How did growing up on the internet affect my art? Part One: The Rise

I was born as the 90's were born, and was cutting teeth at the same time as that the digital age was beginning to really sink its own teeth into human culture.


By the time I was 13, old enough to legally sign up to join a website, I had already been an online consumer of art for years. From classic museum works shared on early art history websites to early fantasy Photoshop artwork, the internet made art and art education super accessible to me. I wanted to suck it all up into my brain and, at last, spit something of my own back out for other people to see.


(In advance, I apologize for exactly 0% of the alliterative subtitles in this article ;-) )


A screenshot of Elfwood circa the early 2000's.

THE ELFWOOD ERA

Elfwood was an arts community started in the mid-90's that catered specifically to sci-fi and fantasy creators, and was the first place I gleefully signed up for when I was old enough. Some of the artists I had discovered on there, like Natalia Pierandrei, fed my creative soul and gave me a craving to practice. I shared much of my early digital and traditional art on there.


A sample of Nataila Pierandrei's work. She still influences my work today.

I spent huge chunks of time searching for work that inspired me and collecting those artists into my mind. I really can not emphasize enough how formative Elfwood was to my early artist mind, and how grateful I am that it existed. But their adherence to sci-fi and fantasy works made submitting art a bit of a hassle. I remember having a giant fish monster rejected twice by the moderators until I made it very clear in the description that it was a made-up, fantasy fish with a background in a fantasy universe. The description carried the weight that the artwork could not.


On reflection, this was my first real-life experience with persuasive writing.


My favorite thing about the site, besides being able to be in community with other art fans, was the area of the site dedicated to education. People wrote pages and pages of excellent information about developing fantasy worlds for writing, using early digital art tools, how to understand dragon anatomy, and the like. I printed off many of these articles as reference for when I was offline; this was in the early days when I could only be on the internet as long as my mom wasn't using the phone.


Dial-up, man, that screeching sound still haunts my dreams.


I wish I knew where those print-outs were, because Elfwood has long since stopped existing and I would love to re-read some of those articles. They had an immense impact on my art and writing.


A screenshot of DeviantArt circa 2009.

DETERMINED TO DEVIANTART

Despite the name making my mother uncomfortable (deeeeeviants), I joined DeviantArt as a way to share artwork that might not strictly be sci-fi or fantasy based enough to get past Elfwood's strict moderation. I eventually moved over to it completely. For the first time, I got comsistent comments from people I didn't know, praising my work and telling me to keep going. What an encouragement! I participated in events and contests, pouring hundreds of hours into learning my craft and sharing it with others.


A screenshot of a very, very old compliment that still gave me happy feelings when I saw it again!

As much as I cringe at some of this old work -- especially the Sonic the hedgehog self-insert fan art that I made before I realized there were some, uh... weird parts of that community -- this was one of the most fruitful times of my young life in terms of making art, learning about art, and feeling confident in my work. I made a truly prolific number of pieces in my teenagehood. Sadly, much of it is now lost as changing up computers over the years resulted in most of my old digital art is now gone. But DeviantArt is still around, and some of my childhood artwork is still accessible on there.


It makes me cringe but... here it is, if you're interested. Don't look at it. Don't look at my shame, NO, GOSH NO--- [THE SHAME]


A screenshot of Facebook's Pieces of Flair app circa 2009. I used to make my own flair and cover my digital cork board with them.

FACEBOOK FUN

I didn't get a Facebook account until I was in college. The site was still fairly new at the time and social media sites as we know them today were only just beginning. I found that it was the preferred method of communication between my new college friends, and ultimately realized it was a great place to share artwork with people I made connections with on there. I posted artwork on my personal page often, to the delight of my older relatives and family friends who were also adapting Facebook into their lives.


Making and collecting digital pins on the "Pieces of Flair" Facebook app was also a good time.


A modern screenshot of an old post circa 2009 showing off some of my gallery work in a college show.

I continued posting what I considered my best work on DeviantArt, though, as the praise of random strangers and connection to my online art buddies still appealed to me. They served two different needs for me as an artist seeking attention and praise for my work, and the occasional genuine critique.


Facebook was not, at this time, made for the kind of social media marketing that it is nowadays. I'm not sure when Groups and Pages came into being, but I didn't have one for my personal artwork until midway through college. I felt pretentious making one. Did I deserve FANS? Why would I post my work like it MEANT something??As it became more normal for people to show their work online and use social media for business purposes, it became less weird to advertise my own work.


THE WORLD WIDE WEB...SITE

By my Sophomore year of college, my classmates and I had been encouraged to create our own websites as a way to display our best work to potential employers and art patrons. As a graphic design major, I had to build up a website that not only showed my work, but was its own piece of art. Everything from the logo to the layout had to be my own creation.


But that, my friends, is another story.


The second part of this story, actually, which you can read about in the next post ;)


My online artistic life shifted a lot once I moved off of art-centric platforms like DeviantArt and shifted, like the rest of the world, into using social media as a way to both show and market my work. Where the internet was once a place merely to display what I was working on, it increasingly became the goal, which led to some toxic results on my artwork.


A fickle friend, the internet is. But it can be a good one, if you know how to work with it.


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