I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my life and my work. Comics, like anything worthwhile, take an insane amount of time to produce. I always find myself trying get more work done faster. And since it takes so long I constantly find myself questioning whether it is worth my time or not. There are a lot of other things I could be doing.
So here is the dilemna. We only have so much time, and that time is extremely valuable. So what should we do with it?
The answer? Well it’s not so simple because what I should do and what you should do are entirely different. Our options are not even the same. But I think the factors that go into making that choice are same for all of humanity. How should we go about choosing what to do? Most people in the world do what they have to do. They have to eat, pay their bills, sleep, die, whatever. We all have things we have to do. But we also have some choices. How should we pay the bills? How can we make more time to do what we really want to do? Who should we spend time with? What is worthy of our short amount of time?
If you consider yourself an artist then you may be spending a substantial amount of your time doing artwork. If we are going to do artwork with the time that we could be using to spend with family, work, or do anything else more rewarding, then there must be some reason or purpose. How can we justify using our time on something so … self centered? I think most of us get a good feeling from seeing artwork, and we want somehow to recreate that good feeling by doing it ourself. You can call it competition (our desire to out do or mimick other artists), you could call it jealousy, or you could say it is a noble cause because it is something animals can’t do. This good feeling is not really enough to justify all the time we are spending to produce our work.
There are of course the financial rewards of doing artwork. If you are a professional then it is possible to make money off of doing your work. But if you seriously love what you do then you might not want to turn it into something you have to do. Even if you have to do your artwork to make a living I’m sure you have hopes of doing something more with it. If you are trying to do some meaningful artwork in the hours left over from a full time job, then you of all people truly understand the limits of time.
Have you ever started a project with tons of motivation only to find yourself in the middle of your project wishing it wasn’t so difficult and demanding? Even when we finish our work we find ourselves wanting something more after the good feeling wares off. We may argue that it is a noble cause because we are pursuing excellence when in reality, we are really just pursuing that good feeling. The reward of our hard work and effort.
Don’t you want to create something more meaningful than just a good feeling? There are so many valuable ways I could spend my time. If there were not something more to my art I would no longer pursue it. Luckily for me I have found a much more meaningful purpose in doing my work. My purpose is a little different than most but I’ll explain more about that later in this article.
I find inspiration in my favorite stories. When I watch a show like Naruto I am clearly reminded of why I want to do artwork. I want to be moved, and I want to move others. If you havn’t seen Naruto then maybe you’ve seen one of the Pixar films like Toy Story, Bugs Life, Finding Nemo, Cars, Incredibles, or their most recent film, Ratatouille. These films revive the human spirit and bring out our most noble virtues. They touch upon truth. In the end it all comes down to love for our neighbor and the hope of seeing them do well.
A sketch I did of Naruto
These stories set my heart on fire, and the designs look so good that I immediately find myself drawing once again. Then more of the good feeling comes when I see my initial sketches. When I’m really inspired I write story lines for my original characters in the hope of creating something truly meaningful. The problem is that this motivation dissipates when I begin to see the realities of how much time and effort it will cost to produce such a work. It is just damn near impossible to see how I could realistically produce anything of real substance. The only reason it seems possible at all is because of the existence of shows like Naruto and Incredibles. Their existence is proof that it is possible. But there is such a huge gap between my dream and my reality. How do we resolve this?
I can set my mind and put in my best effort one day at a time. But eventually I start getting behind on the things I have to do. We can ignore our debtors , our stomaches, and our sleepy eyes for only so long. It’s nice to see the results at first, but the results of our hard work start to give us an idea of just how far away the reality of our dream really is. There is a definate need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves.
I’ve come a long way since I first began drawing. And even though it’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve grown it’s also quite shocking. I just can’t believe how much work it was to get this far and how long it really took. I had no idea it would be this much work, and who can know how much work lies ahead? This is the reality of an artist.
Ok, enough grumbling and complaining. I didn’t begin writing to discourage you. I like to encourage people, but I want you to see what the reality of this world is without faith. The pursuit of every ideal has to do with faith. My faith gives me hope. But faith and hope do not really get us what we want. There are many people in the world with faith, but in reality the most of them aren’t making their dreams any more of a reality than everyone else. Because they believe in themselves or in something greater than themselves, they have hope, which is more than someone who doesn’t have hope. So the two are very necessary but they still aren’t enough. What does it take to make our ideals a reality?
