Its not how you paint its what you paint ... or is it the other way round!

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  05 May 2011
Question Its not how you paint its what you paint ... or is it the other way round!

"Its not how you paint its what you paint"

True or False


"Its not what you paint its how you paint it"

True or false

Interested to hear thoughts on these concepts in regards to illustration, composition versus Apptitude.

my thoughts are that when your starting out, its far more important to concern yourself with how to paint. Then once your compotent, you can move onto focusing on composition and the subject(s) of the actual painting.

thoughts anyone?
  05 May 2011
The following is taken directly from my workshop (linked in my signature), and is from one of the earliest lessons during week one of the course. It explains in detail what you're asking:

As creative people, we all have aspirations, and during that journey which takes us from being an excited, nervous, and confused novice to an experienced and authoritative veteran, we learn to clarify for ourselves what are the most important things we care about in our own artworks and the works of others. Over the years, I have clarified for myself what those characteristics are, and I try to impart them in my own works. I don't always succeed, but it's always my goal. For me, a clear top-down overview of the most important characteristics of any piece of artwork (and in turn, any body of works) are the following:

1) It should reflect a strong grasp of the foundational knowledge (composition, perspective, values/lighting, colors, anatomy/figure...etc).

2) The execution should be technically excellent (line quality and brushwork, regardless of style).

3) It should have a compelling idea behind the image, whether it's narrative, socio-political commentary, emotional resonance, humor, wit...etc.

4) If it doesn't have a strong idea, then it must depict strong atmospheres and evocative moods.

5) If its emphasis is on fantastical premise, whatever concept designs that appear in the image (environment, characters, costume, creatures, props, vehicles, weapons...etc), they must be thoughtfully designed and logical instead of mindless style over substance.

Those five characteristics sum up everything I care about in visual art. I have similar sets of criteria for music, film, literature, photography...etc, and although each has idiosyncrasies of its own due to the inherent differences between the mediums, the main essence of what I look for is very similar. In fact, those five characteristics when simplified to cover all creative works, they become:

1) Interesting and compelling idea.

2) Demonstration of technical and artistic knowledge required to bring the idea to life effectively.

3) Necessary technical skills to execute the idea and do it justice.

That's it. It doesn't get any clearer than that for me. Those are the three most important aspects any creative person should care about--the creative vision, the knowledge, and the skill. Let's examine each a bit closer, but I'm going to reverse the order, and you'll see why once I'm done going through each.

Skill - Technical skill is perhaps the easiest to learn, because it's mostly just muscle memory, eye-to-hand coordination, and repeated practice. Although we're physically not the same, when it comes to art, our physical differences don't make nearly as much difference as in other creative endeavors like music or dance, because the technical skills required for art in comparison is not as demanding. In fact, there really aren't all that many different skills to learn. Artists mainly deal with arm and wrist movements, and that's it. You learn to control your drawing/painting tools with proper amount of pressure, speed, directional movement, length of movement--all working together at the same time to achieve the look you're after with your lines and brushwork.

As a teenager, I had advanced technical skills that rivaled many professionals, but I lacked all the important knowledge such as anatomy/figure, composition, values/lighting, color theory, perspective...etc. So while I could render the living daylights out of any drawing or painting as a teenager, my work was only impressive when I referenced photos or worked from life, because without something to look at, my work showed that lack of knowledge. Without knowledge, skill can only take you so far.

Knowledge - Acquiring the necessary knowledge to become an authoritative creative voice could be thought of as harder than technical skills, but in some ways, it could be easier, depending on if you excel more physically or mentally. It can be harder because it involves not only the acquisition of knowledge, but the absorption, understanding, and the ability to utilize the knowledge effectively. When knowledge is not handed to you in a neatly packaged format (such as tutorials, classes, books...etc), you must learn to observe, analyze, and formulate your own theories.

The reverse can also be true--that technical skills can be harder to acquire than knowledge. For example, there are a lot of armchair quarterbacks out there--people who can talk and criticize for hours about film, art, music...etc while showing off their knowledge, but the minute you put them in a position where they have to actually perform, they fall flat on their faces because they lack either the technical skill or the creative vision. So perhaps for those that prefer to talk about something instead actually doing it, acquiring knowledge would be easier than attaining technical skills; however, when it comes to art, as I already mentioned, the technical skills are nowhere near as difficult as with some of the other creative endeavors, so it really doesn't take a whole lot to turn someone who only talks the talk into someone that can also walk the walk. Having technical skills and knowledge for some people is enough, as they see themselves more as artisans instead of artists. They make a living with their skill and knowledge, and that is enough. But for others, that is not enough, because they aspire to be artists with creative vision.

