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Back on a track – AI Art is pointing in the (opposite) direction

A new chapter

A new technology that allows text to be converted into images, music, voice, video has swept into the creative industry landscape like a hurricane. How to react? Throw yourself into the fray, run away, wait it out?

Yes, I’m being tragic, of course! Probably because my predictions are not optimistic. I wrote about my approach to the emergence of image generators in the post AI Art – an illustrator’s point of view.

We don’t know how much impact technology will have on working conditions in the creative industry. Much depends on law regulations. It is certain that changes are ahead of us. And it is natural that we are afraid. Is it justified? As a child, I was heartbroken by the fact that illustrators no longer paint traditionally, but digitally. I thought there was no point in learning to draw with pencil, painting, about color compositions or perspective. What’s the point, if a computer is supposed to do it for people (I completely missed it when it came to digital painting, and hit exactly what the so-called AI does today)? Despite my doubt, I kept learning, drawing a lot. I didn’t want to give up on this dream. And it paid off very well for me.

There is a good chance that the new technology will bring a lot of benefits. Maybe, as in the mentioned case, I understand it yet? I feel lost , and I am not alone in this feeling. This topic fascinates us, but it also makes us depressed. However, there are bright sides to this situation – it has forced me to think. For many years I have been asking myself questions about my work, my development, my path as an illustrator, but I have been running away from answering them. The storm cloud on the horizon forces me to finally deal with them.

At the crossroads

I started working as an illustrator about 14 years ago. Since then I have been continuously illustrating: books, covers, music albums, illustrations for websites, comics…. there was a lot of it (take a look at my portfolio)! The search for efficiency in my work has forced me to use drawing tablets more and more instead of brush and watercolor. Even when drawing in graphics programs (Procreate, Photoshop, Infinite Painter, Rebelle and many others), I like to stylize images for a traditional look. I’ve even created brush sets for Procreate that mimic traditional media (brushes on Etsy). I miss pencil and brushes, but I also love technological innovations and painting apps. Over the years, I have worked for clients large and small, on low and good wages. I’ve come to an income that allows me not to worry about making a living, but it took a long time and wasn’t easy.

I realize how lucky it is to have a profession that you love and that gives you so much freedom. And yet, even before the arrival of generators, I felt that something was bothering me. The next assignment on the schedule pushed away all the questions and doubts that lurked in the back of my mind. And so it went on.

The discovery of machine learning art generators and snark comments by CEO of one of them – MidJourney shocked me but also forced me to take a closer look to my work, and illustrations I created in last year’s. And this is the one thing in this situation I am grateful for.

So what is his message to young artists worried about their future career, perhaps in illustration or design? “My message to them would be, ‘illustration design jobs are very tedious’. It’s not about being artistic, you are a tool”.

 Emad Mostaque w artykule “Art is dead, dude” dla BBC

I was also struck by the interview that illustrator Dave McKean (Sandman, Cages, Signal to Noise, Black Dog) gave, especially the conclusion at the end of the video.

You have to imagine a future with you in it, and where you can do an unique work. And the unique work is in the WHY questions. WHY are you doing this. Not just the technical questions of achieving another image for another book cover album cover, that’s kind of meaningless, or just another bunch of Midjourney images in a gallery online.(…) Why you personally doing this. What are you committed to here, not just doing a brief for a commercial art project. All of that will disappear, I think those jobs will not exist anymore. So now it’s about focusing on yourself and your place in society, your place in the world and what you’ve got to bring to those conversations.

Dave McKean on the Impact of AI for Artists na kanale Palle Shmidt

And even assuming that this is a catastrophic vision, it seems to me important for any creator who monetizes their skills to ask yourself such questions. And not run away from answering them. These are the questions I asked myself.

  • What is my goal as an artist/illustrator?
  • Am I pursuing it well? When am I on the right track, and what tasks/assignments/thoughts move me away from it?
  • Do I manage to achieve my own goals in my work as well, or mainly someone else’s?
  • How far have I gone in the desired direction over the last 5-10 years?

An equally important part of this task will be to draw conclusions based on the answers given.

