Friday, October 17, 2014

Guest Post - Crimson Daggers - Dan Warren

Hey guys! The following post is from my friend Dan Warren, known him forever and we did the Crimson Daggers together. I wanted to post this on here so it didn't get lost in the Facebook scramble, hope you like it!

This past weekend, Dave and I had the pleasure to sell some art and meet some awesome people at the 2014 New York Comic-con. Over the 4 days at Dave's table, we got to talk with a lot of people about a lot of things- some of them current or former members of the group Dave started and we both took turns managing, the Crimson Daggers- and a single question kept coming up. Why, with things on the rise as they were toward the end of 2013, did we back away from the group to focus on personal and professional work? As we are both hugely grateful to and incredibly humbled by all the people who have supported the idea behind daggers all along the way, I hope I can answer this question as well as elaborate on a few things in the process. this is going to be part explanation, part history, and part apology, so bear with me haha. There's a lot to cover.

When Dave started daggers years ago, the idea was originally to be a platform where he could force his own self-betterment in art by forcing his successes and failures on a daily audience. The idea was that if he said he would be at a certain place at a certain time every single day, the community would show up to support and pressure him into working on his studies and create an environment where he could not back down. This of course worked over his year of streams- and in a relatively short amount of time, his skills, portfolio, and clientele all improved vastly. About a year and a half after this, I was graduating from art school and feeling the incredible dread of failure most feel when they realize they are leaving a 4 year program without the necessary skills to survive outside the college bubble. After talking with Dave more than a few times, the opportunity of doing a second daggers run was thought up, and less than one week after finishing up with school I started 10 month run of study and discussion streams. Over the course of this, a lot of changes to the daggers formula were introduced- most of them really awesome- and as a result a lot of things changed. 

Having seen what Dave did prior with the free education / public pressure model for self improvement, an audience was already in place for a second run at daggers. In other words- whereas when Dave started out it was entirely him, when I started out it was with a group of like minded individuals who all wanted to achieve the same thing- many of them now close friends. The fact that we were all doing it added to the hype and pressure to keep pushing, and with our combined efforts the initial 10 or so of us soon grew to 20, then 30, then 50, and so on. The group got to a point where it needed a space to grow, and with the forums on other major art sites in a state of slow decline, it was suggested that the daggers get their own small forum to allow a space of focused communal growth. So many streams were happening so often that this forum then led to a livestream list of streams associated with the dagger mentality, which would update in real time showing who was live at any given moment. Suddenly, there was always someone working, at any given time, and the pressure to be part of the group improvement grew that much more. I cannot stress enough that the improvements to the group as a whole were almost entirely not a result of Dave or myself. Having stated multiple times on the streams that the entire point of the daggers was a 'if you want something that doesn't exist- be the one to make it happen' mentality, group members took it upon themselves to make the group better without any incentive from either of us. This was really awesome and inspiring to see, and I cant credit our friends and fellow daggers Agelaos and Wolkenfels enough for their creation and contributions to the forum and stream list respectively. 

At some point during all this, a few common questions began to arise. People would ask what art directors want to see in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Others would ask how to 'get better' at painting and composition. Some would even ask very basic questions of how to be creative, or to know if an idea is worth pursuing at all. Problems with motivation, how to start, where to go, and what the world wanted to see became common. we tried to answer as many as we could. At around the same time, many members of daggers and viewers from outside the community began to suggest that we fill the gap left behind when so many had left other sites similar to what we were becoming. The idea of contest, challenges, and community activities were shot around with a lot of excitement. Deciding to tackle two problems at once, Dave and I created the idea of what became the goldenboy and bloodsports challenges-- art contests designed to teach new skills rather than to show off where one was already at, judged based on the creativity and problems solved in the final image instead of just the technical skill that went into creating it. This idea came from the core belief we still maintain, that anyone of any skill can become as good at painting fundamentals as they desire through hard work and training, but that a great idea and clever solution always means more in the end. We wanted people to start getting out of the old forum mentality of mindlessly working on niche fundamentals and to start thinking in a broader, more creative sense, while still maintaining a focus on their weaknesses and a sincere effort at improving on them. This led to the judgement of all our bloodsport contests being a twofold combination of what the person studied to make their image, as well as their idea behind the image itself. self betterment and creativity. 

The reason I bring this up is because as it stands, there are 16 bloodsports, all carefully created by Dave and myself from the ground up, and they aren't going anywhere. More than just a test of skill and creativity, each and every bloodsport was designed to fill a slot in a portfolio geared toward the entertainment industry. Many of the challenges were briefs edited from actual jobs we both had done in the field- others were based on suggestions we would hear from art directors or companies at events and cons, some where deliberate and targeted fanart challenges designed to get portfolios seen on social networking, and more than a few were just our own ideas, trimmed down and fitted into the format of an actual job anyone could get in the industry. We didn't want to just offer challenges for the sake of it- we wanted to offer a body of guidelines for those willing to actually build a portfolio from the ground up, filled with relevant images executed correctly so that they could take their first step into professional work. Combined with forum feedback and critiques from guest professionals, the results were amazing every single time- and an incredible amount of fun.

Over the past year, I've had a lot of people tell me how sad they are that they arrived to the daggers backlog late, and that they wish we would start it back up again the way it used to be so they could participate. While we genuinely feel bad that this isn't happening right now, I just want to say that the suggested number of pieces for a minimum portfolio is usually around ten-- and that as it stands there are 16 challenges that are not going anywhere. While I get that you may miss out on some of the community aspects and fun of doing them in a group, if you really truly have no idea where to start with your portfolio and need some guidance, give the old bloodsports a try. We put a lot of work into each and every one to make sure it would help people find work- and so far, they have. 