Creative Vision - For some people, the creative vision is perhaps the hardest of the three, but once again, it really depends on the person's natural inclinations. Some people just naturally have a very creative mind; ideas just flow out of them nonstop, but there are also those who can't seem to come up with good ideas to save their lives. While having ideas is a great start, it is not enough. Beyond being creative and having ideas, one has to have a compelling creative vision as well, or else one could end up just creating meaningless crap based on idiotic ideas. So not only should you have ideas, they have to be good enough so they are worth your time and effort to execute. I believe it's possible to teach this, and I hope by the end of this workshop, you guys would have proven me right.
  05 May 2011
Thanks a heap Lunatique,,, very appreciated

wow, what can i say ... very good read thank you!

is drawing something creatively inspiring as important as learning to draw?

so basically, after thinking about it some more and reading your post,,, my original qustion boils down too ... is is more important to be creative or technically skilled?

Your answer seems to be well both are important,,, and I totally agree!

But in the context of novice artists such as myself,,, im beginning to believe that technical skill is far more important and creativity. Because truly great concepts will never be believable without technical skill.

Most novice artists already have a tone of creativity,,, i guess thats what draws them to the artform in the first place. So creating a piece that is creatively inspirational with an interesting theme, idea etc is not the issue and therefor shouldn't be the focus for novice artists.

So this is what used to happen to me ...

I have lots of ideas,,, got hundreds of sketches,, level designs, architectural designs, character designs etc etc. When i get motivated to keep working on my art,,, i usually find a new idea,,, something i think i would be good at seeing through to completion. Something i think i can complete to a professional level and shows alot of skill to create. (Because obviously that is one of the ellements of a good piece). But also something i think is creative and inspiring.

So i start out on this journey,,, I am way excited and ive got this AWSOME vision... but my skills let me down I usually spend hours, upon hours, working on it, tens of hours even,,, and it never seems to get to the place i want it to get and i often quit before i even really get started because i just dont feel like im doing it justice.

All i end up getting out of the experience is another one of my creative dreams broken, as i see my great idea turn from attainable into unatainable. This could be why i rarely touch any of my old sketch ideas,,, to affraid to wreck the dream.

So now im starting to think more like this ...

Right so instead of focusing on creativity as an integral and essential ellement of my art,,, I think ive pretty well made my mind up just to forget it for now and just focus on the technical side of things. i.e. "Its not what you draw its how you draw it"

In Conclusion ...

I mean ultimately, there is no catch phraze for every artist,,, but I just wanted to see what anyone else had to say about this concept and if i could glean anything from it / help anyone else too. Ive got to say i am better off today for posting this as you have pretty much helped me to confirm my original idea.

I saw a good example of my argument taking place in the 2D WIP forum over the last few days. In short, an artist was getting crits to fix up the perspective in the drawing because it was taking away from the belevability of the image. Granted anything in an image that takes away from the concept is ideally a fixer upper but I recomended she just continue rather than getting frustrated by it. She did that and has now finished a piece getting another image under her belt,,, and better technical skills which is clearly what she needs to more to the next level.

I think its just an important concept for novices to get their head around while learning ... well particularly if they do have perfectionist tendancies. And that concept is specifically "Just keep drawing" Do whatever it takes, dont let yourself get bogged down in less than ideal proportions (unless thats what your studying ) or a less than inspirational concept ... Just ... Keep ... Drawing.
  05 May 2011
While it's true that without the technical skills and knowledge of the visual art foundations, creative vision won't be executed with satisfying level of quality, but you'd be surprised by how uncreative many visual artists are. In my workshop, the entire first week in dedicated to creative vision, and so much of what I take for granted--things like a compelling creative vision, emotional and intellectual resonance, highly entertaining and though-provoking visual narrative, conveying emotions and humanity even in scenes without any living creatures and so on, are completely foreign to many of my students. Many of them never thought about anything beyond cool explosions, hot chicks, gun fights, scary monsters, sci-fi/fantasy environments, and spaceships. The idea that an artist could be capable of reaching into someone's heart and soul and move them emotionally--that THEY could actually do it themselves, never existed for many of them. I had to teach this to many of the students--that they can become essentially like the writers/directors of their own imaginary scenes, captured by images, conveying not just emotions and moods, but also personal ideals and values, statements about our society, views on religion and politics, or utilizing the same techniques that fiction writers use, but in the visual context--creative weapons such as symbols, metaphors, allegory, and so on.

