Matthew Fricker: "Hitting rock bottom and bouncing back"

Matthew Fricker (Frikkr) is a CGCookie member that has held our attention for a long time due to his involvement with the community as well as his progression of Blender/3D skills throughout his time with us. Many of you will probably recognize his name and/or his work sprinkled across the site. Recently Matt shared his story with me and I asked that he share it with you. I hope that you’ll be inspired, as I have, as well as learn from his insightful tips about growing as an artist.

Frikkr’s Story

My name is Matthew Fricker. I am a Blender artist from Scotland, and upon Kent’s request, I want to share my story with you. It’s about hitting rock bottom and bouncing back. In my case the bouncing back was due to the amazing support of my fiancee, family and friends, but also due to the discovery of Blender and CG Cookie.

Back in 2013 I had lost everything. Alcohol had taken over my life and things were bad. I won't go into the bleak details, but in short: I had put myself in a horrible place. Throughout 2014 I managed to begin putting my life slowly back together and although things were starting to improve , I could not stay away from the drink, it still hung over me, waiting to send me right back down.

At the start of 2015, I began playing a "point and click"  adventure game which was a genre I loved as a child. It occurred to me that I should try to make my own. Some online research led me to CG Cookie, primarily for Blender and Unity education and I fell in love with Blender! I was so impressed by its capabilities and before long, I realized that not only did I want to make a game, I wanted a career in CG. My old addiction was being replaced by a new one.

I joined up with CG Cookie and soon became acquainted with some of the tutors. I got involved in the community and made friends from all over the world. I entered a couple of CG Cookie's contests and although I didn't place, I still had a fun time taking part while learning so much. Just a few months later I gave another contest a go and won it. I entered the next one and won it too! I was then invited to be a guest judge on the following contest which was immensely rewarding. The contest wins were a huge confidence booster. It showed me just how much I had learned in Blender in such a short time. Today I sit here, almost three years sober, without a worry in the world about my past addiction, going from strength to strength in the world of CG. That progress is almost all thanks to CGCookie, its talented team, and it's amazing community.


So there it is, a very short version of a very long journey. Besides my personal discoveries and development, I also learned so many practical things along the way. I want to share a list of some of the tricks and tips that got me to where I am today. I believe they will help anybody, whether you are struggling with personal issues, a beginner who is overwhelmed trying to get off the ground, or if you are just somebody looking for ideas about working better.

Frikkr’s Tips

1. Learn to Love Mistakes

I love making mistakes! Why? Because mistakes are often traumatic, and typically they mean re-doing a whole lot of work again. But the positive side of the coin is you learn a lot. And once you make a mistake, you rarely do it again. So, whenever you make a mistake, don't let it get you down. Just consider what you learned from it. And as a bonus, re-doing the work is practice! 

For those of you new to Blender and your first few tutorial results are a disaster, I have good news. I believe that means you’ve learned more than you would have if you sailed through them without issues. So learn to enjoy making mistakes, because they are probably one of the best teachers you can have.

By the way, Yoda promotes this idea in the Last Jedi: "The best teacher failure is."

2. Stop Being Afraid to Share Your Work

If you are afraid to show your work because you think it is too bad, then that is precisely the reason why you should be showing it. Taking opinions and advice from others will help you see what you are doing wrong so that you can improve upon it. If your work sits in your hard drive gathering dust, then you will struggle to grow as an artist. Forums like the CG Cookie's Community are full of friendly, helpful artists like you who will commend you on the positive points of your work, and help you with the negatives. You may not always like what you read about the project you have poured your heart and soul into, but can learn to accept critique and leverage it for your benefit. Plus, what's the point in making beautiful art, if nobody can experience it?

3. Start Simple, Dream Big

CG is hard. After two and a half years, I still feel like I've just begun to scratch the surface of Blender. But the best advice I can give you is to start simple. Start with easy projects, increasing their complexity each time. Keep your expectations at the level you are at, but push yourself where you want to go. And when you see some amazing CG artwork, use it to inspire you. Just remember that the artist who created it probably has a lot of experience and skills that have been built up over time - and you will too if you stick to it!  

