A short while back, I was engaged in a spirited discussion arguing against the New York Times’ decision to hire a climate-science “agnostic” as part of their regular opinions column. What harm could... Read More
I used to say that “I’m not an artist, I’m a designer.” At the time, it was a serious distinction: when popular fine artistry became more concerned with personal expression, social commentary, and... Read More
Well well well.
Happy New Year everyone, it’s time for the January update. Or, according to my posting frequency, the 2018 update!
Joking aside, I’d like to reflect on the last twelve months. Personally, 2017 was an exceptionally turbulent year. There were many moments of heartbreak, existential crisis, dread, and feelings of futility. However, there was also celebration, reunion, charity, and hope. For me, a particularly bright spot to come from all of it was my successful completion of Inktober.
I assume that if you’re reading this, you know a little something about my Inktober endeavor from my Instagram feed. I had decided to do a thematically linked series of 31 images. There were many hours put into that project. If anything, it opened my eyes to a new dimension of work, as I wasn’t only planning a narrative, but actively drawing it and trying to link it both visually and from a storytelling point of view. Each day of drawing a new scene in a roughly 36 square inches was exciting, rewarding, exhausting, and daunting all at once. It more or less confirmed my opinion about comics: 99% toil, 1% sheer joy of completing a story.
All in all I’m glad that I did it. Towards the end of that October, I was inspired by a fellow artist to create a memento of the event by compiling the artwork into a bound book. Writing and designing that book became my next project, which took just as long to complete as the original Inktober drawings. But complete it I did!
This was a great gift for myself. The bound book is a personal treasure, for sure. But in the long run, the gift was printing a book — a proper, physical book — with my name on it. The gift was in taking all the steps necessary to complete the book: scanning and balancing the images; designing the layout; writing the preface and the back matter; compiling the bonus material from my archives; creating the cover pieces; and honing my technical layout skills. The gift was in completing that project and realizing that after the entire thing, I really do enjoy creating books. It’s a gift to yourself when you realize your dreams and set yourself up with great expectations for another year.
It’s easy to knock yourself down when you struggle with something, so every now and then why not give yourself a reminder of what you can do?
I’m not a fan of Blade Runner (read: I’ve never seen Blade Runner, which has a long-awaited sequel in Blade Runner 2049, due in October 2017) but here’s a post from Jack Monahan at Gausswerks on the difference between creating a fictional world from scratch and expanding an existing one.
Basically, you can’t ignore the real-world factors that make fiction convincing. A selected quote:
“Looking at Deckard’s blaster, we see a lot of mechanical detail that looks like it works. Because it does! Or did, anyway, in its original context. But removed from that context, the [gun] components still retain their air of purpose. This is the trick. To take and recontextualize various greebles, nurnies, and gubbins that had purpose, in their original context, to make something else look like it has purpose.”
The idea is that the original Blade Runner’s prop design worked because it utilized real components to create a fictional design, whereas the sequel takes the fictional design and tries to create another fiction out of it. To me it’s like the difference between hard sci-fi and fantasy: hard sci-fi has some basis in real technology, while fantasy creates its own rules, adherence to reality not a factor.
In design, I suppose this is why some designs can appear both endearing and annoying. While I enjoy the look of these Seamless advertisements, with their visual appeal mimicking the product of a poorly-aligned printing press, it’s distracting in that it’s very obviously not actually made on a poorly-aligned printing press. In the spirit of what Monahan suggests, the ads would have been better served being created in the original method rather than employing a digital substitute.
A recent episode of How It’s Made featured a segment about the production of vinobrew, a relatively new alcoholic beverage that is a blend of beer and wine. Whether or not this drink leaves you “in the clear” or “never been sicker” is beyond me, as I’m not particularly big on mixed drinks, but the segment did get me thinking. I’m not sure why, but vinobrew strikes me as a particularly West Coast invention, a claim for which I have absolutely no material basis. (In my favor, however, the makers featured on How It’s Made were indeed from California. Their concoction blended port wine, stout beer, and coffee.)
(Let me get this out of the way first: I am not a foodie. While I might travel a certain distance for quality food, I don’t catalog anything about food myself, and most of what I do know tends to be tidbits from other food historians.)
