On Balance

balance1

Wellness is very much a ‘thing’ just now.

Feeling fulfilled by what you do. Looking after yourself. Getting your head in a ‘good’ place. Dealing properly with anxiety, stress and pressure. A healthy balance of work and play.

It’s something we are all encouraged to strive for and yet, it does come from a place of privilege. It assumes we all have a choice when it comes to working and that we don’t need every working hour we’re offered in order to scrape by. It assumes good health. It assumes the opportunities exist and that we have the necessary skills. It assumes we can work at all. It assumes too much of a world where only the tiniest percentage of us are happy in their work, sadly. My pet hate is motivational images telling you that your dreams are sitting there, just waiting for you to grasp them in some trite inspirational sentence. They’re not. Not waiting for you, that is.

Still, that said. I made some tough choices a while back and find myself now in a rare position to avail of such a thing. I’ve achieved a modicum of ‘balance’ and I know I’m very lucky. I’m fully aware of that luck, its transience and frankly, I’ll take it while it’s going.

I’m also aware, that for the outsider looking in on Social media (I play a LOT on Twitter, I admit) that it must seem that I have the perfect life. I get to work from home. I post pictures from the beach every day. I get to see my family more than most working parents. I also get to pick and choose my projects.

Not so. Social media never shows the whole picture – it’s curated snapshots of what we let people see, after all. It ironically takes a lot of effort behind the scenes to maintain work balance. It does take luck, but it also takes calculated action, listening and saying the right thing at the right time. Things ARE good, right now. They’re not always. They haven’t always been. They can’t be, can they?

I intentionally gave up a permanent job to go back to what I love. Games. Freelance Design. Creating. Teaching.  It wasn’t done lightly. I had very little savings. No recourse if it all went horribly wrong.

All I had was faith that I could make it work and the support of my wife, who was also making her own leap for that very same balance between work and creativity. (https://yvonneleonceramics.com/) Timing, huh?

What needs to be made clear to those looking in is that all this DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN. I contacted every single contact I’ve ever made, pulling in favours from friends, making sure everyone knew I was on the market for work again. Working hard. Yvonne did much the same, building on her name and letting everyone know about her art – she’s been getting ready for this for over twenty years. We worried. We fretted. We worried some more. We had second and third and many more thoughts. And money swiftly became a problem.

I carefully considered all my experience and skills and where to focus them, built a new website, polished my c.v., re-branded myself to fit the kind of work I was looking for and launched WeeGem Design into the wind in what is, no illusions here, a very crowded creative market.

Kinda brave?

Kinda stupid?

Is there a difference?

The thing is, I have done this before and been doing what I do for a long time. I’ve many years of working for ‘the man’ and freelancing under my belt. I know hard work and I’m not scared of it. I wasn’t just leaping into the unknown. I’m also privileged, in a way, to have had the experience of making some amazing ‘things’ in the past and to still have a hunger to do so much more, learn so much more. The things I’ve made can be shown to potential clients and help me get more work. I’ve a good idea of how to sell what I do and feel like I’m at the top of my game.

I also knew I’d have to take ‘Barge-pole’ jobs for a while.  (Jobs you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge-pole.) But when the bills are coming in faster than the invoices, you do what you have to do. That’s the price of independence. It’s hard work and you have to do MANY things instead of just one to get by. And how much is enough? It’s so easy to overload yourself too when you’re afraid of turning away work.

Through trying everything I could and six months of using a maxed out credit card to pay the bills, the stars finally aligned, all the wooing and waiting patiently for contacts to get back to me paid off and I got to work with some great clients on the BIG fun projects I was yearning for. I’m making games for kids again, teaching Game Art at Pulse College (which I adore – Pulse College – Games), and writing my children’s books at last.

(If you are going freelance, make sure you have at least six months worth of savings. Those first precious invoices can take a LONG time to appear from initial meetings to completion.)

So I’ve arrived there. That mystical place they speak of. Balance. Of a sort. I’m so much happier now than I was and while I don’t pretend its easy, it is better.

I get to spend time with my wife and kids instead of being stuck on the M50 ring road around Dublin for two hours a day, I’m loving the work I get to do. I get to walk the beach at dawn with Hobbes the dog (who is far more popular on my twitter and instagram feeds than me.) That time is well spent thinking about the day ahead and working through problems.

