I just read a really bad take that art is elitist activity that only the wealthy can indulge in. This of course ignores all sorts of crude forms of art that occur in society, framing art as not an activity practiced by the masses, but just some isolated fine art movement that can only be attained through art schools and galleries. I disagree with that, there's so many artists that just get by and struggle to make ends meet. There's even more that just indulge in art whenever and wherever they can.
I chose art as a hobby because it was one of the cheapest things that I could do. For years I drew with ballpoint pens and pencils on the back of recycled school assignments, occasionally treating myself to fresh blank paper or a notebook. I would scrounge up paper and save it up and use it sparingly, drawing really tiny to get maximum value. My current drawing set up is far more luxurious in comparison, 5 pens (1 brush pen, roughly 4 Pigma Micron pens), 2 mechanical pencils, a couple of erasers, and two stacks of decent quality cartridge paper (100 GSM and 120 GSM). I make my own sketchbooks, so I use some cheap string, a needle and some hard card as extra material. All of that is worth less than $20 and it lasts for roughly a year. That's like two nice lunches for two over here.
There is also the argument that art needs the luxury of time. It's true that time is needed to refine art. But many people turn to art as a way to relax and take their minds off the crushing realities of work life. Even if it is a rebellious scribble while the boss is droning on in a meeting, it is by all means, art. I know kids living under the poverty line that use art as a form of escape. Art is not just the tiresome grind to gain skills. It is the little moments that we steal away for ourselves and indulge in our need to create something. To lower art making into a mechanical process of increasing technical skill loses sight of why people engage in it in the first place.
There are some proponents of AI art that view it as liberating the ability to create visuals for the masses. It's a good time to open the discussion about what is art. These days I consider that art is the process and the person behind it, the results are just a shadow cast by the light within a human being. If we only care about fast results that can be generated in the thousands, then we resign ourselves to live in a world where we are never be able to look beyond shadows flickering against a wall.
I saw some art that was obviously drawn by someone that was just learning how to draw. The proportions were a bit off, the linework a bit clumsy, obvious mistakes with anatomy, poor understanding of clothing and drapery. It was amateurish. Not that I'm really professional now, but I remember a time when everything I drew didn't come out right and it was just so frustrating. After every drawing session I would just crumble into bed and feel horrible. It felt like all those images in my head were beyond my reach. Like I was trying to claw my way through a wall with my fingernails.
And my insecurities told me that I shouldn't show any of it to anyone. They would ridicule me for my lack of talent. All the good artists would look down on me. I still keep my early art, the ones that I didn't destroy, shamefully hidden deep under piles of folders. But now, with some experience under my belt, when I look at art that is obviously made by someone that is still learning, I'M REALLY IMPRESSED. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's an appreciation for the process. But the art has a different quality to it, like some immeasurable courage and determination to draw in spite of all the challenges ahead.
At a time when someone can create polished art in seconds using an AI engine, one of those crazy dreamers attempting drawing and producing rough art is just so human. All those dreams and foibles and struggles. Pressing on against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Put down onto paper. Just so human.
I have kept the habit of working on a sketchbook/journal for years. But over the years I feel like the function of the sketchbook/journal has become a bit more journal heavy rather than drawing focused. It's small, an A6 size, and also quite thick at 100+ pages, so it takes me a while to get through it. At the time it suited my needs. I just wanted something portable to draw in regularly. But as I write down a lot more personal journaling, the pages felt a bit more precious, not to be wasted on dumb sketches of robots. The small pages have also started to feel a bit cramped, I can't draw more detailed large scale drawings because of the size limits.
To work on more comic projects I got a sketchbook with squares printed on the pages (I wanted a dotted one, but I couldn't find one for a reasonable price). It helps to roughly draw my panels when planning thumbnails and to make to-do lists to keep track of projects. The paper quality isn't good and wouldn't take ink well. It's a bit larger at B5 size. But its worthlessness is helpful for me as I can just unleash my unrestrained creativity on it and get ideas out fast. I just fill pages with mindless pencil sketches. Or I rough out an entire comic strip and plan out dialogue. Or I just jot down notes.
I took the chance during my current spree of bookbinding to make some different sketchbook formats. The first was a small pocket booklet for Inktober '22, which had 32 pages of 120 GSM cartridge paper and a thin cardboard cover. It worked very well. It took ink without major bleeding between pages. I could carry it all over the place and it made my inktober a breeze to do in between more important matters. I just slipped it in my bag along with my other books. It was a good way to share my art too, I could just pass the booklet to my friends that wanted to look through it.
After that experience I wondered if a similar format would work for my other finished art. Most of the art on this website is just done on loose paper that I just keep in a folder. So I binded a larger format 16 page sketchbook, A5 sized 100 GSM cartridge paper with a similar thin cardboard cover. For this one I tried to do more finished pieces instead of just rough sketches. Sort of like my inktober experiment, but with more emphasis on quality instead of quantity. So far it's going well, almost half full.
Anyways, that just a short snapshot of the types of sketchbooks that I am currently using and how that affects my art output. I think what we draw on has a big effect on how we think about art.
I recently watched John Berger's "Ways of Seeing", it's a thought provoking documentary about fine art, commercial art and culture. The first episode presents the idea that the paintings of the old masters can be reproduced as prints and copies. It was then that it occurred to me that I had studied these paintings by the old masters for more than a decade, but I had never actually seen one. I've only ever seen reproductions. I see them as prints that are hung up. Or as pages in a book. At the rate things are going, I probably will not see one in a long time. I might never see one. I've seen paintings in contemporary galleries, but usually those are relatively new stuff because oil paintings was never a tradition on this side of the world.
Of course I have access to things that would appear to be 'exotic' to a western audience, but it's all very commonplace to me so I never think about highlighting it. I don't bat an eyelid at a statue of Guan Yu in a smoky altar or intricately carved woodwork patterns. (There was a point in my life where I thought that all countries had colorful temples filled with incense and statues of deities.) Just as a visitor to one of the great art museums of the western world would see the artifacts of my culture on a podium in a white space with a small card explaining the context, I see oil paintings in the same way. Freed from the gilded frames. Not exclusive expensive possessions of the wealthy, but pages and posters and high definition digital images. Stuff that I pick up from discount book shops, old library books and wikipedia. In my mind these classic oil paintings aren't exclusive status symbols, they were cheap and easily accessible. Totally divorced from their original context. Low art.
And perhaps this misunderstanding lead to how easily reproducible my own work is. It is optimised to show up on your computer screen. Some quite easily printable on a home printer. The original hardly matters. The copies are just as good, perhaps even better. I tend to draw for myself, but once it's done it's meant to be shared, saved and spread without limits. Disposable and not hung in galleries. Because that's how I first came into contact with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Durer, Titian and gang. Easy to find and distribute.
Maybe this is an effect of a world where information moves so fast and images are so easy to share. Art is constantly reinterpreted as times change. Only a relatively small group of people have access to the original paintings in high security and gilded frames. Across this wide world, my views might be more commonplace than the existing orthodoxy.
AI art is the new thing that has appeared to terrorise already weary visual artists. Imagine a mathematical model that is trained on your art style and can replicate your art from just a few words in a prompt. Worryingly, plenty of people have greeted the idea of disposing of artists with glee. Some tout it as a triumph of technology over the need to spend years training to even get mediocre results. Artists, already ridden with self-doubt and struggling to make ends meet, suddenly find themselves being replaced by machines. Companies have started to use AI art for editorials, eating into the already slim job market for visual artists. It's all very dystopian at a time when everything feels unrelentingly dystopian.
One problem, or perhaps something artists can exploit, about AI art is that it requires a training dataset. The more examples that the model has to train on, the better it can get at approximating how you draw. So what defenses do we have against bots collecting our art and turning it into a training dataset? Being unskilled and not worth copying is probably the best defence. But perhaps reducing the number of your images that are avaiable at any given time helps too, especially from social media, large aggregators and gallery websites. In this case, being lazy or unproductive might be an advantage. Or maybe littering your gallery with junk images that are easily identifiable by a human audience but would introduce a whole lot of error to an unsupervised AI.
Maybe artists will have to adapt, like how they adapted to the invention of photography. Maybe we will have to explore new styles and unique methods of drawing, now that anime pin ups can easily be generated from a small set of prompts. Maybe art will not have any economic value anymore, and then we will have to ask those deep questions about why we do it. Maybe after we get used to it, AI art starts to look cheap and obvious. Who knows where all of this is leading?
I don't like it when the future is too uncertain. But unfortunately this is just the time that we are given.
"Incompetence cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another." is my law of incompetence. You can never stop feeling stupid about something. Once you learn how to do something well, you will always realise that you are incompetent in another part of life. For everything you learn, you will uncover more of your ignorance. You cannot get rid of your incompetence, it shifts around and changes form, but it never leaves you.
It's especially apparent in art, where the more you learn, the more you find places where you are lacking. Some people can't take the heartbreak of fighting this hopeless battle and quit to be incompetent in a different field, some people learn to live with uncertainty and doubt and that uncomfortable shame.
Sometimes I wonder if my style is a result of not wanting to confront my incompetence. I can barely paint, so I don't really rely on color or rendering. Instead of a difficult study, I keep to the familiar, because I'm exhausted. I'm tired of being stalked by my incompetence, I'm like a fool trying to run away from my own shadow.
But no human can escape from incompetence.
If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?
I've gotten back into a groove with drawing. But when given the choice of drawing more stuff or actually scanning and posting stuff that I've already made, I choose the former. (I still have something I made for #MerMay that I haven't put up yet...)
Most of the time I draw for myself. Be it a practice drawing, a personal sketch that isn't meant to be shared or an actual full illustration; I do these for fun. We've gotten into this culture of constantly posting updates, making jokes to get the attention of the algorithm and keeping in the public eye with art. And now that I'm not part of that scene anymore, I'd like to take the opportunity to do my art on my own terms. On a website art stays up longer and can be explored at anyone's own pace. So I'll take my time and just dump the results of it when I'm in the mood to do the scanning and posting.
