The Alchemy of Creation

Did I grab your attention with that epic title? Well it’s fitting. What we’re talking about today is life changing. Literally.

There’s a phrase the old alchemists used to use: Solve et Coagula. Roughly it means dissolve, then come together. Break something down into it’s parts, analyze them, then reassemble them in a different form. In other words, to create, you must destroy. Now, we all know the alchemists were misguided. It’s not possible to literally transmute lead in to gold (at least not without a particle accelerator) but figuratively, they may have been on to something.  After all, if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.

No matter how deep you go, this concept of Solve et Coagula applies to all levels of the creative process. On the surface level, what do you sketch on if you don’t chop down trees to make sketch paper? How do you sculpt without ripping clay or marble out of the ground?

And once you do have your marble, you have to destroy it and break it down in a selective way, leaving behind only that which adds to your design. Art is a destructive process as much as it is creative.

Going deeper, you must be willing to destroy your own creations in order to improve them. Sometimes literally, sometimes not. We have to be willing to see our work objectively. Where is it good, but where is it bad? A lot of artists have no problem seeing where their work is bad, in fact many are overly critical, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes we can be too protective or precious about a piece of art that we’re especially proud of. Or even worse, just because we took a long time to create it and we’re too lazy to do it again. And so we reject honest criticism from people who’s artistic sensibilities we would normally trust.  (If you don’t trust their artistic eye, why are you asking their opinion anyway?)

What are we trying to do? What are we trying to create beyond good 3D characters, props, and environments? Ultimately we’re trying to create a certain life for ourselves. We’re not just creating art, we’re recreating ourselves into artists. And, as we’ve been saying, creation is a destructive process, That concept applies at this deeper level as well. This is the hardest aspect of this idea to accept, and it’s even harder to put it in to practice. How do you expect to make a sculpture without ripping clay out of the earth? How do you expect to form it into a piece of art without tearing most of it off from the whole and discarding it? And how do you expect to create the life of an artist for yourself without destroying your old life? The lives of the artist and the non-artist are not the same, and you can’t have both.

Every thing we do is a sacrifice of something else. Every single action we take, we do to the exclusion of everything else. If you’re sleeping, you’re not eating. If you eating, you’re not jogging. If you’re playing video games, you’re not practicing your art. If you’re practicing you’re art, you’re not doing literally everything else you could be doing. How much you chose to sacrifice in order to improve your art is up to you.

We’re getting a little heady so let’s bring this back down to earth. If you want to get good at zbrush, you may have to quit your WoW guild and give up your position on the League of Legends leaderboards.  You may have to give up your nightly 6 hour Netflix binge sesh. The most successful 3D artists are the ones who live and breathe their craft.  While you’re learning the modeling pipeline, you also need to be teaching yourself discipline.  Because more important than motivation and inspiration, is the ability to work even when you don’t want to.  Or did you think that all it takes to be a 3D artist is to get a degree and then go to work at a game studio 9-5? There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a lifetime. How many hours a day are you spending on improving your art? How you spend your time is how you spend your days. And how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

Solve et Coagula. You have to destroy if you want to create.

As long as I’m using overly-grandiose language to describe basic truths about life, I might as well leave you with an equally over-the-top quote:

“Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not.” – Mooji