Thursday, November 24, 2011

Objectivity & Thanks

My thanks on this day: I'm thankful that I still have an arm to draw with, a heart to dream with, and a mind to believe with.

These tools will be necessary when I finally pull myself together again. I'm in the down cycle of art study/creation that everyone seems to go through.

I've lost objectivity about my work. I can't tell how much I suck, and I fail to appreciate apparent greatness at the same time. It may be Dunning-Kruger; it may be apathy. I haven't drawn a thing in almost two weeks.

There's nothing like master studies to re-adjust one's suck-o-meter. Maybe that's the key. I'm feeling kind of distant from my dreams. Once I've found the spark, I'll return and write my understandings about it.

Peace and happy holidays.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The "WHY" of Art

Here's a copy of something I posed to an instructor on a private workshop over at CGHub... it's how I've been feeling about art recently. I think I have a way forward now... cautiously optimistic...


It seems the "workout/regimen" paradigm is alive and well among people learning art all over the internet. Recently, there's been something called a Deathline Challenge issued by a couple of members of three very difficult and challenging one-year goals that you set for yourself.

I set some really high one year goals.... and broke them down by month, and then by week. I have several types of studies listed... and I have a weekly quota of "studies" to complete to take me where I want to go.

I started on this, but found that though I was really enjoying the work, I was taking too long and the quotas weren't getting filled.

So I decided to take a step back from all of this and think harder about the "why" of art. Why do it?

Studies are hard. Often, they're a mixture of hard and boring. Getting better is a nice feeling. But if you step back from art (like I have) and see what you've done in the past few months, will you like what you see?

I've been doing serious studies again since June of this year... and looking at my work, you see a mountain of studies yet very little work that I'm too proud of.

Why do I do art? Why do I care?

It's the love, like we've decided, right?

So why am I not drawing things I love--all the time?

This is the realization I've made--the cart is before the horse. Instead of thinking about study first, drawing  second... it should be the other way around. This means that my studies work for my imagination drawings, not the other way around.

An analogy would be working out in a gym versus playing your favorite sport. If you love soccer, and you go to the gym every day for 6 hours breaking every single muscle tissue down to try and get "huge"... when are you playing soccer?

Besides, do you really need to build huge biceps to play soccer? Do I need to know the intricacies of drawing eyelashes if all I'm ever going to do is paint impressionist paintings? (Maybe at some point the study would help..)

But maybe you can see my point of view here.

I can definitely see the logic in busting my backside becoming as "huge" as possible like some Arnold Schwarzenegger of art skills; but it wouldn't help my "soccer" skills.

I'm not aiming for a job as a concept artist. I think I'd like to do some humor-based graphic novels, and I would love to animate on a future 2D Disney movie. That's where I want to be.

Learning the figure is key; but if I don't draw figures from imagination, I'm not making mistakes... I'm not doing the "love" part, I'm not playing the sport. I'm sitting in a sweaty gym, smelling all of the dank air and not playing "soccer".

I do think studies (at least for me) have a very important role; but they should be specific to the problems manifested in the art that I'm doing in the moment... training an art skill in something I'm not working on is like getting huge biceps when training for soccer.

I'm not totally settled on this idea; but I think it provides me a way forward from here. It doesn't mean I'll be lazy; in fact, it means I'll get excited about drawing again and I'll do a lot more of it... like playing soccer, I'll fail a lot more, I'll lose the game a lot more, I'll fall on my face in the mud. But I'll take criticisms and work on my game when I'm not in there playing it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Brain? Brain brain brain.

Do I have ideas? Has the brain lost the battle? Have I lost all coherency?

Have a think about this; in the "quest" to get a grasp on drawing, do we forget why? Why am I drawing? Why am I desperate to get better? To what end? Millions of dollars? Adoring fans? Sex by the mile? (A mile being a unit of length or distance, a distance of travel, I'm male, figure out the rest yourself... it's naughty)

Seriously. Why art? Why draw? Why broken ass, splintered fingers, spent money, wasted days, leaked fluids, dropped appointments, lost wages, feelings trampled, family ignored, people unconsidered, tasks undone, laundry unattended, trash unemptied?

Why? Why all of this effort and attention? Am I trying to fit a profile? Am I trying to be in a scene? Does the socialization have anything to do with it? If I couldn't post a thing, would I ever draw anything ever again?

