Friday, July 20, 2012

I think the internet broke my brain.

I can't draw. 

That's a pretty big problem, because that's supposed to be my thing. I have all the technical knowledge and muscle memory, but as soon as pencil connects to paper it's a total system shut down. I can still create images at work at the quantity and quality to justify my salary, but my personal sketchbooks have been as dry as a bone for months. 

For all of that time I've been trying to find solutions. I've tried taking a break from it in the hope that I would feel recharged. Changing mediums is typically a great way to break out of a creative slump. I've also tried forcing it, pencilling a twenty five page comic of my own, hoping it would simply break the dam. Finally, I mentioned this issue to my wife and she handed me an epiphany in five minutes:

I am completely saturated by imagery. 

You see, when I try and fail to draw something, I don't just freeze up. A voice inside me screams "It's been done!". Every time I try to sketch out an idea, I see the ghosts of a dozen other iterations of the same thing. Ten thousand dragons have fought ten thousand knights in front of ten thousand castles. Why add yet one more voice to the chittering cacophony? 

knights knights knights knights knights knights

There was a great article at called "Why Hollywood sucks (And it's our fault)". Reason number one was that we're too media savvy. We've reached a saturation point where we have too much access to media. This was my favorite quote from the article:
If you've heard all of the songs a million times before, even the most talented musician in the world can only issue remixes.

Read more: 4 Reasons Hollywood Sucks (And It's All Our Fault) |
There are THOUSANDS of these zbrush aliens, each mushier than the last.

I comb the internet every single day, consuming images. I have countless folders, divided into thematic subsections, for saving the images I like (for example: Fantasy>Fantasy Characters>Protagonist>Heroic/Anti-Hero/Magic or SciFi>NearFuture>Tech>Robotic>Android/Cyborg/Exo). Each one is full. Dozens and dozens of images that all fit comfortably within specific genre/theme parameters. Why bother drawing a charming female rogue when I have a basket full of them? What's the point in designing a zombie when I could show you my storage facility full of every shade of zombie design imaginable?

Dragons dragons dragons dragons dragons dragons dragons

So, what does this mean? I'm still working that out. I told my wife that some day I'd love to take some carpentry courses, maybe start making tables and chairs. There's something appealing about the simplicity of carpentry. Building beautiful, useful objects with your own hands, just you and the smell of sawdust in your workshop. Until you start joining online carpentry forums...

Does the intense overload of imagery and information made possible by the internet make this a new problem? Did people struggle with this issue when the printing press hit its stride? Is there anyone out there who has moved through this problem to the other side? Because if so...I could use a hand over this wall. 


  1. Matt wrote: You see, when I try and fail to draw something, I don't just freeze up. A voice inside me screams "It's been done!".

    Don't worry about that. Really. No artist has had a completely original thought in at least 10,000 years. And that's true of the visual arts, writers, musicians, etc. All art builds upon that which came before.

    So don't worry about being original. Just tell (or in your case show) the truth to the best of your ability.

  2. hey Matt,

    I understand what you are going through. I've been going through a similar strike these past few months.

    When talking to my friend and co-worker Thomas Pringle we came to the conclusion that cghub and artists blogs have way too many artists doing the same old ideas over and over again. so it is hard to come up with something fresh, new and exciting that keeps you going. Add to that drawing multiple space boxes or the iteration on kinght costumes at work and you can become really jaded really fast. I've seen it happen to some friends of mine and I don't want that to happen to me.

    The solution I'm trying to come up with is to find again the reason why I like to draw in the first place. Try to take away the pressure from having to post it on my blog or "it has to be better than the last one so that I can put it in my portfolio" and just draw for myself. I don't really have to show it to anybody so I can doodle away while watching a movie or just when the moment comes. Try not to compare it with other artists work and just draw because you like it to.

    It's easier said than done but I'm am trying. It's always good to take the time and take a break. I've tried to reduce my visits to cghub and facebook etc and read more about stuff I like instead.

    I know what you are going through and I hope it doesn't last too long for you. you are a talented artist and I'm sure you'll be back at it when you are ready.

    Hope this helps


  3. Well - not sure it.s the same things in my head and yours. But for me, the problem is the stories we're telling. All those knights and dragons are feeling generic - because they are. Gaming is a bubble where stories don't matter. Its just porn for the players. The spells and combat mechanics replace the sex - but its the same simplistic wish fufilment. Sure, some games bring some small bit of originality - but none of it is in the hands of the concept artist. We're expected to pulp out tighter and tighter renditions of the same trodden tropes. (ar least when you're on a AAA title). The designers and programmers are the only real innovators. My opinion - don't worry about losing the spark for RPGs - its not you. It's them.

  4. Great post, Matt.
    I feel the exact same way.
    Currently, my 'inspiration folder' is over 4000 images.
    That's not good.

    Coincidentally, I've found the same outlet, and have been doing carpentry for fun.
    I just built an oak taboret for my studio.
    There is something really forgiving about working with such a hard wood, I think you'll really like it.

    It was a great way to start my days.
    I n the morning, I wasn't quite yet ready to paint, so I would work on the taboret for a few hours. That sort of prepped my brain for work later on.

    3 hours of carpentry, 8 hours of painting, and before I knew it I had a finished piece of furniture, and a painting in about a week.

