Moving Forward, Peeking Back

Only a few days into this new year, and with my semester of SmART School coming to an end, now seemed liked an ideal time to take a look back at some of my work, while planning on making goals for 2017.

Leda_KatGBirmelin2016

Firstly, here is the last piece I did in 2016 of Leda. I am so happy that I was able to afford the semester of SmArt School with Rebecca Leveille-Guay. I'll be doing a process piece on this later, but I wanted to start our with my most recently finished piece before I dive back into some really old, and not so pretty work from college and leading up to where I am now. 

So let's have a look, shall we?

Top left: charcoal study from final semester of life drawing. Top right: character sketch in ballpoint. Bottom" watercolor piece half way through my first watercolor course.

Top left: charcoal study from final semester of life drawing. Top right: character sketch in ballpoint. Bottom" watercolor piece half way through my first watercolor course.

I started documenting my work as an early Junior in college. My thoughts about my time spent in art school are about as wild as a roller-coaster ride. Like most, I was excited to go, but at the end I was left wanting. Things got a bit jumbled up with each instructor pushing me in a different direction, and ultimately I lost sight of what my goals were. 

I even considered dropping out half way through my sophomore year after an instructor told me I should quit. Sad to say I wasn't the only one who was berated this way, and I saw a few of my classmates drop out by the end of that semester. 

Top left: Octomom editorial piece in watercolors. Top right: mixed media CD cover assignment. Bottom: process portfolio of Arachne, done in watercolors.

Top left: Octomom editorial piece in watercolors. Top right: mixed media CD cover assignment. Bottom: process portfolio of Arachne, done in watercolors.

Still in school here....

I didn't drop out either. I continued to flounder around, and sometimes I was even happy with the work I produced. Sometimes I wasn't, but I was determined to graduate at least. The Octomom piece in the top left corner was one of my favorite pieces I had done in college for an editorial assignment. I was also learning a bit of digital work at the time, though I never really came to like working much in the media. I did learn enough to get buy I think. 

Top right: watercolor study of an oil painting by Brom. Top left: editorial watercolor piece with type face for a mock magazine spread. Bottom left: digital character turn around (and sadly the piece that hung up in the BFA Graduation show). Bottom right: a digital piece done for an online challenge the winter after I had graduated.

Top right: watercolor study of an oil painting by Brom. Top left: editorial watercolor piece with type face for a mock magazine spread. Bottom left: digital character turn around (and sadly the piece that hung up in the BFA Graduation show). Bottom right: a digital piece done for an online challenge the winter after I had graduated.

Yep.

Looking back at my graduating portfolio it was not just a mess, but it pretty much summed up how thinly spread my work was. I did enjoy my editorial classes and assignments at the time. I had greatly enjoyed my watercolor classes, it was the one medium that I really just took to. 

Top: mixed media piece based off an old card from MTG. Bottom left: digital piece for fun of the Princess and The Frog with a Star Wars twist. Bottom right: a digital piece I did for an online challenge (I actually still kinda like this one).

Top: mixed media piece based off an old card from MTG. Bottom left: digital piece for fun of the Princess and The Frog with a Star Wars twist. Bottom right: a digital piece I did for an online challenge (I actually still kinda like this one).

After graduation I kept working, though not as much as I had in college. I had already gotten my foot in the door with a gaming company a semester before I graduated. Through college I was heavy into table top rpg games and was avid in my gaming community. I had been to a number of conventions and had been showing my work to anyone who would look at it. My work was not up to par, but I did begin to foster some relationships with folks that would bloom into friendships later on. Folks in the professional art community were easy to talk to, and helpful. 

I was still floundering around though, not knowing what I wanted to do, and feeling burnt out. I didn't create much work at all. I turned to digital for a bit, thinking that was going to be the way to go.

Top two and bottom left: digital color work I did for an online web comic. Bottom right: mixed media piece for one of the first gallery shows I would ever do.

Top two and bottom left: digital color work I did for an online web comic. Bottom right: mixed media piece for one of the first gallery shows I would ever do.

Early in 2012 I was approached by a friend from college about doing some color work for his online comic. Another friend of ours was doing the pencils and inks, and I jumped on board. It started out as something to occupy my time once a week, and eventually I started doing conventions with them. 

That was pretty much a gateway to creating again. The first con I went to I had nothing but ACEO sketchcards for sale, so I started working on a long line of pin up art that had become my bread and butter as I started to paint again. 

Top left: Avarice, a watercolor piece based off the seven deadly sins. Top right: a watercolor pin up of Chandra from MTG. Bottom left: variant comic cover I did for a small press comic. Bottom center: mock cover for the web comic I worked on. Bottom right: a character piece in watercolor I did as a private commission. 

Top left: Avarice, a watercolor piece based off the seven deadly sins. Top right: a watercolor pin up of Chandra from MTG. Bottom left: variant comic cover I did for a small press comic. Bottom center: mock cover for the web comic I worked on. Bottom right: a character piece in watercolor I did as a private commission. 

By 2013 I severed my ties with working on the web comic. I really didn't like working digitally anymore, especially since I had gotten back to painting with watercolors. I began to take on private commissions from conventions for players of their characters. I was also taking on client work for smaller indie game publishers. I started showing my work to artists and art directors a lot more. 

