Let There Be Light!
Basics of Composition
First Thoughts when choosing a Costume
The Sun, Part 1
On RomanceWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
I know, I know, this month I was supposed to talk about process. Remind me next month. The theme of this issue is romance, and that got me off on a tangent, as usual.
My tangent is not about romance. I'm just not sentimental enough to really wallow in romance - hearts and flowers are all fine and good, but I'd rather my husband got me extra RAM for Valentine's Day. (Okay, I wouldn't turn down chocolate. But still.)
But I can talk about lust.
Like many artists, I have engaged in that voyage of self-discovery that is drawin' erotica.* And believe me, it is indeed a voyage of self-discovery. I'm sure some readers are cringing away - "Egad! The shame!" But I gotta say, don't knock it 'til you've tried it. You learn all kinds of things about yourself.
Mostly what I learned is that drawing genitals makes me giggle uncontrollably, so that it takes twice as long to finish a painting because I keep going "HA! Naughty bits!" and whooping like a hyena on nitrous oxide.
Ah, well, they say self-knowledge is greatest.
But I also learned that the vast majority of smut is - well, boring. Frankly, it all tends to blur together pretty quick, but more than that, it's so grim. There is this kind of hot, panting, utterly humorless quality to it. The participants may be having an extraordinary erotic experience, but they so rarely look like they're having fun.
I don't know. Perhaps sex is a grim and humorless business. Me, I figure if you're doin' anything that looks that bloody ridiculous and making that many weird noises, you gotta laugh.
So for the most part, I could never paint porn. I giggle too much, and frankly, if the art is so explicit that you can color-code and label every bit of the female anatomy, it looks more like a gynecology chart than anything designed to excite the viewer. I find myself happiest painting cheesecake.
Cheesecake is that perennial genre of art that involves lots of scantily clad women in poses that show a lot of skin, but minimal naughty bits. Also, there are often silly costumes involved or small animals whose entire job is to be a comic foil and pull the necessary string on somebody's bikini. There is an element of the absurd, and most of the time, the woman in the images knows it. It's meant to be titillating, but not downright raunchy. Insomuch as one can apply to the term to the genre, it's good clean fun.
There is, of course, the male version, beefcake, but it's not as large a genre for various societal reasons that we're just not gonna get into in a thousand-word column. It does exist, though.
Now, having said all that, there are doubtless readers still frothing and twitching that I am lending any legitimacy to smut. At least, I hope there are, because otherwise I'm preachin' to the choir. But that said, let's examine a few of the great arguments against erotica, for those readers who would really secretly like to paint hot chicks wearing nothing but strategically placed lizards, but are still working up the nerve.
If you draw smut, it's only for the money, so you're selling out.
Ahem. As it turns out, I actually conducted an experiment on this, under my pen-name. I had erotic art, and I had my regular run of stuff. And what I found is that if you're a complete unknown, then yes, erotica sells better up to a certain point, and that point happens to be right around fifty bucks. After that, people want something that they can hang on the living room wall.
These days, if I toss anything in the adult section of a show, it always comes home with me, and the all-ages stuff sells a lot better. And my print sales are always better for the cute than the sexy. So with that in mind, although the results of others may vary, I suggest that if you want to draw smut, you do it for the right reasons - i.e. "I feel like drawing smut today!" not because you expect vast sums from it.
If you get a reputation for being an erotic artist, you'll never make it as a professional and you'll be blackballed for life from illustration.
This, ladies and gentleman, is what we call "a complete load." I have worked with a fair number of art directors in my day, and I have yet to meet a single one that gave a rat's ass what I was drawing on the side, so long as I had their particular assignment done on time. These are busy people. They don't have time to Google your stuff from ten years ago and scrutinize it for rogue nipples. They barely have time to breathe. Yes, it is probably true that Wizards of the Coast isn't calling up Olivia to ask for Magic card illos, but there's a big difference between devoting your entire professional career to doing cheesecake for Playboy, and having the occasional erotic visual romp. If you're that worried about it, use a pen-name, but it's not nearly as big a deal as it gets made out to be.
The Exception: Disney is supposed to be a little weird about this. I never aspired to work for Disney, so I didn't much care, and if your goal in life is to be a Disney animator, you're about a decade out of luck, but still, worth noting. However, nobody else seems to much care. Sure, don't load your portfolio with squishy porn, if you plan on working exclusively in kid's books, definitely consider a pen name, but otherwise, I just wouldn't sweat over it.
Smut is without artistic merit.
Let us speak for a moment on the history of erotic art, a vast and sweeping field that dates back a long way. The shunga art of Japan is a stellar example. It is beautiful, painstaking, with all the grace and artistry of any of the Japanese prints, elegant in form, composition, and sweeping of line, and it is also so freakin' graphic it'll make your eyes bleed. It goes back centuries. There's this one of a woman and an octopus - The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife - which stands as a kind of fossil transitional form leading directly to hentai with the tentacles and... yeah. There are lots of other examples, but I expect after you've Googled shunga you'll be wanting to put a washcloth over your eyes and try to recover, so I'll let it pass.
And this brings us, finally, to my conclusion. If you think that smut is bad, if you find it appalling, if you think it's boring and dull and repetitive, if you find it lacking artistic merit, if you find it unlovely - then FIX IT! Go on! You're an artist, damnit, you know what line and color and composition and perspective can do! You can't tell me that you don't look at bad art and think "Oh, god, I could do better..." Well, here's a whole field, emotionally charged, terrifying, a hormonal roller-coaster, rife with potential meaning and symbolism, and god! So much of it is done badly! There are a few shining lights, and thank god for them, but we can always use more. If you think smut is bad, find a way to make it good.
Where there is that much bad art, there is also opportunity. And self-discovery. And probably a whole lotta giggling.
*Under a pen name. Sure, everybody figured out pretty rapidly that I was the only person who'd do naked mole rat pin-ups, but it was fun while it lasted.
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