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Author Topic: The limit of improving an idea?  (Read 192 times)

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Offline Suuper-san

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The limit of improving an idea?
« on: July 31, 2020, 01:49:39 AM »
I'll try and not ramble :P

Lately I have been trying to improve my ideas more consistently, and I suddenly struck an interesting issue, and I'd love to get other's insights on it.

Basically I'm wondering, is there a limit to how far you can improve a sketch/illustration/idea?

I see this as several categories:
-Improving the quality/accuracy
-Improving the idea

I think that most people would agree that a more accurate piece is better than a sketchy half finished piece, like the ones below.



But what exactly makes an idea on its own better than others?
The illustration above is just a standing girl , so it could certainly be improved with a background, or an action rather than just standing still. But then what can be improved after that? and after that?

And when comparing artworks, what makes you say "this one is better than that one"?
Is that not essentially personal taste?

So in other words, is the limit on improving an idea - your own sense of what a good idea should be in the first place?
i.e. if you like sketches then you are more likely to prefer a sketch to a more complete artwork, and if you like cute girls you are more likely to prefer a slightly inaccurate bad proportioned cute girl to a really accurate armoured old guy?
.....But I think even if you preferred one piece to the other, your view of which one was "better" would change if you were asked which one was more "skilled", which one was more "detailled" etc.

There are lots of things you can do to improve an idea:
-add more details
-add colour
-add patterns instead of plain colours
-add unique details
-improve proportions

So the question is, when producing an idea - is there a limit to how far you can improve it. Once you have done all the above, is there a point where an illustration or idea can't be improved anymore?

Is this essentially what an artists style or personal preference is?

Although a little outside the scope of this topic, the same question can be applied to a story/plot
what makes a better story?

is continuous improvement possible or will one always reach a plateau?
« Last Edit: July 31, 2020, 01:55:53 AM by Suuper-san »
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Offline NO1SY

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2020, 11:38:53 AM »
Well this is quite the philosophical can of worms you have decided to open up... prepare for an essay!

So... If you subscribe to a philosophical school of thought that says that objects have no innate value or morality until a moral actor observes them and makes a moral judgement relating to that object (i.e. objective morality does not exist) then it follows that all pieces in all forms of art cannot be “good” or “better” than one another on an intrinsic level, and that all statements of value and worth relating to pieces of art will all be subjective based on personal and cultural preferences (and probably other moral preferences that I can’t think of off the top of my head).

“So then if everything is subjective, then there’s no valid criticisms right?” Or something like that...? Well no...

Now we can use some form of relativism here. We can establish goals for pieces of art, which will be subjective and arbitrary to some extent, and then use objective observations about the piece as a measure of how close our product is aligning with those goals. Then we assign moral value that achieving these goals is “good”, and a piece that more accurately accomplishes these goals is “better” than a piece that less accurately accomplishes them.

So to answer your question, yes, there is a theoretical limit to improving a piece of art: the point at which the piece of art most accurately achieves everything that it was created to accomplish.

HOWEVER! A lot of things obviously muddy the waters... Who assigns the goals - the creator or the audience the creator wishes to consume their work? The subjective preferences of different cultures differ so greatly and then inform the personal preferences of individuals, creating even more variance. What goals should be chosen to strive for and at the expense of what else? What if the measurement of progress towards a goal by interpreting objective observations is itself subjective? There are a million-and-one more things that complicate and blur the lines... and if you aren’t careful and try to pursue some nebulous, abstract idea of what is the “absolute best” in all cases then you will likely find yourself being pulled apart in all directions and unable to make any meaningful progress.

I believe, therefore, that the best way to progress as an artist is to set your own goals. A sentiment I often hear repeated in interviews with successful authors (and probably other successful artists, especially musicians) is to “create art that is something that you want but can’t find.” (Or “write the stories that you would want to read” or “make the games that you would want to play” or “perform the music that you would want to listen to” Etc) In a more general sense, I take this to mean: understand your own preferences and identify which of your preferences currently aren’t being satisfied, then go and create the art that will fill that gap for yourself. Therefore, “create art for yourself” seems to be the most reliable way to become prolific and more successful as an artist (outside of commercialisation and capitalising on cookie-cutter trends and luck...). I believe this is what is referred to as the “Artist’s Voice”.

