I sit at that generational cusp that was schooled in the ‘old school’ ways while also starting to catch the rising digital wave. This was the time of the mighty Apple Quadra and SGI workstations running Alias, so in one class I was learning to hand letter and set type, in the next I was modelling a design on Alias, then laying out the images in Quark Express. It was a time of flux.
I feel fortunate having gone through college at that time, learning the ways of what are now the past and in doing so gained an intrinsic respect for the beautiful work they produced. I have no hesitation in saying that with the loss of those manual skills, a certain something in fields like graphics design died; it’s not hard to understand why letterpress has become a thing beyond a passing retro fad.
At the same time though I have a ‘guilt’ complex that’s very hard to shake. It’s a feeling akin to feeling like you’re cheating….
Process. That’s the word that was drilled into us at school. Start a point A and finish at point Z, making sure you tick off every letter along the way. Start with a doodle, refine it into a sketch, construct it further and produce a finished piece. That’s the way you do it. Pen, paper, construction lines. That’s the way it’s always been done.
These days though I ask myself if hanging on to these ideals is the right way, or more to the point, the ‘only’ way? It’s a complex question and one that digs deeper into others such as what is art? Is it the process or the end result?
‘Old school’ from the old days – markers, pen and pencil… something nice about working like this
My ‘grapple’ with the question comes from my training in the old school skills. Part of me says that to end up at point Z, I need to have traveled the path that started at A and to short cut the process is, in effect, cheating. The dilemma comes from needing to get what’s in my head out, using the shortest possible route; I don’t have endless hours to do it the way it used to be done and maybe more to the point, I don’t have the patience; in the greater picture there are a million other bits I need to be working on as well.
This issue came to a head very recently. I woke up with a ‘eureka’ moment and madly went out to my desk and put the scribble on paper. A critical design concept I had been playing with for months had come together – finally I had something I was really happy with. In scribbles it looked the part so I spent a Sunday night doing it up. In doing so though, I also realised it’s a bloody complex thing to draw out. Multiple parts, cylinders on various planes, foreshortening, perspectives and that’s before we even get to detailing. It became pointedly clear that reproducing this over and over, in various configurations in illustrations was going to be a massive amount of work, especially as it’s such a focal point. What’s more, it’s just a part of a larger construct.
I spent Monday morning thinking about the problem. I am working on story arc, which includes a range of visuals to go with each installment. Part of my drive with this project is to ‘industrial design’ much of what’s illustrated; it needs to have rationale of some sort, I don’t want to just draw ‘stuff’ because it looks cool. In this construct the question is, is it the process or the end result that’s important? For a reader immersed in the story being told, is it important for me to worry about HOW I get them to that point? In other words, is what happens between the sketch and the final image important?
Enter the guilt point.
Looking at my design, I realised the logical way to do this would be to model it in 3D, roughly or otherwise, set up the perspective and use that as starting point for an illustration; either to trace or maybe even as a block colour underlay…
The old school part of my brain says “NIEN!! That’s cheating”.
The new school though says, nope, the sketch is the idea, the origin, and how I then progress it from there to something finished is almost irrelevant. I could spend an hour drawing it out, each and every time I need to draw it, or, I could model it and then use that model over and over as a part of the process, saving hours.
And that’s the quandary.
Where the art for me is an important part of doing this whole project, so is the design aspect, and the presentation, and the delivery. In other words, as important as the process of executing art is to me, the *end result* of it is just part of a much larger picture; so should I be worried about how I get there, or just be concerned about ending up at the best possible result?
And it increasingly seems, especially with the time available, that the end result is the important part. Not, as much as I hate to admit, the bit in between.
In the commercial world of art where the concept behind the end result /is/ the ‘art’ (no one cares how it’s arrived at), maybe it’s time to let go of idealistic thoughts on how things should be done. While there is honour and admiration to be gained in the time honed skills of the ‘past’, perhaps embracing the ‘new’ tools that can allow one to not so much shortcut, but maximise, the original concept IS the way it should be done and in doing so, maybe have more time to spend making the end product ‘just right’.