this discipline from, but the general gist of the act of painting is simply to paint vague forms and refine them by defining light and texture. You can do this by passes over the whole painting or you can do this by handling individual elements. The choice is yours, you simply have to choose a method and practice it until you get what you want out of a painting.
I’ve done some painting, but not a lot, so I’m reserving any further remarks so as not to put my foot too far into my mouth.
Comics is an especially advanced application of the art of drawing, and some writing is required as a part of the process. Once you have written your story, you must engage in a lot of incremental work.
Each page must be:
Thumbnailed for layout
Finished (with color, tone, more penwork, however you want to finish your page)
And you have to repeat or batch these steps across however many pages you are deciding to produce for your comic.
However long it takes you to fully finish just one drawing, take that and multiply it across however many pages you are making for your comic.
Pretty intense, I know. But people do it all the time and find gratification. You can too.
This one is actually fascinating in that there’s several ways to approach this discipline. You can either use the traditional drawing approach, or you can use all kinds of forms of puppetry via things like sprites, 3d models, vector puppets rigs, clay maquettes, or some other inventive thing that may not yet have been developed.
But in the execution you still need a few baseline skills with some processes to go alongside.
Do you understand the principles of animation? Good.
Next you storyboard to get your head around the poses and acting. Storyboard as deeply as you want, just know that you still have to execute and think though your work at some point.
With the storyboarding done, you can produce an animatic and solidify the timing of your key poses.
With the production of an animatic done, you can set about the work of animating, which may entail both rough and final drawing, and will cost you hundreds or even thousands of drawings, depending on how the length of your project.
Do you have all the skills?
Creative work is the inventive application of fundamental principles. You amass skills and rearrange and combine them to produce work according to a vision.
How is your form?
What about your understanding of light?
Is your anatomy on point?
What about your perspective?
How is your composition?
How do you feel about your color theory?
Do you know how to direct the viewer’s eye?
How are your principles of animation?
Can you write well enough for your objective?
None of these skills have to be perfect. And this list isn’t even exhaustive. But you need to have as many skills as possible polished up and enough on point to not distract from the greater objective of your project or product.
If you don’t have enough mastery of enough skills to pursue a certain project, you will have to address that skill gap at some point. You can address it before your project, or you can address it in the middle, but you cannot ignore it forever.
Do you have the stamina?
If you are pursuing a large project, you need to be okay with the time it will take to see that project through until you either finish it or call it quits.
As far as I know, most people do not have the requisite stamina to see large projects through right from the start. Most artists who have done large works recommend creating and finishing smaller works in order to develop stamina for bigger projects.
If you have trouble even finishing a single drawing or painting, you have a lot of work to do before you can begin looking at large ideas. I do not say this to be mean, it is simply a statement of reality that cannot be avoided.
Are you committed?
Do you have the requisite force of will to accompany the pursuit of your goals? Assuming it’s a worthwhile goal, you need to be ready for and okay with the prospect of beating on it for a number of years. You can break down your goals as far as you like, and it’s good to do what you can to understand your work, but will and passion are still critical components to advance a large goal.
This is a reasonably easy question to answer if you’ve been doing art for a while already. If you’re a newer artist, or you haven’t done a lot of large units of work, this is going to be a bit harder of a bite to take. The worst of the fight on this point can be mitigated if you’ve practiced active pursuit of any kind of long-term commitment like physical fitness or deeper meaningful relationships.
In short this particular question is answered by “wanting it bad enough”. I don’t have any magical solutions to this one. It’s between you and yourself to answer this particular question.
Are you ready?
I’m not going to pretend this article was a magic bullet for anyone struggling with what feels like oversize goals. I’m just one guy with a little experience and couple tips to break down goals.
But I still wanna help you think through your big dreams with my own perspective informed by some of the taste I’ve had of business and processes through the help of the working world.
If you have a specific case you’d like to chat about, I’d love to hear from you. If you have a question about your creative journey separate from this topic I’d love to hear from you as well.
Honestly I just want to chat with people and try to help answer good questions. Look forward to hearing from you.