Sunday, August 17, 2008

That's a Good Question!

I was going to answer this question from the clever cartoonist known as Bitter Animator in the comments section where he asked it, but then I thought it might be lost there. I consider it a very fair question that deserves a proper (if longwinded) response:

"Mr.E, do you have to switch? I mean, it's not like you're not getting great results with your brush and ink. I guess it depends on working situations but, hey, if it ain't broke..."

Bitter - You know, it's funny you should ask that because I just had a similar conversation the other day with my buddy and fellow instructor, Johnny. I was telling him of my computer woes and frustration with accomplishing anything decent with Photoshop brushes, when he asked me the following: "Even if you were able to get satisfying results with the tools all operating to your liking, would you give up traditional media in favour of now working digitally?"

After thinking it over for a moment, I replied, "No, actually I wouldn't." Here are my reasons why not. First of all, even if I was able to create the "perfect brush", suitable for digital inking and painting, it would still require constantly resizing and tweaking the settings of opacity, flow, etc. As it is, I can so easily get the line I want through the simple adjusting of pressure and angle on my sable brush. Also, wielding a real brush on a real sheet of illustration board, I can swivel the board to any comfortable angle in order to more easily pull a nice controlled ink line. I can't do that with the Wacom tablet, and would therefore require an expensive Cintiq to have that ease of mobility. As it is right now, I feel very constrained using the stylus and tablet.

Also, the fact is I just love the intuitive feel of working with real media. There is something very satisfying about choosing the preferred surface on which to work, and feeling the tooth of that surface as I apply the brush with ink or paint. Likewise, there is the intuitive feel of knowing just how much to dilute the paint or not, depending on the desired effect, and then knowing instinctively just how much I can rework the paint on the board before it dries. Even aside from the tactile nature of real media, there is that appeal to the sense of smell, too. Fact is, I just love the smell of ink as I work. I've known that smell since starting to ink back when I was about 12 years old, and I'd miss it if I only inked digitally.

Finally, there's the very basic reason that, when creating art digitally, there will never be such a thing as an original piece of art. Anything tangible to hold in your hands or frame on the wall will always have to be a printout. Frankly I love to look at my original artwork, where I can study it and remember how I achieved a certain effect by observing and analyzing the brush work.

So why do I want to be able to learn how to ink and paint digitally? Perhaps somewhat as a matter of satisfying my artistic ego, knowing that I can keep pace with the computer age. Mostly, though, I think it's out of a fear that if I can't produce work digitally, that I become less marketable, as I'm finding that some clients now insist on having digital art. I once talked to an art rep who told me that he won't even look at anything inked traditionally anymore, as he wants everything in a vector line for reproduction at any size. So there I can't even win with Photoshop, as I'd need to learn that wretched Illustrator program with the insidious bezier curves/ pen tool.

Personally, I find the digital trend highly disturbing and would rather continue to coast along with my traditional skills honed over a lifetime of working this way. At most, I would rather utilize the computer only in a hybrid fashion, combining my hand inked drawings with the ease of adding flat areas of colour with Photoshop. A little bit of rendering is okay, though I prefer not to overdo the adding of shadows and highlights, lest the image start to look more like plastic than flesh and cloth. This image of the bear is pretty much the way I've used Photoshop in the past, and I will probably continue to use it simply as a colouring tool in most of my artwork, although I would still like to see what I could accomplish if I can ever get a handle on this digital painting stuff.


Amir Avni said...

The digital age needs a caveman.

"when creating art digitally, there will never be such a thing as an original piece of art. Anything tangible to hold in your hands or frame on the wall will always have to be a printout"

Very true. There's something very alive about a finished original piece of art. One of the most lively feeling I've experience recently was going through the d'Orsay museum in France. The artwork is alive. I never get that from digitally created artwork.

"Personally, I find the digital trend highly disturbing"

Same here. currently I think digital painting and CGI lacks warmth. They create more of a feeling of awe when done well, which is not always the desired goal. Traditional media feels like its rooted deeper inside human emotions, it speaks directly to the soul.
That is not to say that some CG animated films aren't exciting, but for me it always takes some time to accept the visuals, before I can get into the story and feel for the characters.

In my "Space Race" post I discussed what I think are the best uses of CG and Classical animation.

Bitter Animator said...

Thanks for the answer on this. I agree with much of what you're saying. Whatever about Photoshop, the whole Illustrator points and beziers thing just baffles me. That's not drawing, it's mathematics.

And when people want vector artwork so they can scale it, does that mean they only take flat colouring too? I worked on something years ago that had a nice marker look to it. When it came out on dvd, the artwork was a poor vector approximation with flat neon colouring. It was quite hideous.

With this technology, do we now not have high resolution scanners or cameras that mean we can still create art the old fashioned way and also get a digital version of astounding resolution?

I do feel there is room for both (I've seen some lovely work online created all-digital) but it seems rare to me that digital equivalents can actually achieve better results than doing it the way that, you know, works.

The process as you describe it shows just how much better it is doing it the way you have been for years. As you say, it is a skill you have been perfecting your entire life.

I didn't have much of a choice to go digital. There's not much call for hand drawn animation these days. But the switch happened because it's cheaper and quicker for producers, not because it could actually get better results. Often, getting good results involves fighting the programmes.

A whole different thing to direct brain to hand to pencil communication.

What's frightening is how quickly people get used to it. People do actually lose their traditional skills. I guess it's a 'use it or lose it' thing.

I do sometimes wish, however, that pens and ink had an undo button.

Luke Farookhi said...

I agree with all of the points made here. The connection between the artist and the work is somewhat broken when a computer enters the equation.

A side note not directly related to this discussion, but part of the charm, for me, of a piece by Bridget Riley or M. C. Escher relying on some sort of pattern or geometry is that it is entirely hand-crafted. There is something in knowing the precision required in the piece's creation which adds to the enjoyment and appreciation of the piece itself, even though much of these artists' work could also be created on computer.

It's nice for the artist to get his or her hands dirty and to have something physically tangible as a result, with a texture and character to it that no other object has, as opposed to a flat printout.

Eric "Spillz" Angelillo said...

Funny that you mention that you'd need a Cintiq to rotate your work, cuz ive been using one at work for a few weeks now, and it doesnt actually rotate the way youd want. Im actually more comfortable shifting my Graphire at home. The Cintiq rotates a bit, but not nearly enough, and only if its at the end of the desk, which means you need the keyboard to be out of the way (inconvenient when hot-keying through tools). Toon Boom software comes with a function that when you hold the space bar, you can rotate the digital canvas. It's SO handy, I wish Flash and Photoshop had it.

Your position on the subject seems fine. Stick to whatever your best at, but dont keep yourself from doing other things. I must admit, what annoys me the most about digital work is the lack of originals, but just as you grew up with ink, I (and surely many more of my generation) grew up with Photoshop and a Wacom. Though ive tried many times, I think i have as much trouble if not more with traditional paint than you do with digital. I am getting better and hand-inking though!

AmyS said...

I am gradually reading my way through your blog, leaning and enjoying! I find this post interesting and insightful. I’m afraid I find digital coloring to be as flat and lifeless as any other art done digitally. For example, I found your rough pencil sketch of BB King to be delighful, while the finished art seems soulless, due to the coloring. There is no mistaking digital coloring, even when it is masterfully done (I am thinking of Aaron Blaise here). I can understand the appeal to the artist of working digitally, but I see no appeal in it for the viewer.