The Way of the Artist – Part Two (of two)

Rene Arreola

Reflecting on the year that was 2019.

I’m going to delve into what I’ve learned about crafting my original intellectual property, The Realm Ethereal, over the past year. At the beginning of 2019, I started working independently, full-time, and, for the first time, from home as an artist.

Am I a comic book artist or a fantasy artist?

The pickle I have been in over the last year is precisely that: I am trying to be both. Now, you would think “Hey, you’re an artist, just make art. Comics and paintings are both art, right?” They are both art, but each one requires a certain laser-focused attention devoted to it to make them really successful.

What I’m considering is doubling-down, “going niche” as they say. In this past year, I would say my painting output is what has really skyrocketed. That’s because I had a goal of releasing a new painting each month. What suffered as a result of that goal was my comic book output.

While I did manage to write and illustrate over 30 pages of comic book story this year, it is nothing worth bragging that it took me a year to complete those 30 and some odd pages under the premise that I would release a new page each week. That clearly did not happen this year. As an artist making comic books, I feel like I let myself down as well as anyone who was following along and reading it. Perhaps I wasn’t working hard enough? Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself?

I crafted each of those comic book pages entirely on my own. Here’s what I did: plot, write, pencil, ink, color, letter, and edit. Every single page. Perhaps taking a year to produce 30 pages isn’t so bad? However, if you’re the end-consumer, the reader, it pretty much sucks to wait over the course of a year to read 30 pages worth of story, right? Right.

A decision has to be made on what to focus on for 2020.

As I write this blog and just having completed my final Realm Ethereal painting for 2019, I’m preparing to turn my attention back to the final story pages for The Realm Ethereal comic book chapter one “The Dreamer and The Dreamed”. It’s very close to completion, I just need get back in gear for it and complete it. This requires a different mental mindset in order to marshal what are essentially the same artistic skills, but for a different end product.

The role of a fantasy artist working to illustrate a part of a story or a concept with one image can be just as daunting as a comic book artist telling a story over 100 to 130 comic book panels spread out over 22-30 comic book pages. Each form of storytelling requires laser-focused commitment and concentration. The thing is, which one am I going to commit 100% to in 2020?

Does it have to be one or the other? And why? 

If I’m being pragmatic, then I must pick one and focus on it. If I’m being realistic and admitting what I already know about myself and my habits, then the reality is this: I’ll constantly be torn between wanting to make comics and paintings.

For me, this is the way of the artist. The artist always sees himself as having options, moving things around, trying different compositions or color palettes. Experimenting with this and that, and with that and this. Or, trying some of this….or, wait, trying some of that–! All the while being pulled in different directions, potentially lessening the full impact of any one artistic pursuit.

The best laid plans…

2019 was a good year of experimenting with art styles, writing dialogue based on a scant plot, and seeing how much I could push my drawing fundamentals while learning and executing illustrations digitally. I see this past year as my art time being spent in a blender. Mixing it all together and waiting for a solid year to see what mixed well and what didn’t.

Me trying to make a comic book when it was never artistically my full focus caused the rate of comic book story and art output to falter. Although I believe my painting prowess is much better than it was a year ago, I do imagine what my paintings could be really like if I told myself “you are 100% a fantasy artist”. I believe the weak link in 2019 has been my comic book art. I’ve worked all year on making comic book pages alongside my paintings. I need to make some adjustment if I’m to make the kind of comic books I envision.

Since I still want to make comics, but want to make them to the best of my ability, I’m going to focus first on writing the next story for The Realm Ethereal. After that, I’m going to fully thumbnail the entire comic book. And once that is complete, I plan to actually go back to penciling on actual paper and then inking the artwork digitally.

What is the aim of all this? I’m going to take my time with the comic book so it will actually come out better. It won’t be released as weekly pages because I’m not mentally set up for that. By the time I fully promote any of it, I will have fully crafted an entire issue (or graphic novel). Although for the length of time I’ll be disappearing off the radar in terms of making comics, a graphic novel seems more worth the wait.

I’m going to start off 2020 focused on making more paintings.

From the outside looking in, I’m going to really focus on being a “fantasy artist”. Meanwhile, in the background, I’ll be treating my comic book work as more long term projects. And rightly so, since there are a lot more moving parts when it comes to what is essentially the production of a story with pictures book. Don’t worry though, from the inside looking out, I’ll still be sharing progress here and there of my comic book work.

I remember the feeling I had back in 2018, of being immensely excited about what 2019 would bring. My overall growth as an artist in 2019 has been good. When it’s all said and done, 2019 still has to be one of my most productive years as an artist. The small body of work I’ve created with my paintings for The Realm Ethereal has a relatively unified look. And that’s a good thing. On an art fundamentals level, I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2020, with the goal of becoming even more laser-focused on my craft. Tightening up my figure drawing even more. Getting my perspective drawing in check and up to snuff. You know, all that “fun” stuff.

On a holistic level, I will continue to focus on “the way of the artist”, which is to never stop experimenting, to realize there are options out there that I may not even be aware of, and to develop more of an open mind with a sharpened eye. Here’s to continued excitement and anticipation in the year 2020! ■

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Rene Arreola © 2020