Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Take a look at my updated personal blog

DIY Art School hasn't been the most active blog it's safe to say. It's probably been over a year since there's been a new post. While I don't rule out returning to DIY Art School when I have more material or an expanded direction to take it, for the time being visitors here may be interested in checking out my personal blog over at http://joewilson-illustration.blogspot.com/ . You'll find my personal portfolios (mostly digital art, from clients mostly in games), but it will also be updated with sketches, thoughts, photography, tutorials and tips, and many other things. Most of the tutorials and tips will likely touch on working as an illustrator, and working in games, but there will also sometimes be posts that artists in general might find useful or interesting. Posts that fit the original DIY Art School theme will still be cross posted here, but if you are interested in a wider range of posts, please take a look at the new blog.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

An Update about DIY Art School

Hey all,
There haven't been updates in a while, and I figured there would likely be a few new views because of the mention in ImagineFX (October issue, number 87), so I'd make a quick post. The posts have stopped in part because I've been crazy busy with jobs (which is always nice), but also because I've run through the material I initially had in mind for the topic.

I honestly believe that it is entirely possible to give yourself a great art education, and that anyone with the drive and commitment can go really far without a standard art school. There is so much information out there s available for free, so many resources to take advantage of. I often think, "If I knew then (when I was a student) what I know now, it would all have gone so much smoother and easier," but it's been a while since I was at that point in my art education and I can't always remember where the big stumbling blocks were, or which pieces of the big picture I was missing back then. 

So, I'm throwing things over to you guys. Shoot me any questions you have and I'll do my best to help you out and point you in the right direction. I'm sure there are plenty of potential article ideas based around the questions and comments you guys have.

Drop me a comment here, or find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/joewilson.illustration

Monday, April 30, 2012

There Are No Shortcuts

Fellow illustrator and friend Marc Scheff created this great infographic titled "There Are No Shortcuts." It beautifully illustrates that in order to make great art, you need to do lots and lots of art making. Not just the big beautiful crazy works you dream of, but also lots of studies, practice, doodles, and sketches, and as much of it from life as possible. Every good artist I know continues to do these sorts of things long past the point of being called professional. In fact most artists would agree, you never stop learning, and so there is no reason to ever stop doing these sorts of things.

Marc has called this infographic "part 1", so check out his blog for the sure to follow up "part 2" and beyond :)  Marc's original post with this graphic

Friday, March 16, 2012

Everything is Relative

A few articles ago I talked about the concept of “the general to the specific”, which is sort of a big concept that is useful across a wide variety of problems. Today I want to talk about another big concept, “everything is relative.” This is one of those concepts that isn’t immediately obvious to a lot of beginners, but once you understand it, it can really change everything.

First, what do we mean by “relative”? Relative in this context means that how we perceive one thing, is dependant on other things around it or related to it. In art, everything in the image you create are viewed against the other elements in the image, and shape how we perceive them. Let’s look at some of the various ways we can use this relative perception.

Relative size
I think one of the easiest ways to illustrate that everything is relative is to consider size. I want you to imagine the biggest spider you’ve ever seen. I remember once finding an orb spider that had made a web over my porch. He was at least 2 inches long. Relative to almost any other spider I had personally seen, this spider was HUGE. However, if a hungry raven had flown down with the intent to eat that spider, well that tiny spider wouldn’t have stood a chance. The spider is only “huge” relative to other spiders I’ve seen. Relative to a raven, it’s tiny.

Relative color and value
Relative color is where things start getting interesting. We all understand the concept of warm colors (yellow, orange, red) versus cool colors (blue, green, purple). They are warm or cool relative to the other colors on the color wheel. However, we can take the colors individually and talk about a warm yellow (for example cadmium yellow) versus a cool yellow (like lemon yellow). How we think about color is relative to the other colors in consideration. This is especially true in your art, and realizing this helps you to look at color more objectively, and to make more interesting color choices.

Credit Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT

Consider the above image. If I ask you which color, A or B, is lighter you'd most likely answer B. In fact the answer might be so obviously true that you'd immediately suspect, correctly, that there is a trick.

Credit Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT

With a little help, we can see they are actually the same exact color. There are two factors at play making this work. Part of it is the perceptual illusion based on our expectations developed from a life time of seeing shadows. The other part is the relative color based on those near the colors in question. In one, the color is surrounded by darker colors, making it appear light in comparison, in the other the opposite is true.

whether the grey square seems light or dark depends on what color surrounds it.

French artist Eugene Delacroix said, "I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will." He understood that how we perceive a color is based entirely on what is around it.  

Knowing this, you can more easily understand that to make something appear blue, does not always require that you use blue right out of the tube. In fact, sometimes you don't use blue at all. Grey, brown, purple, or green can all pass for blue in the right circumstances. To make something appear black, you will most often avoid actual black, but it will appear black relative to the other colors around it.

