Friday, January 6, 2017

Art History - Meenanful Life

(I have an art history spanning seventeen years, so if this is a "TOO LONG; DIDN'T READ" kind of thing for you, skim through, look at the years attached to the art, and read the bold art lessons. ;) Enjoy!)

Anyone who has any decent skills in art have probably heard this before.

"I wish I was good at drawing." 

Sometimes this is a result of jealousy. Sometimes it's a reverse psychological attempt to get free art. Sometimes it's simply a genuine wish to be better. 

But it's almost always because the person saying it doesn't realize the effort it takes to get to that level. 

Drawing, like writing, music, or any other kind of creative activity, is not a skill that we are automatically born with. Well, most of the time. There are some people who have a natural talent for it.

But most people have to put in the time, effort, and dedication to get better. 

Take me for an example.

1999-2003 ART

These are some of the oldest art pieces I have saved. Most of these were done during my early high school days, so about 1999 to 2000. Pathetic attempts if you look at them now. 

You might also notice that these are all characters. Fan characters specifically. I find that a lot of people these days start off with things like that. My characters particularly were for stories I was writing (and that I'm still writing), so getting basic character design was my only motivation for art. 

Well... not entirely. 

When I started these guys, it was to show people up. =P My friends were making fan characters and I thought, "I can do better than that." 

Turns out, I couldn't, but darned if I didn't try! 

That led me to my next development in artwork. Pixel art.

2005-2007 ART

I stumbled on a Sonic fan forum where pixel art was a big thing. So I started doing pixel art.

Again, all characters. All for the purpose of learning character design. 

You'll notice very little in the way of improvement. The point WASN'T improvement yet. It was doing art for the love of it. 

And there's the first lesson. Your first and foremost motivation for doing art should be FOR THE LOVE OF IT. You want to draw because it's FUN and you pull ENJOYMENT out of it rather than for the desire to just do perfect work. 

Heck, I used to think these things were GOOD. And I suppose for my skill level, they were. Looking at them now is laughable though.

I was doing a ton of art at the time. I loved doing it, so I took requests and drew characters whenever I had a spare moment. I got fairly "famous" on the boards, probably because of all the requests I took.

I thought I was pretty dang awesome.

But then I met Omni. And he had work like this.

Which was vastly superior to mine. And suddenly people were flocking to him.

This could not be borne. And so started the Pixel Rivalry of the SSMB Boards.

Gradually my pixel art skills grew.

2008-2009 ART

It still wasn't great by any means, but it was a serious improvement. More dynamic. Changes in shading and poses. Better lineart technique.

Omni and I eventually became friends and started working off each other's skills, helping each other improve. We even did collaborative pieces.

That's the second lesson to learn from this. Have an art partner to help encourage you. You don't necessarily need someone to teach you skills, but it should be someone who's not afraid to tell you where your skills lack, and yet be ready to lift you up when you're feeling down about your skills.

By that point, I had decided I wanted to start bringing the Zyearth world away from the Sonic style world and into its own. That. . . had some issues.

2009-2010 ART
One of the big problems with Sonic style art is that the characters DON'T HAVE NECKS. So it took YEARS of practice to be able to learn how to draw necks and shoulders on a character. Any chance I could, I did something to hide the neck.

The same problem applied to eyes. Most Sonic characters have freakin' connected eyes, so drawing the eye shape separately was a new skill for me.

Early attempts had... mixed results.

Also, drawing bigger meant these took a LOT more time to work though, so I was not putting them out nearly as fast. That definitely set me back a while. The old shading techniques weren't working either, and their poses were so... stiff. So I tried working through that.

Years of practice eventually led me to this.

2012-2013 ART

This was the first new style of pixel art that I was truly proud of, and one that I had done with the distinct goal of improving as an artist. Notice the dynamic pose, the stronger shading, the better anatomy, the properly proportions, and even the subtle expression.

It's not without faults. The mouth is... strange, to be honest. The shading doesn't make sense and doesn't follow a light source. The pant leg showing is totally wrong. The pendant is WAY too big and isn't moving correctly.

