Sam I need your help. During critique, my classmate told me, "Your realistic rendering is too much for this project." Basically we had to reconstruct a self portrait by cutting a grid on our self portraits and rearranging the squares into a new composition. How do you feel about this? I feel very discouraged doing realism and I'm pretty much the outcast to this "conceptual/abstract" art school.
Art education should absolutely challenge you to think and create things that you don’t want to and in ways you don’t want to. Students, hell — people, even the smartest and most talented ones, are stupid in contrast to the many wells of knowledge that are in front of them. Your peer critiques should challenge you, not agree with your preference — it helps open you up to new ideas and new tastes in the long run.
I think of it a lot like food actually. Kids are often given fairly simple and repetitive foods when they’re younger — sometimes it’s just what they like, sometimes it’s entirely based on the convenience and history of their parents, and sometimes it’s because dinosaur chicken nuggets are amazing. But as people grow older, many venture outside of their sauceless, spice-less, and dinosaur-shaped processed food staples, and get a little freaky-deaky with their dinner. It’s not all great, but you try it, and gradually start building a palette and preference for certain aspects of many different dishes.
When I first moved to Brooklyn and saw the widespread hipster menu items of grass-fed organic truffle-wrapped gluten-free whateverthefuck covered with a something reduction and shmancy aioli sauce — I thought: this is pretentious, overly complicated, and weird — not unlike how I felt about abstract art for a very long time. But I tried that obnoxious food and despite my preconceived notions — really enjoyed many aspects of it. I didn’t care about the gluten-ness or organic-ness of it all, the backstory statement of a food was still as obnoxious as an abstract painting’s artist statement, and they could easily rename it “yummy food ball” , but it was damn good and opened me up to many more kinds of food, and even ways to bring elements of it into the foods I was more comfortable with.
I’m with you: I love my realism. I love my dinosaur chicken nuggets. But when it comes down to it, how I create things today is a product of trying new ways to make it. Non-objective and abstract art made me see color, texture, composition, and negative space in a way that realism never did. As frustrating as education on every level is, as fundamentally flawed as it is in numerous other ways, you will have time to do things YOUR way and on YOUR terms. For now, be annoyed, be frustrated, challenge it, but don’t make the mistake that many people do (including myself for a period of time), where you just dismiss other ways to create. You can find merit in many areas of life if you immerse yourself in them, even ones that at first seem a little freaky-deaky.
People say: "illustration is dying." Your thoughts?
If anything, illustration is making a massive come back. As photography becomes increasingly accessible and thus over-saturating the markets exponentially — the illustration jobs that were once lost to the rise of photography are coming back with a beautiful vengeance as corporations, ad agencies, musicians, and all sorts of good places look to visually stand out from the hordes. That’s not to say photography is going anywhere in its more sophisticated forms, but illustration is alive, well, and grows stronger every year that iPhone cameras get better.
I’m not in the position to really grieve for him. Larry Lantrip was a grown man, a husband to Robin, a family friend of my parents, and ultimately someone who I only recall meeting once in my life, several years ago, but stripped from any hyperbole: he changed my entire life.
I got a call from my mom a few weeks back saying that Larry had passed away after battling with lung cancer. She was pretty broken up and I passed along general words and pleasantries that I *think* people say to those who are grieving over the death of a close friend or loved one, but I’m not great with comforting people who feel things that I don’t understand. Yet, a week ago, I was drawing on my tablet and in a weird moment, his death finally hit me – not grief, not mourning, not sadness, I was never close enough for that, it was just a long fading memory that suddenly became vivid of my last interaction with this man and how it profoundly set in motion where I am today.
Do you constantly look at artists and compare yourself to them? How do you keep yourself so grounded but also being bigger and better than other artists? (honestly) how do you place yourself between artists you look up to and artists you are "sort of" competing with?
I’m only grounded if you mean “accepting of current reality.”
The very obvious current realities are that: there are MANY artists far more talented and experienced than myself, I have MANY flaws and shortcomings on my own without putting me among others, though I often feel old and curmudgeony — I’m only 25 and have a lifetime to improve, anything I’ve achieved that might feel decent to one person is minuscule on someone else’s scale, I’m not competing with anyone because that’s not the way the painting/illustration world works (it’s not like Drew Struzan has insecure rap feuds with James Gurney about who has finer kolinsky sable brushes), and quite frankly: me acting or feeling anything more than this is bullshit and detrimental to my betterment as a person and artist.
I don’t worry about what other people are doing or try to place myself among them because … whatever I do or don’t accomplish in life or in art is simply not contingent on them. Fabricating a hierarchy among a group of people and then trying to plop myself among or above some of them instead of working on myself? That just provokes ego, madness, lies, and twatwafflery as people scramble to seem bigger and better than one another (seem being the key word). I just wanna make things and get better at making them — accepting my own massive room for improvement is basic reality (a reality that exists regardless of anyone else) — it’s the people who believe they’ve already figured it out that I’d question.
