Monday, July 09, 2012

Longer Than It Should

I’ve mentioned several times in the past that when people see my artwork one of the most common questions is, “How long did that take you to do?”
I never really have an answer, because I don’t really keep track of the time spent on any given image.  In some cases, if I get into a serious “groove,” I’m actually incapable of keeping track of the time spent, as time becomes one of those things I just don’t notice because my total focus is directed towards my work.
About the only answer I can actually give is, “Longer than it should have.”
This is in part because I don’t often get into a groove, and so I find myself distracted and stepping away from the Cintiq and doing – or not doing – other things.
Mostly, though, it’s due to the nature of working digitally.  At least, the nature of Jon working digitally.
There are so many advantages to working in a digital medium that I would never consider going back to working in traditional media in any significant way.
However, there are a lot of disadvantages as well.  While some aspects of working in digital make things faster, I’ve come to realize that I would probably be a lot faster overall if I were working with pencil and paper.
The major disadvantage, though, is that it wouldn’t look as good, and without buying a bunch of messy supplies, I’d never be able to get anything even remotely like the look and general quality I get from working digitally.
Still, working in digital is slower, because, even with the pencil and paper-like interface of my Wacom Cintiq, I’m just not able to do a lot of totally freehand work the way I would with traditional media.
Part of that is due to issues of lag – minimal though it may be – and calibration.  No matter how many times I go through the calibration setup to try to adjust alignment issues, the virtual tip of my brush/pen/whatever tool I’ve selected in my application does not align perfectly with the physical tip of my Wacom stylus.  So I always have to adjust my perspective, an focus not on where my stylus is, but on the point a couple of millimeters away where the computer thinks the tip is located.
The other part of the problem is that, being self-taught, I picked up a lot of bad habits that I find almost impossible to break, such as resting my hand directly on the drawing surface.
On paper, that always led to smudging.  On the Cintiq, that leads to very jagged lines, as the friction between my hand and the screen prevent my hand from moving along smoothly.
There are other issues as well, such as finding the right “fidelity” settings for a tool, particularly in Illustrator.  Set them too far in one direction, and the software’s attempts to smooth out the jaggedness completely change the shape and direction of the line.  Set them too far in the other, and exact reproduction of my hand’s stuttering movements leads to something that looks like a readout on a seismograph.
(And, of course, there’s the issue where Illustrator, regardless of how you set things, assumes it always knows better than you do, and will just straight-up do whatever the hell it wants.  “Oh, you want to cover that blank space, and figure that you do it by drawing over it?  Yeah, I’m going to add a random curve to your line so that it goes around the blank space.”)
As a result, I end up doing a lot of rework, as I do a very loose sketch in freehand, and then use that as a guide for laying out the Bezier curve to get the line I actually want.
I use Bezier curves – “paths” in Photoshop and Illustrator – for everything but the finest details, or any of the looser areas of color or shading.  For those I use either an airbrush tool, or loosely-drawn selections, which I then fill will color.
Sometimes I just skip the sketch entirely and go straight to laying out paths, but either way, it’s a lot of time-consuming work to go through and adjust the points of the path to give it the exact shape I’m looking for.  If I could reliably get lines line that via quick, sweeping freehand motions, things would go a lot faster, but, alas, the only thing I can reliably do freehand is the wrong thing.
It’s kind of bizarre, actually.  Sometimes I’ll draw a line that swerves too far off its intended path, or is just generally wrong.  I’ll hit undo, and try again, and I’ll make the exact same mistake.  I’ll end up doing that multiple times until finally I give up and lay out a path.
It’s the only thing that’s at all consistent in any of my artwork.  The strangest thing is my hand will follow that same wrong path as though it were caught in a groove on the surface of the scren, in a way that I don’t consistently draw the wrong line on paper, where it’s actually possible to form a groove.
Anyway, just like drawing a picture, posting this is taking longer than it should, so with that, I’ll bring this entry to a close.

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