Ultimately, I think the answer lies in that direction. Drawing is a communication. It's a form of communication meant to be used by those who have trouble communicating. There must be unspoken thoughts, undreamt demons, unexpressed heart-truths. These things have a way of itching through your skin from the inside, demanding a way out. And when they come out, they're often unrefined and rarely understood by anyone other than the source... than the one with all the trouble communicating.

I can't write well; and when I do, people don't care (as mentioned in my first blog post). They shouldn't have to.

I can't speak too well, and prefer not to. When speaking, I generally speak too much of myself... losing people's interest. I can keep their interest speaking only about them, but then the inner itchings continue unscratched.

Maybe it would be all the better if at the end of life I fade to dust, the clouds roll on for eons, the earth freezes, all sorts of atmospheric effects buffet and thoroughly bury any speck of remembrance of my essence. Maybe.

These things that want out of me aren't self concerned; they're loving, they want to embrace other people. Otherwise I might agree that I could just disappear and save the world my labored efforts at communication.

Drawing has always seemed like the best way to get to where I might have a chance at redeeming myself, and giving back to humanity. Something inside me urges me that way. My own shortcomings and brain brain brain are at odds with this, very often.

I have to find the path away from the malaise, and toward this eventual ability to give voice to the itchies.... because they're meant for the world--they love the world--they're not meant for my insides.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bloody Stumps!

It's interesting just how much philosophy you can pick up when learning how to draw. The old masters certainly jotted down their philosophies and learning. Leonardo wrote down a great deal; Durer drew buckets of diagrams.

We have so much information on drawing technique, yet for each of us to actually make sense of and use this visual language, we must gain an individual grasp of the subjects of study. In other words, until a baby starts to mimic speech, and then speak with its own voice, it won't learn how.

We can read the books, blogs, and internet posts. We can watch all the Gnomon videos in the world. We can go to every atelier in the world and learn from the best teachers in the world. Yet without the singular experience of walking the path, there will always be some un-grasped concept in our understanding that can only be filled by the actual act of drawing.

This is just a side observation about the need to keep blogging every time I seem to have "solved art." I keep making discoveries as I go, and now I understand that that will continue as long as I keep drawing... forever.

So, even though we have zillions of bytes and books and neurons and megapixels of knowledge about art floating out there just within our reach, and even if we can consume and digest it ALL--each of us will always have to make new discoveries about how to draw from our own individual perspective... or we won't advance.

Now the main point:

Bloody Stumps.

Ever get bored with your work? Ever get anxious--wishing you could just sit down and draw, but the thought of it makes you nervous? Ever think that you'd much rather go watch a movie than sit down and do another study?

The reason is that your sub conscious mind hates to fail. It hates to lose, and it senses some "losing" coming along in your drawing life.

Your sub conscious mind seems very attuned to your drawing proficiency and weakness, and when your work starts to curtail in improvement, your sub conscious mind starts to sneak tiny bits of self doubt, little slices of procrastination, and small chunks of anxiety into your thoughts.

Very soon, you find yourself in the highly uncomfortable state of high anxiety about your progress. It becomes very stressful to think about how you're not improving your drawing ability, yet the very thing that gives improvement is the last thing you want to do.

Bloody stumps are the answer.

People preach this in a different ways all over the internet,though it's usually said something like:

Failure is good.

Van Gogh once said that learning to paint is like fighting your way through an invisible iron wall. I've always liked that analogy; but my wall is a 50 ft. marble wall, and every time I manage to scale it... another one awaits. Usually, there's a trail of blood from the top of the wall, down a short valley, right up to the next wall.

So you see what I'm saying, right? Once I've consciously recognized that my sub conscious mind is sabotaging me because it hates to fail... I can switch directions and go right back toward that marble wall, fingernails flexed, to climb that damn thing until I've got bloody stumps for fingers.

Bloody stumps.

So it's this: don't let your subconscious mind move you away from drawing and make you anxious. Instead, as soon as you start to feel this way, recognize that you're about ready to fail at drawing, but that it's a good thing. The only rule is to fail with a purpose; don't be half-assed. Fail only while trying to succeed. If you're conscious about trying to succeed when doing the "fail" drawings, eventually you will succeed.

