Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Advice and the drawings that sucked

I've been rummaging through the archives again, because who doesn't love to see how bad their favourite artists used to be? I know I do. 

If there was some advice I could give to aspiring artists and my fellow acquaintances with drawing as a hobby, it would have to be this: 

Skip the smooth shading. 

I always see people insisting on using fingers, q-tips, tortillions and whatother blending contraptions, and it just never looks that good. I'm sure there's a place and time for carefully smudging your shading for that perfectly smooth blended look, but this isn't it. Like many others, many years ago, I made the mistake of thinking that if I just blended the shading a tiny bit, that would somehow improve my art immensely. I've stopped doing that. It made me focus on the wrong things completely.

Most of those who are familiar with my style would know it's pretty sketchy. Instead of hiding the strokes of the pencil, I embrace them now. Before, I thought blending would make my pencil drawings more realistic. But that does not equate to being better. On the contrary, I believe the character and style of the visible work that are pencil marks are a lot more valuable to my art than any benefit of realism. The natural grain of rough paper is beautiful, and blending often destroys that. 

I realized at some point that perfect blending wasn't important in developing my game as an artist. When I was supposed to be thinking about how whatever I was drawing existed in three dimensions and how that affected things, all I was working on was that smooth transition between greys. Consequently, my drawings looked flatter than ever.

Using fingers to smudge graphite is especially bad, because of the oils and grease left on the paper surface. I would recommend against that in 95% of cases. Sometimes, if I don't have access to harder pencils (Like H2 or H3 (Which I never use anyway)), I might carefully smear using my finger to make the graphite more even, and push back the grain of the paper. But I don't recommend it. I try to keep my fingers and hands as far away from my drawing as possible. 

Another drawback of blending is that it makes erasing much more difficult. To be honest, I rarely get things right on the first try, and quality erasers and also kneadable erasers are important tools whenever I'm doing any serious pencilwork. 

Case in point. Very flat. I wasn't forcing myself to think of heads as three dimensional objects. It's bad for a lot of reasons. One time, I showed this one and a couple other drawings to a neighbour, and he said all the people in my drawings looked ill, or old. Saggy. I hadn't really ever thought about that. After that, I had to force myself to draw healthy faces, which was a challenge... All the wrinkles and extra skin were a way to compensate for me not actually being that great at drawing.

This one is decent for its time. I think I was about 13 years old when I drew these. But it's clear that I should have stuck to drawing from reference, as I seemed to have no idea of how faces actually look.

This last one is some sort of caricature. I'm really not digging the thick and uncertain lines. There's a lot of chicken-scratchy lines. There's really nothing good about this one. It goes to show, you need to learn how to draw regular faces before you can begin playing with caricatures. I had no idea how I was supposed to draw the neck, and I think I must have said "fuck it" before I drew it in, because it's really fucked up.

I like the wart I drew on the side of his neck, that was a nice touch! It just sits there, on the edge. It's a hairy one. Hairs on end. His ear kinda reminds me of chicken-wings.

Anyway, I put a halt to my obsession with blended shadows. You should be able to draw smooth shadows without using any tools except a pencil. After that, you can start using shortcuts like tortillions or whatever other blending paraphernalia you fancy. It should be regarded as an advanced technique, and it's definitely not right for every drawing. If you use it too much, your drawing will look dull, and there won't be enough hard edges to focus your eyes on.

Old drawings! Fun..! I keep this old and shitty sketchbook on a shelf on the desk, and I bite people who try to look at the drawings. I'm ashamed that I was once this bad. But here are the drawings anyway. At least three of them.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ugh and self-portrait

'Ugh' is onomatopoeic and it means 'Damn, I've got a headache again'. Also 'I need to get out more' and 'I'm lonely'. By that last one I don't mean I have no friends, no, my loneliness is more acute. I haven't met anyone for many days, and I'm going insane. 

