The Struggle Going From Animation To Fine Art

Moving from the world of animation into fine arts has its own unique struggle. Most people will never realize just how big of an adjustment it can be.

Photo of artist painting in animation and plein air. Title art.

 Working For Others Versus Making Your Own Decisions

I have often concluded that animation was my strength.

In animation, someone else determines the subject, the mood of the scene, etc. They have a vision for what they want to accomplish, and it is my job to execute that. No struggle there!

Now, it certainly requires skill to take someone else’s vision and really bring it to life.

My job is to determine how to give emotion to the scene. To know exactly what it takes to capture the essence of the desired affect, and translate that desired affect with paints, tone, mood, drama!

animation background color concepts paintings
Color concepts to final painting from the Crest Animation film “Alpha & Omega”

So moving from ‘I’m good at capturing and translating another persons vision’ to being the one to determine what that scene, subject, and vision should be. Well surprisingly that has thrown me for a loop. I’ve worked for others for so long, that it becomes difficult to determine what I want to do.

Never would I have thought choosing your own subject and emotion could be a challenge. Moving from fulfilling a company’s commission to determining my own direction. Suddenly my income relies on choosing subject matter that captures the interest of potential buyers. It’s a whole new frightening ballgame…

Being Limited In Fine Art

You wouldn’t imagine that fine art could potentially be limiting in any way.

You have the freedom to paint what you like, whatever captures your imagination…right?

trying to paint with hands tied.

Well consider this: I like that animation pushes me in terms of emotion and versatility…for example, if were asked to paint a war scene on Mars; you want to make it raw, scary, you want to push the viewer to feel the emotion of the scene.

Unless you are in fantasy art or are an illustrator, when will you ever need to paint a Mars war scene? Or even evoke the obvious emotions to depicts this scene?

In animation you have to be versatile to paint whatever scene they throw at you, and be excellent at it.

Coming out of animation where the spectrum was so broad, into fine art has actually narrowed the subject matter I paint.

And Then There Was Marketing…

Then to top it all off, as artists we are told we have to find a niche and stick to it to be successful at marketing ourselves.

It would appear the most lucrative artists have found a niche that needed to be filled. Even the artists that are successful small business owners seem to operate within a highly marketable look within their niche. And while there are several trending niches, it has to be one that “IS” trending otherwise you are left struggling as a business.

It’s all about honing that one ‘look’ or ‘style’ that infuses all your artwork and causes people to recognize your paintings anywhere. We call it branding, and that can be even more challenging to the mind of an artist.

I certainly don’t think in terms of where the market is when I am moved to paint a subject.

Sticking To Your Niche, Staying In Your Lane

This is such a struggle for me. I don’t like to be backed into a corner, or narrowed by anything. If I choose to stretch my skill and paint a representational piece with a ton of intricate detail, I want to be able to do it. Then if the next day I want to do a piece that is more impressionistic, why can’t I? Say I want to capture the essence of a design-rich subject matter that is Victorian in style, but the next week paint something that is fluid and abstract?

donald towns artwork_five styles of paintings

It turns out that finding your signature style is key to marketing yourself as an artist. If you are all over the place in style, you aren’t branding your company well.

Finding Your Signature Look

Perhaps not every artist has this struggle, but I find myself vacillating.

I look at the style of one artist, and I love it. I look at another, and I love it too. How can I figure out my style or look when I love such a wide variety of works? Below is just a small sampling of that.

Six different artist styles
Artist (Top to Bottom, Left to Right): Victor Bykov, Norman Fraser, Frederick Robinson, Eyvind Earle, Joseph Leyendecker, Bill Cramer.

I suppose what I’m really loving is the craftsmanship of the artist.

I have to ask myself, what distinguishes me as an artist? Can I vary my subject matter and still maintain a signature look? Can I operate within what is popular in the market and still be true to myself?

I would love to hear your thoughts to this dilemma. Have you succumb or overcome? Why or how did you?



  1. Mike Inman says:

    “Don’t worry about your originality. You couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”
    ― Robert Henri

    • Donald & Karen Towns says:

      That is so true Mike. I hope it comes clearer to me as I go, though I feel somewhat lost at the moment. Thanks for the insight!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Hi Donald,
    I’ve enjoyed following your blog! I’ve been out of animation for a few years now and paint what I enjoy painting which now is watercolors of Heritage farm animals. Not much of a market for it but it keeps me painting. I’ve found it to be difficult to make a living outside of animation as an artist, I teach now and that helps(teaching really helps to keep my chops up). My husband who was a medical illustrator and fine artist now paints whatever he’s in the mood for plein air, watercolor, abstracts, oils, realism, drawing, printing he needs to create, he must do art it feeds his soul. Are you that way? Or do you do it to sell? I tend to make art if I’m being paid to create, I don’t have the drive my husband has. I hope that you paint what inspires you to be creative. Now that you are free from the animation machine what sparks your soul?

    • Donald & Karen Towns says:

      Hello Carolyn,
      Glad you enjoyed the blog. I’m very much like your husband, it feeds my soul. I’d paint just for painting sake, therefore selling might as well be part of the process. I joined the California Art Club as a means to connect with other artist and hopefully sell some work, do some Plein Air meet ups. I do some freelance from time to time as well. There’s a group called “Weekend Warrior Painters” who go out to paint. Many are in the animation industry. Check them out on Facebook. Maybe they will add to your inspiration. Would love to meet you and your husband sometime in the future. Thank for your comment.

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