Ryan Kingslien’s 30-day Art Challenge


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Two days ago I finished Ryan Kingslien’s 30-day Art Challenge. It is an online course (free!) that he offers on his online art school, Uartsy.com. I ended up there while doing a google search for online Zbrush courses, and after looking around, my attention was caught by the simplicity of the site and the ad for the 30-day art challenge. I was in the middle of another art challenge (Inktober 2015) at the time, so I guess I was already in the mood. I signed up for the school, and for the challenge. It’s been a month, and I feel completely transformed. The insight I have gained in this past month is more than I was able to gather in many years as an artist. It came at a very difficult time in my life and out of gratitude I want to write about how I got to this challenge and what it did for me.

Let me start with my current situation. I am in the middle of job hunting, and I’ve realized that most of the job listings I see online are either way out of my league skill-wise, or just not even related to my area. I’m trying to transition into a more creative job choice and move away from pure academia, which is what I have been doing for the past 8 years.

Also, I have had a severe artist’s block that has lasted almost a decade. I haven’t been able to draw or make artwork the way I really want to for a really long time. I push myself to do art challenges in order to get that moving somehow.

My main intention was to sign up for an online Zbrush course, after being told that I needed better skills (namely 3D software skills) to qualify for a job in the game design &  development industry (something I had been thinking of transitioning into: it is creative but also stable). I was also told to have a good portfolio. Feeling my current work to be completely inadequate, I looked for courses and there are loads. That was the problem. I didn’t know how to choose, and I have little knowledge of what it is this industry asks for. Coming from a traditional art background, the technology seemed intimidating and overwhelming for me to learn at this age (33). I signed up for a free introduction to the software at another site (Gnomon) and downloaded a 45-day trial of the software. I didn’t even get past the first lesson video. It was too much for me, the talk was too technical and I didn’t really connect with the instructor. I started to feel that I had wasted my time with my other art pursuits because I never bothered to learn software.

However, when I got to Uartsy, the site looked approachable. What really sold me is when I read Ryan’s bio. He is a classically trained painter and poet! And yet, he is also called the anatomy “guru” of Zbrush. I realized that being classically trained as I am does not mean a life-sentence to being technology-illiterate. Ryan seems like very caring guy and the catalogue is divided into specific and easy to identify topics. I had already looked at loads of Zbrush courses, but when I would open up the program and look at the interface, I felt like I was looking at the inside of a nuclear reactor! I was too overwhelmed. So, I saw Ryan’s offer for a free 30-day art challenge and I decided to do it, so I would feel like I had done something, and I wouldn’t feel like I had given up completely. I determined myself to complete this course as motivation to keep going.

I thought it would be like the Inktober challenge, where you have to make a drawing or a piece a day, or other challenges like that, to get you to draw within a time frame. But instead, Ryan took me on a whole other kind of journey: the journey within. To look at what really makes up the artist that is ME, about WHY I do this (art), WHY I have chosen this path and what makes it unique for me. And ultimately, he made me face my raison d’etre: my reason for being. ART.

Ryan’s 30-day art “challenge” ( I prefer to call it art “journey”) is really a course in logotherapy for artists. He says so himself during the latter half of the course. Logotherapy is a method of psychoanalysis developed by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a Viennese doctor, which “is founded upon the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans” (source: wiki article). Frankl himself realized the truth of his own theory when put to the test during his time in concentrations camps during the Second World War. He  later wrote a book about it (which I’m reading at the moment).

Even though a lot of the “exercises” were about introspection, it still felt like a lot of work, and I did it everyday. I never imagined it would take me down such a deep rabbit hole. When we were asked to write “our story,” I hesitated. I have a hard time writing or talking about myself. But then, I started writing and I just couldn’t stop! I wrote down 14 pages non-stop that just poured out of me. It is a beautiful story, very painful, that I will one day share (I have plans to make it into a picture book).

In short, Ryan’s challenge was about making me look at myself, the artist, in an honest way, and getting to the bottom of what it is that I do and why. But it wasn’t just cheap psychoanalysis. I was also given support and validation every step of the way. Ryan reminded me that I have everything I need already within me. Like him, I have also struggled all my life to determine whether I suck or not, as there have been times where I come up with work I love, and others where I absolutely hate what I do. And there were  years where I couldn’t do any art at all. But ultimately, I realized the best work I have ever done, the pieces I like the most, were ones I never thought I’d do; I never planned them. They just “happened.” This is the essence of this art course: to teach you to just let go, you are already the artist you’ve always wanted to be. So, just be.

I realized then that it’s not that the job listings are out of my league, but that my skills and individual tastes probably aren’t reflected by the search returns. What I love to do is not in the search engines most of the time. Comics, as lucrative an industry as it is (just look at all these movies coming out based on comics) is still a subculture, and not exactly a 9-5 job. It is a way of life. I am still interested in game design, and will go on to do a Zbrush course, but I realized I needed to re-define my job expectations to fit who I already am. Namely, I can just begin to do the work I like to do, and let it take me to where I need to go.

I don’t know the “how” of how I will make this work, but at least I now know the “why”. As Nietzsche said and Viktor Frankl reiterated in his book: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

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If you have artist’s block, or just never felt you were good enough, I urge you to do this 30-day journey into your art and yourself. Any level of artist is fine. You will be amazed at what you will discover.

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