Setting Creative Goals... and Keeping Them

No matter what your art is (writing,
illustration, game design), you’ll often hear that you should work at it every
day. If you don’t do this, some people say, you’re failing as a creator.

Now, that might work for some people, but I’ve
tried writing every day on several occasions and it just doesn’t work for me.
It makes the whole thing a chore that I start to hate very quickly. Instead, I’ve
found that three scheduled sessions of at least a couple of hours keeps my
juices flowing, my motivation up, and my productivity on track.

The most important thing for me is that I have
a plan. Every time I sit down for a creative session, I plan out ahead of time
exactly what I want to achieve that day. And at the end of every session, I figure
out when my next one is booked for. That stops one or two days off from slipping
into more.

Another thing that works for me is to always
have deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed, and to make sure that I’m accountable
to someone else for those deadlines. If the only person I have to answer to is myself,
I will inevitably let things slip. What I would recommend is having a partner
in creation, someone else who also wants to achieve things and may need a nudge
every now and then. If you can arrange to meet up physically and keep each
other focused, then great! If not, maybe keep a chat window or video call open
during creative sessions and check in every half hour or so, to make sure
you’re both still on topic. And, if all else fails, just email each other your
schedule and your plan, and then report back after the session to celebrate
your victories. If you’re a writer who is more motivated by spreadsheets,
streaks, or games than by a creative partner, consider using something like 750words.com, 4thewords.com,
or getyourwordsout.net
to encourage you to meet those writing goals. Artists might get practice ideas
from artprompts.org
or the challenges, timed practices, and random poses on quickposes.com.
And no matter what your art, if you respond to gamification, something like habitica.com
might be just the thing to get you making the most of your creative time and
give you a sense of accomplishment as you make progress toward your goals.

That last point is important—make it easy to
celebrate your successes. If you have a big project, then just looking at the
whole thing may make it seem insurmountable. But if you break it down into
small tasks with sensible deadlines, you can have the satisfaction of ticking
off tons of little victories that you should absolutely congratulate yourself
on. If rewards help you (like “I can have a chocolate after I finish this
chapter” or “I can watch an episode of my favorite show once I’ve filled a page
with sketches”), then don’t hesitate to use that.

Most crucial of all is to find a system that works for you and just go for it.

What works for me is a rolling spreadsheet of upcoming submission opportunities (theme, word count, hard deadline, and possible publication all right there), sessions scheduled outside my flat with an accountability partner, and a list of very specific targets for each session. But the thought of all that organization might make you want to curl up and die. So try things out to see what fits, and once something works, don’t ever let anyone tell you it doesn’t make sense. The only person it has to makes sense to is you. And if it keeps you creating, then it’s doing its job and you should stick with it no matter what.


Interview with Concept Artist Becca Hallstedt

Dream Foundry Content Manager Jen Grogan sat down with Becca over email recently to chat with them about art, the gaming industry, and pickled vegetables. 

You can see more of Becca's work at beccahallstedtdesign.com.


How did you start out as a concept artist?

I've been drawing since I was very young, and I discovered concept art in high school through Tumblr, Youtube, and Blogspot sites. I actually originally went to an industrial design school because that's what all my favorite artists studied — folks like Feng Zhu, Daniel Dociu, and others —but I got bored of drawing hairdryers and shoes, so I transferred up to a game college program after three semesters.

My first job in games was as a paid 2D art intern at a local studio. I cold-emailed them asking if they would consider hiring a junior concept artist, and they got back to me less than a day later because they happened to need a Photoshop guru to help with GDC (Game Developers Conference) marketing materials. It was total happenstance. They slowly gave me more responsibility and I got some experience with UI art and visual development. My experience there led to my first true concept art job at Netherrealm.

Lucky Kirin by Becca Hallstedt
Lucky Kirin by Becca Hallstedt

What’s your favorite kind of work in the industry, and why?

I love creature design. I genuinely enjoy doing a variety of tasks like environment and prop design or character development, but creatures are the most fun for me. I think they always will be.

What’s your least favorite?

I don't have a specific task that comes to mind, but it can be very frustrating to work with folks that struggle to give honest or clear critique. The way that peers provide constructive feedback can make or break a job to me. I'd much rather work a job with less interesting tasks around people who communicate well than take on a gig with exciting assignments that involves consistently frustrating or confusing critique.

Wesley Fox by Becca Hallstedt
Wesley Fox by Becca Hallstedt

What’s something you didn’t know about the field before you got into it?