Eventually, those bloody stumps will somehow stick to the wall, and you'll be able to pull yourself up over the top and jump into the air and kick your sub conscious mind in the butt.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Keep Connnected

More progress in drawing...

Remember "quick draw?" This has evolved into a realization about drawing and "keeping the whole".

When drawing the figure, never draw body parts in isolation. In other words, never draw "an arm" or when drawing the face, never draw "the eyes" and then "the nose" and then "the mouth". Nope. Don't do it.

Every line you put down, every patch of value, every stroke should in one way or another connect and be related to all the strokes you already have drawn--whether through perception, invisible lines, directly, or whatever.

This is important. This means you can't draw a line or put down any mark without keeping all previous marks in your mind and connected on paper. It's this mental as well as physical connection between the "parts" that lends solidity, weight, mass, and "correctness" to a drawing. It's the real secret of keeping your proportions correct.

The human brain has a much easier time keeping track of 3D shape than it does keeping track of stray lines. A line is a good abstraction ... sometimes... for the edge of a plane, but a 3D shape represents life much better. So, when putting down a stroke... careful consideration must be made as to how it fits into the drawing. It's like putting a piece of a puzzle into place more than it is laying down some independent piece.

Every line must fit, every stroke must make sense in context with what you've already drawn. If you haven't drawn anything yet, this is the point where you must establish at least one stroke, and then feel out the initial form(s) in your mind. From there, it's all a puzzle-piece interlocking exercise... because no stroke can stand on its own if you want a harmonious and well-proportioned drawing.

So, while you're moving your pencil or pen or stylus, strive always to feel the connection to the "whole piece" rather than trying to make a good looking arm, or nose, or anything else.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Get (un)real

There is a big opportunity to say something refreshing and new in both traditional art and illustration right now. The reason is that there's a huge movement toward photo-realism in both camps, for some odd reason.

Why do art students demand this hyper photo-realistic quality in their art?

I think one of the reasons has to do with why video games have gradually moved away from the fun, cartoony abstractions they were in the 1980s to the hyper-realistic simulations of today, where the measure of the game is its realism and not whether or not the gameplay is challenging.

That's one reason, possibly; but I don't want to go down that road. The video game philosophy stuff waits for another day and discussion.

Whatever the reason for the push toward hyper-realism in art, one thing is clear. The camera is the ultimate and final master of photo-realism. It will not by outdone in this field, for obvious reasons. That alone makes me scratch my head (why go in a direction that the camera has perfected?)... but the real problem is that if you aspire to photo-realism in your work, then all you can do for your public is what the camera does for them right now.

And the majority of non-artists don't appreciate a good photograph, anyway. They take vacation snaps and throw them away. Their cellphones are littered with odd shots in bad lighting, and these make their way to the internet. Because of this increasingly disposable medium, the value of a good photograph is disappearing. People aren't going to care about good photographs as much as they may have done in Ansel Adams' time. Good and bad photographs are just a Google search away.

So let's connect some dots here... if

  • Artists are pushing toward what the camera gives them anyway
  • People can find good (and bad) photographs for free on the internet
  • The general public is valuing good photographs less and less

...then obviously new art is going to be regarded as similarly disposable. Non-artists don't understand the work that goes into making a successful painting or drawing. They'll shrug off photographs in the blink of an eye; why wouldn't they do the same to a photo-realistic painting?

Photo realism, for this reason, is a dangerous slope that will marginalize artists' work and make laymen appreciate art less. Hyper realism in art reduces an artist's work to mere technical mastery and completely removes an artist's sensibilities. There's no message anymore... the only message if any is an echo of the photograph, and that message is getting largely ignored by the public.

Much of the enjoyment in a good art piece is seeing what details are left out of a piece... seeing what the artist's eye caught and what s/he wants you to see, and feel what s/he wants you to feel.

So what's to be done? There is plenty to do. Getting away from hyper-realism is one of the things, especially in fine art.

For illustration, it's similar. If people can get the same results from photographs that others do from hyper-realistic illustration, then soon nothing will be left for traditional illustration. Good design comes through no matter how abstract the concept. Even a layman can recognize a great design, and understands how much work goes into a great logo. They will appreciate something that was obviously done from an artist's mind and not something that could have been done with a camera lens.

The field is wide open for someone audacious enough to just "go for it". It always has been, and always will be. Trying to defeat the camera at its own game is a zero sum game at best, and there's no large audience waiting to applaud you for doing so--certainly no market. 

