art, drawing, graphic design, technology

Handwriting to drawing to painting

I’m not sure how much or whether I have mentioned on this blog, a thought about the interrelatedness of writing by hand, and of drawing. It’s something that was reinforced for me when visiting an art store today and emerging with a couple of little markers.

Whenever I start drawing, it seems kind of inevitable that I would be drawn into practicing my handwriting in Japanese language. I have a relatively solid grasp of kana (phonetic characters) and a very introductory knowledge of kanji (ideographic characters). The thing is…it’s very, very tempting to try and practice getting stroke quality, size, type, proportion of each character in such a way as it becomes beautiful at the same time as it contains meaning.

Of course, this is likely related to my interest both in Graphic Design and calligraphy, painting, and some spiritual bents such as Zen Buddhism. The last three, in particular, are very related historically in an East Asian context, along with poetry. I wouldn’t have known that without having researched the topic of art and writing within Zen, for a graduate project…but I’m fairly sure that this also pre-dates Zen and goes back to the literati in ancient China.

Okay, and that gets really complicated, with the introduction of Buddhist dharma (way of existence) into China, and the mixture of Buddhism and what are now called Daoism, Confucianism, etc. That was introduced into what is now Korea and from there, Japan, though there were multiple transmissions. (Buddhism is not native to East Asia; so far as I know, it originated in South Asia [now India], and traveled through Central Asia into China — but my sources are skewed due to the fact that I currently can only read English-language versions of the history of this. English-language versions of, “what Buddhism is,” by people who only know other English-language versions, are generally imperfect at best, warped and misunderstood, at worst.)

My point is basically that there’s a large historical precedent for my interest in this, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these values were passed on to me by the cultures of family and friends (at the least). To get deeply into that goes into some personal spiritual beliefs (or lack of them), which I’m not even all the time sure on (see the Dao De Jing/Tao Te Ching for a reference to why I may not talk about this — it’s a short work), but it gives me some stability. An inkling of it.

Anyhow…I read somewhere that the expression of the writer/artist with ink and brush was supposed to be a reflection of the one who wrote it, although at times an artist would get someone else to do the calligraphy for him. (Most of what I’ve read goes over male artists/poets/calligraphers; that doesn’t mean they all were, but it’s what I’ve seen.)

I believe that it is because of the high value placed on literacy and writing in at least Japan, that the language has turned out as beautiful (and complex) as it is. There are thousands of kanji (ideographic symbols borrowed from Chinese language) to learn to read and write, though there are also patterns within the kanji (like their formative elements, or “radicals”) that give clues to their meanings and readings.

I did start this post talking about the interrelatedness of writing by hand and of making art. My concern is that when people shift from writing with their hands, to writing by typing — only — that the practice which allows drawing to grow from writing, and painting to grow from drawing, is avoided. I do have some concern over the fact that most of us — unless we make a conscious effort otherwise — will likely be writing mostly by using a keyboard, and facing a computer screen. Not by hand, with paper (or any surface) and whatever instrument you use to write with, which could be pencil or marker or pen or brush or charcoal or something else. Something that will make a mark. Anything that will make a mark.

There’s a freedom to any of the latter in that you can express yourself not only in how the text is encoded, but in how it is drawn, and also that you can draw other things that are not letters or punctuation! My drawing, really, started in the margins of my notes and writings for school, as a young teen. I got bored. I found a way to express myself which no one could take away from me, without also taking away my learning tools.

Coincidentally, it was also close to that time at which I started to learn kana. I was into anime, particularly Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, and I wanted to know how to read the text in the Japanese-language books I had to accompany the series. This was also, particularly, because I knew there were a number of seasons and movies (most of them, actually) which had not been translated into English. The only contact I had with these movies and series were the anime books (these must have a name; they’re an entire genre) and untranslated VHS tapes which I found through local venues.

