When I was in high school, my dad loaned me his Yashica 35mm and a 50mm lens, and I bought a few rolls of whatever was the cheapest film I could find. I quickly learned I had zero understanding of photography from either artistic or technical standpoints. This is a pretty standard starting point for a back story, and most people will tell you they followed their passion, worked hard, learned what they could, and became whatever they are.
But I gave up.
Well, mostly. I set aside the camera for a few years and forgot about it. The experience was a little disappointing, and at the time I had no access to classes of any kind. Tim Berners-Lee was working on what would become the World Wide Web, if that gives you a sense of time. At some point, I bought another inexpensive film camera and was gifted a ticket to an introductory lecture from a Nikon tour. I still sucked.
Never let your tools get in the way of your art
When websites became a thing, I learned how to code and eventually taught myself to develop applications for Macromedia Flash (RIP). My first real office job was supposed to be writing interactive learning elements for military resource sites. On my first day, the graphic designer quit and the boss gave me the task of learning Photoshop and illustration. That’s when things started to click for me.
From there, I started absorbing everything I could about digital art, only stopping short of actually attending school. After a year or two, I participated in online forums helping to deconstruct photo effects and teaching people how to use Photoshop. That lead to creating user groups, writing tutorials, and eventually books and magazine columns. Eventually, it also lead to an invitation to speak at a creative conference that allowed me to commission an entire costume that I could write off for business purposes. Like you do.
I discovered what really motivates me is discovery and sharing knowledge; two sides of the same coin. For me, the enjoyment surrounding digital art really comes from the pursuit more than the accomplishment. Many a night has found me inventing little experiments to peer under Photoshop’s hood, or shooting the same scene a hundred different ways just to get a feel for how light behaves and the camera reacts. Once I’ve figured something out – or convince myself I’ve understood – the next step is to get someone else involved, to put out a new seed and see who can make it grow.
Over the years, one of my greatest personal pleasures is ultimately egotistical, I suppose. It’s when someone comes back to me and says they’ve built on what I wrote about or taught, or that they were inspired to go on their own hunts and research.
Oh, I mentioned above that I’ve never attended school for art. However, I did receive my bachelor’s in physics from UC San Diego in 1997. This is probably where I got my penchant for deconstructing Photoshop tools and techniques into fundamental elements, and why I’m never really satisfied with creating art unless there’s an element of discovery in it. This reflected in how I approach education, which you can see in my books on Peachpit and Amazon. It’s important to me that others understand their tools so their expression and creativity is unhindered by having to remember shortcuts or tricks.
Never let your tools get in the way of your art.