  5. I have struggled with this too, so please let me rant a bit about it.

    Other commenters above me have said this and it's true: you're stuck in a very stagnant genre. Video games, movies, "concept art" have become horribly inbred in the past decade. Originality has been chased out of the system BY DESIGN. It's not that there aren't plenty of wonderful fresh new ideas -- they're just not welcome. Artists instead are rewarded for staying conservative, and repeating what's been done already albeit at a high level of technical skill.

    Eventually, a lot of people realize how hollow it feels and how little it resonates with the subtleties of real life. What the heck is a "knight," anyway?! I've never met one. I don't know what they're like. I've met soldiers, but videogame soldiers are nothing like them. I have friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances, enemies... and I don't see much in the movies or videogames which reminds me of them or why they're all so interesting and lovable.

    The answer is to look at your real life! Even if your life seems "boring" compared to knights and dragons, I guarantee it's more interesting because it's real, specific, unique to you. Your experiences, your emotions, your pain, your memories, your friends. Bring more of it into your work. The cliches and conventions of your genre encourage conformity and don't let you express how the world makes you feel. Let your inner life come out through your work, even if it makes your work less commercial or "accessible" for a while.

    And if you have to look at inspiration, get away from "concept art" and cast a wider net. Look at modern art, folk art, surrealism, even weird conceptual art -- and look at it with an open heart, to take note of how it makes you feel, even when the image isn't literal.

    You will get through this period of frustration and you will be a better artist when you come out the other side. It's really not you, it's everything else that's the problem.

  6. Hey! I found your article through Muddy Colors and I find it REAL weird because I've just come to that same "image saturation" conclusion as you did.

    The solution I'm currently trying out is to cut myself off. Of the 250ish RSS feeds that I was gobbling daily, I kept about 25 of the most meaningful and I only look at them once a week (Friday night, actually).

    It's been a week and a half and it works. My personnal production has increased by infinity. (I started something... as opposed to doing nothing.)

    Just my two cents. You're not alone and I strongly believe there's a way out.

  7. I can't say I've ever had a block quite as serious as yours, but here's my advice (I hope it helps):

    1) Stop looking at your reference collection for a while. This was said above and rings true. Take a break from consuming content.

    2) Look to nature for inspiration. This always helps me. Draw some insects, leaves, people, clouds, mountains, anything REAL. Try to look at your subjects in different ways.

    3) Juxtaposition. This one is difficult but can be very satisfying when it works. Try to make strange combinations of subject matter. Maybe you are drinking coffee and a fly buzzes near your head. Draw a fly drinking a cup of coffee. The results of such experiments are often humorous, and once in a while you'll have an idea that reinvigorates your creativity like you never thought possible.

  8. Great responses, and a great post. I totally agree with the oversaturation problem. I have to many bloated inspiration folders... so many taht I don't even look at them anymore. I "save as" for the sake of "saving as". Lately I've found it more fun to look at other sources as well. Fashion, literature, historical photos, nature and nature photography. Genre art, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero stuff all suffers from inbreeding and it's really tough to get away from it. I think another good thing to do is go back to the sources or the outliers that are doing something great with the genres. (Miyazaki comes to mind)

    I'm really glad you posted this! I'm going to have to post about your post on my blog!

  9. Thing is, whether cognizant of it or not, your previous work was an amalgamation of other images you'd seen. How do you draw a knight without ever having seen one? You don't. You see what a knight looks like, and then you draw *your* knight. The fact that it has a label speaks of why it seems stale. It's because labeling something is grouping a set of characteristics together. A knight is a set of visual ques that let you know it's a knight. If it doesn't have some portion of those ques, it isn't a knight.

    I think this may be a conceptual problem. It's not necessarily about what's the same about the thousand knights you've seen, the various recipes for that image. It's about what hasn't been added to the stew that can be. That's all these particular labels are, they're just a recipe of visual ingredients. A sandwich isn't a sandwich without bread holding some internal bits, but what those internal bits are, and the arrangement of the bread, can vary infinitely. And where "original" concepts are found isn't in the crazed half light of spontaneous invention. Often it's throwing elements at the wall that shouldn't work, and then working them until they do.

    Put it this way, you might be looking at carpentry, but tables have a longer history than knights, and there's just as many ways to see the thousands of tables in the world. The thing that makes your knight, or your table special isn't that it's radically different from every other table or knight, it's that you made it. There is an alchemy of your experiences and the reference material you bring to the piece that cannot be replicated by any other human being. That's what always helps me over this particular thought process. It's the knowledge that, while subjectively what I draw might not be mind blowingly original to everyone who sees it, it is still my unique recipe. And while Batman is just a tarted up Zorro, who's just a tarted up Scarlet pimpernel, it's not like any of those three lose potency separately.

  10. I often feel the same way when I am trying to nail a concept. What I have found that works for my own "dry sketchbook syndrome" is to do a few random organic shapes, flip the page, and make something out of them that has no bearing on anything else that I am working on. It doesn't seem productive until something that I have randomly produced creates a back story and shows up later in my work in some way. Even five to ten minutes of stream of consciousness doodling can make a big difference. Good luck, Matt!

  11. I personally think there are real limits to how much you should do if you want it to be good. Maybe put down the pen, the forums, the critics etc for a month and take up wood work, walk in the forest, sleep late, go for a swim (I personally recommend time underwater, its very rejuvenating, for me.).

    Let Matt come out to play again, when he's back art (not just imgaes) will pour out, because that is who Matt is.

  12. Wow, this tread really sparked something in a lot of people. I think there are very valid points in what all of you are saying.

