Artists Block

By Armand Cabrera


I see a lot of people starting their art career seem to get overtaken with artists block. They define artists block as their ideas seem banal or they have no ideas at all for subjects. It’s an interesting idea but one that ultimately is in control of the artist themselves. I think the problem stems from a misconception about the importance of subject as opposed to handling.

Most artists will tell you that subject matter is unimportant in art. It’s the execution of that subject that has worth, not the other way around. Of course that kind of facility with a medium comes at a steep price for most people. Professionalism requires long hours of boring fundamentals and lots of practice. I find that usually these people are frustrated with their abilities not the lack of ideas. The good news is ability can always be improved.

Every professional artist I know goes through periods of unmotivated creation where everything being done is mediocre or just outright crap. The way to overcome these periods is with discipline focusing on process instead of outcome and finished product. Most professionals I know just continue to work through the slow periods because that work can and usually does lead to breakthroughs. You might even find with enough facility at your fingertips anything is a subject and your problem is solved.

Art and Free Speech


Armand Cabrera

I have been writing these articles for over ten years now and in that time I’ve rarely strayed from the narrow topic of the general nuts and bolts of art but with recent events taking place here in this country and around the world I feel compelled to speak out against what I see as an assault on free speech.

Art does not exist in a vacuum. To flourish it needs certain conditions and to my way of thinking the most important is the free exchange of ideas. Ideas that challenge our comfort zones and push our boundaries and even may offend us are an important part of what goes into making all forms of great art.

In this country free speech is being strangled on college campuses by individuals who only want a platform for their narrow worldviews. They have set themselves up as the overlords of all things right and good and in doing so have destroyed any chance for dialogue between opposing viewpoints. Surprisingly this is coming from the left side of the political spectrum instead of conservatives.

This goes against everything America was built on. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right even when it is distasteful or outright offensive. As an artist I am well acquainted with this kind of fascist control over what people can say or do or write or draw. In my career I have been blocked from showing my art because it had religious overtones, political commentary, nudity, violence or in some cases fantasy elements.  I abhor censorship as much when this comes from the left as I do when it comes from the right of the political spectrum.

Stifling free speech leads to an insular worldview and limited thinking which leads to extreme and sometimes violent intolerance of other viewpoints. Reports of students spitting on people listening to speakers they disagree with or locking out and threatening journalists trying to report on news events shows how far they have fallen from American values on our campuses.

Even more disturbing are the recent bombings around the world showing that democracies are being threatened by extreme fundamentalism. Attacks on musicians, writers, journalists and cartoonists some with murderous outcomes for the victims of the aggression, have been increasing around the globe. This type of attack goes against the core beliefs of a free democracy and capitulation to the aggressors is not the answer. No ideology, social or religious, should be exempt from criticism or outright ridicule by anyone in a free society.

Artists of all disciplines have always pushed society’s boundaries. They have always been the forefront of free thought. In my opinion the world is now a better place because of this, do not let a few extremists who fear progress and change alter that. 

How Star Wars Changed my Life

Armand Cabrera
The new star wars film is about to hit theaters in a few days. Like many fans of the franchise I will go see it and see if J.J. Abrams can make something filled with the same pathos and sense of wonder the first trilogy had. I hope he can.
I was 22 when Star Wars came out and like most people I loved the initial films. They created a sense of awe that was missing from most science fiction in those days. They brought humanity and spirituality to the genre in a way that resonated to my young self.
I did not know at that time that 13 years later I would end up becoming a professional artist and actually working at the LucasFilm Ranch in Marin County, California on Star Wars products making art for some of the very early computer games in the franchise.
Starting in the mid 80’s I began working professionally illustrating the odd cover here and there for companies like Baen Books and St. Martin’s Press but not enough to quit my regular job. I was also showing my work at fantasy and science fiction conventions winning awards and selling originals, and painting landscape commissions for people but again not enough to make a living from it.
LucasFilm launched my professional career as an artist. I was hired by them full time in 1990 and I worked on Star Wars for Nintendo, Super Nintendo and later on with Totally Games on the Xwing series for the PC. In those days at LucasFilm we were a small division and the artists had lots of responsibilities and creativity, there were only 15 of us when I started. Those games made up a large part of my work as a professional in the Entertainment industry.
When I left LucasFilm Games had become the LucasArts Games Division and we had tripled the personnel.  I had no problem getting hired at other top game companies. The steady work over the next 12 years helped me build my abilities and allowed me to transition into galleries. The high output of those industry work deadlines, although frustrating at the time, helped my productivity level which sustains my art business to this day.
I will always be grateful to the people at LucasFilm who hired me to work for them in the games division and later Totally Games as a concept/background/production artist. The time I had at the LucasFilm Ranch, surrounded by all the other talented artists that I worked with, shaped me as an artist in every aspect and helped to have the successful career I have today.

Social Media and Nudity in Art

By Armand Cabrera
Artists are increasingly posting their work on social media. Some are finding that because of the  reach of the web their work is being censored. They way sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook apply their acceptable use/ guidelines are uneven leaving many artists confused and frustrated by the experience. The problems stem from these sites having many purposes for their users unlike dedicated artist hosting sites which can be much more flexible although with a smaller much more targeted user base.

As more and more artists and entrepreneurs are turning to self promotion and marketing, social media sites are finding themselves having to adjust and things that would have gotten banned just a few years ago can be completely acceptable now.

The internet offers a worldwide audience though, and something considered in good taste in one place could be found to be offensive in another. Content generators don’t really have control over who shares their posts even though they are responsible for the content of them. Violations can get the offender temporarily or permanently banned.
Artists recently hosted a Facebook Nudity Day protesting the random censorship of art on the site.  The site was flooded with all forms of artistic expression celebrating nudity. In my own feed I have seen people  reported and censored briefly for a post only to have FB reverse their decision upon inspection of the content in question.
If you are an artist how do you deal with the restrictions various social media place on your art? If you respond please do not include  links or images in your reply. That’s how I am dealing with comments.

Constructive Criticism

Armand Cabrera
 I was involved in a discussion about constructive criticism online. The original post made the point that unless you can accomplish the thing you are criticizing it’s not constructive criticism and is basically a useless form of sharing an uninformed opinion.
I actually agree with this idea and I have long been a proponent of artists working problems out on their own first. When that fails, I recommend finding a professional with greater skill to give you constructive advice on how to improve.
I know in today’s world this attitude may seem elitist but it actually is the fastest path to success. Some people are better at things than other people. If you can’t do the math, you can’t constructively critique Einstein’s theory of relativity. Too often people decide their uninformed opinions are valid and helpful, when they’re not. Those people in your profession that share similar traits with your own work and creative vision are the ones you want to talk to when you get stuck. Group critiques like group hugs are pretty useless. Other than making everyone feel important, they offer little help towards improving your work.



Asking for advice should always be thoughtful and targeted. Isolate problems first before asking for help. If the advice strays make sure to ask how it ties into your request. It’s very easy to get sidetracked even when someone knows what they are talking about and get too much feedback to effectively digest.
Art should be individual. Too many opinions and ideas from disparate sources will not improve most people’s abilities; just weaken them as their work becomes a hodgepodge of conflicting opinions. In my opinion diligence and hard work, combined with personal interpretations of information and discoveries have better outcomes for creativity in the long run.