Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If you wonder why I ink

Work in progress, of course. Click for bigger.

I get a real zen effect from inking, especially over tight pencils that don't leave much to improvisation. There's still artistic choices to make but they're few and far apart, mostly it's minute decisions about how to represent a texture or a surface and most of that's down to practice and subconscious whim. I can let my mind wonder and sort stuff out (and there's been some stuff to sort out the past week) while my hands keep active. It's good therapy. I've missed inking by hand.

I won't be erasing the pencil work beneath this after I'm done inking. It's very rarely that I let both hang together but for this piece I think it'll suit it. Usually I prefer to clean erase the final inks so that I can look at my professional and sharply inked result and pat myself on the back. But as I said there's been stuff I had to sort out in my mind the last few days and I think it's fitting that I let everything show this time. Art should reflect the emotional context around its creation. A sacrifice's not exactly something to be neat about anyway, right?

Look at the marble stone surface, that textural embellishment, one could say, is meaningless and for a comic artist that must give priority to storytelling structure and composition foremost, perhaps even superfluous (as it it might distract the eye from the relevant action). Resting in an uneasy place between fine art pretension and nitty-gritty comic craftsmanship, that sort of inking flourish has come to define my approach. It's a representation of my inner workings I suspect, every time I try to simplify my linework I feel empty inside. Every time I try to go the extra step and do proper chiaroscuro I feel inadequate and as if I'll never finish a single drawing, ever. Sometimes friends and readers comment on all the little crosshatching stuff that's going on in my drawings and remark to the effect that they'd never have the patience to do that themselves. At those times all I can think about is some other people I'm aware of who do more with simple black and white than I could ever hope to. There's degrees of patience, guys.

Some people are blessed with great determination. I've met artists who have been honing their draftsmanship with the drive of a single-cell organism. For as long as they remember being alive, they've been drawing. There's seventeen year olds on deviantart that can represent reality in their drawings ten times better than I ever could hope to. Going around on the internet browsing fine art sites is a humbling experience for most people hovering in that middle space between confident abstraction and full-on rendering mastery.

Comic artists often excuse their shortcomings by saying they focus on storytelling and/or characterization and perhaps that's true some of the time. For me, if I were to be frank, I never had the patience to be a fine artist. I've never spent more than twenty hours on a single piece of art (more like ten hours on average) and I can't see myself changing in the future. I didn't choose comics as a medium because they serve my strengths, comics chose me because it's the only thing I was capable of doing with my talents, peculiarities and temperament.

Sure, I can spend a year making a comic (I just did. It took about 900 hours of work, that's about three solid hours of drawing per day) but it's a variable loop: Idea, rough pencils, tighter pencils, inking, lettering, attachment to the storyline, go at the beginning and repeat until done. It suits me because I'm never stuck doing the exact same thing for longer than 10 hours or so. I record music in the same way, I'll compose rough segments, put down some guitar tracks, then do some drum sequencing, then some orchestration and keyboard work, then some guitars again, then some vocals, then add or change a compositional part, then pester other members to do their vocals or bass lines or whatnot, it's never a grind.

As I grow older and thankfully advance in my effort to accept myself for what I am, I'm more and more okay with that I'll never be a real fine artist and that I'll need to keep rotating my efforts in my various areas of interest if I want to get things done. I'm frankly not exactly sure how that'll pan out in my professional life, but at least in my own head I feel more and more comfortable being a jack of all trades and master of none. Society constantly pressures for specialization. An artist I knew once said 'specialization is for ants'. Perhaps that's too harsh but I'll take from that that specialization doesn't have to be for everyone.

What do you do, reader? How does it reflect on your attention span? Does it fulfill your desires or have you come to terms it never will completely? Do you spend more than ten hours a day toiling at a particular thing regularly? How's that like? Which are the zen aspects of your craft or work and which are the brain-hurty ones?


Nekromantis said...

I used to draw a lot myself when I was younger but got picked on for my "romantic" subjects (monsters, cyborgs, soldiers fighting, demons etc.) by other kids and during my late teenage other things replaced my need for drawing. My patience is really the worst too. I always wanted to finish the piece in one sit-through but also thought it should not take more than few hours and I had little patience for coloring so mostly I did quick black and white stuff.

Ryan Marlow said...

I counter my deficit of patience by having more than one piece to work on at a time. (If I'm doing a fantasy digital painting, then I'll alternate between that and a physically inked page so that I don't go insane.)

Anonymous said...

It's one of my major annoyances with myself that I have so very little patience for things I am not already somewhat good at. (and not very much more for things that I am) It's kind of limited my ability to push my horizons a little further away, see projects through, etc. That's one reason I pretty much cannot draw (since that's the most relevant example): to learn would require a huge-seeming investment of time and effort, with awful, awful, awful initial results and no detectable improvement for a long stretch. Thus (my friendly shoulder demon tells me) it is not worth trying anything ever, since failure is the only other option.

I've occasionally been able to stick to one thing for a fairly long time at once (though I'm not sure how often, if ever, I've reached ten hours), especially when coding. I guess this might be because it often is a fairly "zen" thing in your sense: in such situations I already had a fairly clear picture of what I was going to type, structures and relationships and algorithms blocked out ahead of time.

It's similar in mathematics, perhaps unsurprisingly. The actual work goes on more or less all the time, with occasional concentrated periods of greater attention and paper waste when an idea I'm thinking through gets too detailed and complex to keep in front of my inner eye all at once; most any free minute of foreground braintime is used to consider one thing or another, and I am not at all unusual in that ideas like to arrive from background processes at their own pace, at whatever moment seems convenient to them, if not to me. Actually typing something up or writing it out cleanly will sometimes result in spotting an oversight or a shortcut, but is generally much more like the "inking" stage of the whole business, to use your experiences as a metaphor. This usually doesn't last very long at a go, though, since I tend to have rough notes already at hand.

Helm said...

Nekromantis: I've found that a bit of encouragement by figures of authority (a dad, for example) in that formative time when one is drawing robots and warriors goes a long way to ensure that the child will keep on drawing and get better at it and have a wider interest.

Most parents do not want to see their children grow up to be artists though, so they cut back of the positive reinforcement around the teenager years, where they instead pressure them to be good at school subjects so their future can be ensured. My dad is an artist so he encouraged me lots. His son is an artist now too.

Ryan, my problem is that 'drawing a comic page' and 'drawing a fantasy illustration' have the common denominator of 'drawing' so I don't know how well your solution would work for me. My dad swears by your method, though, he juggles 3-4 different projects at the same time, always.

Fuzz: I think most people of our age aren't going to go out and put in the time to learn completely new crafts, go through the - as you say - painful first few years where everything sucks to get to a semi-good result. As I've understood it that's something people do when they have lots of free time and low self-esteem (like say, in grade and high school). Now that we're sorta good at a few things our brain chemistry reinforces us spending more time with them than starting again from the beginning. The self-esteem we have we grew, I suppose, by getting semi-good at what we do, so it's a major step back (from one vantage at least) to start anew. From another vantage is a sign of enormous inner strength.