Monday, September 18, 2006

The Most Honest Answer

While I am often dismissive of whatever talents I may possess and frequently compare them unfavorably, with considerable justification, to the talents of artists such as Greg Horn or Alex Ross, I do recognize that I have an ability to create that not everyone does, and said recognition combined with the fact that, battered and beaten though it may be, I do have an ego, leads me to show off those talents, meager though they may be, whenever I have an opportunity.
Of course, I do so in an understated, “Oh, pshaw; I’m mostly a hack,” sort of fashion, I do puff out my chest a little and hungrily devour whatever praise I might receive.
In any case, the point of this long-winded rambling is that as soon as I got the opportunity over the weekend I was showing some of my artwork to Simon, one of the guys from the other department we recently merged with at work.
He was impressed, and naturally my ego swelled that much more, but, as I knew he would he eventually asked one of the two questions that people invariably ask me upon seeing my work.
There was one question that used to be the most common:  How do you do that?
I never know what to say to this question because I’m never certain what the person who asks it is expecting me to say.
I mean, what exactly are you expecting when you ask a question like that?
A detailed description of the hand movements involved?  A scientific explanation for the existence of talent and skill?
I can tell you what brushes and techniques and filters and other tools I used to create the image, but I can’t tell you how I did it.  That is to say, I can’t tell you specifically why I’m able to do it whereas you might not be able to do it any more than, say, Olivia could tell me why she’s so much better at doing it than I am.  The only thing I can tell you is that I’ve been doing it for years, but as to what makes it possible for me to it is beyond me.
I can never answer this question to anyone’s satisfaction, because no one wants to hear “I don’t know,” and simply saying, “Well, I’ve been doing it for years” doesn’t seem to cut it either.
Maybe what people are really asking is, “What is the trick to it and how do I go about learning the trick?” as if there is some word of wisdom that I can give them that will magically grant them the ability to accomplish in seconds what it took me years and years of practice to be able to do.
Of course, most people, I think, are asking it rhetorically simply because they’re unable to think of anything else to say.
The question that’s become more common lately – and which is the question Simon asked – is some variation of, “How long did it take you to do that?”
This question irritates me a little more than the other because it’s at least possible to answer, but I don’t have an answer for it because I don’t keep track of how long it takes me to finish a picture, and the person asking usually isn’t satisfied with, “I don’t know.  A while.”
Usually the people asking will keep prodding, saying something like, “Okay, on average how long does it take? And my response remains, no matter how many times or ways they ask it, “I don’t know.”
I honestly don’t know what the average amount of time I spend on a picture is, as I’m not especially concerned about time, and there’s no easy way to keep track.
After all, it’s very seldom that I sit down to work on a picture and then sit there and work on it straight through until completion.  There are times when I find myself so caught up in working on something that I’ll spend hours working on it without moving, but that’s rather unusual, and even in those instances it’s unlikely that I’ll actually finish the picture while caught in the throes of working on it.  It’s more likely that I’ll finish a part of it and decide that it’s a good place to stop for a bit.
Most of the time, though, I find it impossible to sit still for extended periods of time and take frequent breaks, during which I usually do little more than simply pace for a little while.
(I do the same thing when writing and have, in fact, just returned from doing so.)
So let’s say that from the moment I started on a picture to the moment that I decided it was done, flattened all of the layers, changed the size and resolution, ran some finishing touch filters on it, and incorporated my “JP” signature into it somewhere, it took six hours.
How many of those hours were spent actually working on the picture?  No clue.
Let’s look at a typical scenario.
Sometime shortly after midnight I start working on a picture.  I lay out the basic shapes of the picture, pace a little, brush my teeth, clean my contacts, save the work in progress picture, and go to bed.
I get up, do various stuff, eat lunch, and open up the picture to work on it some more sometime around 1 pm.
I work on it until 4, then close it to write a Threshold entry.  After that I end up watching TV until around 9, then come back to work on it a little more until 10, at which point I’m watching something else on TV, though during commercials I might come in and squeeze in a little work on it, but then I’m watching TV until midnight, at which point I come back in, close the picture, do the pre-bed stuff, and go to sleep.
I get up the next day and finish the picture by around 4.
How long did that take?  Do I count the entire passage of time from start to finish, or do I try to figure out how much time in that 30 or so hours that was spent actually working on it?
Then there are the pictures I start then abandon then return to.  Let’s take that Liz Phair album cover that I finished a few weeks ago.  I actually started working on that picture sometime in mid-2004.  Obviously I wasn’t working on the whole time; the bulk of the work was done on the couple of days during which I actually finished it.  But does the time it sat untouched in a folder on my hard drive count?
So yeah, the most honest and simple answer is, “I don’t know.  A while.”
Not much going on today.  I went out and did my grocery shopping, came home and went for a walk, came back and had the rest of the pizza I’d ordered last night for lunch, downloaded the new version of iTunes for Munin, upgraded the firmware on my Nano, and moved some new mp3s onto it.
Then I started writing this.
Then I stopped writing this and posted it.

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