Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Digital and Handmade part 2

Ha, so the last "ten percent" of these illustrations took almost a month of solid work to get right! Barring changes from the publisher I'm going to let them go now. I can certainly say that the almost fully digital process that I used has not been good for my eyes. About 250 hrs of staring into the screen and mostly ignoring the system I'd set up for working standing up has left me feeling I need new glasses and a new back, and looking like I've been hidden in a cave for three months. (By the way these illustrations are for a book by Jeanne Willis, but more on the actual book in another post.)

Here's a couple of videos of the process where I pretend it's idyllic! That's mostly down to the music by my friends the Rheingans Sisters. You can see more actual drawing in the second one.

To cut a long story short I think I digitally painted myself into a corner with the technique. Just look at the layers for a typical spread! 

But I did hugely appreciate the computer when I started to spot flaws in the underlying drawing towards the end (it is always the underlying drawing where there's trouble). Now time to wait and see how it looks in print.

For this book I started with some digital experiments (that I did a while ago as a contribution to Over the Hills and Faraway, a collection of nursery rhymes to be published by Frances Lincoln some time soon) and took the technique to its logical conclusion; I did it with backgrounds. Little did I know what a challenge that'd be! In fact it didn't really start to work until I got some real paint involved there.

The main tools I used were custom Photoshop brushes that I first started work on when doing the kit for the Abney & Teal Picture books (which is still being used for this purpose by Davide Arnone).

I've refined and added texture to these brushes since. In the picture below I even left out some elements and finished the image with real paint over a giclee print.

Like many people I wonder about my concentration span in the digital age, though my mother says that when I was tiny she used to have to feed me in the dark as I was so distractible, and so perhaps it is just me. Given this, it's very helpful to be able to fix and change things as I go on the computer and make up for my lapses during the process. The book as a whole is the project after all, not individual bits of artwork.

I sometimes wonder about a certain generic feeling that seems to be creeping into illustration generally at the moment perhaps because of digital techniques, and the way we share work too, but I don't know, if you can improve or simplify your drawings why would you not? And it was ever thus, even if the circles of influence now turn especially fast. In certain ways visual literacy is probably at its highest point in history and I definitely need the help of machines just to be anywhere close to keeping up. 

For me, a respite from worrying away at the skeuomorphic properties of the marks I'm making, and not just their purpose as part of a drawing, would be probably healthy. And for the sake of my eyes and my sanity I'm planning now to work on some simpler techniques that make more use of drawing and painting away from the computer. It's probably simplicity that's important though, more than running away from computers. When I get sucked into playing with techniques and mark-making, whether on paper or with pixels, all hope of writing my own stories goes out of the window. 

All that said, and in direct contradiction to what I've said here and in the last post, I've been playing with drawing on an iPad because I'm still very curious about drawing with all sorts of computers. (Above is a quick doodle done using Procreate on an iPad Mini, with an obvious nod to the king of iPad pictures.) 

Here's an ultra-geeky tip: If you're using the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus on one of the new iPads (Air or Mini with Retina Screen) you can make it behave much more naturally by removing the rubber tip and tying with thread a piece of conductive cloth (available online) around the metal tip, just loosely enough to behave like a stubby brush. (Apparently this very costly pressure sensitive stylus behaves better out of the box on earlier machines).

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