2018 Art Retrospective
the year of unexpected growth

2018 was one of those years in my art journey that I have fond memories of, as that was the time when things started to really click in terms of skill.

I think that this year categorized one of the biggest jumps in terms of improvement, and confidence in general. Before this year I was kind of timid and rather unconfident in what I could do, so having a huge improvement spike such as this one really helped me keep creating art.

The Big Picture

The previous year of 2017 saw the real "start" of the journey, which was when I started basic fundamentals like perspective and gesture. I had a very basic understanding at that time, but it was around this particular year that I started to really understand it and put it into practice.

I'm pretty sure the major reason why I improved fast was because of pure mileage. I simply drew a lot this year. Well, at least during the summer. It was the year before I started university, so I really wanted to see how far I could get while I had the time. A large majority of my second sketchbook was during the summer months of July to August, where I drew a few hours a day. 6-10 hours a day at most, but I'll be the first to say that I didn't really use that time efficiently.

In terms of statistics, I don't have much in terms of pages filled. If I were to estimate, I'd say around 80 A3 sheets (from my second sketchbook), and around 20 small A5 sheets (from my third sketchbook). I created around 31 paintings over the span of a month and a half, which was a pretty good amount, I have to say.


This was one of those years where I messed around with subject matter, rendering styles, and the like. There were time I did various digital works, and other times when I actually did some watercolour stuff.

I think it was less of an experimentation and moreso just adapting an idea to the most fitting medium. For example, if I had an idea for a doodle of sorts, I immediately went towards pens and watercolour, because doing it digitally wasn't feasible (with my given tools, anyway). For general painting however, since I had no canvas or paint, I simply stuck with digital.

In a way, sticking to key mediums like digital helped with creating a comfort zone. If I wasn't feeling like wrestling with watercolour (which is something I'm still not comfortable with), then I'd simply go digital and I'd be in a sort of comfort zone, where there was at least some sort of standard in terms of what I could make on it. It reduced the stress of constantly adapting and I could at least refine a skillset that I was very familiar with.

20 Min. Painting Challenge

Speaking of which, I had concocted for some reason a challenge where I would paint a photo (mainly landscapes) for at most 20 minutes, after which I'd have to stop.

I'm pretty sure this was my first 20 min. painting (and probably the only real decent one)

Well, it was a decent idea on paper, but I really did a comically bad job at specifying the parameters. For one, I should have used a more fitting brush for doing these types of speed-paintings. I used a more soft-edged brush (something close to an air brush) which resulted in really muddy work, and overall general sloppiness. If I were to do this sort of thing now, I would do it primarily with a hard brush so that I can define everything super fast.

the lack of definition becomes extremely apparent in this particular painting

Another thing that I should have done is lower the canvas size. My goodness, I think I went overboard with going for my typical canvas size (around 3000x3000px) when doing a 20 minute painting. I should have lowered it to at least half, and even that is too much. I should have aimed for small and concise thumbnails, as opposed to creating fully sized paintings in 20 minutes. Probably around 1000x600px would have been much better for what I was trying to go for.

One of the more funnier results from this challenge was when I was screensharing the painting process with a friend and I told him to pick a picture out of a small selection for me to do. Of course, he picked the most complex one like an absolute madlad, and the result was nothing short of pure vomit. We did have a pretty good laugh over it, though.

what on earth is this

I even slapped a huge signature on top as the icing on the cake. You gotta own your failures at some point, I guess.

Overall, not one of my finest moments. I think that I should have learned shape design first before tackling this sort of challenge, and just lowered the scope so that it would be easier to manage. I only managed to do about 7 of these 20 minute paintings before I scrapped the idea and moved on to something else.

"Favourite" Pieces

Because of the three year gap between this year and the current year, I obviously don't see my paintings the way I did back in 2018. Pieces which I've liked before I don't really like too much now, but there are some that I can somewhat accept.

