The whole point of doing this blog, is to have some sort of work-in-progress place for Atari-related projects I'm working on. This will include stuff like my Video Mods Comparison Project (which is need of an update), the Stella at 20 DVD, and artwork for homebrew games.
So this weekend, it's all about the artwork.
The homebrew scene is something very exciting to me. I'd always wanted to make my own games back-in-the-day, but never learned to program. I made the attempt at it, but discovered my brain just isn't wired the right way. I suppose it's true that if you really apply yourself, you can learn anything, but I think you have to have a predisposition towards learning that thing, in order to actually be proficient at it.
For me, art won out over programming. I've been drawing my entire life, or at least since I was able to hold a crayon and scribble with it. Pretty much everyone draws when they're a little kid, but I never stopped. My dad would bring home used (but still working) Flair fine-tipped felt pens from work, so I always had something to draw with. We also had stacks of stationary from a company where my aunt had worked (Lamping & Company), so I always had nice paper to draw on. I'm not sure why we had the paper, but I think they must have changed the design of their logo, and had the old stuff left over.
For me, drawing was part of playing, too. I could draw cars having cross-country races, or demolition derbies. I could invent space ships and create intergalactic wars. All on paper. Sure, I had toys, too - Hot Wheels, model kits, G.I. Joes, Star Wars - but drawing allowed me to create toys and entire worlds that nobody else had.
I drew at school, too. I covered my notebooks (and sometimes my homework) with cartoons. If I could find a way to draw for an assignment, I would. Even in computer programming classes (BASIC on an Apple II) I used programming to make the computer draw and animate pictures. I wanted to program games, but just couldn't get past the learning curve. Math and I have never gotten along very well.
The odd thing about all of this, is that despite having a predisposition for drawing, and having drawn my entire life, and having taken every art class that my schools had offered, by the time I got to college, I had no idea what my major was going to be. The problem was that in high school, we had to take these career aptitude tests (not sure what the actual test name was) which were absolutely useless. For some reason, mine said I was best suited for working at a gas station. Or maybe Taco Bell. Anyway, when they told me the results, that was that. It was basically presented as fact. There was no "well, what would you like to do?". No effort was made to find out what I enjoyed doing, or what I was actually adept at. Nobody told me that there was an entire world of people who are paid to be artists for a living, and colleges where they can study to do just that.
It took me years to figure that out on my own. But that's another (lengthy) story.
In the end, I spent about eight years, spread over three colleges, studying art. I drew more in those years than the rest of my life combined. I learned a lot about art. I even found work as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator. And what did I end up doing for a living?
I'm a technician for a couple of computer labs.
You see, I discovered I really don't like being an artist for a living. Because I found out that you almost never get to draw for yourself. You're always answering to clients or art directors or other people with absolutely no taste, who are telling you why what you just created for them is completely wrong.
I burned out on drawing so badly, I put down the pencil and paper for years. Years. So I stopped looking for work as an artist. Stopped updating my portfolio, stopped picking up freelance work, just stopped.
I just kept working as a technician instead. How that happened is another long story, but I ended up running a couple of Mac labs at an art college. So, despite giving up on my own art, I've been surrounded on a daily basis by art and artists all along. I'm still part of the art industry. But I'm doing it at a place where the artists still have freedom to create what they want to, and my job helps to enable them to do that. And the best part of it is, nobody calls into question my artistic sensibilities when I'm fixing computers. It either works, or it doesn't. At the end of the day, I don't feel like I've been wasting my abilities on clients or art directors who don't happen to agree with the particular shade of blue I've been using.
The other nice side-effect of giving up drawing for a living, is that I'm drawing for myself again.
For that, I have to give some credit to the homebrew scene.
It all started with the Climber 5 label contest. I'd always wanted to make video games, and being able to create a label for one seemed like the next best thing. And since there was no pressure, no restrictions, and it was for something I liked (video games), I really enjoyed creating my entries. I began to rediscover the fun I used to have while cartooning as a kid.
Now, I lost that contest and the Backfire one (although I still really like the logo I did for that one), but it didn't matter. I was beginning to rediscover my love of creating art.
After I won the Krokodile Cart contest (much to my surprise) I began to use the label contests as a way to experiment. Different styles, different techniques. I began throwing a lot of entries at the contests. Not to increase my chances of winning, but because I was enjoying "playing with art" all over again. Winning another two contests in a row was icing on the cake. Confirmation that I could still draw, after all that time away from it.
When Billy Eno asked me to come up with a new label for Warring Worms, I jumped at the chance. I couldn't wait to get working on it, and try out some of the stuff I'd been playing with on the other labels. I spent a lot of hours on it, and in the end I was very pleased with the final results. I hope it helps him sell a lot of games. I hope people enjoy the label. It's meant to be fun. It's meant to be enjoyed.
Since then, I've been refining my techniques more, and settling into a production method I really like. It pretty much crystalized while working on my entries for the Go Fish! contest. Even though I lost that one (and rightly so - Renato's work is excellent), I didn't mind because I'd come up with some more techniques that helped me create the kind of art I wanted to. Techniques I'm using on my current label project, and the focus of this weekend's efforts: RPS.
RPS is Billy Eno's version of Rock Paper Scissors for the 2600. What a great idea for a game! I had visited the World RPS Society website a few years ago, and really liked their over-the-top approach to the whole thing. So when Billy asked me to do the label, and told me his game was in the same spirit as the World RPS Society, I immediately dove in.
Some label designs are so clear to me, that they end up being the only designs I do. The Krokodile Cart was like that, as was Warring Worms. RPS, not so much.
I ended up sending five designs to Billy, four of them being quite different from each other. That's not to say I didn't have a clear favorite - I did. I had an idea that I obsessed over, knowing full well that Billy might reject it. It was in a style of drawing that I'd never attempted before, and one I had to research, and re-work over and over until it looked authentic. And this was just for a version good enough to be a "rough".
Fortunately, despite the rather obscure premise for the design, Billy liked the idea and went with it. I still liked the other ideas that were rejected (I never would have sent them over otherwise), but I was extremely pleased he chose my favorite. The finished line art was completed in mid-August, and just needed to be painted in Photoshop.
Unfortunately, I've been so buried at work for the past six weeks, I haven't had the time (or creative energy left at the end of the day) to work on it. But things are easing up now, and RPS has my undivided attention this weekend.
Well, except for this stupid blog.