    I do not think that this is a matter of being original either, just over exposed.
    For me, working with concept art is very different from doing art on my spare time. We create iterations, think in selling terms when designing (is this appealing enough? etc.), is it unique enough but still recognizable?
    This is to a point fairly easy, and you usually have a Art Director or peers to discuss with, marks to hit etc, making the process (at least for me) more mechanical. If we have a set of rules to follow we just need to expand on those and develop the ideas further.

    This is to me the opposite of painting on my spare time. Like some of you I really do not have any other creative outlet. carpentry, wood works, you name it. My wife is really creative, constantly doing something creative, locked in her own bubble and I can really envy that at times.
    However, I paint. And I think it is vital that when we do it on our spare time we do it because we love doing it. There is no need to pressure ourselves with being original, or really doing anything spectacular in general.
    I think that it was Paul Richards (and probably a lot of other artists ^^) who wrote that it is our fear to create that is one of our worst enemy. If and when we post our personal works somewhere on the web the people watching it might make references to other works of art but I really don't think that matters. Paint for the fun of it, nothing more, nothing less.
    If I freeze up I try and think of of why. Most of the times it is because I am doing the imagery for the wrong reasons (being too inspired by other great artists, making something really cool and original. making my best piece yet! etc.)

    You obviously have been thinking about your freeze and by doing that you have started a great discussion.

    All the best to you and I really hope that you will find your creative juices again :3


  13. I've been experiencing the same thing for a year and it left me almost hating my craft. Or rather, my inability to use this knowledge for anything interesting.

    However, I've found that by simply unplugging the internet I am more productive. Create a new User account on your PC called Work, only install photoshop and nothing else. Don't save any bookmarks, don't use IM's just Photoshop.

    This help me focus, but I'm still struggling with the discipline, being online for over 10 years is a tough habit to break. It's like an addiction to go to these forums and consume knowledge leaving you mentally exhausted before you even start working.

  14. i think this is a known problem that has marked the beginning of post-modernism even before the internet, mainly with writers for some reason.

    unlike writing, fantasy drawing was, at list for me, something uncharted, undefined by the main culture. i could sit in front of the paper and anything could'v happened. and now, like you, it is no longer an escape for me. it is a known language with rules and many speakers.

    what i ended up doing is getting more into architecture and photography and leaving the drawing only to my subconscious, only to express emotions i know i can not express with words.

    i hope it helps, and it is definitely not only you, but also writers, painters, architects, musicians.

    we need to find new uncharted territory.

  15. Great post :) I know myself and others have been having the same problem - it's always made worse when someone points the similarities of your images to another's image - especially when you genuinely had no knowledge of the previous artist's picture! :(

    At first, I was really distressed by this. I was so worried that people would think I'd stolen other people's ideas, and it's nigh on impossible to prove otherwise. I then felt stuck in a creative hole, where I felt I couldn't think up my own ideas, and I stagnated.

    My solution to this was to stop trying to be creative with my imagery for a while - I started doing more life drawing and still life work, and less 'today, I'm going to draw a fantasy scene!'. It didn't cure me, but it took that worry away for a while and just allowed me to enjoy drawing again. It enabled me to get my drive back, to get back into art without feeling frustrated with it.

  16. I had a similar problem to this not too long ago (though maybe not as intense). My inspiration folder was overflowing with amazing artwork but it didn't really inspire me at all, more like it intimidated me and put me off drawing even personal pieces.

    I switched out my 'inspiration' folder for a purely visual one. I saved images of light bouncing of metal, animals fur, wings, lots of different materials. I have a folder for images of water alone, how it reacts in different situations etc. Also some pictures of interesting poses and facial expressions to keep myself in tune with reality, but not much of it was work by other artists, mainly photographs.

    tl:dr - basically what I did was remove those elements that brought me down and concentrated on a more organic/natural/personal type of work. My subject matter didn't change that much but my overall designs/pieces improved a lot, my professors at the time could tell my work was more original and was identifiable to me alone.

    Hope this helped a little bit, and good luck! :)

  17. How do you search inspiration? It's said that it's very important that a artist always search for new things in his personal life in way to inpire new feelings in his work.

  18. also try adding some chaos to your workflow...

  19. Hey Matt,

    I used to get this, and have always found writing a story to a be a massive help in smashing away that artists block. I always choose subject matter that contradicts each other, or in the least is something you actually hardly ever see. Just think more outside the box...

    Stop thinking I will draw a dragon, or zombie as just using these words alone pigeon holes yourself. The story I am working on right now involves 'beings' from another dimension, that can fuse pieces of our world (and organic matter) together like nothing no one seen before, though in a strange thoughtfull almost beatiful way. The rift between our dimension and theirs has tornfor whatever reason, showing what appears to us to be a sadistic and twisted race of freaks, but to freaks, melding together matter is just a normal everyday thing in their dimension.

    I found through writing that these beings would probably have some thought process to what they are doing, so just 'melting' together rock, metal, organic wasnt enough, it had to be symbolic, maybe through some confused way they would try comunicating to us through a horrific creature made to mimic us, but obviously failing due to them not being part of our dimension and comunication not being one of there strong points...wearing our skin on pieces of rock tied together in a freaky puppet of gore isnt what we call a friendly greeting but to them it's just like playing around with clay or fixing bad code in a script.

