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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I Like to Draw


Drawing seems like something that is just built in. When I want to visualize something, I just put pen to paper. But why do I like to do that?

It exercises my creativity, for one. And my right brain needs a bit of exercise and use after doing programming all day. But it's more than just exercise I seek.

I also seek to bring what I see inside into some kind of reality. I like the interrelationships between the spaces I see. Positive space and negative space. Three-dimensional space. Containment. Folding. Entrances and exits. Liquid spaces.

All these qualities are enfolded into a single unit: the illustration. I feel there should always be more than one way to look at it because is multi-sided.

It Starts With Media

I have been drawing for quite a while. But I think I learned most of my craft in early grade school. When I went into High School, as a freshman, a friend and I took an advanced Art class and this is when I started drawing ever more ambitious projects. Mostly I worked in felt pen, which suits me even now, since I have been using Sharpie on thick white paper as my main medium. Or at least my main traditional medium.

But I also liked to use pencil. I bought Faber Castell Ebony pencils and thick, rough paper.

It's really this medium that got me started on Painter in 1990. I loved the rough grain and the progressive overlay of strokes to create shading. Shading brought out the spaces I could see in my mind, and made then into real objects.

My main medium has become something quite different now. It is Painter.

Disrupting the Art World?

What happened when Painter was introduced? Well, there were a lot of artists who didn't need to go to art stores any more. This was a form of disruption, I think. But I doubt that art stores will go away any time soon. The traditional media are still quite compelling. And they are probably the quickest way to learn.

Yet disruption is like chopping off the golden tip of the pyramid and walking away with it. The old one crumbles slowly, having lost its luster, and the new one becomes a smaller, faster, better version of the old. And because it's mobile, you can have it in your hand rather than having to go out to the old brick-and-mortar to see the pyramid. In the digital world, this is like digital delivery: you can read the book on your iPad without having to go to the library or bookstore. The advantages are easy to see.

In the same way, Painter has all but eliminated my need to buy pencils. The Ebony pencils I own are ten years old at least.

The Mechanics of Replacing Traditional Styles

I learned to shade in Painter, using one of my first creations, the Just Add Water brush. I would apply colored pencils, which gave me a varied color with grain. In a shade that wasn't too primary. And then I would use the Just Add Water brush and smooth it out into a cohesive shading, like watercolors.

Recently I have taken to a woodcut-like shading technique. It's a bit like engraving. Usually black lines delineate the subject and the shading is applied in a manner similar to the way a linoleum-cutting tool works.

In Painter, I sculpt each of these shading lines separately, often going over the edge of it five or six times.

Drawing From the Mind

But the main thing for me is the form I am drawing, like a two-dimensional sculpture. Many times a drawing is really a projection of a three-dimensional concept onto a two-dimensional surface.

To enhance the rendering, I sometimes employ a "watercolor overlay", which is a layer with a Gel composite method. I can draw into this layer to add color to the illustration. I can use Just Add Water to soften the edges of a color change.

While traditional media are still the easiest way to learn illustration, Painter may be the easiest way to experiment with different media.

Most of my recent illustrations concentrate on three-dimensional relationships. The letter A with some depth, but hand-wrought. Interconnected boxes. A pyramid with an eye in it. Some of these are new versions of my older sketches. But all of them feature some overlap, folding, interlock, or holes.

Take for example this piece. Two S-shaped pieces of rebar interconnect, showing a very small weaving. There is over and under, interlock, shadows, and also shading. It's all tied up in the way I think about things, and what I find interesting.

I draw because I want to show what I'm thinking about. I want to freeze the thoughts and make then concrete.

And the way the illustration interweaves with my text is also quite important. Sometimes the drawing gives me ideas, and even defines the discourse.

Sometimes drawing can be like solving a puzzle to me. I must figure out where the pieces have to go before I can compose them properly. Painter saves me because in the digital world I can draw construction lines and totally erase them afterwards. Or I can draw crudely and then rework edges to make them straighter after the fact. The digital medium is extremely malleable. It has changed the habits of artists since Painter came out. Features like mixed media all in one package, undo, and perfect erase make the digital medium the ideal place to try stuff out for your next illustration.

Inspiring Sources

When I draw, it is therapeutic to me. And the good thing is to produce something you can look at.

The style I choose is a bit like engraving, as I have mentioned. These are inspired in part by the Flora Danica prints and illuminated manuscripts.

Chet Phillips, who has inspired me by his creativity, also likes to use the scratchboard-watercolor style. His imagination in creating characters seems to be unparalleled. And much like in the old work of Fractal Design, old items are repurposed in style and substance to make new fantasies of illustration and storytelling. He even uses magically-transformed packaging to build his works.

More Than an Illustration

The whole package, extending illustration into more than just pictures, is also why I like to write. While an illustration can leave me hanging by a thread when I look at it, a full-blown explanation can cinch the knot tight around your subject and create an artful connection to the reader's mind.


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