People, Places, Things
|8 min read
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By bschu   |   
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What makes an image captivating? Of course there is abstract, surreal, art etc. It's cool looking and we don't know why sometimes. I get it, I understand that, I agree... but don't let the exception make the rule. "Most of the time" your average person is captivated by People, Places, and Things that they see. You can draw a bunch of beautiful lines on a wall and that is great decoration, but when we see a painting of beautiful people, doing interesting things, in a beautiful scene, that is amazing, that is captivating.

The past few years I spent a lot of time studying environments. People even started to assume that I am an environment artist, and I guess it looks like I want to work in games as a concept artist or something like this. Actually it was a weakness of mine and I was just trying to improve upon that. Now I feel pretty confident again, but there is always more to research of course. Ironically, I recently got a job doing environment illustrations :) So I guess that research paid off.

Now I feel as though I have to go back to drawing characters again to balance things. And as I bring these things together and apply for more projects, I have to wonder the simple question "What do people like?" It seems like it should be obvious, but it's not really. You can easily look at a deviation with 1000+ favs and say "Sure, people like that", but the real question is "WHY?".

As I was looking through someone's favorites folder today (because I don't fav so much myself) I realized that the foundation of things that people like is this journal's title: People, Places, and Things. That's actually funny to think that I spent so many years to come to this simple conclusion :) But I really think this is the case! If you boil it down to the essence, every great image seems to fit one of these categories. Now again... there is an exception to every rule in life... and of course there are phenomenon like abstract, surreal, etc. But let's not confuse things. For the most part, it is people, places, and things that people feel attracted to.

So obviously we need to expand upon this in order to make "GREAT" images. How do we improve upon this fundamental understanding? Firstly I remember an artist Feng Zhu who would always use the term "Design Language" and he says things like "What are you communicating with your design?" That makes a lot of sense with my foundation here, because "people, places, and things" is also what we use to refer to NOUNS, in language study. A piece of art, a photo, or an image in general really is a type of communication which can be broken down just like grammar in language, and so I guess it is good to remember that. I was just looking at a digital painting of a sleek, silver spacecraft hovering over a desert terrain with a beautiful red sky, giant moon, and that alien sci-fi feeling. What is this image saying to us? I think it saying "I want to go here, how about you?" It is a beautiful idea to think about being in a serene scene in the comfort of a sci-fi spacecraft. And what other ideas might come from this? You could travel the galaxy. Perhaps the craft has aliens. Maybe there is a fascinating story behind the scene. So that opens up the imagination to a lot of interesting things with the simple use of one thing, and one place.

Let's try another random example. If someone has a poster of a hamburger on their wall (which would be weird I guess, but) what does that tell you? I'll bet that person likes hamburgers! It's pretty simple if you think about it. I think we must always assume that an image is conveying some meaning outside of being attractive, because such images are no accident. They are hand made objects, made to serve a purpose.

A lot of questions remain.

* Why are some images better than others? Technique? Mood? Composition? etc.

* What about story telling through art? Emotion? Action Scenes? Camera Angles?

* Why does a poster of a hamburger seem weird?

* Why are you communicating to begin with? :D

I think the lesson is that people want to look at something they can recognize, but at the same they don't want it to be boring. Even a photo of the most beautiful woman can get boring if you look at it everyday. But what if the beautiful woman is dressed in fantasy or sci-fi attire? And what if she is doing something interesting in an alien environment? Now it starts to get interesting. Now I feel like I can hang a poster of that image and enjoy it over the course of many days, maybe even a year.

Mystery seems relevant too. In some cases, I don't really want to know who the girl is and the whole background story of the image. I like the fact that I can use my own imagination to make my own story each time I look at it. Now the image becomes a part of me. I might spend hours looking at it on my wall as time goes by, and I can even imprint ideas on it so that I am reminded of things every time I see it. That is getting a bit deep, psychological even, but I think it is true in some cases that things like this happen. Any image, like a piece of art, can bring a lot to someone's mind, and therefore bring a lot of meaning to someone.

Recently I did an illustration called "Gegenees" based on the 6 armed giants who were defeated by Jason and the Argonauts, a Greek Mythological story. It is a complex action scene. It has a people and monsters, it is an appropriate setting, and it has various things like projectile weapons and swords and armor and such, not to mention all of the objects of the environment. So that is a lot going on at once, and with a historical background even. But still; It is a "good" illustration, not "great". There are two things to say about this.

1 - The first is how interesting it is that people seem to like "bad art" more than they do "mediocre art". Being mediocre is pretty bad. It is like saying "You almost had victory and you lost it at the final stretch". No one likes that feeling. But when art is just plain bad, likely horribly bad, you can have feeling such as humor, pity, cuteness, etc. You might even share it with your friends for discussion. And even though the art itself has no tangible value, it makes a person feel good, and THAT has value. So here is yet another lesson to keep in mind for a great image. How does it make you feel?

2 - The second thing to question about "good vs great" is how to climb the ladder from one to the other. How do we make a good image great? That's obviously not an easy thing to do. There is a reason not everyone is a great artist. It's hard! But with the above definitions I think there is a lot of hope. Let's consider the People, Places, and Things in this illustration.

What about the people in the scene? Firstly you couldn't really see anyone's face, only the monsters faces were facing us in the image. Also the characters were all very small on the canvas so you couldn't really get a personal feeling developed with them. And the place? The place is a bright and sunny Greek island. There is nothing really amazing about it. There is a Greco-Roman building in distant background, but otherwise it is a rocky beech scene, it is nice... but not amazing. And now what about the "things"? There are boats in the background, arrows are being fired, and boulders being thrown by the Gegenees monsters, but is the boulder amazing? Is there anything interesting or unique about any of the objects in the scene? Not really.

I am just using this one illustration as an example, and I am not saying I dislike it, in fact I am quite proud of it as a very decent illustration, but it is not really outstanding. It could be improved upon greatly with the above in mind.

OK. So I think I wrote way more than I wanted to on this topic. And I think I made my point :)

This writing was mostly an exercise to make me think more about my composition.

Thanks for reading. Comments, ideas, questions, etc all welcome if you have anything.
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