Sunday, February 24, 2008

There is another way...

Among caricaturists, there is ENDLESS debate and controversy about what should be emphasized, whether quality or speed. And there's much noble talk about balancing these two elements. On one extreme is the artist who demands a "studio" type piece on each drawing, and seems to take FOREVER on each drawing. The other extreme is the FAST artist, who will draw very similar-looking faces over and over, very quickly, while being a real salesman and, even, a clown/comedian or something, entertaining and laughing and grinning. I suppose the second type is closest to what is expected of the contemporary caricaturist, but, boy, you're starting to move a long way from ART in that scenario. Then again, some interesting things happen in those pressure-packed, crazy, spontaneity-filled sessions of caricaturing at retail stands and at private gigs. The IDEAL caricaturist is the one who can draw great, and quickly. That ideal is, simply, phenomenally difficult, and rare.
...In nearly four years in Florida, I do think I've fully explored the normal approaches to caricaturing.
...But there is another way to approach retail caricaturing, I believe, and for aspiring artists, it may the best. Here it is: retail caricaturing should emphasize neither speed nor quality, but, instead, LEARNING. That is what I'm doing now. Of course, I want to maintain a reasonable speed, and I want the finished work to be neat and fair. But, before that, I can learn.
Here's how it works. You go into a shift at a retail stand. You set-up, and there is no one to draw. Well, sit down and begin sketching. Maybe bring reference material. Sketch, sketch, sketch. And then color, color, color. Now, since you're at a caricature stand, the professional thing to do is to sketch and color cartoon-like material. But what am I doing, exactly, with all this sketching? I'm CREATING. I'm exploring. I'm thinking of a certain character design, maybe a flowing movement THIS WAY, or THAT way, and I grab my pencil and I sketch it out. Wow, that's cool, let's try it like this. ...What you're doing is flexing your creative mind, and your VISUALIZATION. Try to SEE the image on the paper before you draw it.
But what about customers? Here's what I do these days. I'm happy! I look at the model and I visualize his/her face in a "cool" way or angle. What cool features does he have? What does he want to be? Basketball player? Well do you want to be dribbling, or shooting, or dunking? Dribbling? OK. ... So I draw the face, using marker-only at first, then using a pencil to guide me for a lot of it. And then the body. Hmm, I've done dribbling basketball players before, but maybe I can come-up with something NEW. I look at the model. Is he skinny or fat? Or muscular? Or is the model a pretty female teenager? Are her breasts small? Are her arms long? Or is she a little chubby girl? ...You see, instead of drawing the same little body over and over, which I'm guessing is probably kinda lame anyway (be honest!) you let the WHOLE person guide your creativity, and you come-up with something original and cool. (You must use a pencil for this type of creativity, by the way, before inking.)
And you can extend this to the use of watercolors (if you're at a location that uses watercolors) or whatever coloring method you use. Experiment, mix creatively. Although, to be honest, most of the experimenting with color should be done at another time. But what CAN be done is OBSERVATION. Use your color knowledge to match the model's hues/complexion. I mean, just yesterday, my buddy Brian told me he uses a madder (pinkish) color to mix with his naples yellow-red, and when I tried it, WOW, it was SO much better than the red I was using (for many faces).
My roommate Wayne had told me that when he worked with our friend Joe (Bluhm), that Joe told him to "make every picture different." And that was the insight which got Wayne on the way to phenomenal improvement. Caricaturing ended-up not being Wayne's "thing," but my point is his artistic improvement, which was crazy-good.
And that's the whole point. That's the "other way" to approach caricaturing. You see, caricaturing is a TEMPORARY activity for most of its artists. They will either move on to other art and be successful, or they'll leave professional art behind altogether. I'm speaking to those who want to "move up" to other art and be successful. That's what I'm trying to do myself. Now, that "other" art may be, simply, studio caricaturing, or it may be illustration, or fine art oils, or even sculpture. Whatever. The main thing is that you use your many hours "in the trenches" as a valuable tool in increasing your artistic skill. It IS possible. Anyway, it's a lot more satisfying than cranking out the same crap over and over. And you can still make a sustainable living.
Good luck!