Sure, I've bumped into some people I know. And I work at a cafe, where obviously I speak and interact with people all the time. But I haven't hung out with anyone. I haven't sat down for a coffee with a friend in almost a week. And I think coffee-time is more vital to me than, like, food. 

Anecdote: You can sort of tell what kind of day I'm having by what socks I'm wearing. On days that I think will be good, I wear nice socks, and on non-eventful days, I wear bad socks. I acknowledge that this may sound a bit crazy. But if I know I'm going to be meeting people and going somewhere, in the morning I would put on socks with argyle patterns, or coloured socks. These are my good socks. The day before yesterday, I faced a problem. 

I had ran out of bad socks. I had six or seven clean pairs of good socks, but no bad ones. And I was going to work. I knew I wasn't doing anything that day, and there would be no reason to wear good socks (Or nice clothes, for that matter! It's not crazy, I swear...). So I had to waste a pair of good socks on a bad day. That's so wrong. I get this little kick in the morning when I'm putting on my good socks, like, 'Yes, today's going to be a good day, I know it!', but it wasn't. I was going to work, and after that, I'd go home again. There was nothing special about that day. They were clearly the wrong socks.

There's a bigger problem, though. About half my socks are good, and the other half are bad socks (Meaning; black, regular socks). At a previous point in my life, I might have had the problem of having only bad socks left to wear on a good day. Now it was the other way around. This was like a wake-up call. My life has become boring, and shitty. 

Or maybe that's just my headache talking. I feel like I've had it for a week now. My neck is tense and I've been sleeping poorly. I think my body is having an averse reaction to stress. In my mind, I don't feel the pressure, but my body is suffering. Evidently, the stress doesn't go to my head, it goes to my neck, locking it up into a tense, headache infusing mess.

I try to do relaxing things, but I just can't loosen up. I took a long bike ride after work today. Bike rides in twilight are awesome, but it didn't help. I went to a quiet and dark pub, and drank one beer. It tasted like heaven, and the pub, which I hadn't been to before, was a really nice place. I wanted to fall asleep there in that plush chair, but that would've been even more crazy than my sock problem. When I finally had finished my one beer and walked out, all that relaxation was washed away. What can I possibly do to relax more and fix this awful headache? In my experience, painkillers like Ibuprofen don't really help much. 

Ugh. There's so much UGH in this entry. 

Anyway, I drew this self portrait the other night.

It's based on reference from a photo I had taken by the window, like I talked about in my last entry. The lighting conditions are nice for taking, well, nice portraits. But I have to admit, it's a little bit on the flat side when it comes to drawing. One might prefer some source of harder light, which would make for more interesting shading.

 I should invest in bigger paper. This is on A5, and as you can see, I didn't really fit. And it's not super practical to draw any smaller, either, even though I do generally prefer small over large when it comes to drawing. You would think that drawing is super relaxing, but here I am, picture finished, but with a head still aching.

... About my socks. I'm not crazy. I swear. It didn't even bother me once I had gone to sleep ._.

Monday, April 13, 2015

elaborate selfies

Photography, for me, has so far mostly been a thrilling struggle to do the most with what I've got. A pretty basic DSLR, with a stock 18-55mm lens. It restricts you in a lot of ways, but it's not that bad. I've always found the creative problem-solving to be just as interesting as photography by itself. I mean, if I had a bunch of expensive equipment, then it would be just photography. Probably better, but a lot less interesting.

I don't have a the space of a studio, I don't have umbrella lights, and I don't have huge photography backdrops. With those things, it's pretty easy to take decent portraits. Without them, you either have to be lucky and find the perfect spot with the perfect lighting, or get creative.

I guess nothing would qualify these as good or great portraits, but I really like them. And it's a pretty simple setup that anyone can do.

 I especially like this last one. The rest weren't super serious.

They were all taken in my kitchen, by my window. I made reflective panels out of cardboard, glue, and sheets of tinfoil. I realize, like a remote shutter, reflectors aren't super expensive, but it's just a lot more interesting to make things yourself.