By myself I might start strong but eventually I my strength will fade. And it is likely to fade long before I’ve achieved any of my hopes and dreams. If I have someone else I care about then at least I have someone to encourage me when it gets difficult. With a team of people it gets better but it also gets worse. The more people that get involved the more compounded the problems become. People have to be lead by a strong leader. It’s not easy because they all have their own ideas, dreams, wants and needs. And not all of them can be met. People have to unite and make sacrifices for one another. They have to work towards a higher goal to rise above each other’s pettiness. Someone has to have the personal strength to keep their eyes on that higher ideal. If they get distracted and focus their attention on those they are leading then the problems begin to multiply. He/She has to choose what sacrifices are going to be made and inspire people to believe the ideal they are reaching for is greater than the things they are sacrificing to achieve it.
So in reality, groups of people are in the same boat as those of us working by ourselves. We are all trying to justify the many sacrifices we are making for some ideal. Something greater than what we have now and very hard to reach.
So what ideal should we reach for? What is it about Naruto, Toy Story, or Ratatouille that inspires us so much? These stories have something that most movies do not have. This is an important question because the sacrifices that we will have to make are tremendous and in the end it has to be worth it. I know many of us want to be great artists and reach for some ideal, but what would you sacrifice to become a great artist and would it be worth it to you? Would you sacrifice spending time with your family? Would you sacrifice your youth? Would you work a full time job that you hate for 20 years to pay off all the debt that you might accumulate trying to become a professional? Are you willing to risk your reputation among all the non-artists in your life? Have you seriously considered what your goals will cost you?
I listened to the animators’ commentary on Incredibles and they said that the average animator on that film probably produced more or less about 2 minutes of animation seen in the film. That’s after working long hours for 4 years. They worked insanely hard to get to the point where they could be good enough to work at Pixar, and for this film they pushed themselves even harder. Their families had to understand and spend a little less time together. And these animators will never receive any fame for their work even though they are every bit as talented and skilled as any comic book artist. It’s not their character and no child will ever know they had anything whatsoever to do with the film. Animators, and cartoonists in general, don’t really get much respect in the adult world even though their job requires as much mastery as a composer. But they still receive more credit than the story board artists, designers, and any of the other hundreds of artists involved with making an animated film. Our work is not so rewarding. Again, I am not writing this to discourage you but to help you think seriously about what you do. The ideal we are working towards has to be both extremely rewarding and very tangible, because it must be at least be greater than what we sacrificed for it.
So what is worth all of this trouble? For me, my life’s toil is worth far more than a few golden animated scenes in a great film. My hope is that there is something more I can gain and something far more rewarding. The good news is that I have already found something more rewarding and far less work. I havn’t worked on any great films like Incredibles so I can’t be absolutely sure that what I have found is as rewarding, but for me this is as thrilling and rewarding as I could ever hope to imagine. So what is it? What is so rewarding? What is this ideal that I’m working towards and achieving?
If I work to please myself then eventually the work will become too great and the reward too little. But if I work out of thankfulness, and love, to please someone else as well as myself then my work is that much more valuable. Working out of love for those around me is good, but not good enough. People will eventually dissapoint you. If love between people were enough to make up for all the sacrifices we have to make, then there wouldn’t be so many unhappy marriages in the world. Marriage is often referred to as the ball and chain, prison, binding, and many other unhappy terms. Some people believe in nationalism — working out of love for their nation. But the problems with nationalism are obvious. Some people work out of love for their religion, but this too is often just another form of ethnocentrism or the idea that we are somehow better than someone else. There is only one who is truly worthy of our work. We as creators should show thankfulness to our creator through our creations. By creating you can begin to understand the heart of the creator. This isn’t what I have found to be so rewarding but it is a start.
To understand God on a mental level is very rewarding but there are many levels or degrees to which you can realize God’s love. You have to ask God what He likes, learn about God, and discover his tastes. If you can create something that pleases Him and makes Him happy, I promise you He will let you know. This is the true reward for our work. When we see our own work we get a good feeling. When other people react positively to our work we get an even greater feeling. But the greatest feeling comes when God reacts positively to your work. These are the basic levels of reward.