I'm tired of hustling and building a side income. I just want to move my tools on paper and draw cool and self indulgent stuff. Maybe it doesn't need to be said, maybe it does; but art doesn't need to be shared. It can lie deep in a pile of paper, without human eyes ever seeing it, slowly crumbling away and being forgotten without people knowing that it ever existed. I'm going to be honest with myself, my sketch of a cool robot is not going to be considered an important piece of world cultural heritage.
Perhaps that is art, the thunderous crash of an ancient tree onto the forest floor where not a single person is around to hear it.
I think everyone has a personal epic story that they will never complete, or not even try to write (or draw).
Webcomics and fanfiction sites are littered with half started epics that just ran out of steam. With audiences and creators just losing interest after the hard work of introducing the world and getting the main characters motivations sorted out. Really long stories are usually not a viable way to build an income, so it eats away at creators time and energy and eventually the pressure gets to them and they burn out. Some are fortunate enough to get a following or stubborn enough to continue on, but for most it ends after the first 3 or 4 chapters.
One thing I remember about anime in the 90's is that we rarely got it in order, often it was glimpses of an episode, a shrine on the internet with gifs, episode summaries found online, some merchandising that was missing the actual media or the series aired out of order. But the mystery of it all was so fantastic. Information wasn't easy to find. The not knowing let me fill the gap with an image that was usually much better than the actual content itself.
I once came across this manga anthology thing where the mangaka made just the 100th chapter of a manga, aptly titled My 100th Chapter!!. Sadly it's only partially translated and most of it is NSFW. But it was a really fun narrative experiment. (BattleSexer SEISHIRO was really something...)
So I've been wondering, if you really can't make the entire epic, why don't we just skip all the build up and just do a glimpse of the most interesting part? Like 1% of that thousand page epic? Leave it as a super mysterious thing without a beginning or an end, but just containing the essence the epic?
I find myself watching less western media these days. I still read essays, books and watch documentaries. But on a whole I find myself not watching as much western visual media as I used to. I don't read as much comic books, I don't watch cartoons, I stopped watching movies, I don't play video games and I'm looking at less artwork. Considering I grew up on a steady stream of 80's and 90's cartoons, computer games and Hollywood movies, it does feel a bit odd that I'm losing interest in it. For something that defined a lot of my early life, I'm drifting away from it, a bit alienated by what it is becoming.
I'm not going to get into all the reasons why I feel that way and it would sound like a rant by an old person. It's definitely not for the reasons that an outrage farming alt-right youtube channel would whine about for 12 minutes. Maybe my tastes have just drifted too far from the average target audience of the content. I don't expect my odd tastes to be pandered to, I'm definitly not in the window of people that these types of media target. It's not like I'm actually deprived of entertainment. There's plenty of stuff that doesn't come from the west.
One thing I noticed recently in Southeast Asia is that kids these days only watch American cartoons as a second choice (or perhaps even lower down the hierarchy), they prefer cartoons in their own language and culture first. Unlike the monolithic globe spanning pop culture that I grew up with, things are so different and fragmented. There's more K-Pop than American pop music, anime and manga is more recognisable than cartoons and comics, Chinese gatcha games dominate smartphones, kids grow up watching more Upin & Ipin than Sesame Street, there's an absolutely huge amount of non-English language streamers that are invisible to the Anglosphere. It really feels like pop culture is breaking apart into region specific entertainment instead of a single superpower dominating the entire conversation. If I had to point to a decade where American soft power's grip on global culture weakened, it would be the 20's.
So maybe it's not just me, and I am in fact just following a larger global trend of increasingly popular vernacular content.
I haven't made much progress in my art for a while, nor taken much risks that let me grow as an artist. Perhaps this is the dreaded stagnation that all artists encounter eventually.
As far as I'm concerned my drawing skills are adequate. It's no longer the frustration of not being able to express what I imagine. I can draw what I see in my head. But I can't help but have a nagging feeling that maybe I've just adjusted my imagination to my drawing skill. Instead of being free to conjour up any image, I wonder if I'm somewhat conservative with whatever I imagine so I can feasibly draw it.
I've seen this happen with professional and commission artists, their art ossifies into a rigid style so they can pump out art efficiently. Everything starts to look a bit the same, like what you would expect from the artist instead of wild experimentation. But isn't that prefferable to constant failed experiments and the purgatory of being 'Not good enough?'
Is stagnation bad? I have so many other priorities right now that I'd rather pursue. Better get those done and find the time to rest than spend my days grinding and struggling to level up. Maybe 'good enough' is 'good enough'. Why did I even bother to learn to draw in the first place if I didn't have an skill goal that I could reach?
I'll stagnate for a bit longer I think. Not purely out of choice. Hopefully one day I will find the balance between pushing forward and accepting my current skill level.
My art output has slowed to a crawl in the last two months due to work commitments. I'm still making things, but it is at a slower pace than I would like. I'm struggling to find the balance between quality and manageable workflows.
I was chatting with friends that enjoy literature and someone mentioned that a lot of really good artists and writers have a ton of notes and correspondence that they leave behind. Is it a case of them being famous and therefore a lot of their stuff gets archived, or is it that just taking a lot of notes, sketching and writing a lot pays off with the creative process? Maybe it's somewhere in the middle. But I do see how a library of fastidiously taken notes about life and emotions, writing for the sake of writing and sketches of whatever comes to mind, can be useful. I often mine the hasty sketches and scribbles of my art journals for inspiration for comics or artwork.
I'm often curious about the sketches made by artists. I always found Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and studies to be far more interesting than his Mona Lisa. I remember reading about how Douglas Adams, of "Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy" fame, used to write down a ton of stuff that never gets into anything. I love looking at books with sketched out concepts, not the fully rendered stuff that goes into artbooks, but the really rough pencil sketches that really capture the energy of the idea. Guilermo del Toro comes to mind with his sketches and notes of pivotal scenes.
Maybe quantity really does play an important part in the creation of quality. But it's just hidden in a closet to preserve the curated public experience of quality. I sometimes draw something, then put it away once I realise that it doesn't meet my standard (it is my standard, just not a standard worth showing people), only to come back and redo it again to produce satisfactory results. Smoothing over my inconsistencies by removing the defects. In an analog world, this hidden layer usually is found following the death of an artist, in the digital world it's a lot more fragile, often disappearing for good after a hard disk crash or any similar mishap.
Maybe I should put up more of my unfinished work. Then you can see all the awful misses to go along with the hits. It wouldn't be comfortable for me. But I guess that's still art.
I started this art blog in the thick of the pandemic when everything was closed down and I had as much time to draw as I wanted. Over here we've moved to a phase of pandemic control known as "pretend our problem doesn't exist". That means working from home is over. That means traffic on levels that I haven't seen in the last two years. I hate it.
When I look back, my most productive periods of making art have always been the times when I didn't have a long commute. Commuting just sucks away any energy that could have gone into drawing. Even if I use the time to think about what I want to draw, by the time I get back I'm just too tired to follow through. Work stress also kills any desire to draw too, some days I'm just so worn out that all I want to do is mindless activities and sleep. It's like we live in an economic system that actively prevents a majority of people from creating, instead forcing us into a braindead state of exhaustion.
I wish I had a solution to it. But I don't until I can get out of my current work commitments. Until then, I will have to suffer not being to work on my personal projects. Perhaps prevention is better than cure. One of the best artistic choices you can make is how long your commute is. Choose something short so you actually have the time and energy to draw.
It's been a while since I could go for a long walk. No destination in mind, just the act of walking for the sake of walking. Sometimes stopping to take a photo or two, but generally not doing anything other than putting one foot ahead of the other. Through the meandering walk my mind drifts. I think about words that I want to write, images that I want to draw, stories that I want to tell. I can't direct where my mind is going, which is bad for the stuff that have deadlines, but good for those ideas that have been long stewing at the back of my mind that suddenly come bubbling up to the surface. When I walk I'm in a world of my own, with no distractions to pull me out of it.
I can think about interesting shapes, flat or three dimensional. Patterns and forms. A small scene, a quick piece of dialogue. Scraps of a half remembered poem. Hum along to a song. Fold an imaginary piece of paper in my hands. Remember something that I once said. Watch a regret come and go. Think about the future. Stop and look at the moon. Take a photo. Outline an essay. Breathe in the humid night air. List down my overdue projects and anxieties. Rearrange my thoughts. Buy a drink. Sit down and enjoy it. Watch the moon. Feel my legs start to ache. Fantasise about winning an award and getting recognition. Realise that that is a bad idea. Shuffle around elements in a composition. Weigh how appropriate different tools are for the job. Remember how nice scratching on paper with a dip pen feels. Look at the stars, they are actually planets.
Art manuals are full of steps that you need to make art, numbered and arranged. It's really similar to a recipe or a cookbook. But life is always pushes towards the non-linear and meandering. It's not as simple of getting your art supplies ready and moving to step 2: thumbnails. It's putting down your tools and going off on a walk, collecting those slivers of inspiration in between the jumble of your other thoughts. An act of gathering and foraging instead of hunting and chasing. As I think more about my art, perhaps what makes something really good is how many lonely journeys have been walked to obtain it.
For some reason I've been thinking about "The Lord of the Rings" a lot recently. The movies came out when I was at an impressionable age, and hence made quite an impression on me. But to be honest, I didn't like the books as much and think that the movies were the superior version (My Tolkien-loving-friends always pause and glare at me whenever I say this). My main contention with the books was that they were really draggy at some parts, there's sudden poetry everywhere and there were so many side distractions that don't affect the plot in any way (Like Tom Bombadil). In many ways, I have viewed LoTR as a very self absorbed work.
But after discussing it with a Tolkien-loving-friend, I've started to rethink my position. Perhaps LoTR endures because it is a monument of self absorbed geekery. It is quite obvious that Tolkien was doing it more for himself than anybody else. He was tapping into the depth of his own experience and his obsessions, all the excessive worldbuilding and languages wouldn't have been made without it. It's not Hollywood focus group storytelling, it feels far more authentic.
