MY YOUNGER FRIEND, CEDAR is undertaking to post a piece of art — no matter how trivial-seeming — every day for a year. I have seized on this notion as being a way to boot myself in the butt and get some serious time in on the drawing board.
I have just recently set up a work space in a corner of the office at Casa d’Alger — catty-corner from the bird’s cage, though not out of earshot of him when he gets all wound up (he’s self-winding) and starts in on the ear-splitting shrieks. The intent is that, now having a place to work, I will take advantage of any opportunity. But, I have found over my career in the field that opportunity never fails to take advantage of the opportunity to slip away, so that opportunity must be paired with a requirement for work to be done in order to permit progress. So the formula for self-employement needs to look something like this: opportunity to work plus work to be done over a deadline equals project. Having a project implies explicitly (or, as Dolly would put it: explies) the will to work or the desire.
The situation is far from ideal, so my perfectionism (the cynical or snarktastic individual will call it OCD) will niggle at me until I get the object of my desire
…A five-foot drawing table from Ikea on a tilt-and-height-adjustable trestle base. It’s not expensive for what it is, but I have no money right now and no income (but I do have a method for accepting donations — click the Go Fund Me link at right — hint-hint), so even the $150 for that table (most pro-level drawing tables run in the $500 range) is out of reach.
My present table is a piece of 1/2″ cheap-assed Chinese “hardwood” ply with a 1×2 stretcher glued to the bottom and clamped into the jaws of a Black&Decker Workmate. If you’re not used to working on a drawing table, this may not hit you right off, but those who have will get it immediately: the biggest drawback to this arrangement is that the work surface is flat. Level. Like a table.
And, that it’s not dedicated solely to arting means that I’ll have to take it down when I want to use the Workmate for something else — like building a shelf for SWMBO, which is coming up this week.
Which brings us back to the topic at hand — making excuses. (Sorry if your head got whipped around by that sudden change in direction, but there have been hints.)
I’m going to try the same thing: post a piece of art every day. I hope not to be so long-winded every time as I have been here. As my goal — the project, which is necessary to the demand for work-to-be-done, is to improve the covers of the Dolly stories (again, sorry for the sudden tangent) — my first task, or sub-project, is to devise a character design of Dolly. Which means drawing — first with pencil, then in pen and ink, with color following on — of a human face and figure, from the skin out. I will be following self-assigned lessons.
My preferred text, Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing has a whole section on drawing the human figure, heads and faces, hands, and so-forth, but is primarily aimed at classical fine art technique, and what I’m after is a more modern, comic style (comic book, manga, anime), so I will be drawing (pun intended) lessons from elsewhere. For the last year or so, I have been gathering images and articles from around the Web to a Pinterest Board, called Art Lessons There are around 700 pins on the board right now, and I am constantly adding more on an ongoing basis, so you may imagine that most of them are not relevant to the topic at hand. Nor are the lessons on “how to draw” (although Civardi’s does touch on technique), as it’s assumed that the student will already have a modicum of eye-hand coordination to make him able to draw what he sees. (There, though, the main trick is in the seeing — I know you’re tired of hearing that, but until you “get” it, it’s going to keep being repeated. And then you’ll get it and start preaching it yourself.)
And, now, to the nut of things. I can imaging that those of you who have been following along at home are scratching your little wooden heads and asking: “This guy claims to have been a professional for an entire career; why is he starting with the basics?” Good question. Here’s a dirty little secret: commercial artists don’t do much art. That is, to say, that what an artist does is art by definition, and therefor, what commercial artists do is to be considered art, but what we-they-I do/did wasn’t what a lot of people consider art. That is, to say, I didn’t really draw or paint on a daily basis and have never made any sculpture. And, truth be told, very few of the images I used in my designs were of my own original creation. And, I suspect, that, up to a certain level, this is universally true of all production commercial designers. We manipulate images and do so according to accepted design standards, and to technical specifications, but there’s only so much “art” (pron: “aht”) in it.
What art there is is more like this: a picture of the Scottish singer, Sheena Easton. It is essentially a tracing (it could be a copy, I don’t really remember) from a photograph. In processing terms, it would have been a CMYK separation from a printed piece (a CD longbox), which would have to be scanned in what was then known as a “copydot and rescreen” process in order to be actually used, but which would have potentially added several thousand dollars to the product cost. So, if memory serves, we never used the photograph, but only logos and type to produce the work for the tour. So the image is “orphaned.” It is work product and the image it references was never used by us.
And, as the drawing — not the scan, which is fresh today — is from sometime around 1990 (Wikipedia says the album — What Comes Naturally — was released in 1991, which sounds about right.) Which makes it a quarter-century old, and could be the last time I drew an image with my own hand, as Otto was in the process of going digital for art and prepress even then, so the rest of my output from then to last December was done on a computer. Which means that I haven’t drawn in twenty-five or so years. And, like any motor skill, drawing ability can deteriorate over time if not used. So, if I want to make the illustrations for my own covers, and not be held captive by the availability and price of others, and be permitted the liberty of making any image I can imagine and execute, and not having to rely on modifying stock photos, I need to be able to draw the human figure.
Word Press is reporting over 1200 words so far, so I’m going to cut this short and continue tomorrow. I intend my first efforts to be the exploration of the shapes of female faces. There are a whole bunch of charts of heads of manga/anime/comic characters in the Art Lessons boards. If you want to read ahead (that’s how you spot the ambitious ones), feel free. Until then, then.