Everyone knows each other, so don't burn bridges if you can help it. This starts day one in game development, whether that's in college or in a job. Soft skills and being self-aware are super, super important, and those things tend to be heavily underemphasized in general. Learning how to be empathetic, generous, and proactive will always do you more good than being stingy and paranoid. When applying to a job, I send that same opening to friends that need work all the time. Either of us getting it is a win. Working together and being benevolent does surprising, wonderful things in this industry.

What do you think would surprise people about your day-to-day routine as an artist?

I only actually work about twenty-five billable hours each week as a freelance artist, but I still manage to be busy all the time. Same goes for all my freelance friends locally. I think people assume that every freelancer works about forty hours/week, but so much work has to go into administrative stuff that you don't get paid for. Things like keeping up asocial media presence (all my work comes from Twitter,) emailing future clients, networking, keeping my portfolio updated, creating personal work so I have new pieces to show, and so forth take up a LOT of hours.

Courier's Beast by Becca Hallstedt
Courier's Beast by Becca Hallstedt

When you’re designing a new creature or other element, how do you start out? What kind of direction are you given from the client, and how do you go from there?

The specificity of the prompt varies heavily by task and client. Sometimes they know exactly what they want and, even if I as the designer don't think the idea is strong, it's my job to make the design look awesome. Other times, I'm handed really vague prompts with a lot of creative freedom. I like having a mix. Having heavy constraints and having a vague task each have their own unique challenges that are fun to tackle.

I can't overemphasize how much time goes into research and rough sketching when starting something new. Sometimes the sketch or lineart of the final design will only take fifteen to thirty minutes, but the prep work that goes into that drawing can take hours or days. The biggest lesson I've learned in the last year was to slow down and give those early stages a lot of time rather than trying to rush through them. Clients always prefer a badass final design that took an extra day over a quick, uninformed, unfinished idea.

How much backstory do you have in mind when you’re doing creature or character design, whether for yourself or for a client?

I think in context rather than about story. I like to imagine the circumstance of the creature while I'm painting rather than setting it all in stone before starting because I think that results in some very organic, interesting elements in the design. If I try to put all the pieces together before I even start sketching, I get frustrated and feel too restrained.

When I say context rather than story, I mean that I focus more on the personality, surrounding environment, and interactions this creature has on a regular basis instead of their life story. Sometimes once I have that context nailed down, I naturally work backwards and a more specific backstory comes from it.

Ebony by Becca Hallstedt
Ebony by Becca Hallstedt

What kinds of questions or thoughts lead your worldbuilding process? For instance, do you think about where a creature fits in an ecological niche, or more about what role they’ll play in a game or story?

I really try to ground my ideas in believability. I've historically struggled with storytelling, which results in a confusing design that viewers don't know how to place in the world. I have found over time that it's better to latch onto a few "cliché" aspects for a design and execute it elegantly rather than rejecting the obvious solutions entirely and making something the observer can't understand. Embrace some of the obvious!Just make sure you insert your own unique voice into it.

What one piece of advice would you give to younger artists who want to get a start in the industry?

Take yourself seriously. No one else will treat you like a professional until you do it first. People treated me like a pro my junior year of college because I did my best to speak and behave as one, and that got me jobs. Don't be an aspiring artist or a student artist. Just be a damn artist.

Snakeoil Potionmaster by Becca Hallstedt
Snakeoil Potionmaster by Becca Hallstedt

I saw on your website that you like to pickle vegetables — what’s your favorite? Do you have any tips or a recipe that you could share with us?

My two favorites are beets as well as sweet and spicy peppers. Use organic ingredients because the quality difference is HUGE. I usually wing it instead of going off a written recipe but here's my basic approach...

Becca's Good-As-Hell Beets:

Primary ingredients:

  • 3 beets, skinned and boiled (you cannot over boil beets, so be patient until they're easy to go through with a fork)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh organic rosemary (do not use dried, it sucks)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 thinly sliced organic Vidalia onion
  •  3 cloves of smashed garlic

Brine:

  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup cup water
  • 2 teaspoon salt

Put primary ingredients in large glass jar like this one, distributed evenly. They should come to the top and fill the jar entirely. Bring brine just to a rolling boil and pour into the jar over the contents up to the very rim and refrigerate. Wait two or more days before eating. Great on crackers with sour cream and dill. Good for up to two weeks in the fridge. Save the leftover brine to reuse or for pickled hard-boiled eggs.

Best of luck out there, y’all.