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:
16 replies on “New Art: Splinter-Eye (Color Version)”
these are spectacular.
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Drawing from imagination and memory has always been a strong suit of mine I think as well, it’s where I started as a child. I’ve done a number of realistic pieces and what can I say? – People often find the skill of copying to be impressive. I’m not saying that’s wrong but such pictures say about as much as a photograph would (I mostly use photographs taken myself so at least I retain ‘ownership’ over the subject matter as well). Perhaps the time taken to paint them realistically adds a new significance to an image, but they largely remain technical exercises.
I remember visiting an open studios one time – one artist kept banging on about the rigorous life/still-life drawing schedule he had when he was in art school and seemed very hostile to the fact that the sketch book I had with me contained more ideas or imagined drawings than life studies. He wasn’t necessarily wrong because he clearly thought it beneficial to his own practice, but his mocking and slightly dogmatic manner if anything helped me realise the kind of attitude I DIDN’T want to take towards art.
I love this piece and this is a great series – so varied in style and you really bring the subjects alive, they seem like they could exist in the same universe and simultaneously in an infinite number of different universes – if that makes any sense.
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Thanks man. Glad you appreciate the different styles.
I could never stand drawing still-lifes, and life drawing also bored the living crap out of me. There are different ways of learning the essentials of drawing, and drawing boring shit over and over isn’t the best one unless its done really well, and then you should be done with it inside of a month, I’d think. Think of the literary equivalent. Someone sticks a bunch of boring crap on a table and you laboriously describe it in words. Anyway, I’m a veteran of a lot of drawing and life drawing classes, and I didn’t really learn much from them that I found useful. Like you, I always preferred to draw from my imagination, and what I needed to learn to help me with more realistic ventures was the underlying principles of drawing, not to just copy shit.
Anyway, I’m going to try to do some pieces in a more realistic, illustrational style, which is really good practice, in order to win over the people who need to see that sort of thing before they take you seriously. I can achieve a very high level of that using Zbrush and sculpting models and manipulating the lighting, which is fair game because learning that program is as hard as learning to do it the conventional way, but, for the nay-sayers I’ll do it the more conventional way as well. In the end I mix all my skills and techniques together and they all strengthen each other. I’ve always thought (and I repeat this a lot so you may have heard me say it before) that the Abstract Expressionists would have been better if they’d done easel paintings on Sundays, or whenever. “A Jack of all trades and a Master of none” is a lie when it comes to visual art. Different skills enforce each other and allow for hybrids.
Probably no surprise here that while I admire your post including your lines of arguments there-in towards answering the ‘well-intended constructive criticism’ I fear that for both of you two there is a gapping chasm that (most likely due to approaches of your academic education) you are unaware of. Apologies if I given this link to my essay before “Aesthetics of Computer Graphics” (c) 1987
http://www.auzgnosis.com/art/essay00.htm may thicken your distinction between traditional & computer making of art.
But the bit that I found most shocking was your assertion that realistic drawing could just be coping what was in-front of the observer. My first drawing class of second year blew such common myths to smitheries. Walking into a life drawing class with the model already posed in the centre of the room, John H. the lecturer instructed us without moving from our benches to draw the figure 30 degrees anti-clockwise from where we sat, 7 meters up in the air. The class was stunned to say the least, but John had us doing such by the end of the semester. When my mother went to art school she was expected to do life drawing that showed muscles without skin covering or just the skeleton.
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Yeah, I’ve done the drawing the muscles thing and other traditional-ish exercises in life drawing classes, of which I had probably too many. If you are drawing something you aren’t seeing directly than you aren’t drawing from life anymore, besides which, a lot of artists draw/paint from projected photos or using a grid system. So, you will see excruciatingly detailed pencil drawings of things like women with liquid poured over them (and everylash and strand of hair and freckle and wrinkle will be painstakingly delineated) and those drawing are just direct copying.
Drawing from life is, of course, more difficult than drawing from a photo, and definitely can use some interpretation. However, if you see where the shadows fall and where the highlights are you CAN just copy them without needing to understand the underlying principles. So, for example, it’s much easier to go out and draw a car that you actually see than to draw one out of your head, with all the shading and modeling and reflection and highlights. In the same way it’s much easier to do a self portrait with a mirror than just from memory. That’s a pretty good example. If I draw myself in the mirror I’m good enough at drawing that I can get the anatomy and the lighting and shading pretty good. But when you try to draw a person purely from the imagination you have to have a much better understanding of how noses and lips are formed and will have to invent the light source(s) and shadows, etc. What I’m saying is so painfully obvious that I’m kinda’ confused about why you are shocked by my proposition.
And the argument isn’t here about physical versus analog mediums (don’t forget that my entire education is in physical mediums and I only taught myself to work digitally after I got my MFA) bet between working from the imagination and working from what you can see in front of you.
