Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From the Collection of...pt.2

It's now a series!

When I was in Jr. High, Topps released their infamous and long-running "Garbage Pail Kids" series of spoof cards/stickers. Beyond being funny and gross (publishing gold for Jr. High-aged products aimed at boys), I also appreciated the paintings being done for them, and began collecting them because I liked the art. I was 11, ok?

But no, they were actually pretty fun pieces. Some 20 years later and, ever nostalgic, the wonders of the interwebs caused me, one bleary-eyed late night, to come upon the website of John Pound, one of GPK's chief illustrators from the beginning! It was a nice flashback, and pretty cool to learn that some original GPK art still existed. Topps then (as now) purchased the final art for many of its art cards, so final art for most GPK cards won't be found. However, John was making available at the time a number of color studies, which were used in preparation for his final paintings. These are Acrylic paint over a copy of his pencils, and 25 years later have held up great.

As usual, I was kinda broke at the time. Thankfully, I have generous friends. Well, friend. This one then was a Christmas gift back in 2004.

The art itself is ~7x4.75" Interestingly, I note that John seems to no longer be offering GPK studies. There weren't a ton left, 6-7 years ago, so it seems that perhaps they've all been snatched up. Lucky me, in that case!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Value of Information: Wisdom and Strategy

After friendly partial-disagreement with my fellow illustrator about the monetary or whatever value of technical knowledge, I brought forth what I felt was the more valuable realm of information: wisdom and strategy. I kind of count them as one thing, strategy being the physical channel for wisdom within illustration.

Why does one artist have a career that excels and another's, perhaps equally talented, flounders?  How did artist X land that job, when that industry is impossible to crack? How did this other artist make that important person's acquaintance?

These, aspiring artist, are the real questions. Technical knowledge is available and ancient, it has value insofar as individuals store it up and can dole it out. It's also incumbent on you to learn it, somehow. Wisdom, however, is very difficult to teach, and how one plays it out in their career is unique to their era and circumstance. It is extremely valuable, and fugitive.

(L): Please, won't someone reprint this book?

One can read Andrew Loomis, for instance, and gain all sorts of great technical knowledge. But were you to read a book where he discussed his career: the choices he made, how he networked, negotiated, weighed opportunities and passed on others... if you did that you'd simply have interesting non-fiction.  Most of it would not be useful anymore--industries change, markets change, personnel change, technologies change. Yet if you were a less successful illustrator in Loomis' day, which body of knowledge would you really want him to open up about? The technical stuff Loomis taught, while excellent, was itself a re-presentation and explanation of things that were already known and could have been learned elsewhere. Loomis compiled and added his own trial-and-error. But the little, secret moves that he made from client to client, job to job...at the time, that stuff was gold. After all, wouldn't Loomis have really loved to learn those things from Leyendecker and Rockwell, both of whom as contemporaries had vastly more successful careers, but who probably had also mastered the technical stuff Loomis taught? I think so.

By strategy I do not mean manipulation--that's one strategy, sure, but not one I'd ever recommend you use; it's an aggressive short game, likely to burn you. Deservedly. Still, in any given year there are all sorts of opportunities one can create or participate in, all sorts of decisions that can turn a career, leaps of faith that can revolutionize, and so on.

(L:) Interesting non-fiction.

This is a little vague. I know. It covers all sorts of things though from self-promotion, to what jobs one takes and why. It factors into what sacrifices you're willing to make, financially or otherwise, for the sake of larger goals. It includes the habit or practice of even having larger goals, and what to include in them. In one sense, it's everything you do when you're not making marks. When you're making marks, you're using your technique. The rest of the time, and underneath it all, you're operating on some strategy. If you have no strategy, well that's your strategy. Good luck.

Occasionally, I've known illustrators who will open up privately on this front, and I always feel privileged. Some of them are open about this stuff in general, and they are a rare breed. The closer I am with my artist friends, the more we share this kind of information with each other. The more we respect each other and genuinely want each other to excel, the more we talk at this level. Yet, inevitably, we all hold some cards close to our chests, even among each other.

Yet, among those same illustrator friends, we easily and openly talk all matter of technique. There are very few, if any, technical secrets among us. Instinctively, I think we know what body of knowledge is really valuable. The choices we make in our lives are context and time-sensitive. If I hold them close, I stand to gain from this real hard-earned wisdom. Some years down the road, it'll be less important, less relevant, and I'll find it easier to discuss those things openly. If I teach you to use a product or technique, I may save you many headaches and even many hours. If I teach you some hard-earned life-lesson or philosophy, I could save you years.

I'm not even saying I'm a sage in this matter. I'm not. But I know that I have learned many things. These are the things I would go back in time and teach myself, because it took years to learn them, and I was intentional in trying to make sense of these sorts of issues. Others are wiser than myself, and in most cases are reaping the harvest of that wisdom, coupled with excellent technique.

So when I give portfolio reviews to artists, I'll often give some nuts-and-bolts, but I'll often slide in a little wisdom--some strategy, some way of thinking about the big picture, or life. I often think the artist will take mental note of the technical and be excited to try it, but here's my advice: take to heart the bit of wisdom more. It may ring hollow because you're looking for some nut or bolt to add to your toolbox, but really think about it first. This stuff you can't learn in any book, any degree program (unless you have talented instructors who teach openly from their wisdom, not just technique), but only by years of success, failure, and time spent reflecting on it all. If an artist discusses something more philosophical with you, treasure it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Value of Information: Tips and Techniques

Recently I was having a discussion with a couple of fellow illustrators. An interesting topic came up, regarding the value of information. Specifically, the value an illustrator does or should place on years of technique learned. In the age of the interwebz, much information has been freed, to the benefit of all. It has also created a culture of entitlement to basically all information. However, this is not a post about copyrights, where such conversations typically go.

