These last few terms I have been teaching students to prepare their portfolios for the professional direction they are interested in pursuing.  Because they have been developing their skills in a figurative school, they assume they need to stick with the realism they have been training to achieve.  Contrary to the realism they have been learning, they need to forget about it and reach for a desired goal, whether it be children’s books, animation, character design, or whatever else intrigues them, and learn to identify with the skill sets required.

I teach them to break down their favorite artists into specific design categories, so they can understand the lens of distortion and technique these artists are using to define their own work.  It doesn’t get into the psychology of “why” they do what they do, rather, their work just is what it is and a body of it explains so much about process.

To also understand that representational or communicative art is developed within a very narrow set of graphic parameters, and once they identify with these tools they will have an easier time discovering their own design sensibilities and control their work without it looking or feeling confused (as much).

I have started a chart that plots out the different ways we see art in 2D space vs. the three types of 2D tools we use for pictorial symbol design whether graphic or illustrious.  I am not finished with my own examples, so I have borrowed from the many great artists out there to help explain the gradients of design that is laid out in this chart.

The design tools we make pictures with are line, shape/Notan, and form/Chiaroscuro.  This chart separates them from one another, but the fact is that all great representational pictures rendered share all three of these in the same pictorial space in a hierarchical triad.  However, learning to recognize your own habits or what you gravitate towards when you draw is a fantastic place to first explore.  And with a few touchstone artists broken down into a process is a great way to begin practicing.

The different ways we view art on a flat surface is as follows:  graphic, stylized, or realistic, or, another way of thinking of each category respectively is to think of them drawn primitive or childlike or cartoony, subjective or through the artists personal interpretation, or photographic.  Within each of these categories is another series of subcategories that stretch out the gradient even further.  This chart is yet to be built since I am trying to make all the examples in my own hand and this first chart is still under construction.  I will certainly share the end results as they are completed.  I hope to have them done before this semester is completed.

Graphic Images tend to be more primitive or forward facing, Stylized is through the artist’s eyes and through their personal point of view, and Realism is the illusion of reality, fooling the eye into believing the image was a genuine moment in time.

For now, here is a temporary chart and a few extra examples here in this post to help get you started with thinking how you would make art in your own hand, your own way, based upon what you love and not necessarily what you have learned.  Oh, and be okay with what you choose, regardless of how far down the food chain you first perceive it to be positioned in your tool box of newly minted skills.

The hardest thing for some of these students to take is not using everything they have learned in the work they do.  I have to tell them again and again it is not about doing realism in your own work, its that realism was a learning tool, a vehicle for them to learn the concepts of seeing, calculating, and translating visual space and translate that into something intelligible, legible, smart, and easy for anyone to see the meaning before seeing mistakes which pretty much anyone can see, or eventually see.  And, if realism is the only means to super success and notoriety, then what’s up with Cory Loftis, Creaturebox, Miyazaki, Sienkiewicz, Niño, and the many others that are just as popular and well known?

Alex Niño in one of his many amazing stylistic approaches.

So, what was it that you really wanted to do with your art?  Go do it and enjoy what you want rather than what you think you need.  And if realism is you, then do it the best that you can and understand clarity of communication before technique so that you can convey the strongest and most emotive story image possible.

The Norman Rockwell of Cartooning, Cory Loftis.

Creaturebox is amazing even when doing other IP’s.

Bill Sienkiewvicz and one his many versatile approaches to making images.

And of course, Miyazaki and his beautiful fluid comic approach.