I have, with envy, been following all my Facebook friends posting photos from Illustration Master Class 2011. I so much would have wanted to be there and be a part of that melting pot of artistic inspiration. But I couldn’t, and I wasn’t. ( Claus from my studio even went and got back to tell us all how great a time he had and how much he had learned ) So what is second best? If you cannot go and learn directly from the masters… Buckle up and teach yourself. In many ways I have been forced to be my own teacher right from the beginning. And it ain´t all bad. The upside is you only study what you like. The downside is you only study what you like.
You can never see too much. Look through all the artbooks you can get your hands on. Notice how the artist of every painting solved a problem. I do not mean for you to only look when you need to solve a problem yourself. If you only look for solutions when you need them, you will only learn to solve the problem right at hand. If you beforehand have seen and understood the solution you can wrap the clarity around all the ugly little trouble bits when they pop up. I did that with water. I looked at Anders Zorn a lot and tried to get the grip on how he made water. I am not saying I can do water like Zorn now, far from it actually, but I have a small selection of watery effects that I can pull out in a tight spot. Imagine the same with rocks, clouds, trees and mountains.
Pushing yourself to a higher level is the most important thing to me. I might have said it before, but Moebius once said “ I try 10 % new in every picture I do “, and that quote has stuck with me ever since I read it. In order to learn something all the time you need to get out of the comfort zone. Lets say I do a fighter looking bad ass and threatening. I’ve got to draw it as good as I can of course, but in doing that I focus my “new 10%” on hairstyle. The client will never notice, my friends will possibly not see it, but I will definitely know, that the hairdo on that sucker is young, fresh, new and something I have never done like that before. You see how this in a stretch of 20 paintings has made you grow seriously as an artist and has built up your visual vocabulary to the brim. Also, this little mindset keeps you from stalling artistically.
Studies and testing:
I have never been much into that, but I have heard that it is good. I bought tons of sketchbooks, dreaming of filling them out with doodles bursting from life and imagination. They end up being used by my children for finger-paint. I do sketch a lot, but almost only on projects that I am working on. ( when I read Justin Gerard’s updates and see all his testings, I feel like buying a new sketchbook )
Try to tell a story in every picture. It doesn’t matter if it is a nude barbarian on a hilltop that you are sketching. The millions of ways you could tackle this is overwhelming. Telling a story, even in a posed figure, narrows down the choices and makes you focus on the facial expressions, the mood, the pose and well; yeah everything. This of course also means that you need to do more than just a thumb or two. In trying to tell the story right, you might need 20 or 30 (or even more) small tryouts before you make the right choice. To me, I need to see them on paper before I judge if they work. I guess you can feel it in your guts when you hit the right one. Everything seems to click. ( and sometimes un-click when you see the thumb the day after again )
This is a tricky advice. You should by no means do sloppy artwork. Once in a while you get a job or you deicide to do a painting that has room for some testing of your own. I had to do a poster a while back that was sort of a gesture for a friend. I had read on Todd Lockwood’s homepage that he did a dragon poster for a convention in only one day. I decided to try the same and see if I could do a full poster painting in only one day too. It is not my prettiest picture ever. A lot of the details could have been way better, and so on, and so on with the excuses. But the great thing is it taught me to simplify. The time limit forced me to take bolder chances and fix things without reference or safe holds and security lines of any sort. It was an experience I could use in every painting after that, and that I (now that I think about it) have completely forgotten. I need to do a one-day-painting again, I think.
I will get back to you if I think of anything more you can do to educate yourself, and force yourself to grow outside of your limits. Have you got any ideas you want to share with us on how you can teach yourself? Please do comment on this post. Gotta go. Today is my birthday and the rest of the studio guys are screaming for cake.