Anyway, without the reflectors, my face would just be dark. They softly throw back the natural light coming in from the window. While rudimentary, they're absolutely necessary. I also used a box light. Well, technically, it's a plastic box, with a lamp. I had it shining onto the ceiling, not onto my face. The ceiling is white, so it's basically just another reflective surface. Yes, it made a difference. Photos did look alright without it, though.

A schematic depiction of loneliness. Red: Camera. Pink: Reflectors. White box: Box light.

Here's a sort of schematic view of the situation. While I'm not sure it needed to be explained like this, drawing this was sorta nice.

Taking the photos wasn't all that special in itself, but constructing the box light, the reflectors, making sure they don't turn out flimsy and bad, also making the DIY shutter, and figuring out how to work with the limited space in my kitchen made it fun. All that work made it really satisfying to see how the photos turned out in the end. It was a really elaborate way to take some pretty basic selfies! Good project!

I feel like it would be somehow very pretentious of me to pass this off as a tutorial of some sort, even though I guess it could be interpreted as one. If you want to take photos with the exact same lighting setup as I have then go for it, everyone has windows and tinfoil at home, right? But this isn't such a complex thing that it really needs a tutorial.

Anecdotally, I'm very opposed to tutorials like "How to draw x"-videos. They give off this very alienating elitist attitude. If I had the power, I would rename every How to draw x-video to One way to draw x, because that's all it is. If you want to develop as an artist by watching videos, I suggest you watch speedpaintings (Timelapses.) and carefully make observations on different digital drawing techniques (Layers, brushes, how someone might use the lasso tool in a way you never thought of. Things like that) or things like what colours artists use, instead of watching tedious videos that tell you to "Start by drawing a circle. This will be the head". You don't have to do that at all, and it's definitely not the right way for everyone.

For anyone who's not crazy and doesn't have lots of free time to waste, I'd just recommend a selfie stick.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

skvirrelface and the blogging heydays

I was scrubbing through the archives because I wasn't feeling like drawing anything, and then I came across this. 

The file is titled skvirrelface.png, which of course makes no sense at all. But I really like it! It's from 2013 and I remember how frustrated I was that day, because, well, that happened. It's just a bad drawing. But now I like it, it's got a lot of character. You can tell I was sort of polishing a turd with that one eye that I rendered in, hopelessly trying to make something out of it.

I checked with my old blog entries to see if I had uploaded this, but of course I had not. I really was more serious back then. At that time, this was just a failure, but now, perhaps, I've grown less critical of my art, for better and for worse. My blog was also a bit different back then, and there was no real shortage of things to write about.

I think my peak blogging days came in early 2013. Not a lot happened on the blog in late 2013, and 2014 was pretty quiet, but early 2013, man, that was what it was about. Just looking back at the titles of those entries makes me all nostalgic. Reading back. The art leaned more toward dedicated work. While the texts weren't maybe written as well as I remember, there's real inspiration behind them. I'm not sure if that carries over to you as readers, but I remember it fondly as a writer. I had a streak of writing about subjects that I felt were really interesting.

There are some pretty cliche entries to be found, but the important thing wasn't that they were good, it was that I thought they were good. I was confident as a writer, and stayed up late drawing. My readership numbers also peaked in March, 2013. I can't say for sure if I had more readers because I was writing so well, or I wrote better because I was motivated by the support. A bit of both, probably. And I wrote more often, too. About 6 entries per month.

In the later half of 2013, I wrote a lot less because I was occupied with other things. Which was a mistake. I should definitely have put some more time in the blog, in retrospect. The readership bubble burst pretty quickly as the flow of blog posts declined to a monthly basis. And by the time that happens, it's hard to pick a blog up again, because your readers are gone! Like I've established before in various contexts, consistency generally seems to be paramount to success.