Artistic Influences

I sometimes wonder about in what way are the things that I see different from the things that others see.  Everyone sees differently, that’s obvious.  For instance, people with problems with their body image tend to see more than is there when they look at themselves and less than is there when they look at others.  But my questions go deeper.  Is the blue I see the same sort of blue you see?  How could we ever find out if it is or isn’t?  Do you see all the minute variations in color and texture I do?  Do you see more than I do?  Well, without my contacts you definitely do, but what about when we’ve both got the best vision our eyes and science can give us?

From there it’s usually a short ride to questioning the existence of the universe (because if energy and matter can be neither created or destroyed, where did they come from?) unless I derail that train of thought and start to just draw.

I don’t know what others see, but I see a lot.  I see the gradual curve of an arm where the skin wraps around fat and muscle and bone.  I see the subtle way that veins change the color and tone of the skin they sit beneath.  I see light reflecting off things, the way it changes their appearances at different angles.  Maybe it’s because I’ve trained myself to over the years.  Maybe not everyone else sees all the things there are to see as fascinating the way I do.

I’d like to visit all the interesting places of the world, from the seven wonders to quiet back-alley bookstores to abandoned bridges, and try to draw all of them so that people can see them the way I see them.  Then maybe I’d start on the moon.  It’s probably an impossible dream, but if I ever get the chance to travel the world, I’ll sit down every place I can and draw the place and the people in it, maybe photograph what I don’t have time to draw.

Despite my existential questions, as a general rule, artists are pretty good at making others (well, me, I don’t know about you) see things the way they see them.  A lot of them have influenced me and the way I see, so I don’t see the same way now that I did before I found their art, but then I don’t see the same way I did when I was seven and got most of my art from Disney films either.

Here’s an example:

During my art class last week, another class came in to see the narrative drawings we’d been working on.  I won’t share mine here, since I’m thinking of entering it in a contest, but I will talk about the audience’s (for lack of a better term) reaction to it.

“You could work with Tim Burton.”

Full disclosure:  I’ve seen a grand total of two Tim Burton films, but I have been letting my art style go a little similar to his–exaggerated proportions, large eyes, thin limbs, high contrast, lots of spirals.  In this particular project, the influence was obvious.  It’s less obvious with other projects, with other contemporary artists whom I take visual cues from.

The cover image of this blog is a page I colored from James A. Owen’s coloring book, All the Colors of Magic, which features popular illustrations from the Imaginarium Geographica books.  I bought it and started coloring because a) I’m a responsible enough adult to usually recognize that the fear of being seen as childish is actually rather childish, b) it’s cool, and c) LOOK AT ALL THE TINY LINES.

James A. Owen is a master of hatching and crosshatching, and his dragons are just breathtaking.  My dragon profile picture is nowhere near as fabulous as some of his.  I sometimes feel irritated that he’s so stinking good, but then I remember he has at least a decade more experience than me and I’ll get better with time and practice and more art classes.

But wait!  There’s more!

Lee Garbett, the comic book artist behind such gems as Loki: Agent of Asgard, has a certain trick of capturing character and emotion with just a few lines that I just find delightful.  I’ve tried to mimic it a few times, but haven’t quite gotten to where I want to be with it yet.

Michael Whelan’s skill with color and contrast is breathtaking.  He can make unbelievable scenes and scenarios look almost real.  He did the cover art for the first two Stormlight Archive novels.

Those are the main contemporary inspirations.  And their styles are all wildly different from one another.

A few months ago a professional comic artist had a presentation at my local library, and when the presentation was done she looked through my sketchbook and commented on it.  I’d give you her name, but I can’t remember or find it.  If I saw her work again I’d recognize it.  Maybe I wrote it down on a sketchbook page somewhere.

The presentation was cool.  She talked about color work, about steampunk, how artists have to know something of the fashion of the time they’re portraying, and about the tendency of artists to draw people who look something like them because we’re our own best reliable references and we have to work harder for people who look different.  Some of the things she said about my sketchbook have been influencing my work since we talked–such as, my art has a naturally sketchy, slightly messy, look to it, and cross-hatching makes it look more complete, and she really liked the dragon (the one I’m currently using as my profile picture here) that I’d just finished days earlier.

Not that art that doesn’t look quite complete is necessarily bad.  It’s just good to know that I do have a tendency towards messy art so I can control it when I want to.

Anyways, I hope I haven’t bored the non-artists with my thoughts on art and seeing and so on.  I just really care about art and learning to see what is/could be/ought to be and I wanted to take a moment to share that enthusiasm with you.


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