The 6th Massive Black workshop was held in Wellington, November 13-16th. Attending it was definitely a life changing experience. It’s a privilege to share what I learnt at the workshops for those that unfortunately missed out.
It would be unfair to suggest that Massive Black is merely a film/game concept design company because they also contract themselves out to a whole spectrum of jobs outside the entertainment industry. In fact, each individual artist from the Massive Black team is exploring many different artistic avenues, including their own intellectual property. Collectively, Massive Black has worked on the industry’s top profile projects, and encompasses a team that easily represents some of the best artistic talent in the world. The person responsible for Massive Black is Jason Manley, who is also the
co-founder of conceptart.org, the single largest online community for visual artists.
Wellington being the first venue for a workshop south of the equator, it was an opportunity too good to even consider saying no to. Unfortunately, it was only advertised on conceptart.org and tickets sold out extremely fast despite its high price tag. The experience easily outweighed the cost, as my mate who attended the workshop with me simply put it “I learnt more in the four days of the workshop than in my four years of university.” That statement isn’t far fetched considering the level of industry experience that Massive Black brought.
The workshops are notorious for being organic and free flowing in terms of its structure.There was a general timeline for lectures but it would casually change throughout the day. Lifedrawing was also held throughout the entire day, and we were encouraged to move between lifedrawing and lectures as we please. In this organized chaos, you were guaranteed a chance to meet and talk to anyone. It was commonplace to turn around and find that a world class artist would be sitting alongside drawing as well. Half the attendees themselves were professionals, so striking up a conversation with anyone quickly turned into insightful knowledge.
Every attendee’s experience was therefore unique and what they took out of the workshops was totally up to them. Some attended for exposure, some for technical advice, and some for direction. I attended particularly for one reason, which was to observe the Massive Black artists. Jason Manley put it perfectly in his speech in the opening night “…in the next four days, there is only one degree of separation between these great artists and you.” I was no longer isolated in Wellington, trying to imagine how these artists worked. I could now see how they worked first hand, and further more, I could discuss it with them. I tracked down and opened a dialogue with almost every single one of the Massive Blacks artists. The greatest knowledge I took away from the workshops were not technical advice, but philosophical advice, and this is perhaps applicable to anything outside of painting and drawing.
Will of intent. Great things take time and commitment. Do the hard yards by understanding the fundamentals fully. The fundamentals are the basis for a strong foundation to build upon. This takes time and commitment, so learn to enjoy the process and journey. For these artists, it is clear that art is a lifetime pursuit. The only person that stops anyone from achieving anything are themselves.
Omission of anything that is irrelevant. For these artists, art is not just what they do, it is who they are. To achieve the goals you set out, you must create the environment that will cater for success. Which may mean omission of playing video games, or simply cutting down on the hours lying in the sun doing nothing. On the other end of the scale, be prepared to take a sketchbook and draw everywhere.
Community is key. Shape the crowd around you with people that will motivate you to achieve your goals. Use friendly competition to drive you, but share information to mutually improve. Seek and feed off constructive criticism, because this will develop a mental strengthening which eliminates complacency. There is no room for complacency, even for professionals.
Everything is due to the power of thought. Despite artist’s high ambitions, we are also a group of people that is highly prone to immense self doubt. Overcome this by using intuition to make decisions, and follow through with willpower.
Wes Burt and Whit Brachna of the Massive Black team are 22 and 21 years old respectively, which is absolutely astounding considering they are some of the top artists in the industry. You would be forgiven for thinking that they are prodigal; however during my conversation with them, it was clear that it was due to their training in the fundamentals that has accelerated them to the top.
Jason Manley stated that institutionalized art education in most instances is ultimately flawed, not just through university but also through school. This resulted in the creation of conceptart.org as well as the Massive Black Atelier school in San Francisco. Atelier is a long lost 19th century French Academic method which is now starting to be revived, of which Wes and Whit were both students of. Since the workshops, I have buried my anger at the fact that my degree never taught me the basic fundamentals I needed, and have gone back to square one, to teach myself the fundamentals and Atelier.
The workshop experience empowered me, by providing all the information and insights I needed to excel myself to a world class status. I truly feel like my real artistic journey has just finally begun.
The next workshop is in Shanghai, China, and Jason Manley is finding a way to make it free.
[editors note: Thank you very much to Thaw Naing for sharing this experience with us in this great article]
Thaw Naing is an Illustrator / Comic artist. His personal website is www.delusivearts.com. You can also find him on loud thought at thawnaing.loudthought.co.nz
Note* image by Phil Holland.