So, no, creative vision doesn't just come to everyone--for many it never comes unless someone helps them break down the walls that's they've been trapped in all their lives, and see just how limitless creative vision can really be.
  05 May 2011
Ah, well perhaps my thoughts on the creativity of "most" artists is misplaced... I can accept that if its the case.

I guess i just was having one of those moments and looking for some backup.

Fact is I already know focusing on technical skill alone is something that many artists speak of highly,,, the concept of practice, studies of light, figure form etc are an integral part of creating amazing art. I think for many years there, i was under the impression that it wasnt that important. I mean you should see some of the crap ive churned out over the years... conceptually, yeah its all there but i need practice,,, hard work.

I asked a famous comic artist once in a conference "was he just born that way or did hard work and practice play a major part in his success?" I think you can guess his answer.

He said he studied the human form and that "90% of his skill was due to hard work and study"

Im pretty disappointed that I did not realise this sooner, while i watched my peers at University excell in every imaginable discipline,,, I kept on creating art, with what i saw as awesome ideas,,, but technically i was let down time and time again finishing my degree with a 4.8 or something. Looking back all i have is a ton of art that is technically poor. And virtually no portfolio work at all from my studies.

I wish someone had of told me back then that i need to master my pencil, my photoshop skills, my anatomy, my lighting, my TOPOLOGY, (Thanks to my amazing (programmer) advanced 3D teacher who gave me a HD for the biggest load of BS game model ever! Oh and thanks QANTM for quality education) the list goes on. The key word being MASTER, not a pass, not a "that will do" not a "great concept!" ... master!

because in the end no matter how good your subject is, your concept, your mood, or whatever your trying to say, if you are not a master of your art, its rare that anyone will give a 1 99999th of a @#$^!

And ill go even one step further by saying,,, even if your work is lifeless, meaningless, makes no statement conveys little mood other than that which is implied by dark clouds in the background or a happy smile on a females face etc etc... If you skill is there, you will still get a wow from most people.

Don't get me wrong, im not discrediting the importance of subject within art, im just saying technical skill needs to be there also and for me its time to pull my finger out if i ever want to move forward.

I am also confident that there are others out there who need the same advice, I hope that this thread is just another testament to the importance of working hard on your art form out here in cyberspace to remind those of us who need the reminder.

and ill say it again...

get into it! Draw!

PS. Love your port man, you got some mad skills

Last edited by TarickTDS : 05 May 2011 at 12:14 PM.
  05 May 2011
BTW, you might find this thread very helpful as well:

My top ten tips to becoming a better artist is the 7th post of that thread.
  05 May 2011
wow that is a cool thread,,, LOL that your number 1 is basically practice haha

all in all a very helpul experience in this thread thanks to you Lunatique, I appreciate your time and inspiration immensely
  05 May 2011
It was interesting when you said you often quit jobs before finishing it because it is not making justice to your ideas, yesterday I was reading an article about Michelangelo and it is told that he burned lots of sketches and unfinished pieces because as he grew older, even with his masterful skills he also felt it wasnt making justice to his ideas. Not to compare you to michelangelo, but i'm just guessing this is a very commom feeling when working with art.
  06 June 2011
Thanks LeCoelho, yeah im sure im not alone with being frustrated.

It actually brings up another thought ive got which is.

When should i specialise? Ive noticed alot of artists here are very focused in on one style or medium of drawing ... I tend to try alot of different things when i create art, different styles, diffirent mediums, but at the expense of quality. I know that if i focused in on one particular style i would get better at it faster and ofcourse have higher quality work to show in that area... but how to choose ?
  06 June 2011
Originally Posted by TarickTDS: When should i specialise? Ive noticed alot of artists here are very focused in on one style or medium of drawing ... I tend to try alot of different things when i create art, different styles, diffirent mediums, but at the expense of quality. I know that if i focused in on one particular style i would get better at it faster and ofcourse have higher quality work to show in that area... but how to choose ?

