Friday, November 30, 2007

The Cutest Thing You've Ever Seen

It's probably your snooky-wookums dog. Or cat. Or weasel. (You keep that in your apartment?) In some cases it's your favorite stuffed animal, or in one case your purse. (Seriously? Your purse?)

Whatever it is, it's so adorable you've made a photo album of it. Oh, I'm sorry, a picture book.
You've traveled with wittle wuvums to scenic locales for your photo shoots. "Scenic" evidently includes the ditch near your house and the four corners area. (You can see four states! Except, you know, not in the photograph.)

And then you've convinced yourself that people with photoshop don't need artistic talent, and you've been doctoring the photos so that your overweight chihuahua (as a completely random example) has an adventure in outer space where he worries the planets like tennis balls and teaches children facts about the solar system. (Are there ten planets?) It's delightful! Because he's so cute!

And you've sent this off to a publisher because sharing your pookie with the world qualifies as a public service, and to "show" those people who made fun of your weird obsession and suggested in their "nice" voice that you might join a book group or try knitting or take a bath.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether these submissions will get published or not. (Though they won't. Ever.) The point is that people at publishing houses get the chance to play MST3K with your photos and for this we sincerely thank you. It's a nice break from taking things seriously.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious and oh so true!I'm a developmental editor and writing teacher and urge all my clients and students to read your blog.

The authors of these kinds of stories, which I get reasonably often, are the often the hardest to convince that they are barking up the wrong tree. Or barking mad. Thank you, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Ah, the lighter side of being an editor: a great laugh and then 2 points with the rim shot of the ms into the can, and you're done.

But, as an illustrator, I see books ( nice stories, some of them) published by real houses that actually DO use art by illustrators that is Photoshopped to the Nth degree. I think it looks God awful, but I continue to see it and, for that matter, much worse stuff besides. And someone paid good advance money for all of this.

And sometimes some of this dreck even gets raved about.

SO, yeah, Joe Schmo amateur out there can make you guys chuckle with his submission and then you can move on, but some of you really buy into it with great fervor and go ahead and publish it. Must be the lure of a real author. Shouldn't matter. Bad art is still bad art.

Will the cheap shot/gimicky illustration trend ever end?

Perplexed illustrator minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Me too. I don't think it will ever end b/c there is an audience for it.

BUT, there is an audience for quality, class,and sophistication too. That is my audience.


And you see hoards of people waiting for that Mona Lisa photograph...hmmm. Methinks there is much finer art in the Louvre. But, obviously, that one has always entranced the public. So be it.

Public response is funny thing.

Funny EA, the four corners photograph comment!

Anonymous said...

I would like to add, that there are some wonderful Photoshopped illustrations. I wonder tho, if the artists who make them, have a strong background in art.

So I don't want to appear that I am dissing Photoshop as a medium. I am not. Just as I would not diss and other medium. SMILE

Editorial Anonymous said...

Agreed, AE. Using computer programs to produce art doesn't mean that you aren't an artist. There are some fantastic artists who work mostly digitally (j otto for instance). Photoshop etc just make many people who aren't artists think they could be.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be a little S.D., but once again... "you never know".
There's a great little book about a purple plastic purse and Lisa Yee has cleverly created an enormous following for her Peepy. I didn't get it at first and now, Peepy is totally fun to hang out with. Did I really just say that? Yes, I did, because "you never know" when the public will fall in love with a pet rock or a mood ring or sparkly glasses or troll dolls or rabbit foot keychains or happy face buttons or PEEPS. I'm sure there is a book spinoff-a-coming.

kristin-walker said...

Oh, how I miss MST3K...

Crow and Tom Servo, where are ye?

Anonymous said...

Excuse me? I seriously do have the cutest little wookums in the universe. You're just all jealous.

Anonymous said...

You say it won't be published? Apparently "Star Von Bunny, a Model Tale" went on sale this week.
And rated a big story in the New York Times.
Haven't seen it, but Yuck.

Anonymous said...

Totally gross. And then there are people like me who just keep going. I don't know why... when I read this garbage. I suppose I just love it so and have been told I'm good.

J.Otto has what I call CHILD APPEAL. Color, composition, cleverness and storytelling with movement and life. What I related to as a child.