4. Absorb and Capture Inspiration

Every night I finish working on my projects, grab a cup of tea, and retire to the sofa with my tablet to browse the CGC gallery and ArtStation while I wind down. I save any images that inspire me into an "inspirational" folder on my computer. I also observe my surroundings wherever I go, taking photographs and saving ideas in my phone’s notes app.My point here is to inspire yourself. Whenever you feel down or lack creativity, open up your inspiration folder and refuel.

5. Find Your Unique Expression

This can be hard to do but worth the pursuit. When you work through a tutorial, don’t settle for copying the tutor’s result. Exercise your design skills, unleash your creativity and come up with your unique idea, or at least deviate from the path a little. It’s a challenge but once you’re done you’ll have a piece to call your own. Creating a carbon copy of what the tutor creates teaches you the minimum about a topic. Applying it in your own way maximizes what you can glean.

6. Choose to Receive and Give Feedback

Constructive feedback is an invaluable expression of other artists’ respect of and belief in your work. remember to return the favor and share your own feedback! It not only helps the artist;you benefit too. Giving feedback teaches you to analyze a piece of art. Plus, the community will appreciate it and respect you for it.

7. Make friends, Join the Community

One of the biggest resource for me was making online friends that shared my love for CG. I have so many now, from all corners of the world, and it is great to be able to chat away with them while I work. From experience, I have discovered artists to be some of the kindest and genuine people on the planet. They’ve helped me with advice and feedback, they’ve bounced my ideas back and forth with me, and they keep me in the loop with what's going on in the art world. We have a discord channel here that is an active hive of art activity. It’s a great place to make friends with digital artists of all disciplines. Most are CGC members, but we are open to anybody. I encourage you to join us! I also recommend that you get involved with the CGC Community forum, it’s a great example of the community spirit and you get to network with CGC’s tutors as well.

8. Make Your Workspace Comfortable and Efficient

If you’re into CG,you probably spend a lot more time on your computer than you realize. So make the effort to get comfy. Set up your desk to be as efficient as possible and keep it tidy and organized. Make sure you have a comfortable seat and keep your workspace well lit to avoid strain on your eyes. If you can, try to get a second monitor. It is incredibly useful for Blender and most other programs. Once you get into more technical aspects of CG such as animation or the node editor, a second monitor becomes invaluable. And when you are modeling or sculpting, it’s great for alternate views of your model or your reference images.

9. Work on Multiple Projects

I always try to have a minimum of two projects on the go at once. I find that working on one single project at a time can burn you out, especially if you are doing something tedious like retopology or rigging for days on end. Having a variety of projects going on simultaneously keeps work interesting. It enables me to jump between them regularly, which is useful when I hit a wall and need a change. 

10. Write it Down

The world of CG is full of information that you need to remember. Even the simplest of tutorials will bombard you with knowledge, most of which you may quickly forget. So grab a notebook, and write it down. Don't fuss over presenting it nicely, as long as you can refer back to it and understand it yourself. I currently have 16 A4 notebooks that I have written in over the years. I have different ones for various disciplines, and although I rarely need to check them anymore, they are invaluable when I do because it is impossible to remember everything. 

11. Take Regular Breaks

Too much of any good thing makes it a bad thing. When CG passion grabs hold of you, it’s easy to devote unhealthy amounts of time to learning and creating in Blender. I’ve taken entire weeks off work to spend solely on Blender projects. My first time doing this was a disaster because I lived on my computer almost 24/7 for the entire week. By the end my eyes were bright red,I hated Blender and completely burnt out; the exact opposite result from what I had imagined a whole week on Blender to be. Now I know better, taking regular breaks whenever I’m blending. And I make sure those breaks do not include staring at a screen of any kind.

