IN MY OPINION: The Process Vs The Piece [TK:IMO]

 

Landscape
Landscape

 

Look at the image above. I want to tell you a few stories about it.

This image was done with a dip pen and India ink. The scene is from the artist’s childhood. Its his grandmother’s house. He had no photos to reference and so had to rely totally on his memory to recreate the scene.

 

BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE, this is the real story:

This image was done with a dip pen and India ink. The scene is from the artist’s childhood. Its his grandmother’s house. He drove out to the location, doing hours of sketching and then completed the  image back in his studio.

 

BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE, this is the real story:

This image was done with a dip pen and India ink. The scene is from the artist’s childhood. Its his grandmother’s house. He drew it while using a photo as a reference.

 

BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE, this is the real story:

This image was done with a dip pen and India ink. The scene is from the artist’s childhood. Its his grandmother’s house.  He traced it from a photo using a lightbox.

 

BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE, this is the real story:

This image was done with a dip pen and India ink. The scene is from the artist’s childhood. Its his grandmother’s house. He brought it into Adobe Illustrator and used LIVE TRACING.

[EDIT: Actually I found it on Google]

Isn’t it funny how the story behind the art has a huge effect on how we perceive it? To me, and I am sure I am not alone, the first story would suggest that the finished drawing is in someway “better art” or “higher art” than the rest, with each story making the art less and less valuable. I would find very few artists who would agree that the image is, in any real sense, art at all  if the last story was true. But does this make us art snobs? IS the process more important than the finished piece? Is it as important? Or should we only consider the piece in and of itself?

For me, when I look at an amazing piece of art, firstly I am taken in by its aesthetic. Then I immediately am floored by the skill, dedication and genius of the artist. For me the artist is as important as the art. Its the same with music. I often like the band members as much as the music and I would guess that if I didn’t like the personalities of The Beatles I probably wouldn’t love their music quite as much.

When I come across a new artist I like, I go into research mode and find out everything I can about them. I check their blogs, read interviews, get the books and watch the youtube clips. I have as much fascination with the process, probably more, than the final art. I think it’s because I want to relate to the artist on a personal level as well as an esoteric level. I want to know what he knows. I want to know how he got to the place in his life where he could paint such a picture or draw a character the way he does. I want to learn what he has learned. I want to know how he sees the world different from me. I want to steal his good points.

But I don’t think this is the only reason why I, and many other artist, have issue with tracing, lightboxing, heavy use of reference or digital manipulation. Its because after long years of dedicated hard work its seems only fair that someone who simply traced an image should be seen in the same light as me, the real artist, who struggles, toils and spent years crafting his skill.

But, before I go further, I want to point out that I do use lightboxing (digital and analogue) in my art. Not all the time but a fair amount. All of the portraits I did for tommiekelly.com are lightboxed from photos (SAMPLES: 1 2 3 4 5 6 ) as are some of the more realistic styled comics I have done. If I need to do a good likeness of a real world character or place I’ll lightbox it. However, Road Crew, Something Wonderful or Down are for the most part just from my mind.

Does this mean that I am a lesser artist than someone who could do these images without a lightbox: YES. Does that mean that the finished image is any less worthy or considerable as art: NO!

But why is the process so important. Again in music, the story behind the song can completely change the meaning you had for that song. The process behind the art can change its meaning but it can’t change the art.

You also have to bear in mind that as an artist, I am a work in progress. I don’t think any artist will ever say that they currently are at the level of skill and technique that they hope to attain. Every artist, the good ones at least, are constantly trying to improve, trying to learn, trying to get better. So, as I said previously, I am a better digital artist than traditional, therefore I am currently spending six to eight weeks using pen and paper and forbidden myself to open Manga Studio. My entire current comic project will be analog art. Not because I feel a need to prove myself to anyone else (those who know me will testify that a need to prove myself to anyone is not on my list of quirks) but because I know when I go back to digital I will be a much better, more rounded artist.

Therefore, If I spend a few years lightboxing, tracing, referencing, what of it. I am still learning. I only started drawing about six years ago – I have lots still to learn. I would love to be able to draw as accurately without reference than I can with it, but honestly the skill isn’t there yet. I hope for it to be there some day, but I know where I am at currently.

Besides, I don’t think tracing is as easy as its made out to be. There is still a fair amount of skill involved. We all know that an inker is sometimes seen as “just  a tracer” but I dare you to say that to an inker. Try it. As with every inker, every tracer brings their own sensibility to the peice they are tracing. For example here are three versions of the same image traced. First one is mine, Second one is Viv Duignan and the last one is Archie Templar. The three images are very different in style. Each artist has there own take on the image, even if it is traced.

 

 

Here’s some process images I got from John Robbins. On the first image you can see  screen captures from the film ‘The Squid And The Whale’, the other showing how they were used for his five-pager ‘Dog-Eared’.

John says “My interest in achieving polished visuals beyond my drawing ability is fuelled by a desire for the story to be appropriately realised. Sometimes you gotta work with what you don’t have.” and let’s be honest, anyone who says that John Robbins’ comics are not real art is talking poo.

 

So I guess I’ll have to bring this to some sort of point or conclusion, but it’ll be hard. I’m not sure its a black and white issue. Is tracing or reference a bad thing? It depends on what you are looking for. Are you looking for a show of skill or are you looking for a good image? Are you interested in the artist or the finished work? Should we be happy, as artists to rely on tracing for the rest of our lives and never learn anything more? Surely not, but in the meantime if we do some tracing stuff lets still see it as art, as learning, as a means to an end and as worthwhile.

T.