Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tuesday 18th January 2011 - Alchemy Drawing Project

http://al.chemy.org/ - This is Alchemy. 

"Alchemy is an open drawing project aimed at exploring how we can sketch, draw, and create on computers in new ways. Alchemy isn’t software for creating finished artwork, but rather a sketching environment that focuses on the absolute initial stage of the creation process. Experimental in nature, Alchemy lets you brainstorm visually to explore an expanded range of ideas and possibilities in a serendipitous way."

I was introduced to this powerful little programme about a year ago, although I didn’t actively experiment with it until yesterday, and I must say, if suffering artistic block, or simply feeling like playing around, this tool is amazing. It is in no way a substitute for suites such as Painter and Photoshop, but, it isn’t meant to be. Purposefully leaving out tools such as undo, layers and complex rendering options, it is instead more of a digital sketcher. 

My first dabble with Alchemy
The best analogy I can think of is, it’s a collection of those things you keep in the studio, which have no obvious place in a finely honed finished piece, but which make interesting marks and so you keep for that day when they seem an apt weapon to attack a canvas with. Its tools are simple, but interesting. Having options to use the mic input to create marks, pen pressure, manipulating typography into abstract polygons and even using images selected at random from files leaves the user with loads of ways to amass a variety of shapes, which can then be ported into Photoshop, abused, and possibly implemented into another composition or used as one by itself. 

Left; the final sketch, Right; the Alchemy product.
As well as the variety of brush inputs, there are also a number of effects one can then use to adjust the image (the image you create is a vector, so is open to very complex changes), my favourite of these is ‘Mirror’ which really helps to spark creativity.

After using 'Mirror'; Robots are a common subject, due to the angular results Alchemy offers.
The best way to record these thumbnails is through Alchemy’s screen capturing function. This saves your canvas at a specific time (I use 2 minutes). And once the session is finished, it saves all pages in a pdf, which you can then browse, use in combining multiple thumbnails, and I guess a lot more that I haven’t found out yet. 

The results of 15 minutes playing whilst using the capture function.
 For a free programme, this is definitely something everybody should use, even if it's just when bored, the human mind is the best pattern recognizing machine in the world (how we see faces in clouds, crisps, toast, etc), and Alchemy really makes the most of it, letting the user create silhouettes, then reading their own ideas into it for further rendering. Futuristic space ships, robotic killing machines, an arm, a leg, a wing, have a play!

This is Andrew (A.k.a. Android) Jones and his take on Alchemy. He explains, creates, manipulates and polishes it all much better than me... But then again... I do hope that pro's would.

In conclusion; Alchemy offers a refreshing way to be innovative and original with your concepts, allowing your subconscious to identify silhouettes, ones you may not have thought of otherwise. It's an interesting addition to the beginning of a practitioners work flow, which many have agreed is the hardest part - formulating the idea. If anyone else is like me; they'll jump at free ideation software!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Friday 14th January 2011 - Anatomy of a Sketch

Now, I thought, I wanted to update my blog, but I didn't want to use up some of the only free time i've got this long and unbelievably tepid weekend, so i've done what all good people do, and simply re-exhibit other peoples work, this way, it takes me 10 minutes to show people something i've seen, we all learn something, I get to play Team Fortress 2 sooner, and we all win.

This guy does covers for Marvel and/or DC, and these videos cover his materials used and his process of sketching.





What's good about these videos is it shows him under pressure, not simply reeling off something he made earlier, but shows him critically analyzing his working processes and decisions.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Wednesday 12th January 2011 - ITAP - Blog Entries

Simply a composite of 2 earlier blog entries to allow ease of reading when I have my review...

Tuesday 26th October 2010 – ITAP – The Reflective Visual Journal


Something I agree almost completely with the lecturer about is how to approach some of your sketchbooks; almost with a vicarious abandon. They are a tabula rasa which is yours to experiment with; hone skills, annotate ideas, scribble thoughts down. A sketchbook, not unlike a book of anatomy or Wikipedia, is a tool, a means by which you can lubricate your working process, and use as a personal release. As touched upon earlier, it is by no means collated for anybody but yourself. If people want to look at your work, give them a portfolio, if people want to see your thought process, then it’s a different matter. 

