My struggle in Passpartout: The Starving Artist

Passpartout: The Struggling Artist [official site] is a painting sim in which you must splatter some canvases in the most talented way you can and hope that the discerning public will take notice of your genius. But you can only do this with the most rudimentary artist’s tools. Imagine if making bad pictures in MS Paint was a profession and you got paid hundreds of dollars for each poorly sketched sailboat you drew. That’s this game.

I tried to become famous in my own lifetime by painting a variety of wholesome scenes, including a series in which a recurring motif known as the Stretch Man dispenses various vital fluids on the people of the earth. Here’s how I got on.

You start out as a loser in a garage, with a few spaces to hang paintings and some folks milling around inspecting your stuff. These people must buy your masterpieces, otherwise your money slowly dwindles away on bills (baguettes, wine and rent). Later you can unlock new painting tools, but for now it’s just you, a bunch of colours and an adjustable brush size. I got started straight away and painted this monster.

He sold quickly for very little. It’s what I deserved. My craft would eventually evolve beyond such garishness. But I can see, even here, the direction such work would take me. There’s no shame in remembering your first painting.

This next painting, “Lesser Toothed Pig Beast”, took me a little longer. I was happy with it, but that happiness did not extend to the general public in the slightest. “Lesser Toothed Pig Beast” would remain where it stood for the rest of my time in the garage. A punk called Maggie summed up her feelings about the porky painting thusly:

Philistine.

But I did sell enough of my other paintings to unlock a new method of colour-spattering – a spray tool! I make immediate use of this to create a stormy ocean scene, which I place on sale and dub “Poverty Beckons”.

It sells for 243 euro. That’s about three weeks worth of bills! The spray tool is my new best friend.

I pump out loads of spray-heavy stuff. Ocean vistas, sunrises, hillsides at night, meadows with flowers in them that look like fried eggs but are definitely daisies. This one is a desert scene. It is called “If Camels Had Two Legs And Nice Shoes”. It went for a modest 170 euro.

In a fit of listlessness after overusing the spray tool, I fart out a few rapid brushstrokes. An image comes to me, as through a rift in the dimensions, of a large yellow face, stretched beyond all repair, too ugly to elicit sympathy or joy, yet entrancing in its own repellent, horrific way. Stretch Man (who would later become Stretch Face) was born.

As you can see, he suffered a nose bleed in his debut. Several more Stretch paintings followed. Here’s “Stretch Man’s Gums Begin To Rot”.

Here’s Stretch Man beneath a catchy slogan. It is called “Merch For Plebs”

I sold that piece of poop for 373 euros to some damn fool with a stripey t-shirt. But it was time to do the Stretch Man in a new style, with fresh eyes. A critic was coming to the stall, and since you can only progress by pleasing these quiet art reviewers, I needed to put all the effort into this one. Behold, “Stretch Face Nosebleeds On The World”.

Just as I finished this masterwork, the critic arrived.

He plodded over to the stands and…

What? No! That’s not the painting you should look at! That’s –

Great. Now I am famous for a painting I parped out in a couple of minutes, featuring a giant spider trying to fit into a rowboat during a rainstorm, and not for the great Stretch logos who comes to sustain the world with blood from his nasal cavity. I have to progress to the next act now, and I won’t be bringing any of my current works. Not even “Lesser Toothed Pig Beast”, of which my fondness had grown, despite it being the most despicably unpopular piece of work I’ve ever done.

In the next level – a trendy outside gallery made of bricks – I am rewarded with a pen tool, which I completely ignore. I am also told to “embrace passion”. I don’t know what that means, the game doesn’t really communicate what types of paintings people will like in a straightforward way. Although, it’s clear this is deliberate, a means of replicating the kind of frustration an artist must feel when they paint something they think people will like only to be given vague reasons why it’s not their cup of chocolat chaud. “To romance someone, you need to put in some effort,” says one visitor while peering at a hilltop scene. “This is just crap,” says another.

I decide to ignore the audience. I will paint more of what I want. More Stretch Face! Here’s “Stretch Face Dips His Bread In The Sea”.