Sigh. Seems today's children are pushed into this tabloid crap...

not me...not mine

Anonymous said...

perhaps I should qualify that sentence...hee is not the "garbage" I love so...heh... heh

Editorial Anonymous said...

AE, for goodness sake, please keep fighting the good fight. We need you guys!

Anonymous said...

AE said:

"So I don't want to appear that I am dissing Photoshop as a medium. I am not."

I am.

And ILLUSTRATOR, too. At least the way most people use those programs.

It's not digital art I am finding fault with. It is the way many people use it. Hard. Without soul. Slick.

I find the lack of an artist's hand in illustration to be cold and distant. I think it's great for product design, but on the printed page, when you can take advantage of modern technology to show every stroke and thought, I still find slick, unappealing.

And very easily duplicated.

Just an opinion, of course.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, EA.

Yes, product design is a perfect venue for the slick stuff. Perfect. And there are a lot of opportunities there. And they pay well, too. Go there you slick shots!

Anonymous said...

OK, gotta stand up for the digital here. There are tons of people doing lovely digital work that's as full of soul as anything being done in traditional media. David Gordon, who had a piece in the Original Art show at the Society of Illustrators this fall, is a great example. Walter Krudop, a filmmaker and digital artist is another. Google either of these guys and tell me with a straight face you'd rather look at Marcus Pfister.

It's not the medium. It's never, ever the medium. It's the artist. It's the presence or absence of creative vision.

The rest is bookkeeping.

Anonymous said...

Well shiver me timb...

And isn't that Fishter?

Yes, the artists you've cited are both quite talented!

But I just spent a bit of money on papers yesterday, and I will implement them the old fashioned way...HA HA!!

Anonymous said...

Is it my imagination or are the adult equivalents of your Pookie book (Finding Pookie -- Travels with Pooky -- Pookie, White House Dog)not selling copies by the truckload these days?

Anonymous said...

timb said:

"It's not the medium. It's never, ever the medium. It's the artist. It's the presence or absence of creative vision."

Well,sometimes it is the medium. Or, perhaps I should say, it's the "seduction" of the medium. I've seen many a good artist allow the medium to make them behave very badly. If the medium were not so easy and so full of bells and whistles those artists might better hone their skills with conventional tools.

Yes, digital art has it's place. It is great in certain venues, and some of those include kids' books. I use it myself at times.

But I think it has ruined a lot of what might have been stupendous kids' books.

Anonymous said...

But in the example you just laid out, it is the artist. He/she made the bad decisions about how to deploy the program's resources.

This isn't the program's fault. A watercolorist can get seduced by all the superficial-but-attractive things watercolor allows you to do.

If, as an artist, you don't have an gut affinity for your medium and an understanding of what you and it can achieve together, you're in for trouble whatever direction you choose.

If I sound a little defensive on this subject, it's not self-interest: I work only in very old-fashioned media. But I have some friends whose phenomenal digital work has been dismissed by children's book publishers purely on the basis of its being digital ('We don't do that').

And this too has ruined the chances of some stupendous books.

Anonymous said...

timb said:

"But I have some friends whose phenomenal digital work has been dismissed by children's book publishers purely on the basis of its being digital ('We don't do that')."

But could it be that it still cries out "digital?" So much of is does.

One of the artists you mentioned did lovely work, that closely resembled watercolor.

But one was very digital and looked it.

Accomplished renderer? Yes. But did he use the medium in a way that was personal and unique to him? Not to my eye. It looked very much like other digital work.

And perhaps that is the niggling problem I have--too much digital work looks like everything else. The medium does not lend itself easily or as much to the individualistic traits of the stroke of a pen in the hand, or brush, or pencil. PAINTER software comes the closest, but it is still not the same.

I know that some illustrators actually "draw" with the Wacom pens as though they were pencils (I do), but too often there exists the tell tale affect of the computer--something in the line or lack there of. Or something in the ways colors blend. I think that Photoshop is the worst in this respect.

I will admit--I am biased. I hate it when work is flagrantly digital. And when I do use the computer to illustrate, if it looks it too much, I hate my own work.

Anonymous said...

I tried the Wacom Pad but my hand fell asleep.

I do much better with scissors and exacto-knives. Scares my husband to death.

"Get out of here, I'm working."

Anonymous said...

