What creativity is, partially

I have recently experienced a few bursts of creativity that gave me new insights on how creativity works. 

In many occasions, being creative is about mobilizing our own emotions in subtle ways.

The creative person has to be deeply aware of how they perceive, respond to, and internalize stimuli. They have to store their emotional responses in their library of experience, ready to take these personal feelings out when they create. 

There are many ways to train such awareness. For me, it has been learning about every art and design discipline possible.

PAINTING taught me absolute black and white don’t exist in the real world and shadows are always full of colors.

PHOTOGRAPHY made me more sensitive to unordinary moments in my ordinary life.

SCULPTURE opened me up to materials and objects -- their textures and physical qualities, as well as their cultural and anthropological implications.

PARTICIPATORY ART allowed me to put myself fully into other people’s shoes as an artist and play with crafting experiences. 

CREATIVE CODING / ALGORITHMIC ART brought me to awareness of how mathmatic abstractions can be translated to visual abstractions.

INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE trained me to think about mediating public and private spaces. 

ARCHITECTURE pushed me to imagine human interactions in geometric volumes, cavities, shadows, heaviness/lightness. 

ILLUSTRATION asked me to break out of the 2d vs. 3d model of spatial imagination.

GAME ART is honestly a culmination of the previous disciplines. Now it’s about cohesive and imaginative worldbuilding -- about understanding how materials, colors, forms and spatial relations, could all work together to construct a novel world with a visually compelling style, an eccentric world that serves as a thoughtful mirror to the deceiving reality. 

There is still so much more I want to learn/do: 
I want to know a few materials better: weaving, glassblowing.
I want to feel more situated in my body: dancing, acting.
I want to explore immersiveness further: VR, immersive installation.
I want to know how art can integrate itself more into the real world: documentary. 

Essentially I’m recognizing more and more how all of these creative disciplines, though operating on different scales, sensory inputs and dimensions, are all fundamentally just particular sets of awareness of one’s own interaction with the environment, and, especially, how one’s emotions take forms in each set.

Because, ultimately it is the communication of emotions about a piece of art that touches people, and the more ways we know about the shape, color, form, smell, touch, light of the emotions in even the most subtle ways, the better we would be at delivering one or a few powerful emotions through art.


What I REALLY want

It has been a month in London, and the feeling of being settled hasn’t faded at all. The joy of being able to be here doing what I am doing is still there. Even though what I do is “tedious” in the sense that I stay in the same boring-looking room for 8-10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Being someone who loves exploring new places and experiences, it is more than remarkable that I haven’t gotten distraught at being “trapped” in one tiny room for such a long time. 

So, I must be really enjoying what I’m doing. 

And I can’t help but think that it’s because I am finally honing the creative skills I’ve been wanting to have. I feel so settled getting better at creating the eccentric little worlds in my mind. I don’t think about what happens after the creation. It is not like I am going to enter a competition with my game art project, or that my grade in this course will matter in any way.

But I want to give so much time and energy to crafting this little world, just for the sake of externalizing a tiny corner of my mind. 

I have always loved how meta-analyzing my art teaches me about myself in a way no verbal reflections can ever do.

Recently, my collaborator commented on my sketches for our project that they reminded him of Tim Burton. Tim Burton is the artist that the guy who sits next to me in my game art class never stops citing as his inspiration, and I have been particularly fascinated by this classmate’s work throughout the past month. So, while I have never watched anything by Tim Burton yet, I am now more than curious to know what about my aesthetic style reminds others of this artist’s work. 

And it makes me so happy that, during this gap year, I can undertake several creative proejcts, which would take from as short as 3 weeks to as long as more than 1 year, that will exercise different creative skills AND let me externalize parts of my mind in different formats. It is fundamentally different than doing a regular internship where my task would be materilizing other people’s visions.

No. The research from this summer, the game art course, the children’s book, the semi-secret project I haven’t fully revealed yet, the artist residency I will do in February. They are all things I deeply care about.
And I am allowed fully to give them a “Wendi style.”

This alone gives me so much joy and sense of settlement that, I feel I know what is the most important to me now.
It is really just being able to externalize my world
(which I don’t equate with “expressing myself” because I don’t talk about myself or my emotions or my story in any of these projects). 

It has nothing to do with how much money I will earn, how much recognition I will get, how many high status people I will have access to, or how much influence I will have over the rest of the world.

This is not to say I wouldn’t enjoy filling up my LinkedIn profile with cool “experiences” or “awards” or “education.” I admit these kinds of external achievements make me feel proud of myself. But these moments of excitement are always quickly followed by a feeling of unsettlement that I hate. The longer I stare at my LinkedIn profile, the more I crave for things that do not define me.

My creative work defines me, and
whether my work lives up to my expectation in its quality, originality, and likeness to my inner world, has nothing to do with what the outside world says about my work. *I* know if I am creating work that satisfies myself. And that satisfaction is what I live for, mainly.

(The best case scenario: my creative work concretely helps people. Which is incredibly hard, but that is my ultimate, ultimate goal in life)



What I’ve been actually learning in game art

I realized this week that I haven’t actually shown anything about the game art course yet, so I took some screenshots as we did exercises in class, so that I can talk a little bit about what I have learned in the first four weeks.



The first module of the course teaches us Maya for 3d modeling. (We will learn more organic modeling using ZBrush in the second module!) There are a lot of commands to remember with shaping the meshes in different capacities, and that was a bit of learning curve to me... 



UVing is like peeling off the skin of animals or something. You’d have to be methodical with how you do the UVs so that textures can be applied to your model evenly and realistically. The picture above shows a model on the left and the UVs on the right. We basically went through each component of the model, unfolded its skin, and layed them out.



Then we went to Substance Painter, which is like Photoshop for 3d models. You can apply textures and also paint on the UVs.

Something I find really cool is that there are “smart materials” that automatically apply itself to places where the materials are most likely to exist. Like dirt, which would tend to be on the top of things, or rusts, at the corners.

You can also “stamp” patterns onto the model as if they have a height/depth, which essentially is just a helpful visual illusion.



For this course, we import our models to Unreal Engine for putting together the environment. One of the miscellaneous things we learned about UE was lighting. There are directional light, point light, skylight, spot light, emissive color, and a few other ways to do create lighting effect in the software. Below are two images from when I played around with creating lighting that was kind of dramatic... 

And here’s a little nonsense I made for my project, which I will upload when I finish it in two weeks.



1. Apparat - Heroist

Just an absolutely stunning piece... Left me with no words...

2. Andrew Thomas Huang

I found out about this artist from a conversation with my RA at RISD summer program three years ago. And he has remained one of my favorite inspirations of all time!

A huge reason why I wanted to learn game art is that I want to create art like Andrew’s, eventually, in some uncertain point in the future...

3. Samsara

A non-narrative documentary with footage taken across 25 countries that try to show a collective human story in the contemporary world.

This documentary was repeatedly nominated when I talked to people about awe. Although a lot of the shots were expected / felt cliche to me, I would still say I enjoyed the film’s innovative style of storytelling!