I grew up along the West coast of Africa, in a wealthy family far away from the daily struggle of the surrounding population. A family of mixed origins, proud of its tradition and proud of it strong convictions. I remember my uncles and aunts during parties and dinners, they, loudly, loved to talk and laugh. All dressed in colorful splendid fabrics, the scene was a dazzling explosions of shapes and colors, cigarettes smoke floating in the air and the smell of J&B Whisky. They were all laughing about our own idiosyncrasies, the ape-like regime running the country and the plundering hands of western countries. While my cousins and brothers played outside, I loitered around in the living room eavesdropping on adults talk, playing waiter from time to time. The best parts was when they suddenly lower their voices almost to nothingness, so you had to read lips to complete the sentences. Stories of how they defied the government, stories of people disappearing, or the latest officials slip ups. These were fun times. Inevitably, in the story arc of any dictatorial regime, things started to get really sour when a series of plots where discovered followed by outburst of firefight. The Empire crushed the rebellion, we had no Jedi. We couldn't afford G.I to help we have no oil. The Puppet President started arresting peoples, including some of my family members. Have they been unjustly accused? I hope not. Anyway, after a year in jail, my mom got released, she decided to take care of what was more important for her, us kids, and chose expatriation. Abandoning all she has built behind to start all over. How did she got out of prison alive? My dad befriended a high ranked officer in the army. It seems after all, dancing with the devil has its perk.
Now looking back I understand where I took this pride from. The principle to stay true to my belief, even in the face of adversity. To disregard authority when it contradict my ethic. No consequences on earth is worst than the one after being subdued. It allowed me to do some pretty stupid moves in my life. It’s like a blessing and a curse at the same time.
I grew up with the conviction that I could achieve anything that is humanly possible, probably more... As long as there is a will. So with pride, I decided to become a video-game artist. Some people think artists are born as they are, that the gift of artistry is given at birth. Therefore failure was the only outcome, there was nothing in me at birth. Just an empty canvas. My parents aren’t artists, I barely drew as a kid, my favorite subject matters in school was math, right handed, outside as far as I was concerned all shadows where grey. My only asset was a deep love for video-games. I started sending my portfolio to various studios across the globe, mainly 3D renders but I soon realize that I wasn't up to the standard. My technical knowledge was fine, but I lacked something. I couldn't articulate it, because I couldn’t speak a word of a language I wasn't even aware of. Out of this relentless job search, help came. It was one of these rejection letters, but unlike the others, it had some pointers on how to improve. I can't retrace that person today, but she took the time to explain to me what was wrong in my work, the 3D modeling itself was fine, but my presentation was weak. I had a 3D render of a church lighted in a horrible way, light was white, contrast was low, the image was boring to look at, all the incredible amount of details was meaningless. She told me, “Think batman, think star wars, be dramatic”...and my life changed. I started to see in colors and few months later I landed at Ubisoft.
Was I an artist then? Nope... to some extent I was faking it. Which ultimately led to the impostor syndrome. Thinking that soon someone will discover who you really are. Instead I was moving up the ladder...my work was often chosen to be used for public demo by the marketing team...I was flabbergasted. I tried to catch up, life drawing, pastel painting, photography and addiction to art book. Along the years, I became Art Director, and the pressure even grew stronger. Socially it sure felt good, but at home in the quietness of the night it was a horrible thing. The shoes and the hat felt far too big. Even after shipping my first game as AD, Splinter Cell Double Agent 360, I was still feeling mediocre. I was entangled in a strange dynamics, while I was getting approval from my peers and superiors, earning a regular paycheck for my art capabilities, I was still doubting myself, yet trusting that I could be greater than what I was currently offering. I picked up watercolors and started blogging, first to keep a record of this journey, but also to be out there, naked, in the community.
I remember in 2006 opening an old sketchbook from 2001, It was shocking, because I really liked what I found in it. I was discovering it like someone else’s sketchbook. I got sad, because I felt I couldn't draw the same way... total confusion. The content of the old sketchbook was fresh and done innocently, my sketchbook of 2007 was done with a tons of art principles that I was trying to control at once. Direction, Value, Rhythm, Balance, etc... In 2001 I was drawing from the heart, intuitively. In 2007 I was drawing with clumsily acquired knowledge, cold.
Undeniably I was progressing, just unaware of it. It’s a slow painstaking process, it will make you doubt and reach dark places, sporadically intermitted with intense moment of joy and creative flow. No matter what, you have to persist for what you really want, do not subdue to popular belief around any craft, you choose who and what you want to be. You’re the one setting the tune for your life. Its just take time.
The greatest help I’ve received was surely through friendship that came along. There are generous people out there, talented, giving away all they can for the sheer pleasure of sharing. Sometime in a friendly manners, sometime like a knife thru your skull. One way or another, the key is to really listen without being gullible, drop the ego, take a step backward, squint, evaluate and only then you’ll know what to do.
If I could give any advices to art students and people dreaming of a life of artistry, be aware of these few points below. They reflect the beliefs in which I found comfort and enable me to do what was needed to become who I wanted to be.
1-Artists are made, not born.
2-Trust in yourself, don’t ever give up.
3-You will rarely discover things on your own, share that journey with others.
4-There will always be a difference between your vision and what you’re able to do.
Its the only way to grow.
5-Fake it til you make it.
Today, am I an artist? Yes, I am, I’ve chosen to.
Do I paint/Draw like I want to? Nope. Far from it.
Will I ever be able to? I doubt it, but that’s the way it should be.
There is no destination, only an open road ahead.