When sketching to understand form, I always use ink: It allows for bold mark making and the knowledge of no ability to erase mistakes makes one intuitively be more conscious of what is being recorded.
And none of this is really possible without the key element of drawing. This is the key element that separates digital and traditional: There’s tactile feedback from a sketchbook; there’s an intuitive physical connection between the hand and the brain which can only really be instantiated this way. A skill which I must hone, as I fall foul of it, is drawing as you think, not drawing your past thoughts. This is what I envisage dissociates undergraduate sketchbooks and college student sketchbooks, what separates a master and a juvenile: The arguably simple task of dissociating the critical and analytical, letting the creative flow with abandon. Although we must remember simple and easy are not one and the same. 

DaVinci is an excellent example: his notations, numbering in the thousands, are almost entirely visual; showing a direct link between his thoughts and his mark making: freeing his ideas to allow them to develop on the page freely. This is at the core of what makes a brilliant sketchbook: the suspension of the critic; drawing to germinate your ideas, not for ‘art’. I assume what was being implied here was that if you let the ideas flourish; something far more primordial and closer to the esoteric form of ‘art’ may be borne, for, as Picasso said: “I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else”. It’s an exploration, not an exercise in creating pictures. 

Using my sketchbook to explore potential compositions of form.
Utilizing ones creative Brain.

What we were lectured on was how we need to suspend the analysis and critical thought patterns which we readily place upon ourselves, and which seems to be intrinsically connected with textual communication. I’m guilty, as I love a little A6 notebook in which I make one word or one sentence notations to myself, mostly middle of the night moments of unhindered neuropathy that leads to either a nugget of an idea, or an inexplicable concept.

 Instead of this, the subconscious censorship we place over our thoughts should be discarded; through the aforementioned process of intuitive drawing. This, to use some neurological theories, allows the right hand side of the brain; which is the curious, spontaneous, experimental side of us, to take charge, and let our thoughts flow. However, this must be implemented in balance with the usage of the left hand hemisphere of the brain; responsible for speculation, analysis, critique and logical connections. To get the best from any exertion both must be used in turn: Allow free-form experimentation, but then in turn speculate on its usage. This working spiral will allow an initial concept to develop and develop and become something more than a shallow idea. 

Basically; ones previous working pattern should be turned on its head: Whereas in schools one is taught to write, think and analyze before putting pen to paper, now is the time to allow the pen to be put to paper to think almost, and then annotate, allowing good ideas to be siphoned from the detritus. Have a theme; make it almost a visual brainstorm. An example, last night I watched the music video to ‘Indestructible’ by Disturbed ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWxBrI0g1kE&ob=av2n ), and using that as a starting point, and as a theme, began to develop thoughts centered around the concepts of armor, warriors, fighting, imposing silhouettes, etc. There should be, and was, a direction, and from it I harvested one or two nice compositions to come back to in the future.

Can see how firstly I simply threw ideas down in pen and ink, then analytically chose the best parts to create a nice composition.

Tuesday 23rd November 2010 – ITAP – Development of Creative Thought & Structure in Illustration & Graphic Art.

Developing Ideational Fluency

The task of generating ideas, or, as I normally look at it; how to be inspired, is probably the paramount difficulty facing anyone of a creative tendency. Being unsurpassed in technical execution is pointless if one cannot find an intuitive and original outlet for it. 

Personally, I have numerous approaches I take to hunting for that flash of inspiration which can make or break an image. The first and foremost I use is note taking and my small A6 journals. These indispensable books are nothing more than collections of one, maybe two word ideas, small facets of an idea I’ve had which I can jot down on a bus, in a lecture, at the pub, wherever. It allows me to never forget a potential composition, or interesting design, and, when feeling uninspired, as though the dreaded artist’s block is hanging over me like the sword of Damocles, I can turn to my journal and start sketches from there. 

A second method I use is collections. I collect everything, and rarely use it. Mostly digital, I have folders full of catwalk shows, other artists works, photographs, billboards, figure studies and short animations which I call reference, but which are really more like stepping stones; used to either help when referring to how to draw a particular garment, or, if I have an idea, what inventive ways have been used previously for a similar idea, and then these can combine and allow for me to remove mental barriers to allow my designs to merge and move in a new direction. 

Managing a Creative Environment

Feeling calm, at ease and at one with the place where you decide to work is incredibly important when creating individual work, I’d say on a par with personal, cultural and social interests. It alters ones thought process, and if you aren’t comfortable with where you work it will be evident in your sketchbooks and developments. 

As a creative entity, the studio/bedroom/room, the workplace where you spend the majority of your time is integral. It should be an inspirational place, stimulating, a reservoir of creativeness within which you should be able to submerge yourself to work. 

