Yesterday I mentioned that sorting art I liked into categories led me to expand the categories in ways I hadn’t anticipated. On reflection, a pretty big part of it is that the work I like is much broader in scope than the work I create.
Last year sometime I was preparing my portfolio for something and realised that I had a distinct lack of variety in my compositions. In particular, all my characters were about the same size on the page, from picture to picture. I tried to remedy this, with some success, but didn’t realise that I was still keeping my pages very character-focussed. It isn’t necessarily a problem, but noticing it is important. Most of my pictures also have heavily detailed environments. Again, not necessarily a problem. But…
I’ve heard a lot of artists say something along these lines, and I have Pascal Campion’s book 3000 Moments handy, so I’ll quote him:
Younger artists (…) try to make images and put everything they know into it. (…) When you do an image it usually works better to ONLY draw what is necessary to get the idea across.
I know this as a theory. But, being young (and desperate to get work, to get noticed) it’s easy to want to show that you can do ALL THE THINGS! I want to show them that I can draw this and this and this and… what was the point of this picture again?
A lot of my illustrations, because they are created for my portfolio rather than a specific purpose, are not really about anything. They usually fit within a made-up story, because otherwise I find it impossible to draw. But they do not serve a specific purpose within that story – they serve the purpose of showing a technical skill.
It kind of astounds me that I hadn’t realised this, because I have a few pictures (see: accompanying images) that are more specific, that show fewer technical skills, and they are MORE useful in my portfolio than the rest. That’s because they show actual variety in handling of material, rather than just showing that I can draw a range of characters displaying a range of emotions situated in a range of settings.
I don’t need to show I can do character consistency in every picture (no matter how hard it was to learn that skill). I don’t need to show character action in every picture. I don’t even need to show characters in every picture. Nor do I need to show I can do perspective, or detailed backgrounds, in every picture. I do need to show that I can convey an idea, an emotion, or a story.
(And, look, it’s true that I do need to show those technical skills, but if an illustration doesn’t have its own purpose beyond that… that’s when it can feel empty. And trying to show ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME is limiting me in the variety of images I can make.)
Doing illustrations in series can be a really good way for me to break out of this – although often I’ve put the most time and effort into those pictures that focus on the character! – as is working to a prompt. But creating pieces just to show I’m a Good Artist TM is probably never really going to cut it. (Or maybe it will, now that I know I need to show I’m a good artist by conveying an emotion or story or idea?)
Anyway, it’s possible I’ll end up back with characters (and their faces) in 90% of my drawings, and that’s okay. There are some fantastic artists I love who feature characters in most of their pieces (Arthur Rackham, Nuria Tamarit, Briony May Smith). But hopefully I’ll know why the characters are there, and they’ll be more effective because they’ll be there for a purpose.