[Above are quick experiments I’ve done in the last week – 6 from yesterday – using free 3D software. Just getting started.]

I haven’t been posting quite as much as usual, because about a week ago I started experimenting with free 3D software (Sculptris, Makehuman, and then Blender), which I think is a tremendous resource and asset for visual artists.

Astoundingly, all those programs are free, and while Sculptris and Makehuman are fairly limited, if useful, Blender is a 3D powerhouse that is now tied with Photoshop as my favorite program. Adobe (makers of Photoshop), though, are complete assholes about their software, and you can’t even buy a copy of the new version anymore: you need an expensive monthly subscription. That kind of opportunism which prices out most artists makes Blender look all the better as not only FREE, but also in a way a newer and more evolved platform for creating images (because it can do 3D modeling, sculpting, scenes, and animations). Yes, I know Gimp is a free photo editing software comparable to Photoshop, but since I know PS inside and out, and already have a copy, I haven’t switched over.

So, why do I think Blender is so great for visual artists. You might think it’s useless, mostly, if you have been primarily a 2D artist, like me. But if you look carefully at most of my art, there’s a strong 3D element, and a few pieces look like I used 3D software. The image below was created using only Photoshop, several photos, and tons of tablet work. All those wood grains are drawn! There are no texture maps! The lighting? I fudged it.

"Transfixion" (digital image, 2004-2012)
“Transfixion” (digital image, 2004-2012)

Even my last piece, which was much more painterly, incorporated headache-inducing perpectival and lighting challenges (reflected light, specular light…). I’m sure there are mistakes from a mathematical perspective, but I only had to make it passably convincing.

The End Came Swiftly

OK, so you can see I already use 3D is my imagery, so it should be obvious why a program that gives me much more ease and power to do so would be valuable. But I think learning a 3D program is useful anyway, and it clarifies some core questions about what visual art is, and why it is valid.

After working with Sculptris and Makehuman, when I went outside and saw people I was much more attuned to the geometry of their heads. Everyone became a fascinating head to sculpt. And after using Blender for a while, I became much more aware of the angle of view (say, of a camera), and viewpoint in relation to lighting sources, as well as the orientation of objects to one another in space. Again, the more attuned to these things one is, the more visually aware you are in your daily life.

Now, with the addition of the 3D software, my art gets another dimension added to it. Inevitably I will integrate it with my other skills, and the new possibilities it allows has my imagination going wild. And then I thought of Jackson Pollock, whose work I am a big fan of, just dripping paint on a flat surface with no illusionist depth. That was considered a “radical’ breakthrough, but for me it seems incredibly limiting at this juncture, and rather minimalist in terms of technique and possibilities. I prefer the opposite approach, which is to have an enormous range of possibilities to work with, including subject matter, illustionistic depth (though, models in Blender can probably be printed with 3D printers), AND a richly textured surface that emphasizes the 2D plane.

This new software has also helped me reflect on conceptual art, which I am not opposed to except when it is seen as replacing traditional art. As often as I stress this, the point seems as difficult for people to get as is my argument that consciousness is immaterial. Most conceptual art has as much or as little to do with visual art as it does with music, dance, or literature. When Duchamp famously exhibited a urinal as a work of art, it wasn’t about how we “see” the world. Even though everyone argues that he “changed the way we ‘see’ art or the world” they are using “see” primarily to mean ‘think about’. His “Fountain” was meant to be “seen” only in so far as it was necessary to cement that it existed, but it was NOT meant to be looked at or savored. His “readymades” were intended to be aesthetically uninteresting, even boring, and his whole project was to annihilate visual language art. It is the equivalent of declaring a buzzer “music” in order to oppose the kind of music that is carefully composed in order to be listened to and enjoyed. In short, art that is against visual art, and refuses to use visual language, can not be seen as the same thing as visual art. Conceptual art is a different art form altogether, and often has far more in common with theater, film, landscaping, agitprop, and other cultural productions than it does with image-making.

If we think of a video artist as encompassing or replacing image-making, that makes about as much sense as a painter encompassing literature. They are apples and oranges.

Let me make an analogy to put this in perspective. One conceptual artist we’ve all heard of is Yoko Ono. I don’t mind her work, and I have a few of her songs in my collection of favorite Mp3s. Yes, I prefer John Lennon’s singing, and nothing Yoko has done reverberates with me like Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”. I have room in my world for both of them, and there are times when I’d rather listen to Yoko. However, if the music aficionados and cognoscenti were to declare for decades that Yoko’s more conceptual art and music made Lennon’s music, and the music of the Beatles irrelevant, I’d side against her. It is conceptual art that attacks visual art and presumes to replace it, not the other way around. And for them maybe it does, but some of us love complex and captivating imagery, and we’re not going to get that from conceptual art, any more than were are going to get songs with a good beat out of it.

But, by me, I’m fine with fine artists and critics thinking image-making is dead, and believing performances and installations and all that is where it’s at. Less competition in the realm of image-making (at least for fine art purposes, since it’s always been popular for general purposes and there are tons of commercial and other artists who are experts at fashioning complex imagery).

~ Ends

3 replies on “Obsessed with 3D (Blender)

  1. Quite interesting to read about your take on 3D imagery. Blender and Photoshop are both excellent tools. I see you’re already experimenting with reflections and shadows, you should check out some of the rendering workflows involving physically based lighting – PBL and GI. Once you begin understanding how the unwrap and everything works, you’ll have a blast painting textures and creating awesome things.

    Can’t wait to see what you produce with your new-found knowledge 😀


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