- Are you trying to create a piece of artwork that is stylised with simplistic character designs and funky colours? Do not then judge this based on how realistic it is and how much detail there is. But then if you also want to display a lot of emotion through character facial expressions then you may have to make sure that there are enough details in the faces to be able to distinguish between different emotional states.
- Are you trying to create an action story with visceral fight scenes? Well a sketchy art style might not be the best way to display this, as the actions of the characters become too difficult to follow without the defined line work.
- Do you want to write a romance story where 2 guys confess to the same girl at a school festival. Well what happens to the guy that she doesn’t choose? Tie up that plot thread if your aim is to have a cohesive story.

Ultimately this all boils down to being a big balancing act, and no doubt your goals will end up shifting over the course of creating the piece of work. But essentially when you are accomplishing the things that you have set out to do, you have less reached a limit and more reached a zenith.


:biggrin:
« Last Edit: July 31, 2020, 12:44:50 PM by NO1SY »

Offline Coryn

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2020, 01:43:43 PM »
So, NO1SY obviously just wrote a much more detailed answer than I could ever hope to, so I think I'll take the opposite tact and simplify.

Imagine a graph (I understand if this is annoying to the less mathematical inclined, but I promise I'll be quick). Imagine this graph specifically:



At first, the more effort you put into something, the more obvious the improvements are. You are starting from zero after all, so a little goes a long way. But the longer you take on something, the more effort you put in, the closer you get to "satisfaction". A piece of art is truly done when you are fully satisfied with it. But we all know that no one is ever completely satisfied with their art.

The Mona Lisa, famous as it is, is not one painting. When x-ray'd it is revealed to be multiple paintings on top of one another (a common practice when canvas is rare). Each version of the Mona Lisa is a little closer to the one we know. And we also know that Da Vinci spent years and decades painting the Mona Lisa. It's likely that he only stopped because he knew he was in the twilight of his life.

Would you say the Mona Lisa can be improved? Needed to be improved? Probably not. At some point the changes become so small and incremental that they exist almost entirely in the mind of the artist. Da Vinci was likely never satisfied with the painting, but eventually he had to say "good enough".

A piece of art is done once you can admit to yourself that it is good enough.

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Offline Suuper-san

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2020, 01:53:06 PM »
@NO1SEY

Quote
quite the philosophical can of worms
That's pretty much what I started to realise when I started thinking about it in detail, it just got more and more cloudy.

Quote
“create art that is something that you want but can’t find.”
That's pretty close to my general goal, just doing "whatever I want".
Because if you just want to make sketchy art, then sketchy art is the end goal of your skill, doing a more accurate piece would be considered a failure in that instance, despite it being "better"

Quote
if you aren’t careful and try to pursue some nebulous, abstract idea of what is the “absolute best” in all cases then you will likely find yourself being pulled apart in all directions and unable to make any meaningful progress.
This is very close to the thought that led to creating this topic, I have many favourite artists, all who have refined their style to a certain point, all with very different styles, but I like them all. I couldn't decide which is a better style, but they are all very good. I do try and have a varied style so I found myself trying to develop my styles and improve it in every direction, which kind of left me back where I started.
"Absolute best" is one of those phrases that sounds good but fundamentally doesn't exist, especially if you start to include multiple opinions.

Quote
less reached a limit and more reached a zenith
That makes more sense, as otherwise a limit implies that you can get higher.

I definitely think fundamentally it is quite a personal choice as to what is better or what makes an improvement, as a minimalist would certainly choose a non-complex piece as being better, whereas I prefer much more cluttered and detailed pieces.

So if you are the judge of your work, then you are also the judge of what makes it better, not someone elses arbitrary scale.
I remember one artist saying on YouTube, it doesnt matter if the hands aren't perfect, no-one's going to look at them, so you can frequently use more generic poses. And they're not wrong at all. But that doesn't mean that I agree with it :P

Quote
set your own goals.
Yup definitely sounds like the right answer to me :P

@Coryn

I sort of imagined this graph in my head when I was writing the previous post. Because there logically has to be some sort of limit. I'm glad you said the same thing because I wasn't at all sure :P

Also what comes to mind is the 80:20 rule, 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time.

