Sunday, November 24, 2019

Question about Digital Techniques

Jacob asks: "Do you see the use of digital illustration today as a hindrance or an advancement in the art industry today?" 
The short answer is that if it's good art it's an advancement. If it's bad art, it's a hindrance.

But you're asking about the tools, right? Computers give us new tools for making images and graphics. They make some techniques nearly obsolete. I grew up with T-squares, tracing paper, press type, paste-up, Art-O-Graph projectors, marker comps, waxers, stat cameras, and Rubylith color separations.

Map making in 1961 used many analog processes that are largely forgotten now. Via British Pathé

Some of those methods are gone and I don't miss them. But others have wonderful qualities that, in my opinion, can't be improved upon by digital methods. I still use tracing paper and I love hand lettering. For the kind of illustration and plein-air artwork that I do, the old-school methods are much more direct and efficient and satisfying. I also like the sense of agency and capacity that using them gives me.

The tools used by Bill Watterson on Calvin and Hobbes
Having digital techniques available doesn't stop more traditionally-minded artists like me from creating things with the older tools if we prefer to use them or if we get preferable results that way. I have even been reviving and updating some Renaissance methods of drawing that have been forgotten for centuries. One can argue that the community-building effect of the internet has brought about a revival in traditional hand skills, such as hand lettering and sign painting.

Digital technologies do more than streamline workflows; they encourage the creation of entirely new art forms and aesthetics. In terms of the economics, it helps people in the industry produce more artwork more efficiently. But in the world of art efficiency isn't everything. The work needs to be aesthetically pleasing, so each creator must choose the tools that achieve that goal. Art schools have to decide if it's worth teaching the foundational skills that these technologies replace. Individual artists have to decide what they want to spend their time doing and what kinds of images they want to create.

I'm no expert about digital tools for illustration, but my impression is that Photoshop has remained a useful toolset for creating 2D artwork for an amazingly long time. It's getting more expensive to use with Adobe's subscription rates. As certain fields move into the 3D space, individual artists find themselves in a technological arms race against better funded studios that can afford the more expensive software and assets that get measurably better results. And as artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques become more and more powerful, they will usurp much of the direct image-making altogether. The result will be to allow anyone with the right software to create any image in any style and to make the job of illustration more like that of an art director.

So, overall, I see digital tools as a benefit to the field of illustration and animation, even though I personally don't use the computer very much for creating images. I use the computer more for documenting and distributing my work.

What's most exciting to me right now is the synergy between digital and hand-crafted techniques. Where the computer has been paired with the hand skills of painting, drawing, sculpting, and puppeteering, there's an exciting creative energy that has brought about entirely new forms of expression.

There are all sorts of cross collaborations between hand-made and computer-generated that have emerged in the movie world, from Boxtrolls to Klaus, to Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. 


Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

"...creating things with the older tools if we prefer to use them or if we get preferable results that way. I have even been reviving and updating some Renaissance methods of drawing that have been forgotten for centuries."

Especially "...or if we get preferable results that way."

Gratitude for having kept us informed with hopes you'll continue this priceless contribution.

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Roberto Quintana said...

One of the things that first attracted me to mural painting, besides the physicality and scale of it, was the directness and old-school craftsmanship of the painting process. Mural painting has not changed all that much since the Renaissance. Pattern making is basically the same process Michelangelo used for his frescos, only incorporating electric styluses and projectors. We’ve switched out steel or aluminum scaffolding for bamboo, and use boom-lifts and scissor-lifts when ladder and plank systems are inadequate. But all these are still pretty much ‘Old School’ tools.
The computer comes in most handy with pre-production and post-production work.
The design work is much easier and faster using on-line libraries and search-engines, but keeping up an old-fashioned ‘Morgue-file’ and a personal art library can be much more satisfying and creative. Using Photoshop for non-vector photo-manipulations, and Illustrator for vector scaling, especially when working with lettering designs and font layouts is vastly improved. But with that said, starting with a good series of thumbnails and sketches is always a good approach, and knowing how to use tracing-paper, a pencil and an eraser can be a life-saver in a pinch.
Post-Production documentation, cataloguing and marketing are very much in the digital realm as you point out.
Thanx for your blog, James, you’re the best thing the computer has to offer a creative and inquiring mind. -RQ

CerverGirl said...

I don’t miss the stat camera...but an expanded use of it and computer type was at a small design job I had, we used to print text and borders oversized on laser printers and photostat them at 50% to get sharper black and white ad graphics. And the transition from paste-up to computer was slow until Photoshop was more fully developed...and I’m appreciating that I worked in that time to see this evolution.