Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My drive to learn.

I was never a hardworking student when I was in art school. Out of 10 assignments, I probably did 7 - just enough to pass that course. Well actually, I failed twice and had to retake the subjects. I only put my heart into my work if I found that particular assignment interesting. Most of the time, it didn't matter so much if the art looks good or not; I was satisfied as long as my work was in the range of "above average" within the limits of my class.

I had a classmate who was excessively hardworking and always did more than required for his assignments. I never understood it. I had a lot of respect for him though (I still do), because he was always very focused and his passion for learning was obvious. At the time, I thought... "Well, that's him. I simply don't have that kind of self-control and I don't see the point."

My instructors never really liked me, naturally. From what I know, art teachers have high regard for students who took learning seriously regardless of their skill level. They find students that are already able to draw better than most of their peers but lack the desire to aim for more frustrating. I've had a couple of instructors at art school that sat me down and told me, "Ciaee, you have potential. All we need is your hard work." At that moment it might have made me feel a little bad for letting them down, but I never realized that I was being stupid for not making full use of my opportunity at art school to learn. I never asked myself the important question, "What am I doing here in art school?" I love art. Why was I in art school? To learn, to improve, to really get some solid art foundation. If I had laid this out so clearly back then, I would have taken my classes a lot more seriously.

For simplicity, let's think of "talent" as an ability to pick up a certain something/skill and excel at it faster than most people. Everyone is "talented" at different levels, at different things. Some people might think of "talent" as a gift from God. That may be true, but to me "talent" is probably something that came from being unconsciously trained at something in a certain environment a person was brought up in. I'm not ultra-talented or anything like that but I seem to be able learn new drawing/painting techniques a little faster than most of my peers.

"Talent" is as much a blessing as it is a curse. There are two types of "talented" people. Few realize their potential and know that they can achieve great things. Highly ambitious, they sought after their goals without any regard for the limits and boundaries society creates. Others, notice that they perform better than others without trying very hard at all and get used to that. Why work hard when it's all so easy? Pretty soon, they will start falling behind their peers deluded by feelings of superiority and not working hard. Because "talent" can only take one so far in the immensely competitive world of today, hard work, ambition, vision, and passion matter so much more. That extra hour, that extra research, that extra initiative to learn from critiques, ...etc. Those add up to a lot more than mere "talent."

On my graduation day (from art school), I felt like I didn't achieve anything at all. That piece of paper meant absolutely nothing to me. Well, I did learn a couple of things along the way, but I didn't get that, "I did it! I worked hard and I've come this far" feeling. When I started to take freelance jobs, there was this constant battle going on in my head. I could do these jobs, but they were pretty unsatisfying. I didn't like what I was doing, really. Since I didn't like them, I tried to think of these jobs as "assignments I'm learning from". Learning in a very unsystematic way too. I had no focus on what to improve on, didn't know which part of my skills I really needed work on, and so on. I was just following the art director's instructions. And most of the time, these aren't really critiques. These are just the art director's preferences or his vision for the artwork. And the pay was... pretty bad. I have a very supportive and encouraging agent/project manager though. (Stephen, if you ever read this... thanks for being awesome! *mega-glomp*)

After a while, I put my freelance stuff aside and started to take online classes. Ever since I've been really really driven to improve. Scarily, crazily, obsessively driven. Maybe it's because I'm looking at the entire industry as my "classmates" now. When I looked back at my art schooling days, I feel a little silly. I had too many excuses for not working hard. The art school that I went to did not have a good learning environment, some teachers there were below par in terms of artistic skills and (especially) teaching skills, and we had a lot of assignments that were impractical, in a sense that they would've been useful maybe 8 years ago, but not for the industry today. Obsolete syllabus. But also, there were a handful of teachers who were really dedicated, and I could see a few (very rare though) students improving quite dramatically. If I had taken learning seriously back then, how good or bad the school is wouldn't have mattered so much because I would've made it a point to somehow learn from every assignment I did.

Now I give my all for each and every one of my online class assignments, and on top of that hand in an extra piece using the techniques learned from the lessons if I have time to spare. I'm working hard to improve to a level that's good enough to have my artwork included in EXPOSÉ 7. This my current goal.

It took me a bit of courage to reveal all that. Daddy and Mummy, if you're reading this... your daughter is working hard now! Um, I'll get back some of the money's worth you dumped into my art education. ><

To wrap up this entry, here's my latest artwork. It's also an entry for the Liquid City Giveaway Draw-A-Robot Contest. [List of entries]


Fish-cyborg painting progress.
(A grossly simplified portrayal of my grueling 20+ hours on the fish)


  1. Wow! That's a really good reason to motivate yourself! It's good to hear that you're making a real effort.
    I saw your website. I reckon you should just do it and submit to expose. Doesn't matter whether you think your work is good enough or not. Just do it. You never know! What could you loose?
    And not only expose... I remember there's heaps of stuff out there. =)

  2. Nuuuuuu...! D: I'm not entirely proud of my old work. If any of those get chosen to be published, I'd probably be very embarassed.

    And yeah, I should consider Spectrum, Exotique and some others too. I'll go on a submitting-spree when I come up with something I'm proud of. :D

  3. I relate to some of the stuff you felt in school, specially giving it your all only on the stuff you like. Good read /no1

  4. Thanks. Keep working hard and don't look back with regrets like me!

  5. Wow,great post...I myself have not gone for any official art training (of course XD ) but it sure is interesting to read about a proffessional's experience.I do the same thing in school now,unfortunately...the problem is,I keep on focusing on art instead of school work.Did you ever go through that the last time in secondary school?

  6. Hey Sue Anne! Thank you for dropping by. :D

    When I was in secondary school, I never handed in my school work... ever. 8D

  7. Now I don't know if I should apply to The One... =.="