I've been reviewing the subject matter of my art in 2021 recently and I find that it has been incredibly self absorbed. I'm drawing whatever I want to draw, and admittedly it is a bit shallow, repetitive and very niche (I am going to draw another woman waist deep in water and you cannot stop me). But it's me exploring my own obsessions, me drawing what I find to be fun. It has been the most fun I've had with art in a while, coming after I finished a serious art project that bored me to death halfway through. I'd like to think that my output in the past year has been like a scraggy animal burrow filled with shiny trinkets hidden in a niche rather than art that has been polished to the point where it flies like an aerodynamic cruise missile at its target market.
So I think I will take a page from Tolkien and be more Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo! Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!
I'm starting to see that I mostly progress in my art skill incrementally. I rarely have sudden spurts of revolutionary growth, what I get is usually a process of grinding at something. Slowly chipping away at an concept until I can do it relatively decently. But unfortunately that takes a lot of time. A lot of people expect fast gains and instant talent, the media that we consume tends to bias us towards these outliers. But for most getting good at art is a slow walk. Most of the times you can't even see the difference between each step. It's just a small increment, the results only visible after you've done it hundreds of times.
Art is so fast paced. There is a public expectation that it doesn't take long to master it. A 3-year art degree, a 12 step online course, some social media tutorial. There's an atmosphere of everyone rushing to make masterpieces in the time it takes to get a certificate. When I think back on people that actually did make masterpieces, the process was nowhere near like it is today. Thre was a lot more time between paintings. A lot more time to think deeply about a subject and study it properly (Although it still didn't stop them from repeating strange stylistic problems like an inability to draw cats). Perhaps it is better to just make incremental progress and take however long it takes to get to a masterpiece.
I think Hokusai said it best:
“From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”
I've been experimenting with printing out my artwork, just to see how it looks. I normally work traditionally, doing physical pencils and inking on a piece of paper. Then I photograph the illustration, give it a quick edit to correct for contrast, and publish it on a lower resolution on the internet. It looks decent on a computer screen. But recently I've been looking into reproduction in physical formats, so I've started printing out the scanned files to understand printing better. Some of my lower resolution scans looked terrible, but the ones that I saved at higher resolutions hold up after printing.
Printing also lets me resize the image. Going 50% smaller can make an artwork look a lot cleaner and neater since the minor mistakes aren't as obvious. This has been an artist trick since scaled reproductions were invented. The digitally edited contrasts also give it richer blacks than the original artwork, which sometimes have more inconsistancies in the ink and some reflection from glossier inks. I'm currently printing on a laser printer, so the blacks look good, but an inkjet would probably give different results.
There's also the satisfaction of holding the art, it just feels different from scrolling through a digital gallery. It also feels more finished than when I'm holding the original artwork. Like it has become something complete.
I put up a bunch of comics last week on my site. It was a fun exprience to publish some of my work that had just been sitting in a folder in my personal archive. I kind of always wanted to do a webcomic, even if it was not regularly updated. It was a passion project and the whole process (except the coloring) was really fun.
By design I didn't add anything to give me any feedback on it. One of the reasons why I avoided social media or modern webtoons sites is because I was uncomfortable being judged for it. And reflecting on that, I'd been used to instant feedback and approval/rejection for so long that the lack of it felt strange. The modern world is so full of people that just butt into any conversation and leave angry comments, that absense of conversation is somewhat of a relief. This is what people that wrote books in the past must have felt like (then again they probably did talk to other people about it).
Art evolves according to the medium it uses. I wonder how the instant feedback loop influences modern artists? Is the need for likes causing art styles to pander to a mainstream audience where the population is the highest? Or are the instant praise and comments in hidden discord channels causing some art styles to become overly narrow on really small niches to the point of inaccessiblity? Judgement and comments come in faster than we can even self-reflect and develop our own opinions on our work, is this really a good thing? Or is all the instant feedback the reason why kids are so good at art these days? I guess the only way to find out is to avoid instant feedback for while and see where that leads me.
I've noticed that I can tell the age of an artist based on stylistic trends that they are influenced by. It all used to be just art on the internet, made by the same group of people that were learning how to draw and adapting to posting art online. But maybe it's been long enough that trends and phases have come and gone, leaving archaeological layers that can be dug through and organised. A lot of artists in their early 20's have some influences from Homestuck, Undertale, maybe a bit of Boku no Hero Academia. I've met people in their late 20's that draw with a bit of Adventure Time and whatever cartoons that were popular 10 years ago. Early 30's people have a trace of the 2000's anime boom in their artwork. The Concept Art forums/Feng Zhu style of artbashed highly rendered art tends to be more for a cohort that is mid to late 30s/ early 40's, maybe I'm hanging out in the wrong places but I'm seeing much less of it now. There's also a tumblr cohort that seems to be old enough to be making cartoons and movies now.
Of course there are also people that are hard to place because their art is influenced by properties that stretch for generations like Pokemon, Dragonball or One Piece; or even those influenced by older artwork that has become easy to access due to the internet. I would say that my influences are a hodgepodge of old books I found in a library and whatever I could pirate off the internet. I guess you really can't avoid being part of the zeitgeist. No art exists in a vacuum after all.
"I can't even draw a straight line" is one of those cliche's that you hear when someone finds out that you can draw. Well, honestly I can't draw them either. Humans aren't designed to make straight lines. Out arms move in curved arcs rather than straight motions. To create straightness is to rein in instinct and natural motion and force an arc into a straight line with willpower and coordination. I may draw with straight hatched lines a lot, but I'm mostly faking it. When I look at my lines, I'm a bit annoyed at how the spacing is just a bit off. Or how I can only manage short segments of straight lines, which I join together or place closely to create the illusion of long straight lines. Or how the angle sometimes isn't consistant, changing by a few random degrees each time.
Not many people see the amount of work it takes to actually learn to produce good linework. There is an absurd amount of repetition that needs to be done before you are even decent at drawing lines. It's like playing scales on the piano or chefs chopping vegetables. A need to build up that muscle memory and constantly practice so when the time comes you can execute it like it looks natural.
I decided that I want to spend a bit more time improving my lines. I've been depending too much on bad habits like resting my hand against the paper to help me stabilise my lines. I need to get better consistancy with a brush, which is very far removed from the felt tipped pens that I'm used to. I've gotten sloppy with controlling my pressure. I need to improve my posture while drawing. So much to do, so little time...
I've been reading Japanese twitter comics, the format is very challenging: Keeping to the 4 image limit on twitter a complete story or a chapter has to be told within 4 pages. I find most of them a bit cliche and boring. With so little space, there is a tendency to overuse genre conventions, shorthands and archetypes. That said, at least they tried something and made it. I feel like I would take too long overthinking it and not be able to produce anything.
Formats of comics are reflective of the containers that they are delivered in. Newspaper comics changed from elaborate woodcut illustrations to simpler styles that would take up large broadsheets to smaller 3-4 panel strips as the fortunes of newspapers declined over a century. Webcomics have evolved from simple short strips that look good on a computer screen to vertical scrolling forms for a smartphone. 32-48 page monthly American superhero floppies adapt to a different form compared to 16-20 page weekly manga published in phonebook sized anthologies. Something published in a zine might have pages in a multiple of 4 with limited pages, while something web based would be much more haphazard with its pagecount. If you've ever published a book, printing, paper and color costs factor in to the style that you can pursue. Publishing in any medium produces unique constraints that must be overcome or adapted to.
Like water the form of art follows the shape of the container that it fills. But it's not a bad thing. Limitations breed creativity.
In the online art world, "GMI" is a term. It means "Going to make it". Conversely you could "NGMI" and not make it. What exactly "it" is is always some vague thing in the future. I used to think that "it" would be strong techinical skills or large followings or somehow making money off your art. But I have friends that do all these things and their lives are just as hard as everybody else's (If you want lots of money or recognition don't go into visual art).
Conversely, you don't have to make it. Making it is not the end goal of art. Your art can be like home cooking. Just enjoyed by a small group of people that appreciate it. You're not a factory, whatever you make doesn't need to be consumed by the masses. It is a common fantasy to have a huge amount of strangers approving of you and loving your work, but it's not something that you have to do. You can pursue simple and small things that meet a few people's needs, or maybe just your own. Even if your art isn't good in a technical sense, there will always be people that cherish it.
My goal right now it not to make it. I just want to make my art. Just make your art.
Art is treated as serious business. We tack on all sorts of superfluous words onto it like "transcendent" or "masterpiece". We elevate it to the level of divine. Especially if there's money involved. We put down people that make ugly art, even if they enjoyed making it. Not all animals are capable of art, but almost all mammals display some sort of play behaviour. I'd like to think that art is an extension of play. An offshoot of that mammalian need to put something into your jaws for fun. Perhaps we need to start thinking less of art, to bring it down from being so lofty and high and let it be a bit silly for once.
Lately I see that art is becoming less fun. It's used to target and dunk on others, to signal which group you belong to, to advertise how skilled you are, to hustle that hobby into a side income, to spread awareness on important issues, to grind that skill and level up, to be deep and thought provoking. It's actually really hard to find fun art made for the sake of fun. It really takes a lot of digging, maybe people don't really share the stuff that actually makes them happy. Maybe that's why artists are such a miserable lot.
Play does have a very important function. As we do stupid things for the sake of doing stupid things, we learn, or perhaps we invent stuff that we wouldn't have thought of if we were just focused on serious business.
There is space for transcendent pieces of art that speak to your soul. But in this world where it's so easy to access masterpieces, we need more silly scribbles. Art doesn't grow without room to play.
I haven't uploaded anything to my gallery in a while. Partly it's because I've been working on longer projects that I'll put up when it's done, but also because I'd like to rest a bit.
There is an insane part of online art culture that dictates that you have to be constantly productive. Like constantly hustling, studying and coming up with streams of content. Draw every day, Inktober, chasing relevance on the algorithm, all parts of a very unhealthy need to constantly do things.
