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  • Writer's pictureRe:Jen Zen

How I Got Over a 4 Year Burnout

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

I think everyone who goes into animation knows of the long, long hours spent in the dead of night in front of a computer screen.

The burnout I experienced from a past project was tough to overcome, but I managed to get a piece out here and there. When I came to Japan 6 years ago, that slow trickle completely stopped.

Like many who might be reading this, after college I had this sense of pressure. Everything I made had to be perfect and amazing and be good enough for someone to hire me. That pressure, all self-constructed, ate away at me.

How did I get over it?

I realized that whatever I was making more than likely wouldn't be "The Thing" that would land me a job. I realized I needed to go back to basics. I needed to refine my skill still, and even though I was finished and had a degree, I wasn't at the level I needed to be at. Just having a degree didn't mean I was ready.

So, I started my self-learning journey.


20 second gesture drawings that focused more on expression+mood rather than perfect proportions.


I started focusing more on learning rather than making. I went away from digital for a year and did watercolor and traditional. Watercolor was not something I had a lot of experience in. And in 2018, during the New Year's holidays, I got a basic 10-color palette and started a YouTube of my in process work.

As I was doing this, I went to YouTube and started watching other artist's live paintings. Even though there isn't any talking, just focusing and watching their brushwork and their ability to not make everything super clean and perfect - I started trying to do the same. And I improved very quickly. I could shadow any artist in any part of the world... and I could learn.

And that is the answer to how I got out of a 4 year burn out: I started learning again.

I started by just wanting to try a bunch of different techniques, which then would get me motivated, which would lead to more and more ideas.

My later years in high school is when YouTube really started making its first appearances, but it was only starting to become known while I was in high school. I admit I did not use it much. I thought it was just for home videos and young-people social trends. To be honest, in the beginnings that is what YouTube mostly contained.

It began with watching watercolor artists and illustrators. That got me into figure drawing and doing quick poses. Which rekindled my life-long desire to get into the animation industry.

I started going to live weekly drawing events with Aaron Blaise and watching background artists talk about their processes (Nicholas Kennedy, Tyler Edlin, Marco Bucci being favorites). I learned about color balance and ambient occlusion and how the to properly shade from Istebrak.

And that, in turn, snowballed into realizing that I needed to fill not only the gaps in knowledge on my technical skills. But I needed to re-learn the history of animation. I began listening to podcasts about how Don Bluth completely ignited the animation industry in Ireland with his rebelliousness and how Bray not only stole techniques from McCay, but actually tried (and failed) to sue him for his own methods. Insult on injury there.

Long story short... re-focusing on learning techniques and workflows and doing exercises... that is what pulled me out of my self-pressure. And it is what made me realize how badly I love art.

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