There certainly isn’t anything wrong with inventing new dishes or flavor combinations, but when it comes to certain foods, I feel like the East Coast tends to be simpler with some preparations. I’m biased, of course, because I’m a native New Yorker who, frankly, hasn’t lived in any part of the
country continent planet outside of the tri-state area. Hear me out, though.
When New Yorkers evaluate a slice of pizza, it’s a plain (cheese) slice that gets the scrutiny. Pizza with other toppings can and have won awards, but if you manage to perfect a cheese slice, you’ve done a worthy thing indeed. Same thing goes with hot dogs: nothing wrong with mustard, onions, and relish on a hot dog, but you get a really good hot dog and you won’t need anything but a bun. Sure, a New-York style cheesecake tastes great with berries or chocolate, but a perfect plain slice is magnificent. The Carnegie Deli’s pastrami sandwiches were massive, but they were essentially a single-filling sandwich. Philly cheesesteaks are relatively simple, as are Maine lobster rolls and Southern whole-hog barbecue.
Obviously, I’m not counting (read: terribly ignorant of) a lot of dishes here. I just want to contrast that approach with that of, say, a Chicago-style hot dog loaded with vegetables and pickles; or a San Francisco Mission-style burrito, crammed with whatever fits. This isn’t to say that those dishes are bad (quite the opposite, in fact) but that their excellence originates from the medley of flavors, rather than the perfection of a few ingredients.
Far from a conclusive analysis, for sure, but I do like how regional tastes still seem to vary, even when it’s possible to get ingredients shipped around the world in a matter of hours.
A short while back, I was engaged in a spirited discussion arguing against the New York Times’ decision to hire a climate-science “agnostic” as part of their regular opinions column. What harm could there be, the opposing party argued, in allowing someone with a differing opinion into the conversation?
Without getting too much into that debate, the gist of my counter-argument was that this writer is not part of the conversation. I’m sure that he himself would certainly admit that he is no climate scientist. Why then, should he be part of a conversation on an objective science that he is unqualified to comment on? It would be like asking a brain surgeon to run a housing development. Or asking a businessperson to run a preschool. Or asking a marketing expert to guide foreign and domestic political policy. I digress.
Training one’s craft not only draws upon the experience of countless previous generations, but elevates standards all around.
The art world is a funny thing because it based almost entirely on opinion, rather than on objective fact. Sure, we can judge art students by how well they pay attention to natural light and its effects, but in the end, it’s not technical skill alone that makes things popular. So why shouldn’t a layman be trusted to evaluate a piece like an art professor can? One might argue that the variety of artistic interpretations throughout world history show that the pursuit for quality and mastery don’t really matter.
Well, not quite. Ancient Incan sculpture has a much different standard than that of ancient Greek sculpture, but it still has a standard. Today, for example, most people can tell the difference between comic-book art that is more traditionally Western, versus that with a Japanese influence. And even in comics alone, artwork has generally become more sophisticated as well. Training one’s craft not only draws upon the experience of countless previous generations, but elevates standards all around. Specialists can fix problems that laypeople won’t even notice until they’re corrected.
I remember discussing a cookbook cover design with a group of editors and marketing people. They all agreed that the piece, which had been crafted by another designer, was nearly perfect, but that it made them feel “off” for some reason. It was a simple design consisting of a title and a photograph: a brightly-lit overhead shot of a dinner plate, fully loaded with delicious-looking food, and isolated against a white background. Still, it managed to evoke a sense of creeping dread. An editor asked me if it was something about the photo that made it look bad. “Oh, simple,” I said, “it’s because that photo is upside-down.”
The photographer had set up the shot so that the key light was slightly off center. Normally, when people view food, they are used to seeing it being lit from above. With the photo being rotated 180°, it created an effect similar to that of placing a flashlight underneath your chin when telling a scary story. When I reoriented the piece, everyone realized that the minor change made a significant difference as to how appealing the image was. If I hadn’t been trained to look for things like that, I doubt I would have noticed the mistake either, and the book would have gone to press with a “weird” cover.
So yes, the details matter. Maintaining a well-organized group of responsible specialists who set standards, and then surpass them, is key to every aspect of society.
Well, everybody, it’s that time of the year again: Inktober!
This is the third year I’m doing the project, and this time I actually have a plan. I’ll be populating a fantasy world which I’ve touched upon before: the “Aitos” world. I’m revisiting a few characters I created in past posts, but the majority will be new. The idea is to just do character portraits, which with any luck I’ll be coloring in the future, maybe in Chromatovember or something. (Totally just made that up.)
