Anando Banerjee: Five things successful game artists do

Anando Banerjee
Over the course of the 20 years during which I’ve been in game and game art development, I have had the opportunity to observe closely the careers of many talented artists. Of the artists who started their careers 15 or even 20 years ago, some have achieved great success. They are art directors in game art or game development studios and have a great body of work behind them. Many others, though, who started their careers at about the same time, have never made it past a senior artist position. So, what separates the achievers from the also-rans? Talent is definitely a key factor but it’s not the only one, and many times not the most important one. Listed below are 5 things most successful artists do, and which separates them from others: 1> They never stop being students: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Most of the artists who have achieved significant success in their careers have never stopped being students. They take time out regularly even now to hone their skills. And they stay hungry as ever to learn new skills and tools. On the other hand, artists who no longer actively work to enhance their skills – maybe because life has gotten busy or maybe because they have been in the field for a long time and feel that they already know enough – run the risk of soon falling by the wayside. Many of them, to their dismay, find themselves become increasingly marginalized as younger artists and newer tools reduce their relevance. The story goes that once two champion wood-cutters decided to take part in a wood chopping contest to see who was better. Both were given a pile of logs to chop into smaller bits. The first wood-cutter attacked his pile of logs with gusto, and chopped the logs all day without a break. The second wood-cutter seemed a lot less diligent and would take a break every hour or so. At the end of the day, though, it was discovered that the second wood-cutter had chopped more wood than the first one. “But how’s that possible,” asked the first wood-cutter. “You took so many breaks.” “Every time I took a break,” said the second wood-cutter, “I was actually sharpening my axe.” As an artist, it is critical that you keep honing your skills constantly, sharpening your axe, so to speak.. This is all the more true for the gaming industry where tools and technologies can change rather quickly, and artists who don’t continually invest time in learning new skills, and improving the ones that they have, risk being left behind.   2> They have clear career goals: Most successful artists have clear career goals. They know where they want to go professionally, and usually have a good idea of how they can get there. In contrast, a lot of talented artists just drift through our work life with only a vague idea of what they want to achieve professionally. Not surprisingly, they don’t have much of a plan either of how they will get to their goal. Those who get ahead typically have a good idea of what they want to achieve – and they consciously work towards such goals. To start with, define what success means to you – is it big money or fame or a great portfolio of work or the freedom to create the kind of art you want to. It’s usually very difficult to get all of these in life so pick one, maybe two and then work on your career goals. Choose wisely! Further, while it’s important to have long term goals, it’s how one breaks down such long term goals into shorter, more meaningful goals that makes a difference. Not only should you have a goal for where you want to be as an artist in five years (perhaps a lead artist?) But just as importantly, have a clear goal of what you need to learn or achieve in the next three months to get to get closer your five year goal (for example, maybe learn a new tool like substance designer in order to stay abreast of the newest tools). Having short term goals, and committing to them, is critical for an artist to succeed.   3> They are disciplined: There is this great myth amongst many artists that discipline is anathema to artists. That if an artist is to give his best, he cannot be bound to a life of discipline. That discipline hinders the flow of creativity. Unless you are an artist creating art solely for your enjoyment, nothing could be further from the truth. Most successful game artists that I know understand this only too well! Without discipline, it’s extremely difficult to get things done on time or as per plan. Its discipline that enables us a spend a little time every day on self-development even when we are going through a really busy patch. And its discipline that helps us to keep walking towards our goals (whether it is to complete work on an art asset in the planned amount of time or to get promoted to the next role in the next one year). Successful artists know that discipline in daily life is not something to be loathed but rather embraced.   4> They actively seek feedback and criticism: We all love it when others praise or appreciate our work. Such praise or appreciation can go a long way in boosting our confidence, and providing motivation to chase excellence. For an artist or a creative person though, constructive criticism and honest feedback are equally important, for they offer true opportunities for growth. However good we may be as artists, there is always room for improvement. After a point, though, our own critic may not be able to tell us what we could be doing differently, or what we need to improve, in order to create better art. And this is where the feedback of peers and co-workers comes handy. Successful artists seek feedback on their work fearlessly, and consider each piece of feedback dispassionately. In order to get good feedback though, one needs to be specific about the areas in which we seek feedback. Suppose you’ve created an illustration and would like others to give you feedback. Don’t just ask “How’s this illustration?” Instead ask specific questions such as “How do you like the composition” or “What do you think of the colours?” In order to become a better artist, constantly seek feedback. Learn to differentiate between good feedback and bad. Don’t take negative feedback too personally.   5> They are good team players:  The days of the rockstar artist or developer are increasingly numbered. Game development often requires large multi-talented, multi-locational teams to work closely together and no one really wants on their team artists who may be highly talented but are too self-centered and have inflated egos. Most successful artists that I know are good team players and tend to have excellent people connect. Be easy to work with. Learn to communicate and collaborate well with your colleagues or partners. Put the team’s needs above your needs. (This article has been contributed by Anando Banerjee. He is one of the prominent names in the Indian gaming industry and is currently placed as the production head of Lakshya Digital. Anando has 20 years of experience in the gaming circuit and  is also a member of the Advisory Council for NASSCOM’s Gaming Forum.)