Anyone still struggling with the foundations and is still not yet an advanced artist should not think about style too much at all. What you need to do is to focus on the foundations, because without having a strong grasp of the foundations, style would mean absolutely nothing at all, because nothing you draw or paint, regardless of style, would have any sense of authority or credibility, and will be filled with mistakes and glaringly obvious shortcomings in your foundation knowledge and skill. Also, without a certain level of mastery of the foundations, you wouldn't even know how to analyze or deconstruct any style, or understand all the stylization choices that were made, such as why, where, and how certain elements were simplified, exaggerated, idealized, pushed to be more dynamic, pulled back to be more subtle, or any of the other compelling artistic decisions that were made to achieve a specific look.

All styles are based in reality, because reality is the standard which stylization deviates from. So how can you understand stylization decisions if you don't even understand how reality works? Only by understand the foundations of visual art, can you understand why a style looks the way it does and why the people who invented those styles made the choices they made.

It's the same with other creative mediums, regardless of style. If you don't fully understand grammar, syntax, cadence, vocabulary, themes, motifs, metaphors, symbols, allegory...etc, how can you understand literary masterpieces and be able to deconstruct them and learn from them? If you don't understand rhythm, harmony, melody, counterpoint, modulation, timbre, texture, form, dynamics...etc, how can you deconstruct and learn from musical masterpieces?

Style is something that comes after you have become strong in the foundations. Until then, don't even worry about style and just focus on the foundations. At the very least, you must work on your foundations training along with whatever stylization experiments you are doing.
  06 June 2011
It seems there is a definite divide between "Study" and i dont know "Show Pieces"

what i mean is that when attempting to learn more about art, you are often just focusing in on the forms for instance when figure drawing,,, and not too much else.

in contrast when you are creating something for show, you pretty much need to have a good understanding of whatever your drawing before you start other wise it prob wont work out all that well.

Im not sure how thats related exactly to your post Lunatic but it just came to mind.

If i could expand somewhat on my previous post... An example of the specialisation im talking about might be drawing close ups of female faces. There is at least 1 artist i know of who pretty much has her gallery FULL of just female faces. This is what i mean by specialising. I prob didnt describe that so well in my last post.

I do take your comments however in needing to learn the foundations of art first. Really wishing id done a Visual Arts Degree instead of Interactive Entertainment : /

Other than enrolling in art school, do you have an ideas where i might be able to learn in more depth the principals you mentioned?
  06 June 2011
Originally Posted by TarickTDS: If i could expand somewhat on my previous post... An example of the specialisation im talking about might be drawing close ups of female faces. There is at least 1 artist i know of who pretty much has her gallery FULL of just female faces. This is what i mean by specialising. I prob didnt describe that so well in my last post.

What you "specialize" in is a subjective choice, but regardless of what you specialize in, you still need to train in all the foundational knowledge and skills, even those you don't think you'll use often. For example, if you did lots of close-up portraits, you still need to learn perspective, because unless you know for sure all you'll ever draw/paint are just close-up of faces, you'll need to know to draw/paint something else somewhere in your artistic path. If you don't build up your knowledge and skill in all areas, you'll become one of those artists where as soon as they try to tackle something out of their comfort zone, they end up looking like total amateurs, and the discrepancy between the stuff they specialize in and the stuff they know nothing about will be so glaring that it'll almost be comedic. We have all seen works like that--paintings where the environment looks great but the characters look like they were done by a far inferior artist, or the face looks decent but the figure looks totally wrong, and so on.

Originally Posted by TarickTDS: Other than enrolling in art school, do you have an ideas where i might be able to learn in more depth the principals you mentioned?

Plenty of people working in the industry are self-taught, including me. You can teach yourself with books, instructional videos, online tutorials, online workshops, and so on.

My workshop, "Becoming A Better Artist: Critical Knowledge and Techniques For Today's Artists" was designed to teach exactly the things I've been talking about, plus much, much more. There's a big thread about it, where I answer lots of questions and past students posted their thoughts on the workshop:

And this is the workshop details page, describing everything you'll learn in the workshop, as well as lots of testimonials from past students:

You'll see clearly from those testimonials that this workshop had changed their lives and transformed them inside out. They learned stuff they couldn't even imagine before taking the workshop, and all the amazing "AHA!" moments they had throughout the workshop has completely changed the way they think as artists.

Last edited by Lunatique : 06 June 2011 at 04:09 AM.
  06 June 2011
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