Armand Cabrera

Outcome is more important than Process
Many people delude themselves into believing that a painting is successful because they’ve worked so hard on it. We have all heard the sad tales of the weeks, even months, of work that have gone into the completion of a painting. Unfortunately, these artists have often ignored the outcome, focusing instead on the effort spent on the process.

In art, only the results count
Only a conscious effort towards a predetermined goal with a successful result can create anything worthwhile; anything else is merely an accident—not art.

Becoming a successful artist requires years of practice. The old adage applies to any career or profession—success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. It is most disappointing that, particularly in the field of art, many artists believe they shouldn’t have to practice because art is “creative”. This unfortunate philosophy was launched by the modern art movement and continues today to the detriment of all artists.

To achieve successful results, practice with specific goals in mind

An artist must recognize where they are deficient. It’s not productive to say,
“I’m going to paint better”. That is a meaningless statement. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I improve my paintings?” Isolate your problems and then take a class or workshop from a professional who can successfully target your particular challenges. Insist that your instructor demonstrate how to help you to correct your inadequacies.

When you think you have acquired the new skills, continue to practice. Remember, it might take five or six hundred paintings before you have truly achieved your goal. This is the effort required to become a successful painter. If possible, show your work to your instructor and ask if you have met your objective. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you are successful just because you have worked so hard!
Focused perseverance will undoubtedly produce the desired results


Armand Cabrera

(all images by Armand Cabrera)

I believe curiosity to be a cornerstone for success—in any field. More than anything else, it’s the fuel that drives us to know new things—the necessary requirement for the achievement of a goal. Stop for a moment to think about the question—“How do you do that?” Then ask —“Can I do that?” These are the thoughts that spark creativity.

All the artists I admire have a strong sense of curiosity about how things work. They tend to be voracious readers, seeking out knowledge wherever they can find it. They are not afraid to ask for help to solve a problem. Great artists experiment, they analyze, they question how and what they are doing—always refining or working to improve something about their art.
Curiosity can take you down dead ends, too. However, curious people seem to pull more knowledge from the experience than others would. They use the information, learning from their mistakes and incorporating that experience into their library of knowledge to avoid similar situations in the future.

The famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, signed his name, followed by a letter “Q” with an arrow through it. His symbol meant—“ask the next question”.
Want to be more successful at what you do?

Be curious. Ask the next question!

Amateur and Professional Artists

Armand Cabrera

( All Illustrations by Armand Cabrera)
I think it’s time we bring back a word that was popular before the baby boomers started to ‘find themselves’. The word is “amateur”. Do you notice that practically no one is an amateur artist anymore? Everyone has “professional artist” status—their desire and intent are enough to warrant the “professional” claim. I think artists should be “amateurs” until they actually make their living from selling their paintings. That way, they’ve actually earned the right to call themselves “professional artists.”

To those seeking a professional career in art —

Paint and draw daily from life!


Don’t post your paintings on the web or try to sell them on eBay for $100. Just paint— and work at being the best you can be. No one needs to see the artistic equivalent of what would be a 12 year olds’ diary; it is banal and self absorbed—interesting only to other 12 year olds.

I wouldn’t recommend having a website until you’re in a fine art gallery. Don’t show the world what a bad artist you are right now. Spend all your time working at becoming a better artist. (Do grab your domain name right away, though!).

When I wanted to become an illustrator, I worked my fulltime job, came home and painted at night and sent samples to art directors. I stuck the rejection letters on my living room walls. It was a reminder that everyday I didn’t paint or improve my skills, was just another day those people were right and I wasn’t good enough. It took about five years to get my first book cover. I stayed in illustration for another five years, doing magazine and book illustration. I chose not to get married or have a family. My focus—becoming a professional artist.

When I decided to leave illustration and become a production artist in games, I worked harder to improve my speed and skill. I knew that creating a painting every two weeks wasn’t fast enough to succeed in the games industry. When I was hired to paint backgrounds, I was doing two, 10” x 14” paintings a day for my clients. They decided when the backgrounds were good enough for the industry. Having that valuable external input was critical to my artistic growth—and an important reason I feel most gallery artists fail to draw or paint at the level of an illustrator or production artist.

After 15 years in the computer games business, I changed my focus and decided to work for myself as a gallery artist. During my transition to full time fine art, I worked 12-hour days in computer games, then came home and painted until 1 am or 2 am…and also painted on the weekends. Within two years, my paintings were accepted into a fine art gallery. Within a short time, I replaced my 6-figure games income with gallery sales and I quit my “day job”.

As an amateur artist, I sought after and benefited from professional advice. I never thought the art directors were wrong about my skills when they said my work wasn’t up to par. As a production artist, my drawing skills were weak in the beginning. I improved them with drawing from life whenever I could. I studied the fundamentals of painting. I appreciated the successful artists who guided me by offering honest criticism, even though it was sometimes hard to hear.

I’ve noticed that constructive criticism is a thing of the past. Most people are offended if you tell them the truth. It’s very sad that we’ve lowered the bar so very far and that everyone is a “professional artist”. We’re subjected to the worst of art because it’s not “correct” to criticize anyone’s “creativity”. Many art shows and organizations have no jury process—just a fee charged for participation. As a result, anyone, with or without skill, can exhibit their work in the show.