Appri2l2016

My wife works half her week in the city and the rest in her Ceramic studio in the garden. So if the kids get sick, or there’s an emergency or something needing done, we’re always ‘present’. That’s our gift to them and to ourselves. Our relationship is stronger for it, we’re less stressed and our kids are very happy. We have just enough money coming in to cover the bills. We’re certainly not rich… nor poor. We have enough. Perfect, no?

But…

Balance is a precarious thing. You’re on a tightrope. You really do have to concentrate to stay there. I’m lucky, for now. I need to be continuously conscious of all the things I mentioned earlier. Money. Health. Opportunities. Skills. Ability. The balance anyone has right now is dependent on having all those things.

I need to work hard to maintain them, otherwise the entire house of cards will topple. The universe doesn’t owe us balance. It doesn’t care if we rise or if we fall. We have to maintain it ourselves as best we can. Keep learning new skills. Maintain an appetite to see and hear new things. Stay on the curve of technology and trends. Meet new contacts and maintain old ones. Make careful decisions as to what work to take on next and make sure it’s not too little or too much. And very importantly, help others if you’re now in a position to do so.

Paradoxically, finding Balance is hard. Balance is fleeting. 
You may need to spend a lot of time out of balance to even recognise what it is you really need, but don’t give up trying to find it. Having it, at least for a while, is worth all the work.

Thanks for reading. For more nonsense, catch me on The Twitter  or  Instagram.

weegem_office.jpg

Two Wee Years

weegem2018_celebration

Wee Gem Design is now two years old! So, Happy Birthday to me/it!

Firstly, to all out there who are interested and taking the time to read this, thank you for your company and support over the last two years. Be it with kind words, simple encouragement or engaging my design services, it is all very much appreciated. I also couldn’t do what I do without the constant support from my loving family (Yvonne, Sean and Jack. x) so a very heartfelt thank you to them, my relatives and friends.

And a special nod to my Twitter and Instagram community who interact, entertain and whose online presence is very much appreciated.

Has it been easy? Well, what important thing ever is? No. Freelancing is not easy. It can be stressful. It can be hard to find that balance between having enough work and not taking on too much. It’s also pretty hard to find new work when you’re trying to focus on what you already have. You have to pitch, keep an ear to the ground and network, network, network.

But it has been the RIGHT thing. It’s creatively liberating. I have the freedom to work from home, am never bored and crucially, I’ve the freedom to choose what I work on and when (Mostly). I’m loving it and loving my work. In fact, I’ve never felt so sure about being on the right creative path. I’m pushing myself, learning new skills daily and finally making the things I always wanted to in quiet moments. I’m also fortunate that I get to be around for my family, walk on a beautiful beach every dawn with my loyal friend, Hobbes and think/plan/create in my head all the things I need to do for the day.

If this all seems ideal and perfect, it’s worth saying that it does take a while to find your way. It doesn’t JUST happen. Wrong turns. Misadventures. Life will throw spanners at your head. But in a creative life, that stuff is all grist to the mill. You can use it. Turn it into something useful, even if the lessons are hard. I’m in the fortunate space now in that I now know from experience what suits me and what doesn’t. I’m also in the fortunate (?) position to have suffered enough mishaps and disasters to have a healthy alarm system in place…and there have been a few. I can now say ‘no’ to things.

And it’s not an easy thing to say ‘no’ when you’re a freelancer. You worry that you’ve burned a bridge by rejecting a paid gig. You worry that there might be no other jobs on the near horizon. What if you’ve just missed a major opportunity? And the money will always come in handy, right? 

But I’ve learned to trust my instincts. If a job looks and sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, then it probably will be and you do yourself a disservice by ignoring those warning signs. I’ve also found that the small, ‘we don’t have much money but…’ jobs that occasionally come in are often as much a drain on time and energy as the BIG ones. (Generally more so.)

My rule of thumb is that if there isn’t much money on the table then the client is always going to get more out of you than you out of them. Once you factor in initial meetings, emails, phone calls and feedback loops on, for example, a logo design, then the small fee involved is never going to add up… unless you’ve staff or a constant supply of such jobs coming in. It’s horrible to spend the bulk of your working week doing a small gig, getting paid (eventually) and then, when the car makes an expensive sounding rattle, you then have to hand that entire weeks work over for a couple of hours in the garage. That hurts.

