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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Anatomy of Art

Vision and Execution is an extreme simplification of the creative process. Let us now go a little deeper, and name some of the key principles of the process. "The Art of Art" dedicates a chapter for each of these key principles; you can think of this post as a "skeletal view" of the entire book.

Consider context. The first thing to do when approaching deliberate art is to consider what we want to achieve, and why. This is especially true when our current work is part of a bigger project, e.g. a musical soundtrack or a single panel in a comic strip. Understanding the context of our work is critical for a successful result.

Form Ideas. Where do ideas come from? With deliberate art, we usually don't have the luxury of waiting around for divine inspiration to come. Instead, we take action: we search for and collect good ideas, then use them as raw material to sculpt our original, custom-made concept.

Sketch your vision. we use our original ideas to form a mental experience of the finished work, as detailed and captivating as we can make it. Then we capture it in a quick sketch, called the "Proof of Concept".

Get familiar with your material. Achieving loose, rich results is only possible when we're theoretically and intimately familiar with our materials. With a limited investment in research and practice, we can turn a potentially stressful and stiff experience into a flowing, enjoyable creative process.

Work in passes. The execution stage starts with a very rough full-sized version of the vision. Then, we start developing it in passes. Each pass advances the entire work just a simple step toward the vision, until the result is close enough.

Chunk it. Advancing in "pure" passes throughout the entire work, is not always possible . Sometimes we need to chunk our work to manageable pieces, each of which may be a complete deliberate artwork in itself, requiring all the key principles above. Massive artistic projects may be made of thousands of deliberate artworks chunks.

Sketch! Being able to summarize a complex idea in a rough yet clear sketch, is the one basic skill required for all the key principles listed above. I call it "the creative atom", because all artwork is literally made of successive sketching - even (and especially) the most furnished and polished work. As we become better in sketching, our artwork becomes exponentially better.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Random Tip: go wild!

Next time you're working on something, try this: allow yourself to go too far - make it so extreme, so over-the-top, that it's absolutely and definitely WRONG. Then, slowly, tone it down until you find the sweet spot where it's not wrong anymore.

This is a great tool for breaking patterns and pushing our own envelope. It works really well for working in passes: you make an "extreme pass" and then a "tone down" pass. It also works well when searching for ideas, allowing you to go beyond your comfort zone and get interesting.

It's a great tool for directors and supervisors, too. Very often when I direct people, I find it hard to get them to really make a change. I'll ask, "can you make this area dark?" and they'll darken it so carefully, that the result is almost imperceptible. So I ask them to make it completely dark, too dark, make it wrong, make it BLACK! And then we tone it down together until it's just right.

"The Random Tip" posts are practical creative process ideas that come to mind every now and then. Usually these tips are NOT from the book. All random tips

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vision and Execution

And now, finally, for something "meaty": our very first practical tip. I'm still amazed at how many creative people fail to recognize this very simple pattern, and how often they fail to use it even when they DO notice it. It seems so obviously true, that I'm shocked at how long it took me to recognize it myself. I guess sometimes it's just too easy to miss the forest for the trees.

[From "The Art of Art": The art of the Process > Vision and Execution]

To put it very simply indeed, every work of [deliberate] art goes through two main stages: vision and execution. In the vision stage we collect information, raise different options, and finally sum it all up with a quick sketch of the finished work as we imagine it. Only after we had decided what the finished work is going to be like, we start executing the work itself. We could say that every [deliberate] creative work actually gets done twice: once when we form and sketch our vision, and again when we realize it.

The important thing about working with a vision is that it provides a clear framework for our efforts: we work until the result is close enough to our vision, and then we can stop. This frame of mind is fundamentally different from the open-ended "walk in the park" approach of casual art, in which we have no idea where we we're going and we only stop working when we're fed up or have ran out of time.

Deliberate work gets done twice: once when we form and sketch our vision, and again when we realize it.

Deliberate writing: sketch and execution.

Films are also made twice. Animatic vs. the finished result.

Sculpting is also done twice. Quick sketch vs. final work.