I am not sure at what point it was, but somewhere around this time I had an art director sit down with me and ask me if I really liked working digitally or not. He could tell even before I voiced and answer that I didn't. At this time I think I only had one or two traditional pieces in my book, the rest being digital or mixed media. He asked to see my traditional work, flipped though it, looked at some of my studies and sketchbook stuff. Then he said he thought I should go home, thing about what I wanted. 

He wanted me to think about what I wanted to do, not what I felt I should. What made me happy as an artist, and then if it was to pursue the same things, to keep on. But if not, to keep after my goals...

Top left: watercolor draeni pin up from WoW. Top right: Gamora watercolor piece convention commission. Bottom: watercolor piece for my personal portfilio 

Top left: watercolor draeni pin up from WoW. Top right: Gamora watercolor piece convention commission. Bottom: watercolor piece for my personal portfilio 

I let what that art director had said to me stew, and in the end I was happy, if a bit stressed at first, to embrace working in watercolors and leave digital media alone. It wound up making me happier. 

I also started to really think about a lot of stuff in regards to my artistic journey thus far. I couldn't really say what my likes were anymore, but I did know what I didn't like. That was a long list, and it was actually really helpful to know what I disliked, because it helped me start to rediscover my own artistic tastes.  I was also free to work as I wanted. for the most part, when I wasn't working on client pieces.

Top left: Vexed by Knowledge, watercolors and gold enamel based off an idea for a MTG card (what can I say, I still liked MTG). Lower left: watercolor and white ink character sample for Paizo. Far right: watercolor and gold enamel character piece for a secret Santa art exchange. Bottom: four seasons in watercolors.

Top left: Vexed by Knowledge, watercolors and gold enamel based off an idea for a MTG card (what can I say, I still liked MTG). Lower left: watercolor and white ink character sample for Paizo. Far right: watercolor and gold enamel character piece for a secret Santa art exchange. Bottom: four seasons in watercolors.

In 2015 I made it into the art show at Gen Con for the very first time, which was huge since I had been attending the convention for years at this point as a gamer and art nerd. Suddenly I was in the show among a bunch of the artists I had been pestering since I was a noob in college!

Even though I was enjoying working on my own art, and was making strides on my own, I was still not satisfied. By 2014 I had learned to not hate every piece I made, even if it wasn't a good one. They were all stepping stones. I had learned some great things in college, but I hadn't learned enough. 

Towards the end of the year I talked to an artist I respected at a fantasy art convention I went to with some friends. The first night, over a beer, I told him about all my strife, showed him my work, and told him I had enough money to enroll in an online course. I was thinking of taking it under another artist I had admired since back in high school, but I wanted to be sure I was taking the class for the right reasons and not just out of my fan girl enthusiasm. He assured me he thought it was a right fit, and that I should even talk with her that weekend. 

My best friend strong armed me down to see her. I was super nervous and luckily I had made friends with her assistant the year before. I let her know I was intimidated to approach the artist, so she helped with the introduction, and by the end of the convention I knew for sure I was going to enroll in her class as soon as it opened up.

A mix of completed works from 2016, all done in watercolor. The central pieces are client work, the rest are personal pieces. The very bottom three were pieces I completed in my semester of SmART School.

A mix of completed works from 2016, all done in watercolor. The central pieces are client work, the rest are personal pieces. The very bottom three were pieces I completed in my semester of SmART School.

Looking back over the years I can see the slow improvements I have made as I worked on my art, as well as figuring out what my interests were when it came to subjects and themes. I had experimented just a little bit with working more with gouache and also on toned paper that wasn't meant for paint. 

I was inspired more and more from looking at the work of my peers, especially those working in similar media or else interested in the same themes as I was. Talking more over the past few years about my art, my frustrations, my interests were all helpful in allowing me to focus and get outside opinions. 

Finally I was able to enroll in my online class. This was at a weird time for me, and much needed. I had just moved overseas for the first time, was settling into a new stage in my life, and I was able to really focus on new growth. This was a bit difficult as now the class started super late, and with the time change back in the states it made it even later. I missed out on the entire class period, and sometimes on monitoring my side class too. 

But I made the improvements. I took naps, and my husband put up with me being a grouch the day of class, and the day after. Rebecca pushed me in the direction I wanted to go, gave me the push forward I was unable to take on my own this entire time. It's been frustrating at times, and scary. It's made me anxious, and self doubting, but the improvements are there for sure. Her critiques have been the perfect amount of pressure while remaining nurturing and encouraging. She's been empathetic and sympathetic, inspiring, sage, humorous, and personal. 

And not just her, but the rest of my classmates as well. It's been a nurturing little collective of other artists trying to move forward, encouraging one another, in awe of one another, and lending a hand (and a sound board or just ear for rants out of class). 

I still have a lot a head of me, but I suppose that will always be the case. My last class session is this coming week, and I will be sad once it's over for good. But it will give me the time I need to digest, look over my notes, and move forward with new ideas for a fresh body or work. 

So to anyone who made it through this rather lengthy post: Everyone starts somewhere. Be determined, take time to court your artistic personality (your genius, so to speak, or muse, or whatever you want to call it). Share your work and your struggles with friends in the community, they are there to help you through it and you'll find you aren't alone. Keep on what makes you happy, on the good and easy working days, and on the bad days it's totally ok not to make anything either. Good luck, and happy art making!