[One last note: For those who wish to continue caricaturing in retail and at gigs, I recommend the same approach. But you MUST be able to "change gears" and go REALLY fast. There's really no other way. If there's a line of people, you MUST knock 'em down quickly. That's how the game is played. And that's fine. It's intense, it's crazy, it's like an athletic competition. BUT, I plead with you, avoid this: DO NOT become one of those guys who apparently doesn't care. That's the only way I can describe it, in a sense. This is the guy who never improves, and cranks out pic after pic, and it's all crap, really, and it all looks the same, and the guy often will make lots of dollars. And the caricaturing companies "love" this guy, simply because he makes a lot of money for them. They really do WISH he drew better quality stuff, but they have only so much control. (Heck, if I owned such a company, I'm sure I'd feel a similar way.) But, unfortunately, it comes down to paying the bills, and this artist will indeed be rewarded. He has reached a certain point, where the average customer is generally satisfied with the experience. But this is NOT art. It is an assembly line, it is entertainment and salesmanship. These artists talk and sing and dance and joke and, sadly, never improve and do not respect art. They respect their sales numbers. ...Sales numbers. Gosh, that's all I ever hear anymore! I did THIS much here. THAT much there. I BEAT so-and-so, hooray! ...It's low-brow competition among friends, but it's not art. ...In general, I'd say this is a Crap Stage we all go through, but you MUST move beyond it. I'm trying, myself, to move beyond it. And while fast crap may pay the bills, you satisfy only your wallet, while the other artists furtively snicker, and while the artist inside of you regrets ever giving you talent. How can that be satisfying? You may as well be selling used cars.]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hindquarters and Tail

Interesting comparison to last night. I've mostly finished the hindquarters and tail. The hues are coming along nicely, and also the fur texture. Not perfect, but satisfactory for a first try. Wow, I learned a lot today. Just gotta get in there and DO IT, like with anything else. I'm slowly speeding-up. (Does that make sense?)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Learning Fur...

Rear leg in-progress.

Beginning the Underpainting

Beginning the cheetah mural underpainting. The cheetah ALONE is 21" X 30", by the way. The mural as a whole is 5' X 3'. Kinda small, but if I were making it a complete thing, I'd either expand it some and/or add a trompe l'oeil window area of stone or brick or something.
...Whew! I have such little experience painting, and have never done wildlife, except for that one little dolphin last year. Anyone can see how I'm slowly, slowly doing a little bit at a time here... First the careful drawing, then stopping, worrying, playing video games and weeping for a week, then painting the first layer of spots, and more gnashing of teeth and roaming the Internet for hours and hours, and then *suddenly* at 2 AM I jump up and throw on much of the underpainting values, and snap a pic. I'm hilarious. ...Also, note that the flash really "warmed up" the hues here. They are NOT that orange! It's just yellow ochre and burnt umber and a little mars black. ...

Anyway, just the beginning! Hours and hours of layers and layers of fur and the proper hues and final details. Wish me luck! (Oh, and then the background, lol.)

Just a couple of teenagers I drew this week

No big deal here. I just happened to take a couple of pics for some reason. It's funny to see all the little mistakes, in hindsight. But the girl does indeed have a broad, masculine nose bridge. Both families went crazy for the drawings of their respective teenage children. That's always a strange feeling. I see nothing but mistakes and a struggle for likeness, and a little beauty.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mystery Comment

Hmm, so I got this comment on my birthday post. (See February 8 post.) It's interesting. It appeals to my suspicion that I, quite frankly, SUCK as an artist:

"Perhaps you have talent, I don't know, but I do know this: it'd be hard to come to that conclusion based on the drawings you have posted on your blog. Your stuff looks pretty amateurish to me, amateurish, uninspired and insipid -- if you're unsuccessful, maybe that's more of the reason why. Check out some drawings by the old masters and note the differences 'tween your stuff and there's. Perhaps you should quit lamenting about how talentedly unsuccessful you are, open your eyes and realize your stuff is pretty crappry (there's no life in your stuff...a faithful copy -- with no interpretation, no interesting linework, nothing -- of a photo, I mean come insipid can you get?) and do something to change that. Just my two cents.... "

....Anyone know who left this? It was signed "Anonymous." I thought, at first, it was some random person throwing-out grief for their own satisfaction. But on second glance, it's pretty clear that this is a fellow artist. I'm guessing the artist is either someone I know at CC, or someone from the NCN. I did a search on the NCN Forum for some of the words used, like INSIPID and AMATEURISH. I've narrowed it down to three people. Of course, I'm probably way-off, but who knows? It's all very interesting. It's like a crime I'm trying to solve. Funny. Nobody ever comments on my art, really, so to have this mystery comment appear, well, it's strange and disconcerting. I'd LOVE to have help with my art, but I'm not sure if ANONYMOUS is more concerned with helping me or with burying his/her own inadequacies in slights of others. Sad and weird is how I feel in the end.

It's been a while...