I’m guessing that for me — at least, right now — writing in Japanese is closer to art, than writing in English. That is changing a bit, as I experiment with incorporating more cursive into my handwriting (which inevitably makes it messier than my regular [legible] print; or my regular cursive, where my “r”s are a bit…hard to identify). It’s probably also because writing in Japanese is less familiar to me. But I think I need a bit of a challenge in my reading — and not from English sentences being indecipherable. (It happens in college readings, sometimes. I’ve had textbooks like this. I’m not kidding. SENTENCES WHICH MAKE NO SENSE.)

I have, off-and-on, heard arguments or concerns about Japanese youth losing the skill of reading because of the popularity of manga (comics). I’m not so much concerned about that at this moment, but rather the loss of artistic skill and development which may loom because of a digital revolution in which no one can even write (well) by hand, anymore. It’s already a given that a lot of schools in the U.S. no longer teach how to write in cursive, making the reading of things like old ledgers written in Copperplate script, difficult to read. (I can barely read Copperplate. How much worse must it be for kids who didn’t learn cursive in Kindergarten?)

I also wonder how much I have bought into that in the past, because I did have to spend so much of my time in front of a screen. Something that no one told me, though, is that going to school online does mean that you have to take copious notes (even when the Professor gives handouts). Which are best done by hand. It’s hard when you haven’t written quickly and legibly in a very long time. And, I’m finding, it’s likely harder to draw when you haven’t written by hand at all in a very long time.

I’ve been writing by hand recently, though (which I’ve referenced in earlier posts here), and…it is easier to edge back into mark-making by just trying to write correctly in Japanese. I am not entirely certain why, except for the fact that I now can tell when they’re right (or at least when they’re beautiful), and when they aren’t. I do believe that a lot of that is due to my art training. Before someone close to me dropped out of Japanese-language class, the teacher saw my writing trying to help them on their homework, and said I had “nice handwriting.” So…I don’t know what that’s worth, except that I know I’m not going way into calligraphic territory. It’s legible. That’s good.

So far, I’ve not personally focused on this Inktober thing, but it is kind of inspiring to see all the works people are doing. I’ve also been able to get into acrylic paint markers…which, alongside my Pitt pens and alcohol markers…they’re alluring because of the use of color, for one thing. Opacity also helps, and it’s absent in other water-based and alcohol-based markers. I wouldn’t consider myself into graffiti in any way, but there’s something in the graphic qualities of marker that’s there for me.

I’m thinking that if I get deep enough into this…work in paint may come easier to me. I realized that Acryla gouache is what I was seeking, in a hybrid between acrylics and watercolors which I could utilize on paper without abusing my watercolor brushes (gesso is rough) — say for miniatures. (I still love Shahzia Sikander.) There’s also the possibility of using gouache mixed with acrylic glazing medium, or the (gasp!) use of transparent watercolors mixed with gouache.

I haven’t tried any of that yet, though they’re all creative possibilities. Right now what I have to deal with is how to get my markers out so I can see them, and how to combine transparent, opaque, and permanent inks…

…and paints. If I try, I’ll find out what works, and what doesn’t. As I’m learning, a lot of art (or at least design), seems to be about that. That, and not getting hung up on what other people say art should be…

creative writing, graphic design, illustration, sequential art

underlying components of good character design vs. good writing

This is just a note to myself as regards the graphic novel issue.

I’m not entirely certain how deeply I should get into this, but I happened to check out a copy of X-Men:  Eternals a while ago.  Attempting to read this made it clear to me why the X-Men movie series was so heavy-handed and apparently one-sided.

I don’t have a great amount of literacy in graphic novels — I can recall reading Bone and Blade of the Immortal; and Generation X before the franchise-wide reboot of the X-Men series (which really ticked me off), plus a couple of more mainstream Japanese things like Fushigi Yugi (which I didn’t particularly enjoy, much as I didn’t enjoy Tenchi Muyo! [though I only saw the latter in anime]) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I got into because of the anime).

