One night while playing with my wives new iPad 2, I discovered a neat little application called photo booth. This crazy app enables the user to manipulate photos using filters that stretch, squash, and contort, in tge sane way Photoshop filters do in one eat step. I became intrigued and took a photo of myself and started playing. Instantly it struck me how surprisingly simple these "photo caricature" were to create, and brought back to mind a question I asked on a caricature forum I frequented several years ago.
IS using technology to draw caricatures cheating? I even went as far as to pose the question if any of the artists on the forum had ever used Photoshop, or another photo manipulation program to give them an edge over other computer illiterate artists who struggled doing exaggerations the old fashioned way, namely using our imagination. The overwhelming majority insisted they never used technologhy, except for one prominent artist (who really is brilliant and no doubt can draw outta his head)who confessed that e had used technology occasionally to enhance a drawing, and to solve visual problems.
WHY THE OUTRAGE
At the time, I suspect that along with my peers who were against the practice of using the computer to "help out" we felt that whoever did so. Want being a "real artist" as we loos,y defined as one who used their own hand, brains, and imagination to create works of art. We were the "caricature purists" who were holding to a higher standard.
But there was also a very real fear....
Those of us, like me, who had struggled sooooo hard to "crack the exaggerated code" took pride in the fact that we had labored hard and long to achieve our level of proficiency. While there were many talented, competent artists in our tribe, only a select few were able to achieve those wonderfully grotesque caricature renditions that simultaneously resembled the subject, and a creature from outer space. The air we few breathed in sitting upon Mount Olympus was rare, and sweet!
But that blasted photo editing software everything! with it, even the modestly talented neophyte could achieve dreams of Exaggerated caricature glory! And unlike us poor souls who labored to obtain this exalted knowledge, they could do so in less than half the time!
The other fear was that people who possessed no talent at all, could now, with this diabolical device, thumb their noses at us caricature artists, and exclaim" who needs YOU?? We can now create our OWN caricatures!"
Yeah.... I was a purist, alright.....but recently, as I've grown older, and more open to new ideas, I've begun to re examine if I've been too hasty in condemning the use of technology to create caricatures. They way I see it now, there are actually some real advantages.
TECHNOLOGHY ISN'T "BAD"
Is technology really bad to create art with? If I'm honest, I really would have to conclude it isn't. Like most artists I've used technology to scan my pictures, clean up my sketches, juxtapose images together, re size them, and of course color them. If any purist would come up to me and say I wasn't a "real"artists because I wasn't using rulers to resize, or mixing my own paint I'd totally ignore them on the way to picking up my check from a satisfied client. While I can't cite any examples now, it's safe to say that artists have AKWAYS used the available technologhy of their day to enhance their work, or make it simpler to execute. In our day, that tool just happens to be the computer. With so many other people
In other industries from accounting to zoologhy using it to enhance their performance, we would be nuts to neglect it.
YOU CAN'T DRAW WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE
One time as a beginning artist, I was asked to draw a picture of a unicorn which as everyone knows s really just a horse with wings and a forehead horn. Simple. Or so I thought. When I was told I had drawn it wrong, I was a little confused... I knew what a horse looked like, having seen them in person and pictures I internalized an image in my head I could recall at will. What I neglected to realize, however was that the front and the back legs were wry g. Apparently I hadn't noticed noticed that the back legs of such animal was different from the front. I literally could t draw that, because I couldn't visualize, which means I didn't see it! And the source I was using was my imagination.
DRAWING FROM THE IMAGINATION SCREEN
Whenever we decide to draw a subject in an exaggerated way, we do two things. First and foremost, we look at the subject objectively to see what they look normally. At this stage, we aren't applying a subjective opinion about the face's individual parts, we take everything in as a whole, first. After we've gotten a good look we start to look for facial "flaws", promise t attributes, etc. Finally once we've got that info, we start to imagine the face stretched pulled, and Shawnee based on the info we've obtained in the previous stage. This process happens quicker than it takes to write or tell, but it does happen. We draw based on what we see with our eyes, objectively, and also what we superimpose whats in our imagination. The level of exaggeration is keft up to the individual artist, but for the purpose of this article, I'm talking about extremely distorted exaggeration like my "peanut head shape"photo here.
AN EASIER WAY TO LEARN EXAGGERATION
Before I continue, let me stress that although you certainly can throw a photo into an image editing program, and trace or copy it to get a likeness quickly. I'm advocating using the tecnologhy as a tool to help you visualize the concept of exaggeration. Let's face it.for the average artist, doing exaggerated work is challenging. Some get close to understanding it, while others never seem to understand it. Master exaggerators often speak of maintaing proper relationships in the face when we stretch pull or squeeze. It's a ard concept though to visualize and remember if you don't have a picture to look at and imprint. In the aforementioned photo, my image is forced into a peanut shape, where the forehead and lower part of my face are ballooned out, and the middle is pinched in. By viewing the oho to, one can easily see what happens to the corresponding facial features of eye brows, eyes, nose mouth, even my goatee "react" when forced into that peanut shaped container. The same can be equally seen when my face is forced into an egg shape and a square shape. by taking your face or any for that matter, and playing around with it, you will get a "feel" for how the corresponding facial features are likely to react when subjected to a given geometric container. In short they will be locked into your imagination, and now that you can "see" what a given exaggerated face is likely to look, you can impose that principle on the current face you are observing.
I realize this approach is a mechanical one, but it's a starting point, a way of training your mind to look through a fun house mirror just a little faster than if you'd have to conjure up the image on your own.
A GREAT TOOL FOR FANTASY ART AND CHARACTER DESIGN
If youve ever been commissioned to draw fantasy. Type art, you know how difficult that can be.
The trick is to create alien characters no one has seen before, but still contain a certain kind of "reality". While some may find this easy to do without a visual aid, if you're like me, you more than likely end up drawing a stereotypical green colored alien with three round eyes and two antentaes on top of the head.
Playing around with a variety of faces in photo manipulation software provide you with endless options so that you can make alien critters so grotesque, you puke on your keyboard. Once you are satisfied with your character, simply copy it, with the confidence that you are not plagiarizing someone elses character.
EMBRACE THE PRESENT
regardless of how you feel about art and computer technologhy, the fact is that this tool is here to stay. As artists WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE CREATIVE ONES! And that means having the desire and ability to use whatever tools the culture gives us to our advantage. If we can find a way to enhance our work, to do it faster and easier, there's no reason why we shouldn't. Photo imaging software is nothing more than using a specialized brush or pen to get our work done.and that should be what's most important to any artist. Getting the work done.
I'd appreciate your thoughts on this. All opinions, pro and con are welcome and encouraged.