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  • danpro

    Love your work and attitude, Matt. I always enjoy seeing your progress and new projects. CGCookie needs to get a PM system back so we can continue our conversations like the old forums allowed. (Hint, hint, hint, CGCookie Team.)

  • Phil Osterbauer (phoenix4690)

    You have a great story Matt, and these are some superb tips to stand by for life and CG. Its been a real pleasure watching your work progress and getting to know you over the past year. Looking forward to seeing more! :)

  • crew
    Jonathan Lampel (jlampel)

    What an incredible path you've been on Matt, thanks so much for sharing!

  • Mark Smith (me1958424)

    Matt, having been involved in your story from the first I have to say it is a very satisfying thing to have watched the growth you speak of in this blog item... thanks for sharing!!

  • Marc Doland (cosmicflux)

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I'm just starting out on my CG and Blender journey. I will take your tips to heart. Thanks!

  • Jasmine Wongus (jazze)

    Matt, I'm glad I know you! I also love what you say here, and I've experienced your helpful mentorship, still do! Once again, too, I got another nudge to share my stuff, my crappy, cruddy stuff. I'm gonna do it anyway! But where again...cuz none of it's complete. LOL!

  • Omar Domenech (dostovel)

    Great tips. I'll add a 12th one if I may.... "The mouse your connection to the software it is, cheap out on one do not. For my ally is the mouse, and a powerful ally it is".

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    ddanpro Thanks Dan , I appreciate the kind words. And yes, I miss our PM's , I too brought that issue up with Wes back when CGsix came out and he said it was on the list. Hopefully it will get sorted soon. Perhaps we can use some other PM system in the meantime, check out the Discord server we have with the link in my blog above, we can PM on there and you can also chat to the many members we have :)

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    phoenix4690 Thanks man! , I'm glad the tips help. You have been a great help to me over the years and I thank you for that :)

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    jlampel Thanks! Some of your awesome tutoring has hugely influenced that path along with the rest of the Cookie crew.

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    me1958424 Thanks Mark , it has been great to have you along side me during my journey. You have always been there to help and to talk to and I thank you for that :)

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    ccosmicflux Thankyou . Stick around here and you will go from strength to strength. I hope my tips will help you to avoid the things I learnt the hard way and help you develop as a Blender artist quickly :) Thankyou for the kind words.

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    jjazze Thanks :) , you have always been a great friend and it has been a pleasure to help you. Just keep pushing yourself and having fun. I'm glad I know you too :)

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    dostovel Haha , great advice Omar, my mouse is on the way out so I will apply your advice in the January sales! Thanks for the kind words :) , our crazy conversations over the years have been great fun and you have always helped out where you can. :)

  • Gabriel Garcia (smoothegg)

    Wonderful story, thank you for sharing it with us!

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    ssmoothegg Thankyou for the kind words :)

  • Suchaaver Chahal (minifigmaster125)

    The "have multiple projects going on at once" is something that I think is super important. You are absolutely right, days of retopo can be really draining. I'm trying to learn 3D and 2D art, so when I find my 3D project is really taking a toll on me I just switch over to drawing a million faces or something. It's refreshing :)

  • Jason Hayes (fusion2012)

    I love the idea of sharing your work. My problem is that often on the rare occasion that I do, I receive little to no feedback on how to improve it. I find it to be very discouraging and I often ask myself why bother? I try to share my work on various social platforms like here, Deviant Art and on Facebook. Even though I may get a like here or there, no ever seems to leave any valuable criticism.

  • crew
    Wayne Dixon (waylow)

    Well done frikkr, 3 years is no small feet.
    I can tell you from experience that you will go through periods of it being really easy as well as periods of it being really hard. But with the excellent framework you have setup for yourself you will always stay in control.
    Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • randalthor05

    Great attitude and kudos on overcoming your bad-habit. I wish you every success in your cg pursuits. Cant wait to see more from you. Stay Strong! ;-)

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