Monday, 3 February 2014

Technology in Art

I often get asked "do you draw from life or do you use photographs?" Now, I feel slightly ashamed to admit this but I have never been particularly good at drawing from life. Correction: I've never thought I was good at drawing from life. It goes back to my self-critical gremlins who delight in sitting on my shoulders while I try to sketch what I see, and whispering behind their hands, laughing at my attempts to be loose and free with my drawings. 

When it comes to pets though, my reasons are purely practical. To start with, I know from experience that animals are damn tricky to draw in the flesh, as they are prone to unpredictable movement. Said experience is taken from the few times I have attempted to draw my cats while they are looking adorable and content in sleep; my theory is that they have some kind of camera/sketchbook sensor built in so the SECOND you start to draw or try to take a photo, they move. The same applies when they are snoring and I want to take a video-they don't wake up this time, they simply stop making the cute noises and I'm just filming a sleeping cat like some kind of feline stalker!

Anyway, I digress. Quite a lot. I don't draw pets from life because they are prone to movement and the last thing I want is to get started on a drawing and to find them rearranging themselves into an entirely different pose. Of course, if they are awake, that's a whole other story, at which point preventing excessive movement is near impossible. Especially for over-excited puppies! Yes, I could make quick sketches of them and then take my own photos for reference later, but that's simply not how I work. 

From another practical point of view, I offer my services to customers all over the country AND all over the world, so to draw from life/take my own photographs would mean narrowing my potential market to an extremely localised area. So no, I don't draw the pets from life. I use photos provided by the customer, whether that be a single one or 50 different shots.

Initially, I would print the photos out to the size I would be working at and refer directly to that. It meant that all the important details (e.g. the eyes, nostrils, certain markings) were correctly proportioned for me to take reference from. I have since progressed from this technique, actually after I was gifted a Kindle Fire for Christmas 2012 (thank you kindly, Dad!) and have discovered the wonders of zooming in!
Zooming in is truly wonderful, when compared to a static photo on paper that you have to peer at with squinted eyes if you want to see tiny details. There was honestly no going back after I started drawing from my tablet but it made me really think about the use of technology in art today. Obviously computers are highly prevalent in all types of art and fields such as graphic design and illustration have progressed a great deal with the use of computer programs and digital drawing. 

I often consider how I would work if I were an artist in an era before tablets, computers and cameras were even invented. There would HAVE to be sketches made, lots and lots of them, and the entire piece would depend on the quality of these sketches as I wouldn't be able to take photographs for reference later. I certainly wouldn't be drawing portraits of dogs in New Zealand, unless I was to take a very long journey, by boat, to work there. I really do find it amazing how accessible technology is nowadays and it has completely altered the way we live, in every respect. 
I have recently started using Photoshop to make my initial drawings. I don't mean physically drawing using PS, just having the photo blown up to the correct size and drawing from the screen. I have always done my mock-ups using PS but I've been trialing this new technique to maximise the accuracy and likeness of the first sketch, as it is in my eyes the most important part of the process. 

I am always terrified of that very first pencil stroke, I will happily admit that. If the initial drawing isn't perfect, then you can guarantee that the likeness of the pet isn't going to be correct. I spend a lot of time getting the drawing right so I'm always looking for ways to assist me and improve the process. In a nutshell, I have started using reference lines on the mock-up to create anchor points on the page, so I only have to measure the same distance on my paper to know exactly where I need to draw each element. 

Essentially, it echoes the very old technique of drawing a grid across your page and working square-by-square. I don't follow this exactly, but the concept is the same and it has really helped me. I used to be happy enough to free-hand it and tweak bits as and when I needed to, but actually I'm saving a lot of time and upset by following this new way of plotting the piece out. 
As wonderful as this is and as much as I have found it helpful, I can't help feeling like technology has made art lazy. Or perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it? I suppose there is still a certain level of skill required to understand the shape of a subject and how to replicate it on paper, we have just found new tools to help us. Compared to an old master using piles of sketches as reference, we use photographs and instead of using an old-fashioned grid system, I'm using digital anchor points. No, it isn't laziness, it is development and progress. New tools in a new era. 

Perhaps I should have a go at drawing one of our cats from life. I might find that my style, technique and process will be entirely different when faced with something that is likely to move and can't have lines dragged across it! I am constantly at war with myself over technology. A lot of the time, I hate how much time we all spend online, myself included but at the other end of the argument, I really do rely on gadgets for my work. 

I can't help wondering, what would it have been like to be an artist in a technology-free world?


  1. This is such a great post Emily! :) And its great to see your behind-the-scenes as well :) xx

    1. Thanks Emma, I'm glad you enjoyed it :-)