Then there are the series which I picked up even though I was at the time fairly illiterate in Japanese, like Inu Yasha and Bastard!, along with Yuu Yuu Hakusho (the flame-like banter in which I was not entirely aware of, until I happened to read some of it in English translation), and which I incidentally only got into because of the doujinshi (and because I was at the time learning to read Japanese).

What I’m thinking is that the same traits which can make a person a great character designer can also cripple them when it comes to good writing.  I’m not saying this is true across the board — it’s just something which has come up in specific regard to my own trials with trying to script establishing scenes in “graphic novel” formats, and I see it reflected in what I read going on with X-Men:  Eternals.

If you’re designing a character so that all elements of the character attempt to describe that character in a visual manner, that is fine.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  In reality, the way people look does not always (I would say often does not) relate to who they are.  This may not be quite as easy to see when the makeup of society is more or less homogeneous.

But when you have multiple minority categories in a society, and these minorities have strength in numbers and voices in regard to their own portrayal, it makes it clear that the thoughts which come to someone’s mind because of the way people look is not equivalent to who those people actually are.  This is especially clear if you happen to be one of those minorities and you happen to see how people constantly misread you (in addition to misreading your family).

This is a way in which my own philosophy diverges from what I’ve seen…whether we are looking at older American comics or whether we are looking at the less-complex graphic novel material coming out of Japan.  What people look like is not equivalent to who they are.  Of course there are materials coming out of Japan which acknowledge this (for example, in Legend of Zelda:  The Windwaker, in which the fairy who accompanies you acts like someone who would ordinarily be drawn as a big, tough male character who had the burliness to back up his language — but this is used to [actually, quite delightful] comic effect).

What I’m trying to get across is that in a good piece of writing, it’s very often the case that characters are not one-sided.  Characters are complex and have many different layers.  They’re often not surface-readable — you don’t immediately know what their role is just because you can see what they look like.  In graphic design, and I believe likely in character design, the goal is the opposite:  to be able to look at an image and glean a more or less solid idea of the intended communication fairly immediately, just from the visual elements of the composition.

I am not certain how to reconcile these two perspectives, but I wanted to make a note of the conflict.

calligraphy, drawing, graphic design, illustration

leaning toward graphic art

I meant to make this post last night but somehow got sidetracked…

I tried experimenting with my NuPastels.  What it’s told me is that I probably don’t want to be working with pastels so much at this point in time.  My first mistake was using vine charcoal.  It’s been years since I used vine charcoal, so while I was expecting it to smudge, I wasn’t expecting it to have no adhesion whatsoever to the paper.  Which meant that when I was trying to blend colors with my fingertips, the colors kept becoming dirtied with the charcoal, and I kept wiping white areas into the drawing by touching the vine charcoal areas.

After I left the NuPastels for another time…I started drawing in large format with a set of graphite sticks I have.  I believe their brand is Cretacolor Monolith.  I was impressed with these — the tin runs from HB to 9B, and even the HB smudged well, and using the 9B and my Pitt 9B graphite stick (which is slightly closer to black), I was able to attain a good range of tones from light to dark.  Basically, white to almost black.  It was also easier to cover large areas of dark value easily, by using the edge of the graphite stick.  And then I could highlight with an eraser, as the graphite — at least the HB — is very easy to erase, even when used heavily.

Plus then there’s the point of the stick for drawing in detail, and I have a set of freaking tortillons which keep squeaking on the paper and not blending very well (though I did learn how to grind fresh tips on one of these, last night).  The thing I’m missing is my triangular eraser.  I have no idea where my triangular detail eraser went.

I did end up doing a graphic-novel-style character drawing…which is one of my fallbacks when I don’t know what to draw.  I need to work on things which are not people, though, really.  That factor alone is a big reason I haven’t been doing graphic-novel work.  (Though I probably shouldn’t go too deeply into that.)