    Once I had these ideas (obviously a lot more then what I just said lol) I could go out my way then, and hunt for inspiration. As I find looking at images for inspirationg before you think of what your doing a bit of an artists block in itself. As your braing immediately sees all this amazing stuff and in a way limits itself to that stuff, when if you just stop looking and sit back and think deep in your thoughts you could probably think up something a lot more original, or set you on a path towards that anyway.

    Argh, it's a tough one for sure and to be fair, if your drawing all day at work maybe it's your mind saying do something different with your free time..god knows I dont draw ALL the time, hell that would send me mad and would probably start killing my creativity in the long run anyway. As to your problem of finding things that have been done before...if you have to draw an orc, just draw it in a way that hasnt been done...and there are always ways, even if there subtle. The main thing for me is making sure I am drawing for a reason, like the book I am working on... Man I blabber on...hope it made some sense haha! Cya dude! keep up the awesome work!


  20. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed by remix culture. Everything seems like a riff on something else right now. A mash up or a satire. So I think it's important to keep pushing an original vision to counteract that. Maybe try doing some longer term personal work like a comic. I find telling a story in my own voice helps to cut through the overload of imagery and makes striving for originality a clearer path.

  21. Its hard to believe it but one of the best artist is going through what I am.I take the internet and find images to use as my reference all day every day. 2 days ago I started back drawing just sketching around, I sketched characters from the legend of korra tv show.The sketches came out great so I figured why not draw my favorite tv show characters and etc. I call it going back to my roots I started drawing out of manga's and anime tv shows so I went back to that.Or redesign some super heroes or something man your art is great and hopefully you can bust through that wall.Just take a break clear your head then jump back into it slowly.good luck

  22. "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom."
    ~C. S. Lewis

  23. I feel your pain, and totally relate.

    Something I find helps: read a good book. Compelling characters and ideas with an absolute absence of associated imagery always gets my imagination humming.

    Aim to be authentic rather than peculiar. Paint something that really means something to you. A memory, experience or personal philoshophy. The idea will drive the piece, you wont need to look for inspiration and reference so much, and it will be more unique at the end. It will be more you. You could do a piece ABOUT this very subject we're discussing... doesn't that already get you thinking?

  24. Draw more penises?

  25. oh god, Matt. You nailed it. You and your wife just... nailed it. That's my problem too!

  26. You've got to draw for the process, not the result. If you're there for the result, you're always going to be disappointed; it's all been done before, and better, and you're never as good as you want to be. You'll get disillusioned and eventually hit a block. But if you're in it because you love the process, you can draw zombies every day for a year and enjoy the last just as much as you did the first. That's the advice that helped me, at any rate.

  27. I would compare this to being a chef (not that I am one), in that regard there are no new vegetables, fruits or proteins to use, but it's your own special combination that it tasty to you. If we worried about our food being original, we'd all be eating porridge with our heads hung low. Isn't it about developing our own language, and not comparing it to anyone else's? Developing our own language just means work, work, work, do, do, do without regard to how anyone else is saying anything. Artists have always exposed themselves to each others work but back in the day they formed workshops or guilds, and worked together to inspire each other, so this is not a new problem.
    I think you need to rediscover your joy and innocence in just doing the practice of art for you and only you. You're looking for simplicity, so setting aside all other imagery and other artists and getting your head out of the internet for a bit may help you relax and focus on the things you want to do. Do your carpentry and maybe in the midst of that you'll want to paint it differently, or come up with some crazy table design that no one else has ever made. Traveling and discovering different cultural ways may help... as it did Picasso and many others. Whatever you do, just follow your heart. Carpentry (or whatever you choose) is another way of expressing yourself as a creative person.

  28. I agree with the vast amount of comments here that we all need to get our heads out of the web... like some poor insect caught in a creative spider trap we tend to just regurgitate up the same old stuff... originality is lost when you've see the same thing over and over again... and then use some of it as reference.

    Someone said that you could use real world animals as your sketchbook subjects and draw them in unique and interesting ways. Terryl Whitlatch does this in her creature design work... literally starting from the inner skeletal and muscular structures and building on it. Combining multiple creatures in novel ways that are almost always original with a very solid understanding of the underlying forms. They are believable not to mention so well drawn that you can pour over them for hours. But from her work you can see her thought processes... and that's exciting.

    Like a lot of people in here - I get caught up so much in my professional work that I rarely touch a sketchbook anymore. Matt Rhodes blog is inspiring me to try once again to just draw. Turn off the computer, iPad and iPhone and just put pencil to paper.

    I'm trying something new for me - maybe it might work for others too... instead of looking at reference - I'm going to look at the real world a little differently. I'm going to take real world creatures and imagine them in different environments - worlds with heavier gravity, light gravity - little air - too much atmosphere... what would a bear look like in a world with 30 percent earth gravity and 1/2 of the atmosphere? And if it was only 2 feet tall or 20 feet tall and wasn't a predator of large animals but fed on smaller creatures... what would those look like and what would hunt our bear? Is it fast? Slow? Nimble - sluggish... how does it hunt or think? Can it think? I know - just using this as an example.

    Another example - think about aliens...

    The word anthropomorphic always comes to mind as Matt showed in his posting - mushy is a great way to describe much of the zBrush stuff out there for sure. But as humans we love the familiar. I think when some people think of alien creature design we tend to start from human perspective and then after so many years of seeing aliens that look basically human - we see absolutely nothing original.