Quote
A piece of art is done once you can admit to yourself that it is good enough.
I definitely hit that point with the image in the top post. There were a lot of things that I could have improved that were very small, but the time trade-off just wasn't worth it. And it likely would have looped, finding more things to improve at the end of it.
Since I'm working quite carefully with quality control recently I'm not surprised it's related to the query I had.
so "good enough" is also synonymous with "not worth improving further" (for whatever reason, typically time/money)
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Offline Ryan

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2020, 04:23:31 PM »
You often hear writers say stuff like "ideas are cheap." And they're right. Ideas alone don't write interesting books. A good book comes out of the execution: how you make the events and the journey of the book a good experience, how you write dialogue or write action scenes, etc. Execution defines an author's style. And this is subjective as well; one person's good book is a terrible book to another. And there are as many possible ways to write good books as there are writers. The same applies to art. There is enough combination space within style, idea, and execution for every artist to make good art in their own way.

In my opinion, in many cases if you compared any two random illustrations with different ideas, you will just like the image with better execution more. Because you are picking them randomly, the chances that they will be close in the level of execution is low.

However, if you look at the top 50 daily illustrations on pixiv, it's all images with good execution (and usually fanart). You won't find anything that succeeds just off the strength of a concept. And it's extremely difficult to say which execution, among these top 50 images, is superior to another. Yet the range of possible executions is massive.

Execution is endless. Drawing accurately is only the tip of the surface of execution. How interesting or compelling the image you make is depends on the execution that services the idea. In some markets of illlustration in the west concept is more important; but if we're talking about Anime-style illustrations, that is usually not the case.

To improve an idea you can consider who is the character and what will their character archetype/hairstyle/outfit be, what kind of pose might that character take on, how you want to make the viewer feel/ or the feel you want the image to have. But it's not required to consciously think of these kinds of things, you can stumble upon idea organically without thinking too hard about it. More important is that you can execute said ideas in a compelling way.

Execution is everything else. It's the maturity of the artist's style, the confidence in their rendering. How they decide to balance detail and simplicity in their image. It's their composition, their value structures, their color choices. How they draw hair, eyes, faces. Their ability to depict form. Their ability to create light or atmosphere to their piece. The overall balance of their image and their control over line weight. Their ability to unify the facial expression, overall pose, and the posing of the hands. The angle at which they choose to place the character or subjects. The overall look of the silhouette to their character. Avoiding unappealing symmetry in the image. Avoiding shapes and tangents that destroy the depth in the image. How they conceptualize anatomy. And more. The range of things that can be considered is high, and you don't need to be concerned with every aspect.

When it all comes together, when the separate parts work together to create a powerful whole (in the same way that separate instruments in an orchestra come together to create something greater than merely the sum of its parts) you get an image that is truly compelling. There are many ways to achieve that. When you look within the top 50 daily illustrations, there are many different styles, executions, ideas, and you would have trouble ranking them above one another.

Perfection is an intangible concept in the first place, especially when one's treasure is another's garbage. But, there is a limit where you will no longer be able to improve an image, where further work will just make it worse. You could say at this point the image exists as the image it wants to be, it's fundamental structure has been realized, flawed or not. At this point the artist must move on, and if they have dissatisfaction with the result, work out their dissatisfaction in their next pieces.

Perfection, to an artist, might be considered the event where an artist creates an image that turns out exactly how they wanted it to, they then end up valuing what that is, and then they cannot imagine how it could be better. Pretty unlikely feat, for a person capable of executing an image that only existed in their mind at such a high level, by definition, will have a powerful connection with their imagination. And with such a powerful connection to the imagination, it is difficult to not imagine how any image could be better.

Continuous improvement usually always occurs in high-level artists because the same images made repeatedly will be incrementally less compelling, both to themselves and to other people. High level artists must continue to grow outwards from their comfort zone otherwise they will stagnate.

My view is you should spend more time learning how to bring ideas to life rather than what makes good ideas. Because usually what we actually think of as good ideas belong to the former. The same thing applies to writing and drawing. And there's really no good way to conceptualize this. You just need to continue to grow as an artist, improve, and seek out things that exist outside of one's own current awareness.

Some other minor thoughts:

Adding more detail to a piece is like adding more instruments to a musical composition. You're not just adding more instruments. You're changing rhythms and volume levels of the instruments as well. Each instrument will not be equally noticeable to a listener. Be aware of this and don't simply add detail with all the same volume.

Peoples' emotional response to an image is decided by their own internal paradigm of aesthetic value. Personality, likes, dislikes, hobbies, it all factors in. You can ask a person which image, between two images, is more skilled and they will probably be right with their answer. But unless skill factors into how they personally construct aesthetic value, it will mean nothing to them. It often does, though.