It’s time to demand skill and facility as basic tenets towards becoming a professional artist. Let’s bring back the fundamentals of art and be honest about amateur and professional level art. Perhaps, if we’re all honest, amateurs will work harder and will someday become professional artists in the true sense of the word.

Talent Verses Tenacity

Armand Cabrera

“Every loneliness is a pinnacle.”
Ayn Rand from “The Fountainhead”

I don’t believe in talent. I believe in tenacity. I believe what people often site as “talent” is actually desire and perseverance. I know plenty of people with talent…and they do little or nothing with it. Tenacity is never giving up until you’ve attained your goal. The level you attain is limited only by your work ethic.

While I was working as a production artist, I took a workshop from Thomas Blackshear at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I was in awe of his ability. He is still, in my opinion one of the best illustrators in the country.

Blackshear asked everyone in class what we wanted to learn that week. Most people wanted to learn how to copy someone else’s technique like Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, David Grove or Drew Struzan. I asked him to show us his process for one of his illustrations.

Blackshear had just finished a painting of a pirate with a cutlass over his shoulder. He said he would bring in his preparatory work. I thought—cool! I’ll see his preliminary drawings and a color comp, too.

The next day we walked into the class and the entire wall of the room was covered with his preliminaries, thumbnail compositions, value patterns, color comps, photo reference, rough sketches and the finished painting. There were probably 20 or 30 unique images for every stage of his painting. Good enough wasn’t good enough for Blackshear. He was at the top of his field and in all probability could have coasted—but he didn’t. It was a great lesson in perseverance and how much hard work separates the best from the mediocre.

In his book, My Adventures as an Illustrator, Norman Rockwell talks about classmates at the Art Students League chiding him for being focused and working so hard. They would say things to him like, If I worked as hard as you, I would be as great as Velasquez. His response was, Why don’t you? — but they never did. In the end, he became one of the greatest illustrators in America.

People say they want something and they declare they are willing to work hard for it. But really, they want something the way a two year old wants it—they want someone to give it to them. People decide they have worked hard enough and then they quit. They are not willing to sacrifice their comfort, a family life or money to achieve the goal ahead of them. They unwittingly (or knowingly) take on too many interests and other commitments that render them incapable of continuing to pursue their dream.

There you have it—Feel free to agree or disagree.

( First two paintings byThomas Blackshear, Copyright Thomas Blackshear)
Last two paintings by Norman Rockwell, Copyright Rockwell Estate)

Technology and the Arts

Armand Cabrera

“Now the man that invented the steam drill
He thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry drove fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine”

The above lyrics are from the old American folk tale and song about ability against technology. Many people have recorded the song, but my favorite version is from Harry Belafonte, recorded in 1954. You can hear it here

I am no Luddite when it comes to technology; I have been working with computers since the mid seventies and began using Photoshop during its first version. Tech has always been a part of my life and I am always looking to use it to free myself from the drudgery of menial tasks. There is a difference though, between using tech as a tool and using it in place of thinking or ability. This is the problem with all tech; people come to rely on it to give them an advantage that they don’t have the skills for otherwise, nowhere is this more apparent than the field of visual art.

Tech affects the business side of art as well as with people who couldn’t get into a gallery, now selling their work on eBay or over the net for next to nothing. In the old days these people were confined by their lack of ability to the areas they lived in. Now, with tech, they can have a website and advertise for free to people around the world. What this does is it creates pressure to commoditize art; to make it a widget and mass produce it like any other thing being made in the same way… as much as possible and as cheap as possible. Tech allows you to have no committment to a craft. You can dabble and still teach high school or work at an office. Ebay is up 24 hours selling for you.

You see this with the daily painters and plein air painting. Because these paintings are made alla prima in a few hours, people sell them for next to nothing carrying on that factory worker mentality, working for an hourly wage. What people like the daily painters and most plein air painter groups don’t realize is any good artist paints every day and most good artists paint from life. The idea that somehow practicing these things is special or noteworthy, just shows you how low the bar is set these days. The daily painters are particularly laughable in boasting about creating paintings smaller than 6×8 every day. The focus is not on the paintings quality but its price.

Plein air painting is not far behind, with most painters lacking the skill to paint anything except the simplest of motifs. Plein air painting has now become what western art was in the seventies or wildlife art was in the eighties; a place where the least amount of ability allows you to participate and still call yourself an artist. People whose abilities are masked by the fact they paint outdoors and pass off their limitations as a style and a genre of painting, which it isn’t.

Social networking, another tech invention, has convinced people that what you are doing every minute of the day is important. This electronic voyeurism has artists racing to post their images on ning or facebook and then tell everyone on twitter. The side effect of these social media is that the painting itself becomes a byproduct of its promotion, it convinces people with mediocre skills that ability is unimportant; it is networking and marketing that creates your success. Fame is now more important than talent, and what tech does more than anything is it allows people to become noticed without having to earn that notoriety with ability and hard work.