As the saying goes, ‘a grand don’t come for free’, and when you’re freelancing then the weight of a thousand euro weighs heavy. You know exactly how long and hard you need to work to achieve it. And inversely, you learn that you’re not just going to give someone your precious time and experience for nothing.

*Can we meet for coffee so I can pick your brain about something?

Translated: Can I get some of your hard earned experience & knowledge for free?*

So I’m only taking on the big jobs. And only the ones that I’ve decided fall under my chosen specialist remit – Kids education and games. I’ve specialised. It’s the best thing I’ve done yet. It’s not altruistic – I just like do to proper research, make sure the project is something worth doing and that many will benefit from. And what are those jobs, you might ask? No? Well, I’ll tell you anyway…

This last year, I’ve been working on a pre-school Phonics Game for a network of schools in china. Consisting of learning activities and videos, the kids learn along with some interstellar Jelly Aliens who wish to visit earth but want to be able to communicate. It’s colourful, cute and squishy. Many thanks to Artist and Animator Sara Mena for her talent and superb assistance on these projects. 

*Did you know there are more people learning English in China than there are native english speakers in the entire world?*

In addition, we’ve been making 12 song videos with accompanying games. These sing-along videos, which are a mixture of live action & animation, are designed to teach and entertain in equal measure and were brilliant fun to work on. The entire experience has been eye opening, fun and a fascinating insight into China and what it’s doing in the educational realm.

2_New K Main Menu

I’ve also had a little design input into a revamp of the ISPCC/Childline infrastructure, and naturally, anything to do with the protection and support of children is a project very close to my heart. It’s a massive project and an important one, so it’s great to have a small role in it.

And teaching! Now in my 4th year as a 2D Game Art Lecturer at Pulse, which I continue to enjoy, I’ve also recently taken on a night class teaching Design at Blackrock College of Further Education. In addition to watching my students learn and push their own skills to make wonderful things, I’m finding deconstructing and analysing my own processes in order to teach it an extremely useful exercise. Win, win.

And finally, I’ve continued my writing with excellent mentoring from Sarah Webb‘s workshops and have ‘something’ that’s nearly finished. All going well, I hope you’ll hear more about that soon.

Two years in and all is well.

In turn, I hope all is well with you out there too. If you are leading or want a creative life, be bold, be brave and keep looking and learning. Even in the most mundane things, there lies inspiration for art, design and stories. It just needs someone (YOU) to notice it and to go off and do something wonderful with it. Go on – someone else will if you don’t! It won’t be easy, but that shouldn’t stop you.

Take care,

Marc – Wee Gem Design x

weegem20182

 

Mural of the Story

Early this year, I was dropping my kids off at their school as usual and I was stopped by the Headmistress.

“Marc. I hear you’re a bit of an artist?”

I shrugged humbly and said, “Well, I make games for kids. I’m more of a desig…”

“We have a mural that I think needs updating. Will you take a look at it?”

original

The OLD mural

Uh oh. I took a look. Yes, it had its charms. Yes, it really needed updating. And it was an unusual space with some challenging obstacles. Hmmm…

Before I could say, “I’m actually too busy to do something with this ‘wall’,” it was agreed that I would do something with the ‘wall’.

I let it slide for a few months. I was in fact very busy (it wasn’t an excuse) but the mural and the fact I’d agreed to do it was in the back of my mind. I’ve been making digital art for so many years that the idea of going BIG again had a certain attraction. And as it was my kids school, I really wanted to do something ‘cool’ for them. But I was a little worried.

I had painted several murals as a student in Glasgow – some bars and nightclubs, all for beer money. But I’d left that far behind when I became a professional designer & game maker. I hadn’t painted anything non digital in years.

I arranged access to the school over the Easter holiday and asked the teachers to give me some suggestions. They said the children loved the original mural ✅, Fairy-tales & Nursery Rhymes were great ✅, NO witches ✅, NO wolves ✅ and nothing scary. ✅ That was the brief. Now I had to think about the door and the awkward position of the photocopier. What to do?