    Looking for inspiration I find writers are the best source. Olaf Stapledon was one of the top science fiction writers in the early to mid 20th century. His work is a wonderful place to start thinking differently about intelligent Alien life. His ideas were so far advanced compared to anything ever written that his writing influenced virtually all of the great science fiction writers of our time. Even the concept of a Dyson sphere was in his ground breaking book "Starmaker". Freeman Dyson even credits Stapledon with the idea. The point is - the book Starmaker takes the concept of intelligent life and turns it on it's head with some of the most unique ideas of what it is to be human while also being totally alien in so many beautiful and unique forms that after you've gone half way through the book - you're compelled to pull out a sketch pad and start drawing!

    I do science illustration now for a living so thinking is half the job - and if we are to break out of our creature ruts we need to think differently as well... at least that's my own too bits. Now I need to take my own advice... Or maybe start making tables... :)

  29. Look through your folders, take note of all the things that repeat.
    Then black list those things.
    I think part of the problem is that things have gotten so design heavy.
    Why not just draw it however you want, whether the balance of it means it can't fly, or the anatomy is a illogical disaster? Whether you make the combo work or not is not the issue.
    Let it amuse you. The fun in baking is the making, whether it's edible or not is a bonus.

    When you can't draw your standard things, what's left to draw? What can you think to draw?
    Like Zoe said, drawing from your own life, those things that are purely you and yours, that might help, too. Because those things aren't concepts, they're your reality.

    Hmm...perhaps you can have artsy goals that have nothing to do with concepts and more to do with the art basics? Like, I love coloring.
    It's my favorite part of rendering.
    Maybe you can do a few pictures along the lines of, "I'm going to color something in the most horrendeous garnish colors possible." or "I'm only going to use black, white, and one color."
    Maybe try a style change, along with a content change.

    Basically, go back to the experimental stage of art, and have fun with it.

  30. Okay, this was a better response than I could have hoped for. In fact, I drew three pages tonight.

    Thank you everyone, for the thoughtful, perceptive and wise words. I’d love to respond to each person, but I couldn’t do that task justice with the time I have. However, I’ve read every word and feel like I now have an arsenal at my disposal.

    I’m excited. I’ve deleted my bookmarks and I’ll be cutting down my internet time to a bare minimum. Last night I drew some trees on my street and tonight I’ve drawn some pages of nonsense that will never be uploaded.

    It felt wonderful.

  31. Great responses from everyone. Seems like you figured out what I figured out. The solution sounds cheesy like an old eighties Kung fu retraining montage scene, but getting off the internetz and going back to what made you love drawing in the first place is the solution. Getting back to the basics, though it's hard nowadays when your brain craves being online to "check things"; facebook, mail, etc. It's even harder for older folks, myself included because life keeps moving with wife and kids, bills, responsibility. All these things change the creative mind in some ways or another. Although I found for me, reading an actual paper comic (not via ipad), going outside to ride my bike on a scenic trail and watching all the cartoons I loved as a kid brings back that old a degree, and I feel inspired to create my dreams and ideas. Everyone who is creative and is trying to stay out there has gone through these feeling, take solace in knowing you aren't alone. Thank you for writing this blog and bringing to light that we all can stand a break from the monotony every now and then:)

  32. Perhaps you could look at it like this regardless of the fact that these images ARE being reinvented/ regurgitaed constantly. You are creating art for a living and providing a service for others, who enjoy your imagery. You provide entertainment and inspiration for others and the upcoming generation. Be stoked where you're at. It's just where this world is... I think, as an art teacher, its a remarkable thing happening. If you choose to find joy in what you are doing, drawing, that will fill the sense of what's lacking. Take care and enjoy.

  33. Hello Matt,
    I think i've also been struggling with the same problem but not noticing it even though i once found solutions to it and that post reminded me of them.
    the core of the problem, i believe is the fact that by oversaturating the brain with all of those images changes the association it makes while looking for an image to draw, it would simply pop right up a good image that been done already, it's a good image that is not yours, and so it rubs your brain from the opportunity to create his own stories and ideas.
    the solution that i think I have found for myself is to plug away from media and especially our industry's media and give some time to my brain to do it's own thing, instead of going to the cliche that it always seeks, which is someone else’s knight, and for you it means just "a knight". instead it will go to "Ondin, the knight who seeks those who killed his daughter, but also struggles not becoming consumed with hatred that will change his soul into evil".... a story you'v just conjured in your imagination and simply cannot look like one of those knights. it doesn't have to be "a knight"\"an alien"\ "a dragon", perhaps step into the story realm a bit before you put any line on the paper\screen, think of something that scared you as a child or a nightmare you once had , could be a good dream you remember or try to remember it by writing it the second you open your eyes.
    sometimes i would go to sleep with a piece of paper and a pencil near me and as i doze of into sleep, somewhere between my thoughts and where the dreams come, my brain seems to go places i never expect and brings me stories of real like places i would never had thought of.
    perhaps instead of going to be a carpenter, draw "the carpenter of the king and his workshop full of marvelous royal furniture of his own making"
    maybe design something from a newspaper article that interested you and all you have to go upon is words.
    think of that strange pharmaceutical guy you bought from and what he "realy" does back there when no one is looking.
    you can also look for inspiration in other fields such as science, psychology, biology, name it, where no one is trying to remake some movie trend thats going on.
    those kind of things of looking for fresh inspiration in unexpected places did it for me anyways...and thank you for reminding me of that, i hope it helps you as well :)

  34. Don't see the other art out there as intimidation and oversaturation, see it as inspiration. If you want to draw something do it, and if it is inspired by something else you saw, well, that's how art works -- you will pull inspiration from other things you see, but the outcome will be your original spin. Also, don't worry about it so much. We do art because we enjoy it. Draw something you enjoy and don't get stressed over whether someone else has done it before.

