One thing I have learned on my journey as an artist is that you find the sources for the techniques you want to learn in the most unusual places. I knew long ago that I wanted to learn how to draw and paint the human body and facial features, so I went to work doing just that. I had books and books on anatomy, how to draw the face, how to draw comics and all sorts of other things. What I learned is that each format and lesson is valuable.
My drawing and painting style is realistic. That’s where I prefer to be. But the thing people find most striking about my work is my ability to capture movement and expression. Part of this is because of the photos I choose to reference when I begin a portrait, but much of it lies in my education. You see, I went to school for Media Arts and Animation at the Art Institute of Colorado.
Now, before some of you get all riled up about what a bad school it is and how they take students’ money, hit pause for a minute. I believe, and will always believe, that school is a springboard, a place where you are introduced to concepts and skills that you may use in your future career. Regardless of reputation, I feel it is a mistake to believe that your education begins and ends with what school you went to. It is up to you, the individual to take that education and expand upon it. Seek new sources for information, which is so easy to do in this age of the blogs, twitter and youtube. You and your work will be better for it.
Enough lecturing. Back to the matter at hand. When I chose to study animation, I never really wanted to animate. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching cartoons and animated films, but making them was never my desire. I wanted to be able to capture moments in my art. I wanted people to look at my work and feel like if they closed and opened their eyes again, the figure would move, the laugh would continue. So I learned about keyframes and in-betweens. I learned how to literally make a character move so that I could create perceived movement in my own work.
On my own, I studied how to create comics and graphic novels. This is in part because I love reading them, but again, making them isn’t my ultimate goal. I wanted to know how the body is broken down into simple shapes by people who make a living drawing from memory or imagination. I knew that if I was able to internalize the proportions of the body, of the limbs, of the head, if I could draw a convincing hand from memory, I would be able to do it even better when it was right in front of me. I knew that the exaggeration of expression and gesture that comes with comic art and animation would serve me in developing the subtleties of my realistic portraits.
Starting with a photograph, I can make a smile brighter, a hug warmer, a movement more grandiose because of these other concepts I have incorporated into my studies. These days I’m studying portrait photography to understand what professional photographers are thinking when they make lighting choices, or tell their models to pose a certain way. I want to improve my use of color and light to add more depth to my paintings.
And I encourage other artists to do the same. Find something about a different art form and see what happens if you incorporate it into your own work. You’ll be amazed at the results you get.