Updated: Mar 10
Shikantaza Creativity Interview I - Polyducks
Polyducks is one of many artists to add artworks into Occupy White Walls,
Discover Polyducks exhibition (and many others) in-game at the gallery Shikantaza.
Read on for a cool interview with Polyducks by Shikantaza Art.
Source credit Shikantaza Art.
At Shikantaza we are not content to just create art. We are not content to just give art and artists the platform they deserve. We also want to dig deep inside those who make art.
Creation and creativity are fascinating and elusive. It comes from within and without. Just when you have it eludes you, then when you don’t want or need it, it fills your mind, body, and soul. Creation is never easy, apart from when it is.
If we sat down with ten artists and asked them to explain their methods no two would have identical tales. Yet, there will be common threads. The commonalities are just as fascinating as the differences and may help us all to gain a deeper understanding of creativity.
This is why we are launching a series of interviews. In the main, we will be featuring artists whose work is on show in the gallery, but there will be additional contributions from those whose creative output may not be best represented by a visual display.
Our first interviewee is Polyducks, creator of pixel art, ASCII, games, and much more. You can check out his creations on the Shikantaza rooftop.
1 – How would you describe your output of content? Do you work in a specific genre more than others or cross regularly?
I’m predominantly known for my textmode and pixel art, though I like to branch out into other formats. I enjoy finding new ways to be creative with existing tools. Things like Minecraft, Super Mario Maker, and other conventional game editors are a great opportunity to flex creative muscles, but also less conventional formats like Reddit comments where I’ve made interlinked text adventures through linked comments in dead threads, or Twitter where you can use emojis to make artwork or use the poll system to make a multiple-choice game. I also like Blender and Stud.io for 3D work.
There’s a certain playfulness to seeing a format and wondering what else it could do or how else someone could interact with it.
My comfort zone is textmode art, which is about placing fixed-width character tiles into a grid. Each tile has one foreground and background colour. Versions of textmode include ANSI, ASCII, and PETSCII. It is similar to pixel art, but there are tighter restrictions, and I feel that helps guide my choices.
2 – How long have you been creating content? Or phrased another way, how long have you been creating content that you would now recognise as your “style”? (I hesitate to use the word brand) I started off with a Deviantart account at age 14, or thereabouts, but I’ve been drawing and building since I was a kid. My friends have said that my artwork is noticeably ‘mine’, but I can’t really put a finger on what that is. I’d like to think I’m not too stuck in my ways to have a specific style, though we all get caught in our ruts.
Started at fourteen. When did you begin? When did I begin? Philosophical thought might suggest that that we began even before the date we choose. When I wrote my first book I was asked “How long did it take you?” I answered, “either four months or twenty years, depending on your perspective”. We are all creating before we have even started a project.
3 – Are there any particular works that you would direct people towards? This might be because they best show your style or hit what you were aiming for. One of my favourite pieces is “Geisha Paint”, which was a summary of a lot of things I’d tried to depict in earlier pieces. I really like 1bit pixel art, and I enjoy making unusual interfaces and mock-ups. In terms of achievement, I’m very pleased with the level of depth and work involved in the game “Mushroom Hunt”, which took close to a month to complete. The artwork uses textmode and a palette I made based on Japanese woodblock prints to make a very 'earthy’ environment, and the player takes the role of a child finding mushrooms for his grandmother’s soup. It’s as much an exploration of a space as an exploration of a relationship between two people.
4 – I notice you have created a lot of games as well as images. Are the games separated from the imagery or are the games an extension of your art?
Games are an artform of their own, in the same way that pixel art or oil paints are. What’s special about games is that they’re interactive and the experience of them changes as the observer plays through it. I find that something as simple as an animation can greatly change the interpretation of an artwork by bringing it to life (this skeleton, for example http://polyducks.co.uk/assets/pico-8-skele.gif). So having the player able to interact with an artwork makes it less about meticulously staring into a 2D piece and more about exploring that theme narratively, in snippets and potentially with the player never seeing a piece of the game you spent forever working on. They are a good way to make a whole setting that people can explore, but it does mean that they require active exploring by the viewer to deliver the full 'package’. Interpretations of my game Mushroom Hunt change dramatically from “I want to be able to kill Granny” to “I think I understand why she’s a bitter old woman now” depending on the length of playtime. The most difficult part is making sure that regardless of how long people play the game, they still leave with the right impression. I’m still trying to get to grips with that.
5 – Into the more abstract creative areas. The more difficult questions. What do you consider your main sources of inspiration?
I feel inspired by a lot of things. I’m constantly astounded and amazed by the creativity of the indie pixelart, textmode and gamedev community. My friends have managed to break me out of this concept of rigid perfectionism which became quite restrictive, and I’m still working on becoming more loose and ready by using the wheels I already have without trying to reinvent them for each project. Recently my sources of inspiration have been old tech, 1bit artwork from early desktop machines (Susan Kare is a legend) and early 20th century painting.
