Stuck in my progress as an artist.

Hello everyone,

I’ve been a lurker here for a few years now since i started learning blender, usually only checking out the work other artists post or the usual troubleshooting threads. I’ve been having a problem lately with finding my motivation and drive to improve my abilities as an artist. I think it breaks down ultimately to a lack of direction to where I want to go from here and/or lack of inspiration. I’m hoping that by posting this people who’ve struggled with the same problem perhaps, or other experienced community members could give me some advice on where I can go from here.

My main problem is that what the Germans call “Qual der Wahl” or torture of choosing. There’s so much cool stuff that i would like to do (Modelling, Sculpting, Texturing, Rigging, Animation, Compositing, Effects) but the depth of each of these subjects paralyzes me into inaction and i end up doing none of the above with an appropriate amount of dedication and having an average skill level on all fronts.

I started learning blender the usual way, with some tutorials here and there. When i found that progress was slow i bought Introducing Character Animation in Blender by Tony Mullen (among other books). That seemed to catapult me in a good direction and i ended up making apart from the usual short practice animation with premade rigs a couple of 3D shorts during my time in University.

Teddy in 2014

And a collaborative project (in which I was tutoring blender to freshmen at university)

During those two projects I did in fact learn a lot. But i can’t help but feel that my progress is really slow, and that i generally have a hard time getting motivation to work on smaller scale projects that i can finish by myself. What i enjoy doing the most is character animation and telling short funny stories, but it seems like a daunting task for me to work so hard on a character from concept to finished rig just to use him in a short clip. Any new project ideas i start developing tend to balloon into overly ambitions concepts that would take months. (<or is this the only way?)

I would be grateful if anyone can offer some advice or suggest some direction in which i can move forward and build on my skills so far. I would also appreciate if you can send me links to artists or artworks that inspire you, since i also feel like i need new input and sources of inspiration. Feel free to ask me questions if anything is unclear, and thanks in advance!

There’s nothing really wrong with being average. Like you said, you don’t have a goal. You can get to be proficient without a goal, but you’ll never be great that way, because “greatness” isn’t a generic quality like competence. Greatness and excellence requires something to excel at!

For me, the transition happened when I started doing concept art sketches. It made the difference between this:

and this:

Just having a goal makes the difference. So, choose something.

The other thing I noticed is that you seem to dive into huge projects. This is great if you’re happy with your skill level, but not great for learning. Learning and polishing skills requires a tight feedback loop, lots of little projects, experiments, false starts, corrections. This process happens in big projects too, but it’s so spread out that it takes a really long time, which is why you feel that way.

So, choose something to work on, and the smaller the better.
And good luck!

Hey dudecon, thanks for your reply.
You mention in the your comment on the second project something about “doing it right” could you tell me more details about that?

I know your “Qual der Wahl” problem. There is so much I could do - but too little time to do everything. So in the end, nothing gets done at all. For me limiting the possibilities in some way helps a lot. Focusing on smaller projects can help to start (and finish) something - and if it works out fine you can always turn it into something bigger.

I don’t want this to sound like advertising, but the Weekend Challenge here on blenderartists is a nice place for that. As time is limited, you usually have to downsize the project and focus on the important aspects. There is a new theme every week and there is a deadline, so the project will not (cannot) take forever. It is just for fun but I think this can cure a lack of motivation and I (and probably everyone else) learn something new each time. (It is a friendly challenge - not a brutal competition, so everyone is happy to help and explain a trick or two.)

The comment itself pretty much goes into sufficient detail.