My initial idea was to have a trail starting with the Billy Goats Gruff and winding its way up a beanstalk and across the frame. That would have required a Troll, though, which is scary. It got cut, along with the goats. Goats are a bit scary too.  Poor Troll, though. I decided to incorporate some of the characters from the original mural too – Humpty, Red Riding Hood, Jack &the Beanstalk and the Three Pigs.  I did some research for the others.

2017-04-01 15.27.18

I wanted to inject some diversity wherever I could, even in the animals. I wanted to have a slight celtic theme to the golden nodes, and of course, given my profession, I also wanted to make the mural a GAME. A path of adventure.

I did a rough sketch of what I had in mind, it was approved and the original mural was painted over several times by the obliging School Janitor to make a pristine white canvas for me. Much to the distress of the kids in the school!

mural_idea

Back in my student days, I favoured Acrylics with indelible marker pens for the outlines.

It worked back then. I assumed that it would still work now.  I bought my tubs of primary colours, white and a black, and that night I took my blue pencils, a step ladder and started sketching directly on the wall.

What a delight! Usually my sketches are very defined and controlled. To work on this scale again was so liberating and the ‘simple’ concepts started to do what they always do when you’re having fun. They took a life of their own!

2017-04-20 22.30.59

I worked late into the night, enjoying the peaceful quiet of the school and my music. In the daytime it’s a place of colour and laughter. At night, the empty classrooms rest easily and contentedly. Certainly not spooky, though my boys (knowing my imagination) insisted there was a ghost. The only ghosts here are memories of innocence, knowledge and joy.

sketch.jpg

Details I hadn’t intended began to creep in. Extra characters appeared. They became much less cartoon-y than I had intended, expressions and features becoming slightly more real. I had hoped to have it all done in a couple of evenings. Best intentions, huh? The bridge became the beanstalk, the beanstalk became Rapunzel’s hair, the hair became the Shoemakers laces. A Fairy Trail. I was really happy with the rough marks and now started to worry that the process of painting over them would wipe them out.

Once the lines were done and checked, I started with the yellows & oranges.

yellows

Then the greens. Then the reds and blues. It came in bit by bit.

We were on the third evening and I knew I still had a long way to go. All the extra detail had really slowed me down, the paint work, which I had intended to keep flat initially, demanded to be MORE and I started using banding and shading. Really painting. And I hadn’t even started on the outlines. My wife, Yvonne, and the boys came by for a couple of hours. Yvonne got to work on Red’s cloak and the Beast’s Rose.

rose.jpg

The final night, I stayed at it until about 2am. I didn’t want it to stretch into another day, nor did I want to compromise it by rushing. I had promised the kids it would be ready for the morning and so into the wee hours I went.

I’ve made products that thousands of people play or use, but for some reason, this little/big mural had become a labour of love, even though only a hundred or so kids would see it every year. It had to be right and in the end, although exhausted, I was really pleased with it. And pleased I had agreed to do it.

The moral of the story is that if you agree to do something, and you have the skills, do it properly. Doesn’t matter how reluctant you might be initially or how small it seems.  Especially if it’s for children. That has its own reward as you’ll see in the video below.

mural_final.jpg

The Final Mural – Fairy Trail

(Oh. And I put the Troll back under the bridge, because children need a wee bit of danger in story. A giant to kill. A poisonous apple to bite. A curse to break. It wouldn’t be an adventure, otherwise.)

troll2.jpg

The children seemed to like it. Thanks for reading.

Sharks & Unicorns

 

I’m Freelancing again.

I dipped into a permanent job for a while there, I learned a great many things and did some interesting work in the confines of what was required. But it wasn’t enough.

Turns out, I need the buzz of the entire Production process. The discussion, the brainstorming, the concept, the refinement and then, finally, the magic and work involved in making something new. There’s an energy in all of that, watching all the strands come together and understanding the ‘why’ of it.

In the job I had, I was just a small part of a machine. An important part, sure, but knowing what the big picture was wasn’t really required. Just to focus on the part of production I was in charge of.

And that production could have continued for years to come within that well oiled machine.

But I happen to like the big picture. I’m not a designer who likes to be sequestered away somewhere. I need to be deep in the mix, talking and problem solving. I also enjoy getting out there and meeting potential new clients. New contacts. Listening for inklings of work and opportunities. Or just listening, sharing and learning. I also need the fear and danger in seeking work and interesting projects. I think my creativity thrives on it.

