Talent isn’t enough

I used to think that talent alone would be the major factor in how successful you were as a freelancer. But I also had a more ridged idea of what was good art, what was great art, and what was decoration. I’ve shed those ideas over the years.

Talent is were we all start, and each of us have different amounts of talent.

We take our talent and develop skills.
Skills allow us to create pieces of finished art.
Finished art is what we show to get work.
Work sharpen our skills with practical applications
Which in turn generates more work.

The amount of talent you have, and the direction you want to go in, factor into how much skill you need to develop. If the type of art you want to do involves the figure, you naturally would take figure drawing classes. But you would also probably study color theory, perspective, composition and much more.

Art isn’t just talent. Surprisingly there are “rules” to art. However art is one of the few disciplines where you can achieve success by breaking the rules. Break the rules of science and they are scrapping bits and pieces off the ceiling, or hunting down mutant rats.  Breaking the rules of art pushes the boundary of what art can do and be.

Talent allows me to draw the form of the figure, skills tells me how what kind of line to make, what to leave in, and to leave out.

Skill and talent overlap in a way that it’s impossible to completely separate.

For me, and I think a lot of people starting out, the first step is the biggest stumbling block. How do you develop the skills needed? I don’t think it’s anything you can teach in a simple step by step course. Technique’s can certainly help. I advocate drawing every day to sharpen your skills. I’m certainly always looking for new tips and tricks for the computer programs I use.

My skill as a production artists has given me a knowledge of how the entire Adobe Creative Suite works and how those programs integrate. If I want something like a tiled floor, it’s going to be faster if I put something together in Illustrator and bring that into the art as a guide, then try and work it out in Painter.

Ultimately, I think skill is a unique mental process for each person. Your progression in developing skills is a mixture of your intelligence and how much hard work you are willing to put into it. To me, learning to draw means learning to control your hand to create the line you want. Just like you learned to make your letters as a child, you would sit and write them over and over. Drawing is somewhat similar. You have to actually draw to get better. The more you draw, the better you get.That’s increasing your talent.

The more you learn, the better your art is. That’s increasing your skills. I think this is harder, since it involves seeking out information, breaking it down to understand it, and then using what you learned and applying it. Being able to think past the examples you studied. It’s one thing to learn the rules of perspective, it’s another to apply them in practices. Color theory is just that until you try it.

This is the kind of work I find a lot of people try and skip. So did I for years. Not to make excuses, all the teachers I’ve ever had, always stressed exploration over training. But the two really go hand in hand. Teach me the rules of perspective, and then let me explore what I can do, knowing those rules. Teach me the human figure, and then I can explore how to make that work for what I want.

And there was never any discourse about the work of making art. I often heard the same concerns I had from other students, I want to know the rules, I want knowledge, I want to learn. If I understand perspective, my environments get better. If I understand light and shadow, my art becomes more alive. If I understand color theory, I can control the emotions in my art.

James Gurney, the artist and author of the Dinotopia books often writes about the techniques behind art, such as how colors look in moonlight rather then sunlight, or the Fibonacci sequence. Such information is really valuable to an artist.

With a low work load this week, I’m dedicating part of this week to working through some of the Gnomon DvDs I’ve had waiting to be watched.

One thought on “Talent isn’t enough

  1. James

    Another one where you totally nail it, Tim – Funny thing, just yesterday I was commenting here at work how words like “talent” and “gift” are thrown around, but if you don’t hone and practice and perfect that talent, you might as well not have it. It’s SO much more about gaining and refining skill than being somehow magically endowed with talent…


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