Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Point-punk Pondering...

First up, the confession (and with it, the excuse): I was trying originally for a Sid Vicious caricature here, but, with a deadline looming and a questionable, dust-laden, arrested set of skills, I didn't have time to work and rework the face, so I had to settle for a sort of generic punk visage. The eyes are off, the face is wrong, and the sneer isn't even close. Hell, it's not even a sneer. And the hair, it not only misses the mark, it's also utterly unimaginative and lacks even a vestige of technique. Hair is tough.

In the end, there simply wasn't time. There, there's the excuse. I think it's a good image nonetheless. And honestly, trademark sneer notwithstanding, Sid's countenance isn't exactly fertile ground when it comes to drawing caricatures.

On the subject of time: unbelievable, the amount it takes to bring a simple illustration like the one above to fruition. At least for me. And therein lies the problem. I'm just plain slow, especially when it comes to using Photoshop. I like to draw, I like to take my time when I draw. It is one of the very few things about which I am meticulous and (usually) unhurried. I like it that way. Compared to using software such as Adobe Illustrator CS to produce images, it's sort of the slow-food movement of the art world. Plodding, painful, frustrating...and, ultimately, edifying. There's that, and then there's the fact that, for me, Illustrator and its ilk are too goddamn complicated to use. Hell, I barely know the difference between 2H and 4B, and these are just pencil lead designations. In the time it would take me to sufficiently suss it all out, I could turn out handfuls of hand-drawn images. Still, I'd like to be at least marginally proficient with Illustrator.

Okay, for those who don't indulge in the moribund art technique of pencil and pen illustration, but who nevertheless have an interest in it, and because I have few riding tales to share, here's what goes into something like this, at least from my perspective:

First, there's the overall concept. This is often a difficult step, but neither the most difficult nor the most time-consuming. After all, it's mental work, and the mind operates at the speed of—duh!—thought. The theme of this one conflates bikes and punks and beer. Okay, I needed some whole or partial representation of a bike, a punk, and some beer, in an original and esthetically pleasing combination, and with a perspective that is challenging for me to realize in 2-D, but not so challenging that I abandon it in a fit of subdued—and, later, displaced—aggression. Easy enough; I know my limitations.

For the punk, I thought about going back to the roots of the "genre". What came to mind was Richard Hell. I mean, "Blank Generation", "Love Comes in Spurts", and "Liars Beware" are damn hard to beat when it comes to prototypical punk—they continue to hold up well under a growing layer of dust. But, however seminal and fantastic is Hell's all-too-short musical oeuvre, he isn't exactly eminently recognizable, even among punk rock fans. Add to that my limited talent, and I might as well use a mannequin for a model.

A member of the Sex Pistols seemed to make more sense (and yeah, I tossed around a Ramone, but the Ramones just don't inspire me, and their level of commercial success—courted or not—was offputting). From there, I searched online for images of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, for the obvious reason. Sid seemed like the best choice. After all, he didn't live long enough to need badly enough to stoop low enough to ink a deal with Activision when it ushered in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (new album title suggestion: Apostasy in the US). Never mind the irony that the average GH fan is already about as musically adept as were the Pistols. But I digress.1

So, I settled on Sid.

Okay, I had the punk. Now, how to arrange the punk with a bike? The traditional image of a rider on a bike (viewed from the side or front or rear or some combination thereof) has been done to death, at least in photographs, which means it's mucking about somewhere in the public subconscious and likely will remain there forever. Too pedestrian. So I decided that an endo would be an interesting take. With an endo, the subject is not constrained to a standing or sitting position, but would likely be suspended in a free-fall of sorts. So, I had to think about how to represent him in space. Here's where the artist's standby, the sketchpad, comes into play. I must confess, though, that this was the first time I ever used one. I typically just draw straight out, skipping the skeletal sketch over which is stretched the final drawing's carbonous flesh.2 But I sketched this one out in miniature, put away the sketchpad, and then made the drawing proper from memory a day later, without recourse to the sketch. The perspective of the final image is uncannily close to that of the sketch. This was not deliberate—the sketch was made in haste—but probably only indicates that I'd somehow already locked in the spatial arrangement in my subconscious mind. Some things are best left unknown.

Then it was time to do all the detail work, which took place over several days. The drawing, erasing, sipping coffee, drinking beer, frowning, and, finally, settling. Then the scanning and retouching-coloring-lettering in Photoshop. Done. Sip beer. Sleep. Any time left is then devoted to realizing without mercy how much better I could have made the drawing, where I should have reworked a detail, where I should have taken my time more, etc. This is always the case (every artist—and I'm stretching the meaning of that word here—is a little masochistic).

However imperfect the finished image, the end result is always pretty gratifying. And since I'm the self-appointed illustrator for the Single Speed Punk Bike Enduro (the local one, anyway), it damn well better be.

1. A really tempting model for these enduros has always been either Ian MacKaye or Guy Picciotto of Fugazi fame (in fact, just such a suggestion was made recently at the Single Speed Punk Bike Enduro, the event that triggered this drawing). With their already exaggerated features and highly original, uniquely earnest contributions to punk, they're a no-brainer as subjects. But when the brain kicks in, the idea of choosing icons so prominently linked to Straight Edge to represent a ride involving beer becomes so patently absurd that I never consider it for very long. Perhaps one day.

2. For the record, this is how I write, as well: on the fly, no outline, no firstsecondthirdfinal draft. And this is why my drawings and writing are average at best: no training, no discipline, and only a little practice. This is by no means meant to suggest that I don't edit my writing, or that what I spill on the virtual page is what flowed directly from head to fingertips to repose in situ. I edit incessantly and obsessively, but rather than saving it till the end like some literary autopsy, I do it as I go along, often in mid-sentence. And sometimes, days later even, I will edit the "finished" piece. Not necessarily a preference, but certainly a pattern.


Rob said...

Maybe Jeff Nelson's bottled violence character could be future material to work with- after all, it's wearing a leather jacket and a sex pistols shirt while holding a bottle of hate-- that out of step sheep shows up everywhere, but not that bottle guy- he could have become hardcore's mr. peanut.

Anna said...

For what it's worth, I think you did a fine job. We are our own worst critics.

gmr2048 said...

Great post, man. I've actually wondered how you went about creating your art.

Have you done any work in PS or Illustrator using a Wacom pen tablet? If not, I highly suggest checking them out. I use one for photos, and I hear that they really shine when used for drawing/illustrating.