Know thyself, huh? It was time to go.

I also loved teaching my Game Art classes, and I had to give that up due to my ‘full time’ commitments. I’m now very happy to announce that I’ll be resuming my duties in Pulse College and looking forward to it immensely. Teaching in such a vibrant and changing field forces you to update and continue to advance your own skills. Teachers need to learn too. The tools and methods change so fast, while the core principles of good design remain relatively sound. And things HAVE changed out there in the short time I’ve been ‘away’.

You see, being a designer is a bit like being a shark. Cool metaphor, huh? No? A cuddly shark then? No, not because we’re at the top of the food chain (we’re not) or beautifully efficient pinnacles of evolution (No, we’re not that either.)

shark_shadow.jpg.png

We’re like sharks because if we stop swimming, stop learning, then we’re dead in the water. Simple as that.

But recruiters aren’t looking for sharks these days… oh no, they want UNICORNS.

Yes, folks. The legendary Unicorn. A Designer who can not only ‘Art’, animate, create beautiful UI’s and be a master of Graphic Design…no, they can Code too. Oh and they’re also experts in UIX. The Unicorn.

(I recently stated in an office full of adult professionals that, “I’m not a Unicorn.” Nobody blinked. What a world we live in!)

There is a lot of potential work out there for a Designer now with a bewildering array of new titles and lists of ‘desired skills’ that only super powered humans could aspire to. I’ve seen lists as long as my arm mentioning ‘Rock Star Designer wanted’, coding skills including html5, CSS, Java & whatever, UI/UIX expertise and oh, wait a minute… did we mention ‘CREATIVITY’ anywhere in there?

They probably do mention it, but let’s face it, if you can do all those things AND make whatever it is you’re designing look great, you’re a rare beast and will probably be hunted down and your head pinned to a wall. You may as well run the company while you’re at it.

It seems like an accolade, but I wonder if it’s just an elaborate cost cutting exercise for HR?

These people do exist. There are some out there doing very well, I assume. But I have to question you as a company if you need ONE person to do all these things. I’m going to assume you can’t afford a team. I’m going to assume that this ONE person is going to be under tremendous pressure. I’m also going to assume they’re going to have problems focusing on ONE thing at a time.

I’m not a Unicorn. I do, however, have a great deal of experience with production, Art Direction and UI’s. That’s quite a lot for one person, in my humble opinion. I may not code, but I do know how to work with developers and what they need from me. Someone needs to concentrate on the vision and the visuals while someone is making sure the algorithms behind it are working. They’re two very different but symbiotic mindsets.
It’s an exciting time. I’m very glad to be back. It’s what I needed to do and I’m writing and making ‘things’ again. Please give me a shout if you want to work with me on something interesting.

And while I may not be a Unicorn (many apologies,) I think you’ll find I’m one hell of a good Designer.

Unicorn_definition.jpg

A fun illustration for the @AnimalAlphabets Twitter collective. 

A Frame of Reference

reference

Let’s talk a bit about reference. I’ve encountered many artists who insist on dreaming things up wholesale from the contents of their own head. That’s fine if you’re the owner, or it’s stylised completely or it’s a pure flight of fancy. For comic books, the quantity of abdominal muscles need not necessarily relate to normal human physiology. However…

…I do a lot of illustrative work for educational media and games. Over the years I’ve found that for client work, it’s vitally important that the metaphorical spade is a spade. It has to look like what it’s supposed to be, or an iconic representation the end viewer or client has to recognise.

Take a seat and let’s draw a…chair for example.

Before you leap into action and start drawing the chair you’re thinking of in your mind, just consider for a moment. What type of chair is it?

We all bring our unique mixture of knowledge and perspective into everything we create. Did you grow up with wooden chairs in your home? Stylised? Antique? Plastic? IKEA? Armchairs? Stools? High Back? Is it a school chair? What do school chairs look like these days? Suddenly a simple ‘chair’ is not so clear cut.

We need some context. Who does the chair belong to? Where’s the illustration set? Who is the illustration for? When is it? Is it new or worn? What’s the style?