Well I haven't posted LIVE, finished work in a while. (Preferring instead to document my rough drafts and experiments.) ... Some may know the guy here (Jimmy, new CC artist). ...I shoulda taken a photo of the little boy. I can tell you the mother said, "It looks just like him, OMG!" I wasn't that enthusiastic, but I liked the cute factor. The boy was cute. I captured that, in my opinion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Fairy Rough Drafts

...I created two more fairy designs tonight, working, again, only from my imagination. This is fun. I wasn't sure I could "design" all on my own (and make it look half-decent) but I think I can do it now. I like my progress so far. ... I mean, I've been able to "draw what I see" for a few years now, but to CREATE, that's new for me. I REALLY enjoy it, I'm realizing. (And there was nothing else to do at Sports tonight.... boo-hoo...)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent

Again: "Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent." That's a quote from Calvin Coolidge, of all people. I read it today (Feb. 8, my BIRTHDAY), and it stunned me. You see, I've always thought of myself as talented, and, you know, a special human being. I've been tested as having a really high I.Q., and I taught myself to draw as an adult, and now work as a professional artist, of sorts. And I have this wild, roaming streak which has led me on lots of travels and lots of jobs, meeting lots of people, lots of women, etc... "I'm unique!" I keep thinking... But I've had this "underachiever" sensibility, thinking it cool, or, I don't know... I just have never really wanted to "try too hard" at anything. ...Perhaps fearing failure? And in recent years I've gained weight, and now look like a real bum (and I feel that way, too). But today I read that quote. It was in a book about exercise, actually. I bought the book yesterday, and started reading it today, with the intention of "getting in shape again." (I once was quite the athlete.) Well, really, I simply want to be able to spend a long day painting murals without feeling horrible, or go sailing for a week and not kill myself from exhaustion. These are tough things, and they're what I want to do, and so I REALLY must improve my physical condition. ...But back to that quote. Man, those words sting me. Which is a good thing. I mean, ME, COMMON? No WAY, dude! But there it is. I AM common. I agree with that quote. ...
I indeed have talent, and I indeed am not successful. Heck, I couldn't pay rent this month. How sad is THAT? Ouch. What a bum! I only made $28,000 last year. WTF? ...I know, of course, success is measured by other things than money, in the final analysis, but sometimes money is a useful measure, however imperfect.
Anyway, this stinging quote has motivated me. I did NOT spend the remaining hours of the day playing PC games online, or sitting around drinking beer. I did other things, like watching a 2-hour DVD about acrylic painting. And, you know what? The DVD was inspiring! I've had the DVD for a few months now, but couldn't get beyond the "This is what kind of brushes I use" stage. But today I watched the WHOLE thing with great interest, and, WOW, it was so very nice to simply sit back and observe a professional painter using acrylics (to paint a wildlife scene). And TWO HOURS of it. Simply "absorbing" through observing. I think that's how we learn anything: we mimic what we see. And I had NEVER seen anyone paint with acrylics. OH I SEE, I kept saying.

And, tonight, I got back to working on my mural. I'm painting on the big "practice wall" I put in my studio/bedroom. The central figure is a cheetah. I had "traced" it using an overhead projector, but the resolution wasn't adequate for good detail. So, tonight, I went back and drew the head FREEHAND. (When I get into the actual acrylics stage, I'll do a lot of adjusting, I'm sure.) In the drawing of details, I'm using a sepia-colored wax pencil, which, I discovered, will ERASE easily with a Design PLASTIC eraser (on gesso-primed wallboard). In the photo you can see the result, which is NOT a finished drawing, but simply a LOOSE MAP of contours and values, using, mainly, an fat ART STIX. (I wish I'd done more with the normal, fine-lined wax PENCIL.) But it's enough to get started with. I will paint, let it dry, paint some more, adjust, let dry, paint more detail, etc, until finished, simply layering and layering. Acrylics are wonderful for quick layering. ...Usually I would paint the background first, but I'm so emotionally curious about painting a big critical figure in a mural, that I'm rushing into the cheetah first. ...And if it goes well, I'll be assuring myself that I CAN INDEED DO THIS. Believe me, I'm full of fear.

Also I've finally been working on my own fairy designs. "Eventually" I will paint a few of these on my niece's bedroom walls. Actually, I was fearful of this, too. I've never "designed" anything. I've included, in this post, a little rough draft of an original design, more or less using my imperfect memory of a pixie fairy kinda like Tinker Bell. I've only COPIED, so to speak, Tink images in the past, so to be creative and make my own thing, well, it's a new experience, but, you know, it's FUN. Trying to get all the anatomy right, and the pose "just so," well, it is indeed fun. I'm fairly satisfied with my first efforts here. All this caricaturing must be helping me in more ways than I thought... LOL... Also, creating my own designs is essential to not getting sued for plagiarism. Of course, this design is still too Tink-like, but it's a start. I mean, I COULD just TRACE another design onto a wall in someone's home, but I'd like to use the images for my mural portfolio, so I must be original.

Anyway, my birthday has come to a close. Thanks to all the well-wishers. I'll keep everyone updated on my new exercising habit, and my mural work, and "success attitude." (Oh, GOD, did I just say that? ..........See how I am... LOL.)