They say art is a good outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings, but since I’m not one to keep a notebook full of doodles, I have found peace within Passpartout: The Starving Artist, a recently released game where you make MS Paint-style drawings and sell them for your digital livelihood. The game is super simple: you start out in a garage with nothing but your canvas and small art stand, painting away until local Parisian passerbys stop to offer you money.
At first it felt like one of those time management games where your garage is an art factory, and you’re encouraged to churn out as many paintings as possible to make your weekly bills (which consist of rent, wine, and baguette. Passpartout is all of us.) As bill notifications continually pop up, I found myself spewing crappy splatters every 45 seconds, hoping anyone would give me cash to stay alive. Sources of inspiration ranged between static objects to pokémon to everyone’s favorite sexually suggestive emoji.
Sometimes this strategy worked. Benjamin, in particular, frequently returned to the stall and often shared a little too much about himself.
But despite a variety of subject matter, haters would still stroll by and give rude, non-constructive criticism. They say I’m “not making art.” That the paintings lack “passion.” That I’m a “sellout.” It’s an experience not unfamiliar to those of us who spend a lot of time promoting their work on Twitter.
Overtime, you earn new painting tools, such as a spray paint can and a pen. (Your color selections remain the same throughout the game, which might feel limiting.) Eventually, a critic comes by and tries to make you famous by reviewing your work on on the newspaper and moving you to a nicer gallery with better foot traffic.
The game is broken up into three acts, each with a higher scale of clienteles who are willing to shell out more money for your work — even if they exhibit the same mediocre level of artistry. But as paintings go for more cash, I found more time to devote to the craft, experimenting with new styles. There’s an art pop-py period where I used hella colors.
And a transitional phase when I realized button smashing a ton of dots make for a rather weird texture and shadowing / highlighting technique. My colleague Thomas Ricker once told me taking a painting class taught him to become more aware of the colors surrounding him. The same felt true in the game for various patterns and shapes.
Combined with the classical music and the satisfying colors that emit from each brush stroke, the game quickly turned from mildly stressful to zen. I found myself playing for hours at a time, completely forgetting about the noisy world beyond my screen and just blotting and swishing away at the canvas. The haters kept coming, but they ended up becoming an inspiration for work that sold for several months’ worth of wine and bread.
There’s a lot to like about Passpartout — you can beat the game in under three hours but it’s worth taking your time and just tuning off into a world where life is as simple as pretending to be an art master with a watermelon for a face, and learning to brush off those who aren’t here to root for your success.
Passpartout: The Starving Artist is available for PC and Mac via Steam for $9.99.