The header image is AI art, very appropriately named “Conversation with the Demon”
This is part 3 of my AI art series. If you aren’t caught up, here’s Part 1: AI is coming, and here’s Part 2: How to Compete against AI.
For the past few months, if you only sat in certain parts of the twittersphere, you might be led to believe that AI is an aberration, come to rob us of our jobs and our meaning, and slowly replace all of human creativity with homogenous grey sludge.
And if you've read my previous articles about AI art, you might think I share that opinion.
But I can see some ways that AI might actually be able to help us artists - and not in a painful compromise, but in a liberating way.
No, I'm not talking about generating AI artwork and painting over it. If that's what you want to do, knock yourself out.
I’m talking to the people who want to paint for a living, who want to spend their day drawing, and feel like their dream has just dissolved in front of their eyes.
Because I want to paint, and I have dreams, and I’m not ready to drop them.
“Just paint over AI art”
Alright, I‘m going to have to address this straight away. Perhaps it’s a serious suggestion to learn how to write good prompts for AI art generators, correct the mistakes, and sell the results to clients.
So let’s look at what I think painting over AI art for a living would look like:
Many projects utilising AI art will only require a single human artist, so you are a one-person department. You meet with the other departments to discuss what art is required for the project.
You write a little description of the content you want to generate, and feed that into the AI. The AI spits out some images and then you tell it what it misunderstood, got wrong, or should adjust. The AI tries again with these new parameters; repeat this until you decide that the AI can’t get closer to what you want, and you take the best version of the art into Photoshop or whatever software you diddle about with.
Saving loads of time by generating some AI art and painting over it! Weeeeee!
You present the finished art to the rest of the team, and help it get integrated into the project properly.
For many projects the art will be complete within just a few months, so your part in the project ends and you hop to another project, and do it all again.
Did you spot the part where the artist gets to make art? The AI makes 90% of the artistic compositional choices, and you only actually put on your artist hat when the AI fucked something up - which will be less and less often, as the AI improves and you get better at ordering it about.
The rest is management - you’re not an artist, you’re a manager. You’re outsourcing the art to a robotic freelancer. The closest you might be able to call yourself is an Art Director.
There will be very little of you in generated art, very little of your perspective, of your personality and your narrative, of the stories you tell with your art.
If you want to do that, knock yourself out - but my dreams don’t look like this.
But how else can artists benefit from AI then?
Since AI is great at doing a single task very efficiently, it’s specialists that are the ones threatened by it - if you perform like a robot, you’ll get replaced by one - and that includes digital artists.
In truth, we are all probably going to have to shift toward the manager role and outsource tasks to AI to stay employed, but you don't have to outsource your art.
Outsource the rest.
If you’re employed as an artist then your art is part of a product pipeline, and there are multiple other components required to create the finished product besides your art. Use AI to handle those other parts. If you own and run the whole product pipeline, you’re no longer dependent on getting hired.
Don't replace yourself with AI; replace your employers with AI.
AI doesn’t only create digital art; it researches, writes, makes music, voice narration and sound effects, animates, codes, creates video, among a myriad more things yet to be revealed.
By leveraging AI, you’ll be able to build much larger projects than just the individual pieces of visual media you can create as a lone artist. Animations, comic books, card games and illustrated novels all become much easier with some AI employees. Feature-length films and massive videogames made by a single creator will become commonplace.
Dust: An Elysian Tail, made by 1 developer, Dean Dodrill, in 2012. Expect to see projects like this happen a lot more with AI on the scene.
The necessary tools are appearing already
We already know about the AI art tools, and I’m sure all of us are familiar with ChatGPT by now and the sorts of things it can do - basically, if you want to write anything, it’ll help you get it done.
There are other tools showing up that can simplify the majority of the product pipeline - from concept, to production, to marketing, to customer support.
Here’s a recent video by entrepreneur Alex Hormozi, talking about AI tools he may be able to integrate into his business, reducing workload or offering new angles for content production:
His video is a little gimmicky, and I'm not convinced he plans on actually adopting any of those particular tools into his business, but it does demonstrate the potential use cases of AI when running a business.
From making art to making complete products
As an example closer to home, let’s ponder fantasy and science fiction artists and how AI might be able to help them. If they are being employed by a company to make art, usually their art is some part of a film, video game, pen and paper game, board games, card game, illustrated book, or a book cover.
AI will probably be able to reduce your workload in every phase of making each of those products.
Need to expand and polish your product’s concept? ChatGPT is actually alright for bouncing ideas off and doing basic research, and a similar AI called Jasper.ai is really, really good at riffing off of your inputs and going in wacky, unexpected directions. I bet all text AIs are decent at it.
Need to produce a hell of a lot of writing or coding for your product? ChatGPT can handle that too.
If you haven't tried out chatGPT yet, it's actually interesting to play with and find its limits, and there are ways it can help you that don't feel like you're secretly just ripping plagiarised content from some poor writer struggling to make ends meet.
Need to create animated characters from your artwork? Here's a video of someone quickly mapping a 2d portrait onto a fully rigged 3D model and using their phone’s camera to animate it:
If you’re open to the idea, and I get it if you aren’t, you could train an image AI on your art, to produce more work in your style you can utilise in your project. I’m not sure where I sit with that particular use case, but it will be possible.
