I apparently haven’t posted here since November. Oops.
I’ve been putting plenty of long (-for-Facebook) posts on my Facebook account, and I’ve been writing the occasional private journal entry (in the Day One app), and I suppose this online journal has ended up a little dry. I’d been decidedly infrequent in my posting since early 2005, but rarely fewer than one or two posts a month until now. Oh, well. Things change.
Additionally, about a year ago I started a tumblr account. I had the intention of working more on art in 2013 than I did. I had a lot of intentions. I won’t detail here my failures in that department. I will say that my intention for the tumblr is to post my creative output, my drawings & stories, preferably immediately—drafts, roughs, et cetera, theoretically in addition to polished/finished stuff as I complete things. Not a lot of stuff there, yet. But I’ve been working on card art for the games I’ve been developing, so that’s there.
You may recall a few months ago I made a long post questioning my interest in and capabilities related to creating art. “Maybe I’m not an artist, after all.” I had prototyped a deck-building game, the gameplay was reasonably fun, it was narratively meaningful, it taught behavioral changes through its mechanics; it could have used more polish, sure, but I was satisfied with having created it, and I considered it a successful effort. I want, eventually, to be able to bring my game designs to market in one way or another, and had thought I could take that game forward, so was working on developing the artwork for all the cards. If I recall correctly, I needed something in the neighborhood of 60 or 65 unique pieces of art for the different cards… and it was torture. You can read the whole post for the details. Basically, I was having so much difficulty even getting myself to sit down for twenty minutes to sketch stick figures that I was questioning my entire existence.
Anyway, I ended up shelving that game. I disassembled the prototype and recycled it. I started working on other ideas. NaNoWriMo came along and I tried working on a writing project; it stressed me out too much and I immediately remembered why I’m on hiatus from writing & publishing right now. Luckily my brain had been working on some new game ideas, and a couple of weeks into November I was saved from my anxiety and stress over writing by suddenly developing the core of a small deck-building game in one night of insomniac mania. Over the next few days I worked on the math and developed the theme, printed out a prototype, played a few solo rounds, made changes, played a couple rounds with my wife, made more changes, and got a pretty solid little game… with no art.
The fact that the game works and is fun when it’s just numbers and math (with a very thin suggestion of theme) is a very good thing. (For a while I was very happy about that. (I’m still happy about it, just somewhat less so, for reasons I’ll explain.))
I kept working on it, played with a few more people, got some good feedback, made more adjustments, played some more, and then began working on the card art. I began working on the card art with some trepidation, stemming from the trouble I’d had earlier in the year, with the other game I’d taken that far into development. I started carrying a paper sketchbook with me when I knew I’d have time & space to work (such as to NaNoWriMo write-ins). I got a pressure-sensitive stylus (the Jot Touch 4) so I could try drawing on my iPad. I drafted up some templates to sketch into, and I tried different drawing apps, and I spent a few weeks thinking about and sketching out basic ideas for what I wanted from the card art.
It was slow-going and a little difficult at first, partially because I felt like I needed to be creating print-ready quality in my first drafts. One or two pain-staking drawings (over a couple of weeks) in, I dropped that pretense for a while, and a couple dozen new sketches (extremely rough) poured out in a couple of days. It was going okay.
Then I had the opportunity to play with another new person, and discuss the game and its mechanics with some new perspectives, and in the context of producing and seeing and thinking about the art, I had a new idea for the game. A relatively major alteration to the game, actually, and to the way I needed to think about the art of at least 1/3 of the cards. And here’s the worst part, the explanation I promised earlier:
I won’t know how the changes affect the gameplay until I have a prototype with art.
The game could be unplayable, or just un-fun. It could be unbearably slow, where the last prototype was very fast-paced. It could be awesome, an excellent marriage of theme and mechanics with art that really sells the concept and hooks players, without slowing down the pace too much. It could have crossed the line and become too complicated. It might have been unbalanced by the creation of the starter decks. Anything. I won’t know until I have a prototype with art (and updated card text, and rules) and can play the updated game. So that’s a bit of a worry, and why I’m less than very happy with how well the art-free prototype worked, since the game has moved forward since then but hasn’t been tested yet.
So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the art in a new way, based on the requirements of the new round of changes to the game. I’ve been doing it all on paper, and in my art studio. I’ve actually been doing it “actual size”, which would be “totally wrong” if I intended these drawings to be the actual source of the final card art—you’re supposed to do everything orders of magnitude too large; yes, yes, I’ll do the digital files in high resolution, and will entirely re-draw (and color) all the art with one or more of my pressure-sensitive styluses. Anyway, I’ve been working on the art, and here’s where I suppose we get to the point of this entire post:
I’ve been having a really good time working on the art for this project.
Not every day, and not by any means early most days, I’m still depressed, but I’ve been getting up in the morning and sitting down to work on art all day. Putting in four or six or eight hours of good, solid work on drawing monsters’ body parts for these cards, day after day. (Well, I was too messed up (emotionally) a couple days last week, but I accomplished other things with my time, instead, knowing art wasn’t going to work.) Last Friday I had finished a major milestone in the art creation process, and over the weekend I figured out that at the rate I was going I should easily be able to finish these rough (but totally usable) drawings for all the card art (66 different pieces of art are needed for the 66 cards) before the end of the month, only working weekdays. (I generally spend my weekends with my wife.) Over the last three days (Monday was a holiday), I’ve gotten up in the morning, gotten dressed (relatively nice, wearing my button-down shirts rather than t-shirts; how you dress affects your mental state, you know), and gotten to work—and somewhere in there I noticed that I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying the work, I’m enjoying the project, I’m enjoying the process, I’m happy with the results… It’s all going quite well.
That I’m still working on the same project two months later says a lot, in itself. I’ve got more than a couple books on my shelves which I conceived, wrote, edited, designed, and published in less time than I’ve been working on this game. That I’m still working on it and not hating it, or giving up on it, but am actually enjoying working on it and happy with the results coming out of that work – it speaks volumes. Plus, there’s the art. I’m creating art again. Some of it –a lot of it– is art I’m really quite happy with, both visually and conceptually. Certainly there’s a portion of it which needs more work, but most of the groundwork is solid and some of the pieces are (to me) brilliant. Beautiful. Elegant. Communicating clearly. Evocative.
I’m learning and progressing as I go, but a lot of what I’m capable of doing this week is because of the sketching and thinking I’ve been doing for the last eight. And right now I’m at a point where, assuming I can get this finished and posted soon and get to sleep and then get up at a reasonable hour of the morning, if I get as much work done tomorrow as I got done today, I’ll have a drawing for all but one card (Conceptually, I just don’t know what to draw for that card. Yet.) by the end of the day tomorrow. I’ll be able to spend all of next week working on the digital side of creating an updated prototype, and still get it done by the end of the month. (I’m having a small game night on the 1st, and wanted to see how a new group of players take to the game—if I can have the updated prototype ready by then.) This is almost twice as fast as I’d been hoping to be able to get the art created, and that could only be possible because of how much joy the whole thing has brought me.
So, yes. I’m an artist. And I still get joy from creating art. And I still have ideas, I have things I want to express, both visually and through other means (words, gameplay, et cetera). You may not think the art I’m creating is any good. You may not think the ideas I have to share are of any value. Still, I’m an artist. A creator. And that’s a good thing.