Computer games, AKA game level or maps, are also made twice: first the fully playable vision sketch, then the final level.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Casual vs Deliberate art

There are two forms of creative effort: casual art and deliberate art. These are two completely different ballgames, requiring very different approaches.

Think of casual art as a walk in the park: we feel like going outside, the weather is fine, we have time - so we put on shoes, and off we go. Such a stroll is typically between a few minutes and a couple of hours long, and just like casual art, involves no specific requirements and no big expectations.

Deliberate art is more like a trip abroad. For most of us, such a trip involves a significant investment, great expectations, specific requirements (e.g. visiting a particular site), and many practical problems to solve. This is a different situation - we no longer put on shoes and take off. Instead we collect information, plan ahead, and make certain decisions in advance. We also demand of ourselves a certain level of self-discipline during the trip itself. I think most of us will agree, that going on a trip abroad in the same way we go walking in the park, would pretty much set us up for a disappointing trip.

The same goes for creative work. Approaching our deliberate art too casually, would almost certainly get us disappointing results. As we shall soon see, this very mistake is responsible for many (if not all) of the most familiar and frustrating problems artists regularly struggle with.

Stay tuned - in the next "the art of art" posts, we're going to learn an approach to deliberate art, that will help you improve the quality of your work AND enjoy your creative "trips" more than ever!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Casual Art

[From "The Art of Art": The Art of the Process > Casual Art ]

Anyone who has ever created anything, knows that art seems to comes out best when it just "happens". We talk on the phone, there's a pen nearby, and suddenly there's a cute doodle on a colorful note. We do some guitar improvisation before going to work, and to our surprise we find ourselves humming a potential hit. We make up a silly good night story for our kid, and when he falls asleep, we discover we just wrote a charming children book. And we realize that the only reason it worked, is that we never really tried. When we need to succeed, when we really put in the effort, when we think and struggle and fix and improve - the result is, more often than not, mediocre. As usual, life is playing tricks on us: it seems that the only way to succeed, is to not try.

We may dismiss the matter as the artistic version of Murphy's Law, but there are actually some pretty good reasons for casual art to be working well:

Anything goes. The main goal of casual art is mostly not the end result, but the very act of producing it. There is no specific demand; we let our work flow freely to where it wants to go. If we started doodling a mouse and ended up with a rather successful drawing of an elephant, we get to enjoy the elephant. There is no point in spoiling the drawing by trying to force it into something else: no one cares that the elephant began as a mouse.

No requirement for quality. Casual art is incidental and inexpensive, and generally not designed for a specific audience. Since there is no pretension, there is also no fear of failure, and we are free to dare, to experiment, to create.

Short time. Casual art is done in a short space of time - typically somewhere between a few seconds and a a couple of hours) - and continuously. Our mood doesn't change, new ideas and external criticism don't get us confused, and it's relatively easy to stay focused and produce coherent work.

Failures are forgotten. The truth is that even with all these advantages working for us, most of our casual art isn't very good. But because we did not have high expectations or specific requirements, we can throw them away without regret or self-flagellation and forget them immediately. Every once in a while though, such casual work produces a surprisingly good result, which we keep and remember forever as an astonishing success story.

Small wonder, then, that our causal art so often surprises us for the better: the work is light and enjoyable, focused, fearless, free of fixes and patching-up, and most importantly - with casual art, our losses are forgotten but our gains are counted. For once, the game is rigged in our favor!

Deliberate Art

This is all well and good, but what happens when we do actually want to create something deliberately? What if we make a living Composing music for films? What if we have a specific idea for a painting? What if we're writing a thick novel that can't be finished within a few hours? Obviously, not all successful art works happen quickly and unexpectedly. There must be a way to achieve good results even with a planned, long-term and demanding art.

The way to achieve good results with deliberate art, is really what "The Art of Art" is all about.

Casual Art from my other blog, animgug. original post text: "One of my Danish class absent-minded doodling papers. I'm not sure my Danish is getting any better, but I'm having a lot of fun with the pencil!". I like the deer, it feels so freshly different from my usual style. Take a look at all the forgotten mediocre art around...