What is the purpose of doing a mid tone gray surface for a sketch/painting?
2 simple reasons:
In most instances, an image is made of light and shadow that covers the spectrum from the darkest black to the brightest white and gradations of grey in between (we’re not talking about color here). Starting a drawing/painting on a background that is already the brightest white, means that everything except for the brightest highlights in the image: all of the dark, middle, and most of the light value - is visual information you have to lay down. Starting on a grey or mid-value background, means that the entire middle spectrum of value (grey) is already there, you’re only putting down the shadows and highlights. It’s just far more efficient to establish form/lighting for most pieces and is one of the earliest “techniques” in drawing that you learn.
A blank white canvas is intimidating whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional. A stray line on a white sheet of paper can feel like you have to start over, but those middle-value canvases: they invite mistakes. In my book: making mistakes is far better than making nothing at all.
What are your thoughts on experimenting and trying something new? Should I try to master a technique/medium that I like or just try out a bunch of things but don't really focus on perfecting one thing?
The nice thing about drawing and painting is that the fundamentals of each medium carry over to one another for the most part. My path was ‘pencil’ to ‘charcoal’ to ‘pastel’ to ‘acrylic’ to ‘wanting to burn all of the world’s watercolor supply because they’re dumb and make no sense’ … to ‘oil paints’ to ‘digital’. It was all a fairly seamless process, and progressing or “experimenting” in such a matter has helped me tremendously.
Your broad set of drawing and painting skills will progress as you move from medium to medium. If one sticks and clicks, there you go — but mediums are fluid. Many artists use more than one of them, and it’s not because they’ve attempted to master many, it’s because the tools change a little, but the principles stay the same. Whenever I have people over to my studio who have drawn and painted before, but were terrified of digital, I give them a quick hands on and explanation of the basics, and they get right at it — baffled at how identical it feels to the more traditional media they’re accustomed to. With the exception of my archenemy and objectively “the worst thing ever invented”: watercolor — drawing and painting all fall under the same broad roof. You should go nuts knowing that you’re building a core skill regardless of which tool you’re picking up.
What do you keep in your sketchbook? I would love to see it. What would you recommend putting in an artist's sketchbook?
Blergh to sketchbooks. I don’t keep one.
You know those people, those people who are like “oh, here’s my sketchbook, it’s nothing special” and you open it, and it’s like the entire Urban Outfitters graphic design team came together to carefully organize cutesy doodles, random nonsensical phrases, whimsical hand-written typography, and elaborate illustrations with pristine cross-hatching — page after page into an impossibly hipster but still really quite attractive looking leather-bound masterpiece?
a) Those people are witches and b) I could not be further from that.
My sketches are garbage and often on garbage, like literally on the backs of old invoices or Amazon packing slips. They’re disposable snapshots to commit an idea to memory before I sit down to make something substantial. When I “sketch” it’s almost always with intent to build a final piece on top of said sketch. I gain nothing from sketchbooks because to me they serve more as a cool way of carefully orchestrating and organizing pseudo-process, instead of actually being process. Process is ugly and every sketchbook I was forced to keep in school was too. I think you should create a TON, make good shit and shitty shit, and make a lot of it, I just personally find a sketchbook to be an incredibly stressful way to do that.
when you were just starting in art, did it ever happen that some days you just sat there and thought 'what's the point'? I've been feeling like this for the past two days, I mean, I've still been drawing but that question is still in the back of my mind.
What’s the point of drawing.
In the grand scheme of things, I’ve been drawing now for about 7 years: 4 in school, 3 professionally. The thing that excited me most when I started was what I can only describe as: empowerment. I felt empowered, in control, by laying down some lines and eventually being able to create something new from them. In 7 years, I have experimented with a multitude of mediums, styles, subject matters, and treatments. I’ve spent thousands of hours practicing, reading, learning, creating, and recreating.However, throughout this time — outside of my life spent drawing — I’ve experienced what anyone does: friendships gained and lost, relationships built and crumbled, births, deaths, moves, theft, illness, and loss in its many forms — these experiences are nothing exceptional or unusual — I have no Batman moment, no melodramatic life trauma that drove me to anything. They’re simply the life moments we all have where we have little control or more often: none at all.
Everyone copes with life’s various rough edges differently, and while there’s a giant mystery fun time bag worth of ways to do so in a wildly unhealthy and unproductive manner ranging from heroin to even worse things like Candy Crush, I pour myself into drawing because it makes me feel like I have some of that control back. Creating things makes me feel empowered, in control, even when I’m struggling at it — it’s a tangible way for me to both succeed and fail.
So, what’s the point of drawing?
My answer may not be yours, but drawing has given me knowledge, control, freedom to live and give, and above all: a healthy dose of sanity. That’s “point” enough for me.
