The magic feather

Every so often, I get an email or comment, and it goes like this:

“Hi NR. I love your artwork. I want to color like you. What art programs do you use?”

As if good art skills are just something that can be bought (or in Photoshop’s case, hacked) off the internet. I was young and naive once, too. I thought getting Photoshop would solve all my problems. So I downloaded a demo of Photoshop 5. And I couldn’t make it do anything better than my archaic version of Paint Shop Pro.

What I was making in Paint Shop Pro:

What I made immediately afterward in Photoshop. Notice the lens flare.

See, the problem was not the program. The problem was me.

Over the years, as I studied and took classes and read books and practiced, my art skills improved. So my digital painting skills improved, too. I just applied things I learned in real media.

Or, to put it another way, the magic feather wasn’t magic. The magic was in me.

But everybody wants a magic feather. I guess nobody wants to do the work to get their skill up? I don’t know.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to just artists. Tools for writers like Scrivners are touted as the Best Thing EVER. If you buy this product, you will be published before the year is out!

But the magic isn’t in the tool. The magic is in you. The tool just helps you focus your magic, kind of like the wands in Harry Potter. And most of that magic is hard work.

I’ve seen lots of statistics about it. Innate talent is about 20% of the reason for success. The other 80% is hard work. Hours and hours of hard work. If you’re an artist, it’s the hard work spent adjusting your values and your masses and agonizing over details. If you’re a writer, it’s the hard work spent revising and rewriting.

But it pays off, if you’re willing to put in the hours.


7 thoughts on “The magic feather

  1. I have always known this, you don’t get anything by sitting and wishing something would happen. It has to be work all of the time. I know with each thing I make now, It is going to take hours and hours of work to get to the place I see in my head. That saying ” practice makes perfect, ” left out one thing, it didn’t say it had to be done by hours and hours of practice. I think it helps though to have passion. That makes you do what you love when you are so tired. It makes you pick up in my case the needle or the hook. Very good post. It motivates me to keep on working.
    When you were little and you said to me when I was lamenting my lack of artistic talent. ” Mom, I don’t have much talent either, but I work at harder than most so that it looks like I do, it isn’t how much talent you have, it is how hard you are willing to work.” You were about 12 and It completely rocked my world. It applies to all of life.


  2. To be fair, if someone’s “just starting out” comparatively speaking, they likely don’t know what programs work best for what they want to do in the first place. And if they can find someone whose art they like, obviously that person found something that works for them. “What program do you use?” often translates as “what program works best for you?”

    Imagine buying finger paints because you want to imitate your favorite painter, when unbeknownst to you, they use watercolors or oil paints. It doesn’t matter if you have exceptional painting skills–what you make with finger paints still isn’t going to look the same as what they made with watercolors or oil paints. And if you spend months or years learning to be good at finger paints, only to realize working with watercolors or oil paints is a very different experience, it may be rather discouraging.


    1. Sure, they want to know what medium the artist works in. I was astonished to find out that Bev Doolittle did all of her paintings in watercolor. But the medium isn’t a magic feather leading to instant greatness. Just like slapping lens flare on every scribble isn’t going to make the art good. But beginners often try to find an easy shortcut around the hard work, so they sniff for a magic feather.


  3. That is precisely why I never really strayed from pixel art. I know where my art skills lie, and where I can improve them. Photoshop doesn’t make my art better. I make my art better.

    It is kind of fun to see how your art has changed over the years though, isn’t it? XD You’ve really improved in leaps and bounds!


    1. Isn’t it fun to see? My art skill was exactly the same whether I used Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, too. Alas, as a newbie artist, I didn’t understand that.

      Someday, when you get the chance, take life drawing. Everybody I know who’s taken it has improved their art astronomically.


  4. Wow. What a difference practice makes.

    Out of curiosity, please may I know how old are the images in this post? I can see that the last one has been signed and dated from 2007 but it appears that you didn’t sign your older works.

    Anyway. This gives me hope that maybe someday, if I stick with this, I’ll improve.

    My own skills are not terrible and I agree with you about the need to be willing to invest time but… When it comes to digital art… I do understand. There is also a need to ask about programs.

    Up until about a week ago, the only art program I’d ever worked with on a computer was MSPaint. Simply because that was the only art program on my computer. But I’ve just recently joined an online art community, where we’re submitting ideas for designs to be put on clothes and such. So I’ve had to ditch MSPaint because no matter how good my ideas might be, no matter how semi-okay my art skills are… MSPaint saves images as .bmp files and the contest site does not accept submissions in that format. I respect but can’t afford Illustrator. I had to asking other artists for their help and guidance. Thanks to their feedback, I’ve been able to download the art programs GIMP and Inkscape – both of which are free. So nowmy computer has the ability to create images in the correct formats for this competition. It’s just a matter of my learning to work with these programs which is going to take time. I’ve only had GIMP for about a week and Inkscape for…uhm…about half an hour now. So I KNOW I’ve got a really long way to go… But at least I’m going, yea? If I hadn’t asked, I would still be stuck without an art program that could allow me to particpate. Hence I don’t regret asking. And I don’t begrudge anyone else the right to ask, either.

    Sometimes, it’s not a magic feather that we’re really looking for. Sometimes, it’s just a roadsign that lets us know we’re on the right track. *shrugs*


  5. Dora: That’s not the kind of asking I’m talking about. You honestly needed a better tool and you’d exceeded the capabilities of your current tool. I’ve also heard good things about the Sai paint tool, but I think it costs money, too. Deviantart has an art applet built into their website now, but I’ve only had limited results with it.

    It’s the newbies who stick lens flare all over their crappy pencil drawings who I’m talking about. *shifty eyes*

    Also, those old drawings were in a folder marked 97-2007. Since they’re on the older side, and Sonic Adventure came out in 99, I’m thinking probably 2000.


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