  35. Once I have read somwhere that evrything in art has been done but it hasnt been done by you. So till the time you fiil all those folders with your works there is stil what to draw ;)

  36. I know that feeling, but in my case I don't feel like I have the technique.

    You work is really inspiring to me, and whenever I look at your DA's Gallery I feel like drawing a bit more.
    Anyway, I don't think art is only about originality, if you want to do a knight fighting against a dragon, just do it, don't think "This has been done a million times". If you feel like doing something, do it regardless its originality.
    You can still do it in a different angle, pose, scenary. Sometimes, those little things that we change make the work unique.

    Cheer up!

  37. I think you need inspiration and aren't getting the right kind. Listen to Memories of Green - Vangelis

    Your work is amazing btw, it's us guys who are still looking for a breakthrough who need to worry!

  38. I thought I was the only one that felt like you do. When I look around (on the internet) I see all these talented artists that seem to have so much more inspiration, creativity and willpower than I do.
    Maybe it's because when you make your hobby your work, it no longer is your hobby. The days when I was aspiring to become a comic artist and spend all my spare time drawing it are gone. I used to breathe and eat drawing, it was all I did, who I was. Now it feels like work and that I need to prove I'm better than the other guy or else I'm out of a job.

    I tried to break away from it and forced myself to do short sketches, 15 minutes and then I had to leave it. I would spend two hours doing that and at the end I would maybe only post two images to my blog... or none. I told myself that they were going to be shit and nobody was ever going to seen them. It helped to loosen up. Still, the pressure of the blog and internet kept creeping in.

    Anyway, thanks you for posting this. It's really refreshing to read everyone's ideas about this and maybe the internet can be the problem and still give you the solution.

  39. Hi Matt,
    Believe me I know how you feel. Like you said, with my professional work, I have no problem producing the illustration that is in my head, while as soon as I open the sketchbook, it seems to be much more difficult. I've thought about it critically, and I've come to a few conclusions

    First off, when I have a very clear image in my head I have less difficulty getting it down. Often when I draw in my sketchbook, it's more about experimenting and thus I'm not sure what I'm going to draw. This translates to difficulty visualizing anything. However when I have to prepare for a story and create characters, drawing in my sketchbook is less problematic. So I've learned when I have a purpose in drawing, it is much easier to sketch.

    Another thing about your article that resonated was the use of reference. I have a moral guideline that I use in regards to reference that I believe is different with each artist. So this isn't a judgement, but just how I believe it works best for me. If I have an idea I try to get down as much of it without any visual stimulation. When I get to a point where I need detail, such as lighting, or specific posing, then I will refer to an image. I know if I jump to soon into reference, it becomes more about that image then what I imagined in my head, often stiffening up what I'm drawing. I wonder if your wife's comment about overstimulation with images online and on tv, curbs imagination because you are not trying to retrieve images from your memory, thus why you might have difficulty drawing in your sketchbook. I think this happens to me at least.

    Finally, and this might be specific to digital artists, when I'm working on an illustration exclusively in Photoshop, I can often lay down an image from my imagination with basic shapes and scribbles. I will then rework these shapes by painting over them or creating a new layer and scribbling on top of the previous ones. Then I might resize, move or erase until it gets close enough to what I see in my head. It's usually pretty fast, and very liberating for me to do it this way. And usually I get pretty close to what I originally imagined. But when I draw in my sketchbook with a pencil, which I still do quite often, I freeze up a bit, because I know that those first lines will have to be pretty close to what I see in my head. Because if I lay to many lines down, I sometimes lose the original drawing in that mess and I have a heavy hand. It's a mental fear, but it's there. So the way I combat that is working with a pen. It forces me to be light handed and as a result it seems to help focus me more.

    I guess it's figuring out those little mental tricks that you can only find through chatting with others, or figuring out on your own. I applaud you for sharing this with others, because it will get you that much closer to figuring out how to solve your problem.

    Good luck!



  40. I have same the problem :/
    and I think that your wife rightly !!!
    keep it up matt because your work is just amazing !!!

  41. I abbbbsolutely agree. I saw ALL these knights and dragons several times the last months...

  42. Great write up, I almost spit out a mouth full of water when I saw the collage of zbrush alien heads. The thematic world of concept art can act like a big black hole that just sucks you in. My wife helped to steer myself back on the right path after she saw me start to homogenize the style and content of my work. Why was I doing that?...Good question. Maybe subconsciously I thought that I would make my work more commercially viable or possibly just a case of allowing your artistic influences to be toooo influential. I think that this is something that as artists we all struggle with and I think its one of those instance to just feel good in the fact that we know its something that we are all going through.

  43. Howdy Neighbour, (Calgary)
    A feast if info and insight here. After my day at work and the Gym, I get a small window of opportunity to get some drawing/painting done. Ive made it a habit of staying off to many of my fave art sites just cause by the time im go from one link to the next and there favourites and so on, Ive just killed any time ive had to really dig into a new or on going piece. I'll start a new tomorrow, and play some skyrim for a hour before bed...or see if my gf is in the mOOd. ;)
    Anyways, I hear ya man.

  44. Artists through history have likely felt the same way. How many hundred thousand bazillion "Virgin and Child" paintings are out there?

    Internet over-saturation is more common than people realize. Visual stimulation in general, actually.

