Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Smart School Weeks 2-4

Okay, so maybe the blogs aren't happening every week, but to be fair, the last couple of weeks for Iain's class have been plagued by technical issues with either sound, video or a combination, so it's been a little trial and error thus far! Week 2 was a bit of a write off, but gets added on to the end of the course, so we get a bonus week in December. 

Mostly we've been focused on trying to find our story in a really concise manner. To find a number of 'beats' that we can translate into visual images. It's something I've always had trouble with (I'm one of those 'give me an inch' kind of writers, even in every day email), so it's been tricky trying to distill Eideann's story within the world down to a single paragraph. Especially when the one paragraph has to  include who she is, what she wants, why she can't get it and how she's going to get it anyway. But amazingly, Iain managed to whittle it down perfectly for me! 

So my story is now about a girl with powers over bodies of water, whose beloved mentor dies at the hands of her cruel village, and in order to exact revenge on them, she joins up with a crew of pirate merchants to restrict the trade going to them and punish them. But when she realises there are others like her out there, her plans for revenge soon become petty in comparison to the role she will eventually take on. I've been sketching rough thumbnails and scenes for the beats I have, and thus far it seems I've been doing pretty well. Iain walked us through some key factors in creating narrative images, a lot of which crosses over with what I learned over in Painting Drama 1, with Chris. The two are starting to have a great synergy as Chris' course covered the more technical aspect of compositional drama, whereas Iain is really trying to get to the emotional core of why we want to tell the story in the first place. 

Much of it comes from a place of contrast, be that in your character designs - one thing Iain mentioned which I'd not considered before was that if your character's personality is grumpy, arrogant and drunkard, then don't just make him look exactly that way, as you end up with no unexpected moments (to pull a phrase from Rebecca's class) and that actually if you make them not super gnarly and grumpy looking, it keeps an audiences attention more, makes them less one dimensional. Also, one great idea from week 2 was trying a game of charades with friends and getting them to try depicting a regular sentence, to see how they act out certain words and emotions on a more exaggerated scale and use some of those gestures in your paintings to really sell who your character is.

We also covered a great little lesson in the  4 key features of story telling, which were Aspect Ratio, Framing, Lens and Eyeline. And I have to say, Iain's description of the three lens variations is the first time I've ever been able to make sense of how they work, even though the amazing Hans Bacher goes into it in his awesome book 'Dreamworks' (which I highly recommend if you're into storytelling) in a more visual way. Sometime these little snippets of interpretation are worth their weight in gold. 

Definitely looking forward to using all this new found knowledge in my next batch of sketches.  No more boring on my own eye level pieces. Time for some dynamic thumbnails!

Here's a couple of the sketches I've done in the last couple of weeks. 

Rebecca's classes continued in much the same vein as they were in week one. She really is such an amazingly patient teacher, in tune with what her students want or need, and how to ask the right questions to get them there. She is heavily focused on being deliberate in your choices with art, even in the beginning thumbnail stage. I love the idea that she works with, that even the thumbnail should evoke a mood or emotion. People and things in an image just become shapes that evoke a mood, and click together to form cohesive wholes. Everything should have a purpose and add to what it is you're trying to communicate emotionally. That you shouldn't make images just to make something pretty or decorative, that if you want to really make people sit up and notice your work, you have to make sure that you don't scrimp and get lazy, that you give the image everything you can to make it the best you can. Find the emotion and make everything fit around that. 

I can't tell you how much she pummels in the need for reference for everything. That the heart stopping images are full of these little real life moments that can be hard to capture, even if you're working in a stylised fashion. Frankensteining reference is a big thing in her work and she encourages her students to do it too, pulling from everything from photographs online, to taking your own reference, but doing it in a way that gives you something great to work from. Week 4 had a great mini tutorial on paying attention to things like positions of faces and lighting in the reference you use, and how to blend your pieces together to give a more cohesive starting point. More importantly, paying attention to your value structure again once you've got your ref together (as frankensteining has a bad habit of totally screwing up values!).

Week 3 had an extra half hour added on, for an awesome lecture she gave on how to find the unexpected moments in your work and gave examples of artists through history and how they managed to stand out from a crowd. In the end, a lot of it came down to how much of themselves (in emotional terms) the put into their art - take Klimt, for example, much copied, but many of his admirers who mimc his style don't ever manage to capture it in the same way because they are not driven by the same emotional responses. Being yourself and playing to your strengths were things she really pushed as a way to get this, especially by paying attention to the artists whose works you are genuinely moved by. 