After I had experimented on these two counts, I used a white calligraphy ink that I had stashed, on top of a rubbed-in charcoal ground.  The ink was very thick and very white.  I used the glass pen that my late grandmother bought for me, which I normally don’t use anymore, because the nib grinds down every time I use it.  But the upshot is that it’s easy to clean — the nib is cylindrical.  I think, though, that that particular calligraphy ink might be best used with a brush, due to its thickness.  I didn’t want to use it with a metal calligraphy nib, because I didn’t want to ruin the nib.  (Calligraphy nibs are two pieces, and it’s difficult to clean the areas where the flats of the pieces touch each other.  I have a jar of Higgins Pen Cleaner, but I don’t know if it will work on an ink that may have some acrylic in it.)

But what that, and subsequent experimentation with a calligraphy nib showed me, though, is that I probably want to get back into calligraphy.  I should probably look for a better book on it.  There’s just a graphic quality to calligraphy that I really, really like.  I also wanted to note that I did also use my glass pen with Higgins Waterproof Black Calligraphy ink, which I believe is the blackest ink I have — and I really liked the results.  So I may be attempting to learn to draw with metal-nibbed pens in the near future.

Doing a quick search, I find a note from 2007 that says Higgins Eternal is fully pigmented ink, while the Calligraphy ink has dye…meaning that the Eternal is more likely to be lightfast.  I’m not sure that in the past I’ve run across a selection of inks where Eternal has actually been on the shelf (as opposed to sold out).

And at this point I believe I’m closer to an illustrator or designer than to a fine artist.  From my work yesterday it’s apparent that markmaking is one of the things I really find enjoyable, high-contrast markmaking in specific — which leads me to believe that drawing (markmaking) and graphic elements are one of the things that really get me going.  And calligraphy seems closer to graphic design than to fine art.  That, combined with my recent work with felt-tip pens and brush pens…also points me in the direction where it seems that I’m drawing with liquid media, not painting with it.

And that in turn really helps me narrow down my options to what I’d be most likely to enjoy.  And if we are loosely considering the possibility of one day going to art school (as I suppose could happen), it’s good to have some direction, prior to entering.

It was refreshing to be able to work on a large format again, and to be able to use my arm gesturally, and vary my grips on my drawing implements.  That’s something I’ve been missing while working in small-scale.  The work I did yesterday shows me where my interests lie, so I’m glad I did it.

drawing, fine arts, graphic design, painting

pens and thoughts on watercolors

Besides what I’ve mentioned in the prior entry…I picked up some little colored fineliners today which I’ve been coloring with for a while.  :)  I picked up a different orange than I intended to (it’s closer to red with a hint of orange), but it’s actually working out pretty well.  The orange which I intended to pick up would have been more expensive and also closer to the tone of the orange I definitely knew I was getting.  So now I have some Staedtlers (I’m just in love with Staedtler, I’m sorry), and a few Stabilos which I picked up because their color was nice.  These were around $1 a piece.

This is continuing the thread which I started with getting together with someone who encouraged me to draw.  The fineliners are really good for small detail work — where you need hard, sharp lines.  I did eventually get into the place, today, where I probably should have been using the bullet point on a Tombow or something — I was coloring in big areas of color with fineliners (!) and I don’t know how long they will continue to last if I continue to do that.  But I did happen to uncover an image which will look very good in a larger format, and which will look very different in different color schemes.  It’s excellent for gouache, as none of the color blocks touch each other.

So while I was at the art store…I was looking over the watercolors and the acrylics.  I think that for now, I’ll stick with watercolors (and gouache), and just try a different working method, which I’ve been practicing with my markers and colored pencils…just…not exactly the same.  :)  This involves using some of my very hard and light pencils to draw in an underpainting, so I know where the highlights are, prior to beginning.  Watercolors are much less expensive than acrylics, as well; so now I suppose I do know why many people start out in them, despite my personal belief that they’re more difficult to work with than acrylics.  I did happen to pick up a pad of two-ply Bristol Board which should suffice for exploratory ventures into watercolor, on a medium which won’t destroy fine detail.