Deliberate art from animgug. Original post text: "Been trying to get it right for a while now. Wonder if it works now."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cover design option

I like this option, it really goes well with the premise of the book - the creative process as the unknown, shadow world of art. Here's a better way of saying it:

[From "The Art of Art": The art of the Process >Process Awareness]

For most people - including quite a few artists - great art is a kind of magic: the talented artist (gifted by genes, the gods, or luck) experiences a supernatural moment of inspiration, and his pen (or CGI software, or word processor) starts pouring out pure gold. Believing that this is what the work of a "real" artist should look like, no wonder a mere mortal artist would feel frustrated that he alone, talentless and uninspired as he is, must work hard to achieve results. Such an artist would do well to remember the following quote from Michelangelo (also known as "the divine"): "if people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."


[From "The Art of Art": About the Book >what is good art?]


To me, freshness is almost the "raison d'etre" of art. The whole idea of art is to create, even in the smallest way, an experience that did not exist in the universe before.

There are those who hear the word "fresh" and think of breaking boundaries, shuttering conventions, revolution, something completely different and strange and alien. This is how we get questionable artistic endeavors such as pictures hanging upside down, sculptures made of peacock droppings, or artists like the one I saw on a TV show, whose idea of originality is to tie himself on a rope from the ceiling, cover himself with paint, and then "draw" by repeatedly hurling his body onto the canvas.Well, that's not what I mean by "original". Such desperate gimmicks can only come, I think, from minds that are desperately out of real creative ideas.

The kind of originality I'm referring to is much more subtle and sophisticated. It contains something personal: each of us is an original personality, with a unique life story in the history of mankind. To connect our art to this inherent personal uniqueness, is an important part of true originality.

Another side of real freshness can be described as "unexpected": something a little surprising, off the beaten path, that injects some randomness into an otherwise familiar subject. This can come in the form of an interesting style, a unique detail the juices up the work, or perhaps a unique combination of ingredients.

In the first class of my character design course, I always ask my students to design a pirate. Most of their initial designs contain a wooden leg and an eye patch, props we would all expect a pirate to have. Then I ask them to make a new sketch, and this time add something unusual. What I usually get are pirates wearing some bizarre props such as a flower in the hair or women underwear. These are still not truely fresh ideas. They are the kind of smarty-pants originality of the type I mentioned above. But take a look at the pirate Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean", and you see what a truly original pirate character can be: Johnny Depp took the myth of the pirate, combined it with a drunken rock star, gave him a unique way of walking, , a particular way of speaking - and created an instant classic. Jack Sparrow is definitely a pirate, but not in the way you would expect it - and that's true freshness.

Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow became an instant Classic.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Art of Art!

Six years ago, I asked myself a question. This is the question:

Can art be thought of as a standalone skill?

Meaning: can we learn how to be artists, regardless of the actual medium or scale we're dealing with?

It didn't take me six years to get to the answer, which, as you can well imagine, is "YES". It did take me six years to write a book, in which I do my best to lay down an organized set of practical guidelines to art - any art; "the art of art", if you will. Perhaps I should write "The Art of Art", as this is my working title.

Here's a partial list of artistic fields, to which The Art of Art can easily be related:
Architecture, Sculpting, Animation, Interior Design, Web Design, Set Design, Game Design, Fashion Design, Any type of writing, Any type of composing, writing and drawing comics, and of course many more.

The book hasn't been published yet, but significant parts of it (and perhaps all of it) are going to be on this blog, as well as random thoughts on the subject, and many links to interesting examples I collected over the years.

To me, The Art of Art is already a success. The answers I came up with improved my own work beyond recognition, and it helped my students and my colleagues as well, whether they know it or not. Moreover, as an animation director, I recently had the good fortune to arrange the workflow of an entire animation studio according to the "Art of Art" guidelines. The project was a huge success in every aspect, including the very important aspect of pure fun. This was exactly the kind of hard proof I was waiting for. It gave me the confidence that the ideas in The Art of Art really make a difference.

I hope you'll find the idea, the blog, and perhaps the future-book (in that order) a source of inspiration in your own artistic work - whatever it may be. And don't be a stranger! Please (pretty please?) comment or Email your thoughts, question, suggestions, examples, or any other kind of feedback.