Ah Eric you wrote “What I’m saying is so painfully obvious that I’m kinda’ confused about why you are shocked by my proposition.” Yep! I was not in the least confused by your proposition of a technical process, but rather my shock is why lecturers’ would accept (in the first instance), or truly creative people would be satisfied by such lame use of their talents, let alone the expense & models time! If something (is so superficial or lacking in expressionist potential that it) may be successfully captured with a camera why then ( in this day & age) bother drawing it?? Surely students had better things to do with their time? As to the possibility of a need for course credits such malarkey in my experience would have seen said student (physically) booted out of the class.
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You are coming at this from a really different angle. Let’s just check and see if you agree with a very basic proposition I’m making.
1) I put a skull on a table, light it, and make a realistic charcoal drawing from it. This wouldn’t be hard for me. The result will give the impression I understand the anatomy of a skull, lighting, and shading. But really, all it shows is my ability to reproduce what I see.
2) I try to draw a skull on a table with a light source, realistically, from my imagination. Now I need to actually know the anatomy of a skull and how lighting works, and some perspective and so on.
In short, you can’t work realistically from the imagination unless you really understand the underlying principles, but you can draw from nature or what you see without really understanding it, and also produce a more convincing product that appears as though you do.
Incidentally, the person who was providing constructive criticism works from models, and sometimes uses photography and a projector for convenience when producing paintings. I’m not saying he’s limited to that or criticizing his process. I even like photorealism and wrote an article about Robert Bechtle. So, whatever another artist does anywhere between photo-realism and complete abstraction doesn’t pose a problem to me, and more power to them.
I’m just saying that I was talking about honing skills for being able to work more naturalistically AND completely from the imagination. However, I generally maintain that some kind of abstraction/distortion and so on needs to take place for ones imagery to really be captivating (though one can also have highly imaginitive content or any number of other ways of offering something outside of just strict representation), and I am partially talking about working more naturalistically in a limited number of pieces as a way to win over the critics and general populace who need to see fealty to appearance, and high-polished detail in order to acknowledge ability.
Artists, apparently, are frequently highly competitive, petty, and thus look for any excuse to dismiss each other. I find that rather stupid, and I don’t feel threatened by other artists for whatever reason. But, yeah, if people know I work digitally, then they automatically assume I can’t work analogue, etc.
I wasn’t ever addressing how life drawing is taught in the classroom, which, while a useful practice, I found dreary, as I’ve never had any interest in drawing nudes, etc. Nevertheless, even the most dreary practice can be useful in the most arcane and unusual pieces one might concieve.
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Yes Eric I agree with your “very basic proposition” that referencing a real world object you are viewing in front of you it is easier to fool an observer of the finished image that you understand much more about the scene depicted (anatomy of a skull, lighting & shading, mass & gravity &c) than the much harder task of creating an equally convincing image solely from your from imagination (without the aid of any real world proxies).
I would go so far as to agree with every word you wrote “1) I put a skull on a table, ….. to reproduce what I see.” EXCEPT those last four words; “reproduce what I see.”. Okay you could easily at first think I’m getting very pedantic here but bare with me a moment. I would prefer a phrasing such as; graphical encode within societal conventions an acceptable schema of what I perceived from my viewpoint. Yes that is long-winded, even a bit too technical in a legalistic fashion but I believe it clarifies all the potential dangers in the shorter phrasing. Most Western people readerly understand a photograph of something as a 2D recording from a 3D reality captured as projection onto a sensing surface with-in some-sort of camera. But if I go to places in the Highlands of New Guinea then give one of the villages a photograph of a local identity or scene that they would see in their daily life, that villager would be most puzzled as to the purpose of the rectangular coloured floppy material. The significance here is those villages have no cultural precedents for 2D depiction of 3D objects. To their minds real world things can only be represented by other 3D objects, a 2D photograph or drawing is only a pretty pattern like colourful leaves or feathers. An example closer to your experience Eric would be the Chinese struggles coming to grips with Occidental Perspective, or technical drawing during the industrial revolution. The psychological reality is that our perception of seeing something is initially constricted by the culturally predominate constructs that we grow-up among.
Have you ever read anything by E.H.Gombrich? Study the how & why children development of drawing skills? Or even ventured into nightmares of computer fields of: pattern recognition, graphic comprehension & scene interpretation?
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OK, great that you got my obvious point. Now, you offer instead of “reproduce” saying “graphical encode within societal conventions an acceptable schema of what I perceived from my viewpoint”. There’s got to be a more economical way of putting that. In any case I’m not sure it matters because you are trying to distinguish between a flat representation according to perspective, etc., and the actual scene it depicts. However, both the photo and a naturalistic drawing I presume would be opaque to your villagers in New Guinea. Unless you are suggesting that the drawing somehow captures 3-dimensions or nature or whatever better than a photo in the eyes of the villagers.
But to me it’s like comparing cheddar and Swiss cheese and then someone comes along and says that it’s not really cheese, it’s “a culturally accepted food item derived from milk via a process of coagulation of the milk protein casein” and isn’t a part of the Chinese diet at all. Uuuuuh, OK. Not sure what that has to do with the discussion at hand.
Can you clarify the purpose of your point? I think I lost it in the shuffle. Or are you just pointing out that what we see as a naturalistic depiction, whether drawn from nature or the imagination, is NOT a respresentation in the eyes of those unaccostomed to such things. It’s an intresting point, moving the conversation in another direction.
