The brush is mightier than the stylus?

This Monday I attended an illustration class that was especially designed for young illustrators that usually use digital methods to create their art, rather than more traditional formats, like pen to paper or brush to canvas or what have you. Honestly I think that’s where one of my key weaknesses lies, I’m really not very good at creating things beyond what’s on the screen in front of me. Often when choosing projects for my design work, I would favour tasks that could be completed entirely digitally, simply because that was my comfort zone – but as I move to Uni I think it’s going to be important to really embrace all possible ways to realize outcomes.

Nowadays, the line is starting to blur between digital and physical work. Expensive tablet set-ups can respond eerily like pen to paper, and the latest photoshop allows you to choose a variety of brushes that all respond just as real brushes would – with each bristle programmed to respond to your movements to create very realistic results. However, as with most things left behind by the rise of the digital age, there is something very special about the old way of doing things – some believe it to simply provide illustrations with more charm, character, and certainly more authenticity. I totally agree, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that digital work is simply more practical – simply being able to copy and paste and image is a huge benefit, and vector graphics mean that an image can be increased in size by millions of times without losing any of it’s original quality thanks for mathematical equations that the computer does instantaneously.

Being able to be confident around brushes and paints is a life skill still, and it’s one I think being better at would help me in my many ways, even possibly improving my digital work. And the clever integration of handcrafted images with digital ones can create some fantastic results. Video games like Team Fortress 2 that use textures that are entirely hand-painted provide the game with a unique look and uncontested charm.

05_ravine_2

So, back to the fact I went to an illustration class to learn just that. In about 5 hours I was able to create three separate pieces, each with very separate looks. We started with what was perhaps the most challenging task, which was to draw a gargoyle using white paint on black paper. It was something I’d never done before, and I really had to stop and think when painting it, as the shadows were already there, it was the highlights that needed to be added. After the first few minutes I actually really loved doing it – it was almost like lighting up a dark room, placing down bits of light here and there until something emerged…

gargoyle

Okay, it’s nothing fantastic, but it’s certainly a fresh change from my usual work, and for a first attempt at white on black, I even surprised myself at how I was able to get a lot of the lighting in the right places. This method really allows for some moody effects, which is why the gargoyle characters works so well. But this technique or adding light on dark was certainly more of a warm up for the next piece, which was to be an owl against a night sky. While we had white paper, we started off by filling it in with a moody, dark blue and then gradually built up the image into brighter colours, eventually creating the owl. Mine was going quite well, until I started adding colour and shading and I really screwed up the shape of the owl. I decided the only way to fix it was to simply go way over the top with texture and lighting until it seemed almost intentional, and covered up my original mistakes. I actually really love this piece, it’s a complete absurd mess, but it’s still clearly and owl, and has it’s very own style because of the direction I decided to take it.

bird

And again, these are my first real attempts at creating illustrations with paints, so hopefully with a bit more practice and a bit more time, I could create something to be really proud of. I urge anyone reading this who often relies on digital software to create their images, to give traditional media a go, it’s a totally different experience that offers entirely different results.

Perhaps in the future the line between digital and traditional will be so blurred that the divide no longer exists, but for now, there is an irresistible sense of authenticity that paint can give, and often I find it’s authenticity that really brings a character to life.

Yo Ho Ho

I created my comic series, RUM, five years ago. It saw nearly 60 pages created which carried the story along with each addition, over the three or so years that I continued it. Three years is a long time, especially for an artist like myself who, those few years ago, was still trying to find their art-style and direction. And so, RUM is a complete artistic mess and visual disaster, because it quite simply displays the stages of my ability and style as an illustrator. It was my plan from the very beginning to eventually use the pages I created to formulate, at the very least, a digital publication; a graphic novel of some kind. It was ambitious, but I thought a page a week would eventually see its conception, what I didn’t realize what that over the years I would be creating it, I would be itching (as all artists should be) to develop, redesign, and reinvigorate the series visually. Those who followed the series will remember when I drastically changed the art-style of the comic for maybe three or four pages before entirely switching back, because I wanted to experiment.

