Attitude vs. Technique

6 May

Ran Brown creates a detail-rich sci-fi comic called  The End, which I highly recommend for its world-building, gorgeous art, and motley assortment of characters.  She wrote an extensive style analysis this weekend on Tumblr, and there’s a thread which I think is easy to miss: debunking the false belief that technique is more important than attitude.  In Ran’s case, I’d argue it’s not her anime style that needed to change.  It was her attitudes.

Art Attitude #1: Have a realistic view of “progress”

A lot of people who have never taken art classes believe that art instructors give you some crazy super-human ability to draw. But if that were the case, every student with an art degree would be amazing, and trust me, they’re not. The truth is, classes only give you tools to learn about the world and the opportunity to practice a lot of things. Artistic progress always has to come from your own drive to succeed, whether you seek that out by using tools from a book or from a tutorial video or from your instructor or from trial and error.  And sometimes progress in understanding doesn’t look like technical  progress at all.

Ran's anime style, and an early attempt at teaching herself something new.

Ran’s anime style, and a later attempt at teaching herself something new.  Even though the Harry Potter style is technically well-executed, it represented an attitude in her view of art that was important for her personally to break out of.  Check out Ran’s current work at

Art Attitude #2: Don’t be afraid of tools.

Now, I loved my art and design education, and I hope if you have the opportunity or interest, you’ll get one too.  But maybe not everyone goes to college or can afford art school or even wants to focus on their art until later in life.  That’s fine.  But don’t be afraid of the tools within reach.   I took a simple $60 art class at a community college course as an adult, and it was great.  There are some great online communities too that’ll help you hone your craft. But if you persist in slaving away alone, check yourself to see if there’s element of fear in that.  Because if you’re afraid of tools (or too proud to use them), you need to work on that more than your technical skills.

Art Attitude #3: Seek out a good atmosphere for learning.

The other big big attitude that people can overlook when they’re learning to draw is how to think about art and talk about art. When you’re learning how to do art by yourself or in a not-so-professional community, you’re surrounding yourself with people who aren’t great at talking about art.  We all need feedback, and it needs to be meaningful.  Chris Oatley writes at length about analyzing why styles work  as opposed to how they work, and without that understanding, you won’t get anywhere.

"Wrong!", by Chris Harding.

Wrong!“, by Chris Harding.

Now, you may get lucky and get a few commenters that can go beyond that. But the wonderful thing about schools is that you don’t have to rely on luck. They automatically surround you with people who have the training to help you explore the technical skills that best match your concept. A good critique might include some technical fixes, but only to the extent that it helps you build on your strengths. Seek out good critiques and you’ll learn to be constructive about your own work and the work of others.

Attitudes are far harder to adjust later in your artistic career than techniques, in my experience. So that’s why if you think you ever might want to become a professional artist, I highly recommend taking some art classes at a university at some point. Not to improve your style, but to learn the right attitudes.  As long as you have that, technique always has the opportunity to evolve.


4 Responses to “Attitude vs. Technique”

  1. Ran May 6, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    I’m not exactly sure how I am supposed to be taking this article. On one hand it seems complimentary of my analysis, while at the same time the way it’s worded kind of implies that I am focused solely on technique and need an attitude adjustment. Getting a bit of a mixed message that my brain is having a bit of trouble processing, especially since my analysis is by no means the most detailed account of the life-long internal struggle that I am constantly in with my own art.

    Anyhow, as a general article, you make some really great points–even if you’re poor, there are resources available to you, and try to seek out peers and environments that will help you improve. The most important one, though, that I was trying to get across in my analysis is that I always have been (and have done so more than once) ready and willing to throw away everything I think I know about art and start over. Even if elements of what you throw away comes back, it comes back on top of everything you’ve learned in the mean time, and that is rarely a bad thing.

    However, that’s an attitude that conflicts directly with doing a long form comic over a number of years. Throw away too many comics because you have improved, and it won’t matter how good the comic after that looks, because you can’t be trusted by your audience to finish a project. It’s a weird line to walk, and a multitude of issues come with it; do you change the the way your characters look or keep them the same so they’re recognizable? Do you just save what you’ve learned for another project? While I’ve decided to take the middle ground (gradually implement changes to ease readers into it), its a very personal decision that only an artist can make about their own work.

    • delphina2k May 6, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      Thanks for responding, Ran! I’m sorry if I wasn’t super-clear; I’m definitely not saying you need an attitude adjustment. Your analysis made me think a lot about my own development as an artist, and exactly what you said: that making sure you give yourself the opportunity to grow (attitude) is much more important than sticking to the style you’re comfortable with (technique). I think it’s great that you had the willingness to take a style that was technically “good”, recognize that it was a point of artistic stagnation for you, and move beyond it to become a better artist. I wish more people would do the same! =)

      The long-form comic thing is a good point, too. How far can you go before you’re sacrificing consistency and reliability? It’s definitely a tough (and very personal) balance. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with that.

      • Ran May 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

        No worries! I’m extremely sleep deprived because my kid isn’t letting us get more than an hour of sleep at a time, so I figured a lot of the reason i had a hard time figuring out what you were saying could be attributed to that (and also explained why reading it ten times didn’t make it any clearer than the first time I read it).

        I think the issue with the sort of attitude that you need to cultivate in order to make a decision like that is that it is a very personal decision; no amount of critique is going to get you there, especially if you are an artist who toils in a void, posts the results on the internet and is crushed by mountains of feedback that is more likely to be negative than not, even if you’re good at what you do.

        While I wasn’t in animation long enough to get a ton out of it, I did learn a single phrase that has shaped how I approach art from there on out; “kill your ego”. If you are being told over and over again that your anatomy is bad, then you probably need to improve your anatomy. If something isn’t working for you, start over. Try something different.

        And on that same note, I completely understand why that attitude is impossible for some people to take, especially if they *aren’t* bad artists who get a lot of positive feedback. They literally can’t change, because the feedback might stop or turn negative, and that is terrifying to them. They fix the way they construct their torsos? Angry fans. They make eyes more proportionate to faces? Angry fans. The sooner you realize that the only person who needs to be satisfied with what you do is YOU, the easier it is to take what fans, even exuberant fans who love everything you do and don’t want you to change, say with a grain of salt.

        With a longform comic, I’ve been introducing elements of my old style back into it very slowly. The only retroactive changes I have made were redrawing Victor’s nose in part 1 after I changed the way it looked in part 2 and fixing all the gutters and word balloons and textures (though that was more for print than for anything else). It hasn’t been a sudden change, and I think a lot of people who haven’t looked at any of my old art just see it as the natural progression of improving a little on every new page, which it is, I guess.

  2. Chris Oatley May 7, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Great stuff, Christina!

    You really nailed it with your bullet points here.

    Thank you so much for posting the link to my article too!

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