Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the dance of the art

Every living thing does its dance, amoebas, bees, birds, elephants and people. We dance according to our body structure, muscle toning and mind-body coordination. Watch people on the dance floor, it is telling. Or running, all are mobile but some are tuned for speed. There are natural athletes and ones who overcome natural physiology with training and practice.

In my experience there are natural artist who seem to do art in the natural process of their living and the trained. It is possible to study the principles of art and apply them. Just like with running. Your knees may bump and you gasp for air and flail your arms. The coach will teach you good running posture, good breathing management and put your arms in sync for power and energy conservation. And don't forget runners psychology, you need to think like a runner for the sprint or the long distance. With all the elements in play you teach your body the dance. When the body knows the dance, creativity comes out on top of what has become second nature via practice. The body does what it has been taught freeing you for tweaking, pushing and improvising.

Just worked with a master brick layer. His moves were honed by years of doing the job. He was effortless in his process, the moment decisions and adjustments. He asked me if I wanted to try it. I said, not me, you have all the moves down. For me it was not the stacking of bricks on gunks of mortar, it was the practiced moves. Man, he made it look easy as he danced his art. I just mixed the mortar and looked with wonder and awe. The wall is beautiful.

I have some natural ability that runs in my family. I and my cousins grew up drawing. They more than I loved to draw, I liked puzzles and erector sets and model cars. Like any kid I watched cartoons, Saturday was my time. Before the cartoon show there was a home show where they showcased new houses. I was intrigued and started sketching houses. First awkward front views, then really bad perspective views. After learning a bit about perspective my drawing had that tinge of reality. At the same time I explored pencils and pens and various papers. I didn't know I was teaching myself to dance. I was not so good at sports as my older brother could attest, but then he couldn't draw either.

I know that there are those prodigies who seem to do it from birth, but I consider myself lucky or blessed as I have learned to dance over time out of the frantic push for stardom or the urging to get an art job. I am still learning and enjoying art. Many I have known are trained, over worked and tired of it all. Even my retired mom-in-law, artist, school teacher is so much a critical perfectionist, she doesn't let art flow its own course. She never learned "good enough for now, when I learn more I will do more". She tried so hard to agonize and perfect every work. That is her dance. My point is that sometimes it is the artist that needs the tweaking more than the techniques and skills.

That is my sincere advice, learn the techniques, skills and be mindful of yourself the artist. Your body will learn to dance the moves you want to make, yet if you don't take care, your appearance in your work will be telling. That telling is the part that speaks to your viewers. They may not know the force, but they can sense it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

the hand that holds the light saber

What about technique, what about practice. That's the easy part. You repeat and repeat again until your body can move the tools along-with your mind. Half is training the body memory, the other part is harder. Drawing on paper is intimate, you embrace your writing tool, anchor your paper, focus your mind to put it on the paper. The years of writing on paper makes this second nature. Folks who draw should know this well. It takes a while before you can treat computer drawing the same as drawing on paper. Depends on your tools, your focus and your practice. I talk and type more than draw so it's taking me a little longer.

I am pretty comfortable using a mouse. The mouse is fine for vector drawing, a more constrained technique. The digital pen and graphic tablet is wilder because you feel the drawing. First the pen doesn't have a rolling ball that grips the page and lets out ink or is not lead that dislodges from the pencil and smudges into the paper. The smooth tip glides across the smooth tablet surface, so that the feel is different. With practice you get used to this. Second there is pressure, it is adjustable but getting it to feel right takes time, plus you also can use this to great advantage. Then if you don't have a direct view pen tablet, like the Wacom Cintiq tablets or a tablet PC, the tablet is in your lap or on your desk and you look up at the screen. So, you are not looking where your pen is but where the cursor is on the screen. Thus the Jedi theme, "stretch out with your feelings Luke!" 

Every application is a special case and a new skillset. Though there is some crossover, each app has it's own interface, tools and quirks. In GIMP, you can paint, draw, photo touch-up and do some vector. In Inkscape vector is prime but it will export a bitmap if you need it. Blender 3d is a world that can incorporate elements from either GIMP and or Inkscape. You don't have to know them all really well, just what you need to know to get the job done. Over time you will amass a huge basket of skills, some not written in any book or tutorial.

The fuss over digital art is huge. Digital art covers simple pixel art all the way to animation and film. It can be viewed on small screen, large screen or be printed on anything. How it is applied depends on our focus.

A guy I know in the IT field said if you want to know IT hang with the geeks. I will say it is true also with digital art on some levels. While we artist tend to disappear into our own cave of wonders to create without distraction, the art community is how we calibrate ourselves, get tips, give advice and become apt at the business of art. Digital art is still gaining respect in traditional media circles and becoming a class act in its own right. Art schools, museums and galleries tend to be gated communes that is, tightly controlled. There are also more open venues, art shows and such. Because we use computers, perhaps we could virtually gather, still I think local face to face is warm and encouraging.

Go dabble!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

the play makes the difference.