    Sometimes turning the computer off for a week or so helps me to deal. Good luck.

  45. Along with everyone, I too have encountered this problem. What worked for me was investing back into the things that make me... well, me. Reading books where my imagination counts and I have stopped looking at my contemporaries as much. I recognize and look at the art, then move on.

    However, I don't suggest living in a bubble. Get out into the world and see things in the clouds, or better yet, go to to museums and check out the early American illustrators. Wyeth, Pyle, Cornwell, English, Dunn, Fawcett... the list goes on.

    Detach from spending a ton of time thinking about who you want to be, and focus on who you are.


  46. One thing that helped me was going back to my old sketchbooks - back to what I drew when I was a teenager sketching for the fun of it, before I ever studied another's work or thought about drawing as a job.
    It's a great place to find inspiration, or a way to rediscover an old style that's been lost. While it's not polished or skilled, the work in a old sketchbook like that comes purely from your own imagination, and some of your best work or ideas may still be in there, like a germinating seed.
    As an exercise, try taking an old piece and bringing it back to life with the skills you have now, and see what happens!

  47. Hey Matt,

    I'm brazilian and a great fan of your work and always pass by here to see your new posts and works. Maybe I don't have something as great as most of these other coments have said but I would say that what matters is not the amount of knights, castles and dragons you have seen or collected for inspiration that matters. Yes, there are tons of each thing you could imagine, but none of them is the thing you imaginated, and that's what drawing is. It's your Knight. You can draw zilions of them and the same one over and over. But everytime you do a new one it will be unique, it will be your knight od that time. What you imaginated, what you were feeling when had the idea. It's yours. And, in the end, that's the point. When I draw, it's because the thing is in my mindo and it's screaming to get out and take form. it's that thing. Even if the work have some influence or a theme overused, it's not the same as the others, it's my thing, the way I see it. The way I created and gave form to it.

    Hope this helps somehow.

  48. I look at your stuff, Matt. And I see beautifull things.

    I look at your art, and I don't say ''this dude is doing things that had been done'' I see art, I see sensibility and lovely characters well done.
    Don't try to make something brand new, just draw your stuff, you do it really great. Really.

    If you can't look at any more from the internet, just look at inspiration somewhere else, it's just fine.

    But you are a great artist, oh, yess! I can tell ^^U

    Just put yourself away from things that aren't usefull to you.
    I understand now why you've dissabled coments on your DA acount, and i'ts fine, really ;)

    I hope you're Ok Matt, we love you <3

  49. Well Matt, I feel the same way. But changing the media won't help you getting over your problem. It is about the current art style that has overwhelmed us. Everyone, as you claimed, is doing the same thing. There is no variaty at all. So the best thing you could do is changing your topic, try out something new that does NOT look the same as you did before. Iam talking about traditional art. Try surrealism, try cubism, try to paint worlds thats no concept art at all. Thats it. Concept art is the problem. Your style is very unique but in order to get free of your worries you must go inside yourself. Meditate. Your destiny has brought you thus far and ask yourself: is that kind of art Iam doing that kind of art Iam supposed to do? I wanted to do? For me I love concept art, I love your work and I love dragons. But I cant draw a dragon at all. Iam a pro in drawing portaits with pencil. High quality photorealistic portaits. When I started this I wanted more. More art. More knowledge. Iam doing whatever I can to reach everything that has to do with art. It is my passion. You need to reach another horizon Matt! It's time to leave your current Island and break out for a new adventure. If you prefer carpentry so try it out! Do not hesitate to claim new areas. Perfection is everything. And it seems that your current work as a concept artist is perfect enough in your opinion. Do something art related where you not good at. And you will see that your mind has changed as well as your environment. Harmony. Balance. Perfection. Gain power through it.

  50. who cares if anything has been done. Are you enjoying yourself?

  51. Hey. I just found this post through some link.

    I though about this subject a lot actually. The conclusion so far was this - Visual design alone doesn't make game original but it's more like sume of all parts where the superior part has the story.
    Putting every hope for the originality in game into just concept artists is flawed approach.
    There's limited amount of clues you can put into some character design and trying to create whole feel of the world through few super intricate costumes isn't going to work. It isn't really in the costumes.

  52. Too true. I can't tell if I have ADHD or I'm just overstimulated! I did try something the other day that hasn't got the flow going per se, but it definitely helps when I did sit down to draw. I like drawing faces, so I started freeze framing the TV and sketched the funny "mid-faces" people make. My suggestion isn't to do that exactly. It's to go back to what actually inspires you. Faces inspire me, action poses or sports may inspire someone else, trees, animals, dogs, cats, dogs & cats living together, etc. We should all probably stop looking at stuff for REFERENCE for a little while and start looking at stuff that INSPIRES us. Turn the reference switch off.

    When doing this, it's also good not to have an agenda when you are drawing. Just let it happen without judgement or real planning - stream of consciousness. That way your brain won't be searching it's files for the image that you have seen and want to create same-but-different.

    Of course easier said than done. Now I just have to practice what I preach.

  53. So...

    You want to be more creative that the combined work of your entire world.


    My name is SmoothPorcupine Pirate.

  54. I always found creating art for myself in a concept style will always cause mental blocks as truly great concepts need great ideas and stories behind them. I have always loved the Mass Effect franchise and have pretty much always drawn my own interpretations from the story (amongst other sci-fis)

    Creating art for myself, I generally find it best to back the visual aspect with another medium.