…I wonder how it would look if I painted over transparent watercolors with gouache (which is opaque)?  I should keep that thought in mind, not count it out.  Just like I should not count out using watercolor pencils or watercolor sticks.

I mentioned that I picked up the Talens Angora watercolors last month, which ran about $6 for twelve pans.  I still haven’t used them, it has been somewhat intimidating; but I realized while looking back over recent work with the fineliners, that I needed to start working with the watercolors the way I started working with the fineliners.  I need to play around with the watercolors without a solid design in mind, most of all so I can find out how they behave.  So I suppose that should be coming up, soon.  (I have realized that a lot of what I set out to do, I do actually get around to — though that can be hard to see without records.)  I am relatively new to using brushes, so I suspect there will be a learning curve.  But at least I have access to a usable set of watercolor brushes.

creative writing, drawing, graphic design, spirituality

Torn between the two brains

The other day I saw a friend I haven’t seen in a long time.  Long story short, I ended up drawing a number of elements with some colored pens which look very much like they have a strong Graphic Design influence.  I like how this is going.

It started me thinking on whether I wanted to really do the design — specifically Web Design — as a career, I mean; but …well, I was thinking about this earlier today.  Not so much the design aspect of things, but the tension between what I’ve experienced as my creative side and my practical side.  I realized that, at least metaphorically, a lot of what I’m going through is tension between the two sides of my brain.  What was odd was to realize that…well, that may be more literally true than not.  Right-brain, left-brain stuff.  It could also be a big part of the reason I’ve been interested in one faith-based philosophy and one rationality-based philosophy, both seriously enough.  They speak to different sides of my brain.

I’m already familiarized with the concept of having relatively independently-acting matrices within my own neurology, but I’m moving past the time where I’d consider this anything more than just an awareness of difference (or awareness of awareness).  I’ve started reading in The Artist’s Way again, which could be part of the reason I’ve been more aware of the rational-versus-creative tension.  I haven’t started the exercises yet — I’d have to devote a significant amount of time and energy to this, time which I could use to be creative.  I also realized something significant…trust and play are key to successful creativity.

By that I mean that I believe that to be, specifically, a successful writer or a successful artist, you have to trust yourself enough to even begin.  And then you have to trust yourself enough to continue, and trust yourself enough to carry it through to the end.  You have to trust that what is coming out of you has some good in it.  Elsewhere I’ve said that the path to creativity, from my current perspective, very much seems like something — control — must be surrendered.  You have to trust yourself and just ride with it.  At least, in my experience.

When I was younger I would write as though a story were being dictated to me.  As I got older, I gradually lost my faith.  But I also learned to fear my own creativity.  I didn’t know where my stories were coming from, and this frightened me.  In this sense, it’s somewhat comforting to be reading _The Artist’s Way_, where the author explains that the key to being creative is to be able to become an open channel for creativity.  In my own experience, this is true enough.  I don’t think taking classes in it helped, actually.  It helped me develop my voice, but it also inserted rules that my creativity needed to conform to, which eventually obstructed my creative flow.

Now that I’m older, I have the knowledge that I don’t have to work exclusively within any one art or craft form.  I’ve also been feeding my creativity via relatively low-risk things like knitting and crochet and sewing.  Then we get into coloring, which gets into drawing, which gets into writing.  I’m old enough now to see that belief in a personal Deity is not necessarily a bad thing, or an impossible thing.  Studying Hinduism, paired with studying Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism) has helped me very much in this regard.

I have a Deity-form that I’ve been tailing since my early college days, and although I am a bit cautious now to attribute a name and culture to my Deity, it is apparent that possibly the best way to give myself something to guide me, even in those moments when I am at a loss as to my own identity, is to live a creative life.  That is, to embrace who I am and use my gifts — live the life that has been provided for me.  Being creative could be my own form of devotion.  Something to regulate my life, and to keep me from not knowing what to do with myself.