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We often wonder what makes good pieces of art (may they be illustrations, comics, animations or anything else really) different from only competent work. What makes them stand out. With Kana we discuss it a lot, trying to figure out what is the compelling aspect that makes us save some art to be studied, enjoyed and learned from later.

Currently, after a lot of debating our theory says that we like art that is “gorgeous” in a way. We like pieces in which extra effort has been put to make them not only good but outstanding. Not necessarily visually - it also can apply to the idea, contents, story, richness of the setting etc.

This is where our “important 5%” way of thinking started.

Let’s say there is a sketch of an old house that you really want to make. You are looking forward to using your favorite method of painting to make it, you even have the perfect photo for reference. But by creating the sketch as you always do, only paying so much attention to the process will only take you to the top 95% of the quality. Even if you are good at it, focus on what you are doing and everything goes to plan.

For me, when I do a live stream and sketch or paint while talking to you on YouTube or Instagram I can only paint something that (for me) when I look back at the result looks OK. When I focus and REALLY try to use my abilities and experience I can sometimes produce works that to me look GOOD. They are at the 95% mark - with my current “artistic sense” I can not see anything obviously wrong.

But there is still the 5% that could make the piece exceptional!

looking at own's work

This is the “5%” that makes your art special and can make it “gorgeous”. This is also the 5% that will be the hardest part of your work that you really don’t want to do and will try to avoid if possible. You will even pretend to yourself not to see it, so you don’t have to do it. Doing it will be really tiring, difficult, bothersome. It requires going outside your comfort zone or worse, making something you already completed again (gasp!) to make it even better this time.

It’s good to have then someone you trust to push you into doing it (or you have to find the courage yourself). For me, Kana always acts as my art conscience telling me to think deeper about what I do to get the important 5% done! Even though it’s sometimes really annoying to hear “you can do it better” when your brain tries with all it’s cunning to deceive you otherwise, but I’m grateful for it in the end.

But here comes the really crucial part: the important 5% that makes your work so much better is NOT the last 5%. It’s included all along the way! From the first idea to the last touch of your brush:

measuring progress

It might include things like going to the library to find what people living in the house you wanted to sketch ate or what did they wear. Researching what the beams of the roof looked like - and even going to some similar houses to check it out by yourself. Looking at thousands of old photos to find the perfect bicycle or teapot that you can use. Making additional sketches and thinking about things that will not even be in the finished illustration but will make the setting more real and full. Fixing mistakes or even redoing the whole piece if necessary until you feel like you are really doing things for the first time. The important 5% often takes you places or makes you do stuff that you did not expect. If you feel like you are walking a dark road with no map having to make difficult decisions all the time, that’s good!

After finishing art that really took me outside my comfort zone, where I did everything I could to include the important 5%, I always find myself thinking: “I really did not know anything before I started this, but look where I am now! Who would have thought that one can do THAT!”. If you are a little surprised that you were able to make what you did, that’s also a sign that you are going in the right direction.

Of course, it’s impossible to get the 5% right each time (there are deadlines, costs, fatigue) but we can always try to get as close as we can!