Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween/ Style

Keep your poisoned apples to yourself!

Happy Halloween everyone! Monkey's favorite holiday of the year is here, and the Monkey + Seal duo will be hitting the street as Narwhals tonight. To celebrate, here are some studies Monkey did in acrylic, as well as a Halloween serigraph (above) he pulled for kicks.

The caption (which got cut off by the scanner) says "If I'm Not Dead I Should Be."
Truly, the Devil incarnate.

Since this is a Saturday Process Post, Monkey has decided to talk a bit about style. Not style, as in fashion, but style as in how you choose to express yourself visually. I guess that could be through fashion, and now that I think about it this post (although written from an illustrator/fine artist's standpoint) could apply to fashion designers as well, but I admit that I'm quite ignorant of all that. I'm writing this from the standpoint of an artist who is actively trying to make a living solely off his art (as opposed as someone who doesn't care if they ever sell a single painting/drawing/etc.).

So. Many young, budding artists think a lot about style. I know that I certainly do. Do you want to go stylized? Realistic? Abstract? Stylized realism? Graphic? Art Brute? Impressionistic? The list goes on and if you're anything like me, you've probably tried out quite a few different styles, trying to figure out what works best for you.

My art instructors always said that style is something that you just eventually fall into. Either you find something that works for you or you find something that appeals to the masses and you keep riding the praise, even if you aren't necessarily really into your style. I have found this to be pretty true. If you haven't figured out the way you want to work professionally, it just takes time. Seal talks about mileage in her last post on working. You really do have to put in the mileage to find yourself. I know it may be frustrating, but believe me, it'll happen.

Also, realize that style evolves. If you constantly draw or paint in the exact same way, while it may make you money, I feel like you are stagnating as an artist. Being completely consistent means you are not taking risks, which generally means you probably aren't learning anything new. While this is fine, I personally prefer to learn as much as I can, as often as I can, as that's the only way I'm going to be the best artist I can be. Now I'm not saying that you should put up five different styles in the same gallery show, but if you look at the work over the years of anyone from Picasso to Jeff Soto, you'll see changes and growth. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and the artist will return to the way they did things earlier, othertimes they'll try something new.

But what if you've been making art for a while, and you're STILL not sure what style you want to go with. Well, there are lots of things that could be preventing you from finding a style you really like.

The biggest hurdle, I've found, is that there is a hierarchy in style, and this is what constantly messes me up in the head. Realism is always on top, with different fads (art brute has been pretty big in the lowbrow scene for a while now) taking their place underneath it. Now, I personally do not believe that painting things realistically is the best way to make art, but if you ever show a painting that's painted photo realistically to anyone, they'll say "wow, you're a great painter." If you show the best abstract in the world to a random stranger, you'll get reactions from "you're amazing" to "what does this even mean," to "you're not a painter, you just put random splashes of paint on canvas." Humans naturally are drawn to things that remind them of themselves and what they know, so realism always tends to feel like it's the most important way to make art (this is not true, however).

At Academy of Art in SF, the illustration and fine art programs both emphasis learning strong draftsmanship, line control, rendering form, color theory, etc., etc. It is a very technical school that places a lot of emphasis early in the program on classical realism. However, as a painter who is more inspired by Camille Rose Garcia and Luke Chueh than Rembrandt or John Singer Sargent, this mucked up my painting for a long time. While I could paint realistically, I didn't really like to, but people really liked the work that I was doing. This made it hard for me to really embrace the style that I wanted to do, and I would end up doing a little bit of both styles, which made my pieces mediocre, as they weren't painted very technically, but they weren't really stylized either. This is something that I'm still fighting now.

The other major roadblock to finding a style is that for people like me, I like lots of different styles. While I plan to succeed as an artist with multiple styles, this is very, very, very rare. Like I said before, styles evolve, but you don't see many painters known for both their photorealism and their abstract paintings. I have found that once again, this is a question of mileage.

In a week, if you're trying out three different styles, and it takes you on average 24 hours to do a painting, assuming ALL you do is paint (no sleep, eating, potty, etc.), you can get 2.3 paintings done in each style. If you are just working in one style, in a month you'll get 7 paintings in the same style. No wonder if you're constantly experimenting, things will take longer for you to find a style you really like. No one really falls in love on the first date, you have to keep on going out and figuring out if you really like the person. The same goes with style. If you're looking, it will take you longer in the experimental phase the more styles you are interested in. But the only way to figure out what works for you is to put in the time and effort and see if it's right for you.

Anyhoo, thanks for reading this lengthy post, and I hope you got an insight into my personal struggle with style and were able to take away something useful.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Working on Your Art

Working On Your Art:

Last week, Seal talked about starting your art project. As the artist, once you have started on your next art idea, you will enter the phase of "working on your project." During this stage, the artist may go through a series of different approaches, starting and stopping, re-evaluation (should I continue on this piece of art or is it finished for now?), milestone upon milestone of simple mileage.

Seal fully believes that the difference between a professional artist and a hobby or student artist, is all about mind frame and mileage. A professional artist prioritizes the art as part of her/his life. It is something that cannot be separated from the person, it haunts the artist and there is a gnawing if the art is not worked on.

Mind frame: Everyday and at every moment there is a chance to say "yes" or "no" to your artwork. Even when we have decided on our next idea and have begun to work on our art, everyday we must make a decision - shall I continue on this art, or not. Most often than not, surprisingly, we say "no." No. no. no. The dishes, the cat, the day job, the friends, the Facebook, the movie takes takes priority over the art- often without the artist making a direct conscious decision. We suddenly find ourselves at the end of the day without having done a single action towards our art. We didn't even realize that we said "no" to our art throughout the day.