But it's a HUGE improvement from this.


I continued the new style for a while and put out a few more pieces.

Even though there's a lot of obvious mistakes, I'm still pretty proud of these ones.

It was at this point though, that I was realizing how much my pixel art was limiting my ability to grow. I had come to a point where to truly improve as an artist, I needed to do something different.

So I moved to Photoshop.


Anatomy isn't... bad. Okay, yes it is. Light source is... kind of there. Texture is.... um.... something....


Another lesson in art. Sometimes when improving, you take several steps backward before moving forward. 

Part of this was the new medium. I had never really worked in photoshop before. Part of this was the new tools. Pixel art was always done with a mouse and this was done with a drawing tablet.

But a big part of this was unlearning things I had learned wrong and relearning how to do it RIGHT. 

Photoshop work took a lot more time at first too, since I had no idea what I was doing and I still applied pixel art techniques to my photoshop work. That DOES NOT WORK. But since completing a piece took a long time, I had a hard time getting many FINISHED. I'd get bored and start being lazy, or move on to something else. I have so many unfinished pieces, you don't want to know. >>

But I got a few done.

2013-2015 ART

None of this is great art. It's fun to look at, but it's got so many flaws that I can't enjoy this nearly as much as I enjoy the previous generation of pixel art. It was so much work to UNLEARN that it got frustrating. There were times I wanted to give up.

But I refused. Another art lesson. Instead of trying something too big and too far outside of your comfort zone, sometimes you need to go back to what drew you to art in the first place. For me, that was only one thing. Character design.

This was the first piece I was happy with since purposefully pushing myself to improve. I liked his expression, the shape of his body, the anatomy, the clothes, the shadow under him, and, as my friend Carrie put it, "dem eyes, doe." This was the first time I felt like I had truly improved.

And considering where I had come from...


I really had. Ten years of deliberate work makes a huge difference.

Over 2016, (the DREADED YEAR) I did more character pieces, specifically trying to work through some major issues I had with art. The two biggest ones that I was working at fixing was light sourcing, and SPEED.

So I did a ton of pieces for the Zyearth website and learned some new techniques about blocking in shading before going in detail. I got a lot of work done, but three favorites really stick out in my mind.

2016 ART

Sami's piece is simply squee worthy to me. Some of the shading is wonky, but her smile, the generally good light sourcing and those EYES really made me giggle with glee the whole time I worked on her.

Aric's snout and spots posed a particular challenge for me while I did his shading, not to mention the fact that he's got black fur. Black is one of the HARDEST colors to shade. Make it too dark and you can't see shapes. Make it too light and it becomes just GRAY. It was a lot of work. The spots too. But it worked out and he makes me happy to look at.

Natassa has such a difficult character design. I could picture it in my head, but trying to get it on a page was so HARD. I think it came out pretty good though. It took me a while to get used to the design, but I've fallen in love with it since.

My first attempt at a human in a LONG TIME. Not... great, but FAR superior to the previous attempt. Certainly good enough for my purposes. And fun!

And now... the challenge of 2017.

One of the big things that my art support groups still say I struggle with is fluidity in my art. Many of my fellow artists say the art looks stiff, and I can kind of see what they mean. Again, probably a product of my pixel art days, where ever piece was literally assembled pixel by pixel and even one out of place could ruin the piece. Photoshop painting is much less precise. I'm still getting used to that.

So last November I took a sketch class. I learned a ton and I plan to apply that. This year will be the year of art improvement!

Every Friday, I'm going to post a sketch dump so hopefully as I'm going on this journey, you'll be encouraged to as well! Art can only improve with deliberate choices to work toward improvement. So if you've ever wanted to learn to draw - now's the time.

Let's work together to improve ourselves this year! 

1 comment:

  1. Xp I have thoes origanal pieces of art, origanals or copies and I honestly don't think they are bad. Sure you're better now, but they were well done enough for me to hold on to. I might be able to even find earlier poeces around... I'll keep an eye out. Love ya.


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