Rest is an art in itself. You need proper sleep to dream and work through your emotions. To get your head straight. Some things really shouldn't be rushed, put away your tools and leave your work aside so you can see it with fresh eyes. I've made art while totally exhausted, only to find that it was absolutely terrible after I looked at it with rested eyes. It would have been better if I didn't waste my time and just rested without guilt. Rest is the invisble artform in which all other art grows from. But unfortunately it seems to be one of the most expensive art supplies available. It seems like we can't afford to rest these days.
Rest. Sleep. Regenerate your inspiration and passion without guilt.
I was recently looking through the fan art gallery at Sygnus Star, a Final Fantasy IV fan site run by Aywren. And it had such a treasure trove of examples of early internet fan art, a style which I usually call the "How to draw Manga" style. Many examples of these were lost over time as older sites went down, or when their artists deleted them in shame. But looking back at it, it really had a rough folk art aspect to it. A product of its time that we can never replicate.
While by the mid 00's Japan was moving towards more Moe artstyles and simpler rounded looking characters, there was a time lag in the media available to the west (Remember a time before simulcasts?). So the anime fanart of the west during the 00's was greatly influenced by popular trends in 90's anime, which was somewhat influenced by popular trends in 90's American comics. This typically meant a certain sharpness to the forms of characters (particularly in the chin area). Sailormoon, Gundam Wing, Saiyuki, Macross 7, Rurouni Kenshin, Saber Marionete, Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion were some examples of anime that have a certain 90's look.
The How to Draw Manga series also dominated bookstore shelves at the time, coming in during the manga/anime boom of the early 00's. Many of these books were also translations from Japanese drawing manuals made in the 90's or early 00's. A lot of these books were very crudely scanned and shared over file sharing in the early 00's, representing the most accessible art resources at the time. Early art communities also sprung up and Deviantart started to become a thing. It was an exciting time for kids that were just getting into art, they were exploring new frontiers of digital art and online art communities. And because they were the first ones there with little precedence, a lot of the art was the really cringey, rough and derivative in a way that only teenagers without guidance can make.
My own informal art instruction came from thumbing through How to Draw Manga Books in the bookstore, downloading really low resolution copies from file sharing sites and following whatever scans or tutorials I could find on websites. It was like a whole new world opening up when I attempted to draw an anime eye. I don't have anything left from my early attempts at learning how to draw manga. I destroyed it all in shame because it was really bad. Honestly I don't regret it.
"Go to Japan and become a Manga artist" was kind of the "Run away and join the circus" of that generation, although many did manage to make the journey, just as English teachers and tourists instead of full fledged artists. Some would try to make their own webcomics, to varying levels of success. Others would eventually move on to Artstation, CGPeers, Concept art and Tumblr and lay the foundation of the popular movies, games, comics and cartoon styles of the 10's. I guess a lot of the "How to Draw Manga" kids did make it eventually.
Looking at how good kids are at art now, I think it was because the previous generation had built up a culture of digital art and online art in general. But with websites and forums going down, a lot of this early internet culture is going to be lost. Maybe this chapter of art history will be forgotten, just living on as a shameful memory of people who were once cringey young weaboos (To think all this happened before the term weaboo was coined).
Occasionally people praise my artwork and I have to hold myself back from replying with an essay on everything that is wrong with that piece. Sometimes I reply with "It's not that good...", which seems like humble bragging, but it really is because I've looked at it enough to realise how awful it is. Anything that you draw has flaws that are intimately known by you, and perhaps only you can notice them. There is a huge gulf between the art that you make and the art that you consume.
The worst art that you're ever going to see is your own art. Other people get the benefit of the doubt, but artists do not give that same charity to themselves. All the time you spend looking at it as you draw really helps you to notice every single flaw in it's creation. Every mistake. Every poor choice. All the cringey shame. Nobody else is going to look at it with the same critical eye. Even someone making a careful study of your artwork will never understand the fullness of how much your art sucks.
I've kind of reached the point where I can safely accept that my art is flawed, but most people won't notice how bad it is. They only take a couple of seconds to look at it before making a decision on the quality. The bar of acceptable quality is actually pretty low, I think 90% of people are impressed that you have the courage to pick up a pencil and make marks.
I guess that's a good mindset to have. Acceptance that the audience and the creator live in vastly different realities. And just reply to any praise with an awkward like or thanks.
There's brown rice and white rice. Not getting too much into the details of it, you get white rice by polishing brown rice. This changes the taste, makes it faster to cook and easier to store. So white rice is the standard when we think about rice these days. The bran layer that comes off brown rice through polishing however has much more nutrients. In the past it was an important source of vitamin B1 and it helped to prevent Beri-beri. In some newly industrial societies, Beri-beri became common due to the switch from unpolished to polished rice. However at the time the reason was unknown and people kept consuming white rice.
Some art is really polished, it probably makes up most of what we see in online galleries and social media. But as anybody that has made a sketch that looks better than the final product, there is something that is lost in the polishing. Makes me wonder if consuming exclusively polished work is good for you. If constantly looking at curated feeds of only the completed and the best works leads to some psychological deficiency that we don't understand yet. Like brown rice and white rice, maybe it's healthy to occasionally consume unpolished stuff.
I've been thinking about what I enjoy about building a website. Lately consuming content feels a little bit dull, it's a good distraction but but it rarely makes me feel satisfied. I've been looking back on things that I've made and this has made me realise that the fun is not in the consumption, but creation. It's fun to put things together and make things. The process is fun. It's fun to have something completed in your hands at the end of the day. A lot of this website is just me idling in my own mind to entertain myself rather than anything performative for an audience.
Compared to social media there isn't much content on Neocities or the fringe web. It's much more slow pace, it's not a constant feed of new information. It's a lot like how the internet used to be. I think some of us have forgotten how little content was available in web 1.0, it's definitely not as much as we have now. It was possible to run out of new things to look at and slow speeds meant so much content was inaccessible. So we found other ways of entertaining ourselves, like making up our own stuff. Imagining, thinking and exploring an inner world.
But all this requires brain power in some way. Some days you're so tired that all you want to do is switch off and watch something mindless instad of messing with CSS or ink. There's always the temptation to pick up a phone and spend hours scrolling. I'm not saying I don't do it, and I know we all need some time to relax and recover. But on those times where I have time and motivation, it's nice to spend it building something.
The fun of websites is not just exploring an external world, but also looking inwards and putting your those ideas into the larger world. We rarely view the internet as a tool for introspection these days, and we are much poorer for it.
Lately I've been preoccupied with Inktober. This is my fourth try at it, with 3 completed inktobers in 2017-2019. I wasn't able to do it for 2020, being the year that it was. Inktober 2021 comes as a bit of a relief since I have the time to draw again after a long while. So it's a bit nostalgic, as well as fun to be able to just draw to my heart's desire.
Inktober was where I really polished my inking skills. The daily challenges and the influences that I was looking at during my first inktober pushed me to be a better inker. The main value of inktober is that it's an excuse to draw a variety of things regularly. That's the key to getting better at anything, motivated effort towards a clear goal. The accountability towards others and the community support also help (I usually gave up posting my stuff online after the first week and spent most of my time drawing alone though).
For this inktober I've decided I want to take advantage of the free time that I have and push my limits. Make each piece as experimental as possible and try to make as many quality illustrations as I can. There will be some stinkers, but that's what happens when you experiment. But This year, there is the added advantage that a lot of work meetings have been replaced with videoconferencing, leaving my hands idle to sketch and ink off camera.
I look away from NFTs for a while and they turned into something nightmarish. If I had to describe an NFT, it's like you use a lot of energy and processing power to solve puzzles and produce a ownership certificate for a jpeg, which you then use like a lottery ticket (?). Depending on the type of cryptocurrency you use, it can be incredibly energy intensive, so in a world where we're facing a climate crisis, we're burning fossil fuels to make receipts for ugly jpegs. At the start artists were recruited and there was some hope that it would be an avenue for digital artists to make some income, but it's kind of warped into a strange speculation casino where people treat art like lottery tickets. Like 90% of the art now looks like some 00's forum avatar created in a flash game, and they pump thousands of these out for people that will buy them in hopes that they will be worth more in the future.
I don't mind if people want to gamble on art, it's their money. But the strangest thing about NFTs is that they have become an art market where the artwork hardly matters. Mona Lisa, while being really overhyped and overpriced, still has some aesthetic value and craftsmanship. I have to call out the emperor's new clothes here; most NFT art is kind of ugly. Some artists did some art with some merit at the start, but the scene has turned into lots of cheap generative art where the only value is the speculated return of investment. The entire marketplace is being flooded with mass produced cashgrabs that don't have much aesthetic appeal. Even if you put out good art, you're going to get drowned out by thousands of recolors with a -punk suffix attached. The cryptobros are crowding out the actual artists.
A lot of NFT art looks like it was made by commitee to game the system, cheap to produce so it can flood social media streams and produce hype. The hype reminds me of 90's trading cards, comics books and Beanie Babies, where people cared more about the potential value than the actual object. To me the test for a speculative bubble is: "Would you still enjoy it if it was worth $0 and unsellable tomorrow?" There are valid use cases for NFTs, but instead of using the technology for something useful we have this mindless pursuit of profit.
It's like watching a slow motion car crash. Humans never learn. I have to remind myself that the 90's are 30 years ago and we're far away enough from the bubbles of the 90's that people don't recognise them anymore. Like all bubbles, the winners are the ones that don't get in too deep.
I was just thinking about the paradigm of Fast art. It's a trend spurred by social media, like fast food and fast fashion, it's meant to be low cost, accessible, disposable and exploitative of the people that actually make the thing. So many young people pump out art in huge quantities. All in hopes of making it. You have to keep on pumping out art to stay visible. You have to choose topics like popular fanart and do all sorts of tricks to get more followers. You have to keep growing your follower base, you have to keep earning those likes. Take too long to make your art and you end up forgotten. All this work in exchange for someone looking at your art for less than a second. There are other ways of making a living off art, but like working fast food the barriers of entry are low and it's often the easiest entry point to an art career. It's all a bit exploitative.
