OH MAN. Memory lane. Let’s do it.
Assignments are both the best and worst thing about art school. They can be really cool and really spark your imagination sometimes, or they can be a real drag - so basically it’s like being a real illustrator but you probably get more cool assignments. I think the trick is to find a way to make it interesting for yourself even if the assignment itself isn’t interesting.
My most challenging assignment in general was probably my doppelgänger piece:
Our assignment was just one word: doppelgänger. The reason it was hard for me is, I’M SUPER INTERESTED IN THE CONCEPT OF DOPPELGÄNGERS. You know on Project Runway when there’s that one designer who has a thing and keeps trying to make their thing fit into the challenge? And then they get a challenge that’s exactly about that thing, and you think they’ll do great but they crack under the pressure and freak out? That’s how this assignment was for me. I spent all day researching everything I could about doppelgängers, reading every article, and trying to do sketches, and just couldn’t get the creepy feeling that I wanted in my sketches. It’s a hard concept to get across. I ended up staying up all night and eventually becoming so legitimately afraid of my own reflection in the mirror that I refused to go to my bedroom to sleep until it was light out (I lived alone at this time). I ended up skipping class. But I got it done in the end.
The piece that took the most labor, though, was this one:
This one was a pretty fun assignment: we had to take a cocktail drink name and illustrate it in a way that communicated the “essence” of the drink. I chose fish house punch, which has a story behind it of some fishermen inviting over a bunch of women and mixing up this drink for them. Then I shot myself in the foot by turning in a super complicated sketch that I didn’t even know how to execute and it got picked. This one took me like 25-30 hours to finish, but I did it somehow. I’m not even sure I could replicate the style I used for this piece if I tried.
Another fun assignment:
This one came easy. We were supposed to choose four words that started with the same letter and make an illustration from it. My phrase was “Violent Victorians Vibrating Vodka” which is a really stupid phrase and doesn’t make any sense but I don’t think the piece is half bad considering I was a sophomore at the time. I think this was one of my first digital pieces.
Sometimes you get an assignment that just doesn’t inspire you and you have to kind of be a snarky little shit about it in order to make it interesting to you:
(full view) This one was supposed to be an illustrated map. It could be a map of anything. I hate drawing maps and I was really uninspired, so I turned in a sketch that wasn’t very good, then when I got home I was like “screw that I’m doing something else entirely” and made this. Which is - not really a map. But I got away with it. (Clearly I tend to default to violence to make illustrations cool to me)
Sometimes you get an assignment that wants you to do one thing but is suitably vague about the parameters and you’re gonna want to push those as far as you can, if you can get away with it.
I was taking a concept art class and the teacher really only wanted video game concept art that was painted and rendered, which I just…don’t do. At all. Ever. It’s not interesting to me. So we were assigned a group project (with a pretty cool assignment, actually): we were supposed to choose from a list of classic stories and work together to reinterpret it as another genre (which we chose from another list). There was a lot of post-apocalyptic muted colors going on in that class, like…it was SUPER mainstream videogamey, to the point where my team and I chose to interpret The Three Musketeers as an 80s genderbent high school romantic comedy about roller derby girls.
I ended up being really proud of it, even though that class established that video game concept art was not a world I was interested in.
Sometimes it just works out for you:
This one was a tarot card design, based on the tarot deck that Light Grey Art Lab did. We drew tarot cards randomly and then re-illustrated them, and I drew the knight of swords. This was one that just fell into place, as I am all about knights/swords. Goodness, there are a lot of stabbings in this post.
Sometimes you’ll have to make an illustration based on a dry or uninteresting concept:
This was based on a magazine article about being an introvert, and it wasn’t one I felt that I could twist the parameters to include pirates or stabbing. It didn’t seem like there were a lot of options for me to make this one interesting but in the end I was still able to figure out stuff to make it interesting for me to draw. Like oh, I like drawing sweaters, I like drawing fashionable girls and parties, and I was still able to make it something that was fun to draw.
Other suggestions to find ways to motivate yourself:
- look up contemporary illustration galleries that do themed shows (like Light Grey Art Lab) and challenge yourself to make an illustration as if it were for that show (even if the deadline is past or you don’t intend to enter the piece). The doppelgänger and tarot card pieces were based on prompts from Nobrow Magazine and LGAL, respectively.
- Make a list of things you like, and everything you like to draw. (I like to go through all my Tumblr likes to find inspiration sometimes). Then mash something together. Do you like cats and 50s greasers? Hey. Guess what. CAT GREASERS
- Read read read as much as you can and look at as many different illustrators as you can. Figure out what kind of stories and art you like and what kind of stories and art you’d like to see exist in the world.
- Comicswise? Find text that already exists and interpret into a comic as practice. That was one of my assignments for a comic class, and I ended up doing a sci-fi cowboy comic based on the lyrics from a Devil Makes Three song.