Research & Enquiry
For this blog I will be looking at what are the pros of using modern illustration techniques over traditional techniques and a continuation of how illustration has developed over the decades. To start out with I would like to state this is not a what is better, modern vs traditional shootout. It is a debate to discover how modern illustration techniques are helping to push new boundaries. The aim is to research what is paving the way right now. I think this is particularly helpful to me, coming from a traditional background. Traditional meaning non digital, painting, drawing, charcoal, chalk, paint etc., the physical act of making things with your hands with no digital interface. I am still learning the amazing opportunities given as a result of using digital programs to create art and illustrations. It has actually been reinvigorating, new methods naturally lead to new ideas. I am sure there are a lot of people out there that are having similar experiences or flipped the other way from using predominantly digital to exploring traditional. That’s not to say I will abandon my previous practice, but I would like to expand and combine the best of both worlds. That idea really stimulates my creativity.
Why will I be looking to see what benefits a modern illustrator has compared to more traditional methods, to see if I can learn from this research how to expand my practice.
Having a physical connection with what you are making is one of the finest aspects of using traditional methods. Laying ink onto paper with a pen, making a mark with a brush coated in paint, there is a wonderful connection. Having recently started using a Wacom tablet to draw digitally I have found it strange, a slight disconnection, especially using a tablet with no screen that you plug into an iMac. Looking up at the screen whilst your hand is not in your line of sight is very unusual at first, disconnected. So I am looking to purchase a tablet that you can look at whilst drawing.
However there are real benefits, you don’t need to keep buying supplies, you will never run out of ‘paper’ & you can change paper textures in a second, images can be scaled up or down to what the project brief desires. I am currently using a wonderful program called Rebelle 3, a watercolour program that holds all the characteristics of using real watercolours. When making a mark it bleeds through the paper, it can be angled so drips can run in any direction you wish. The big plus for me is you don’t have a wait for drying time, a click of a button and hurrah. It is flexible allowing you to lay pencil, charcoal or oil paint affects over the top of watercolour, which would be very difficult, messy and the paper would fall apart in real terms. There are pros and cons to both approaches.
Here are some experiments using the program to get used to the feel and transition.
Interestingly recently in the news a portrait made using AI (artificial intelligence) was created after uploading over 1500 portraits from the past 300 years to shape the algorithms within the computer program. This is the portrait below…
Image source – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/arts/design/ai-art-sold-christies.html
What do you think? It sold for $432,500. Incredible that someone thought, “yeah, that is worth more than the price of a house”. In a way it makes me sad, there is no connection between someone that has learned a skill for most of their life, researched, developed or injected any soul into it. It has all been made through crunching numbers in a box. I understand it was probably bought as an investment, one of the first AI created paintings, and may be worth ten times that amount in the distant future. What does this mean for the role of a creative person in the future? Will we all be replaced by machines, turning art into a conveyor belt of manufacturing? It raises seriously interesting thoughts for where the future of art, illustration and graphic design will go. How far can they take it? No one can know for sure, but I can imagine as soon as quantum computers have been fully enabled, meaning processing speeds billions of times faster than the fastest computers in existence right now, then peoples jobs will be at risk, the money men and corporations will do anything if it means faster production and more profit.
On the flip-side perhaps it will push human creativity to a higher level, competition can drive rapid development, as shown numerous times in history. The space race for example, do you think the desire for mankind to reach the moon in the 60’s was done out of curiosity? No it was a race, a competition of two contrasting superpowers hell bent on being the first to explore space. Perhaps competition from AI could reap similar benefits for human creativity.
In my previous blog I looked at Modernism, the period of art development from 1900 up to the start of the Second World War containing many movements, Cubism, Constructivism, Dada, Bauhaus & Futurism, focussing mainly on Surrealism and its influence on modern day illustration. All these movements rejected historical styles, exploring original uses and experimentation with line, colour, design and layout.
Constructivism was important for design according to Megg’s History of Design written by Alan Tate, on page 341 it reads, “In 1922 & 1923 Berlewi worked in Germany and began to evolve his mecho – fakurta theory. Believing that modern art was filled with illusionistic pitfalls, he mechanized painting & graphic design into a constructed abstraction that abolished any illusion of three dimensions. This was accomplished by mathematical placement of simple geometric forms on a ground. The mechanization of art was seen as an expression of industrial society”. Henryk Berlewi was a Polish graphic designer and artist that lived from 1894 to 1967. He was reacting to a changing world with his ideas of design and illustration. Here is ‘Mechano-Faktura’ made in 1924, you can clearly see the reflection of his ideas and his ties with Constructivism, that too have had a great effect of graphic design developing. And now with how close graphic design and illustration has become in the digital age there is a binding influence on both.
image source – http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2017/israeli-international-art-n09638/lot.83.html
resource – http://eyemagazine.com/opinion/article/remembering-berlewi
I am looking at traditional approaches before I move on to modern digital approaches, to see how things have taken shape, for my own understanding and to enrich my practice.
The Memphis Group was a group of furniture and architectural designers from 1981 that produced bold designs, with strong colours and striking lines, geometric patterns that went against traditions. They were led by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass who spearheaded the postmodern textiles and designs for furniture. The group disbanded in 1988 but there innovative work has influenced illustrators and designers of today. Here a few examples of their work.
