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January 2010

January 2010 -- Time

Gallery

Columns

  • EMG News:
    News for 2010
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Ten Years of Rendering the Chicken
  • Ask an Artist:
    Troubleshooting Watercolor
  • Behind the Art:
    More Experimenting With Collage
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Tiziano Baracchi

    Features

  • On Finding Clients as a Freelancer

    Fiction

  • Fiction: A Whole Year in One Key


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  • Ten Years of Rendering the Chicken
    Wombat Droppings
    by Ursula Vernon

    So by the time you read this, it'll be 2010! The new decade! The beginning of the Screamin' Green Teens! Etc!

    It's traditional in this kind of column to say "If you've have told me ten years ago that (fill in the blank) I would have said you were crazy!" But actually, being me, if you'd told me ten years ago that I'd get married, get divorced, move across the country, have a career as a freelance artist, have a second career as a children's book author, and that my most famous work would be a giant pear with teeth, I would have considered all this and then said "Pear with teeth, you say?" and then perhaps begun badgering you for future lottery numbers. It's been a fairly plausible decade, except for a few bits that were downright absurd and which any sensible time-traveler would omit in the interests of believability.

    In honor of the decade, I dug up my last painting of the previous decade, finished a few hours before midnight on the last day of '99. It's a digital piece, of an anthropomorphic white ram sitting on a stone throne, and it could be a lot worse.

    What strikes me the most, actually, is not how my art has changed, but how it hasn't. The subject matter has changed drastically -- somewhere in the last decade, I stopped wanting to be the next Larry Elmore -- and if you get in close to the ram and look at the actual brush strokes, there's a cringe-worthy reliance on certain brushes in Painter. But from the distance of a computer screen, it's not that bad.

    The funny thing is that two years before that, the difference was extraordinary, and two years before THAT, I was drawing badger warriors in ballpoint, on typing paper, only in profile and only from the waist up, because I couldn't draw feet. My art changed infinitely more in those two years than it did in the last ten.

    I think it has to do with realism. A lot of the early heavy lifting is getting your chickens to look like recognizable chickens and your humans looking like humans. The difference between blob and chicken, years later, is pretty impressive.

    Once you've gotten to the point where everybody can tell it's a chicken, you spend a lot of time fiddling with the "that chicken looks a little OFF" problem. And the difference, while not quite so striking, is still significant.

    After that, though... after that, you're wandering in a weird hinterland where you're getting better, but in subtler ways. Your compositions improve, your sense of action and motion and line, your skill at rendering gets tighter (or maybe it gets looser, if that's the way you go.) Your chickens are better, cleaner, less torturously wrought. You can draw a chicken without taking three days and burning through your weight in erasers.

    But this is subtle. And I suspect this could be disheartening for some people. You've gotten so much better so quickly in the first few years! Why is everything slowing down? Why does the art from ten years ago look a lot like the art of today? Are you stagnating?

    Well, you might be, I suppose, but I don't think so. I think once you've knocked down the huge artistic problems -- i.e. rendering the chicken -- you find yourself surrounded by much more interesting ones. What do you want to do with the chicken? How do you make the chicken interesting? What can you do with a chicken that you haven't done before?

    What happens if you stop worrying that people will think you don't know how to draw a chicken, and draw the chicken the way it wants to be?

    Ursula Vernon
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