Yep my point has definitely been lost in the shuffle. My point goes back to what should IMHO been the driving motivation for engaging life drawing class. When an artist perceives their surrounding through all the sense they are immersed in a much richer finely detailed experience than anything that they could possible squeeze into marks on a static 2D surface. Continually in his thread you’ve talk about “what we see as a naturalistic depiction”; the question burning t be asked is a depiction of what (aspect, attribute) for whom? The traditional representational conventions like use of charcoal, inks, dry-point, cross-hatching, etching whatever narrow the sensory overload (confronting the artist) into a subset that can be address successfully via (commonly understood) visual encoding of current cultural concerns. Many ancient cultures have viewed their own visual languages as naturalistic depiction, while the casual western viewer would not that agree ancient depiction are naturalistic, because to the modern observer’s cultural expectations such as perspective were not encoded by ancient cultures more concerned with other attributes such as political or spiritual authority.
Both the conventions of Oriental or Occidental Perspective will enable an artist to express different aspects of the truths of what they perceive before them, but the artist must first choose which aspect of the scene before them they are willing to sacrifice before they may decide which Perspective Convention will best serves what they wish to convey to the audience of the scene the artist are observing,
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Those are interesting points. Here I would probably throw out the word “naturalism” which is a sort of fealty to the outward physical appearance of things. We have a somewhat different stance on this, but there’s overlap. I gather your point is that in other cultures a different sort of depiction of “nature” reads as realistic, whereas in a contemporary Western standpoint we defer to the mechanical image a photograph provides (or if we are talking about 3d renderings we would then defer to holograms or a direct imitation of things as they appear to us). And this IS an interesting point as I hadn’t realized that some other cultures thought of their art, which we would see as highly stylized, as “naturalistic”. I may have heard about that before, and I’d certainly heard about people who couldn’t register a photo as a representation of the subject in the photo (would that change in a movie theater, and is it only initially?).
I’m a bit skeptical though. Consider the drawings of the ancient Egyptians. Now, someone might say that for them that represented naturalism, but within thousands of years of that kind of stylized depiction, there was a brief era where they actually did engage what we would today see as naturalism, in which case, even within a select culture, a stylized rendering of the physical world may be understood as an intermediary way of interpreting it, and not a direct duplication.
And this brings us back to your idea about why make an image that a photo can do better. There are a lot of reasons that make Photo-realist painting (the good ones) interesting, but, yes, if you could draw in such a way that it very closely replicated a photo or just how things appear, than you’ve also erased yourself in the process.
This, I think, is where we fundamentally agree (feel free to correct me). While photo-realistic rendering may appear to capture the subject, it is only replicating the outward physical appearance, and thus is not dealing with any more profound reality beyond or within that, nor much of anything about the self. [Note that my constructive critic does NOT do that type of art, but rather a kind of surrealism.] This is why I said I generally believe there needs to be some level of abstraction, and I would add a personal and idiosyncratic one that reflects ones own particular experience, aptitudes, and window on the world. Van Gogh is a perfect example.
This is why I said in regards to demonstrating more “naturalistic” skill, that I was only wanting to do that temporarily to woo a certain audience and silence certain critics, but that I also thought it was useful to integrate some of those skills into my larger repertoire (for example, I often say I think the Abstract Expressionists would have been better painters if they did plein air paintings on weekends. Reason being a study of how light, color, and forms interact is going to bleed into even abstract painting and take it to a higher level).
But I’m not shitting on photo-realism, either. There’s something in humbling oneself to external reality that I think is also interesting and important.
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Eric you have got most of what I was striving to say. While a photo-realistic style for a modern viewer will feel closer to their understanding of reality that is sill not the actual reality. Photo-realistic works mimic the mechanics of film with higher ASA rating & colour balances markedly acuter than the responses of the human eye. Stylistic most photo-realistic works are bright high contrast subjects, I can not recall ever seeing say a rainy moonlit night-time rural scene.
To placate your critics a more naturalistic presentation could look like anything from Renaissance to Impressionist. Something to think about. All the best. Shawn
They just need to see undeniable technical skill – vacuous virtuosity will do. But I don’t have time for that now. I can’t even make any art, and don’t know when I’ll have the time or space to do so. When I do get the time it might not be enough to invest in ancillary endeavers.
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“a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
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I think I took the first step a long, long, long ass time ago, in a galaxy very near, and we’re talking about doing a little side-step to appeal to the Philistines, or not. But why have the Chinse characters, a.k.a. “hanzi”.
I lived in China for 4.5 years and can speak basic Chinese, and even read some of the characters, but it’s too early in the morning for me to test myself. Anyway, why not take the Chinese characters and translate them into Russian using Google Translate. Hold on a moment.
Тысячи миль пути, начиная со следующего шага
And then you know what’s really fun (for me anyway), is to put that back in English (kinda’ like “Chinese Whispers”) and see what we get. Hold on.
Oh, shit. Look what it came up with:
“Thousands of miles from the next step”
Now that’s a very different meaning, and, sadly, maybe even the more important or undeniable one.
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