I kind of see NFTs as the worst manifestation of this trend. A lot of the art is really low effort mass produced stuff, pumped out for volumes sake in the hope striking it rich in a pay-to-play speculation casino. If you have a reputation you might get something out of it, but if you aren't established the only one making money is the middleman that you pay to mint your stuff. The worse aspects of art galleries and collectors now made accessible to the public.
It really gets me wondering about what our alternatives are. What other ways can art be shared on the internet? Small personal websites are easier on the schedule of an artist, art stays up for longer and it's not swallowed by the feed. But you hardly get any traction on it*. It's not bad if you just need a portfolio, but if you need to get your name out there it's not much good. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt. It's not a good time to be an artist. But has it ever been?
*Although I'm not complaining about my current website. I kind of like how low visibility it is.
Behind every piece of art is a story, more often than not the story isn't happy. Frustrations, compromises, exhaustion and grief are just as much the raw materials for art as paper, pencils and paint. Art isn't easy to make, you need time, money and often you have to work with other people to make things happen. Dealing with just one of those things is bound to make you unhappy in some way. I wish that it was constantly rewarding and never boring, but it is good to acknowledge the heartbreak and dull reality at the core of doing art. Any artist worth their salt has had to deal with all these negative emotions at some point. Even the shittiest art you've ever seen carries the scars on the heart of its artist.
I think about that a lot when I look at bad art.
I don't deny that talent exists. I see kids pick up a pencil and draw really well all the time. They're a bit ahead at their starting point. But I want to talk about talent as an excuse for the talentless to not do anything. I've met so many people that attribute drawing to some mysterious talent that you are born with. Which is kind of bullshit since I don't have any talent but I've somehow grinded my way to drawing decently. But digging deeper, sometimes I sense that they tell themselves that so they don't have to attempt it.
If you don't have talent, then you don't have to try. You don't have to be emotionally invested or passionate or work hard, you can just be cool and aloof like a Gen-X slacker. The existance of talent becomes an excuse to not attempt anything, if you can't be effortlessly good at something why bother trying so hard and produce cringe beginnner work? The idea of only talented people making art saves the ego from the prospect of falling down flat on your face and failing, which is what you will have to do if you ever try to learn anything.
The converse also happens, there are people that coast on their talents. They use their talents, take no additional risks and often learn too late the value of putting a lot of effort into something. I've met so many bitter artists and broken gifted people that have come from this mindset. Talent is the crutch that they hang on to, so they play safe and never learn to fail. But failure is inevitable and it happens to everyone. Some don't take it very well, some eventually grow and mature.
In the end it doesn't matter if you have talent or not. Draw long enough and nobody cares about how your art looked like when you started. Just picking up a pencil is courage in itself. Just keep trying and you'll get somewhere.
When I started getting serious about drawing, I decided that wanted to be as good as a Renaissance master. Since I didn't have any talent at all except for being particularly stubborn, I had to start from zero. So a pored over anatomy and art books and did tons of masters studies. I drew thousands of boxes. I studied the biology of the human body down to the cellular level. I read up on biomechanics and the physics of light. I read almost every art history book in the library. I read up about color theory and paint mixing. I downloaded a ton of references. I tried graphite, charcoal, oil paint, sculpting, animation. I read my share of Loomis and other drawing manuals. After half a decade of this I was pretty confident of my skills. But looking back at it, I shake my head. All that pursuit of technical excellence lead to mediocre results.
After a while I asked myself; what exactly do I want to draw? Did I really need to be Michealangelo? I readjusted my expectations and decided that I wanted to draw comics. So I got another stack of books, perspective manuals, 'How to draw manga' books, Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, Robert McKee's 'Story'. I studied panelling. I pulled apart the plots of movies, timed them and kept track of the story beats. I watched plays and short films and took notes about the story arcs. I studied character arcs and motivations. And after all that, I would read a script I wrote or look at a comic draft that I drew, and it was terrible. Too stiff and mechanical. By then almost a decade had passed and I was still less than mediocre. I would just lie in bed, frustrated but too exhausted to continue studying.
Thinking back on it, my main problem was I was totally obsessed with technical skill. Too caught up in the idea that I need to keep trying to level up. Video game thinking. Get the right item, complete the quest, then you will progress to the next level. When I consider all those miserable hours on studies, my own ego was pushing me to try to be extraordinarily technically skilled. And my own ego stopping me from going to more experienced artists and getting advice from them. Trapped by my own ego and naive view of the world, I was running around in circles and wearing myself out.
How did I get out of my rut? I had to go on a trip, so I started a journal to keep track of it. I doodled a lot in it, and that continued after I got back from the trip. It became a habit. Just drawing without planning or thinking so much. I started drawing stuff that I liked. Bad sketches. Scribbled notes. Simple life studies. Simple one page comics that didn't have a plot or story. It was period of dumb and terrible art, but it really got me practicing my inking and my other fundamentals. I didn't need to be a photorealistic master, I didn't have to draw masterpieces. I could just draw honestly. I could draw secret things. I could draw raw things. Nobody was going to see this art anyway, so I could be as cringe and self indulgent as I wanted.
I stopped obssessing about being the best. I just needed to be adequate. I needed the bare minimum to be able to draw things that entertained myself. Learning is repetition, but it doesn't have to be constant boring box drawing. I still do studies and read up on techniques, but I don't obssess about leveling up. Incremental gains build up over time, so as long as I kept constantly trying small risks regularly I could grow as an artist. I didn't need to complete the whole syllabus to draw what I wanted, if there was something I didn't know I look it up. And I would pick up skills as I went. Also I was more mature and self aware, so I could keep an honest mistake log and learn to avoid my worst habits.
I wonder if this is the proper way of thinking (Is there even a right way to think?). Maybe I will look back at this in a decade and think that I'm full of shit for writing this. But I guess it's good to record my mistakes, past and present, as a cautionary tale.
I recently remembered a story that a friend of mine told me once. She had somehow found and read a draft of a screenplay. It was written by a man that didn't have any family, so when he passed away his writing and papers were given to a friend and subsequently lost. With only the memory of the screenplay as a reference my friend wrote her own version of it, and tried to find the funds to make a short film based on it. Mind you this was before consumer grade cameras got good at shooting video and it wasn't anything like these days where any asshole with an iPhone can shoot HD video. She failed to get the funding and her team drifted off with their own lives and projects. Ultimately nothing happened, the original screenplay having an audience of one.
That's artistic dreams for you, always at the mercy of being scattered by some slight misfortune or chance. A few years later and the technology would have been there to make a budget film. Or if they had managed to convince someone to make a gamble on them it might have turned out very differently. Missed chances, missed opportunities, wrong place, wrong time. There's a very high chance that those messages in bottles that you throw into the sea just sink to the bottom. Exercises to be forgotten. You could miss your audience and end up as just a half remembered story recounted on a random personal website. That's the risks of making art and having dreams.
Sometimes to make a longer project possible sacrifices have to be made. In many cases the sacrifice has to be drawing quality. I've had cases where I had to engage limiters and draw simpler just so I could get a project done. It's not ideal, but if I had to choose between perfect and done, I'll choose done. It's better to get something out into the world, flaws and all, than to keep fussing over it and never getting anything finished. As much as I would like every drawing to be an extremely detailed hatched masterpiece, there simply isn't the time and energy to feasibly do that.
A lot of the compromise has to be done in the design stage. Cutting down on details and reducing the amount of lines needed to communicate what you need. Sometimes compromises can be passed off as stylistic choices. Choices at this stage really save on headaches further down the line. Either that or the project has to be cut short to accomodate better art. Reduce the amount of content so more time can be spent per piece. As much as I hate it, the economy and accounting of art is required to accomplish anything. Even for personal projects where your budget is your time and energy.
This probably isn't good advice for beginners where you need to try your best to get to bare minimum competency. But it's something to look forward to in a way. Where you can draw at 50% and still produce something decent.
I wish art didn't cost so much time. I need to think and mull over things. Plan out complex things. Wait for sketches to ferment so I can look at them with a fresh pair of eyes. Rest and regain energy and focus to work on longer form formats. Draw practice sketches and studies to understand things. Clear off work so I have free time to do personal projects.
Time is really the raw material that I need to make art. Too bad I also have to trade it for money. A lot of is wasted sitting around paralysed by anxiety and dread about the future too. And some needs to be spent on keeping my biological needs met. Screw anatomy and perspective, the biggest challenge of art is finding time.
Everything I post here is worthless, in a capitalist sense. I don't add any copyright information, I'm not trying to develop any IPs, I'm not trying to monetise it, I'm mostly anonymous so it's not like I'm building a personal brand. This whole website is a waste of effort, it doesn't profit me in any way. I'm sinking my valueable time into immature interests. In this world of time, money and opportunity costs, it might be worse than worthless, it might be a loss of capital.
But that's what makes it fun to create this type of art, there's no expectations or strings attached. I'm not answerable to anyone. I don't have to please anyone. I don't have any pressure to produce a masterpiece, I can just make whatever rubbish I want. I can choose any shallow self indulgent theme. I'm not making any important statements. It's just pure creation, I'm just expressing myself.
I'd like it to be juvenile and disposable. Something appreciated for a while and then discarded. I don't want to live with the illusion of permanence. It's as ephemeral as this cloud of internet that we are on right now. One thing that I think impedes the growth of an artist is holding on to all your art like it's some sort of masterpiece.
Some think that there is a need for profit to motivate people to do things. But profit can also sap motivation. When money is on the line, it's no longer just fun and games, it's work. I can draw as much as I want when I don't have someone paying me to do so, but when someone is paying it feels like such a burden. I don't have to get better so I can make it as a professional artist selling my wares, I can learn things at my own pace. And one less number attached to your art means one less thing to make your art look smaller and less skilled compared with other artists.
So repost, don't credit, burn it, I don't care. The art here is worthless to me. It's technically public domain. That's why I enjoy doing it. It's a luxury that I can have because I find work doing other stuff.
