Lately, I’ve been on a drawing kick. With all the graphic design & web design I do, this is my creative release and a way to keep my skills up. I post my work on various sites and forums around the web and I get lots of feedback from around the community. I spent most of my life drawing with pencil on paper, then I moved into inks & markers, then airbrush & watercolors, then acrylics and oils. This process took me 20+ years – a majority of which was spent in frustration because I couldn’t get the mediums to do what I wanted. As time passes, you get better, you learn tricks that make your process easier. All along the way you are learning in very small steps about composition, lighting (which has been the hardest for me), color theory, line & value and so on. The point is, the skill set that I have has taken most of my life to develop and I am still learning.
I was first introduced to Photoshop 3.1 when I was in high school and the local police department asked me to create a black and white line drawing of their badge. I struggled on my own in class to learn how to do the most basic tasks in this new (to me) piece of software. I just thought it was cool to have a drawing of mine on a computer screen. After all, my home computer was only used to play Duke Nukem & Wolfenstein against my friends on a 28.8k modem. When I was in college in the late 90’s, I began toying around with using digitally enhanced drawings as projects for school.
Most of my teachers at the time were quite a bit older and had little or no interest in using computers for art. As far as they were concerned, computers were for fractals and crappy movie special effects. I started to notice a strange type of profiling going on and I was unsure if it was warranted or not. None of my classmates had any interest in learning Photoshop or working with tablets either which confused me to no end. I had a teacher (who is currently the head of the art department at that school) say to me, “You are one of the most talented students that I’ve ever taught, why do you waste you time with that computer garbage, I’ve seen how you can draw… you are capable of being so much more!”. He then went on to tell me that he would no longer accept anything from me that wasn’t done by hand.
I remember looking at those instructors and thinking they were crazy to assume that Photoshop was just a fad and we needed to stick to what worked for them through their entire careers. Were they right? yes and no. Tablets and keyboards would never work for THEM and we all knew that. When you have spent your entire life learning how to do things a certain way then everything changes, I can see how they would resist vigorously. I, on the other hand was eager to adopt and learn new techniques and mediums, after all, that is why I was in art school in the first place. I fought them. I continued to scan in and alter my hand drawn and painted images and turn in prints as assignments. I spent many late nights at the 24 hour Kinkos renting a design station and running off 11″ x 14″ prints on the Tectonic Phaser 7400 printer which was the pinnacle of technology at the time. I knew all the employees by name and ran up my parents credit card bills to no end.
Nearing the end of my senior year all of the teachers in the art department who had been receiving prints from me as final projects had a meeting to decide if they were going to collectively fail me for cheating or if they would accept my projects as actual artwork. I remember feeling sad that this meeting was even taking place – after all, the thing that us artists in general need at the base of our souls is acceptance and if possible, admiration from the people who view our work. I felt like my artwork wasn’t good enough to pass their ‘sniff test’ and that I had failed to impress them. At the same time, I wasn’t worried… I had a ‘fuck them’ kind of attitude because when I took a scanned figure drawing and hit ‘ctrl-m’ and messed with the curves, I could make it look completely different with a few clicks and that would spur another idea. If I used the magic wand to select the parchment texture in the background of a newsprint charcoal drawing then applied a gradient, I got this cool looking new thing that I couldn’t have done with charcoal alone. This was my new baby and if they didn’t like it yet, then I’d keep working on it and I’d get better. Ultimately, they decided they would accept my computer drawing as art and not fail me.
Since then I have continued to merge drawing and Photoshop, the biggest step for me came when I used a Wacom Cintiq 21UX for the first time. This in my opinion was a career changing step for me. Now I could do my sketch, inks and color all in Photoshop on layers. I never had to worry about spilling water on a drawing or that blob of ink that landed right on the girls face. This was a turning point for me. But still, even now, I spend a few hours sketching then cross hatching an entire drawing only to have someone comment like user carlottArt below:
Its as if they saw it and it had a positive effect on them, they loved it. They saw the beauty and light, the shadows and the complex hatching and said ‘wow, that is really well done’. Then suddenly they noticed that some of the hatching was colored and thought, ‘holy crap, he tricked me, I almost thought that was drawn by someone with skill, but it was just a computer drawing’.
I was chatting in comments with a fellow painter on DA about six months ago. We were talking about our favorite artists, and places we find inspiration. He was looking at one of my digital magazine cover paintings and he told me that he loved the way I used cool colors to set an object back in the composition. As time progressed he was looking through the rest of my pieces and he realized that some of them were digital paintings. Then the tone of the conversation changed and I think he actually got mad at me. He accused me of ‘posing’ as a painter. “I don’t consider any of you computer people REAL painters” is how he concluded his critique. Its as if he thought that I just create a new PSD then hit the ‘paint a picture’ button and its done.
I went through all the same steps that you did when I was learning. I can still use a paintbrush, an airbrush and a pencil very effectively. I choose to use a new medium because it makes my life easier, It opens up more doors for me and it allows me to push past the boundaries of more traditional media in a way that traditional painters cant… period.
Years ago, illustrators who wanted to work for big companies had to have multiple hand bound portfolios filled with ‘tear sheets’ which were pages torn from magazines and books with their illustrations. They were expensive to produce, and impossible to replace. Many Artists would lose them in the mail, or they would get damaged and sometimes not returned at all. Now, some of these same artists have websites. I don’t see them complaining about how their digital portfolio has enhanced their careers and improved their reach.
As artists and creators, we should be open to new mediums and embrace them. Lets not act like the old man who says that all music today is crap, let’s see the beauty and learn to appreciate the skills that an artist uses to make it beautiful. Below are two drawings that I’ve done, the one on the left I did using Photoshop and my beloved Cintiq. The one on the right was done with colored pencil on Bristol board. Can you truly say that one of them is complete garbage?