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New Beginnings, Final Act

Published on September 9, 2022

(You can watch a shortened video version on YouTube)

I have paid off my student debt.

Ok, I need to repeat this out loud for myself once again to let it sink in a little bit. I have just paid off my student debt.

77000 Canadian dollars plus some change. It took me two and half years of hard work to get rid of it. And I was indebted for four years in total.

It was the hot summer of 2018, and I was about to get a loan from friends, fools and family. Why? To change the course of my whole life. That summer I got an offer to move to Canada to study at Syn Studio, a school that promised applicants that with hard work they might become concept artists. I wanted to become a concept artist. So much. My life was stagnating, and I, between travelling, asked myself what I should do with it and if it is possible to do what I love for a living.

My friend Vojta had only 10 minutes for me when we met at Muj Salek Kavy in Prague. I understood this - after all, he had just sold his company.

Him: "How much do you need?"
Me: "From you? Maybe 13 000 Canadian Dollars "
Him: "Ok", Vojta opened his Online Banking App, added a few zeros and clicked on Confirm: "Here you go."

I checked my balance, and yes, he had just sent me a loan for 13 000. (this is Europe after all, we have instant limitless free transactions). "But remember, this is the weight you have now to carry." he opened, "Every time you order a cappuccino, you will ask yourself if you can afford it."

Oh boy, how right he was!

For the next four years, I was living on the previous economic activity of someone else. I am not going to lie, it was not an easy period. I had to say no to buying clothes and items of daily use. I had to say no to road trips, travels and vacations. But also, I had to say no to medical expenses and basic well-being. You get the idea.

What have I learned?

1. You have to stop comparing yourself to younger folks or people with resources.

It is pointless. Of course, you can shrug when some of your classmates decide to quit the not-that-cheap art course just before the graduation, but hey. There will always be people who were lucky to be born to middle class backgrounds and could afford to make more mistakes than others.

Compare only to your yesterday self. If you are making even small but continuous progress in your art, that is all what matters.

2. You have to choose your status game wisely.

As a Design Lead, I charged around 96 Canadian Dollars per hour. In Prague. Five years ago. I did not have to work for 40 hours per week, and the pace allowed me to explore various personal ideas, co-found multiple companies with friends and do lots of pro bono projects.

My first job as a Concept Artist in Quebec City was paid 24 Canadian Dollars per hour. I got the offer at the start of the global pandemic, and as a junior I was extremely glad for my first dent in the industry. But in the few following months I realised that all that glitters is not gold. I put my heart into the work, but my unexpectedly yearly low raise felt like nobody cared.

Eventually, with each new company I joined, I was able to get slowly out of the scarcity trap. And now, I feel better.

Our job is creative, challenging, and has an impact. It does not matter what brand of clothing I wear or if I have the newest phone. I walk on the street confidently knowing who I am.

3. Your path never stops.

The learning process of our generation is continuous. There are always new things to learn. New version of Blender? Check. Unreal brings Nanite and Lumen? Check. VR sculpting tools? Painting on iPad? AI tools disrupting the industry? Check Check Check.

I am quite confident now that I deliver great ideas, but I know that there is so much out there to learn next. And that is exciting.

So now the obvious question you would like to ask:

Was it all worth it?

Haha, I won’t give you the resolution, as I am clearly biased. Some aspects of my life haven’t gone well for the last four years, but concept art wise, I find myself quite lucky. I was able to grow my skills and worked on the most interesting games that the industry can offer.

The path of every artist is different. These days you could achieve similar results with less money and without the need to travel over half of the world.

For me, the combination of the school curriculum, external forces that successfully fought my laziness, and internal motivation not to settle down, got me where I am now.