This (finally) gets me to my point, and why I decided to write this in the first place. The biggest problem with the Dagger's model is ultimately that it works. almost too well. Of the original 10 or so of us who started out together after Dave's initial run, all ten of us ended up finding a place in the industry with paying work that evolved into our careers today. Having had some experience with other forms of education in the past (those of you who watched my streams will remember) I can tell you that a 100 percent success rate with any model is pretty much unheard of. Everyone I know who has tried the method we all laid out together, stuck with it, and pushed the studying has found work, a job, and a place where they can both earn a living and do what they enjoy. Dave and I take no credit for this. sure, we had some ideas and laid a foundation- but the group's evolution, hard work, dedication, and willingness to keep pushing past comfort zones was entirely on everyone else.  In other words, we may have been the ones to build the gym, but it was everyone else who decided to wake up everyday and work those muscles out with us. But the singular downside to getting better is that it creates more opportunities, more potential for work, and therefore less time for anything else. 

So why did we decide to stop? Well, the truth is it wasn't a single moment's decision. Things began to slow down gradually over the course of a few months. The group was getting very large, and the challenges harder to manage and judge. The forum was also growing and demanding time to look at and update. We started receiving more and more emails regarding it, with questions, concerns, requests, and pieces to critique. Eventually, we opened up a particular challenge's email inbox and saw that it had over 200 submissions for review. This is when we realized we were at a crossroads we had never intended to be at. On the one hand, we loved the group, the people involved with it, and the ideology that it promoted for how to find a place in the art world. On the other, it was now officially big enough that to run it to the standard of quality we desired and users deserved, we would have to do one of two things-- bring others on board to manage it, or charge money to make it worth the time it was costing us to run it. We didn't like either solution, as bringing other people on meant risking a change to the formula we had worked so hard to get right, and charging money for the experience of being part of it went against everything we had been trying to do. And so, while it wasn't what either of us wanted, we decided to create one final bloodsport focused on personal IP development (the endless summer / perfect pitch) in the hopes that after the other 16 in the set people could use it to move forward from creating things other people wanted to see and into creating the kinds of things they themselves wanted to be known for. (Special shout out to Jacob Janerka for turning that challenge into his own original, personally developed, and successfully kickstarted video game Paradigm). After this our involvement with the daggers fell off, and while we still keep an eye on the group, we have not since been involved with any challenges, talks, the forum, or group activities. 

Before I wrap this up, we get a lot of questions and more than a few are the same. I'd like to take the opportunity to answer some of them here in the hopes it clears some things up.

Why aren't we / weren't we involved with the daggers forums on a deeper level? The truth is that while we love the group and the fact that Dennis (agelaos) created forums for it, we never wanted to be seen as authority figures / moderators as that has the potential to create an uncomfortable learning environment. The entire point of daggers was to create a place with no intimidation where people of all skill levels could improve themselves, and we like to stick to that as best we can. the only times the two of us have ever used the forums is to either post challenges / challenge updates, or (in the extremely rare event) enforce quality control in case someone was being made fun of, excluded from an activity, or stepping outside their bounds in a way that made things bad for everyone else. We have not been involved with the forums since the perfect pitch challenge. 

Do we still do critique? Yes, but not as regularly as we used to. Unfortunately, at the moment we don't have time for a regulated weekly crit stream, but when we have the time we still look at peoples portfolios and are happy to help. with Dave, your best bet is at an event he is a part of (con, workshop, etc) as he is not online often. With me, your best bet is to send me an email or Facebook message. Sometimes I'm very late in responding, but I usually get around to it. If you have sent me something and been ignored, it is almost 100 percent of the time the fault of the 'other messages' section of Facebook, which I, like everyone else, always forget to check. 

Do we still stream? And when? We do still stream, but we don't do it on a set schedule. If we are going to stream, we tweet it out or share on our Facebook pages. Sometimes we have a short talk, other times we might do a random painting if we have the time. In the future, if we ever do have a schedule again, it will definitely be available via Facebook or twitter. 

Is daggers over? No. Our involvement with the group isn't possible right now due to work and personal projects, but thats not to say the group is dead. We might return to it someday if we are able, but its a firm belief Dave and I share that it's always better to not do something at all than to do a bad job of it. Currently, if we were to do daggers, we would have to half-ass it because of time, and we don't want to do that. Daggers was always one solution of several-- sure, it was the one we vied for and put effort into, but it was never the end all, be all way to get somewhere with art. Since the time when we stepped away from it, other things have popped up just like we did years ago that are great communities and groups to be a part of. Even with traditional forums in decline, there are still plenty of places, people, and groups to share your learning experience with- and if none of them are doing what you think should be done or teaching the way you feel works the best, then trust us-- it's worth the effort to try and start your own. Maybe it will resonate, grow, and become the next big thing. 

If you're still with me, thanks for reading haha. I know its been a lot. If you were a member of the group from way back, We're both sorry it fell off the way it did! and if you're new to the group and wondering where to go next, I hope this has helped at least a bit. I can honestly say that when Dave started / when I took over for round 2 neither of us ever intended or expected this to grow into what it did. All the talks, activities, challenges, streams, and events we've had a chance to participate in have been incredible, and hopefully eventually there will be more of all of that. We love doing it and everyones passion participating in it, and its been amazing to see what everyone has been able to do in just three short years. If there was ever proof that hard work pays off, its in what all of you who started with and worked alongside us have been able to do in such a short amount of time. 

We love ya. 


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References -

1 comment: said...

I love Crimson Daggers and I love pointing people towards the group. Even if you can't participate in the group, all of the talks are priceless and a lot of fun as well. Crimson Daggers forever!