Over the course of a career, an artist begins (usually) by paying often hefty amounts of money to attain a decent art education. That's no different than any other field. The basic knowledge an artist will need to build his craft has been arrived at through centuries of teachers building upon prior generations' stores of knowledge. We add to this, forget some, other bits become irrelevant, and pass it on. But rarely do we do it for free. Should this information be free?

Of course, if you are in the business of running an art school, this answer is no--information, delivered by talented teachers, is an extremely valuable commodity. In teaching techniques, an artist is in essence training his competition to graduate and try to take his clients. So every art teacher is in one sense working against his own best interests. This then becomes a great motivation to give this precious knowledge away only at a price.

As well, a good teacher will edit. They will sift the knowledge for what is appropriate at the right time, and find new ways of communicating it. These are skills which, when done well, can greatly aid a student.

However, most of what an artist needs to know can be gotten for free. Books, some centuries old, are still around. Their lessons are mostly timeless. You can learn color theory from books. You can learn perspective from books (though it may be very dry). You can learn anatomy that way, about painting mediums, alternate tools and methods to try and so on. What you won't get are an artist's judgment calls, arrived at through years of practical experience. You won't get valuable critique, and you may not even learn what you're doing right.

Some artists give this technical knowledge away freely. But it isn't something that gains the artist nothing--an artist who gives away knowledge regularly, or even develops a reputation for it often gains in other ways--popularity rises, they become a valued source of information. You spend time looking at their art, and so on.

The conversation I had centered around whether this was smart to do. My friends were of the opinion that this stuff was too valuable to give away. I think that if they can gain from it, they should, however I don't think this form of information is as valuable as they do--not value-less, but not something to be super-secretive about, or to demand large sums of money for (unless you're really giving away the store). The reason is that there is a perennial need for it: if I give it away to a group now, in a year or two a new crop of folks will be available, and the knowledge becomes valuable again. Plus, much of what I'd say can be found elsewhere anyway. I argued that there is another body of knowledge that is much more valuable than technical, and I'll cover that next week.

(L): Many artists, myself included, have used Galkyd to "varnish" oil paintings. I no longer do so. Why? Pay up!

So, I do give away some tips and techniques. I don't do very technical treatises, because there are plenty of places to get such. Rather, I talk about what I do in a more organic way. My thought process, and some of the philosophical underpinnings. It's not too big a deal to film a YouTube video showing how I wet-mount a board for painting on, for instance. Other folk do it and you could learn it from them. It's no silver-bullet solution anyway, and I'm actually doing it a lot less myself now. I don't give away the store, and partially that is because it's just not that interesting for me to discuss here, point-by-point. Also, it's because I've sometimes added something to the methods which required work, which I'm not inclined to always give away. I've added trial-and-error, and experience that results in preference. In the video, I mention that Hardbord is the least prone to warping of all the masonites I've tried. You might've learned that elsewhere, but now I've given you freedom from many hours of unhappy warped boards. That's great for you, but what do I gain? Well maybe you'll come back another week and see what I have to say. I can't say the desire to save others from headaches is necessarily driving me to blog, though I'm honestly glad if I just saved you a headache or two.

Other examples: no two artists prime a board the exact same way. That's an overstatement, but really if you've ever tried working on a board another artist prepared, you know what I mean, so it's no huge deal for me to talk about how I prime boards.  I have no problem telling you what brushes I use (mostly, inexpensive sablette filberts, and rarely anything smaller than a #2 round for details). Why I rarely use smaller than a #2 round, or why filberts over flats is the more important thing--also not that big a deal, but interesting enough that I don't feel inclined to add it to this post. Maybe it's worth its own post and bringing you back another day to read about it. Maybe not. Yet, many (usually younger) artists want to hear nuts and bolts from artists most of all in their blogs. For my own, that's sort of the last thing I care about when reading others' blogs. I'm more interested in the choices an artist makes along the way. Given a body of technical knowledge, why does an artist use this subset of the toolbox for one painting, and another at another time? That's much more interesting, I find.

Do I compose based on Fibonacci spirals? Golden means? Rule of Thirds? Some other system? None? The systems themselves I have little interest in discussing--they are talked about widely elsewhere. And if I did, I'd gladly discuss them for free. Considering my methods change over time, why I do what I do you might say required 2 decades now of messing with to arrive at. That's not something I'm necessarily going to just give away now!

Yet, if I did, 2 years from now the information would be buried in deep-blog-time. I could probably repost it again fresh and get the same response and interest. I mean, for those with leisure time, there is now quite a lot of information in the archives of this blog that can be gleaned from posts, even many of those not specifically about tips and techniques. Or, you could just ask another artist who is even less secretive and hear their take. This other kind of information, though....

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Museum Studies, Pt.6

Close Helmet, Germany 16c., 8x8" Pastel on paper

The helmet above was drawn at the Met. They have a fantastic assortment of western arms and armor, and I think I'll be drawing in those halls a few more times, as armor is always something that requires reference. 

(L): Brown Skua, 8x6" Ink on paper(purchase info)

As if to prove that these drawings aren't posted in any particular order, I believe this Skua was drawn on my first trip to the museum, which would've been right about a year ago.

I'm happy that I picked up the brush pen a couple years ago. It's a fun tool to use once you get the hang of it, and particularly for a painter, feels more like painting in many ways. I've often toyed with the idea of taking wet media to the museum, particularly watercolor or gouache. However, I don't know what their policy is--considering the priceless artifacts which they sometimes have on display without cases, I'm not sure they'd be keen on having paint around, even if watercolors and gouache would be easily removable. It'd be little work to ask. However, the second issue is that I simply have none of either at the moment, with both of those media being stuck in storage. I never used either very much, so I put them away before leaving CA some years ago, and they remain there.