Thursday, November 13, 2008

Art Talk

Recently I spoke to a class at the Monsterrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts. Fellow illustrator Nathan Walker, an instructor at the school, invited me to speak to his Illustration 1 class. Public speaking is not one of my favorite activities, but I was honored to be asked; and I figured I've been doing this long enough that I've accrued some wisdom!

Nate assured me the class was small and informal.  Rather than prepare a speech, I gathered my portfolio (along with lots of preliminary sketches) and headed to class.

The school is charming! It's housed in a cool historic nineteenth-century brick building that looks like a classic high school. Before the class I wandered the halls and absorbed the familiar sights: a room filled with easels, rows of cubbies with enough space for large oil paintings, a naked man posing in front of a throng of students - ah, memories!

The aim of my presentation was to share my process. I showed the class examples from each stage of an illustration, from rough thumbnails to finished art. Creating an illustration is rarely a linear journey. My process involves searching and experimenting to find the composition, the character, the pose, the color. Rarely does my first stab at an illustration resemble the final product.

What do I wish someone had told me when I was in art school?--That's the question my wife suggested I contemplate while preparing for this talk.

I wish someone had said it's okay to emulate other artist's work. I avoided studying and learning from other artists because I thought it was "cheating." I've come around to the realization that I can learn a lot from other illustrators and artists without polluting my integrity! 

BB King was asked how he found his style of guitar playing and he answered--and I'm paraphrasing here--I was trying to imitate my guitar heroes but fell short–that's where my style came from.

And similarly, in the words of Stephen Sondheim from Sunday in The Park with George:

Just Keep Moving On
Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new
Give us more to see…

UPDATE: After further thought, this Sondheim quote, out of context, sounds a bit trite. I assure you, in context, it's wicked profound and life-changing.


Gina Perry said...

Good for you! I'm sure they appreciated the insights - it's so important for students to get an idea of what life is like post-school, good and bad!

What a young looking group - teachers and students! I've never been down to Montserrat, you've made it sound so lovely - oh how I miss art school sometimes...

John B. Watson said...

That was a winning post...until you quoted Stephen Sodheim. You're way too obsessed with musicals. You need professional help at this point. Just kidding!

Sounds like a great opportunity to share/gain some insight into the creative, visual art process. I hope the class and yourself benefited from the visit.

Good for you for putting yourself out there and crawling out of your cave and creative hibernation to impart some pearls of wisdumb. Lol! Sorry, I had to go there.

Hopefully you DID give them something to chew on and they were receptive to ingesting it and didn't get indigestion as a result! You should make more personal appearances. Good luck with your current project. Crank those puppies (dinos) out!

Super Critic.

Chuck Dillon said...

Good advice! I have been planning on having my students blatantly copy some inking styles (of artists I would choose) for a Fantasy Art project and this comment of yours reminded me that I need to prep that assignment. I learned so much from emulating other artist's work, that now I can see their individual influences but no one else would but me.

Teaching definitely exposes our wisdom and ignorance of a subject. It keeps me on my toes!

Abigail said...

Good advice about looking at other artists' work; it really does help having a point of reference like that.