The third image is from an exhibition at Koenig & Clinton gallery in New York of which they describe, “Three decades on, Memphis continues to influence the visual language of designers and artists working today, and has once again been embraced by mainstream culture. While for one generation it may remain associated with a high postmodernism that equated stylistic eclecticism with ‘the end of history’, Memphis now enjoys a revival in the digital age. Galvanized by post-Internet design, Memphis is celebrated for its definitively sculptural, three-dimensional, grafted character and offers a refreshing reprieve from the flat, one-dimensional visual space of screens.”
Image Source – https://www.memphis-milano.com/collections/ettore-sottsass/products/yellow-brown-scarf
Lowbrow & Pop surrealism
The next phase of development I would like to look at is lowbrow and pop surrealism, starting in the 1970’s and into the 1980’s this phase started out of the gallery and museum scene, the traditional approaches.
Lowbrow borrows inspiration from a wide range of cultural sources such as punk rock music, tattoo art, Surrealism, pop culture, underground comics, skateboarding. Artists would combine styles, narratives and characters to create drawings, illustrations, paintings and media with subversive undertones. The La Luz Jesus Gallery opened in Los Angeles in 1986 and was one of the first galleries to host pop surrealism for the public.
In the online article hosted on create.adobe.com entitled, “Looking back to look forward: Illustration styles of the past 30 years” written by Terry Hemphill, he quotes Mark Heflin, editor and director of American Illustration who says, “it really changed things, it blurred the lines between illustration and fine art”.
The erasing of the lines between commercial and fine art is one of this movement’s most significant contributions.
One of the artists that grew from this period was Gary Baseman, his website tells us, “Los Angeles-based Gary Baseman explores the, “beauty of the bittersweetness of life”, through painting, performance, film and fashion. Recent projects include a collaboration with COACH; a documentary “Mythical Creatures” about his family heritage; and a traveling retrospective that featured hundreds of his paintings, photographs, videos, and toy and costume designs.
Baseman’s multifaceted career includes illustration for clients including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Wall Street Journal and the bestselling board game Cranium; as well as animation for which he created the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning ABC/Disney series “Teacher’s Pet.” He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on graphic and multidisciplinary arts and visual communications.”
Source – https://garybaseman.com/about/
Here is some of his work –
For the love of toby – Acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 18, 2005.
Image source – https://garybaseman.com/work/for-the-love-of-toby/
Toby’s desire, mixed media, ephemera, 2005.
Image source – https://garybaseman.com/work/for-the-love-of-toby/
Speaking in tongues, Acrylic on ephemera, 2005.
Image source – https://garybaseman.com/work/the-garden-of-unearthly-delights/
Brothers Rob and Christian Clayton also took influence from this scene, they had a very interesting practice of work, both would work on the same piece of work, but not simultaneously and without discussion. They take turns to work into an image that would create layers of fascinating imagery. It became a vivid, conversation of imagery. I am a big fan of their work and how they create it. I wish I had a brother that I could bounce work off, that is part of what makes their work unique.
Sensing needs, 2007. Mixed media.
Image source – https://www.instagram.com/clayton_brothers/
The growth of digital art, and its reputation since the 1990s is stratospheric. The development of technology has made this possible. For me and the millennial generation it is all we have known. Technology is so ingrained in society now that it is difficult to imagine it without it. So it makes sense to capitalise on these developments in technology to try and break boundaries and create forms of artistic work with it.
I have been looking for pioneering illustrators right now, I would like to look at these two below. Rob and Christian Clayton certainly fall into that catagory but there are of course others.
Craig Frazier works in refreshing ways by combining media, he blurs the lines between illustration and graphic design using digital designs over initial hand drawn ideas to animate conceptual images into gifs. He has made static work also but the styling is interesting and the concepts behind the images are fascinating often having wit, optimism and simplicity. He often works for the NY Times, Harvard Street Journal and has created ten children’s illustrated books among other notable achievements.
Here is some of his work –
All images taken from his website and instagram –
Christoph Niemann is a storyteller, illustrator, author and artist working in Berlin. He is experimental and pushes boundaries and has won numerous awards for his work. His work about the Korean demilitarised zone where he created a 360 degree sketchbook is amazing and I like it because it is original is a great example of using technology to create new ways of communicating. It’s a fascinating account of his visit to Korea, his thoughts and reflections on his experience in one of the most heavily militarised and culturally tense parts of the world. I enjoy the way he has combined music which is playful and juxtaposes the tense environment, with audio description of what he learned from his guides leading him around the area, with drawings of the scenery that you can scroll around 360 degrees. It’s amazing work, the drawings remind me of a child’s book illustration and reflects the bizarre contrasts, that it has almost become a tourist attraction for edgy people that want to explore beyond the standard disneyland holidays.
You can see the DMZ 360 degree sketchbook here – https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/magazine/christoph-niemann-north-korea-dmz.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/magazine
What have I gained from this blog? It has given me a deeper understanding of the development of illustration and an insight into current illustrators that are pushing boundaries. Particularly Christoph Niemann, I am so glad to have come across his work, and how he has used technology to communicate his work in new ways. This can only positively feed into my ideas for my keyword module in the MA illustration study. For the pros and cons of tradition or digital work once you get past the romantic notion of the ‘feel’ of physically laying material onto paper, there are really only positives, new possibilities and excitement at embracing digital technologies into ones artistic practice. If you are reading this blog and illustrators come to mind that I have not mentioned please do drop me an email or comment on this blog.