This is a piece of character art I did back in 2017, and one I'm still deeply proud of. It's a direction/technique I want to pick up again moving forward. I also figure it's time to talk about traditional and digital art, a juxtaposition that tends to get a lot of ire from gatekeeper blowhards.
In my previous posts I talked about how I like to combine a little traditional art with digital, even though working 100% digital is often faster. There's a certain texture to pencil sketches that translates very well to digital painting. I took a wonderful general painting class back in high school -- alongside mentoring under an acrylic painting professor from a local university -- that helped set a strong foundation for my work today. Contrary to what some say (yes, sometimes to my face), traditional art is not better -- or more real -- than digital art.
There's a pervasive -- and self-serving -- myth that a thing being harder automatically makes it better. Now, you won't get me saying traditional art doesn't have a steeper learning curve than digital. That is absolutely true. There are simply more steps involved. You have to prep the canvas (or wood or cardboard or-), create or transfer the sketch, mix your colors, protect your colors throughout several sessions, clean your brushes, preserve the final work, frame, package...yes. That is absolutely more work. But more work doesn't automatically mean better work. I've seen traditional art that's hardly moved me. I've seen digital art that's captured my imagination.
This purity myth is steeped in gatekeeping attitudes that equate more difficulties with success...usually by those who don't face quite as many of those difficulties (such as having studio space or money for supplies) in the first place. I will not, however, create more myths around digital art. Digital art is easier than traditional. It's still not easy. If you're not familiar with layering, masking, color theory, light and shadow, design, mixing up your references...? Going digital is not suddenly going to fix that, no more than buying a fancy set of Copic markers and Bristol board will transform you into an overnight art master.
In that regard...these two art forms are honestly not all that different. Digital art today is a brilliant tool to create art while saving space and money. It's painting without the mess. It's less costly. It's more flexible, especially if you're like me and constantly come up with new ideas on the fly. Already having a traditional art foundation just gives you a head start, as it makes the transition far smoother and gives your work a look that's not easily replicated.
Doing a traditional sketch filled in with digital colors gives me the best of both worlds: the tight, grainy detail of pencil with the rich, sumptuous colors of a few Photoshop sessions.
I've had this character since I was a teenager. I love him to bits.
My traditional art background includes acrylic, gouache, watercolor, colored pencils and China markers. I've never had the studio space to get down and dirty with oils, but I really want to in the future. ...And before you ask, yes. Acrylic and gouache have both been considered 'lowbrow' paints for decades due to their commercial associations, while oil has remained the highbrow standard in fine art circles. It's no coincidence that oil paints take a lot more money and space than acrylic or gouache. They also have a higher health risk. See what I mean with difficulty being equated with superiority?
I use traditional painting techniques in Photoshop throughout the entire process, including working dark-to-light and adding subtle gradients to make my brush strokes look rich. I'm also a huge fan of overlay layers and am constantly 'glazing' with the soft round to balance out my hard-edged brushes. You won't see me using more than five to ten layers at any given time, though I will regularly create new layers, add an effect, then flatten. It helps Photoshop run smoothly while keeping me organized.
You can see which areas are more defined and which are fuzzier, a balance I work with as I go to keep the eye traveling naturally. Contrast is an essential part of any style or technique, as it gives the eye stopping and starting points. It's like a guitar solo in a rock song or the blank space in a living room. Balancing out hard v.s. soft, textured v.s. smooth, bright v.s. dark is a give and take that's become second nature. Even then? Years of experience doesn't stop me from flubbing my composition or struggling through a pose. I'm still amazed I knocked this sketch out in one go without a rough draft.
Painter tip: you don't need to render every little part of the painting. Even if you go for a more realistic style. Notice how the final piece has areas with little detail and sometimes no detail, like some of the tassles and the edge of the (viewer's) left wing. This does the dual work of saving you unnecessary work and giving your painting more balance. A win-win.
I've touched on this in past posts, but I take a lot of inspiration from the Romantic and Baroque periods. Not just in terms of subject matter, but in technique. Oily. Lavish. Rosy. Evocative. Rich. Bold. Powerful. Luscious. These are all adjectives I strive for.