  • Noticing the good decisions that brought us closer to our goal, so that we can apply them in the future.
  • To diagnose tasks, situations that move us away from the goal, drive us into artblocks, burnout, doubt.
  • Ideas on how to cope in such cases to get back on track again.

I consider it the most important task for myself in the coming weeks and months to find the answers to these questions and apply the conclusions.

The direction

Working with Ai generators may be easier and exciting, but I feel it has less to offer me than working as a commissioned illustrator as it is now. My favorite commissions are those in which the commissioners trust me and are interested in my approach to the subject. This allows me to realize not only other people’s goals, but also my own. For years I have been trying to be a partner more often than a tool. This is mutually beneficial, because nothing serves the quality of illustration better than enthusiasm and joy in creation. I know that my direction will be to bet on my own projects and those commissions with which I am comfortable in my artistic development.

When playing with generated images, I feel that I am only editing someone else’s (the generator’s) ideas, solutions, styling, even if I enter a description myself. And I don’t get the feeling that the result of such play is “mine.” Not even a hint of the connection that is formed when I paint from scratch is created. That’s why I got bored with testing image generators so quickly, and the idea that maybe someday that’s what my work would be reduced to doesn’t inspire my enthusiasm. It is possible that in that case I would consider changing my career path.

Nevertheless, I won’t say that I will never use it. Maybe the moment will come when I will look at them with more favor? Learning this technology is not complicated. YouTube tutorials can be understood by elementary school students (this explains the number of generated anime chicks with big breasts that flood the Internet). It’s worth keeping your hand on the pulse, knowing what’s going on, what the new possibilities are and if they offer us something interesting.

Just as the digital revolution in painting didn’t make watercolorists disappear, AI won’t make customers always choose it. But the appearance of new techniques always reduces the demand for the old ones, and raises the threshold for entry into the competition. Many drop out because they can’t compete with cheaper and faster solutions. Those who stubbornly stick to the saddle are usually left on the battlefield with much less competition than before. It is certainly not a road paved with roses. In addition, no one can guarantee that quality and persistence will be enough.

As if to make matters worse, advice like “adapt or die”, “use new technology to surpass others” is flooding in from everywhere! Typical catchphrases repeated at marketing training courses. They sound catchy, they even make sense, but…. I don’t believe that following this path will bring me closer to my goal. I put working on and with myself above learning how generators work.

The story

I see my development as a return to my roots, to what inspires me and sends shivers down my spine. To the touch of rough watercolor paper under my fingers, the scraping of pencil in my notebook and yes, to drinking paint water instead of tea and to smelly gouaches too 🙂 I want to go back to painting the worlds I used to tell myself before falling asleep, to the tales I heard as a child, to spinning my own stories. It takes a lot of enthusiasm and creativity to do that, which gets consumed so much in professional work, especially when you have to squash it and follow guidelines. Do you know this issue?

Years of experience with commissions allowed me to develop technically in many directions. It was an attempt to follow many paths at once. It shouldn’t surprise me that after 13 years of work I am not at all in the place I dreamed for myself when I created this illustration a long, long time ago (2010).

That’s why, when I decided to introduce artistic prints to my store, “The Story” was the first to go on Etsy. A refreshed illustration that contains so many themes that are important to me. It talks about the development of imagination, creating, the joy it brings, the magic and power one feels after writing one’s own story, and the fantasy that blossoms when reading engaging books. I feel this will be a step in the right direction. If you’d like to support and accompany me on this path, please leave a comment, recommend this post to someone facing similar dilemmas, visit my store on Etsy, maybe you’ll find a unique gift for yourself or someone close to you.

I’d love to hear what thoughts you have? How do you feel about your new situation? What other advice could you give to people who are experiencing it similarly?

If I had to give advice to creative people for this year, I would put this set:

Identify what is important to you. Define your goal. Focus on it. Take direction.

And above all:

Do not stop creating!

PS. This is my last post, hopefully for a long time, in which the topic of AI Art appears. In the next ones I would like to focus on the behind-the-scenes of creating illustrations, my favorite painting techniques, the programs I like to draw in and various around-illustration topics. I hope it will be something you’ll enjoy reading about!

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