A healthy habit for an artist to cultivate is to be aware and clearly hear the "yes" or "no" and make a conscious decision. Sometimes the Nos are valid and needed. No- I will not work on this right now. I need to rest. But the No needs to be clear and it cannot be a maybe. Maybe later. Not now. Or um, I don't know. Um, I'll watch tv first. These are all distracting maybes, they are essentially Nos, but they are uncommitted Nos and leaves the artist robbed of their agency to make a conscious guilt-free decision.

So the trick to "working on your art" is to boldly, consciously state "yes" or "no" AND to convert more of those nos into yeses. Make a commitment right now, Yes- I will work on this art right now, this moment. Yes- I am cleaning my palette. Yes - I am writing the next sentence to my novel. Yes-I am at the moment, calling the art gallery for my next show. Yes to art!

It is much easier to maintain a working vehicle and push it down a hill than it is to constantly have to start and stop the engine.

Mileage: After you have accumulated many "yeses" and enter the zone of working, it's all about mileage and consistency. I love what my old art instructor used to say, "the difference between you and me, is that I have been drawing and painting for 30 years." The same way with a piece of art, the difference between the art inside the gallery and the art on your studio easel is 30-80 more hours.

Personally, Seal often goes through several stages during the "working" phase. Usually, for Seal, the first 5 hours are the "ugly drawing stage." Man, does it look crappy. Wow - look at that color. What is that?! I am just pushing paint around. I don't know what I am doing. etc. etc. But if I work through the muck and get pass the "ugly stage" things start to get better - Hey, what an interesting color choice, or not bad, let's try this, of how about that. It's starting to look like a person! For some people this ugly stage is only 30 minutes for others it is 10 hours, it depends.

Actually, unfortunately, most people give up during this first stage. Imagine that, they never get pass the wall and see the potential of their next Picasso or Michaelangelo. Their next best statue simply remains a block of marble.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even it that means, just working 15 minutes on the art during lunchbreaks at your day job.

Sometime, throughout the working phase, the artist will have to make several decisions. Shall I continue, is it finished, it is what it is, should I scrap it and start over. In this way, art is like a lover/friendship/relationship. Shall I give it another chance? Where is it going? Maybe if I will try this. or it was fun and now it is finished. With art, no matter how "serious" the piece, there needs to be an element of fun and appreciation. One artist, I know, names his canvases, "Great One" or "Bad-Ass" etc.

In the end, you can start, stop, and re-start at any moment. If you haven't been working on your art, right now, at this very moment is a good chance to say "yes." Begin with the next best step. What can I do right now, that will make it easier for me to start, work, and finish on my art? Do it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Late Wednesday post (aka Thursday post)

So first off, sorry this is late. Second, in compliance with the new laws concerning bloggers and testimonials, etc., we would like to say that unless specifically notified, Monkey + Seal do not do paid referrals, endorsements, etc. If we talk about a product, we do not get anything via affiliate programs or anything. We endorse things because we believe in them, not because we got paid. And if we were to get paid, we wouldn't do it unless we believed in the product (and we'd notify you too). With that, Monkey would like to talk about a book today:

So I found a listing of good books that every illustrator should read (as well as some killer tips for upcoming illustrators on the fabulous and amazingly talented Yoko Shimizu's website. If you haven't heard of her, go to her site right now and check out all her amazing illustrations. Seriously.

Anyhoo, I ended up buying (and reading) all the books listed, and I found that the single most powerful read was Paul Arden's It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be.

It's a pretty awesome read that you can pick up for cheaps through most online sources - we got a used copy :) It's a simple, short read written by one of the world's top advertising agents. Even though it's specifically for ad people, it really is applicable for any creative who wants to get paid to make art.

It has awesome pieces of advice like "Getting fired can be a positive career move," and "the person who doesn't make mistakes is unlikely to make anything." All in all, it keeps me motivated and thirsty for success. When I think thoughts like "I wish I was able to fully support myself from my art," I realize that I'm thinking small and change my thoughts to something like "I want my art to be more famous than McDonalds/Coca-Cola/Jesus." Gotta think big if you want big things to happen.

It also reminds me that making mistakes is alright, and that every mistake is just a learning opportunity to hep you on your way to international superstardom. I highly recommend it, and I think you can get it for under $8 if you play your cards right.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday: new and finished illustrations

Seal finally finished one of her past black and white illustration from a previous Saturday Process post and wanted to share the final piece above. She decided to use graphite pencil (Prismacolor black, Pitt graphite HB, 3B, & 6B) in order to achieve the grainy film look. Compare the smoothness of the marker value study (left bottom) to the grainy pencil texture (above). In her final piece she pushed the contrast and made the darks really dark and the lighted area almost a washed out light. She wanted to frame the two figures within the shape of the doorway.

She first toned the entire paper with a medium 50% gray. Then she added all the dark values first and subtracted the lights by using an electric eraser. The electric eraser is very good in making bold highlights and sharp edges. Seal recommends Straedler or Helix brand. Straedler has a stronger motor, but bigger edge, and less control. Helix has a weaker motor, small tip, and if it doesn't die out on you, is actually very good for control.

Values (lights and darks) can really add to the storytelling aspect of a piece. Seal chose the gargoyles to be really dark almost disappearing into the background of the night, to portray a sinister, shadowy, and mysterious/ambiguous voyeuristic figure.
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As an artist, Seal really enjoys the research process. She is now currently learning about Egyptian architecture. Below is a sneak peak at her most recent in progress illustration.

Thanks for visiting!