Humbled beyond belief at being chosen to exhibit with the Muddy Colors folks, whose work and wisdom I've been following since I first heard about their collective a few years ago. Still processing the whole thing at this point, and I think it's going to take a few days to wrap my head around it. Humongous thanks to Dan Dos Santos and the other judges over at the Muddy Colors blog, as well as a big congratulations to Kim Kincaid, Liz Pulido, and Mia Arujo with whom I share this victory. Can't wait until the Spectrum Live 2 event in Kansas City (May 17-19), where you'll likely find me giggling like a little girl by the posters and prints. Don't miss it, last year was an incredible time, and this one is sure to be even better! Hope to see you all there!!
Hey everyone! I was recently asked to do a breakdown for the April 2013 issue of Imagine FX covering my recent submission the Art Order Challenge. The issue hit stores only a few days ago, and is loaded with a lot of really great content, so go grab a copy and check it out! Here's a link to more info on the issue and some of the other great articles it will be featuring: http://beta.imaginefx.com/shop/magazine/april-2013
Really grateful to Ian Dean and Nicola Henderson at FutureNet for setting up the opportunity.
Hey, I just learned about a really cool project/contest happening called Infected By Art! I entered in one of my newest piece for the jury. If you have a moment, please follow the link below and vote for "Until I Say"! I will buy you flowers and send you a box of chocolates if I get enough votes from you! :B
http://theartorder.com/the-artorder-nymp-challenge-judging/ ). I want to extend a huge thanks to all of the judges: Chris Moeller, Daren Bader, Jeremy Cranford, Lauren Panepinto, Tony DiTerlizzi, and of course, Jon Schindette!--Also, thanks to everyone who managed to pass a vote over on the Facebook page. I appreciate all the love and support from everyone--January's been a good one!
On Seeing Shapes:
You can render all day long and make the smoothest drawing anyone has ever seen, but if your proportions are wrong your work is still going to look like crap.
What is a likeness without a face? Or a face without a likeness? Somewhere between underwear streaks and old spaghetti, that's what. I'm being harsh about this poor artists work, but it's okay because these are my drawings from 9th grade.
You can fill sketchbook after sketchbook and witness yourself get better gradually over time. Or you can buckle down and do “Block-Ins” and give yourself something that can count as muscle memory or more reflexive knowledge. Block-Ins are pretty complex, and I know others who are extremely qualified to speak on behalf of all the merits they entail, but I'm only going to cover a few things that I think are really important and can be applied by you immediately.
- They make your brain work good.
...Well, for the most part. Block-Ins are the best way to teach yourself how to quickly and accurately “see” proportions and shapes for what they really are, separated from all the little details your brain likes to focus on. One of the most difficult things for an artist to do is capture a person's likeness accurately for a portrait. The reason this is so difficult is because nearly everyone's brain is hard-wired to see faces and assign all this extra meaning and symbolism to it. This information distracts the eye from acknowledging what it is truly looking at. Block-ins are a great exercise to help you “abstract” objects and not get lost in all the minutiae of what you're looking at. Being able to see complicated things broken down into really simple or crudely familiar shapes will grant you tremendous leaps with your art. --AND most importantly, with faces.
2. They help you see things in a new and exciting way. (Part of making your brain work gooder.)
Every morning when I hop into the shower and begin the process of waking up, I stare into this cacophony of marble chaos:
My eye is almost immediately drawn to some shape or pattern that in my mind becomes something familiar. Donald duck perhaps, a cow, maybe a palm tree. It isn't very different from staring at clouds and “seeing” shapes.
But one thing that is extremely difficult to do is to try this while looking at someone's face. Never mind what they might think of you staring at them like a creeper, but truly—if you were to take a cheekbone and an ear and be able to see it isolated from the face, what would it look like to you? Is an eye really an oval shape with a little black dot at the center, or is that merely a cartoonish symbol we've latched onto? Or could an eye be something different entirely from every angle? This is the train of thought one should develop to help in this area of drawing or portraiture. It is extremely valuable to be able to discard a face's symbolism for its geography instead. A Drama professor I once had made it a point to have everyone in class understand that a person's face is an environment, with all of its nooks, and hills, and sharp or soft angles. He was discussing it in the context of film and the stage, but it still applies here quite well. This is a good way to approach one of the core understandings of seeing shapes accurately.
Of course, this all doesn't just apply to faces. But I do believe as one who struggled with human portraiture for a long time, that once you are able to confidently construct a person's face using graphite or paint, you won't find much difficulty in accurately and proportionately depicting much else. It always comes down to focusing on the big shapes first. The wonder and success of your art won't be sewn in the details, but rather the foundations you lay first.
3.They make you faster.
This isn't the most important benefit, but I thought I should include it because it never hurts to be able to do your work well and quickly without sacrificing quality. Block-Ins will familiarize you with your tools. They will also familiarize you with a new kind of dexterity. You will get so used to making all manner of pencil marks all of the time that you will begin to develop a certain confidence and short-hand for drawing things quickly. Block-Ins will break your comfort zones so that you wont find yourself settling into that same contour or that same oval you've always used to draw someone's torso. Ironically, Block-Ins will also free you from a reliance on line-making altogether. Once you start to think in shapes rather than lines, you'll begin to do things that might impress you. Lines have their place of course, but all too often they can become a crutch to students who are far too myopic in their attempts to construct an anatomically correct skeleton for their work.
Okay, so now begs the question, “What IS a Block-In?”
Now there are many variations in one's approach to drawing something, and many, many roads to get there. I've heard of something called a “Sight/Size” method for understanding shapes which involves as I understand it, setting up your workspace next to the object of your affection and trying to “clone” said object in every way that you can. Once your work is drawn at the same size and proportion and color or value of the object, you have successfully attempted a “Sight/Size” way of doing things.
