-By Lauren Panepinto

I’m back this week with sin #4 in our series on The Seven Deadly Sins, as they apply to Art and Artists. This week I’m going to talk about Greed, in a very specific application that I see a lot, especially with students and artists that are young in their development.

Often this sin is interchangeably called “Gluttony” but Gluttony and Greed are not exactly the same thing…Gluttony is more about overindulgence in things, whereas Greed is about the acquisition of things. I think the example I’m going to use here is a bit of both, so we’ll title this post “Greed”, because I think that’s a bit closer, and “Gluttony” makes me think of that scene in Seven when the fat guy explodes and that’s just disgusting…

I always found David Seidman’s “Gluttony” really disturbing

I spend at lot of time in environments where inexperienced artists have the opportunity to interact with professional and master artists: Conventions, classes like smArt School, seminars, Illustration Master Class, etc. I overhear a lot of conversations going on, and over and over again I hear the “younger” artists asking “What brushes do you use?” and it kind of makes me laugh. To me, as an Art Director, it’s so painfully obvious that the master’s skill has little to do with their tools. Sure, it affects the art if you use the wrong tool, but on the flip side there is no magic brush that is going to paint your picture for you. There’s a level of improvement in your work that better tools will give you, to a degree, and then it really tends to plateau off and only your skill remains. There’s no Photoshop brush pack that will make you bang out concept art like Daniel Dociu. There is no special canvas that will suddenly give your painting the texture of a Greg Manchess.

Yet I watch as these artists are hounded for their “secrets” — and if they do not give up the name of their favorite sable-hair watercolor brush, then they are “refusing to share”, or “don’t want competition”. As if all it would take is the leak of a Photoshop texture and anyone could make the same art that they do immediately. I was just talking to Victo Ngai about this at a recent talk she gave at the Society of Illustrators, after she got asked multiple times by the audience what exactly her methods were. As she started to break down the steps you could hear the crowd get a bit restless…it was too much work, it certainly wasn’t the simple answer the questioner had hoped to get.

I know the younger artists asking don’t think of it this way, but hounding an artist for their tricks implies that you think what they do is so simple that it can be bought or downloaded, and that’s it. That’s more than mildly insulting, folks. Not the way to talk to your art idols.

Bosch, as usual, being super-creepy. Detail of “Greed”

This applies with both traditional and digital tools, but I think the attitude is even more prevalent in the digital world. Many artists make very good money off selling their Photoshop brushes and textures, and for the record, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I see so many artists much more obsessed with tracking down and acquiring and constantly striving to upgrade these brushes. And forget brushes and plugins, the same mania extends to Wacom pads, new Mac Books, rare pens, the perfect paint, medium, binder…it never ends, because no tool is going to make you a better artist on its own, it has to be your time spent practicing.

I went through a period of this shade of Greed in my early career after I graduated from SVA. I specifically had a book problem. I thought if I bought all the design annuals and collections of good design work, and all the Dover Picture Library books, and had all the reference material I could possibly need, then it would make me a better designer. Of course it’s important to have reference, and inspiration, and tools, but after a little while all it did was make me a slower artist. I was so insecure about my abilities that I spent more time looking for the perfect reference or inspiration than I did on my creation of the design. I had the hardest time ever actually starting a design. I spent way too much time on the pre-game, then rushed the design itself.

I know it’s comforting to think that there’s a magic key, a shortcut, a safety net, and if you buy that better brush then you won’t have to face what’s lacking in your technique…but, as an Art Director, let me tell you, you’re not fooling anyone. Put your time into your technique, and it will pay you back more than any fancy tool.

And you’ll save a ton of money too.