If you enjoy the feeling of making a paint stroke then you find your work physically rewarding. If you like the aescthetic of your work then it is mentally pleasing. If your work promotes a good message than it pleases your conscience. How rewarding it is to see someone else enjoy your work depends on the level of your relationship with that person. Remember how rewarding it was to see your parents’ eyes light up with pride when they saw your work? Have you ever seen an audience react to your work? If both the principal of your school and the president of the United States were to see your work which would you find more rewarding? God is the expert on everything and far higher level than any human being. So if you can get a response out of Him then it will be that much more rewarding.
How rewarding it is to get a reaction out of God also depends on your relationship with Him. If you aren’t sure He exists then your spiritual senses may be a little too dull to recognize His response to your work. If you are ignorant about God then you could also be very ignorant about yourself and your work. It would be like a black kid who had never met anyone but black people. He might not even know he is black. At that point your relationship with God would be that of a stranger. If you believe in God and if you believe that He is more than just a stone then you must also believe that He has an opinion about what you are doing. If you are Jewish or Muslim then your relationship to God could be compared to the relationship between a master and servant. A servant can take pride in his work if it pleases his master. If you are Christian then pleasing God may feel spiritually very similiar to pleasing your father. It is rewarding but it still not the greatest reward one can achieve. Daughters love their fathers, and fathers will always love their daughters, but one day the daughter will grow up and find a greater love. The greatest love men and women can achieve is between lovers. When the bridegroom receives his bride it can not be compared to the love of a father and daughter. It is entirely different. One will be set aside for the other. In this way, all relationships pale in comparison to that of a person who loves his/her creator like a lover. All other considerations become irrelevant.
A bride spends time with her groom and does her best to please him. If she can prepare something nice and make him happy, then that is worth her time. As an artist, I find my work to be meaningless if I can not get a response out of God with it. It’s not worth my time. I know of many things that please God and give me that thrill of love. There are too many other ways to get that excitement for me to waste my time drawing if all I do is please myself by drawing.
The mental reward of your work is far more rewarding than the phyical rewards. So much so that you may even deny your physical needs working long hours just to achieve that mental satisfaction in your work. In the end it will be both physically and mentally satisfying because you gave it your all. This is a good sacrifice. Sometimes we struggle trying to make our work more ideal. This is our mental sacrifice. Though we struggle so much in the end it is both physically and mentally rewarding. Good artists are very familiar with this type of exhaustion and satisfaction. But how many artists can really say that their work was spiritually satisfying? This is that much more difficult but also that much more rewarding.
If I love someone then I will make sacrifices for them. But if I am going to make sacrifices then that person has to be able to make it up to me or eventually I will resent them for not being more beneficial to me than the things I gave up for them. Single people often think that finding someone to love will solve their problems. But then they get together and find that the other person also has problems and neither can resolve the other’s issues. Put your faith in another person and see just how fruitful it will be in the long run. Even if it feels great at first, I promise you when it ends you will have every bit as much misery as you had happiness in the beginning. In the end all you have left is scars and a caloused heart. You’ve made no progress and now it’s just that much harder to love others.
You have to put your faith in God first and love God first.
All of this may strike you as far too religous, but I have found that there really is no other way. Everything else ends in misery. Seriously think about it and do some research. Find a person in this world who is genuinely happy and not just enjoying satisfaction temporarily. The only way to have lasting peace and happiness is to have love for an eternally benevolent counterpart and to polish your character perfectly until you can match His perfection. This is the path to true satisfaction.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Try it. Get into a relationship and focus all your energy on a person of the opposite sex with relatively the same amount of character as yourself. Let’s see how long it takes for you to become disappointed with them. When it ends try to calculate how much closer you are to achieving your hopes and dreams. Count up all the wasted hours and wasted efforts it cost you. You might be able to produce some sad artwork out of your misery, something all the other miserable people can relate to. Then at least you will have the satisfaction of having related to other people. But for those of us who have experienced true happiness, we will make artwork out of that deep and thrilling love with God. Love without truth ends in misery. And that misery produces more misery. Love in truth produces more true love.
In all that I do I try to do it with love. I also try to devote all of my heart, will, and life to do my work. Doing a half-assed job never gets the job done. If you are going to do it you might as well do it well. That goes for life as well. We may not have chosen to come into this world, but now that we are here we might as well live it to the best of our ability. I learned these philosophies from my teacher. He taught me that this is the only kind of life that brings satisfaction. So if you are unsatisfied with your life then you might want to give this a try. If you are interested in hearing more then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Shaun McMillan
Chapters from Shaun’s book, “The Path of the Artist”