I've not tried it yet, but I expect you'll be able to use AI to test out game mechanics very efficiently, much more efficiently than playtesting every idea.
And of course there are AI to generate sound effects, music and other audio.
If being a professional artist was a pie, then making art would be one half of that pie, with a tasty fruit filling. Apple and cinnamon or something. Marketing would be the other half, filled with shit. Currently if you want to be a successful artist you have to eat that whole pie, shit and all, but with AI we might be able to get it to handle a lot of marketing for us, reducing the amount of shit left on our plate.
Creating articles and YouTube videos is a great way to generate long term passive traffic for your projects, and ChatGPT is also great at helping with those, whether it's helping you do research, plan a script, or provide alternative ways to phrase something.
It’s also great at covering its ass!
It's also a dab hand at writing good copy to accompany your products and help you get sales, and can easily shorten whole ideas into short, snappy tweets. And if English isn't your first language, it's really good at translating and fixing mistakes.
QuillBot is also fantastic at helping you rephrase your writing, and I’ve used it to summarise things I’ve written, expand my notes into fuller paragraphs, simplify the language, and to add creative flair to the fictional stories I’ve been writing now and then (no, nothings public yet).
I came across MeetEdgar a couple of years ago, a social media scheduler that parses through blog posts on your site, pulls out snippets of text and images, and schedules them to be posted to your social media accounts at the times your account gets the most engagement. All you need to do is confirm you are happy with its plan.
I only tested it out briefly when I found it, but I’ve dug it out again recently with the intent of using it properly, now that I’m relying on articles a lot more than I was at the time.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I'm going to be searching for more of these tools and compiling a portfolio of similar software, and sharing my findings with you guys.
Using apps like these, and the ones yet to be created, you'll be a one-man creative force. You'll just need a vision, a passion for making art, and the willingness to manage your AI workforce.
The possibilities for a single entrepreneurial mind will go exponential - sat by yourself in your bedroom, you’ll have the creative potential of a whole studio.
The rise of the solo-preneur
As far as I can tell, the ‘solo-preneur’ is going to be the future of many creative professions. In many ways it’ll be the best avenue for digital artists, as being employed as an artist becomes less and less viable.
In the wider world, many artists already are solo-preneurs; oil painters selling their work in galleries, YouTubers and streamers sharing their expertise and insights, T-shirt illustrators, Skillshare teachers, Patreon…
Freelancers and employed artists are probably going to have to go join them. Hopefully AI will be able to help us get there, without it poisoning the very markets we are trying to enter.
Of course, you'll have to learn a little about many disciplines - enough to be able to spot shortcomings in the various AI outputs and improve them, but if you really want to make this career work it'll be a small price to pay.
At the risk of coming across venomous, even with the potential of AI at people's fingertips, most won't make anything with it. Most people just want to seek comfort and consume media; only the few are driven to create, even when it’s made extremely easy for the many.
So while I’ve made fun of AI art a little bit during this post, I would advise you not to ignore AI completely and to keep an eye on the tools that appear. They may help you stay competitive, and even ahead of the curve, moving forward.
If you combine your genuine passion and enthusiasm for creating art, with AI tools to handle other parts of your business, you may end up living that dream you wanted for yourself.
Perhaps the AI future isn’t as scary as it might seem
I can’t really give you a spot-on plan to prepare for what’s coming.
It's hard to predict exactly how AI will be applied in the future and what it will be capable of, as we are probably near the beginning of this thing. It's simply too hard, and I’m not informed enough, to guess what tools might appear.
But I’m pretty sure that now is the time to think big. AI is going to simplify many tasks, and drastically reduce the manpower required to make large scale products. If you aren’t thinking big by then, you’re going to be left behind.
You’re going to have to generalise your skills a bit and learn to plan larger projects, but you’ll still be able to concentrate on your art and make it the unique centrepiece of the things you make. Think something like 80% art, 20% other crap.
If that sounds a bit like a shitty deal, I can tell you that I’ve purposely generalised my skills a bit in the last few years, and I actually enjoy myself more now.
I used to just paint fantasy and mythology imagery. I chose to generalise by learning to write and web design, but as it turned out I use both of those new skills to celebrate my love of art, fantasy and mythology even further by building complete websites and products.
My love for art and fantasy now feels even deeper, and my expertise in them much more rounded - much fuller.
I feel like I’m working on more important things now, because of their scale and ambition, and their potential impact - and this was recently made much more plausible with AI assistance. I might have to pivot a few times as things develop, but I think there's a viable path forward.
I get it if you're feeling cynical about all of this. If you feel like the career you were looking forward to has been snatched away from you, I empathise with you. I’ve felt the same way a few times in the last 6 months.
I genuinely wish you the best of luck and I hope you don’t give up - there will always be a way to live as a full-time artist, and I hope you continue to pursue that dream, no matter the obstacles that appear in front of you.
Your humanity will act as a beacon to draw people in, and your perseverance will keep them inspired and invested.
This was going to be the last article in this little AI series, but I’ve realised I need to write one last article after this, and perhaps the most important - “Dont give up”, coming soon.