But, in order to break it down even more:

Paul Spooner’s “Doing it Right” guide to making an image

  • Make a thumbnail sketch in value. This is a grey-scale (no colors, hence “value”, as opposed to hue or saturation) image that is very small (hence “thumbnail”, since if you draw it on paper, it should be no larger than the nail on your thumb, or, if you have no thumbs, 1.618 times the size of the nail on any of your other fingers, unless all you have is pinky fingers, in which case maybe reference a postage stamp, except no one uses those any more.) so that you are physically prevented from getting distracted by the details. The idea is to get an image that looks right to you overall.
    I like to do the value thumbnail in pencil on a scrap of leftover paper, as it feels like less of a commitment.
    Did I say, “make a…”? That was misleading. Make as many of these thumbnail sketches as you can in a few minutes, and then review them all and pick your favorite. If your favorite is garbage, repeat the process. If you find it impossible to get a value thumbnail sketch that looks right to you, re-evaluate your whole image concept. This is the most important step, as it will determine everything that comes after it, so don’t move on unless you are totally satisfied. Use this exercise to fully explore the design space, and imagine how each image might turn out if you fleshed it out with all the details. Once you choose a thumbnail, you need to…
  • Make more thumbnail sketches! This time with color. Same process as step 1, except you should stick with the value you arrived at in step 1. Places that are dark in the value sketch should be dark in the color sketch, and the same for bright areas. I like to do this in a raster image editor, over a photo of my chosen value sketch. Again, make this sketch small enough that you can barely see the idea behind the image, and go into no details. If you can’t seem to get a color thumbnail that looks significantly better than your value sketch, then don’t use colors in this image, and stick with grey-scale. Once you have decided whether you are going to use color, and if so, the general color scheme it’s time to…
  • Scale it up! Make progressively larger sketches, working out the details as you go. If you find your colors are getting out of control, switch back to value for a while, and then add the colors back in, always using the same overall colors from your smaller sketches. Keep doing this process until you are confident that all the details that you will need in your final image are in the sketch. Congratulations! You have a concept image! Now it’s time to…
  • Finally start working in 3D! Put your sketch in the background, position the camera so it makes some kind of sense in the context of your scene, and start modeling. Again, same process, start with the big shapes and work your way down. I like to block out the whole scene in primitives, just to get a sense for the space. If you want to go straight to shape modeling that’s fine, but by no means should you start details. You can use mono-color materials at this stage, just to get a feel for the colors in the scene, but I like to wait for texturing before touching materials at all. Do a large-scale rough-in of the whole scene. Then add a bit finer details. Then another pass, until everything in your concept image is in the scene. The next step is very important, because you have to:
  • Stop modeling. I know it’s tempting to keep adding more and more details, but if you do that then you’ll find your scene getting more and more cluttered and looking worse and worse. Instead, it’s time to move:
  • Back to 2D for texturing. By now you know the drill. Get some low-res textures, play with them until you are happy, then add detail levels until the textures match the colors you have in your concept art. Once the textures look pretty good, you’ll have to…
  • Light the scene! It’s back to the world of 3D for lights. Same song and dance, put in the big main sources of light, and then add or remove (negative lights are impossible in reality, but don’t let that stop you!) light as required to hit the values in your concept art. You’re done! Now you can sit back, and…
  • Nope! Not done yet! It’s time for the refinement pass. This is where you do the whole process over again, starting with step 1. Did I say pass? I meant passes plural. Do this as many times as you need to in order to make your scene perfect. Here is where you can add extra details to your concept, and then model, texture, and light them. Or adjust the colors and values to compliment that specularity and shadowing you weren’t expecting. Or re-balance the composition to work with how the details turned out. The possibilities are endless.
  • Now you’re done. You did it the right way. Good job. I’m proud of you, and I’m sure your father would be proud of you too if you hadn’t died of old age in the process. Oh, did I forget that step? It’s right between step 8 and 9. Oh well, anyway, yeah, this process takes forever, so you’re going to die before you can finish. That’s why step ten is…
  • Figure out when to skip steps, cut corners, and be satisfied with less than perfection. It would be great to do everything The Right Way, but no one has time for that. You probably skipped to the end of just the instructions! And good for you. If you want the summary, well, I put it at the top.

pick a skill you want to work on… i know that sounds like a challenge but for me, I hop around a lot. It could be just watch 1 tutorial and keep at it till it’s finished. then do another one.
Then try to do the same thing wihtout the tutorial. It’s also a lot about what you accept the final quality to be. If you say I am going to finish this in a week but I will make a nice render, well that sets the bar very high and a high bar is I think how you get better.
But also be gentle with yourself. Keep your goals and decide to follow through with somehting even if its hard. Hope this helps.