It taught me a lot, but going back to the original plan, I would be embarrassed to ‘release’ a graphic novel in that kind of a state, where the quality of each page frequently changes. What RUM, in its current state, is, is a piece of history that shows me growing as an illustrator. I’m not saying this is the end of RUM, after the many years I’ve spent slaving on creating each addition to the story, I’ve still got more than enough love in my heart to call it quits; I would love to continue the series in some form or another. And my style has changed tremendously since I first put pen to tablet to draw Captain Wobbleboots for the first time. So, I thought, why not bring old Wobbleboots back to life, and blow away the dust from the currently lifeless and forgotten character. This was my attempt to recreate Wobbleboots in my current style, no attempts to experiment, just how I would sit down to create any other character.

It was a lot of fun to make, and I’d love to see Wobbleboots return in this way, if he is destined to. I think the character is a lot of fun too, and he always has been, when drawing his facial expressions or writing what he does next. I think just how different this design is, or how different I am as an illustrator, can only really be seen when directly compared with my older work. I sorted through a collection of the old comics and pulled from them all the different variations of Wobbleboots over the years, and the change is surprising.

 rum

I originally wanted to put the years of when each one was drawn, but honestly I couldn’t tell you. Obviously, doing away with black outlines is the most obvious visual difference between the new and the old Wobbleboots, and that’s simply because I find it much easier to work without outlines, as well as it being my preference. The addition of the nose is another notable change. Strangely only the main characters in RUM where the ones without noses, but as I added characters, the new ones all sported a nose. Nowadays I like adding the nose to give a little bit more depth and colour to the face, as well as making the character more expressive – as different shaped noses suggest different character. But I think the most interesting difference is colour. I originally started using bright colours, especially in his face and skin, and the reds of his coat. I became more and more wary of bright colours as time went on, to the point where the third version of Wobbleboots has almost grey skin. I still think the duller colours in the third version are an improvement over the first and the second, because the standard, bright colours look tacky and ill-thought-through. But as I’ve changed up my palette to more pastel-like colours, a lot of colour has returned in my art-style, and I think it brings a whole lot of life back into the character, away from a design that was looking dangerously dull. Rich colours makes everything much easier to rest your eyes on, and I think my latest design uses colours to really bring some fun to the character.

I just noticed, Wobbleboots isn’t smiling anymore, I’ll need to fix that.

The Start Of It All

And as my last full stop hit the page on my final exam paper, summer began. It almost feels alien that I will never have to study anything other than Graphic Design for the rest of my life, but at the same time it feels great that I’m finally on the path I want to go down, and no longer sitting at the crossroads. I can finally label myself as a person that actually focuses on design work, rather than just a student, which is actually very liberating!

As summer begans I’m finally able to kick-start what I want to be the new Carrot Cake Studios, and so – ta dah! Whereas in the past the blog was just another page on the website, this time everything else on the website centres itself around the blog. In many ways, the website is blog, and visa versa. For now, a lot of content that used to be on the website isn’t avaialable, but I’ll be working on fully integrating all of my artwork and animations into their own pages and will be able to accessed and commented on as though they were blog posts – exciting stuff! I’m hoping this new design really streamlines the website and helps it from becoming stale, because now the front page will be constantly updating and providing you with new stuff to see.

Whereas it isn’t a primary feature of the new website, you can now become a subscriber to the website by creating an account right here on Carrot Cake, which will hopefully expand the feedback section into something that feels a little bit more like a community. It may be slow development, but I urge you to take the few second it will take to create your very own account on Carrot Cake so you can join in right from the start and always keep in touch. As Carrot Cake grows over the next few years, faster than it has done before, I hope the community will grow with it! I will be doing my best to create a place that isn’t only a document of my work and life, but also a place to share with you guys a bit of food for thought, or some inspiring design, or just something that makes visiting the website a worthwhile part of your day. I’m really looking forward to how everything shapes out!

Like I said, the wheels may be turning slowly at the moment, but they’ve actually started turning for the first time in years. Summer will certainly be a time for me to reflect and relax (as well as work), so the next couple of months will be perfect to set out the foundations for the next coming years here at Carrot Cake as I begin my journey into university and my life as a designer and share with you the places I’ve been, the things I’m working on, the people I’ve met. These are super exciting times.

I hope you’ll join me along the way.

Cheers.