As you learn to paint, you will often find yourself mixing what you think will be the perfect color, only to find that when you dab it onto the canvas that it appears entirely different when surrounded by the other colors. You have to constantly be ready to reexamine and question the color and value choices you have made.

You can also use the concept to enhance other qualities. You can help make a human being seem strong and resilient, or soft and vulnerable by changing what surrounds them. 

Imagine a World War 2 fighter plane, flying out to take on an alien invasion. It's going to appear to be primitive technology. Now imagine it flying over a battlefield filled with Roman soldiers with swords and horses. Now that same plane is practically magic! 

There are endless ways in which the phrase "everything is relative" can be applied. You have to remember to establish the base line in such a way that it sets the stage for the qualities you want to highlight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Overcoming Artist's Block

Every artist encounters Artist Block, that familiar feeling of wanting to produce but having NO good ideas or inspiration. You feel like everything you start to put down is something you’ve done a million times already. When you are a beginning artist, it’s a killer. You think it’s your fault, that if you “were really an artist” you would have a constant wellspring of inspiration and drive. Artist Block feels like a wall, and many people let that wall stop them not knowing that there are ways around that wall, if you know where to look.

Many people start with seeking inspiration in places that have made them excited about creating their own art in the past. Maybe it’s watching some cool movies, or flipping through art books, magazines, or websites. This can indeed work, but there is a very real danger that seeking inspiration instead turns into simply watching a movie or reading a book. In other words, the danger is you just decided to do something else instead of working on your art. Oops. It’s a bit of a trap, and I know I’ve fallen into it, and I’ve heard plenty of other artists say much the same. For this reason, I don’t recommend this, and I think we can find some better options.

One of the most immediate ways to deal with artist block is to simply work through the feeling. Sometimes just the act of starting the brain working on those visual problems can get it jump started and back on the right track. A good place to start is to do some warm up studies. Studies aren’t meant to be great artistic achievements, and thus don’t take as much “inspiration” as they do observation and thinking. By getting your brain thinking and active, you may find that sluggish feeling of artist block slip away, and creativity taking it’s place. This isn’t always the right solution, but it seems to work well when the problem isn’t a deep artist rut, so much as it’s just not being in the right mental space for being productive. It’s easy to get distracted by other things in life, and this solution works well to help you gain back your focus.

More fundamental artistic ruts, I believe, are caused by needing to stoke the artistic fires in more fundamental ways. You need to get out and DO some stuff, gain some experiences that are worthy of wanting to express creatively.  It’s my personal opinion that the best Artist Block busting experiences are things you haven’t seen or done before, or at least things you rarely do. Going to a zoo might be great, but if you go once a week, it’s probably not going to be the shake up you need to really jolt your inner muse. If you are a city kid, maybe you need to go camping, or spend a day riding a horse. If you have always lived in the country, maybe you can go to a big city and visit some huge natural history museum.

There are thousands of things you have never done before, that are likely within your reach. If your dream is to one day draw fantasy characters, have you ever actually held and swung a sword or an axe? If you want to design characters for first person shooters, have you ever spent a day playing paintball, or gone to a gun range to fire real guns? These are all great examples of things that would directly enrich your understanding and excitement for a topic. The more you can back up your art, not just with visuals, but with actual experiences and emotions, the more you have to draw on when you are creating.

That isn’t to say that you should stick to activities that directly relate to the type of art you like to do. Even better sometimes are other things that are interesting to you, but unrelated. Some of the most interesting artistic ideas are combining unrelated things in unexpected ways. Don’t limit yourself, explore everything.

Fighting an artistic rut isn’t something to only worry about when you are having the problem. You can take preventative measures by remembering to get out and do something new and exciting every now and then. Everything you see and do becomes material for your future expression.

Below are some photos from one of my "Rut Buster" excursions. This one wasn't the most thrilling, as it was simply taking some photos around the city I live in, New Haven, Connecticut. These amazing relief sculptures are found on many of the buildings around Yale. Hundreds of people walk past them every day and rarely look up and appreciate their beauty. In fact I'd go so far as to say that many probably don't notice them at all and never realize they are there.

Wait, is that the Burger King?

Outside one of the Yale libraries, paying tribute to the early materials for making paper.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Art of Observation

There is more to art than what you do with pencils, brushes, and computers, or any art material. Good art takes place in the mind as a mental exercise as well as a physical one, and as such, it’s a skill that can be honed even when you don’t have anything to draw or paint with.