Sometimes when I read a manga or watch an anime, I'm like "I would be so into this shit if I was a teenager." But now, my eyes are jaded due to being exposed to decades worth of various media. It doesn't look new or fresh, someone has done the good parts better before, the bad parts are more obvious and flawed. I can't read trash without comparing it to something else in my experiences. Even looking back on the things that I enjoyed as a teenager I realise so much of it hasn't actually stood the test of time. There are some things that I'm avoiding just because I think the memory of it is better than the actual product and I don't want to contaminate it with a rewatch. There is an age where you can appreciate juvenile or half baked things, but as you accumulate more media experience it just isn't the same anymore.
On the other hand, sometimes when I watch kids programs that have surprising depth or nuance, I'm like "I like this, but it would have bored me if I was a 7 year old". There are some things that I can appreciate now that I'm not a kid waiting for the giant robots to come on screen and the action to start. As adults we sometimes pan kids shows for being dumb, but some do a really good job of keeping literal children entertained with flashing lights. Some of the bestselling fiction today is dumb and targeted at dumb kids, that's perfectly fine by me since I'm not the intended audience. But I do appreciate the small flashes of interesting ideas when they appear in childrens media.
I guess I have no other choice but to enjoy the different seasons of media enjoyment as time marches mercilessly on.
I don't set any deadlines when working on anything on this website, anything here is just what I work on in my free time when I want to relax. I have some ideas to do, some projects already in progress and things which I want to implement that I've put on hold for now. It's nice to not have the guilt and pressure to hit concrete deadlines, but I find that I'm jumping from project to project without much focus or prioritisation. Some days I'll actually work on a longer project where the payoff is quite far away, some days I'll just draw whatever I want, some days I sketch and some days I just procrastinate and write stuff (Like I'm doing right now). I do wonder if I'll get anything done without the pressure of a deadline or any form of accountability. I have a bad habit of allowing my hobby stuff to drag along for months on delays until I just drop it.
On the other hand it is nice to handle everything on my own terms. To not have art as responsibility and monetisation and instead have art as purely creative expression. To be able to enjoy the pleasure of mindlessly doodling in school books instead of participating in a massively online popularity contest. I guess everything has tradeoffs, and inconsistant art production might be better for experimentation than the regular desperate repetition that comes with commission work.
So for now, no promises. Things will get done when they are done (or they won't). I'm not going to bother with proper workflow for now.
Whenever I draw people I tend to draw Asian faces. It's not a political statement or any form of media activism. It's just my lived reality. Round faces, small noses, almond shaped or squinty eyes. I find those features to be cute. Curly hair, dark skin, hijabs, all forms of ethic clothing; while I don't draw them that much they are all fun subject matters. It's part of the media that I consume and grew up with. I don't really care about representation in Hollywood or western media, I hardly watch it these days. I don't care if a token Chinese guy is cast as a secondary character in a big Hollywood movie, I've had my fill of Hong Kong action movies from the 80's and 90's where Chinese guys are kick ass protagonists. But the discourse on the internet is so American centric that it assumes that there is a burning need for representation when globally everybody most people have access to their own vernacular media. There may be a need for representation for some communities in the USA, but I'm so removed from it that it really isn't my battle.
As an Asian that lives in Asia, whiteness as the default is an alien concept to me. To be honest I see so few white people in my daily life that I can hardly tell them apart. Not to say that white people don't have distinctive individual features or I'm denying their humanity, it's just that I haven't seen enough of them regularly enough to be able to tell the subtle differences apart. Usually it's as easy as picking out the tourist from the locals, but it gets tricky when there are groups of them. Once I've tried to memorise a woman's hairstyle and ear rings to recognise her (I also don't remember names well, but I do that for everyone), unfortunately she changed it the next day and I couldn't tell her apart from her other white friends. This also seeps into my art, I'm pretty bad at drawing caucasian features. I can copy a photograph with relative accuracy, but I can't draw it from my imagination without copious referencing. But I hardly draw them as a subject matter anyway, so it's not much of a problem.
I don't like how everybody is in the same big pond these days. Giant sites that dominate the internet and user uploaded content mean that everybody at every skill level has access to the same audience. The two big ones left standing for artists: Twitter and Instagram, are basically free-for-alls with little structure to them. Communities blend together in the feed and there isn't space to forms smaller groups that share themes or interest. In practice this means that a small minority get the majority of the attention. It can be quite discouraging even, there isn't much space for beginners to put things up and grow, since they are a few posts away from seasoned professionals. It creates a treadmill where you're constantly running a marathon in exchange for some likes, with world class runners right next to you.
I like being in spaces where audiences are small. You're not doing public speaking every time you post something. There's more room for discourse and discussion. There used to be these smaller spaces in the internet, for all its flaws that's one of the things that DeviantArt did right. Smaller forums were places where people could meet and make friends and grow as artists. Or you could get into petty fights, but at least it didn't mean the end of your social life if you made a gaffe or bad take. You could even indulge in more niche topics instead of trying to chase the flavour of the month fan art to stay relevant to the algorithm. I'd even argue that furries have a vibrant art community because they were forced to create their own isolated art spaces away from the mainstream.
How big an audience would I be comfortable with? (Not monetarily comfortable with, but enough to be artistically fulfilled.) I'd say enough to fill a small room. I have a hard enough time remembering all the people that I know, so I'd prefer to keep it small. At least I would know some of them and it wouldn't be hard to chat. I often argue that bigger and more is not often better. Especially if you're still experimenting or learning it might be easier to expose yourself to people that you can trust and are supportive of you. This website has about the right amount of obscurity for me, that's why posting on it has been really comfy.
I don't draw robots as much as I used to. Like original robot designs, not fanart of other designs. I've been going through my personal archive recently and it's interesting how my subject matter has changed as I got better at drawing. At first it was mostly robots literally in the margins of schoolbooks, which looking back it probably was because I could draw a bunch of basic shapes better than I could draw people or portraits (I threw out most of my attempts at drawing humans from this period, it just looked terrible and wasn't worth keeping). I was also playing a lot more games, reading more sci-fi and watching a lot more anime back then, so that gave me more inspiration for more sci-fi illustrations. And being a teenager I was incredibly wealthy in terms of time (in a way that I could not appreciate then).
Then I got more into drawing comics (or more accurately the idea of drawing comics) and started drawing more studies of humans as a subject matter. There was still the occasional robot design to go along with ideas of sci-fi comics, but my focus shifted from just doodling cool sci-fi robots to more narrative driven things. Around this time scanlations and downloadable anime became a lot more accessible to me, so I started to devour these things and my design sense shifted more from primarily Western style mecha (Which is actually a branch of Eastern mecha but I don't want to get into that here) to more Eastern design philosophies. I was exposed to Seinin manga and started taking more interest in realism and drawing from life. I was drawing more, but life in general kept me plenty busy and I didn't indulge as much in my own pet world building and the attendant robot designing.
Then I tried many other forms of art, finally settling on focusing on gouache painting and inking. Then only inking. I still drew some fanart for fun, but designing my own robots became rarer. My focus also shifted to understanding the graphic language of comics, so that necessitated drawing more people than robots. By then I was a working adult, so I didn't have time to daydream of epic robot sci-fi, and without a setting to put them in there wasn't really a need to design robots. Which looking back, is kind of a shame. It's been more than half a decade and I probably only have a couple of designs that I like from that period. And the irony here is that I can probably draw anything that I can imagine at this point, but I hardly have the time or motivation to do so.
I'm still terribly immature for my age, but I still see the unescapable effects of getting older. Things change and there are things that you hold dear that just become so distant as you keep walking. Maybe one day it might even disappear beyond horizon of the past. That's a shame, but that's life.
Watching videos of mangaka drawing, they always talk about 'Balance'. I take this to mean some sense of pleasing proportion (I could be wrong). I don't really hear this discussed as much in American art instruction. There are certain patterns that people find attractive, these are a combination of things that we innately like and are culturaly familiar with. One of the fundamentals in design is having a sense of balance, not so much symmetry, but keeping elements in a correct proportion to each other. Figuring out what to include and what to leave out. Working with the whole and not letting one thing overpower the rest. I've talked with practitioners of Malay wood carving that have mentioned the need for a sense of completeness in their compositions, you need to have all the elements and they have to be in the right places. I quite like that philosophy.
I'll admit that I'm not much of a fan of the art styles that were popularised in tumblr and have now become quite mainstream in cartoons in the US. Maybe it's because I never grew up with the same cartoons, but I'm not a fan of that aesthetic. Like the eyes are too big, the noses too large, some feature is just overexagerated or the overall proportions not pleasing. Some of these are concious efforts to look ugly, which while I understand that that's what they are going for, I'm not much of a fan of it. But perhaps the underlying issue with me is that they lack a sense of balance. I don't really see it as much with European comics. Perhaps the lack of balance just a reflection of the culture that created it.
I don't view myself as an artist. At least not anymore. I found it to be a problem when my ability to make art was part of my identity, it meant that my performance as an artist also translated to my failure as a human being. If I couldn't draw that portrait accurately, I would take it personally and just feel terrible. I've seen it so many times, a lot of self described artists see art as something so central to their being that they start developing all sorts of maladjustments, like constant frustration, not being able to take criticism or just not being able to make art because of performance anxiety.
I didn't need to be a full fleged artist if the cost of it was constant neurotism. But for me that also took having some sense of self worth and achievement beyond art. I guess that's why you need some balance in life beyond sitting at your art station and painting all day. Honestly assessing yourself, developing other competencies, having social connections, helping other people and making contributions to society in a way make you less unsure of yourself. I think just growing older also helps too, there's just things that you start to see as you gain more experience. Despite the stereotype, the lone suffering artist rarely accomplishes much.
I went through that phase of being constantly frustrated and uncertain, until I realised that I was taking things too seriously and I needed to enjoy the process more. It was around the time when I started journalling and drawing almost daily, quality be damned. Coming to terms with the idea that failure in art didn't mean failure in life was really helpful. Failure in art is just another step in progress, and I need to keep on failing to grow. If you're not racking up those failures then you're not taking risks and growing (But then again constant repetition of failure is a sign that you're not learning either). At one point all I was doing was sketching and writing things that no one else would see except me, not all of it was good but it really helped me grow as a person to have that record of what I've accomplished and how much I've improved over that period.