Sure, underdeveloped work in digital media looks default-digital: textureless, sterile, incorporeal. But again, any medium has its own set of similar vices.

As a matter of taste, some of us may have higher or lower tolerances for the defaults in particular media. I've got a weakness for etching, for example, and my bar for love is pretty low. On the other hand, it takes a masterful hand to pull me past the garish smeariness of a lot of pastel work.

But I don't blame the medium as 'too pastelly'; I blame the individual artist for making ugly or uninformed choices.

Does Photoshop make talentless people think they they can make art? Sure. So do Conte crayons and vine charcoal, as the figure drawing classes at the Art Students League amply demonstrate ('Look! Red charcoal! I'm a RENAISSANCE MASTER!').

The more interesting question is: will it provide an opportunity to make art that no one has ever imagined? Will it provide a creative outlet - possibly a wildly successful one - for someone who either didn't find his way to – or didn't respond to – other, older media?

I think the answer to that is already a great big 'yes.'

Anonymous said...

The MOST interesting question is will CHILDREN like it...and guess what!! They are not looking at your flaws in technique. They want VISUAL STORYTELLING (and great wordsmith). That is what PB kids want. It doesn't matter what YOU want when it comes to kids. SMILE

Please keep this thread is GREAT.

Anonymous said...

this hould be ae... typo... I am sorry

Anonymous said...

this Should be...argh... SMILE

It has been a long day..........

Anonymous said...

timb said:

"The more interesting question is: will it provide an opportunity to make art that no one has ever imagined? Will it provide a creative outlet - possibly a wildly successful one - for someone who either didn't find his way to – or didn't respond to – other, older media?

I think the answer to that is already a great big 'yes.'"

I think the answer to that is, "it depends." And at what cost? And what is the purpose of such a book? Because at some point that kind of dazzle will really be ALL about the medium.

Save that kind of art for the canvases at MOMA. An illustrator by definition cannot allow the medium to overshadow the message. Which I guess then leads me to this famous quote by Marshall McLuhan:

"The medium is the message."

In a children's book especially the form of the medium should NEVER be more important than the message. And I can think of specific books where the presence of the digital technique weighs more heavily than the story. I am thinking of well known, successful illustrators, by the way-- not amateurs.

Of course, I can think of of books using conventional materials that fall victim to this, as well--where the artist's technique pushes the story right out of the way, as it impresses with it's virtuosity and accomplishment.

BTW, mine is not an argument of self interest either. I actually use digital art for some of my illustration work.

Anonymous said...

OK, this is my last post on this subject... I've got a deadline!

Just to be clear:

Are there sorry examples of kids' books whose art was created digitally? There are. There are also some lovely ones.

Am I sorry William Joyce ever laid down his brushes to pick up a Wacom tablet? Lord, yes. More than he'll ever know.

But ultimately, across as field as broad as ours and a culture as diverse, one medium doesn't displace another. Photoshop won't eliminate watercolor any more than television eliminated movies or the printing press eliminated handmade books.

New media may, over time, supplement others, may displace others for certain purposes (handmade books aren't used in churches as much as they once were but remain luxury items for wealthy collectors, just as they were in the Middle Ages). Older media may find their place in the culture changed (photogravure, for example, was once a very common printing technique; now it's mostly a fine-art application). But new forms of making, especially in expressive arts, very rarely eradicate their predecessors.

So, Anonymous, I'm a little baffled by your anxiety about 'dazzle' and 'at what cost'. Nothing's actually under threat here. Not storytelling, not the ability of one person to reach another with words and pictures. Not your ability nor mine to make pictures any way we please.

There's only been – and this is a good thing – a broadening of the available options. I think it's telling that a lot of wonderful younger artists – Jonathan Bean comes to mind – don't distinguish in their portfolios between digital and non-digital art. The divide doesn't exist for them, and rightly so.

And with that, my friends, I'm back to my smeary sticks of charcoal. Thanks for a lively discussion!

Anonymous said...

I think what's interesting about the digital vs. traditional question is how much the lines have begun to blur. I'm work with brush and ink, but my illustrations are frequently mistaken for vector work. Friends of mine who started out as printmakers are creating illustrations in Photoshop (frequently with scans of real media textures) that are impossible to distinguish from the prints they make by hand. Then there are illustrators, like James Jean, who do most of their work with acrylics and use PS to tweak it at the end of the process. It bums when an illustrator is clearly using his computer as a crutch, but I'm seeing less and less of that.