If I had to list the most important attributes to make up a successful artist, I’d most likely start with Observation. Observation is different than merely seeing. Seeing is mechanical, the input from your eyes to your brain. Observation is more complex and is the result of seeing combined with thinking, analyzing, and making an effort to notice some of the elements that often go unnoticed.

Some beginning artists merely rely on their eyes. They see something, and they attempt to recreate it in their art. You have far more power if you not only see something, but also understand it. So how do you go about improving this skill? It’s as easy as using your eyes and brain wherever you are. Ask yourself questions that you’d likely consider if you were actually painting a scene from life, and maybe a few that you might forget to ask yourself if you were caught in the art making process.
One of my favorite exercises is to spot reflected light and color, and pick out the source. Rather than being content to merely see the highlight and to recreate it, by understanding it more fully you have the ability to alter and control it. Take for example a bit of shiny metal on some object on your table top. It has some nice bright highlights, but you haven’t considered where that light comes from. With careful observation you can pick out that some of them are coming from the window behind you, giving those highlights a subtle cool color. Others are coming from the lights in the room, which are warmer. Having taken the time to understand what is going on more closely, you’ve been able to notice subtle color differences that you might not have noticed before, and that complexity will make your image more interesting. It also gives you the power to make artistic changes with more confidence. For example if you decided to change the time of day the light from the window would be different and thus would it’s reflections on the object.

The more you know, the better your observation skills potentially get as well. Knowledge of anatomy means that you can combine what you see with what you know, to give you clues on how to spot difficult plane or color changes. Your eyes can sometimes fool you, or give you misleading clues. Making some observations from another angle will help you understand what is going on in front of you.

There are hundreds of questions and observations that you can make on a daily basis that will help hone your observation skills, and in the process widen your understanding of how to portray the world accurately. The stronger your observation skills, the better decisions you’ll be able to make at the drawing board or easel.
Like with everything else, practice helps greatly, along with knowledge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Working from the General to the Specific

Example is recreated, and does not reflect what these stages actually looked like for this image. Sadly I did not save the stages I went through creating this image.

A "top-down" approach
I’ve mentioned in past articles the phrase “ general to the specific” and I thought I’d go into greater depth in what that means, and the variety of ways thinking this way comes in handy and helps you solve difficult problems.

Working from the general to the specific is what is known in other fields as a “top-down” approach. You start with the big picture elements, and then refine in stages, eventually reaching the smallest details. This approach works particularly well in art, and every successful artist I know works this way (although I have no doubt that there are some artists who work differently). It’s particularly well suited for art because it allows you to form a plan, to solve basic structural problems first, and then to refine to the desired level secure that the foundation of the image is in good shape.

Using it in your art
As an example, let’s plan an illustration. The first problem to tackle would probably be composition. My first question is simply, “What size do I have to work with?” If my goal was a nice pencil drawing on paper, the size is the sheet of paper. For a paid illustration, the size needed is given to me by my client. Once I know my physical constraints for the image, I need to plan for where the various elements I’m going to include fit within the image. This stage is often known as “thumbnails”, as the artist will do a lot of small rough/general sketches to work out composition of the various elements (the term “thumbnail” originates from the idea that the images would be very small, the size of your thumbnail, although most people don’t work anywhere near that small in reality). The various parts of the image may be so abstract at this stage as to simply be flat colors or values, rough shapes that don’t look like much at all. They are simply place holders to suggest their eventual placement.

Once a composition is decided, a rough sketch is drawn, using basic shapes and forms. Finally the image looks like something, but it lacks all but the most basic details. We have already planned to make sure the over all image works, here is where we make sure the individual elements work too. This is the easiest time to adjust a figure’s pose or to adjust proportions, when it is nothing more than a few lines. From there you refine the drawing in stages until you feel like you can move to color, where you again work from general problems down to more specific details.

Using it in your study
Working from the general problems down to the specific problems works elsewhere as well. For example, using the approach to guide your art education would mean to first conquer fundamentals (covered here) and then solve more complex issues. For example, to draw superheros, first you’d want to know how to draw (fundamentals), then how to draw regular people (proportions, anatomy, drawing from life), then finally how to draw the idealized super heroic versions of people (exaggerated proportions, anatomy, etc). Drawing a superhero comic book would be even more complex, moving past superheros to include composition, perspective, story telling, and more. For every thing you may want to learn, try to break it down into more basic problems.

Using it elsewhere
You can even use the process to help work through other problems. For example, if you are floundering in your art development, try looking at the problem closely. Look at the biggest potential problems, and solve each one in turn. Have you made time to study? Actual regular planned time, set aside for nothing else? Do you have the proper environment and materials to work? Do you have a plan of study? Have you been doing studies and actively working on those areas? Have you been seeking peer/pro review to give you feedback on where you might be falling short? Have you actually listened closely to the feedback and made attempts to try different approaches?