I like doing art, but I don't put it on the pedestal and make it my life's central reason of being. It's a pastime, it's work, it's one of the many other things that I can do. Identities are not a bad thing, but be critical of them and don't let them turn into prisons. You are and always will be more than your art.
I recently rediscovered a comic storyboard that I made 4-5 years ago while I was looking for stuff to put in my gallery. When I was writing it I had no idea whether it was any good, and I was just experimenting with it and trying to draw as honest as possible with it. It wasn't bad, I didn't feel "What was I thinking?" that I sometimes feel when I look back at some of my old work. But what struck me is that I could never write something like that with the mindset that I have now. The rawness of my early 20's was still fresh when I did that, and it shows. Now that those wounds have scabbed over and I'm overall numb to pain of living, I don't think I can muster the passion to write in the same way anymore. This must be why teenagers are usually never written like real teenagers, the writers responsible are just too far away from the half remembered experience of being one.
There were some projects that I put off because "I want to get better before I try it". Looking back, when I got to the level where I could have drawn it the way I wanted, I had moved on as a person and wasn't interested in it anymore (and I didn't have the time or money to pursue it). And some of these were my dream projects at one point, at least the deluded fool in the past thought that they were. I would have liked to read them though, even if they were raw and unpolished at least they would be a record of my experiences at that point in my life. If you want to do something creative, don't put it off. Even if it sucks it still is a record of your growth. You don't want to grow up and look back and see the missed opportunity of making flawed art.
What makes art interesting is that you made it. I want to see your work because you made it, and there will be many different versions of you. Watching artists grow and develop is cool. Seeing your unique view of the world at the time you make it is what makes art interesting. Any skill or talent is just an added bonus.
Getting better at drawing is a process of getting to know yourself. I don't think I'm any better than I was couple of years ago in terms of hand eye coordination or knowledge of anatomy or any other artistic tricks. But I've drawn enough that I've gotten good at seeing my repeated mistakes. My experience isn't that I've gotten better, I've just made enough mistakes that I know where to look. And I still make them a lot, but I know enough to catch them before commiting to anything permanent. I keep a mental list of them and check it after each draft.
For my own convenience and as reference for others, I'm going to list them out here:
I never realised it had gotten this long until I wrote it down.
Drawing takes a lot of absorbing. The best artists are the ones that have seen a lot of stuff. Even when they draw something derivative, it mixes together with all the other influences in their heads and comes out looking like an original spin. That's why I think that one of the best ways to grow as an artist and a designer is to do something outside of art. Doing master studies are great for learning more about anatomy, light and form and all the other things that make technically skilled art, but there are so many other things that don't involve drawing naked Europeans. Take up street photography and learn more about light and the details of everyday objects, read forensic science journals and see the gruesome details of real dead bodies instead of the sanitised depictions of zombies, collect leaves and feathers and marvel at their form, catch cicadas and insects and watch their alien behaviour, do some gardening and get to know plants and how they grow, expand your visual library through close observation when building model kits, talk to people and learn about interactions and social cues, read a bunch of comics and absorb the art.
You can tell when an artist has only a very limited amount of influences. It looks derivative, a poor copy of the original but also lacking in it's own voice. I think it's ok to be derivative, but derive from as many sources as possible. Nobody has a the same mix of influences in their art, and that makes your art both derivative and unique.
This post was somewhat inspired by reading Tsutomu Nihei's Abara. The influence of H.R. Giger's Xenomorphs on the creature designs are so obvious, but he brings a lot of his own style, from the crazy brushwork to the forboding architectural details to create a unique experience. I could also see the obvious influences it had on the later parts of Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsawman (for which there are very obvious nods). The chain of being influenced and amalgamating it with experience to create something unique is something that's really nice to explore in art. That's one of the reasons I sometimes write about what art has influenced me and my sense of style, it makes me think about what I liked about those things in the first place and what I'd like to incorporate into my own style.
Not many people know about Robert Beverly Hale, he wasn't a praticularly reknown artist, even his obituary listed him as a "former curator". But he was a prolific instructor of anatomy, having studied with the Art Students League in New York. For me it was a chance encounter where I found out about his work while hunting for art books in second hand shops. I came across one of his books on Anatomy, "Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters". This formed the basis for my understanding of anatomy, although looking at my earlier work it took me a while to get it.
Hale's techniques were a bit different from the methods taught by other instructors like Loomis or Proko (although Proko does mention him). For example he used craniums as his unit of measurement for the body instead of the entire head. It's quite an elegant technique since a cranium is almost spherical, so it fits nicely into a even sided box (Which is why you learn to draw boxes before people). I still use the Hale cranial units unconsciously, although I count heads for convinience and speed sometimes.
Another technique he wrote about was the concept of planes and plane breaks. You can decompose a form into bunch planes, and where the different planes meet, there is usually a change in value. Quite an elegant way to explain changes in value due to lighting.
Overall, I find his books worth the study. Even if only to see some different ways of approaching drawing the human body.
Before I start inking in the pencils in a composition, there is a very important step that makes all the difference. I leave it alone.
It's really important to take a step back and clear your mind. When you're too into something you don't see the flaws in it. I can look back on art I did last month and see where I went wrong, but not on a sketch that I just completed. Once the sketch is done, let it set. Let it stew. Let it ferment. Give it a few hours, or a day or even a week. Pick it up later and the flaws will be clear.
I avoided reading Kentaro Miura's "Berserk" for the longest time since I knew that the story moved at a glacial pace and I didn't want to get attached to something that might not have a proper ending. It never will, since Kentaro Miura just died of a heart attack. I finally broke down around 2019 and read "Berserk" all in one go and enjoyed it for what it was, but because it was such a recent thing that I read in a rather long single sitting it never left much of an impression on me. It's good art with some amazing arcs for sure, but it was personally to me a small event rather than a lasting influence. Miura will be missed though.
I have better memories of reading his short series "Gigantomachia", stuck in some rural village by myself without internet and only an FM radio as my other form of entertainment, I had a downloaded copy on my laptop that kept me entertained for as long as it lasted. I don't recall much of the story, but the circumstances made it a memorable experience.
As with most artists I have trouble accepting praise for my artwork. Not that I have much practice with it either. But it's always awkward when it comes, I'm often at a loss for words since my vocabulary is made up almost solely of self-criticism. Missed lines, perspective being off, poor tonal composition, anatomy mistakes, bad proportions. It's better to have a short awkward pause and some pleasantries than to say what's on my mind. On social media it's sometimes a counter-like and that's it. In person it's a mumbled thanks before moving the conversation in a different direction.
It's something that I should try to process, but I'd rather not. Seems like a better use of time to think about the other mysteries of art (like how human hips work) than to be better at socialising. Then again I don't think I've ever met a good artist that actually accepts praise without a certain look in their eye.
Ink is my favourite medium. I love putting down lines on paper. It's really meditative. All the hard thinking and decision making happens in the pencils, when I get to inks it's just pure absence of thought. But there are cases where things go wrong. A missed line, a splotch, a smudge, a fingerprint, accidentally hatching in something that you weren't supposed to. It's not like you can ctrl-z and try again. You only had one chance and you blew it. And this is where my golden rule comes in:
The idea of irreversible mistakes is one of the things that scares people away from drawing in ink. But mistakes are inevitable in inks. Nobody makes a perfect run, that's why correction fluid exists. You just need to accept that mistakes will happen, and you can find your way around them. Having that mindset give you the confidence to make a go for it with inks. Mess something up? Draw over it or incorporate the mistake into your illustration or draw a correction and paste it in digitally later. Part of the art of inking is learning how to deal with inking mistakes. They are part of the process, so don't fear them.
A lesson is learned but the damage is irreversible by Dale Berran and David Hellman is one of the great early 00's webcomics. Combining out of this world panelling with surreal dream logic, it really pushes the limits of the comics medium. The first few comics take a while to get into stride, but once they get into gear they created some of the most memorable webcomics that I've ever read. There's a strange sense of humor to it too which I enjoy and very unique color palletes and a loose digital painting style. It had some influence on other webcomics of its time, such a Dresdan Codak, but I think nothing really came close to matching it. The whole thing is still available on the internet (the navigation is a bit broken though) and it only takes a sitting to read through all of it.
I have to remind myself to once in a while draw art that is not meant to be seen. It's a bit of an oxymoron to make visual art that is not meant to be seen by anyone. But it is good practice to just make art for the sake of the process. Drawing without any pressure to have a completed piece lets you experiment with new techniques and take risks. I have some friends that start to stagnate when they start to do commissions because they have to be consistent with their results, that leads them to not try anything new and rely on the same grab bag of tricks. For me, my most consistent gains in technique are when I'm just drawing for the sake of drawing, and the skills and visual library start to build up from there. Stuff that you produce to show people and get your name out there is important, but the stuff that they don't see helps you grow as an artist.
I've been binding my own journal/sketchbooks for 6 years now, I can never find a store bought one that has the right paper quality, size and price point, so I do it myself. They're not the prettiest books, but they do their job. The act of private journaling itself has been very helpful in my own personal development. Just writing down my thoughts helps to put everything into focus, I can make sense of what's bothering me. I can write down the little interactions that I've experienced. I can practice my prose regularly. I can draw whatever my heart desires and take risks without caring about the outcome.
Perhaps one of the advantages of journaling is that it is not a performative act. I can write down what I honestly think because nobody is going to see this but me. I can be introspective and know myself and explore my own inner world. Writing blogs like this is a bit more public, so I tend to censor myself a bit more. Social media even more so, so things have to be more curated. But privacy grants you a different sort of freedom.
What amazes me about journaling is the discrepency between my memories and what I write down. I can hardly remember some of the horrible axieties that I had to endure 5 years ago. Some of the dreams from then look so distant now too, or perhaps they have been reached but twisted by the mundanity everyday life. If I didn't write it down, it would all be lost forever. Forgetting is coping with how bad the world is, but it's nice to have a record of things that you may have lost along the way.