These are the things a professional illustrator needs to think about unless they want a slew of revisions after drawing a beautiful but ‘wrong’ image.

There’s absolutely no shame in collecting as much reference as you think you’ll need. It’s not copying (don’t do that, btw). It’s not cheating! You need to know what something looks like or people will spot straight away that ‘something’ isn’t quite right. Don’t assume the visual is waiting all perfectly formed in your memory. We’re not encyclopaedia’s, after all.

I’ve had to art direct teams in other countries and the problem of context was an everyday challenge. You can’t presume people will apply the same frame of reference to a description or even be familiar with the object in question. Cue ‘Dogs that look a bit like bears’, ‘Dolphins with Shark tails’ or ‘vehicles that can’t move.’

I’ve had to nail down exacting specifics and send reference material for the desired context every time. And reference is in abundance. Everything has been done, somewhere and by someone. They’ve already thought about it. Look at what they did. Examine it. Collect it. Then make it your own and better.

So, what’s my point? Well…the job of a good illustrator is to select from an incredibly wide array of choices and find the one that best suits the brief, the client, the composition and their own style. Google is your friend here, as is finding the keywords to get what you need. Browse through some books and try to find what makes a ‘Sun Fish’ look like a ‘Sun Fish’ for example. Have you seen one of those? Google it – it’s quite incredible!

It takes a bit of practise. Get a heap of reference images and collate them all on a digital mood board. Find and distil from all of it the essence of the image you need – be it as simple as an everyday household object (A kettle? Y’know how many different types of kettle there are?!) to something far more complex. (e.g. Combine Harvester, an Apatosaurus, a street scene in 1876 or even a fictional world of toys with evil technogrowth?)

So go digging for that reference and become skilled at unearthing it. It takes a little time, but it’ll save you revisiting work. And you’ll learn some interesting things about, well, whatever it is you’re about to recreate.

technogrowth_Moodboard_01

Brief – an attacking vine with electric/tech properties.

Technovine Sketches

Using the reference…

Final Technogrowth

WHAT THE HELL IS A ‘DESIGNER’, ANYWAY?

This is a sticky one for me. I once called myself a ‘Graphic Designer’. It used to satisfy most folk in casual conversation, but it’s just not cutting it these days.

I then switched to the more general description, “Designer”, but now that seems to indicate you can do pretty much everything.

Recruiters ask, “Oh, you make websites?” and I say, “Well, no, I wouldn’t touch websites with a barge pole,” and then they may say, “Oh – sort of like UX. How’s your c++, Xcode and html5 skills?” I then give a twisted half smile and shake my head slowly. No. I design games and educational multi media for kids and sometimes grown ups. I also do… no… there’s a lot in there. Lets start with what I don’t do.

Best way to describe it – I do Everything But Code! Is that a title? Can I use that?

Not code!

Hi, I’m an EBC Master. Hmm. Not doing it for me. You?

So… I animate, design UI’s, create Characters, storyboard, illustrate, do a bit of Game Design, technical art, concept Apps, art for print, and, hey, I even write. Make stuff. It’s a mouthful but not a bad spread of skills, if I may say so, and I do some of them well. Working with a good team makes up for any shortfalls. But when I look at “Design” jobs in LinkedIn or get calls from recruiters, as soon as they hear I don’t code, they go a bit quiet. They’re not sure where I fit.

(If you’re of an artistic bent in either games, multimedia or Apps, be prepared to tick the ‘Other – please specify’ box on forms quite often. )

There are Designers out there who CAN do everything. They’re a rare hybrid and if you’re lucky enough to be one, bless you and all who sail in you. You’re a fortunate and talented individual.

Many of us though, think of ourselves as creative because that’s the space our talents and interests have brought us. Purely visual. And some of the paths you might be steered down with that can be curiously limiting. I fell into a strange, hybrid, educational niche where I learned enough technical knowledge to appreciate what developers/programmers do… and enough savvy to know that although I could code by applying myself, I wouldn’t be particularly good at it.

It’s a part of my brain I don’t enjoy using.

So I don’t. And that’s ok – instead, I can work in tandem with a good programmer and we form a symbiosis. We understand enough about each other to make it all work.

(That said, admittedly I’m prodding at the new Unity 2D engine with some interest.)

However.

