Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Don't Fear Revisions!

I need to revise some fables...

Most artists' stance on revisions of their work are polar opposites: either you love them or you hate them.  For those that love to revise your work, awesome.  For everyone else, read on.

Today we wanted to talk about revising your work.  While this is a day-to-day part of the business for illustrators and designers who are hired to execute specific images and are often asked to revise images repeatedly, we wanted to talk about self-initiated revisions.

For many of us, revising isn't easy. Usually it's because of one of three reasons.  Either we're in love with the image, we don't know what to fix, or we're tried/frustrated/over it.  

When you're working on a piece of art, you'll come to love a certain part of the image, if not the entire thing.  Maybe in a figure painting you really did an awesome job on the hands, or the ear, or the hair.  Maybe in a script you have a piece of dialogue that you absolutely love.  However, as William Faulkner has said, "Kill your darlings."  

While Faulkner said this to imply that any piece of writing that stands out as too-amazing probably isn't right for the story, we'd like to suggest that it means that you have to be willing to revise parts of your work that you like.  After all, would you rather have a painting of a person with a really awesome ear, or would you rather have a really awesome painting of a person?  

It's really difficult to do, and especially affects beginning artists.  This is because when we're just starting out, we tend to highly value our paintings, especially our best ones.  We think "This is my best painting yet!" and don't want to touch it for fear of messing it up. However, we have to keep in mind that we will create more and more pieces of art, and we should strive for always making each piece better than the last.  (although not if you're experimenting - then you should just experiment and have fun).   The best way to get over this is mileage.  Unfortunately, it may be tough to just start killing your darlings right away, but after you've put in hours and hours and created work after work, each piece becomes less and less important as a whole since you start to learn that you're always improving, and that your "best piece" is always yet to come.  If you keep your old work and compare it to your newer work, you should see some growth (unless you're not putting in the work and time), and this is a great way to remind you to not fear revision.

The second reason why revisions might give us difficulty is that we just don't know what to fix.  Especially when you're starting out, figuring out what exactly is wrong can be a huge challenge in itself.  During our stint at art school, we were told by one of our drawing teachers that the only difference between a student and a professional is that the professional knows what they need to fix, while the student doesn't.  While this isn't always true, the sentiment is.  Basically, if you don't know what to fix, how can you fix it?  

Really, the only way to combat this is to continually study art.  Whether that means art school, or taking classes, or working with a group of other artists, or carefully examining other pieces of art, it's all about expanding what you know so you can see what you need to work on in your own work.  Most of the time, the problems will be habitual, so it may take a while to see exactly what isn't working, but if you take a step away from your work and return to it, the issues usually become more obvious.  Go go revisions, go!

The third reason why artists skimp on the revising is what people might call "laziness."  We don't think that is really true - it's not laziness, but a general frustration with the piece.  Perhaps you waited to start a piece too late and it's due for a critique or even a gallery show.  Maybe the client is demanding and frustrating and visually clueless.  Perhaps you took a job that doesn't pay you your worth.  It could be that you just don't know how to fix the problem or haven't developed the skill yet.  Regardless, when people tend to go "the lazy route" and not to revise/fix things that they know are problematic, it's usually due to a larger emotional issue than just plain "laziness."

This is the most dangerous form of fighting revision, mainly because it involves actively making the choice to ignore an issue, which leads to your standard of work dropping.  This can lead to a reputation for poor work, current clients dropping you, etc. etc., all stuff that isn't too good.  

So how do you fight this form of revision anxiety?  We've found that the best way to to give yourself some time.  Procrastination is one of your biggest enemies, with Taking-On-Too-Much being a close second.  The more time you give yourself to work on your project, the better off you'll be, and the better state of mind you'll be in to make needed revisions.  

A good basis to start budgeting more time is to figure out how much time you think a project will take you, and then double it.  Think you'll knock out that painting in three days?  Give yourself six.  Think of it as a "distraction/emergency allowance."  Need a nap?  Take it.  Get sucked into the internet?  That's what all that extra time is for.  Have a freelance project that is a rush job?  Now you can take it!  Optionally, sometimes it just takes you a lot longer to create something than you originally thought, and with the extra time, you'll be in much better shape.  Heck, if you finish in the time you originally thought it would take you, then now you have more free time (or time for personal pieces, walking the dog, doing laundry, whatever).

Even better yet, if you budget in time for revisions, you'll be a happier camper-artist.  We usually find that if we give ourselves 6-8 hours away from a painting, upon returning to it, we'll immediately see things we missed in our first pass and be able to quickly fix them.  If we try to do a huge marathon paint  session, usually we'll miss things since after you stare at something long enough, it all looks right (or it all looks wrong), and by stepping away you allow yourself a fresh perspective.  

So revising is your friend.  It's how you get better, it's how you learn new things, and is how you grow as an artist. We know that there might be a lot of reasons why you prefer not to revise, but if you really want to take your work to the next level, learning to embrace the revision/editing process will make your  transition faster.  

1 comment:

Maria Barci said...

Thanks you so much! Really helpful and timely : )