Stuck in the taste/skill gap

  • For the past couple years I have felt a bit stuck in the taste/skill gap (not sure if there is a better term).
    While I have felt a tremendous growth in my abilities I have also felt increasingly dissatisfied with the work that I put out. I attribute this to the fact that my taste is developing more rapidly than my skills, which I believe is just part of the process of growth. That being said I feel like I’m not getting much closer to the end of this chapter in my artistic journey.
    Here is my main issue. I get an idea of something I want to create and I set out to do it. Then I hit a snag, I come across some aspect of the piece that I realize I am just not yet skilled enough to properly create. Initially I thought, "no problem, I’ll just practice that thing that needs work i.e. figures, expressions, environments, and then get back to it". But this just leads to me spending about 90% of my time practicing and sketching and very little output of actual finished pieces.

    What are your experiences with this? Have you experienced this at all? If so how did you work through it?

  • First, even if it doesn't feel like it, it's really good that you're able to take that objective view of your work and understand that you're on a trajectory. It's really common that artists can't really look past a current obstacle to get a larger idea of the map, so to speak, and then get so discouraged that they can't bring themselves to try. You're at a point that can be so, so frustrating, and I'm sure everyone here can sympathize.

    As for a way to meaningfully approach those obstacles, it sounds like you're just a hop and a skip from the next logical step to climbing that hill: eliciting constructive advice from communities like this one. 🙂 Speaking for myself, I generally come back to these forums when I have a piece that I'm really stuck on and I'm getting in my head about it and I need some objective eyes that can help me identify my weaknesses. (Unfortunately this can mean I disappear for very long stretches, oops. Sorry, everyone.) I've never received anything but incredibly helpful, honest feedback from members here, and it's made me a better craftsperson for life.

    But also I know sometimes you might be trying to explore things on your own or don't feel like you have a capital-p Piece that you can bring to a group for critique. In those instances, I like to sit down and take really straightforward stock of myself as an artist. For the sake of kindness, I usually start by noting the things I'm proud of and think I do well, and then I move on to the things that I don't think are working. And then I make a list of ways I can specifically address those weaknesses--that can be as ambitious as setting out to hit a big milestone like finishing a project, or as small as wanting to get the knack of drawing more dynamic poses. For smaller components of the process (which is what it sounds like you're working toward) I would recommend seeking out artists who you feel specifically excel at those things; study what works for them, maybe even process videos or streams they make available. If you feel like you have a tendency to get lost in the weeds of working on whichever smaller component that is, then I would recommend setting a goal for finishing a piece that specifically incorporates that element--preferably something with a deadline. 😉 That's what I did with mermay this year; I picked a weekly prompt list and assigned each prompt the additional criteria of an exploratory challenge, like character design or color or perspective. Something like an informal prompt list is good because the stakes are pretty low, but you're still accomplishing something.

    This turned into a really long reply, sorry. I hope it helps, though, and good luck!

  • I can really relate to this!
    I'm not sure if this is helpful advice and I'm sure some will disagree but it's something that's helped me with this issue. When I hit that 'snag' in a piece I kind of view it like the 'runners wall', it's something I have to power through in order to get better and finish anything. Studies are good but I think you can learn so much by sticking with a piece and seeing it through from concept to finish. Even if you really aren't happy with the final result worst case scenario is you don't show it to anyone and hopefully you've learned something you can apply to the next piece.

    I think sometimes when you hit that snag, for example, struggling with a character's expression, it feels like you're exposing this vast element of your skillset that's missing. Then the logical conclusion might be to practice all kinds of expressions, different faces, different angles etc. I'm not saying that's something you shouldn't do that but don't let it get in the way of finishing that piece. Sometimes you need to forget the bigger picture (no pun intended) and focus on the task at hand. You only need to get this expression right. It might mean drawing the same face 50 times but when you get it right you'll have that finished piece to be proud of instead of just a bunch of studies.
    I hope that makes sense! I think it boils down to getting comfortable spending more time in the development stage then pushing yourself to see it through to the end. By the way I had a snoop at your work and I'd say your skill level is high! I'd really like to see a finished piece in your style.

  • @Griffin said in Stuck in the taste/skill gap:

    I get an idea of something I want to create and I set out to do it. Then I hit a snag, I come across some aspect of the piece that I realize I am just not yet skilled enough to properly create

    This is me! All.The.Time. My solution is typically to step away for a moment and mope and get frustrated haha, then suck it up and power through as @Annabishop said. If it doesn't turn out at least I've learned something and get a new benchmark. I also like to tell myself that I can always redo it in the future when I've picked up more skills and that there's always going to be another piece. On the flip side, if I never finish anything, I don't ever find out how good it could get!

    I'm still trying to figure out how much time to spend practicing and how much to spend on finishing pieces. Practicing provides a lot of volume, which is great but can get a bit boring. Or maybe boring's not the wrong word - it doesn't provide a sense of urgency. Finished work on the other hand is great for putting all the pieces together and for really working through the kinks. Personally I find it impossible to see if I actually learned something from a class or exercise unless I put it through the test by applying it to my own piece. Until then it's somehow too abstract. But when I have so many gaps in my knowledge it can also feel overwhelming at times.

    When that happens I try to break the piece down into smaller chunks and get back to the sketch book, with the intent of solving the particular problem I'm working on, to the best of my ability. If something's particularly challenging or I get stuck for a very long time, I do the best I can with the knowledge I got and add it to the (long) list of things I need to study in the future.

    One last thing to end this wall of text haha - when you do finish a piece look at the good parts too! It's easy to see all the mistakes and fall further down the gap, but it's equally important to celebrate what you did well, all the little improvements and even the fact that you finished something.

  • @thousandwrecks I don’t mind the long reply, it’s all helpful stuff, thank you!

  • this is just expectations.
    you expect your skill to produce to you the thing you want.
    and while your attitude is correct that you should step in try to research it, it wont necessarily live up to it.

    even the greatest of all masters have more to learn. there is just to much for one live, to learn everything there is to know.

    so the best thing, to me, is to lower the expectations. or to not set it like this-but rather treat your process-as it is-a process. not a target for finalized pieces. I mean , if you want finalized pieces, go for it, but don't expect them to be as you thought it would be. since as you said, there is a gap.
    but, if you want to become professional, that might not be good enough for you.
    what I've seen pro's do is make the illustration more simple, but deliver the same emotion. so you could concentrate on that minimalistic approach. i don't know what genre/style you are in, but everything can be simplified and even be better at transferring the emotions.

    also, it might be that it takes alot more time, and that your foundations are solid enough. perspective to me is king. then its the rest, proportions/anatomy/gesture, shading/color, composition.
    if your foundations are solid you should be able to tackle most things. perspective is killer. it takes a lot of training and proper one(not necessarily on this site, stuff like, to reach the level that you draw freely 3d depth like shapes.
    hope that helps?

  • @Griffin just a quick response from me, but i definately relate to what youre saying, and it took me about 2 years of daily (ish) practice to get to a point where i can sort of put down what i had in my head. And about 2 years of occasional practice before that. And i reckon im still a good three years away from where i want to be.

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