I'm also really loving seeing how quickly her students are creating work in her class too. She encourages people to already be thinking about, or have planned for their next piece by week 4, and there are already a few folks who have pretty much completed their first piece by then too. All in all, the more I watch of Rebecca's stuff, the more I'm sure if I do another Smart School class in the future, it'll be with her, since I'm loving every piece I'm seeing her students do. 

Here's a an older piece of work I've been inspired by Rebecca to finish with new methods. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Smart School Week One

So I've just finished with my first weekly class with the exceptionally bubbly Iain McCaig, whose personal manner is as lovely as people told me it would be! My brain is buzzing, between this and the Rebecca Guay session I sat in on the day before, I am very fired up to embrace what is a fairly new concept for me. To follow my real love in art. To. Just. Be. Me. 

The two classes were handled very differently, but the end message was almost the same. Find what you love doing, look at your influences and learn from them. USE REFERENCE. Keep  thumbnails loose!

There's so much I could write up, but I'll try to keep it to short, salient points for the TLDR crowd!


Recurring theme of this class was that there's no one who can do you, like you. You are unique. If you want to work in the entertainment industry, then entertain. Tell stories. Even if you think you're  the most boring artist in the world, then at least that's something special and something you can embrace.

Stop guessing what people want from you, especially when it comes to your portfolio and the jobs it may or may not get you. Don't think in terms of jobs or what will sell. Create what you love and  people will respond to it. 

I was inspired watching Iain doing a study but turning the study into a character even as he sketched -  even in the simplest of gestural lines, there was something to be told about the character of a  face by the way you add lines, or creases, or arch an eyebrow. What was interesting was when it came to looking at our pre-course homework, he was much more focused on our personal stories  we'd told in words and looking at the art almost as a secondary backup to that. He was focused on finding the narrative in our lives and how we can pull from that. For me, it's about embracing the  magpie I've become, that I can pull from all these amazing sources I've been inspired by and worked on and create stuff that's just *me*. I don't have to choose between styles, because I can use  my love to both to create something that's unique. 

If you're not sure who you are, then take an hour each day to sketch. Only sketch things that you love, that you would - and I quote - 'run naked in the snow to see'. 

The other awesome quote I took away from the session was "Perfection is counter-intuitive to creating things that communicate." I've worried over perfectionism for a long long time. It's a chain I'm  more than happy to break. 


Rebecca was just like her art. Soft, demure, elegant and deep. It came across that she really loves teaching and I'm already sold on her class if I sign up for another one in the future. She was  invested in finding out what it was that really inspired her students, probing things like what mediums they enjoyed/were fluent with and what inspiration made their hearts stop. What do you respond  to and who works in the medium you want to work in? 

She was very into the art and giving personal feedback on the pre-course assignments, helping students see where their strengths lay and how to add elements to make that image even stronger. I  really love the fact she didn't alter drawings all that much, just pushed things around and added visual interest to the pieces. I swear every single work went from a cool drawing to an awesome  conceptual art piece, or, if the student was pretty competent (Kim Kincaid!) she helped push good pieces into extraordinary pieces. 

Reference was stressed as being important, including the use of lightboxing. If it makes the piece better, then no method should be out of bounds and that you should always try to learn from the  methods you employ. I also loved the fact she was a great believer in the strength of simplicity, citing the Spectrum covers as great examples of works of art that don't need a lot going on in order to  be emotionally impactful. 

I'm only one week in, but I think I'd already highly recommend SmART School. It's clear these guys are super focused on the students and the work they produce and I'd imagine that each tutor brings his or her own special touch to proceedings. I loved Iain's bubbly, excitable nature, like that of some kooky old wizard who just loves telling you every story he found in his day. I found I resonated with much of what Rebecca told her students and *every* influence and inspiration she mentioned, I found myself going 'wow' at. The price is much higher than a lot of online courses,  but it's SO worth it for the sheer enthusiasm and excitement it's generated in me for art, even just one week in, and even taking out the sheer caliber of the people who teach there. 

Conclusion thus far? AWESOME!