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It’s easy to conjure an image of the ‘reclusive’ artist. Pale from lack of sun and socially awkward, but artistically brilliant. Someone who shuts out everything besides their art. Sure, there are a few examples of successful artists who preferred isolation. Director Stanley Kubrick barely left his house. Calvin and Hobbes comic Bill Watterson retired his beloved cartoon because he couldn’t stand the public’s attention. Artist Georgia O’Keefe spent most of her late-life without a telephone at a house called — we can’t make this up — Ghost Ranch.

Alum Art by Carlos Ramos

Don’t let this air of mystery fool you. Most artists work in highly collaborative environments. Instead of retreating into an isolated room, creatives work with mentors, peers, team members, and/or clients. This style of work often benefits everyone involved! So before you lock yourself in your basement, be sure to read how interpersonal and communication skills can help you do the following:

  1. Give and Receive Feedback
  2. Expand Your Creative Horizons
  3. Solve Your Technical Issues
  4. Build Efficient Pipelines
  5. Network Your Way Into Opportunities
  6. Prioritize Mental Health
  7. Enjoy Your Craft

I [like] just being able to go to somebody and sit down at their desk and say, ‘so how are we going to do this?’ … Because unless you’re the smartest person in the world, you’re not going to figure out all of this on your own.

Senior Technical Artist Mathias Royrvik


1. Give and Receive Feedback

Senior Concept Artist Bobby Rebholz says, “…As artists, we need constructive criticism if we intend to get better.” He’s absolutely right. From catching mistakes to offering new perspectives, inviting other insightful artists to view your creative projects can only improve your work.

Alum Art by Jose Ignacio Molano Silvan

This requires a certain level of communication because you must A) ask others to view your work and B) be able to give and take criticism. Bobby continues, “I remember first starting out in the concept art world and I was very stubborn in my methods of doing things. I thought that criticism was a personal attack and I never really grew in areas where I needed to get better in.”

Listening to someone’s feedback can be nerve-wracking, but there are communication tips you can use to get the most of this process. You can:

  • Hold your first reaction
  • Ask questions for understanding, not defense
  • Think of them as your audience, not your reviewer
  • Offer to reciprocate feedback

Giving feedback requires honesty and respect. Plus, critiquing the work of others may help you realize something about your own work. This process is often beneficial for everyone involved!

Read the full “How to Leverage Feedback from Unlikely Sources” blog to hear more of Jason’s thoughts on feedback.

2. Expand Your Creative Horizons

Meeting others and learning about their disciplines can introduce you to your next passion. Comic Artist Jason Brubaker learned how to use Photoshop from a friend, which pivoted his career from storyboarding to vis dev. Several years later, another peer introduced Jason to After Effects. This once again marked a transition in his career.

When you keep to yourself, you limit your creative opportunities. By staying connected to what other creatives are doing, you can pick up a more efficient workflow, a new style, or even a strange hobby.

Alum Art by Andy Kehoe

According to experience designer Luc Steadman, one of the best ways to enter an artistic field or discipline is by getting a mentorship, internship, or otherwise instructive relationship. You can find this instruction in lots of places! Learn from your friends, like Jason did, sign up for an online course, or reach out to your favorite artist online to ask how they did something.

3. Solve Your Technical Issues

Whether you’re starting a job or a project, it’s extremely unlikely that you have all the answers. When you run into an issue, it can be tempting to put your head down and try to figure it out as a way of proving yourself. However, communicating your uncertainties will save time and headaches.

Alum Art by Niska Babic

Senior Technical Artist Mathias Royrvik highly recommends a very specific type of communication: dumb questions. “I think the people I fully respect and that I’ve had such a great time working with and training and learning from [are] people who dare ask questions.” You never know when someone will point out a button that you forgot to press or show you a workflow that will cut your work in half. This not only helps you achieve your workflow, but it lets your colleagues know what they need to do to ensure a successful result.

Mathias admits it’s not easy to ask questions, but it’s worth it. “It’s trusting that people around there are working with you, not against you,” he said. Having a community of creatives, whether peers, team members, or friends, allows you to voice any dumb questions to people you trust.

To hear more about more about Mathias’s questions philosophy, read “4 Benefits of Asking Dumb Questions.”

4. Build Efficient Pipelines

As remote work becomes more popular, it’s possible to be an physically remote artist. So technically, you could lock yourself in your basement for a couple hours at a time if you so choose. What’s important is that you communicate with other people on your project’s pipeline.