Perhaps most importantly, the updates will be taking place on my Tumblr site, hundreddrafts. I’m aiming to keep hundredconnector as a place for more finished work, while my daily stuff gets up on the Tumblr. So let’s all buckle up for the ride!
I’ve got a new blog on Tumblr where I’ll post more incomplete or run-of-the-mill sketches rather than the more complete ones that you might find here. I intend to keep hundredconnector full of more “quality” work versus the tumblblog, which honestly is more of an accountability experiment than anything else.
So visit hundred drafts for informal scribblings!
I used to say that “I’m not an artist, I’m a designer.” At the time, it was a serious distinction: when popular fine artistry became more concerned with personal expression, social commentary, and testing ethical limits, rather than technical ability, I immediately sought to distance myself from the term. For me, it was important that my work satisfied on the aesthetic level and spoke its own message, rather than having to rely on a sales pitch.
Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that art is “useless.” While this angered me when I first heard it 10th grade, I have since learned what he meant, and Wilde indirectly struck on why artists differ from designers. The artist creates work in the hopes of creating a mood, or perhaps to communicate some inner thought. Art needn’t be “good” in the academic sense to be of value to anyone. This is central to the practice of art therapy, where the experience of creation is just as important as (if not more important than) the finished project. While art only requires one person to appreciate it (or at least the process of its creation,) design runs in the opposite direction.
Self-expression is not the primary goal of design. Design is conveying an action or idea effectively, without drawing attention to itself as a distraction. Dieter Rams summed it up when he said that “Good design is as little design as possible.” Where art’s existence can be justified by just one person’s opinion, design’s purpose hinges on the idea that it is accessible to as many people as possible. Where art can be created to enjoyed for its own sake, design is meant to serve another’s message before its own inherent beauty is recognized. Where one can sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy a piece of art, design is making sure that you are sitting comfortably, that your cup is perfectly weighted and warm, and that your coffee was no hassle to brew.
For the most part, artists and designers don’t get the chance to explain their work, and on many levels, they shouldn’t have to. Art can be appreciated for what it is, while design must achieve a specific goal to be of any worth. While the artist struggles with making his own voice heard, the designer struggles to make someone else’s voice heard.
Different as those goals may be, I’ve since come to appreciate both art and design more. There are some things that designers do that don’t make any sense: “because it looked better” is often a completely valid design decision. That’s where design relies on art. Artists deal with existing concepts and social tropes all the time; that’s where art relies on design. It’s certainly important to recognize the difference, but it’s equally important to recognize the similarities.
One of the keys to achieving fitness results relatively quickly is the valuable rest day. Daily training for weeks on end works for some people, but even that lifestyle can be helped by even a single day off. (Not that I’m a personal trainer or fitness guru, but it happens to be true.) No matter what regimen you follow, almost all of them emphasize the importance of resting your wearied muscles so that they can heal and grow new muscle tissue to help you perform even better than before. In some ways, the mind is very similar, especially when learning new skills.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.—Bruce Lee
About the only solid truth of learning any skill is that the more time you spend practicing, the quicker you will learn that skill and (generally) the better you will be at performing it. Of course there are many other factors involved but let’s just roll with that advice: daily practice, even minutes a day, adds up to big change more quickly. So yes, practicing the scales on the piano will make you better at it. It’s better to draw every day if you want to improve quickly. It’s better to practice that single punch 10,000 times, to paraphrase Bruce Lee. It’s infintely useful, yet, in my opinion, has a potentially devastating effect.
Practicing with an overly conscious “beginner’s mind” can leave you convinced that, even with hundreds of hours of training, you still need to practice in the same way every day. Some people swear by this method; I personally can’t recommend it anymore. Sometimes, after enough practice, what I really need is some time off. Not a few hours; sometimes I need a couple of weeks.
It seems that this break, which to some is unusually long, allows me to literally forget about the tedium of drawing a certain way. When I draw purposefully, I usually create a stick figure and then flesh it out until the piece is complete. Drawing this way sometimes uses too much brain power:
“Oh, are the proportions right?”
“Is the ribcage drawn in the right place?”
“That nose is a little too generic.”