When I was in grade school learning to write, we first traced the letters, then under the watchful eyes of the teacher drew letter forms. Circles, curves, humps, horizontals, verticals and slants, over and over, then letters one by one. There was one standard, one look till we moved on. Some kids kept the forms and some veered off. Our own style crept in to alter the standard forms. Believe it or not this also happened in drafting, despite how hard the teacher enforced the standard forms, we eventually migrated to our own style even ever so slightly. 

You would think with the mathematical precision of a computer, drawing would be mechanical. It can be or be as haphazard as any doodle on a napkin. This is why I bring up play. I play a lot to discover what I can do, like to do and might do. It is almost easier to approach say water color like painting on a computer and hang with that for a while. But since you can simulate many approaches, the temptation to explore other styles is always present. You can be a purist or break all the rules, who's to stop you. I myself come from a drafting background, thus vector drawing is very similar. Combining shapes with hard edges is old school to me. I also have kept sketchbooks over the years. I don't care for pencil sketching that much but any kind of inking device is fun, nib, quill, felt or ball-point. I have also painted in acrylics on canvas, years ago. Right now I getting used to using a graphics tablet and pen. This contraption is not easy to use if you cut your teeth on a mouse. And since I am leaning toward a more sketchbook kind of drawing to record ideas I'm not worried about life-like perfection. But who knows what talent is to be discovered, this is why play is so important.

In my playing around or dabbling I use a program called Inkscape for vector drawing. Like Adobe Illustrator, it handles vectors well. Perhaps there are some things I can not do that Illustrator can, but I have not hit that wall. For raster stuff I use GIMP. I am a dabbler and freelance artist so I don't have to listen or worry about what the so-called pros say about GIMP. If you have access to Photoshop and use it, please shut-up about GIMP and use your Photoshop. Oh yeah, Inkscape and GIMP are free and open source. I can't get what I paid for because I didn't pay anything. Both quite good for free. Come on, I heard about a famous artist picking the hair from his beard for the hairs of his paintbrush, curious, cheap or totally not true?

And what about that talented artist who did portraits on an Etch-a-sketch and dumped the gray stuff out so that they couldn't be erased. Don't tell me about artist and their tools. If you can make great art with Microsoft Paint or Open Source Tux Paint, who is going to condemn you? I have complete liberty to kick commercial aspirations to the curb or not. I am saying if Photoshop is what you must have and use, do that. Otherwise don't feel obligated when so many good choices that do the same stuff are available. The way of the force is to use what you have access to. The tools are a channel, PC and software and your efforts. How the force is expressed depends on you. Go dabble!

more on jedi training

Speaking of baselines, If you just got your used or new graphics tablet, jump over to  and link, copy, read the graphics tablet tutorial. Do you remember when you first took interest in drawing with a pen or pencil? Sketching with a digital pen is the same but different. The more you use it the more it is useful. The cool thing with todays digital drawing tools is that you can sketch on one layer and draw on another. You can put a base image on one layer and draw over it on another layer. What you draw can be edited, erased and altered. It is actually better than paper if you can get used to it, but drawing on paper is cool also.

If you are like me you need to have all your art stuff in one place. A studio arrangement that is dedicated to the creation task. If you like a more movable situation still the idea is to have what you need in a portable way. I always see the scene painter with folding easel, paintbox, bottles of spirits, brushes, rags and whatever else is needed. Trying to duplicate this with my laptop PC is harder than it looks. If you only have one PC it is hard to dedicate it to just drawing. Those other functions are so intoxicatedly present to distract you from your focus. Seems a shame to bridle so powerful and flexible a tool to one occupation. But the computer in your car is dedicated to running the car, so it's a matter of concept. Besides the traditional painter really likes to comeback to his/her work and continue on where they left off. When you share your PC with other functions it is mind numbing to find your way back. Your paintbox is your paintbox.

I think I am brainwashed to be connected, so hard to turn off my internet. I unplug the ethernet and the wireless kicks in. It's like saying "wait, you need me!" If I was doing paint on a canvas in my room, it is not connected and I would want no distractions as I work out the process. Is it any less with digital art processes? All you trained commercial artist can ignore me, I am talking to the dabblers mostly.

So, my stuff is evolving, I have a main PC, a desktop I can do anything on and a laptop that is becoming my artbox. You know the PC is meant for keyboard input and I have to attach my drawing tablet. I wouldn't mind it the other way around. Put my drawing tablet into the laptop and I attach a keyboard when I need it. I wouldn't try to make it multifunctioned for games, and lots of text input or playing movies. To me those things are counter-productive to my art work. This is what my desktop PC is for. The end result is that my laptop becomes my dedicated art machine. When I look at it I see my creative energies going in and my art coming out.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the work of others our own focus is diluted. Looking at others stuff is so intoxicating, we get drunk to the point our own work is neglected. Our competing spirit beats us, "oh they are so much better than I!" Use others for a reference, limit yourself to a recalibrating peak once in a while. In other words you are like the main PC, you can do anything, everything, now you need to become a person dedicated to a process to get your art done. All athletes do full body workouts, only runners say "legs go faster!" Basically it is about building body memory and experience, then exceeding. Same with art. I am giving you the play by play as I teach myself.

So, now you got the place, the space, the tools and time, put yourself in there.