Ironically, this message won't make it past my walls... so it just leaves more of this field open for me and those of a similar mind. So.... carry on :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bridgman's Big Breadcrumbs

Here to leave a breadcrumb (for myself, and for anyone else trying to pick up the path in pursuit of the shapes we need to understand drawing).

So yesterday was kind of bad as far as advancing in my art skills. But in another way it was good, because the discomfort caused by the bad made me search for a solution. It set the wheels of my unconscious mind in motion.

By the time head hit pillow yesterday, I had my answer.

What was it?

The week started off with a bang, but I lost the gun.  By about Sunday,  I got really excited about the precipice of discovery in art skills that I was about to tumble over--but yesterday I seemed to have lost the path to that edge. To add insult to injury, I did a relatively weak figure drawing at the Wednesday session. It was a hard pose to be sure... a reclining pose with a lot of diagonals... not many verticals for measuring.

What did I lose? Shapes. The importance of 3D shapes. How to approach shapes in my study and practice.

I knew I needed volumes and shapes, but couldn't figure out or remember the significance as clearly nor figure out an exercise or study to do to bring them back to my mind.

It hit me in bed. I jumped up and scribbled these words:


Endorphins flowed. I had the answer again!

So what? How do I get back to giddy with excitement? Who can give me shapes?

There are TONS of places to find shapes... good shapes... good, addictive 3D shapes (including life drawing)... but studying masters is the way.

This is where my old friend George Bridgman steps back into the picture. Bridgman has always been lauded for his anatomical drawings (and for his legendary drunken lectures at the Artist League of New York); but the real gold in what Bridgman offers is in the figures he sprinkles throughout the book. He'll give you a figure, and then next to it a diagram that helps you see shapes. Usually, it's in a different position. This helps you to understand the shape in 3D; but the example drawing is always posed differently.

The example drawings are golden. That's where you dig in, as an art student looking for shapes. They're the rotisserie chickens that you pull apart hungrily with your fingers. I've been doing that, and it's gotten really exciting. Bridgman and I had our differences, but we're becoming the best of pals.

Bridgman essentially does "bridge" 3D life and 3D drawing for you; but it's a discovery you have to dig for.

Now you're not going to be able to just draw Bridgman forever; the man only gave us a few of his drawings... eventually you'll memorize them if you draw them enough... and their effectiveness in giving you shapes will diminish.

So what next? Back to studying masters, of course. Only the masters you study from here won't be giving you the answers like Bridgman has. You'll have to look harder, see the more subtle clues... and hallucinate the shapes yourself.

But the path to the shapes is one that must be walked alone... by all of us who wish to begin to see the world as expert draftsmen and artists always did. Once our eyes are in that place, and the shapes are safely tucked under our arms... we'll be the ones teaching others with our own shapes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The shapes ARE driving me insane...

For the most part, life rocks. Not stones, mind you--it rocks. It's excellent.

I'm getting better at drawing. I'm doing what I love.  And I just landed a 6 month contract (doing software) worth some nice dollarage that will make it easier for me to pursue drawing.

But there's a fire that burns frustration into my brain if I let it.

I'm compelled to practice drawing every day. It's an obsession. A severe obsession. It's such that I almost fear it... which means I may put off drawing.... the very same drawing I'm compelled to do.

Though life has had its frustrations, I'm a very joyous man at my young-ish age. I never anger any more...

... except when I can't seem to reproduce the 3D, volumetric shapes on 2D surfaces that I see in my head. Or maybe that's the trouble... I can't see them sometimes.

And that drives me nuts!

Fortunately tonight, as a sort of cure for this madness... during one of these pencil tip crushing, pen throwing, teeth gritting times... I discovered patience. Patience is a pathway to my shapes. If I calm my gritty-word thinking mind, my visual mind will quietly take over and show me the way to the shapes.

I was trying to draw a dynamic, dancing girl. The movement was all too easy ... I can make soggy, scribbly lines dance on the page. But the volume was missing. It wasn't drawing. To my crack-addict subconscious, it was heroin.

I tried every dumb thing my analytic mind threw at me.... and soon I was crumbling the page. Page rage.

