Thursday, 21 January 2010

Do digital drawing tools improve our sketching skills?

Just over a week ago, I read an interesting little post on Jen Pringle's blog about the Brushes app for the iphone, in which she expresses her reservations about the quality of images produced using this and similar programs (you can read the original post here.)

It got me thinking a lot, especially when she confessed to feeling like an 'aging technophobe'. It's certainly true that people who criticize technology often risk looking like backwards fogies who are perturbed by unfamiliar new developments. However, I think that Jen's post raises some valid (and important) concerns about artwork made using drawing programs. It got me thinking so much that what started out as a short reply suddenly turned into a small essay... and as the thing was practically typed already, I thought I would share it with you all and see what you thought!

Though I can certainly see the merit and convenience of having a digital sketchbook wherever you go, for me it will never have the same range of expression and mark-making as good old pencil and paper. It seems to me that digital drawing and painting eliminates the gesture and physicality of the artist or illustrator. For instance, the author of non-digital work can often be identified because the subtleties of their drawing style are recognised, ‘their hand’ is literally present in the piece. However, when you draw with (for example) the brush tool in illustrator, the quality of the line produced is the same for whoever is wielding it. That is not to say that such tools do not offer the artist choice, but that the choices that they represent are limited by the application's programming; a drawing made in real life presents literally limitless possibilities. Furthermore, over time, artists develop a relationship with their medium and thus have a unique way of using it. My concern is that this crucial relationship between artist and material may be lost if people resort to using these programs too much.

It would be easy for one to react by condemning all digital work as un-artistic, and eschew all but the purely handmade. But this would be a grave mistake, especially given that even ‘handmade’ images are often require digital manipulation at some point in their inception. Furthermore, there exist illustrators like Dave McKean, who seamlessly blends handmade drawings and digital imagery with stunning results. For me, this kind of work brings together the best of both worlds: beautiful hand drawn images with all the possibilities that software offers.

That does not mean that purely digital work is without merit, however, as the identity of the artist can be expressed through means other than medium. Certainly, other factors such as the content of the work and the ideas of the author are always important as expressions of identity. And as technology becomes more advanced and sensitive to human interaction, it seems only a matter of time until a drawing mat is developed that can respond in as many diverse manners as can paint and pencil. But one cannot deny that the traditional method of drawing is a useful and beneficial tool for all artists, even those that choose to make their work digitally. As for me, I will be sticking with my trusty sketchbook and pen for the time being.

If I've not totally bored you into giving up reading by this point then I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this post! I am really interested to see people's reactions and ideas about this, so let me know what you think. Take care folks and have a good night!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Return from the north!

As promised, the fruits of my travels up in the frozen north! It was an amazing trip, if you've been enjoying snowy London then you'd love it here. The snow came up way past my ankles and with so much open space you could really appreciate its dramatic and magical effect. Also, my future-husband's parents own Jess, the cutest dog ever, who makes playing in the snow even more fun with her boundless enthusiasm.

It was a great time for taking lots of photos and doing sketches. This is my favourite, the view out over the fields at the bottom of the garden.

I also decided while I was there that I would make a little something for the cut click mail art exhibition. Hence the birth of this little chap, hiding in his envelope waiting to deliver the message in his beak. He's a continuation of the Christmas cards I made some time ago (remember those?) where the robin came to be used as an emblem of the postal service. Happily, the lovely people at cut click liked him so much they decided to include him the exhibition, which pleased me enormously.

Because I think it's important to know about what you are drawing, I did some observational studies of robins first (and I always find them fun to draw too, one of my favourite avian subjects!)

And last but not least, a small selection of photos from my travels. The snowy skyline is so dramatic with all the heavy clouds, and there were lots of sheep, horses and donkeys about to snap. You can see the full collection over at my recently created flickr page. Hope you've enjoyed my pictures, more to come soon!

Friday, 1 January 2010

A sketchbook journey: London to home and back again

Hello! Well, it's been a lovely Christmas, great to go home and recharge the batteries for the new year. For a while after graduating I found it really difficult to make new work, I just couldn't relax and get used to the idea that I could draw whatever I wanted without a tutor peering over my shoulder (though they're very well meaning, it's so good to just make the work I want to without thinking about grades). However, the last few weeks have been really productive, I've been spending a lot of time just doodling random things in my sketchbook and have rediscovered my love of drawing again (I still like painting too but am just feeling pens more at the moment.) The above are a small sample of what I've been drawing lately, the streets and cafes of London, and the top of the bookshelf and some treats at my folk's home Leicester-ways.

I'm off on my travels again tomorrow, up to the north this time to say hi to the in-laws. The sketchbook will be accompanying me and I'm sure there will be more doodles in it to share next week.

Here's to a happy 2010!