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.
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…
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.
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.