Arbitrary Systems of Honour
making things unnecessarily difficult

There was someone who I met a long while back who was obsessed with making digital artwork with a mouse, despite having a graphics tablet and was seemingly more comfortable with using that to create their work.

In all of this, I really wanted to tell them “okay, cool, but do you want to create artwork with a mouse because you like using a mouse, or is it just because you want to tell people that you use a mouse to create your art?” Good on them if they like using a mouse, but I’d be concerned if they’re putting themselves through unnecessary suffering just to get some measly brownie points with the same, or often worse results.

Sometimes people create arbitrary constraints on how they make their artwork and then push that as something that other people should be impressed by, but in reality, no one cares.

There are, of course, differences between arbitrary constraints and inherent constraints. Being unable to Ctrl+Z with a piece of paper and a pencil is part of the medium, and isn’t something enforced by the artist; oils and acrylics needing to dry is a physical constraint—you can’t change it; pixel art is forced to be in low resolution, because that is simply how the medium is defined.

But not allowing yourself to use an eraser? Not allowing yourself to make an underdrawing? Forcing yourself to use only one layer? Now those are arbitrary, and doing those things doesn’t benefit the artwork, necessarily. If done consciously, it can refine your process, but it often doesn’t lead to better results; if done with little reason, it’s just allowing yourself to make more excuses if things go awry with the result. You can now blame a honour system that no one but you has put in place to save face.

It can become a really lame attempt at compliment fishing: people may post a piece, only to say how they didn’t do X, or didn’t do Y, but saying that doesn’t really matter in the end. What really matters is if the piece looks good. If it does, then great, but the last thing that’s on my mind is what other crazy shenanigans you burdened yourself with in the background that’s completely irrelevant to us. If all it does is make the process worse for yourself, then why bother? The first thing that people see is the work itself, not a preface containing all the excuses as to why it looks the way it does.

Usually the only people who are interested in the process are other artists, but that’s only if they actually love the work and want to figure out how the artist implemented certain techniques so they can use it in their work. There’s a rarer subset of people who are just interested in the process for curiosity’s sake. But the majority simply don’t care. Heck, the majority don’t even care about the artwork at all—how much more then how it was made?

And as per usual, I can’t say that I’m not guilty of this either. To put it bluntly towards myself: drawing in ballpoint pen is one thing, but constantly telling people that it’s in ballpoint pen, I realize, isn’t going to do much to make my crappy drawing any better. If it’s garbage, it’s garbage. No one cares that I did it without an underdrawing, because it’s still terrible. This is towards my past self circa 2020-2021 for being such a doofus.

The worst part about these arbitrary honour systems is that people can now start judging others based on the constraints they placed on themselves, and themselves alone. That is, if artists make themselves not use erasers or something equally as arbitrary, then they can judge people for not doing the same thing, as if that’s how art “should” be made. They want to drag other artists down to their personal circle of hell, simply because they’re making themselves miserable.

As a result, they can pester you for taking extra precautions so that the drawing will be good, or they can lambaste you for using tools that make your life easier. But if they have to go to those lengths to insult you, then you can say that the final result was actually pretty good, considering they have nothing to say regarding it; they’re forced to insult your process instead of the piece itself.

It’s similar to how some people rail on digital art, saying that it’s easier than traditional art, so creating good work is “a given” for some reason. In some sense, yes it does make things more convenient (and this is something that cannot be denied), but these people forget another point: if they try to make digital art and it comes out horribly, then what does that say about them? If you believe digital art is easier than traditional art, then a terrible outcome just makes you out to be even more incompetent. You’re actually making a fool out of yourself in that case. “If it’s so easy, and you had all of these powerful tools at your disposal, then why did your work still turn out like garbage?”

Over time, I learned to simply do the things that make things easier for myself. If doing something leads to more consistent results, then I don’t hesitate to implement it.

Sure, you can do all sorts of wacky challenges as a way to switch things up and have some fun, but I shouldn’t be impressed if these crazy antics are consistently used as excuses for why your work isn’t as good as it should be. If anything, I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t look so good without all of the arbitrary constraints, as that is concerned with something beyond your capabilities, not some random rule self-enforced to your own detriment.

If you’re burdening yourself for no reason and making your artwork worse as a result, I can’t help but pity you. You don’t need to make art harder than it already is.

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