And this is my truest, proudest work: “Stretch Face Blesses The Earth With Vom”.

But these do not sell. Meanwhile, all my other pieces are rubbished by the customers who come in. One of them examines my works and keeps going on about painting “with passion” and “putting your heart” into it and asking “where is the love?” That’s fine. I can take a hint. Here’s something especially for you, Andy.

But Andy was not satisfied by “Stretch Face Voms On A Human Heart”.

After painting some more astounding failures, I gave up on all my customers. All but one – a punk named Cynth. She bought both “Stretch Face Voms On A Human Heart” and “Stretch Face Dips His Bread In The Sea”, as well as a separate canvas, on which I simply spattered green and purple paint and wrote the words “Could You Not?”

It seems I’ve been pigeon-holed into a scene that I don’t belong. I want to break out and live with the punks, not these bespectacled Passion Dweebs. I start to make my art specifically for Cynth. Purples, harsh reds, rapid brushtrokes – paintings with barely any thought or reason. I make this one for her called “Buy This Cynthia, You Garbage”.

And then would you look who bought it.

With that, I hung up my easel and brushes. I’m done with pandering to fickle peasants. And yeah, my hand was getting sore anyway. Passpartout does a decent job of replicating the frustrations and concerns of being a painter, but that does mean it’s purposefully difficult to tell what people want. I like that it gives you an excuse to indulge in some childish MS Paint creativity, but I’m finished with the art scene. These scum don’t deserve to gaze upon the Stretch Face.

Passpartout: The Starving Artist is on Steam for £6.99/$9.99

19 Comments

  1. Suits says:

    I probably have more fun reading this and watching other people get creative than picking up the brush myself and staring at a blank canvas for an hour.

  2. Fachewachewa says:

    “Stretch Face Nosebleeds On The World” is perfect

  3. flyingscorpions says:

    Stretchface RPS merch?

  4. Premium User Badge

    SoundDust says:

    “If Camels Had Two Legs And Nice Shoes” really speaks to me. It’s a welcome protest on the humanization of animals and rising prices of quality footwear.

  5. DeadlyAccurate says:

    By some weird stroke of luck, I finished this game in about 2 hours with the ending that basically said I was an art genius showcased in museums around the world. I don’t know what I was doing, but I had no trouble selling almost all my paintings within moments of making them. (I did have to trash 2 or 3 of them that wouldn’t sell). I’m not a 2D artist, and even if I was, I draw & write with my left hand and use a mouse with my right, so my artwork more closely resembled that of a drug-addled monkey.

    • Rashism says:

      I have similar dexterity which puts me off from purchasing stuff like this.

  6. King in Winter says:

    Yes, but is it art?

  7. spaced says:

    Interesting post title.

    Coincidentally there was once a guy in Germany who had trouble working as a painter, and he wrote a book about it called “My Struggle”.

    I assume Brendan is a big fan of his based on this clever reference. :)

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      oh no

      • Premium User Badge

        Martell says:

        For someone currently raising a 2 year old, that ‘oh no’ and that profile picture is just amazing.

    • yoggesothothe says:

      /puts on pedant hat
      Austria, not Germany

      But yeah, any time the words “my struggle” appear in a title, its hard not to be reminded of _that_ book.

  8. Augh_lord says:

    Technically, (puts in a pedant top hat), Brendan’s muse wrote it during his stay in Munich’s prison, so he was a guy in Germany.

  9. Atog says:

    Damn you’re good at this.

  10. poliovaccine says:

    Given some of the anecdotes I’ve heard, about this game, now including this one, I’m starting to suspect that it just uses a formula to make people hate your art proportionally to how much time you spend on it.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      That is a magnificently evil idea. Now to find a starving artist and make them play it :)

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s a little more complex than that. Time spent is definitely one it uses (some customers prefer you to spend longer, others less time). Colours also seem to play into it. It looks like customers have two or three preferences weighted by customer type.

  11. comic knight says:

    This is one of the funniest articles i have read on rps. I need this game.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    How does the game decide what people like? Is it effectively random?

  13. AutonomyLost says:

    I loved the review. Thanks, Brendan.