Be proud of your old work. Don't feel shame in taking a few steps backwards and revisiting a technique or subject you like. Most of all, don't fall for the myth that traditional or digital art is superior to the other. When in doubt? Do both.
For those interested, I also have a few leftover prints of this very piece that I plan on selling soon. I have more WIPs and studies coming up (as well as more art rants), so stay tuned!
I actually uploaded a few of these here back in 2017, but also left a few more buried in my art folders. For brevity's sake I'm going to dump all my studies of Donald's Glover's face (and one Bryan Tyree Henry) here.
I've grown tired of being embarrassed about older work, studies that turned out funny or sketches that were wildly off-base from the original idea. What's the point? Take a look at these, where I go from really knowing how to draw faces to not having a damn clue all in the same session. You can see me studying the same angle several times, because sometimes you're just not getting the hang of the thing. Maybe it's a subtle expression, maybe you're just warming up and can't draw right yet. No matter what, you keep going until you push through that wall.
Not giving up really is 90% of the artistic process.
I watched a few clips from Atlanta (before watching full episodes with one of my Discord groups) to get more candid angles. A good exercise is to let a video play and pause at random. There's nothing wrong with studying your favorite angles, of course, but it can help to understand how the face works when it turns or stretches in ways you don't expect.
Keep an eye on that wonky one in the bottom left...
...because you can see where I started having a little trouble. Donald Glover had such a simple 3/4th angle here, yet I had a tough time capturing the subtleties of his expression. Instead of deeming it a lost cause, though, I warmed up on some different faces, then returned to it. Eventually I got close enough to deem the study a success.
I then wrapped up the session with a color study based off one of his photoshoots. This one ended up looking a lot more 'marker-like' than most of my work, which I found interesting. It's not quite the finish I go for, but, eh. That's part of the process. You learn about what you want to do and what you don't want to do. Like fertilizer, art is never wasted.
There's more behind-the-scenes material coming up. Stay tuned!
We have to change our language before we can change ourselves. 'Oldie, but a goodie' is a term I've been leaning away from these past few years, for a very conscious reason. Why should something being older immediately require the 'but' qualifier?
I could detail an entire TED Talk on the cult obsession with youth in modern society and all the insidious ways it creeps into our everyday conversations. I could talk about the pervasive shame many artists have about old work and how it's misrepresentative of who they want to be. The constant qualifiers that spill out when sharing old art -- much less admiring it -- makes me sick straight to my gut. This phrase doesn't create personal progress. It's a roadblock in just a few words.
Let's switch it up. This is an oldie and a goodie: a pin-up illustration of a character I painted in 2015. He's a lion-headed magician with a chip on his shoulder, always a little moody despite the child clientele he often entertains.
Even though I complete many of my pieces completely digitally, every once in a while I'll whip out a pencil sketch for the base. It's something I plan on doing more, actually, because it gives me a velvety, oily finish I don't quite get with my purely digital art. Also, it just feels good scanning in a drawing and going to town. Coloring comes easily to me and it's nice to just fill in the lines and let my mind wander.
You can still see the edges of the paper where I scanned, even as the coloring is nearing completion. I've since learned ways of working around this. I create a separate lineart layer by adjusting the sketch's values, then using layer transparency and channels to separate the dark from the light. Saves you time and looks way better. You can find a tutorial on that here.
Hobby artists and professional artists? Let's change the way we talk about ourselves and our works. Self-deprecation doesn't actually improve your technical skill (no matter what some art teachers and industry gatekeepers will tell you about 'humility'). Running from your old work doesn't get you any closer to the artist you want to be. Art is an extension of yourself. If you're constantly browbeating your craft, take that as a sign to start chipping away at your personal growth.
What old techniques have you kept from past work? How does your new work lean closer to your goals?
Got more progress shots, recent doodles and, yes, old work on the way. Stay tuned!
Here I post WIPs, sketches, speedpaints, thumbnails and anything else thrown into the veritable stew of artistic process.