Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's My Purpose?

This is the first question I ask myself when starting a painting or drawing.  You can't make intelligent decisions on a painting until you've decided what you're trying to accomplish, and have some idea of how you're going to accomplish it.  That may sound simple, but there are several facets to this idea and you should be able to answer most of the questions below BEFORE you start drawing/painting:

Audience:  Who am I making this for?  Am I trying to make something that my audience feels more comfortable with, or something that feels more innovative and new?
Some audiences are inherently hard to please and have to be
won over.  Like hipsters, unless you're Wes Anderson.

Format:  How will the audience experience this image/character/environment/etc.?  Does the format affect the scope of what I can communicate?
Fringe's mad scientist is a great character that probably wouldn't work in a video game.
Or in a stand-alone illustration.  Internet images have a unique format problem also:
everybody sees them at a different size!

Purpose: What needs does this painting/character/environment need to fill?  Are there special or arbitrary parameters from the publisher/art director/marketing/writers/technicians/etc. that need to be included?
The house in UP had to function as an interior and exterior
environment, hold a storehouse of props, work as a vehicle,
and be something audiences came to care about as a symbol
for Carl's deceased wife.

Story (technically an extension of purpose): What role does this character/environment/etc. play in the property?  What emotional chord do I want to strike with the viewer?  Are there additional story/moodsetting things I could layer into the piece without distracting from the primary purpose/story?
Jack Sparrow's costume design is great---an iconic "first read," with lots of
suggested history in the details, yet all of it supports his personality
and the core idea of his character.  

Premise:  Which of the many ways of expressing the above purpose and story will feel most fresh and interesting to my audience?  Is there a way of integrating the publisher's/art director's/etc.'s parameters in a way that "feels right" or gives things an unexpected twist?

Let me reiterate what I said earlier but add something:  If you can't answer all of the above questions, DON'T START PAINTING UNTIL YOU CAN.  In fact, if you can't answer them in a way that makes you feel inspired about your illustration or whatever you're working on, I'd recommend that you either do some brainstorming or start over with a drawing that inspires some of these things!


  1. Great post man, really solid advice!

  2. holly cow sam!!! that last paragraph just turned the lights on for me. *ceatching my breath* nice post sam.

  3. These are fantastic lessons, man. I feel like I just read an explanation of the weaknesses in my approach that have been holding me back.

  4. This is a wonderful post. :) I will be saving all of this info to refer to when I start my next piece. Thanks!

  5. Fabulous post. I think actually it is good advice for any project. Question: what audience do you find hardest to please with your artwork?

  6. Heather: Teenage girls, hands-down. I mean, does anyone know what kind of art they like?

  7. That's a good question. Teenage girls might just be hard to please in general. :)

  8. fanbtastic stuf sam!I would liek to one day get a better understanding of painting. SOOOOOOOOO overwhelming heheh

    BTW I dont have access to the ava blog to post that santa.

  9. What's interesting to me, here, is that your questions are almost polar to mine when I begin to write. I never start knowing where a story is going, because the story itself has to lead me there. But you're talking about painting as support to a story (games are stories) rather than what might be called "fine art," which we assume to be painted as its own solitary expression. The kind of writing that results from your questions is a kind I can't do. I've failed at it, is what I mean - it doesn't work for me at all. I wonder, were I were a painter, if I'd feel the same way about them?

  10. And - whatd'ya mean "does anyone know what kind of art they like?" They're the easiest of all. That was SUCH a male thing to say =

  11. Mel: Send the e-mail address you want me to add to the blog member list. Probably best to send it to my work e-mail.

    K: Remember though, that I'm not talking about drawing or coming up with the concept in the first place. That all should happen before you reach the painting phase. For some reason it's really easy for artists to do that; we think of a funny facial expression or pose and start to draw that, or focus on some interesting costume detail without ever considering why we're even drawing the picture. If there's a writing equivalent it's like someone who types a bunch of quirky unfinished sentences and then can't figure out why they can't tie them together into a novel. I have known some artists who can successfully develop a concept while they are painting it, or who even "feel out" all of these things without ever thinking through them, but they are exceptional and I don't expect people with that kind of ability will need to read _my_ thoughts on how to improve their art.
    You're right, teenage girls like lots of things: like cell phones, Justin Bieber, teen gossip magazines, sulking in the corner, and walking around the mall with friends. But concept artists aren't required for any of those activities.

  12. Sorry, I said "drawing," but I should have said "sketching." In my mind the sketch phase is where you explore and discover things, test out ideas, etc. The drawing phase is when you know what you are doing and you're just working with composition, emotion, layout and so forth.

  13. @Sam - That might be a little harsh. I'm a pro at sulking in corners and still haven't grasped teenage girl appeal. Looking at popular deviations on DeviantArt makes me think: kittens. Fuzzy ones. And furries, though that might just be a glitch.

  14. Very interesting post. It is important to have a clear purpose and direction in doing anything in life. When you set a clear goal, your chances of reaching it becomes much higher.


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