Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evolution of a simple design and learning to art

There is something myself, and probably my D-walker building brother, have in common. Neither of us were really trained as artists. My mother was a painter. A great one at that. She never pushed art on us though.

Left to our own devices - we doodled endlessly. Neither my brother or I ever took it seriously it seemed. We had made characters, whole worlds, built cardboard replications of this stuff - but we never pursued schooling in the field of design, art, painting, etc.

Through college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer. I had always viewed arts and craft as a hobby of mine. I was young and a little aimless in some ways. My first foray into art as something other than a hobby was after I had moved back home and my friend had mentioned there was an artist position on the marketing team for Whole Foods. I was a bit puzzled to say the least that carrots needed an artist, but nevertheless, I needed a job.

I was pretty straightforward with the marketing team/interview panel. I have no formal art training and I am a doodler by nature but at least artistically inclined it seemed. Graciously, the team gave me a chance and hired me as a part time artist for them.

Holy shit was I bad. I know everyone's first work is bad, but damn, I was 5th Underworld movie bad. The job revolved around graphic design and using paint pens to create meaningful art, representation and intrigue to the company. The only problem is - I hate color. I was just god awful at color. There's no easy way to put it - I just didn't understand how it worked. I would look at a picture, a costume, a painting - and not understand how the colors were made. It turns out - you just add brown to everything. Just kidding, but anyway, my early attempts at 'art' displays were just so awful.

I know most people are embarrassed to show their 'bad' art. But if you're anything like me who thinks they can keep improving, well it's all shit then, isn't it? 

I mean, it doesn't even make sense? Does it? It's so scatterbrained

I've learned a great deal of humility, acceptance and overall ambivalence to my art. I know I'm not the best. No one really is, right? It's subjective and we're our own harshest critics, so I've finally become comfortable with sharing it all.

Something I like to do is encourage people to try. It can be daunting when the majority of work that is published is refined, polished and professional looking. Hopefully by bridging the gaps of my early work to my current work - you'll see that we all sucked at one point and feel more comfortable giving it a try.

So here I am, raising eyebrows at my job, as they begin to question my friend with things like 'You said he's an artist...right?'

I panic. On the one hand, I haven't mislead them by explaining I'm some color bending wizard. I am simply someone trying to learn a new medium and apply it in a helpful way to my job. Luckily, they stick with me and I begin to practice and practice. I started to get better at blending colors, layouts, minimizing clutter and attempting to paint things I'm awful at, like faces.

The blank space was for a price!
Eventually, I became pretty well acclimated to my pens to the point where I was confident I could make almost anything I could think up. I began to buy my own chalk pens and boards and make my own art at home.This job lasted nearly 5 years before I realized I could only go so far with painting for a grocery store. I have since left that job and moved to LA to pursue better opportunities. That's a story for a different time though.

During my tenure at this job, I had retained my sketching ways. I was constantly being inspired by video games such as Halo and Devil May Cry and also movies like District 9. I had a certain affinity for angelic creatures as well as samurai and regal sort of glamorously shiny looks. I had one day sketched a culmination of those into something.

The earliest sketch I have of this design
I was immediately obsessed with the design. I loved the idea of a shiny, essentially faceless, intricate creature. I began drawing it over and over, trying to smooth out and finalize areas like how I would like the shoulders to look, the head to look, etc. I tried simplifying areas, complicating others, redrawing from different angles, all that jazz. The problem was - I was still very bad at proportions, sensical orientation, HANDS, feet, joints, all that stuff that we might not realize is incredibly hard to replicate on paper.
Another early rendition
There were certain aspects I liked and wanted to keep throughout my permutations. I liked the idea that the grey, semi-scaley undersuit had these channels of lights that either would glow, pulse, or flutter in a linear way. I liked the idea of the armor being gold-ish. I liked the contrast of gold and blue. I tried my hand at using my paint pens to make the creature one day.

Somewhere along the way, I began to grow fond of tan sketch books. I picked up a set of copic pens, some paint pens and some watercolor. I learn a lot from watching how other artists do things, and my friend Juli had a pattern of doing sketches with hints of color and shading to compliment her sketch. I began to try to adapt some of those ideas into my work, with varying degrees of success as I tried to work out my own style.
One of my first tan paper sketches with some color
I liked the idea that the creature's wings weren't exactly tangible. It could summon them into existence in a blinking flash of light and when it would flap its wings, a shockwave of this same light would be left behind as a remnant shadow of spent energy. I think I got the concept from watching Chronicles of Riddick... when the Lord Marshall would move about, he would leave behind a shadow of himself and it would slowly follow suit. Kind of like that.
I didn't realize my monitor was so fucked up and that green looked blue on the monitor... soo
I tried my hand at digitally sketching him out to sort of help get it down using a different medium. It's amazing what changes when you go from pencil to paint to digital, and vice versa. I tried simplifying some of the areas and show more undersuit as the bulkiness of the previous designs didn't really make sense in a 'practical' sense. Not that that has ever stopped me before..

Starting to use watercolor for the blue
I had always subconsciously decided that the creature's face wasn't a face but rather a helmet. I wanted to put a face to the person inside instead. The only reason I hadn't done it before is I was still very bad at drawing faces. Without any real art training, I just didn't know where to start. I had watched all sorts of youtube timelapses of art being made so I could see how people drew faces, proportions, limbs, anything that I had problems with. Beyond that, it was just tons of practice. Like I've said before - I was bad. I was SO bad. I couldn't get the orientation right. Before, when I had done paintings, I would trace a face of a photograph or do a very simple, non realistic face. Drawing it with fine pencils as opposed to blobs of color proved to be harder. I couldn't use a dab of slightly darker pale paint to illustrate the subtle face shadings. Not to mention, with no face to go off of, I had no idea where to start creating a face from scratch.

It just...didn't look right
I liked the idea of spiral earrings, a semi headband looking braid and flowing golden/blonde hair. To match the blue lighting of the suit, I imagined her with blue eyes. I drew her over and over, constantly looking at other people's work to find out just how they drew faces so effortlessly.
 Left to right. Sketch - Pen - Minor shading/lighting - Watercolor
To keep in line with the idea that I'd love for people to be able to look at what I've done with no training and realize that they can do it too if they just stick with it - I began trying to take note of how my pictures looked during my doodling stages. I would like to make a habit of going even further and taking pictures of how I just sort of begin with scribbling shapes on paper to represent things like shoulders, face, arms, hands, and chest to sort of begin with proportions.

I've started to narrow down how she looks. A little bit. I'm still learning every day how to art better. In every manner of the word. Lighting, proportions, limbs, facial structure/composition, shading. I don't need to be perfect at any of it, I just want to make some cool shit. I don't even know what I intend to do with the character if I ever really flesh out all the little details and get it right. I just know that I learned from the great artist, Aaron Beck, that Creative Procrastination is a surefire way to keep yourself engaged creatively and who knows, maybe you'll make something that is worthwhile.

So wait, what was the point of all this?

I just want everyone to keep in mind how I know how daunting some skills and talents can be. Just remember that I've learned everything I've done from trying it, asking about it and enjoying every step of the process and learning.

Oh, and every now and again, you're going to struggle to get pen to paper and create something. I solve this by playing drinking games in an elevator with your friends. It really clears the mind.

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