There are two pieces which I like from this period. One is my first ever abstract painting (done digitally), and the other is a piece which I've dubbed "Morning Coffee":

In fact, I liked these pieces enough to where I actually created physical paintings of both of them in 2021, using acrylic on canvas. Both are a little bit modified compared to their older digital counterparts, of course, but they're nice enough to hang in my room:

And the last piece which I still kind of like is my rendition of a magical girl. It used a lined, cel-shaded type of style that I rarely, if ever, do anymore for finished pieces. I also found the digital undersketch for the finished piece, which I thought would be interesting to show:

August 29, 2018

the undersketch

What I'd Do Differently

Looking back, there are some things that I would do differently to improve even faster, or to compensate for some weaknesses that I didn't realize I had to begin with.

Probably the number one thing that I wish I had done is study more artists. 99.9% of the drawings I did were strictly from photos, and while that's a start, I think I would have benefited a lot from looking at other artists. I could have built a more solid technique (especially painting technique) studying from other artists than doing simple photo drawings. Not to mention, it would have helped a lot with general stylistic choices, and overall given me a sense of how to interpret things in an artistic manner.

Another thing that I think I would have benefited a lot from is just general painting studies. I think I did like 3 painting studies the whole year? It was an abysmal amount. My digital painting technique lacked a lot. A large majority of my paintings were mostly original, which while good in its own way, resulted in I think a lack of refined technique. It wasn't until 2020 that I started adopting the practice of doing more painting studies. I suppose I did get a lot of drawing mileage, which is a really important foundational skill, but I should have balanced that out with some painting also.

And a bad habit which I started developing this year that I've only managed to rectify in early 2021: sloppy sketching. Messy sketching has its place; there's messy sketching that is intentional and that actually plays a role in defining form and edges, and there's sloppy sketching: sketching which doesn't define edges very well and overall is very hard to read.

If you look at my gesture drawings from 2018, they are quite sloppy, and contain a lot of unnecessary, sometimes redundant lines:

30 sec. gesture drawing (mechanical pencil)

The 2018 drawings were also quite boxy. Now, that's something that isn't necessarily bad; Bridgman's figures are boxy, almost like carved rock, but they contain so much life, whereas my drawings are the bad type of boxy: very stiff and almost robotic.

Compare this to my early 2021 gesture drawings, only after I realized my bad habit and went ahead to fix it. It's a lot more cleaner, well-defined, and overall contains more "gesture" with less line:

30 sec. gesture drawing (ballpoint pen)

Though I owe a lot of the more confident strokes as a result of general experience, it would have been good to start building the habit of making cleaner drawings as early as possible.

Social Media

Now it wouldn't be a bikobatanari™ article without me mentioning social media, because guess what? I started using IG (again) in 2018 and it was a terrible decision. Who would've thought?

Well, that isn't really the full picture of my art posting antics this year, because I actually used Amino in tandem with IG, which I shortly found out was populated with mostly kids (at that time, anyway). I'd say that it already had a step up over Instagram posting because the posts on that platform can be formatted like a typical blog post, whereas IG has the forced aspect-ratio image slideshow with a caption that no one will ever read. Not like the people on Amino will read the text either, but at least I could format the text that no one will read. That's something, I guess.

In the end, I left Amino because profile growth was straight up non-existent. I think I got stuck at like 100 followers with 30 likes per post for who knows how long, so I decided that investing more energy wasn't worth it anymore. Trying to strike a conversation with other artists didn't work too well either, as the chat rooms were often filled with children; basically those who I don't really want to interact with. Mix some role-play in there, and I wasn't too keen in coming back.

As for IG, well, you can guess how well that went. I got super burnt out by the end of the summer posting on IG, as I was posting a finished piece every two days, some periods even daily. And because I was about to start university, I decided it was probably the best time to drop out of the rat race by September.

All Unexpected

This was a rather turbulent year for my artistic growth. Remember that all of this happened in the span of two months. If you look at the end of my 2017 artwork and all of my artwork in 2018, it took only two active months to develop to that point, after a long break of like six or so months starting at the end of 2017.

In a way, this spike of growth didn't help me mentally, as I felt like I had to replicate it every single time, but it's likely that this sharp increase of growth happened because I was near the edge of an improvement plateau anyway. I was bound to hit the ramp upwards, and coincidentally this was the year that it happened.

This period of growth could have happened earlier (as early as 2016 if I had kept drawing since starting in 2015), but there's nothing I can do about that. I certainly regret not drawing earlier, but at the same time, I'm grateful that I stuck around long enough to encounter one of those golden periods where every day it felt like I was leveling up in skill.

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