There is also what is called the envelope method, which is as far as I know, basically another term for the Block-In. An Artist here approximates the shape of the object they wish to depict with as few lines as possible, "enveloping" what will be the space their drawing will occupy. From there the artist begins to chisel away at that shape, gradually increasing the level of mark making at each pass until it begins to form a a crude but accurate model of the object. During this process it is of the utmost importance that an artist is checking their work each step of the way. Abandon all delusion that you are going to nail it, and achieve any sort of perfection. This exercise isn't really about the end result at all. It is entirely about what you are training yourself to do. It is about what you are training yourself to think.
Repetition, diversity of subjects, discipline, and preparation are all key to creating successful Block-Ins. You need to prepare yourself to do a lot of them, anticipating that you may well be doing them for as long as you intend to pursue a career in the arts. You need a good workspace, with plenty of room and easy access to your materials. You need to make sure you are never drawing the same thing from the same angle ever, unless you are coming back to something after a long time to gauge your improvement. It is also crucial to sit still! Moving your body's position even slightly while you are working on this will have a highly detrimental effect on your work. Moving your head an inch to the left, or twisting your hips to sit or stand more comfortably could change the entire shape of the object you were drawing or painting from the angle you were drawing or painting it! So long as you are ever drawing anything from life or attempting to achieve anything within the realm of realism, Block-Ins and/or similar methods of understanding will be your ally.
For a fantastic visual example of a Block-In-Progress, there's a really quick write up over on the Safehouse Atelier blog: http://thesafehouseatelier.blogspot.com/2010/11/block-ins.html Now that you're all done reading, check that link! :)
Okay. No art this time. We're going to go over something different. I'm going to cover a bit of the process & technique side of things this time around.
I've heard many an artist gripe about fielding the question from those they deem uninitiated, “What kind of pencil do you use?” Some artists will wave this question off as not being the right question to ask or somehow naive and insulting all the hard work they did to become so “talented”. This really shouldn't be the case. Sure, creating good and great art using a pencil will require a lot of hard work, and time, and blood/sweat/tears/blahblahblah --same as any other medium, but there's nothing wrong with the honest question of asking an artist about their favorite materials. Sometimes when you get an artist to start rambling and meandering about such things, they reveal other informative tidbits about their process and the things they've learned along the path of their own artistic growth. I'm going to attempt to induce this from myself in order to write up something that someone, with hope, will find useful and/or interesting.
SO!--What kind of pencil do I use??? Glad you asked, I have a couple favorites:
The old 0.3mm. Usually comes in a yellow lead holder, at least the ones I've always had. Be sure and get a nice and fancy one. These suckers are life savers when it comes to the fine details. I love love LOVE to render my drawings. Turning form with big broad strokes is all good and fine, but if you're looking to manipulate the grain of your paper; to really dig in and get that tiny reflection on the edge of that person's iris, or the subtle gradation of a forearm, then you might consider messing with one of these. They aren't as common as 0.5mm lead holders, so finding the right refill lead can be a difficult task. For the figure drawings I made while studying at the Safehouse Atelier, I became very partial to F (Fine Point) lead for its ability to give me a powerful value range while staying clean, sharp, and light--but not as weak as some H(Hardness) leads. I would work lighter and save those dark areas for later, simply marking them off so that I had a visual indicator of the range I was going to push for. B (Blackness) lead and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, so I won't go into that right now—but if you are going to use it, play fast and loose—Embrace your inner chiaroscuro, bro...or something. In all seriousness though, B's are, as far as I tend to use them, best for larger fill areas where you aren't looking to create a huge value shift. But I digress, for a 0.3mm lead holder, your best and most available friend will probably be HB(Hardness/Blackness). HB is right there in the middle next to F on the pencil range offering a bit more darkness. I do find HB to feel the most like a ball point pen when using it. It has a tendency to feel like its sliding across the paper on a pair of ice skates letting you maintain control as you make your stroke. F does that too, just not quite to the same effect. Why could it be important for your pencil to feel like a ball point pen? Confidence. You want your marks to look like you meant to make them. Pen and ink is pretty permanent, and the bold lines you get within that medium can be achieved in a pretty freaking spectacular way with pencils too.
Obviously there are countless ways to go about this, again I just want to restate that this is how I play around with these materials and how they've best helped me in the past. Everyone does their own dance when it comes to this stuff.
I'm also pretty fond of these:
The Sumo Grip is great for a few reasons. Its the cheapest mechanical pencil I've been able to find in art stores that isn't a total piece of crap, and for digital artists it makes for a wonderful translator. It has almost the exact same size and shape as the standard Wacom tablet stylus pens. An invaluable asset for artists who frequently jump between mediums or need to shift gears constantly between digital and traditional art. I've seen these run in 0.9mm and 0.5mm at Utrecht and Blicks. These sizes are very common so it should be easy to find whatever lead type you need.
I use three different types of erasers while I work in the sketchbook: A Tombo Mono-Zero Elastomer Eraser. This is the little cousin of the more common TUFF STUFF Eraser Stick found in most art stores. The little one is trickier to find, but it does exist and it is wonderful in a pinch. For most mistakes and special marks though, the kneaded eraser can be called upon. It is easily the most versatile of the bunch. Also the easiest to lose in your pocket or in the deepest depths of a backpack or messenger bag.
So here's a nice little opinion piece where I talk about my favorite materials and muse about their respective uses, but let's move over to something that I think an aspiring artist will find really helpful. Next time, I'm going to talk about Shape and Proportion.
SHAPES!...to be continued tomorrow.