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Skimming Stones

At the end of winter semester at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, I resigned from my position as Head of Game Art to pursue my personal projects. Since then I have been doing just that on several fronts at the same time working on games, paintings, writing, and pulling together my notes on creating games.

Although there are a lot of things I’m working on I’m going to try and confine this post to my first product that I released today to the iTunes store for the iPad. It is called Ten Monkey Marbles and a link can be found here.

Ten Monkey Marbles is meant to be my way of starting out and beginning the process as an Indie Game studio. The story itself is a counting book for children, and is meant to be a small introduction to the Monkey Marbles concept I came up with years ago while on Sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues studios. Monkey Marbles is a longer book and more complex which may not work well as an interactive, but I will put it out into the world at some point.

The concept of Monkey Marbles occurred to me in a moment of silly word play while skimming stones at the beach in Los Angeles. I had been working in my studio a lot, and listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. His syncopated lyrics had stuck in my head and I started to make up my own song in that syncopated way in the first draft of a song or poem came out. I went home and wrote it down and had the basis for Monkey Marbles.

It began with these words which I still imagine singing in a mock Dylan voice; “Innocently me, skimming stones into the sea, when I heard a sound far of from me, innocently me.”

No it wasn’t meant to imitate the real versing of Dylan but it didn’t matter because I knew immediately I had something, monkey marbles.

All of this as an indie artist and game artist is like skimming stones down into the unconscious to see what gets struck. You skim stones and sometimes they go far, and sometimes they don’t even skim once. As artists we don’t really know what we’re going to find when we skim stones down into the unconscious but we follow and hope that something will happen, some sound will come back from far off. To me so much of the process being an artist is about trying to facilitate that unconscious process in order to come up with something.

The skimming of stones is one thing, you throw but what we’re really looking for is that interaction between the medium of the stone and the water, the ripples that grow from each point the stone touches and then how they interact.

I know this sounds rather vague in some ways but when I teach this and talk about it, I give drawing demonstrations and show it in action. I sketch a haze onto a page using pencil or marker or even chalk in photoshop and then I see what images come up from the haze and focus in and pull out the creature, and sometimes an entire story comes forth.

The thing I try to remember whenever I work is that the more I try to control things then often the harder it is for it to come forth spontaneously and I guess in the end that is exactly what I’m talking about. When things feel forced and over-worked you can feel it, but when they feel spontaneous and alive they grow of themselves.

A good example is the recent portrait of Kate Middleton. Although the portrait is executed with the finesse and competence of a great painter it has lost the spontaneity and truth that is Kate Middleton.

Games are like this too. When we as artists make all our decisions before hand it’s difficult for a game to grow within that context. We need to set up an environment where we can be spontaneous in creating game play and stories and drawings and yes even portraits of a duchess.

In the end we can tell when things are flowing and spontaneous when we are in the flow while doing our art. Often when we aren’t in that spontaneous flow it is reflected back to us by our audience who will tell us that they don’t feel the connection we had hoped for. All we can do is continue to skim stones, experimenting more and in the end not be afraid to try again.