To all aspiring designers out there who DO want to work in multimedia or Games, that creative side of your brain is going to need to have a long, difficult chat with the logical side. Whether it wants to or not. The very word ‘Designer’ has become blurred and such a catch all. Game Developers are making Art and Artists are making games. Crossing the lines. The technical constraints on outputting game art are quite stringent.

If you want to get into that field, you’re certainly going to have to broaden your horizons and learn to do things that fall out of your comfort zones. I’m not saying you need to be able to do everything, but budgets are increasingly limited and projects need people who can cross several disciplines. They need to be willing to do whatever they possibly can. Try!

Frankly, if I had the Art budget, I’d hire a kick ass concept artist solely for characters. A Background artist who does breath-taking digital painting. A ninja Animator who makes characters live and breathe. A UI expert who anally polishes every button to an exquisite shine. But I usually can’t. Its usually all on me.

It’s a shame, but that’s where we are in the Start-up/indie environment. I do know some Concept artists who are in California and doing well in AAA games who HAVE massive budgets to go niche with their departments. If that’s solely what you want to do, you may have to target the larger studios and try to forge your own space in a bigger environment.

So to conclude – no, a Designer doesn’t need to be able to do everything. But it helps to have as broad a range of skills as you can. Never stop learning. Try your hand at as much as you can. Keep up with the new.

What is a Designer? Pretty valuable, actually. Get them on board and your game/app/product will look amazing at the end of the day. Don’t underestimate the professional shine a good one can bring. Oh. And if you’re only willing to specialise in one thing…

…then you’d better be absolutely incredible at it! Good luck.

One Man Band

What’s your Cup of Tea?

 

Cup of tea - Design

The variables in design are practically infinite. So how can any designer navigate successfully through all the decisions they are required to make? Especially when one person will gush delightedly over the finished article while another snorts in disgust.

Individual choices and preferences create a literal minefield for every designer. When it comes to Art direction or navigating a brief, I like to refer to the ‘Cup of Tea’ effect.

Bear with me here – If you offer someone a cup of tea, they would like it prepared in their own particular way. (I hate making tea for other people, incidentally.)

With only 4 very simple ingredients; Water, Teabag, Milk and Sugar, look at the incredible variety of personal preferences that generates. It’s actually extremely difficult to prepare ‘the’ cup of tea to someone else’s exact taste. Strong, weak, milky, black, sweet?

Just as everyone likes their simple cup of tea ‘just so’, everyone will come up with something different for even the most basic brief.

Set a brief as simple as a ‘Blue Mountain’?

Try it with a group of artists – see how many shades of Blue you get and what shapes are created. The permutations may be surprising, because in your head, YOUR idea of what a Blue Mountain should be is the one you’d be looking for. Not necessarily theirs.

When you start to consider purpose, aesthetics, emotion and then throw in pure subjectivity, its a wonder anything gets designed at all!

So how do we do it?

Well, with all that in mind, its plain that a ‘simple’ brief is not as clear cut and easy as it may initially sound. Read it carefully. Break it down. Talk it through. Are you clear on all points?

You need to examine carefully who and what it is for. What’s current? What’s trending? Most importantly, what does your client really expect? (Your client may be you, by the way.)

Do they even really know what they want? This is not unusual.

Make a mood board that hits every note you’ve registered and then bring your own suggestions into it.

Get your client to pore over this mood board and register their reactions carefully. What do they smile at, what makes them frown and what makes them recoil in horror?

The trick is to get a reaction. Any reaction. Because that gives you vital information you need to get started.

Don’t be scared to throw in some horrific designs in order to provoke these emotions. It’s like a game of ‘Hot and cold.’ Narrow it down using extremes. Just make sure you explain what you’ve done afterwards or they may question your judgement.

Pay careful attention to the brief and here’s the important thing…don’t try and please everyone. Think about that cup of tea. Some people hate sugar. Some people like their tea so sweet they want the spoon to stand up in it. Again, who is it for?

Some people will not like what you’ve done. That’s ok, as long as your client and you are satisfied. Besides, if you don’t provoke some sort of reaction in anyone then you’ve probably done something very strange or bland indeed!

What’s my particular cup of tea? Hell, I only drink coffee…but that’s another story.

Thanks for reading!

MD