Friday, November 09, 2007

Technology And The Magic Of Images

Two days ago—Wednesday evening—from seven to nine I watched “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel.

I also spent those two hours drawing this sketch:

This is graphite pencil on bond. I scanned it at 16-bit grayscale at 72dpi. It was ‘autocorrected’ in MSPM twice to bump the contrast. It was drawn from a photograph of Paris Hilton. (The last time I asked a woman to pose in real life she almost called over a security guard.)

This image creates a big problem for me. Or, rather, this kind of image along with the modern technology of image processing creates a big problem for me. It’s kind of a graphics version of the music issue I posted about yesterday.

I’m a fairly independent sort. (‘Independent sort’ is a polite, supportive way to describe me.) As a writer, I’ve always been attracted to the thought of someday illustrating one of my stories myself. Or even of putting together a graphic novel. Or, most intriguing, making an animated film doing everything myself—pre-production, production and post-production. Today’s technology makes such thoughts possible. And, over the years, I’ve tried to whip up in myself a skill set that might be compatible with such thoughts.

In terms of image making, for many decades ‘comic art’—the stuff typically but not always seen in graphic novels—has been created using a straightforward sequence: An artist first creates pencil drawings which define the structure and light/dark arrangement of the image; Then black ink is applied using pen or brush techniques to create a high-contrast image; Finally, and optionally, colored inks are applied over the black and white image.

These are really three different skills. Penciling, inking and coloring. They’ve often but not always been performed by three different people for a given image.

Technology now, however—printing technology and image processing technology—can take relatively low contrast pencil drawings and either print them adequately as is, or change them automatically to high contrast art. The traditional steps of inking and even coloring now can be done either automatically or with various levels of ‘assistance’ to stream-line the process.

Working in the digital realm, all on computer, an artist has access to infinite ‘undo’ and many automated functions with simplify everything.

So, the problem is, I’ve developed my drawing ability to this level, this sort of almost-good-enough level to create almost adequate ‘pencils.’ But I’m having great difficulty mustering up a sense of imperative to push beyond ‘almost good enough’ and get up to actually ‘good.’

The thing is, I’m pretty good with computers. I work with computers for fun, and I used to do it for a living. Everything digital comes naturally to me. Having gotten an image to this stage with pencil, stump and eraser, for me additional refinements, corrections and modifications are vastly easier in, say, Photoshop than in the real world of more pencils and then switching to pens and inks.

But if you look at modern comics, if you look at what even very skillful artists crank out when they use computers for inking and coloring, you see that almost everything sucks.

Modern comics with almost all the art created entirely within the digital realm are almost all ugly. They are almost always well ‘designed,’ but there’s very little there that elicits engagement with a viewer.

Somehow, for some difficult to define reason, the digital realm smothers art.

I don’t want to crank out well designed but ugly and worthless images. I want to maintain that difficult to define element, whatever it is, that is the spark of an image, that creates engagement, that is art—or, at least, acceptable commercial art.

But it’s much harder to do that than it is to futz around on a computer.

I don’t know how to turn off my awareness of the digital world’s power and ease-of-use and force myself to buckle down and get better with the analog world’s human-centric pencils, pens and inks.

I’m working on it.

1 comment:

Angeline said...

Your sketch--even if it is of Paris Hilton--is pretty good, Mark. I am impressed and I'm sure you have a collection of compelling art you created. It's a shame that you are the only one who gets to look back at them. I truly believe that I and the rest of the world suffers a bit because you so rarely let others peek into your treasure chest of your art and literature.