Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Find a Problem- Solve a Problem!

One of the challenging aspects of illustration is finding ways to develop your skills on your down time. As a student I often found myself frustrated. I had a lot of fun ideas of what I wanted to draw, but felt confined to a specific assignment. Eventually, I found joy in solving the problems given to me, and actually found comfort and success working with perimeters and and guidelines that forced me to use critical thinking. As a graduate, I often find a lack of this critical aspect. My ability to draw an illustration improves, but the critical thinking involved in connecting the illustration falls to the wayside. THIS IS A PROBLEM. As an editorial illustrator, my ability to come up with a strong idea is just as important as my ability to craft it. To tackle both problems, my amazing teacher John Hendrix suggested the following: "go to the New York Times Opinion page. There are always two opinions, one illustrated, one not. The one not illustrated is all yours!" And so, with that in mind, I jetted over to the NYT online and found an article to illustrate. 

The article I chose for this illustration was a critique on the overabundance of coin designs in the U.S. The author took issue with the fact that the U.S. mint has been on something of a design spat lately, coming out with various designs for the dollar coin, the famous fifty-state quarter series, and the various redesigns of presidential portraits on our coins. He claimed this had the effect of confusing our national identity. A national identity crisis over coins? Sounded like a fun challenge.

I brainstormed and sketched out several ideas for this- the vast majority were flops (though i was rather fond of the idea of Washington brawling with Adams on the side of a one-dollar coin) but soon enough I remembered that there was one character that screamed National Identity:
From there I had to think of a way to connect that with confusion and coins. Well, stores provide variety, right? And a graphic image like those on a coin would probably be seen hanging on strings just like paintings or posters. Add a touch of my beloved surrealist tendencies and my idea was complete.

From there I produced a number of thumbnails, trying to get down an idea for the composition I wanted to use. This is actually one of my favorite steps in the process, as it is brimming with creative possibilities.

Following this I took photo reference to work off of for my sketch.

After taking quite a few photos I took out parts to draw from and produced a finished sketch. I put this sketch in photoshop to make a quick color study. I do it this way because it gives me alot more time to experiment before I move into the final stage.

For this illustration I decided to go for a traditional approach and experiment with watercolors. My reference in hand, I sat in my studio and started painting. 

After some good ol' fashioned pigment pushing (followed by refining pixel pushing as a last step in Photoshop)I came up with this final image:
Viola! One good exercise with a quick turnaround that allows me to practice all the major components I need to develop to feed my self and put a roof over my head. This, combined with traditional figure drawing, reading alot of news and history, and sketch-booking is  a great way of keeping up your skills. DO IT! 
As for me, I think I owe John a coffee for this advice...

image of Uncle Sam produced by James Montgomery Flagg

2 comments:

yanofsky said...

Nice Sammy Baby. Nice.

Though I probably would have gone with the "i'm an identity confused teen on myspace" motif

Louise Smythe said...

very insightful, sam - great post!