This is the color version of a drawing I finished earlier this month:
And this was based on a ball-point sketch I did in a lined pad of paper:
I like the color version with its Impressionist colors and treatment, but the B&W I feel is more mesmerizing. Maybe that’s just how I feel at the moment.
This piece is unusual for me recently because I rarely do any sketching. Wait, that’s not true at all. I usually do it on the computer but don’t save my preliminary sketches. I don’t do physical sketches. And yet, here (there are several pages of them) it is quite useful for hammering out ideas. This is also why I like to use ball-point. No erasing. It keeps me from spending too much time articulating an image, when the idea is just to come up with ideas. Note the one-eyed hammer-head alien in the upper right (it’s sideways).
Over time the creature’s hand became more of a scepter. Compare it to the hand design on the right in the sketch, which is much more obviously a hand with joints. Overall the image became more Symbolist, and the color scheme much more cool than I would have predicted.
A curious thing about this image and style is that the illusionistic depth is more like bas-relief than like a rounded image within a picture plane. The background is flattened and the eye pops out at you. See the two final versions side by side:
I like them more when I see them side-by-side.
This work also fits into my ongoing series: Alien – Robot – Monster – Messiah. I generally don’t work in series because I prefer the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I sit down to start a new image, and often after completing one thing I will do something very different. However, over time it’s possible to group my work according to theme or style and create coherent bodies of work. This group already has a couple dozen solid images in it, so I’m going to try to knock out several more high-end ones using everything I’ve learned, edit out the weaker or more tangential pieces, and then try to promote it.
Alien – Robot – Monster – Messiah so far
I wrote ideas I have for more and I came up with 12 (some being lighter and more experimental, and some being very ambitious). I also wrote down all my ideas for different series, and I came up with more than a dozen. No shortage of ideas here.
While I was working on this another artist happened to shoot me some presumably well-intended constructive criticism. I had told him that I was wanting to hone my lighting, shading, modeling, perspective, and anatomy. For me, you can keep honing this infinitely until you can draw and paint anything you can imagine, at any angle. If an artist stops learning, experimenting, and challenging his/herself than he or she is like a scientist who merely repeats experiments while producing the same results, and no longer strives to discover something new.
So, this other artist advised that I “relearn how to draw” and “be curious” and “make physical work”. A sort of triple-whammy of uber-insulting advice when one also recognizes them as judgements, and highly competitive, and even petty ones at that. But I took a constructive nugget out of there, which is to understand where people who wanted to find fault or dismiss my art would go. The idea that I am not artistically or otherwise curious is so ridiculous I can’t even process it. One might as well tell me to not be afraid to write long blog posts, or that I should get a passport and travel outside of America (I’ve lived in Asia for the last decade). The idea that I should work physically is just the usual anti-digital stance of artists who, as it happens, have zero computer art skills.
My counter to that is that I want to be able to be as wild and free as I can when making imagery, and I want to be able to make whatever I can imagine. Using the computer allows for so much more range that restricting oneself to traditional mediums seems barbaric to someone who has learned to use computer art programs. The reasons to work physically are very practical in terms of the market place, but that is a secondary consideration far below the first of being able to explore the visual imagination unfettered, and unconstrained by things like drying time. A traditional artist might spend hours glazing a thin color over their image, when I can cycle through more than a dozen colors at whatever opacity in Photoshop in under a minute. Rarely does the artist who has learned to use the computer go back to working primarily physically, in the same way that once one learns how to use email one doesn’t type up letters and stuff them in a mailbox anymore. You sure wouldn’t type up a novel on a typewriter and think that somehow made you a better writer.
The most interesting notion was that my drawing somehow needs significant improving, er, “relearning”.
I think my Human Fly, above, demonstrates a fairly solid grasp of traditional drawing, but one can always level up. And contrary to whatever one might think, drawing with a stylus on a tablet is harder than drawing with a pencil on paper. You are looking at one thing and drawing someplace else, for one. It’s also much harder to draw from the imagination than from a model, photo, etc. (more on this to come). Drawing a crucified alien with a UFO overhead is not easy.
The idea of “drawing” he subscribes to, judging from his work (which I’m a fan of and support), is orthodox technique. It’s a curiously and very limited idea of “drawing” – academic realist rendering. It reminds me of all the YouTube videos teaching one how to draw or paint. The problem with these is that if one followed their instructions, everyone’s art would look the same. There would be one style, and only subject matter would change.
The drawing skill in the following images may not be obvious to some, as it isn’t academic realism, but others will appreciate the other qualities I was going for (composition, expression, line, texture, optical illusions, overlapping and intersecting shapes and imagery…):
Here I might pause and note that I find Francis Bacon, who shows approximately zero academic drawing skills, infinitely more interesting than the most accomplished realist. My possibly all-time favorite artist – Van Gogh – never mastered academic drawing, and his early works are barbaric by those standards to the degree they could be used as examples of bad drawing. Even his more fully realized, later drawings are brilliant in terms of style, not orthodox ability. And generally speaking, those who possess an abundance of academic skills tend to also be only capable of working with those. The exceptions are rare.
Consider, for example, a guitarist who can play complex classical concertos, say by Joaquín Rodrigo. When I was in Jr. College I was well impressed by some of my fellow students who got on stage and performed mind-bogglingly intricate pieces by Rodrigo (which is when I first discovered him). But they didn’t play in rock bands. Like many a classical musician, they play what they play magnificently, but are light on innovation and developing their own style.
But this is the prize nugget he generously provided me with, even if it only substantiated what I already thought – for a large amount of people they will not respect you as an artist unless you can prove you have the technical skill to depict things realistically. If you don’t show those traditional skills, obviously and in their face, they presume you don’t have them because you are incapable of them or just not developed enough.
For someone such as me, who works in more than one style and has a range of skills, this is something I can turn to my advantage. If I were to make several pieces showing that sort of coveted technical skill, than people would be more open to giving my other work a chance. Now, mind you, I’m not talking about realistically drawing something in front of me or from a photo. Anyone with a little patience and some training can do that. That is just copying. Often artists who seem really good at realistic rendering are actually just using a grid system or projecting an image and tracing it, then putting the shadows and reflected light and specular highlights where they see them. You don’t actually have to really understand the principles to just copy. The real challenge is to work from your imagination realistically, if that is the challenge one wants to take up.
And since I’m the one who, to begin with, said I wanted to kick up my lighting/shading/modeling/perspective/anatomy to the next level, he just gave me the back-handed encouragement to do so, thoroughly substantiating my own suspicion that many are insufficiently broad-minded or visually literate to appreciate more subtle, arcane, obscure, abstract, painterly or unusual ways of making imagery. Thus here we have a possible weak spot not in my arsenal, but in the defenses of a large sector of the artworld against newcomers such as myself: they have to admit art that is technically proficient by orthodox, academic standards. Fine. It’s usefull in making aliens, robots, monsters, messiahs and combinations thereof. I was already on it, but a kick in the ass kinda’ helps because it pisses me off. Oh, when I learn to draw I’m gonna’ be dangerous.
The bow is drawn and the arrow forthcoming.
Be back soon with another baboon: