Realities of a Busy Artist or How to Keep Making Art

Alexander Alza discussed the things that help him mentally to combine personal projects with work, family, and hobbies and accept the fact that sometimes there is simply not enough time.

A Quick Note

What follows below are solely my opinions.

Allow me to start this by saying I'm one of the lucky ones. I get to create art and support my family by doing so. In today's circumstances I know I'm extraordinarily privileged to do what I do so if you're reading this please understand that I'm not naive to today's climate and that I am merely expressing a sentiment that I'm sure other artists in a similar position may share.

My day job keeps me creatively satisfied. I have had times in my career in the game industry where that was not always the case. Regardless I'm the type of person who craves learning new things and creating/expressing oneself through art. Like many of you, this means that during whatever spare time I may have I enjoy working on personal projects. If you're reading this, I assume you are like me and have numerous personal projects that are abandoned at some early stage. 

All images shared in this article are from personal works in progress, they may never be completed or look totally different once they are. Let's dig in...

Our Situations May Be Unique

I happen to have a wife and two young kids. As a parent I want to devote time to the kids as they are only this young once and as a husband, I need to try to make time together with my wife without the circus of distractions. This typically means that whatever spare time I have is dedicated to me and my wife watching something on a streaming service at some late hour when the kids are in cool-down mode or asleep. On top of that, you can toss in the numerous games that have been proverbially gathering dust on my backlog and suddenly there aren't enough hours in the day.

Feeding your brain the creative product of others is inspirational fuel that creates a spider web of ideas and considerations. By absorbing creative media, you may be pleasantly surprised by things you may not have seen coming or further intrigued by problem-solving how you would have handled something differently. Either way, it's good creative juice for the brain and that's why, along with common sense things like a sensible diet, exercise, and getting enough rest, absorbing media is crucial to evolving your own output.

Portfolio sharing platforms such as ArtStation are great for showcasing and inspiring people in the creative fields. Naturally, you may find yourself a bit intimidated to share your work when you see masterpieces being posted on a daily basis. Please understand these amazing works don't happen overnight. Artists dedicate time and go through numerous iterations before posting something they can be proud of.

Acceptance and Silver Linings

I happen to be in the game industry but in any technical field, knowledge is ever-evolving. If you aren't keeping up with the latest trends and techniques, it's easy to slip into an out-of-touch funk. I'm writing this article because I assume I'm not alone in feeling the pinch of living somewhere between advancing my personal art/skills and enjoying my family, friends, and activities. If you're like me and have chosen the family life or perhaps you have other life demands or hobbies that occupy a substantial amount of time then we can relate! I'll share with you some of the tactics I've used to at least subdue the itchy anxieties of not flexing the personal art muscles as much as desired.

Mind Games

First, I try to remind myself that the ideas in my mind or that one concept art piece that lit a spark, whatever it may be are served better by sitting in my brain and marinating a bit longer. Yes, this is more of a mental trick I tell myself to feel less helpless, but it can also be beneficial. I may not be able to "put pen to paper" but I can casually gather up more supporting art references on my smartphone and continue the pile-up of idea refinement. 

Small Moves

Personal projects for me are typically very free form without the constraints of budgets and other factors you would need to consider in actual playable game environments so these projects shouldn't be adding stress to your life. Easier said than done if you're obsessed with art as I am but it's okay to nibble away at a project. A couple of hours late at night on a weekend may be all you need to feel like your personal projects have forward momentum. 

Trust the Process

In my particular case, I relish environment art so I'm looking for a total picture of composition, lighting, and storytelling. You will notice in a few images I'm posting here some popular Megascans assets that I use to save time since time is of the essence. If you can quickly throw together a rough composition without having to reinvent the wheel, I say you use that to your advantage. I've also on more than one occasion reused assets I've previously used in other personal pieces. There is nothing stopping you from swapping out assets later in the process so don't feel some ethical responsibility to start everything from scratch. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

Also, take screenshots at the end of whatever you determine to be a session. Save all of them as evidence of how far you've come in such a ridiculously long time once the project is "done". 

So, When Do You Call Your Personal Project Done? 

We've all heard of the "Finished, not perfect" mantra so try to keep in mind that this is about your personal growth. As tiny and incremental as you may feel your progress to be, it is still growth and as long as you've learned one new thing from your personal work or even if you just feel creatively fulfilled then you should be proud and satisfied with the journey you've taken.

I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, I'm just sharing how I've managed to cope with my predicaments. Do you have ways of dealing with the pressures of being a voracious artist with not enough time on your hands that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear how others cope with this dilemma.

Show Your Work!

If you remain a bit self-conscious about sharing work that you may feel isn't up to par for professional eyes to see, you should still post it privately, or not publish it but keep a gallery view of your works next to one another. I promise it becomes fulfilling to see how far you have grown over time as an artist.

I often have artists at school reach out to me to get critiques and feedback or just to explore ideas of where they could push their art. As an up-and-comer, I would have loved to have access to an industry veteran for such feedback so I do my best, time permitting, to respond to these artists and give constructive criticism at no cost or recognition. If you're interested in getting critiques you may reach out to me on ArtStation with details as to what you're looking for and a link to your work if you don't have an ArtStation portfolio. Please be patient if I don't immediately respond.

Thanks for reading. I hope everyone stays safe and has productive rest of the year.

Keep. Making. Art. 

Alexander Alza, Lead Environment Artist at Bethesda Game Studios

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Comments 3

  • Curry Cale

    Thanks very much for taking the time to post this. I'm a level designer searching for entry-level jobs in the industry, and reading this was a breath of fresh air. This helped me realize I had been placing unneccessary pressure and restrictions on my personal projects, which hindered me from having fun in the process and completing them.


    Curry Cale

    ·3 years ago·
  • Alza Alexander

    Thanks for taking the time to read it! I'm glad people are finding it helpful :-)


    Alza Alexander

    ·3 years ago·
  • Schümann Oliver

    Very nice reminder that the creation of art should be fun. I'm also in the games industry and the struggle with time management can be sometimes exhaustin, but having a final piece and even a quick sketch or sculpture can be enough for your inner artistic demon and it was worth investing the time.

    Thank you for this article!


    Schümann Oliver

    ·3 years ago·

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