How do you feel about the use of photographic references in the making of photorealistic/realistic portraiture or paintings? I've recently found that using reference photos has allowed me to elevate my paintings considerably, but I always feel like a hack when I do--and people always seem to be disappointed when they find out that I used a reference photo. Advice? [Some paintings at elosee(.)tumblr(.)com if you're curious]
Well first, do understand that the vast majority of the best realist artists in the world use photo references in some form. Not just now, but since photography became available, artists from Courbet to better known like Rockwell used reference heavily — hell, even the magical master painters we learn about in art history were doing everything possible and utilizing the latest technology in order to reference reality to make their works. That ranged from technical devices to grid out the scene in front of them to make capturing proportions easier, to physically dissecting musculature as reference. If you feel inadequate for using what literally some of the greatest artists in history use, that seems rather strange to me.
Now, while I think that how you use reference is entirely up to you, do understand that it comes in many forms and people respect its use to wildly varying degrees. There are hyper-realistic artists who literally just painstakingly replicate a single photo in various mediums. Some of these artists are massively respected, but creatively — many just view them as human printers, a technical marvel, but nothing more.
Many comic artists these days actually use 3d programs to create rough cityscapes and buildings in perspective that would be very complicated to freehand, even one of the gods of illustration, James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame) uses references, both photos and actual miniature models of dinosaurs that he lights and shoots. Does this lessen their work? I don’t think so — if anything, it shows an astounding levels of creativity utilizing multiple art forms and technologies to better your craft. Hell, a ton of concept artists literally use photos and 3d renders by their fellow staffed artists as portions of their paintings. A concept artist’s utility is often to bring to life ideas of a team and doing this makes sense in their workflow: not needing to replicate existing assets, while still employing an incredible amount of understanding of form, function, light, and space.
For me? Though several years ago reference was used individually and directly in many instances as I tried to grasp the basics of realism, as I’ve worked to improve my understanding of form and light, this changed years ago and continues to. I use many, many references of the people I draw so that I can make a pose, expression, and light that exists only where I’ve created it — and if I have an established area to reference, I can imagine the rest. Things like the Janelle Monáe covers for example, they gave me thousands of photos, but neither of the final images they wanted existed in any form — expressions, hand positions, emotions, body language, lighting, hair styles, clothing, accessories, environments, they’re all things that don’t exist yet, but tiny fragments of them do scattered across a thousand pictures that helped make the final paintings possible. There were times when I painted her mouth closed but because I had a full sense of what she looked like in every angle in many expressions, when they wanted me to redo it with it open, while keeping her other features in line, that was a simple request. When I had to design her neck piece or reflective skull from imagination, that was fine because I had a reference for how the light worked on skin and cloth so I did similar research in my studio of how it might reflect and refract across some imaginary space-age chrome. For me, this is where I feel happiest. Where reference plays a large role, but it’s observed, researched, and understood instead of directly replicated. I struggle constantly and I’ll be spending my life trying and failing to figure it out, but that’s exactly why I love it — it’s observational problem-solving. That’s not how YOU need to use it, but like most debates in the art world, how you do anything will be judged in a mostly arbitrary manner that negates history as much as it expects you to adhere to its misconceptions.
My best advice is to create how you feel best about what you’re making. I place labyrinthian limits on how I make things simply because I feel better about it when I’m solving my mistakes instead of shortcutting around them. You should enjoy creating things and if you’re doubting yourself, create new rules that makes it exciting and fun again. Often the challenges we place on ourselves elevate our capacities the most.
Any simple advice you would give to a someone whose parents discourage their them to pursue illustration because of the income earnings? Or any advice on succeeding in college?
If I had kids, I’d even caution them about becoming an illustrator and I both love being one and am a huge supporter of people pursuing creative careers.
Discouraging a child from doing something isn’t solely some awful oppression, more often — it’s challenging something that they know if you’re truly passionate and committed about, you’ll find a way to overcome anyways. It’s not wrong of them, they’re encouraging a smart yet safe life-path — and it’s pretty logical that if your kid wants to veer into less stable directions, you provide a healthy opposition. If you’re not all in, them pushing you away is doing you a favor because being an illustrator or succeeding as most any niche profession, is something that demands you being relentless in your pursuit to becoming one. The money is absolutely there, the hardest part about becoming an illustrator/artist isn’t the lack of jobs or lack of opportunity, it’s finding them and even more so: giving them a reason to find you. Your parents may just be uninformed and not realize how increasingly relevant creative jobs like illustration are becoming — but their concern shouldn’t be directed towards the field itself so much as on your willingness to work your absolute ass off to succeed in it. If you’re lucky enough to have your parents get on board eventually, don’t squander that support, and I mean just moral support — monetary being all the more helpful.
Being an illustrator, being an athlete, a musician, a writer, etc. all of these things are fields that are legitimately hard to break into, it’s not they’re bad or low-paying careers, they’re just risky. Of the people I know who’ve wanted to become illustrators or freelance creatives, a very small fraction have done so. It’s a big leap for parents to get behind a kid chasing that dream and the best thing you can do if that support matters to you, is to show them you will work for that dream every step of the way. As for succeeding in college, just work — no secret, just work.