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Wrote this in response to a student regarding art assignments with specific themes, but since I hadn't verbalized these ideas in a while, I thought I would post it here as well.  She wondered what was wrong with just drawing pretty pictures.  The answer, I think, is nothing:

As an artist you are throwing your work out into the world, and hoping it connects with an audience. The strength of that connection, its resonance, is, I think, the measure of good art. All art is expression; meaning is its interpretation. Good work will always create a resonance in the audience's imagination, a meaning they draw from it and that draws them to it, whether or not it was intentionally placed there by the artist. Different elements resonate for different people: taste, in other words. Sometimes there is no more complex theme to a piece than beauty or eros (which are still complex themes); but the master artists, the ones that still seem fresh even after hundreds of years, resonate on many levels with many people, even if their main themes are simple beauty.

As an artist it may take a while to find your voice, which to me means discovering and exploring the deeper ideas that inform your work. I don't think that there necessarily has to be a move towards heavy themes-- Gil Elvgren did great work painting pinups his entire life; Leyndecker painted magazine covers and advertisements. But there may be something out there that you haven't run across yet that could give your work greater weight. That's where experimentation comes in. Assignments like the one you described are (ideally) designed to make you step out of your comfort zone and explore. As an artist who lives firmly within his comfort zone, I can attest to the usefulness of such exercises, even while I agree with you that they suck and I hate them. =) If you don't feel like you have anything specific to say with your work, that is fine-- practice and experimentation is what we do so that we are ready if and when we do have something more to say. Meanwhile, beauty and eros are themes as old as art itself.
  • Listening to: Airborne Toxic Event
  • Reading: Roadside Geology of Wyoming
  • Watching: Daily Show
  • Playing: Guild Wars 2
  • Drinking: Water

I have made a whole bunch more images available as prints!  Classic Holiday cards are now available for your Yuletide needs.  I have also made more options available-- magnets, mouse pads, postcards!  And you can now buy Golden Dream as a large print or even as a wrapped canvas.  Please head on over to my shop!

More stuff soon.
  • Listening to: Sigur Ros
  • Reading: The Prophet
  • Watching: QI
  • Playing: Star Trek Online
  • Drinking: Coke
Year of the Rabbit, huh?  I should get on that... oh well, the lunar new year is still some way off.

I cleared my new Watches, which had become too numerous to thank personally.  Thank you all for being so wonderful!  (And patient.)

I don't make a lot of resolutions specifically on New Year's Day, but my intention this year is (among other things) to post art at least once a week.

See you soon!
  • Listening to: Jackson Browne, 'Running on Empty'
  • Reading: Democracy in America
  • Watching: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
  • Playing: Gran Tourismo 5
  • Eating: Froot Loops
  • Drinking: water
I'm a Rock Band freak, mainly I play the drums but I also like to sing (if you could call it that).  RB3 adds a keyboard, which has me excited (I used to play piano and *cough* accordion).

I played all evening yesterday, and the game is incredibly good so far: they addressed virtually all of my very few gripes from the previous game-- Your band members are there no matter what mode you're playing in; they added hi-hat functionality to pro drums; you can build setlists for quickplay and rate songs so that the ones you hate don't come up on shuffle; if you fail out of a difficult song halfway through a set you can still finish the set; keyboards are challenging but well set up.

The only disappointment is aesthetic.  They went for a more realistic look, which is understandable considering the pro mode, but they didn't do a very good job with it.  The character models are not as appealing-- badly proportioned, wonky anatomy.  There is some degree of customization, but not enough to nail a look you are going for (it was actually easier to do in RB2 with fewer options).  The animations are not good; one of my great pleasures in RB2 was watching my band members perform and interact onstage.  I actually learned a couple of things about drumming from watching my avatar play.  Now the drumming animation is stiff and lackluster.  The other band members interact okay, but since you can no longer assign attitudes to your characters they all look kind of the same.  And inexplicably you can no longer assign a stand-in band member to a specific instrument, so your characters just play random parts each time.  The crowd is the worst-- bad models, terrible animation, it should not have been allowed into the game in that state.
  • Listening to: Def Leppard, 'Animal' (in my head)
  • Reading: The Ghost Brigades
  • Watching: Star Wars: the Clone Wars
  • Eating: Apple and cheese
  • Drinking: water
Don Graham was an instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute (later CalArts) from the 1930's to the late '60s.  He also taught evening art classes at the young Disney studio for many years.* His seminal work Composing Pictures was a epiphany to me. Among other things, it taught me that from a compositional standpoint there is no difference between abstract and representational art, and that good composition is the most important aspect of a graphic work (a lesson I continually forget). It's one of those books that every artist should read, but like most such books, it has been long out of print. I had to pay through the nose for my copy, which I was lucky to even find.

But now it's back in print, softcover, thirty bucks on Amazon. Run! Go! Get it! Read it! You can't help but benefit from it.