My workplace is still quite chaotic, I haven’t yet found a nice equilibrium between the technological side of my life and the messy traditional art side. My next investment will be a drawing desk, from which all my most used art materials will hopefully be in reach, making for a very comfortable, fluid, and calming environment. I surround  myself with photos of friends, art works of the people I aspire to, and random figures and models I’ve collected on my travels, all of these mean something to me, and simply spark an essence of nostalgia and warm memories, getting me in a state of mind in which I can easily work, stress free (mostly!). 

This workplace is “EatToast’s” a university student from America, whose workplace I simply find wondrous. Looking at it I simply want to delve around, looking at her books, her art supplies, and simply soaking up the different atmosphere. It’s obvious from the photos that a lot of thought has gone into her studio design, and while she seems startlingly outgoing (especially compared to me and my workspace), the sheer volume of intriguing posters, models, and other pieces of work leave me inspired, let alone her.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Sunday 09th January 2011 - Art History/Artist in Focus - Kazuya Minekura

I did say I'd formulate an entry concerning Art History. Granted, I didn't expect to be doing this fueled by Red Bull, nearing midnight the day before I submerge myself in University, but regardless, let's go!

A fully fledged illustrator once said that you should be able to reel off 10 artists who have inspired you, influenced you, and changed your working patterns. This, I think, draws heavily on the stance concerning Art History that the preceding generation of creative minds had, and throws into stark contrast the views that are held today. My views on current work produced compared to past work is worth a post itself, and one I'll save until I have less Jagermeister in my system. So, in the light of what I was told, I've went about collecting what I think have been the 10 most influential artists in my sphere of action up until this point. I've tried to balance historical with contemporary, realism with impressionism, and eastern with western. Each artist I'll devote a separate post to, and intersperse them with tutorials, amusing titbits, university work and rants. Who knows, maybe somebody will learn something!

The List (In no order).
  • Kazuya Minekura
  • Frank Frazetta
  • Boris Vallejo
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Alex Pardee
  • Leonardo DaVinci
  • Hans Rudolf (H. R.) Giger
  • Salvador Dali
  • Paul Kidby
  • Todd Lockwood
  • Phillip M. Jackson**
** Included for reasons beyond his art.

Focus #1: Kazuya Minekura (峰倉かずや Minekura Kazuya)

Minekura is a Japanese Illustrator, manga author, publisher and artist, who's most famous for her graphic novel; Saiyuki. However, I'll endeavor to look solely at her art. Her earlier works are solely executed in Copic Graphic Markers, whereas in her later art books there is evidence of an increased usage of digital media. Due to my very limited knowledge of Japanese, it's hard work for me to get a hold of her working processes, knowing only that she uses Copic fine-liners at a thickness of 0.03mm and Staedtler pencils (source: Salty Dog III). She also uses a lot of Copic markers in the ranges of 'E' and 'V', it mentions specifics in the back of one of her books, but I can't find it.

Her works have a very obvious manga and anime influence, thanks to her residence being in Japan. However, underneath, and intertwined with this very iconic style are some key elements which are worthy of examination; as these are what set her apart from many other artists, and (in my opinion) make her work so unique.

Facial expressions: A key part of manga is the face, anybody in the western world when questioned about anime and manga immediately relate to the stereotype of 'big eyes, small mouth, crazy hair'. This is to help beautify the human form; the proportions are impossible; thin waists, rounded hips and more often than not an ample bosom! The face is in correlation with this ideology; large eyes are often considered enticing or cute, and a face appears more pleasing the less cluttered it is with lines. Conclusively, the key point to the whole style is to use the minimal amount of lines to successfully communicate an appealing image. 

Minekura's work still holds firm with that aesthetic, but her take on it is very different. Her faces, while still very minimal, through the use of colour and form, can convey masses of emotion, and are almost captivating. They do not look 'empty'. That is to say; there's not an eye catching void between jawline and eye (prevalent in many images), allowing the face to be harmonized as a whole. The eyes, whilst still over sized, are continuous. (no gap between upper and lower eyelid) They are very angular, and the thick lines are weighted to add extra character.

Composition: In her art books, the compositions are excellent, and show a clear understanding of theory, as well as a technical prowess. The interaction of subject and scene easily lead the eye around the picture, and the inclusion of details to hint at narrative outweigh any preexisting knowledge of the characters. The body language helps convey what emotions the facial expressions could not, the unusual weights of compositions balance the contrasting values, and tying it together is the use of a simplistic but effective background; similar to traditional Japanese woodblock prints. 