So let’s say that I take a break from drawing for a few days. I’ll come back to a blank sheet, and stop myself from starting with a stick figure. I’ll remind myself that after having the visual arts play such a big role in my life for the past 20 years, there are some things I just don’t need to practice. Just draw a face, I’ll tell myself, you know well enough where things go at this point. Then, I’ll do it…
… and far more often than not I’ll knock out something fairly accurate with just a few lines. It almost feels like I don’t need to practice ever again. (That idea is also not recommended!) But where does that power come from?
Perhaps the mind is more like a muscle after all; allowing it to rest lets it make new connections within itself. Studies suggest that expecting too much of yourself can lead to catastrophic performance failure, otherwise known as choking. I get this whenever I attempt to draw on smooth ink paper rather than the rougher stuff I use for sketching. It’s a careful balancing act between thinking too hard and trusting your ability, and while daily practice helps you find that balance more quickly, I think it’s worth taking a few days off to de-stress and re-center myself.
In case it isn’t obvious, I made this “Lemuel Killmaster” as a tribute to Lemmy.
There’s a fat little book on my bookcase that I bought a long time ago, in a galaxy… okay, it was this galaxy. That book is called A Guide to the Star Wars Universe, and for many years I was happy to have bought the “Second, Expanded Edition!” because it included all the material ever released in Star Wars fiction up until that point.
Yes, I was (am?) a huge Star Wars fan, and part of the magic of that Guide was that it cataloged everything into two neat categories: “Stuff from the films” and “Stuff from the Expanded Universe,” which we fans had creatively marked as the “EU.” George Lucas even went on record (take that as you will) acknowledging that he saw the Star Wars franchise as basically these two universes. In George Lucas’ universe, the films tell you all there is you need to know. In the Expanded Universe, the films are just the starting point for what has been decades’ worth of contributing material, all of which has more or less stayed intact. New authors would reuse characters created outside the films. Characters that debuted in video games found their way into novels and comic books, and prose-original characters worked their way into games and TV shows. It was a sort of cross-pollination that was commendable because unlike franchises like Star Trek and Doctor Who, there weren’t multiple timelines and universes; there was one EU and for the most part it managed to work.
So with The Force Awakens coming out, it reminded me of of what happened not long after Disney bought Lucasfilm.
Let my bias be known: I do not have a high opinion of The Walt Disney Company. I do think it weird that Walt Disney had his corporation explore options in urban development. I do think it underhanded to buy a TV network and have that network’s shows start using “I’m going to Disney World!” as a plot device. Let’s not get into the copyright issues, either.
I do have this to say: the Disney Company is extremely good at crafting their products to resonate with people. So I don’t think it was necessarily a bad decision for the next Star Wars film to be entirely fresh; it puts every viewer on the same level. People won’t have their movie experience spoiled by someone who says “I hope they put General Whatshisname in the next film.” It’s a great relief and great fun to experience something new together.
That said, the cynic in me can’t help but curse What Disney Did to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Basically, they nullified it.
On April 25, 2014, StarWars.com released a statement notifying the public that the EU was no longer canon. Everything that was created by those thousands of people over those 40 years doesn’t count. All the collaboration, all the cross-checking, all the work going into keeping a universe pretty much intact, didn’t count. Everything, no matter how good or terrible it was, didn’t count. And to a guy with a Disney bias like mine, it meant that “no stories counted unless Disney said so.” The initial press release attempted to soften the blow by pointing out that all legends differ in the details, and that the Expanded Universe wasn’t going away completely. The content would still be available under a “Legends” banner, and characters and ideas fleshed out in the original EU might be used again in the future films.
To be fair, this kind of thing has happened before. The stories between Star Wars and the release of The Empire Strikes Back (major ones being Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and The Star Wars Holiday Special) were “corrected” by the release of other films, and the prequel trilogy changed facts established by authors in other media.The major difference is that the EU tried to make these facts work together. I’m not saying that the EU was perfect; far from it, actually. It was full of overpowered characters and irreconcilable contradictions. It was a mess, but it was our mess.
In a way having a story group make sure that the timeline stays intact is probably the best thing for the EU. I just wish that the stories hadn’t been invalidated to do so. Disney’s willingness to appropriate the ideas of the EU in order to make a quick buck does nothing to quell my resentment towards the company, but I have to be honest: my resentment does nothing to quell my desire to see the new films.I just think it’s important to remember the 35 years of collaborative fiction that got those new films on the screen.