Anonymous said...

True, pelikan. And however your work starts out, it'll wind up digital since that's how commercial books are printed.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Illustrators need more opportunity to blog about their art -- clearly there's a need.

I'm glad writers don't have to worry over long hand versus computer text, and, at the same time, I hope that art doesn't move as far towards the digital universe as writing has. (Although, I'm grateful that writing is no longer a hand cramping process.)

Applause to the artists...thank you for fighting for your medium!

Anonymous said...

Yes, after reading this,illustrators certainly do need more blog opportunities. I am thinking about starting one myself.

I'd actually like to find a really great critique group for trade illustration and writing. Or at least a discussion group.

Thanks for your opinions and comments on digital art, people! I find it very interesting to see where everyone is coming from. Which seems to be from many different perspectives. And that is healthy.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Timb.

Anonymous said...

timb said:

"But ultimately, across as field as broad as ours and a culture as diverse, one medium doesn't displace another."

Would that that were so, but, alas it is not.

Does one medium ELIMINATE another? No. But more and more of us are replacing the conventional art with the digital.

And I still maintain that much of the art produced that way is the worse for it. Not all of it. Just very much of it.

Anonymous said...

I am not an illustrator, but I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the practical and business side of the project being illustrated. For example, if you are illustrating a junior novel- cover and 10 b/w illustrations inside for a flat fee at a small house, would it be practical to spend a month/year producing Louvre quality art, or would a computer help and help keep the cost down for the publishing house?
However, if you were illustrating a pb at a large house, written by an ace, high selling author... could you/would you be able to spend countless hours, knowing that you will be paid back. This sounds very cold and all of us, writers or illustrators want to put our best out there, but this business is also a business for many who need to eat.
I would think that an artist's portfolio should be comprised of a variety of techniques available for sale. The publishing company would shop the art work, knowing there is a price for one style and a higher price for another. Am I crazy, or is some of this true?

Anonymous said...

Baby, there is no such thing as 'knowing you will be paid back.'

That ace author, that large house... they are tempting you to ruin if they tell you anything else.

Brian Floca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Floca said...

Many good points by TimB but now that he’s off on deadline (Hi, Tim) and the coast is clear:

I heard Milton Glaser speak on this topic once and he said something that I thought was interesting, that the risk of the computer is that there are certain things it does very well, and that the more you use it, the more you will be pulled toward those things. True for any media, but whereas the pen and the brush and so on tend to pull one toward what we might consider more human and physical marks, the computer, if not used with great restraint, tends to pull one slowly but surely toward the filters and all those other little quirks and shortcuts of Photoshop that not many of us can name but that all of us can recognize. True, there are some people who use the computer whose work I entirely love -- Sara Varon and Ollie Kugler come to mind -- artists who very clearly draw by hand and then use the computer to add color basically the way they might use silkscreen printing. But anything beyond that -- basically, I find that just a dash of Photoshop is enough bring an overwhelming anonymity to an image.

So why do we see so much of it? I’m sure some people just like it. I also think some people are attracted to the Photoshop look simply because they don’t full understand how its done, and therefore it seems new and it has a certain novelty to it. And I think some artists go for Photoshop because using it can in fact give you an overwhelming feeling of control over an image. “Look what I did with the Liquify filter! Whoaa!” It can be like having superpowers, or like being on drugs, or both. (Speaking hypothetically about both conditions, of course.) And it’s a strangely narcissistic thrill to work on one’s image in Photoshop. It’s as though some higher power is being summoned to alter _your_ drawing.

Anyway, I try to stay away from the stuff. And for the record, Glaser recommended the pencil.

Anonymous said...

Well, Glaser was one of my teachers.

"it can be like having superpowers...or be like being on drugs...or both..."

I SAY "go back to the pencil and scissor and knife... and BRAIN"

narcissism must alter my drawing... just call me Barbara Scissorhands

Anonymous said...

Brian Floca! Hey, I remember your comic strip in the BDH. You've come a long way. :-)

Brian Floca said...

Strong memory, NW, whosoever you are!

Thanks for the note!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

MST 3K! I'm rolling on the floor with tears in my eyes, wishing I was an agent or an editor so I could play too.

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