Friday, April 15, 2011

Old and new school sketching - by Beckett

Pen and ink sketchbook drawing of mine
So I've been doing some research on new style online sketchbooks, and blogging has opened up whole new ways of keeping a sketchbook. I think it all depends on your definition of what a sketchbook is, really, but there are a lot of really interesting ideas out there, incorporating not only drawings, but of course writing and video and new media like some of the new things Debbie can do with her iPad.

Illustration done in Painter with Wacom tablet by Debbie
Debbie does most of her art on the computer, though she uses a variety of media within that, and she certainly explores traditional physical media as well. The illustration above was drawn on her Wacom pad and worked in Painter. It looks like a traditional painting to me, and she's always exploring various style techniques that simulate woodcut, watercolor, drippy pens and a whole lot of other looks, all done with her tablet and computer.

Woodcut style goldfish by Debbie, drawn with Wacom pad
There's no doubt in my mind that exploring all sorts of possible styles and methods with her set-up makes Debbie more versatile; her digital creation style also has the distinct advantage that the artwork is already in the computer, and is easily made ready to send anywhere in the world for any online use she may need. It increases her marketability and her online visibility.

I was trained more traditionally, before computers really came into their own as an art medium; later I worked for years as a computer artist doing art for games and such, but honestly the computer as a medium then was all about the limitations: colors, resolution, pixels the size of your head and so on.

Pixel by pixel... Old computer drawn art
Computer art for me became a work related skill, and I got pretty burned out doing characters and animations and backgrounds and such for games. Doing concept art was fun, and still is, though you do have to draw what the designers want, not just what you want. And you have to consider the game's style and theme, the target market for the game and all of that related stuff. It's drawing for commercial purposes, not just for your own pleasure. It can still be a lot of fun despite the limitations. In fact sometimes the limitations make it easier; it becomes a puzzle to solve.

Concept sketches for a game machine demo
My own preferences and comfort zones have made me tend towards thinking with a pen or pencil on paper; the tactile process of drawing that way helps me think, and I find it comforting. I'm betting that's because of the way I was trained and the way I've worked for lo these many years. I have experienced so many shifts in technology over the years such that I've effectively 'lost' much of the early work I did to obsolete technology and storage media. I am convinced that if you want to keep a permanent record of your art, you should have good print-outs as well as multiple back-up options. But I'd also be the first to admit I haven't bothered to print out all of my computer art either,and my own procrastination has come back to bite me. But then I wouldn't be showing that old obsolete computer art anyway, because that old stuff looks primitive and ridiculous now with the technology we have. Working within severe limitations to make something look the best it can despite limits is a whole special skill set in itself, but that limited stuff doesn't usually impress potential employers; they want to see cool, flashy art and see the big list of programs you can drive.

Moose walk anim frames from way back
So I have my own preferences, but there's nothing to say that creating directly on the computer isn't completely natural for other people, Debbie being one of my prime examples. I think part of Debbie's facility with her computer drawn art is partly due to her excitement and willingness to explore and train herself with new technology and its possibilities. I'm also guessing that she came to drawing with computers later in the development of the tools and thus has a very different history with the medium than I do. She associates it with fun; I associate it with work, trying to squeeze past limitations. Some of that is just that when you draw for others it can become just another job, part of it is that the tools were so limiting; it's much more free and fun now in many ways. Maybe it just depends on your viewpoint.

Debbie's rabid squirrel sketch, drawn with her Wacom pad and Painter
I still keep regular sketchbooks; though I admit time is short these days and so I don't draw in them as often as I did at one time. But I love them and they've become a real record of my life over the last 30 years. The tactile process of drawing with various physical media still gives me the most satisfaction. The hands don't forget how to draw, it seems.

Colored pencil drawing of Shannon on tinted Canson paper
And seeing or even holding an actual drawing on paper, drawn by the artist, is a special thing. I saw drawings of Michaelangelo and Da Vinci at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco a while back, and it was a special experience to see the actual paper and the silverpoint marks drawn on the paper by those actual men. Amazing to realize that their hands had made the magic on that very piece of paper, and there I was seeing it hundreds of years later. Digital media may preserve artworks in some unexpected ways and make it accessible to many more people than before, but the power of the actual physical drawing made by an artist will never be replaced.

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