Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whilst reading Leif Peng’s blog, Today’s Inspiration a while ago I saw a title that grabbed me: Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson. It was, I assumed, the inside scoop from mid-century illustrators and designers. Yes please.

The library didn’t have it, but they did have another book: Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators.

Creative perspective for artists and illustrators

The first night I had it home I positively pored over the thing. Watson writes about perspective from the angle of a designer-illustrator, which is not often the angle one receives. It’s lovely to read about, since illustrators have a unique place somewhere in between reality and abstraction.

In reality, no picture -- photographic or otherwise -- can duplicate what our eyes see. For one thing, the camera picture is recorded on a flat plate of film; the retina of the human eye is concave.


(the illustrator’s) function, usually, is to depict the facts and events

Doug hula-hoops on Mothra

Illustrative skill involves considerably more than the training of the eye and hand to see and record the correct appearance of things observed, essential as that is. There are those who can make reasonably good drawings of things they are looking at, but who are lost when they try to construct objects “out of their heads”. They have a photographic eye, but they lack imagination.

beautiful ideas

it is this conflict that fascinates me most about the problems of perspective. I have been particularly taken lately by the cubism-influenced illustrators, who stretch things flat and let one see as much of the scene as possible.

David Weidman Example

Yet when I stumbled upon Peter P. Plasencia’s pictures in that book, I was dazzled by his brilliant use of space within his little tiny box. And, frankly, I was a bit dumbfounded. How did he do that? He’s clearly obeying rules, but when? In what circumstances?

Peter P. Plasencia

Conflict between design and perspective in picture-making ...his picture actually may be more convincing when his lines do not conform to photographic reality.

What’s clear to me is that what reality looks like and what actually works in an illustration are two very different things. You do HAVE to stretch that road flat sometimes to fill up the picture. You do need to show something from an impossible angle occasionally to keep something interesting.

ambient intimacy

I’m not sure if this is where Watson is going with “creative” perspective, but he is at least coming to this stuff in a non-traditional way. He, like everyone who knows what they’re talking about, writes endlessly about the need to just sit down and draw. Technique is taught quickly, but executing that technique in an effective way is something nobody can teach anybody. It all comes from drawing. Drawing, drawing, drawing. Drawing every day.


I recently got back in touch with a high school art teacher and I have been trying for three weeks now to articulate why it is that I am so hungry for this stuff. When I knew her, I wanted nothing to do with the color wheel, perspective, the elements and principles of design. At the ripe old age of fifteen I felt I’d mastered the basics. I had plateaued. It’s what happens when you stop exploring, when you refuse to grow. When you decide you don’t need any more learning. I once without a trace of humility informed a drawing teacher (this same drawing teacher) that I couldn’t think of a single thing to improve on.

I had no goals, but I had no shame either. That’s not a good combination.

I think part of this was the vast difference between having confidence and assuming you are The Greatest Thing That Has Ever Lived. One is that drive to push through the hard stuff, the other is deciding you don’t need to go through the hard stuff because it’s beneath you.

I was too firm in thinking I was The Greatest, and it took a portfolio rejection and essentially being barred from taking art classes at my University to make me realize my mistake. No. You are not the greatest. In fact, you have a lot of work to do.

Rather than fighting the system I took a step back and got an English degree. I don’t regret it. I think I needed to jump into a completely new field to learn to be open to ideas; new and old. To learn how to learn again. And anyway at that art department, I could not have learned. What I wanted to learn was the stuff I was learning from this book the other night -- about the hinged box and doors and how to measure proportions with squares. What they were teaching was two point perspective. Rigidly, I might add. Frustrating to the observer in me who was, without realising it, seeing things with many, many vanishing points.

four vanishing points

Distance made me hunger for more. I started collecting fragments of design, keeping track of things I liked and why. Slowly but surely I was developing my own weird pathology of How To Make Pictures. Noting what details to pay attention to. Pushing the perspective. Pushing the colors to certain family groups I’d grown fond of. Now when I find books on topics I’d previously snubbed as being beneath me I pore over them with a fanatical zeal. Anthony tracked down a book on color theory a few months ago and I’ve been devouring that book just as eagerly as this one on perspective. Maybe moreso. Something about scholarly writing on the qualities of certain colors is just electrifying. It’s like finally taking preschool 201 (Or really, more like preschool 988). Colors! Shapes! Interaction!

These books lead me to things I may or may not already know, and they get there on paths I’d never heard of. And once these paths are taken, they are much easier taken again, and can lead to even more places.

There is a peculiar feeling that I have now. The more I learn, the more questions arise. The more facts I find, the less I know in a way, because it just spurs me on to keep searching. It is so important to keep the mind receptive. To never close the flood gates by feeling you have complete knowledge of something. The minute you do you cease to evolve, cease to grow, and cease, essentially, to LIVE.

Do live. And learn. And practice. Practice, practice, practice. Practice every day.