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Submitted on
May 7, 2012


227 (who?)
I've been under fire recently for having the audacity to admit publicly that improving my art has never been, and never was, an ultimate goal of mine. Apparently that's like committing some sort of mortal sin in the art community. I've had trouble expressing myself about it too, because brushing off improvement for improvement sake makes me look like I'm uncaring, egocentric, and stubborn. But after a recent post I was given much more clarity in understanding the issue and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

In the recent exchange I was basically told this: "If doing what you love isn't about dedicating your life to improving your art, you aren't an artist."

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but making art has never been solely about the technical expertise. Even in college, outside the handful of foundation courses you take in freshman year, perfection of the craft is often secondary to concepts and ideas and your ability to evoke feelings and emotions in your audience.

Technical proficiency is important, yes, but it is not the sole driving factor. Thank goodness it's not, because if it was everyone would be making nothing but realistic paintings like Leonardo and Michelangelo, and the art world would be stagnating and boring because everything would be the same.

DA is an art community, and part of that means helping people grow and become better artists. However, sometimes I think we place far too much importance on the technical side of things. It's very well and good to offer feedback to an artist you think will help them improve, but it's another thing entirely if you take their stubbornness or slow-to-change attitude to heart, become personally offended by it, and retaliate with trolling and tumblr blogs about them.

I make comics because I like telling stories. I like to see people laugh at my character's foibles. I like to build their suspense, and hit them with twists and turns. I want them to feel sad or happy during key events. I want my audience to enjoy what I produce. That has been, and always WILL be, my overall key goal as a cartoonist.

Now then, despite me saying improvement is not an ultimate goal for me, I still recognize it as something to keep in mind in the back of my head. Many people have told me that artists change their styles gradually over time (which is true), but those same people seem to disregard this when it comes to me because I am not changing fast enough for their liking. To many of these people, my lack of change within the span of a few DAYS is enough to throw a giant hissy fit over. Since SYAC is a near-daily comic series, I can understand people thinking I'm stagnating, but I know I am growing gradually and that the results will show for themselves eventually.

To prove this, please take a look at this comparison:
SYAC Improvments by TomPreston
The left image is the first ever SYAC comic, the right is a much more recent one, the difference of about a year and a half.

While there are a lot of similarities (such a lack of a background, but honestly that's not really important for this particular series), it should be pretty obvious that I've improved. It's still cartoony, it's still simple and basic, but the lineart is smoother, the characters more iconic, and the shadow tones less grey and muddy. Is there a lot to still improve upon? Of course there is. Have I not improved at all since I started? That's absurd.

This is why I heartily resent people bringing out complaints that I'm committing some sort of mortal sin for not dedicating my entire life towards being the best comic artist ever. You can offer me advice and suggestions, but do not expect me to grow by leaps and bounds overnight. I listen to every criticism, comment, feedback, and complaint that I get and while I might have a bad attitude about some of that, it does sink in.

I realize my own strengths and weaknesses and understand that improvement for me will be a longer and slower process. It's gradual, and sometimes it can take years for this stuff to show itself. Jim Davis, for example, has taken close to 30 years to perfect his style, while Scott Adams hasn't really changed much at all in the past 20 years. Hell, there are artists here on DA who haven't improved at all. It's all about gradation and understanding that not everyone has the same goals, desires, passions, skill, and attitude about art as you.

Anyway... I'm tired of talking about this, and I'm sure you're all tired of hearing it. So this is going to be the last time I address this (if I can help it). Let this be my final words on the subject and let's move on already.

To sum things up:
1. Improvement for improvement sake is not my ultimate goal, never has been.
2. I acknowledge that I will improve, but gradually over time and not overnight.
3. You can offer feedback and criticism.
4. I am under no obligations to follow your feedback and criticism if I feel it doesn't help me towards my goal.

  • Listening to: Escapist Podcast
  • Watching: Frasier
  • Playing: Minecraft: Multiplayer
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GazelleHatsune Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2012  Student Digital Artist
I agree on this one hundred percent
I do strive to get better as an artist and my style changes constantly
but that's because I keep drawing, not because I'm "trying" to do so ultimately
you are a very clever comic artist and whenever your style changes or not, thousands of fans will still be on the lookout for the next SYAC comic to get a laugh out of it
NikkiFirestarter Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2012  Student General Artist
I always thought art was about expressing one's feelings, not being the best around. Heh, but that's just my thought on the subject.

