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')

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