There was this huge innovative time in the 1900s where all these artists just said “You know what? I’ll do what I want now” and cubism came about alongside surrealism and all these bright expressionist colours. They used the format of the painting to explore new and strange things and it was pure creativity. This past year I’ve really enjoyed looking at artwork and seeing this pure soul-joy, and it’s really helped with museums moving their collections into the online space.
Also the program “Bad Influence!” with all its gritty hacker-culture-but-for-kids has been a great side-watch while making artwork. The early 90s was full of wonder and potential for what might come next. It wasn’t limited just to bigger screens or new ways to interact with social media. It was about new peripheral devices, immersive experiences and cheat codes, and what might be in basement archives of the tech giants. It was a pure desire to explore and understand new tech as it blossomed. It was hopeful.
The past and the future. Creations are imbibed by reflections upon what was and the imagination of what might yet be.
6 – Would you say that your work has any specific trademarks?
I tend to add in easter eggs into my content, usually in the form of my handle “POLYDUCKS” inserted somewhere - either as actual text characters interspersed in the artwork or in binary or morse code. This is a result of once having my artwork reposted with the signature removed on a comic I wrote over a decade ago. I’ve never really recovered from it.
A lot of my artwork appears on Pinterest boards and reposted somewhere else where the context has been stripped. Having a signature people can use to find the artist, or proof where I can say “that is mine” is very valuable. I find the idea of stenography (hiding information within an image) really interesting. Most stenography techniques rely on the image data itself to encode data into the file, but you just can’t do that now in a time where people will screenshot to share artwork. It has to be a little more 'liminal’.
In terms of theme, the ones I keep returning to is adventure gaming, horror, the integration of person and machine, and the social relationship we have with the technology.
7 – We all have moments where creativity is more elusive than usual. Are there things that you do in order to conquer those moments?
Sometimes I just stop for a bit. Sometimes when you’re not feeling it, it’s time for a break. There are other ways to be creative too, even if that’s just playing a game and being creative with your choices and movement, and that can help things get kickstarted again. Research is another good way to get creativity back - see how other people have done something similar and that can trigger thoughts on how you might do it.
Sometimes when I’m forced to be creative in a short period of time (for a game jam, perhaps), I just have to push through it. It’s like when you have a biro that won’t write. You’ve got to scribble for a bit before the ink comes out. Creativity is the same. Sometimes you have to just get all the bad ideas out until the good ones start flowing again.
There are no bad ideas. The concepts of good and bad, right and wrong are troublesome. When dealing in absolute facts then right and wrong are apparent, but when dealing in an area such as ideas, to define as good, bad, right or wrong is too subjective. Useful and not useful may be better categories, existing within a spectrum of just how useful the idea is. A bad idea that leads into a good idea was, retrospectively a good idea. Or, it was a useful idea that morphed into an incredibly useful idea.
8 – Why? This is the question I am going to put to everyone. Why do you create? What is that pushes you to keep creating? Can you conceive of a moment where you will stop creating?
I don’t think it’s possible not to create. I don’t mean that in a flippant “Oh I couldn’t survive without it”. I mean that even this interview is a creation and expression of my thoughts and feelings. I think a time without creativity would be very bland.
Mostly what keeps me creating is a mix between a desire to be understood and a bitter frustration that someone hasn’t already created the thing I’m thinking about. Creativity is simultaneously an escapism and a way to connect to others.
If I am no longer creating, I am no longer alive.
9 – What would assist you to further create more or different works?
I really need to look into getting a grant. Having that freedom from a 9-5 and the related mental exhaustion would be of great value to being more creative. I could learn some more tools, connect with other artists and generally be more free to play, and I think play is incredibly valuable to creativity.
10 – Is there an “ultimate goal” for your work?
My goal used to be “I want to do this for a job!”. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that if it were a job it’d suck all the fun from it and it’d no longer be fun or as creative. I’m currently trying to redirect to find what my ultimate goal is - perhaps exhibiting in more places or collaborating more with others.
My suspicions are that this notion of being free to focus on art, or having more time to work on art will recur. I often wonder if having more time would genuinely result in more production, or simply allow people to feel less rushed and more luxuriant in their own creatives acts. Might being creative at all times diminish the pleasure of creations?
11 – If you were to offer any advice to a creator, what would it be?
Ask for criticism. Give constructive criticism on things you understand. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Do take time to appreciate your achievements even in spite of the flaws you recognise in your art. Train your critical eye by reading on subjects like colour theory. Try not to post rants on your art twitter account. Explore genres and mediums outside of the one you like to work in. Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts. Be respectful of the people who take time to teach you. Learn the rules before you break them. Acknowledge you will never know everything. Be truthful about your techniques when people ask. If you like an artist’s work, tell them and make friends. Make ethical decisions about how you use your creativity. Most importantly, nobody cares as much as you think they do, and this can be both scary and liberating.
Source credit Shikantaza Art.