I have to agree with you. I mean, as an artist continues to create, improvement in skills and all that just sort of come naturally from continued practice of the arts. That's pretty much how anything works, the more you do it, the better you get at it. You don't have to make it an ultimate goal just to get better, that's just something that comes with time and continued doing.
I guess some people just don't understand this concept, and some people are hard to explain things to... They have a hard time seeing the bigger picture, or the important things...
GoldenGal42 Featured By Owner Jun 10, 2012
Wait... you want criticism and feedback but you won't act on it (i.e. improve)? What's the point then? The whole point of feedback and criticism is to help yourself improve but you've just said that isn't your goal so there's absolutely no point to any feedback and criticism people can offer.

You say your goal is to tell stories, but what if your artistic stagnation is hindering the expression of your story? If you improve as an artist you can tell your stories better and have a greater impact -- so clearly your goal isn't to tell a good story, otherwise you'd improve to tell those stories better. Your art is an important part of your story, if you don't care enough to make it better then... what's the point of you and your drawings?
Pinkkrice Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2012
People have such elitist views about art. There's this idea that skill is or should be the artists ultimate goal, or that that's what makes you an artist. To me, skill is just a means to an end. You develop skill because it helps you with your art, but at the end of the day what makes you an artist is the overwhelming or even uncontrollable urge to create. Not any set standard of skill, or any varying degree of dedication. An artist doesn't sit there and think, I MUST be better! They think, I MUST continue creating! And through that, they develop skill so they can create things closer and closer to what's in their head. Their dedication isn't a conscious decision, it's an uncontrollable impulse. If you have the uncontrollable impulse to tell a story with art, then that's all you need. I think you're right on track, Tom. Now if only more people would see things like this, we'd get less of the elitist nonsense that plagues the artistic community.
FangedSeth Featured By Owner May 31, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I find this offensive. You suggest that comic writing/storytelling do not count as arts. Why would you think that?

Unless you're saying you don't want to improve your storytelling. That sounds rather boring.
Pinkkrice Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2012
What are you talking about? He never suggested anything like that. He's talking about visual art, not art in general. When he says "I'm more interested in storytelling than art" he's not saying that storytelling isn't an art, he's saying "I'm more interested in the art of storytelling than visual art." If anything, he's saying he's MORE interested in improving his writing/storytelling artistic skills than his visual artistic skills. Just because he doesn't call it art doesn't mean he doesn't think it's art. It's common terminology to call visual art simply "art" and other art forms by name (the art of writing is simply "writing," the art of storytelling is simply "storytelling," ect.) Try not to get so caught up in minor details of phrasing, it leads to unintended assumptions.
xGhostwriterx Featured By Owner May 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:clap: Well said Tom! :clap:
Improving have been a BIG part of my life as an artist. But the longer time goes and the more I think about it, the more I realise that it's killing the joy I get out of it. Reading this really made me think. I ... remember when I drew just because it was fun, improving didn't even exist in my world then. Then someone commented on my srt and then it took of from there. I used to draw because it made me realax and enjoy myself, improving was just something that happend by time... Guess I kinda lost my way for a few years... Well no more!! I'm gonna find back to that happy road I once walked on and take that path again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Tom, and thank you for giving me the wake up call that I needed. Thank you. :hug:
Kibate Featured By Owner May 28, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
To be honest, i only read half of your yournal entry here(too long etc. haha) but i can say is...
I totally agree on so many points.

I think so many people freak out about people who do not want to improve(as much as they do at least) is because they learned their entire life to draw good pictures, only to realize you don't have to! If they were to let people like you, and partly like me too, just go, it would be like admiting they wasted half of their life.

Of course, this is merely a theory, and someone is sure going to flame me about it, but otherwise i just don't understand their deal, even after having many talks with such people.
JourneyOfBell Featured By Owner May 23, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
No fucking offense, but this doesn't make any sense:

"Technical proficiency is important, yes, but it is not the sole driving factor. Thank goodness it's not, because if it was everyone would be making nothing but realistic paintings like Leonardo and Michelangelo, and the art world would be stagnating and boring because everything would be the same."

By that you're implying trying to improve only belongs in the realism department. Just because following realism is the only way to improve most art doesn't mean people will turn over to realism. People can improve their own style without going for realism. Besides, the last remark is really cocky. Again, implying realism is boring and while I don't excersise realism myself, it's still a weird point to make. I think all styles end up being boring if people all go for the same (no better example than dA itself). Too much of anything is too much whatever it's realism, cartoonism or whatever.
NotInThisReality Featured By Owner May 15, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
I completely agree with you, and I think it was wrong of whoever said that "If doing what you love isn't about dedicating your life to improving your art, you aren't an artist." to you. I can't say that I'm not improving or that I'm not trying to, only because I haven't tried every style, and I'm still learning what my own style is, but telling someone that they aren't an artist just because of differing viewpoints is discusting.
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