I sort of calmed down (whether consciously or not) and then remembered some abstractions (wedge shapes) and that straight lines help describe volume and direction better than curves. I slowed down, began using those shapes in conjunction with the whip-like arabesque (gesture) shapes, and the drawing almost made itself.

I was relieved.

Now THAT is what my post is about. This sense of relief after successfully putting down some volumetric shapes... body parts that looked 3D. To my subconscious mind, that is the Elysian field... the elixir of life.

I was supposed to do some cartoons (which is what I was studying for), and then do some painting. I got done with the frustrating episode more than an hour into painting time.

You'd think frustration at not being able to follow my schedule and paint would have been the irritating factor. Not so. It seems that if these shapes that drive me insane can come out on my paper on a regular basis, my deep, subconscious need to draw is placated.

My subconscious mind must be a genius. After all, if I could more easily throw down those 3D shapes in everything I do, then everything I do would be so much closer to professional, exciting, and neat-o. I would be closer to my ultimate dream of drawing mastery.

The non-shape stuff is easy (relatively speaking). Rendering is a piece of cake. Bringing unity and movement to a piece is easy if you have strong construction and proportion. Even if color (which I don't know) presents difficult challenges and I can't master it right away, at least with shapes I could draw everything I want to show.

Shapes drive me insane. I hope I can learn to draw them before that happens.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

So, Drawing is HARD

... in case you were wondering.

But it's not impossible. You don't have to be born with 'talent' to learn it.

Talent is a word that tries to wash away understanding and hard work. When someone (untrained) sees exceptional work, there is a tendency to assume that the artist has some ethereal gift. There is an assumption of effortlessness, because the non-artist sees the work from their own no-effort perspective.

Because of this, though, people have always been enchanted by good art... there's an air of magic and mystery because the artists devices are hidden to the lay person.

We all assume that our perception is rock-solid. Ron Lemen, an exceptional artist and art teacher, suggested in one of his videos that some of his art students--when making mistakes--can't understand that an unpleasing final drawing was their own fault. It was the students' own mistakes that led them to a bad drawing. Ron says he doesn't get that... but I kind of do.

We rely so much on our perception and will often tell someone else that they are wrong about something--even an authority like Ron Lemen--if our perception is challenged. People's perception lets them down when they're first learning draftsmanship, so they assume that an outside force ruined their drawings.

Learning art requires changing perception. There is so much to it that it may seem like an impassible barrier stands between the student and great drawing. But unless the student understands this, s/he may think that art requires talent. Art may, but good drawing requires many simultaneous skills which are acquired through hard work alone.

An understanding about drawing that I gained through hard work (animated)

The pathway to these skills is shortest when someone receives good instruction--instruction that lets the student know a) what there is to learn b) how to learn it. Then, the path is walked by the student alone. The best instruction makes it possible for the student to discover his/her own mistakes along the way... though critique and an outside eye is often needed to tune the student's perception.

The sense of effortlessness in a drawing or painting is achieved by a skilled artist. The lay person assumes that no effort went into the result, and that the work came about through either exceptional talent or tricks. Those who assume trickery (who also want to draw well) are the ones who buy thousands of dollars worth of art books and instruction, hoping that the act of buying stuff alone will supply them with tricks. Again, lazy perspective coming from a lack of understanding.

In the end, it's good that the lazy are barred from producing competent art... because the sane world can't support the visions of the lazy. There's already so much lazy writing out there on the blog-o-sphere (as alluded to in my first post).

Till next time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You Can't See Me

In fact, nobody will. It's on a public-facing blog... but it's as secure as my underwear drawer. I could spill the beans. I could post all my darkest secrets. But this blog is as secure as a nuclear facility (or may as well be).

The reason is that nobody cares. Why does nobody care? Because there are millions and millions of these shouting voices all over the internet, and everybody's opinion counts (in their own heads). Because of this, there's no way to raise one's voice over the din without a tremendous amount of work or without some extra added value.

So if I offer something of value besides just my opinion, there's a chance this voice can be raised.

But again... nobody cares. If I want them to care, they have to care about something that I can offer them (or that they hope I will give them). This blog could hold the secrets of the universe; but because it's written in the same medium... the same template... the same pen as everyone else... it will be tuned out just like everyone else's.

So what this blog is is my personal revelations and journal, basically. 

Again... all my thoughts for free, and nobody's buying. Just me. And I've had enough of it already.