I once came across a book on George du Maurier while browsing the visual arts section of my university library. His expressive anatomy, controlled penmenship, excellent character design and ability to tell story with just a single picture really stood out to me. George du Maurier was a staple in "Punch", a 19th century comedy magazine which was responsible for the word "cartoon" and possibly "punchline". Coming from a tradition of inking for woodcut engravers, he had very clear form and values amid the details, often the figures were much less detailed than their surroundings and that made them stand out. His works sometimes show how visual language has changed over time, He drew a lot of single panel "cartoons" that satirised Victorian society, multiple panel comics were still in their infancy at the time. His figures also tended to have a very theatrical pose to them, the whole figure always in full view as opposed to the more cinematic close ups and tight shots that we are more used to today. I always aspired to be able to draw like him, and his influence on my artstyle are pretty obvious once I point it out. A sampling of his art can be found here.
Most of my recent gallery entries are really complex hatched compositions. It takes quite a lot of planning and referencing to get them done. And then I have to sit down and carefully put in line after line, with traditional mediums, to create the tones that I need. Why do I do it? It's because I have to draw really simple for my commercial stuff. Like it's the completely opposite side of the spectrum, flat simple forms. That has more appeal unfortunately. Basically this gallery is my release valve for my creativity and my need to do something more complex. Of course if I had to draw something complex for work I'm pretty sure that I'd start to draw simple stuff to relax.
If I had to make a list of reoccuring themes in my art, it would look like this:
I can understand why I tend to draw girls, they are aesthetically pleasing. I honestly don't know why I draw the other stuff though (Aside from the fact that robots look cool). Perhaps there is some room for psychoanalysis here.
To an English speaking audience Tetsuya Toyoda is an enigma. Not much biographical information is published, and the most that I've found out about him was from a machine translated Japanese wikipedia page. For his very long career he very rarely publishes anything, and at most they are short series (his longest story is only 11 chapters) or collections of one shots. He has received some critical acclaim for "Goggles" and "Undercurrent", but there is very little news about him and his output is incredibly sporadic and often linked to the monthly seinin manga magazine "Afternoon".
I first encountered his works as scanlations on the internet. I was mesmerised by his visual storytelling, all his characters had a kind of exhaustion and liveliness to them as they went about the story. And while most stories were short, they brought out really realistic and subtly expressive characters. They were very literary stories, but in the form of a manga. His short story collection "Coffee time" is one of my favourites. It's very little plot, mostly dialogue and nothing much happens. The characters don't learn or earn anything or grow as characters. Sometimes it's just a humourous situation. But I feel satisifed after reading it. I can't explain it, but it just works.
In terms of art style, he draws relatively realistically although he know when to drop the realism to emphasise expressions. Simple, direct and unassuming. That's how I would describe his style. You can probably find his work by googling his name, "Undercurrent", "Goggles" and "Coffee Time" have been scanlated and probably still exist somewhere on the internet. "Undercurrent" does have a French version, but otherwise most of his work lacks an official translation.
I seem to be drawing more since I started this website. Filling up a semi-public album of art has been a good way to relax, especially since I can take my time on each piece and I'm not rushed to do something every day. I think the one way interaction of it all, not having to look at likes or concern myself with comments helps a lot in motivating me to draw whatever I want. I'm taking more risks and experimenting more too. I didn't anticipate that I would draw so much when I was first designing the gallery, maybe I will have to overhaul it when it gets too big.
I first encountered the art of Duane Loose in the backs of Battletech novels, where there would sometimes be illustrations of the mechs that appeared in the story. Later I found more images on the internet in Battletech fansites and scanned pdfs of Technical Readout:3025 that I downloaded off Limewire (our local game shops would never stock Battletech products). Early Battletech art was a unique chimera, many of the mech designs were licensed from 80's Japanese anime like Macross, Dougram and Crusher Joe. Some mechs were completely original designs, while some others were partially original but traced over from the anime designs. The art was not particularly good in a technical sense, linework was a bit messy with not much variety, every original design had awkward proportions, the perspective of many things never lined up properly and many mechs lacked proper joints. In short it looked a lot like something you would find sketched in the back of a notebook of a bored highschooler (Battletech was a relatively small game made by a bunch of guys straight out of college, so it was not much of a stretch).
The limitations at the time were understandable, mecha design was almost non-existant in the west and the sci-fi vehicles that he drew were much better in comparison. The weird perspectives were also somewhat understandable since he was sometimes tracing Kunio Okawara lineart which already has a loose grasp on perspective and how joints work. But despite it all, the design sense of the anime mechs could still shine through and many of the original designs were really interesting. Many of my secondary school notebooks were filled with mechs in the margins.
He got better at drawing over time and you can see that in his later work, but I still love the retro charm of that early Battletech art. Technically poor art is not necessarily bad art. As much as I love looking at technical masterpieces, less impressive art is sometimes better motivation because in many ways it is more attainable. I always think back about this when I work on my own projects. There are times when you need to slow down and not go all out when drawing. I might not be perfect but it might still be fuel for other artists imagination. You may even inspire a few kids to pick up the craft.
A gallery of his Battletech art can be found here
A lot of people that are interested in art aim to become pros that can make a living off art. After doing some work on it, I can say I really hate drawing for money. It feels like a chore, and you have to deal with the guilt of having to meet an obligation. Having to draw hundreds of pages, even if you do have some creative freedom, takes a lot of discipline that saps away whatever you enjoyed in the first place. I'd rather do something else and work at my own pace on my own projects. Or at least I would if I didn't need the money. I think that's some good advice, always have backup to fall back to if the art thing doesn't work out. There's no shame in doing art for leisure instead of as a job. We live in a capitalist society that tells us everything has to be a hustle, it doesn't.
Blade of the Immortal or Mugen no Jūnin by Hiroaki Samura has fantastic art and it's a masterwork of illustration. The linework and energy in the fights is amazing, and the spreads have really great composition. The story is a bit on the weak side, although with strong (albiet over the top) characters. There is of course lots of graphic violence and perhaps too much weird sexual violence, so be warned. When I first encountered it I read it in a local manga magazine that shrank the pages so it could fit 4 of them onto a single magazine page. That mislead me into thinking that the linework was incredibly finely drawn as I tried to immitate it. But the detailed linework and well defined forms stuck with me and greatly influenced how I planned my illustrations, although I probably will never be as good as Samura. Of course that also led me down the wrong path of trying to add a ton of hatching to everything, even when it wasn't necessary. Which took me years to fix.
Incidentally I did recently watch the Blade of the Immortal Live action movie on netflix. It wasn't a good movie, very much trying to cover too much in a limited run time and ending up poorly handling everything. I liked the action and the acting, but the plot was a rushed compression of the first 10 or so volumes of the manga and a movie original ending. Also they changed Manji's iconic swastika icon to a different kanji, which I found to be a poor choice to appease an international audience. It wasn't even THAT swastika. If you ever want to experience Blade of the Immortal, skip both the movie and anime and just read the manga.
I really shouldn't be writing too much about nostalgia, but there's something about the html interface that makes me think about the past. But let's talk about an obscure webcomic whose artist seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth: minus. Debuting in 2006, minus was a bunch of sureal sunday page style strips about a little girl with supernatural powers named minus. There's very little continuity to it and it ran on a kind of dream logic similar to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo. It had really simple but beautiful water color artwork. At the time such a large format strip was something only possible as a webcomic, since newspaper comics at the time were shrinking even their Sunday spreads to fit smaller pages. minus was a love letter to comics art and represented a mix of the past and the future. That was the kind of freedom that webcomics were opening up at the time, there was a feeling of the great potential of the medium. It's a bit lost now that most webcomics are hosted in vertically scrolling sites or smaller squares to fit into social media. It's really a great strip that I still think about to this day and it has amassed quite a cult following. The original site is gone, but thankfully you can still find it on the Internet Archive here
Looking back at my history of drawing. I first started in 2006, and it was probably 2016 until I got decent enough to be an average artist. It took me about a decade of effort to get to a decent level, that’s the journey I had to take starting from absolutely zero talent and no proper instruction. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten further faster with better guidance, but those were the circumstances at the time. I’m still learning and I realise that I’ve got tons of limitations, it’s a long journey.
Talent is a starting point, but long enough down the journey the starting point hardly matters. That’s a property of Markov Chains and it applies to art as well (I wasn’t only learning art during that decade, I had to do statistics and other shit). If you work long enough at something nobody can tell where you started at, but I guess the current youth obsessed culture can’t wait that long.
For younger artists, art is not a 100m sprint. There is the temptation to catch up with those 100k follower savants, and if you are one more power to you. But for the rest of us, it’s a walk. A slow journey where you have to keep moving forward, putting one tired leg in front of the other. You might get tired once in a while, it’s ok to take a break and rest. Just keep walking and you’ll eventually reach something. It might just be a small corner the web where you post stuff, but at least it’s still something.
Bad webcomics. That’s what inspired me to start drawing. I remember spending a lot of time discovering a lot of webcomics from 2004 to 2006 and that planted the seed in my head that “Hey, I can draw comics too!” It was a wild time since comics were for the first time unshackled from the limits of publishing gatekeepers. That of course resulted in a lot of terrible comics and a few gems.
It was around then that I started trying to draw. It sure was a different time, almost no drawing resources were online aside from a few tutorials and whatever you could torrent or download off a file sharing site. Visiting physical libraries and buying second hand books were my only way of collecting these rare resources. Eventually I went to university and pretty much read almost every book in the illustration and visual art section (which wasn’t very large).
But back to bad webcomics. By the time I was good enough to draw with a quality that I wasn’t terribly embarrassed about, I hardly had any time to draw left. My career had taken off in a wildly diverging path from art, and while I still use the artistic skills that I’ve picked up, it will probably never be my main output. But still, I’ve always wanted to make my own bad webcomics...