Her hands are another point of interest whilst analyzing her images. They are very angular: If you dissect them, they posses too many joints, and often have little form more than rounded oblongs. Keeping with her style, this angular approach is not out of the ordinary concerning her work in isolation, but when comparing Minekura's art with that of another Manga-ka, the differences are startling!

Above is a quick example: Tony Taka, another Manga-ka of some renown (A lot of his works are rather erogenous, so expect some surprises if you decide to Google him). As you can see, his style is very rounded, all of the lines he draws are flowing curves, the hands made from uninterrupted lines. Compared with Minekura's works, hopefully it becomes obvious how different her work is compared to the vast majority of Anime and Manga that's out there.

The last part of her work which is definitely worth mentioning are her pencil sketches. There are no high resolution ones available, but in the back pages of her books are spreads of the sketches she done as preliminary investigations.  What was, and still is, daunting for me, and one of the reasons she's such an influential artist to me, is how detailed and magnificent these sketches are. Not only are they a draft, in and of themselves they show a formidable skill, and were they to be published as a book, I'm sure they'd offer a lot of insight into the planning of her work. 

They show a working process of doing loose, gestural motions with a blue leaded pencil, followed by intense detailing with a typical mechanical pencil/wooden pencil. One can only speculate as to how she gets from the sketch to the final piece, but I'm thinking it would probably be placed on a light box with marker paper fixed over it, ready for inking. 

Why is she inspirational to me? Well, she was the first manga-ka I was introduced to who stood out from the rest, with an individual style. At the time I was also learning to use graphic markers, and looking at the pieces she could produce was incredibly motivating. Then there's the sketches, as I covered above, I did, and still do, consider these a milestone to reach in terms of readable pencil drafts, with altering weights and values. At the age of 16 (possibly 17), they were probably the first glimpse I got into a professionals work process: It gave me inspiration to try a new style, to not be afraid that my style then (and still now) is more angular than natural, as hers also is. And apart from Wall and Piece by Banksy, my copy of Salty Dog V is probably my most thumbed through book.

Her art books:
Backgammon Remix
Salty Dog I - VI ('Kazuya Minekura Illustrations')

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thursday 6th January 2011 - Ideation and Communication: Is a sketchbook the correct vessel?

Today, I’ve decided to look at a subject which has confused me, and many of my peers, and so I’m sure it is one which has confused many other people. At art institutes, one is faced with a plethora of new skills, techniques, people, and, probably the most infuriating for me: Terminology. A sketchbook is no longer a sketchbook; it is a reflective visual journal. Personally, this just aggravates me. I don’t know why, but the pretentiousness of the name doesn’t sit well with me. After all, practitioners’ sketchbooks should be as varied as the personalities of their owners. And this comfortably brings me onto the main subject: That of Ideation and Communication.

For me, a sketchbook is everything: A representation of my thought processes, an escape from the monotony of train journeys, a haven in which to practise and hone my skills, and much more. This leads me to a daunting possibility. Should one sketchbook be enough for all of this? Ideation is, I’ve been lead to believe, a first personal activity: It’s a 20 second sketch, a sentence, a clipping from a magazine. It is the process of visually interpreting a facet of an idea, to allow for development, experimentation and hopefully leading onto the actualization of the idea as a whole. In recent times, a shift has occurred, where artists – a loose use of the term, consider it henceforth a collective noun for those of a visually creative persuasion, regardless of skill – would rather see the sketchbooks of another practitioner, almost to the extent that their interest in the ideation outweigh the execution of the finished piece. I must say I’m guilty of such a thing, and love to flick through others sketchbooks, just to look at the small elements and to see how the artist then works with them. 

Sketchbook of Ideation
The most interesting sketchbooks I’ve found are those which are almost chaotic. As though the artist’s brain has a leaking faucet draining directly into the pages, and, reacting to this; I strive to make my sketchbooks, not messy, but a release. Somewhere I can (usually) without judgement cover the pages in thumbnails, gestural sketches and small notes to myself for future expansion. I’m sure many others like to do this, probably very differently, but that’s the joy of a sketchbook! 