*A position now held by Marc McDonnell, whose book is also excellent.
  • Listening to: The Album Leaf
  • Reading: Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson
  • Watching: Avatar: the Last Airbender (2nd time)
  • Eating: Cocoa Krispies
  • Drinking: Cranapple Juice
Once again I have fallen hopelessly behind on my thank-yous to watchers.  I'm going to clear the list, but thank you so much to everyone kind enough to fave my work, and to everyone with the patience and hope to watch me.
  • Listening to: Josie and the Pussycats
  • Reading: Comparative mythology
  • Playing: Star Trek Online
  • Eating: Apples and cheese
  • Drinking: water
The Neuroaesthetics article from two entries ago got me thinking about art theory, so I thought I would explore my current views for the record, and revisit them at some future date.

I've drifted back and forth about formal rules in art (including film and literature as well as visual arts).  One of my teachers used to say 'No Rules, Just Tools.'  But he also said, '...but while I'm teaching you, do it exactly how I tell you to.'  I guess that is to say that before you can think outside of the box, you need... a box.

Foundation skills and theory give one the platform from which to push off into uncharted territory, and a parachute if something fails.  For me, the one solid rule of art is 'If It Looks Right, It Is Right.'  You really can do anything you want.  When you get hopelessly stuck, the theory is there to offer some solid footing while you get your bearings.  Most artists have the foundations internalized to instinct.  Clever artists know when to ignore it.  Geniuses don't need it at all.

But there is a reason that foundation exists.  Art theory wasn't just thrown together out of thin air, it was built and shaped as artists explored and discovered what best allowed them to connect to their audience.  It is that universal connection to the viewer that makes something a 'masterpiece.'  To step away from that body of accumulated experience is to risk an inability to connect with the viewer.  The Philosophy Today article seems to support the idea that our brains really do engage with many of these foundation rules, which is why they became rules.

My college art education was at UC San Diego, where the philosophy was 'just go for it.'  There were foundation classes, but although they placed the student in front of a model or still life, they offered very little guidance as to what we should be paying attention to, or how to use the tools we had, or even what tools we should have.  As a result, student work tended to be abstract concepts that were so ineffectively expressed that a lengthy verbal explanation of the piece was required.  This is reflected in many of the pieces in the university's Stuart Collection, which may be visually interesting,* but are either very simplistic in theme, or incomprehensible without a long explanation.

When I say "incomprehensible," I mean a failure to connect with the intended audience.  Picasso's work, for example, was probably most understood by his colleagues, then by his followers and countrymen, and it still has found a resonance with a large segment of the general population.

This is not to say that all art should be perfectly comprehensible without any explanation.  A knowledge of what the artist is trying to accomplish makes a deeper appreciation of their work possible.  But a masterpiece should be able to stand on its own.

I personally tend to stand too much on theory.  I don't have a lot of ideas, but I have a lot of education, so my finished work tends to be pretty formal and stiff, even when it is supposed to be light, because I'm relying more on my intellect than my imagination.  Another great piece of advice I got was to make a mess first, then try to clean it up.  "You can't steer a car that's not moving."  Once you have something down, it's easier to see where it is not working and fix it, than it is to whip it up perfect out of thin air.

(There should be some sort of conclusion here.  Oh well.)

*I make a distinction between something that is art, and something that is merely visually interesting.  It has to do with the intent of the creator, and how well that intent is passed to the viewer.  If the artist's intent is received intact by the viewer, his piece is successful.  Visual interest is ridiculously easy to achieve.  You can throw a bucket of paint off of a building, or set a car on fire.  If it is considered art, it allows art to be defined too broadly, in my opinion.  Visual interest is Pluto in the artistic solar system.  It's like a planet, but it's not a planet.  That is to say, it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of art.  If we can agree that art does not encompass every human act, then the viewer has to understand why you threw the bucket of paint or set the car on fire.
  • Listening to: The Main Drag, A Jagged Gorgeous Winter
  • Reading: Comparative mythology
  • Playing: WoW
  • Eating: Apples and cheese
  • Drinking: water
"We are sorry to inform you that there will be no Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) support available for your HP product. Therefore your product will not work with Mac OS X 10.6.

"If you are using the Mac OS X 10.6 operating system on your computer, please consider upgrading to a newer HP product that is supported on Mac OS X 10.6. The majority of HP peripherals on the market are supported with Mac OS X 10.6."

Yes, yes, splendid idea.  I will buy another product from you when you have just forced obsolescence on my perfectly functional product that I already bought from you.  I love being forced to hand you more money.

No, wait.  Sorry--  I hate that.  I think I will buy from your competitors.  Burn in hell, jerks.

