Wacom Presents: Stay Sane, Stay Creative 5 Tips for Being in a Box Without Being Boxed In

WACOM PRESENTS – A Work From Home Series

In a brand-new sponsored series on ArtStation, Wacom is featuring 10 artists who will share their tips and tricks on how they find inspiration and motivation while working from home. Check out ArtStation Magazine weekly to discover new featured artists and get inspired!

Esther Wu is a concept artist and visual development artist who has been working for the past 5 years on multiple AAA titles and has freelanced for other fields such as TV, films and mobile games. They are also an instructor at Brainstorm, teaching the Mech Design class (PD1), and is an avid Gundam lover. They currently reside in a box somewhere in Los Angeles, CA.

Being in a Box

Quarantine or not, the idea of working from home is a common lifestyle adjustment for artists. Many artists either start or transition to freelancers full-time, or freelance periodically. During this quarantine though, a lot of us have been put into this lifestyle. All of a sudden a daily scenic drive, a routine walk, or even that drink ‘n’ draw– have disappeared from our lives.

Throughout my career I’ve enjoyed both on-site work, as well as freelancing off-site. My routine has always changed between the two. When I get to be in a studio, I am surrounded by fantastic artists that keep me inspired, and a scenic drive to make my day feel engaging. However, even while in my room, surrounded by the same things, I still try to keep my creativity afloat. This article is to help those keep their creativity engaged, not just during the global pandemic, but also in the future if they find working from home a permanent solution.

Here are some tips and exercises to help keep creativity afloat:

1) A Daily Art Challenge That’s Not Your Immediate Work.

To start things off, there are a few things I try to do daily at least for either a week, or 2, and then take a break. I always heard the advice to do daily studies, but I like to add a theme or a twist to it. For instance, I used to do daily window studies of the same building structure at different times every day. This was mostly inspired by Nathan Fowkes’ gouache studies of his view outside of Dreamworks. Another theme I would recommend is portrait painting, or film studies (usually I pick from the same film for a week). These daily studies are great since they can help me either wind down, warm up, or learn something new.

In addition, this keeps a lot of my creativity engaged. As an digital and environment-focused artist, I may not get to explore outside that genre like portraits, characters, or even medium, like gouache.

2) Artistically Appreciating Your Window View

Little did I know, a grocery market front was going to be the keystone to my daily inspiration.

Part of being in a box, surrounded by four walls, we’ll notice that things start feeling mundane day in and day out. To remedy that, I look out my window to catch how the day changes, who’s walking by, or what birds or insects rest on my balcony. I create little stories about the joggers running with their dogs, or the late night construction workers who repaint the arrows on the street.

Because of #pleinapril though, I also ended up studying this grocery storefront for almost 30 days. It actually inspired me to wake up earlier too, as I wanted to watch how the overhang casted a shadow across the storefront and study it from a specific time. Sometimes when the sky was overcast, I would see how the storefront went from shadow to light.

I never lived in an area with some grand mountain view, or a breathtaking cityscape. In fact, while I was freelancing in Seattle, I lived in a small studio facing the courtyard, that never received sunlight.  But even in those circumstances, I would look and see how a tree’s leaves blew in the wind, the fashion statements of my neighbours, what would drive by– all finding small inspirations throughout the day that could help inspire my environment art or narrative story telling.

3) Give yourself a Month-long Portfolio Project

Aside from monthly challenges, I find a month-long personal project can also help keep yourself engaged. After all, we’re all artists, and we’ve got a portfolio to make! Maybe we can’t overhaul a portfolio in 4 weeks, but I believe something can come out of a month’s worth of time.

Now that I don’t have to travel to work, there’s more time to do some personal work, and to create a new addition for your portfolio. In late March, I explored the time to do longer, more moment paintings. These were my mech paintings. I took the time to do them on and off, to revisit them with fresh eyes whenever I can. In the end, I believed I learned more about painting, and took what I learned and applied them to my current work.


4) Revisiting Art Inspirations

Museums are closed, theatres are closed… Now’s the time to dust off some book covers. For me, I have an ever growing library collection. Books ranging from “art of’s” to “how to’s” and more. Every now and then I open up “Creative Illustration ”(Andrew Loomis) and “Colour and Light” (James Gurney), which I’ve referred to since the start of my art career. Other books I love looking through for some inspiration includes Art of Spiderverse, Art of Destiny, and Art of Metal Gear Solid. I used to collect artbooks, picture books, and museum collection books when I was a teen. Back in my parent’s home, I have older art textbooks that I would glance through every once in a while, covering regions and movements such as impressionism, French romanticism, Dutch baroque, and American Western art. These were a wealth of inspiration for me when I started learning how to draw.

At the same time though, I also enjoy rewatching a few things every now and then. I particularly love old 90s and 2000s anime, as it was a fond moment throughout my teenage years. Take this time at home to recreate the Saturday morning cartoons.

I’ve also personally caught up on video games I haven’t caught up on in a while. They are a huge part of my artistic journey and inspiration, and although some people may not have the luxury to really dig into the hours of some games, this has been a good time to brush off the dust on my console and play a new game or revisit an old one. Amongst my list has been Uncharted, Death Stranding, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Dragon Quest 11.

Artwork of colleagues whose monthly challenges inspire me every year

5) Friendly Competition

Last by not least, find inspiration from your peers and the community. It is hashtag galore on social media! Arstation’s #artjam, Schoolism’s 90minartchallenge, Procreate’s #ProcreateCarepack and the popular #6fanartschallenge ! There are other art challenges to engage in, such as this month’s #maysketchaday, #mermay, #MarchofRobots (another favourite!) and #creatuanary. I find that they offer a new challenge and new subjects to paint, to explore. A new challenge awaits with each one.

The previous month was #pleinapril, which is a personal favourite of mine. I took this month’s time to practise a medium I’ve always found challenging– gouache. Thirty minutes to an hour each day, I would take a break to paint outside my balcony.

It helped form a new habit, and it gave me a break from my immediate (digital) work. It also provided me with an opportunity to contribute to a growing community (in this case, the Warrior Painters, a group dedicated to plein air painting in our entertainment community) .

Even if you don’t necessarily participate, and this goes along with the monthly art challenges, the community is always pumping out new artwork. I love seeing what my friends produce and their takes on the challenges. It inspires me to try new things, and at the same time, offer encouragement and support for them. In a way, this is also about giving back to the community and fostering each other’s growth, which I find helps not feeling like we’re stuck in a small room.


At the end of the day….

I hope these 5 tidbits and exercises help keep you engaged. This global pandemic can create a mental stress, either by taking away daily routines and surroundings, or feeling physically boxed in. I find that it can be particularly difficult pushing forward to do art, personal or professional.

In conclusion, I find a mix of finding art inspirations, participating with the community, and keeping yourself engaged with some studies or relaxing art studies, particularly rewarding during these times. I hope these will help many others as well.

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