Alum Art by Amber Kenneson

As a rigger, Mathias says he has to be aware of what all the other teams on a project are doing. He can’t give the animation team a rig that doesn’t work for their purposes. He is only one piece of the puzzle and he has to work with the people around him to determine how he fits in. This means breaking out from his usual channels. “I [like] just being able to go to somebody and sit down at their desk and say, ‘so how are we going to do this?’ … And then you start working off each other,” Mathias says. “Because unless you’re the smartest person in the world, you’re not going to figure out all of this on your own.”

Even if you’re working from your basement, it’s extremely rare to find a job where you can function without feedback from your client or collaboration with the rest of your team. Communication is essential to deliver a product that aligns with project goals, functions well, and looks good.

5. Network Your Way Into Opportunities

Despite, the saying ‘it’s all about who you know,’ it’s more about who knows (and likes) you. When people like your creative results, they’re more likely to recommend you for another professional opportunity.

But this recommendation doesn’t just rely on the quality of your art. It also relies on how easy or enjoyable it was to collaborate with you. If you’re difficult to get in touch with, unreceptive to feedback, or otherwise hard to work with, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. Luc Steadman laughs and says “I like to work with nice people – people that have a passion for creativity.”

These referrals can make or break creative work for all artists, from freelancers to entire studios. Concept design and digital art outsourcing studio Pixoloid hasn’t needed to search for new business in recent years. Their reputation as talented and fun collaborators proceeds them.

You don’t need to be the life of the party. There are plenty of introverts in the creative world! But you do need to prove to your client that you will make things easier, not more difficult. According to Balance Career, you can do this by practicing the following:

  • Be respectful and polite.
  • Do what you say you will do, including meeting deadlines.
  • Provide necessary updates and communication.
  • Be upfront about issues you come across.

6. Prioritize Mental Health

It’s easy to romanticize the ‘greats’ for their secluded ways. Emily Dickinson wrote most of her poetry the last two decades over her life, during which she refused to leave her property. Vincent van Gogh created his best work in his final year, isolated in an mental asylum. Billionaire, business magnate, pilot, engineer, and film director Howard Hughes famously locked himself in a screening room for four months. However, these extreme reclusive actions were not marks of genius; they were manifestations of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Social isolation can lead to a huge range of health issues, including depression, poor sleep quality, cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity (American Psychological Association).

Alum Art by Jonathan Sargent

This is not to say you shouldn’t spend a couple hours in your office focusing on your work or that you can’t spend time alone. Both of which are good for reflection and concentration. However, like all things, balance is key.

Studies show that working in social environments not only increases brain power, but lowers stress, boosts immune systems, and decreases depression and anxiety (Medical News Today). Including other people in your work and passion can make you a more functional and happier person. Even if your work requires solitude for a couple of hours, remember to take breaks to spend time with family and friends — for the sake of your art and health.

Alum Art by Samantha Chow

Read “5 Ways to Avoid Creative Burnout” for more tips on prioritizing your health.

7. Enjoy Your Craft

One final reason to embrace communication and connection through your art is that it can be fun! Hard Surface Artist Cohen Brawley grew up in Oklahoma, geographically distanced from other game designers. But he traveled to events like The Game Developers Conference or E3 just to meet and talk with people who were similarly obsessed with game design. Cohen said this actually helped him in later job interviews because instead of getting nervous about being reviewed, he could focus on his enjoyment of discussing games with experts. “You realize these are just passionate people like me.”

Besides the feedback, efficient pipelines, and professional opportunities, being around people with the same passions can remind you why you fell in love with art in the first place. Whether it’s the spontaneity of concept art or the procedures of hard surface modeling, your community of fellow artists is happy to share your excitement and dedication to the craft. Art and design should open your world, not close it. Communication is vital for the sake of professional work, but it also pushes you to be a better artist and person.

Alum Art by Bruna Oliveira

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Read the full “How to Leverage Feedback from Unlikely Sources” blog to hear more of Jason’s thoughts on feedback.

To hear more about more about Mathias’s questions philosophy, read “4 Benefits of Asking Dumb Questions.”

Read “5 Ways to Avoid Creative Burnout” for more tips on prioritizing your health.

Sources

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902376_1902378_1902435,00.html

https://www.christies.com/features/10-artists-who-thrived-in-isolation-10424-3.aspx

https://www.themuse.com/advice/taking-constructive-criticism-like-a-champ

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/dealing-with-everyday-people-at-work-1919405

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321019#A-tool-for-happiness-and-longevity