So!  Can anyone recommend a good color printer that is not made by Hewlett-Packard?  I'd like it to be under $300 and have a fairly small footprint like my old Deskjet 932c, which I would like to point out still works, but has been rendered useless.
  • Reading: Comparative mythology
  • Playing: WoW
  • Eating: Pastrami Sammich
  • Drinking: Pepsi
For those of you who like to analyze art as well as produce it--


Apparently there is some scientific underpinning to aesthetic theory.  Who knew?  Does this mean artistic principles weren't just pulled randomly out of thin air? (/sarcasm)

Not to denigrate the article, which is really pretty interesting.
  • Listening to: The X-mas Files
  • Reading: Comparative mythology
  • Playing: Aion
  • Eating: Nothing yet
  • Drinking: water
Thanks to everyone who has faved and watched me since oh gods August.  I'm still alive, been busy with work and not of much use when I've been home, so I've fallen hopelessly behind with online networks.  Not ready to give up on it yet though.
  • Reading: The 2-ounce backpacker
  • Watching: Hockey
  • Playing: WoW
  • Eating: Granola bar
  • Drinking: water
New page is here:

This may be the last page I draw on actual paper.  I picked up Manga Studio EX a couple of weeks ago, and though I've only scratched the surface of the package I really like it.  Sketching is less frustrating, inking is less frustrating, in fact. except for color, everything I have tried doing with it is less frustrating than the equivalent process either in traditional media or in photoshop.
  • Reading: Journals of Lewis & Clark
  • Watching: Survivorman
  • Playing: Rock Band 2
  • Eating: Cheetos
  • Drinking: Pepsi
So, here is a new page of Persona Animus.

After three months of being crippled by being on antidepressants and another two months of being crippled by being off of them, I think I'm ready to rejoin the internet community.  What have we learned?  It's better to feel things and be useless part of the time than to feel nothing and be useless all of the time.*

*This only describes my own experience, and is not a general observation of the usefulness of people who take antidepressants.  Your mileage may vary.  Void where prohibited.
  • Listening to: Star Wars
  • Reading: Messages from Michael
  • Playing: World of Warcraft
Here's wishing all my long-suffering friends and watchers a very happy and prosperous 2009.  Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and patience in those long gaps between posts.  I will try harder this year.
  • Listening to: Urusei Yatsura 'Only You'
  • Reading: Sketches of the War
  • Watching: Hancock on Blu-Ray
  • Playing: World of Warcraft
  • Eating: Nothin'
  • Drinking: Pepsi
APE was an unqualified win.  I love APE, I love SF, I love DS and Rufftoon and all the other awesome people I met there.  Thanks all of you for a great time!
  • Listening to: Dee*lite
  • Reading: Daily Life in Florence in the Middle Ages
  • Watching: Post Election Coverage
  • Playing: World of Warcraft
  • Eating: Grilled Stuft Burrito
  • Drinking: Pepsi, mainly because of one thing: when I am in the messages interface and I delete something, it should stay deleted.  If I happen to navigate away from the page by, say, reading a message, all the things I have deleted are back when I return to the message interface.

The only way I've found to keep stuff deleted is to click my username to go to the home page, then navigate back to messages.  This is even worse than having to click the 'update' button on the old interface.

I am notorious for missing obvious interface elements.  Can anyone enlighten me?

What's up with this No Comic Thing

Sun Jul 27, 2008, 11:54 PM
Page 17 of Persona Animus went up in time for Comic Con, so that I would not have to hang my head quite so low in shame.

I have been having some trouble adjusting to my move from San Diego to Orange County, and as a result the comic has suffered.  I would like to blame my job, but since after a 40-hour week I still have 20 evening hours plus weekends to do other things, that excuse doesn't really fly.  (Especially with folks like alexds1 watching me.)  So let's just suffice it to say it's a result of personal problems for which I am seeking help.

So thanks once again for your patience.  Comic Con this weekend was invigorating and inspiring (crosspost of report from LJ coming soon).  Conventions seem to be good deadlines:  my new goal is to at least get the girls to their destination by APE.

(Okay: how do I insert a user pic with a link to the user like so many of you have on your profiles?)
As the gods are my witness, only this morning did it dawn on me that comments on my main page do not appear in my deviantwatch messages.  No, of course they wouldn't.  So I haven't been paying attention to them since, oh, November.

I am an Idiot, and I apologize to everyone who made such nice comments, and who asked questions that have gone ignored.  I will attempt to remedy that today.
All right, Persona Animus is back.  Thanks for your patience!  Sorry it's so washed-out; web optimization just murders my colors.  I'm going to experiment with exaggerating the contrast and saturation before I post.  Any experienced advice in this area would be welcome.

Now that I've managed to get rolling again (uphill, on square wheels), pages will be straggling in as often as I can complete them.
...long time no see.

Went to a painting workshop last weekend by Nathan Fowkes.  Wow.  Just... wow.  I still have so far to go.

Look!  Page 16 of the comic!  Well, no.  I have discovered that FTP access to the web site is not working just at the moment.  Serves me right for not trying to post anything there earlier.  Plus, the wireless card in my latptop, which contains the only local copy of my site, seems to be failing.  I'm taking the opportunity in the meantime to polish the art a bit more.  I've posted a teaser frame for you all.  The box does, indeed, contain Pain.

The last thing I wanted to give you after six weeks was more excuses, but I wanted to post something before January was out.  Still: progress.
  • Listening to: "Tom Sawyer" --Rush
Not dead.  Have not abandoned the comic.  I completely fell apart on time management for two weeks and now I'm overwhelmed with holiday stuff.  An update is coming!  ...Just not imminent.
  • Listening to: 'Still Alive'-- Jonathan Coulton
  • Eating: Cereal
  • Drinking: Milk