Many of us have hope to improve our art, challenge ourselves, and take our creativity to the next level, but few take the plunge and actually do the hard daily graft it requires. Durban-based games developer and programmer, Gareth Fouche, bit the bullet and drew something every day for a year in an effort to master the art of illustration! In this interview I chat to him about what that process was like, about daily sharing your work online and what he learned about himself along the way.
Claire: Hi Gareth, can you tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your 9-5? Any other details you’d like to share?
Gareth: Sure. I’m a game developer and programmer from Durban. I currently work from home for a company in Joburg. I also have my own video game business and I released my first game, System Crash, last year.
Claire: What particular creative challenge have you completed? Please tell us a bit about it.
Gareth: Releasing my game was a major challenge, but a few years before I did that there was a 365 day art challenge I participated in that really helped build up both the art skills I employed in making my game and the discipline I’d need to get it finished. There’s a popular magazine for aspiring illustrators and artists called ImagineFX, I had a subscription and I used to love browsing through it, marvelling at all the amazing, creative art. One day I read about a challenge that was being run on the ImagineFX forums for aspiring artists. To participate, you needed to draw something every day and post it up on the forums for accountability. No matter how big or small, you just had to do something every day, and the community would cheer each other on. There wasn’t any prize, other than the pride of having completed the challenge.
Claire: What were some of the factors that led you to commit to the process? Why did you want to do this?
Gareth: Well, since childhood I’d always dabbled in drawing, and I’d also always been jealous of the amazing skills of the artists I saw in magazines etc. I wanted to improve, and I decided that participating would be a great way to build my skills and keep motivated.
Claire: How did you start? This is a bit of a technical question - did you have to sign up somewhere, enroll in a class, join a group?
Gareth: It was pretty casual. You just joined the ImagineFX forums and added a comment in the thread where the challenge was running for that year saying that you were participating. Then, every day, you had to post your day’s art to that thread.
Claire: Was there any preparation you had to do before the challenge started? If so, what was it?
Gareth: Hah, to be honest, I didn’t do any prep. The real hurdle was just making the commitment to do it and stick with it.
Claire: How would you describe your emotions on starting out?
Gareth: Great! In the beginning your enthusiasm is running high, it’s all novel and exciting, and you’re just having fun with it. The beginning, once you’ve made the commitment, is actually the easy part. It’s later, when the novelty and excitement wears off and you start feeling the drag of routine, that it gets hard. That’s why so many people start gymming as a New Year’s resolution, last for a month or two, then flunk out.
Claire: Were you worried at all about not having the commitment to stick to the challenge and see it through? If so, how did you deal with that?
Gareth: Definitely. To be honest, I wasn’t confident at all that I would be able to see it through. But a funny thing happens as you get past a certain number of days done. You start feeling a pressure not to break your ‘streak’. It would be tragic, right, to get to 200 days and then make a mistake and miss one. You’ve gone so far that you just don’t want to let yourself down like that. So the trick of it, I found, was to try to let your initial enthusiasm and energy carry you through to the point where you start feeling like you’ve gone too far to not see it through to the end!
Claire: Was there anything you did for ‘accountability’ sake - something to help you stick to your plan?
Gareth: Checking in on the forums with my daily drawing was very important. It would be too easy to miss a day here and there or let it slide if it was only myself that I was accountable to. Having to get something, anything, to show the other members of the community kept me going, even on those nights when I had to drag myself to my desk to draw.
Claire: Tell us a bit about the challenge on a daily level. What did it entail? What did it look like for you? What was it that you did every day, and how did that process feel on a daily basis?
Gareth: I had to find a block of space, at least 30 minutes, to complete at least a basic drawing or painting. Some days, I’d push it and devote a few hours. Others, I’d get get home exhausted from a long day’s work, have a bit of dinner, and have to struggle to get down a quick sketch to post before bed.
Claire: What were some of the challenges you faced along the way? Were there ever moments where you felt, I just can’t do this?
Gareth: Probably the biggest challenge was when I’d paint something, finish it and think it was total crap, not worth showing anybody. And still having to go and post it in front of a community of other artists, despite feeling embarrassed by it. Those kinds of days, when you try your best and it doesn’t measure up (in your eyes) are the days where you most want to just give up!
Claire: How was your experience of the flow of ideas? Did you ever hit a ‘dead end’ or feel stuck? If so, how did you respond in those moments?
Gareth: Some days I had a creative idea I wanted to pursue, but since the goal of the exercise was to improve, most of the time I was doing studies, painting or drawing something from life. When I didn’t have any inspiration, I’d just choose some type of person or animal, like “dancer” or “monkey”, google a picture of if, and draw that.
Claire: Did you struggle at all with procrastination?
Gareth: Not that much. To be honest, drawing and painting is a relaxing activity for me, my job is very ‘left brain’ whereas drawing is mostly ‘right brain’. So it was a way to switch off and relax after a long day writing computer code.
Claire: How much did you choose to share with your family and friends about this challenge? How did they respond to your involvement in this challenge?
Gareth: I actually posted most of my art up on Facebook at the same time I that I was posting it on the ImagineFX forums, for additional feedback and encouragement. My friends and family were very supportive, and that helped motivate me to keep going.
Claire: What was the most exciting part of this process for you?
Gareth: Seeing my art improving over time, learning new techniques, improving my confidence.
Claire: What was the most daunting or challenging aspect of the process?
Gareth: Sticking with it for 365 days! Not skipping a day in an entire year is a huge challenge. Sometimes it was all I could do to scribble one bad sketch in my notebook for that day. But I learned to let go a bit and just not worry.
Claire: What was the most surprising part of the process?
Gareth: Coming to realize just how much of what we see as ‘talent’ is really just dedicated practice. Sure, talent exists, but often we just don’t see the sheer hours people have poured into mastering a skill, mistaking it as something innate.
Claire: What, if anything, did you learn about yourself through this process?
Gareth: I learned that I have more focus and determination than I thought I had.
Claire: Do you feel this challenge changed you in any way? If so, how?
Gareth: It definitely gave me more confidence that I could tackle bigger projects. And, obviously, it made me a much better artist.
Claire: What was the end product? And how did/do you feel toward it?
Gareth: A body of artwork that, even if I don’t think all of it is great, I’m still really proud of. If I ever feel stuck with my art, like I just can’t do it, I can look back, see how much I was able to improve and grow, and rekindle my self-confidence.
Claire: Since you finished this challenge, what has happened with your art/creativity? Did it stop there, did you start a new challenge, have you moved onto other things?
Gareth: It definitely didn’t stop there. I continued to practice and improve, and I used those art skills when building my first video game. Being an artist is a lifelong thing, I’ll always be trying new things, tackling new subjects and pushing myself to improve.
Claire: What would you say to someone who wanted to sign up for a creative challenge?
Gareth: To echo the famous Nike slogan - just do it. That first step is the hardest, but once you make the decision and commit, you’ll gather momentum.
Claire: What resources would you recommend for other artists and creatives?
Gareth: The internet has been wonderful for the art community. It’s easy to search YouTube for art tutorials from some of the most skilled artists in the world, and there are a huge number of articles and tutorials out there to teach you the skills and get you going. And, of course, a near-infinite number of reference photos to practice from.