    Do you like stories? Have you thought about writing your own book or script? This could then tie into a comic or piece of concept art which will be incorporated with your drawing style perfectly.

    I have recently invested in a small home recording studio and have been writing music about ideas/concepts that inspire me, and are a direct result of being exposed to lots of visual art.

    The music (when eventually released) will need visuals to tie everything together, so both creative mediums have a place and above all, have balance with each other.

    Make sure you find balance in what you are doing, never force anything. If you love concept art because of the storytelling aspects, get into creative writing, script writing for comics, books and your art will naturally fall into place.

  55. this is interesting. never heard that phrase before

  56. When you are a writer, you would have dubbed the moment as "writer's block". It is when you run out of ideas and you try so hard to make an article so unique among a pool of gazillion articles in the same niche. Better relax, breathe or at least make some chair before proceeding to the next set of dragons.

  57. What you're experiencing is due to the combination of two things. First, artists have complete control over the the direction of their art pieces. Second, artists feel compelled to guide themselves towards similar results. Viewing more and more images only solidifies cliches in your mind. The feeling of exploration is gone because we've already been there before. We can't unsee what we've seen, but we can relinquish some control. Try this: for your next piece you do for yourself, make a list of two or three arbitrary constraints that are chosen by random means. For example, make a list of techniques, colors, cultures, real-world objects, etc. and use dice or coins to pick the constraints for you. The stranger the constraints, the better. It's more "explorative". For further examples of similar ideas, try reading the book "Manga Matrix".

  58. 'Concept Clones': Hyper generic film/video game concept art(ist).

    I think your biggest asset is your story telling skills and ability to create mood. Which puts you far ahead of 90% of the competition.

  59. True, there are many things that look alike, but everyone got their way of drawing stuff.

    No one sees the same thing alike.

  60. Read more books and TRAVEL! And socialize with people from AROUND THE GLOBE! Go life drawing more, plein air painting. You head to Disney and Dreamworks and check out the vault they have FILLED with development art...oy! You slap yourself for thinking there's an over saturation of imagery. 6 billion people on this planet each having 2000 thoughts in less than a few minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a week! Do the math! Gather reference of LIFE more than artists.

  61. This whole post struck a chord with me. I look at the shit I am doing now and think, 'Man I used to draw better in the past' Like I have forgotten a lot of the knowledge I had. It is a weird feeling when designing and drawing are what we do for a living.

  62. Hey Matt,
    as you can see this is a common problem and I've encountered it several times in my career. I think you handled it the right way and decided to start something different for a while: WRITING. It seems you have a talent here considering the massive feedback you got. It makes sense to get away from old habits before we can see things from a new perspective. Allow yourself to do only the things you love. If you don't want to draw the same things over again then just don't do it. There is so much more on the plate. Give yourself time to grow...



  63. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

    ~CS Lewis

  64. I don't really know how to word this ..
    A bit about me .. I'm by career a graphic designer and want to work up that ladder in my life .. but I love illustration and I would love to put one book out in my life ..

    so why should you keep putting work out even though theres thousands of the same thing out there .. I don't think of you and your work and as another bit to add to the clutter .. I think of you more as a teacher..
    I have been following your work for years and I can directly attribute a lot of my growth as an artist to you and what I have learned from you .. I love how you see things .. I see similar .. and I study your work to teach myself how to execute what I see .. from simple architectural landscapes to the amazing character design .. line work .. colour application .. lighting .. I hope to one day soon put my book out and you will definitely be in the credits ..

    So please keep drawing and painting.. draw everything .. draw everything new and old .. draw things you've drawn before .. I dunno .. just keep making art ..
    thank you for the years of inspiration and lessons ..

  65. I have been struggling with this exact same problem. The day when I got a tumblr and followed a ton of art and photo blogs, I thought "wow!!! this is great, its like a daily feed of some amazing inspiring images and reference material!" ...until one day I began to notice a severe drop-off in my output of art. I believe it is because of this same problem; why create something I have already gained the satisfaction of viewing? And yet..when the satisfaction of creating itself is what drives me, what can I do but sink into depression when one thing has negated the other?

    I have stopped viewing my tumblr for over a month now, using it only to post or the rare occasion to look up something I wanted to reference. The results? A very pleasing spike in what I feel is my creativity. Not necessarily "originality", because I think if you worry too much about that you'll find yourself in the same spot.

    I think, in addition to this saturation, the satisfaction of knowing that something you enjoy exists is overriding your joy of creating. I know it had been for me, and though the recovery is small, perhaps it is time that you put aside browsing any images, other art, etc. for a while to see where your mind takes you.

    I have, as well, stopped browsing my own art--anything over a month old I make a point to bury it deep within my external hard drives folders to be forgotten. Why? Because it is not only influential to my current mode of thinking, but it is somewhat detrimental to my forward thinking when I realize that I have "done something before"... One should not worry about that, I think, even though artists are pressured to create new and original things every time we pick up our pens.

    The truth is, no one really does, and no one ever really has. Sure, everything may have been done, but those artists we look to as inspiration have done the same thing: drew the same material to death. But the important thing to know is why. Why? Because they love it. They loved to create it. Thats what matters.

  66. sounds very familiar..this is a very common prblm my frnd..

  67. If you're tired of knights...try a samurai. Or a native tribesman. Instead of dragons, try a phoenix or a japanese kapa or a kumiho.

    I've noticed a lot of your works are western based. Looking at different cultures and styles might help freshen things up.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.