Pages from my book of Ideation       

Communicating these ideas then is a very different game. Once again I have only the mad ravings of a tutor to go on, but I’ve worked on the basis that communication is the actualization of ideation. Basically: Critique your own work, decide which thumbnail/sketch/etc, has the best visual properties – your judgment as an artist comes in here; this is what you should be able to do naturally – then work this up into a small (no bigger than A5 in my opinion) Marquette. The key difference is audience; employers/commissioners/tutors will want to see something, do not show them ideation! The most likely outcome is they won’t understand your sketches and won’t take to the idea. To communicate you must strike a balance between a gestural piece with room for alteration, and a piece that people can understand and use as a base for potential improvements. 

My (expensive) book of Communication

It sounds hard. And it is! I feel that I can do it with my personal work, but that’s because all of my sketches are as loose as possible until the latest possible time, where I add time consuming detail. At university, I’m berated for it, I don’t show any intermediate steps, any communication, between my ideation and my drafting of the final piece. One of the key parts of developing is input from others, and to receive this you must craft images which communicate the key parts of your ideation, so, regardless of how much of a pain in the arse it is, you must do it. A conceptualist’s bread and butter is mastering the phase of communication; it’s a key element to a whole project, and, like composition, without successful communication, a piece will suffer.

Internal pages of my book of Communication

To wrap this up swiftly and in under 1000 words, to conclude my initial question; is a sketchbook the ideal medium for communication? Ideation: Yes, most definitely, but, communication? Should a sketchbook be punctuated every few pages with a full page (or half page, whatever…) draft, a piece of communication? It would make understanding the sketchbook easier, but that’s a moot point; they don’t need to be understandable, they need to be a mirror of the artist. I try to keep them separate: Have a very cheap sketchbook I take everywhere and use for ideation, and a more expensive Moleskine to draft up the pieces, leaving me with a book of ideation, and a book of communication. Now, I like this process, it suits my O.C.D. temperament and allows a sense of organization, but, at the end of it, looking through both sketchbooks, the cheap ideation one is more exciting. Paradoxical, no? 


Above is a page from Street Sketchbook. A book devoted to the sketchbooks of less well known artists. And it explores perfectly the philosophies of some artists, their approaches and displays just how varied an approach people have. I'd call these pieces of Ideation, as I see them as preliminary pieces, chaotic in their composition as the owner tries to sculpt their ideas into a correct visual representation, to be ready to communicate it to the public.

Guy McKinley

 I leave this with an enquiring question: What does everybody else do? Does anybody have a 3 stage process of Ideation, Communication and Actualization? If so, how does it work out for you? 

Next time, I have a bash at Art History.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Wednesday 5th January 2011 – Christmas' Harvest

Well, I was delightfully happy at the presents I got off of Santa; I must have been a good boy...

1) The Art of Tim Burton: A rather splendid, if not downright explosively overt collection of his work. Weighing in at about 4 Kilos, it's quite a limited availability book, as far as I know only available from one shop in the UK, so a bit of a collectible.
2) A 12 Month Subscription to ImagineFX: Probably the best current and regularly updating source of digital art related publications, especially concerning fantasy and sci-fi. As someone who is still struggling to decipher arse-from-elbow when it comes to my graphics tablet, this is an essential source of motivation and amazing art work. 

3) Bridgman's Drawing from Life: This guy was a genius in life; his studio being a proverbial who's who of 60s and 70s artists: Norman Rockwell, Will Eisner and Andrew Loomis (A successive expert at drawing from life). For most, my views on contemporary art and illustration are well known; I may even write a small passage dedicated to it here at some point, in a metaphorical middle finger to current trends in art, i'm sticking with becoming fully versed in anatomy, colour theory and art history before doing what most people seem to do, and developing a style on top of no basic skills. Either way, this book is truly incredible, assuming readers will have basic knowledge, Bridgman instead sculpts ones basic knowledge into that of forms, blocks and muscle structures, instead of the 'sausage-and-sphere' approach i've seen in many art books.

And lastly, a bit of a guilty pleasure. They're expensive, a short read and worryingly unreal, but I love some manga; my favourite of which is Saiyuki, scripted and drawn by Kazuya Minekura. So, the scraps of money I had left I dedicated to buying as many of them as I could, 5 having already being delivered and another 3 still in transit. 

Finally: This should hopefully be arriving within the fortnight. A tome of his Graphic Novel, Dan Luvisi's LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter should be an incredible read, plus, I pre-ordered the collectors edition about 5 months ago, so it will be signed and coming with a numbered print... Can't wait!

I will be updating this blog more often as I try to push my life back into some form of order after the christmas partying...