Hands can absolutely make a noticeable contribution to a piece of art. Hand gestures are one of the key ways people communicate. It's body language. Hands are next to the semantic importance of the face and eyes, so the viewer will absolutely notice them and notice when they look off. The notion that they will not is naive and delusional. And when they are drawn correctly in a meaningful way, the result is a powerful tool for expressing a character's personality.

Offline NO1SY

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2020, 04:39:09 PM »
So if you are the judge of your work, then you are also the judge of what makes it better, not someone elses arbitrary scale.
I remember one artist saying on YouTube, it doesnt matter if the hands aren't perfect, no-one's going to look at them, so you can frequently use more generic poses. And they're not wrong at all. But that doesn't mean that I agree with it :P

You’re close here, but you also have to realise that whatever goals you set for yourself to judge your own work by are also arbitrary. But that’s ok!

Shortcuts are something that you can make utilitarian arguments for like that Artist did. Like I said, it’s a balancing act. If your goal is to draw 60-100 pages a week then some detail might have to be sacrificed to achieve that level of productivity. But this assumes that the artist is actually able to competently draw hands in the first place and isn’t stifling their own self-improvement by not practicing/learning properly. It is also kind of a separate issue if you are solely talking about producing the best piece of artwork you can as opposed to producing artwork as part of a collection within an overall professional project with other pressures.

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2020, 03:58:02 AM »
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whatever goals you set for yourself to judge your own work by are also arbitrary
Yeah, definitely :D such are humans :P

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But this assumes that the artist is actually able to competently draw hands in the first place
Yeah that's something I want to be careful of, not to skip details because I can't draw them, but because I choose not to. So you almost have to have a higher skill level than what you work at, to "cut corners"
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Offline Lord Kesashi

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2020, 03:59:55 AM »
This reminds me of some philosophical questions they ask in art classes like. (There's no actual correct answer here)

When is a work of art finished?
What makes a work of art good?
Why make artwork?

So when you think about realism there is a limit, an obvious limit. You cannot get more realistic than a camera, and at that point what's the point in drawing instead of using a camera? Flexing your skill is cool for a few minutes, but ultimately it's a boring idea. And the faster you master your realistic or non-realistic style the better. It should be a good thing when you reach that point.

Making an idea more interesting is what artists dedicate their life to. We can use your standing girl for example. If you wanted to improve this idea you have to think deeper about the idea itself rather than its appearance. We can break it down word for word.

"Standing Girl in a Dress"

What does it mean to stand? What does standing make you think about? It illustrates that we are superior to animals. It's a learned behavior that babies take time to understand. It's also something we take for granted until we can't stand. We could be paralyzed, have no legs, or have a mental disorder that prevents you from standing. Not being able to stand or walk could ruin your life. It could even represent autonomy.

Could this idea ever invoke those powerful and complex emotions around standing? Or will people just see a standing girl and move on?

What does it mean to be a girl? Does it mean anything? It could be arbitrary, an illusion of human society, or genetic binary. And is there a binary? Does the government have a right to legislate against transexuality? I don't want to start a political discussion, but think about how the concept of a woman could do that. That's powerful, because people will kill over discussions like that. What about the relationship between women and children. The idea that women are weak and defenseless, or beautiful and prized. Are these ideas correct, sometimes correct or never correct? And is she a woman or does she just look like one? Does looking like one make her a woman, or does she need to look like one because she is a woman?

And think about what the dress tells us. Is the dress meant to empower her or oppress her. Is it comfortable to wear, does it hinder her. Does it give her positive attention, does she like it? And what about the history of it all, like how many now "feminine" clothing options were historically "masculine" and worn by men instead. What about the expectations of the figure, the impact of the corset, the idolization of the "hourglass". What about the popularity of the lolita fashion, the desire to look young. Think about the role fashion plays in the mind.

You want to make people stop and think about your artwork, you don't want them to see something hollow and move on. She's a just a girl in a dress, we'll she's more than that. She's her experiences, her insecurities, her dreams and goals. But if you don't show that, then people won't see it.

In terms of style and realism you will eventually reach a plateau and that's okay because that means you can focus on the concept because that's what's interesting. People want to see your ideas more than they want to see you flex your skill. Especially if a camera could do it better.

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2020, 06:59:31 AM »
Quote
When is a work of art finished?
I think this is a good point to keep in mind.

While I dont intend to ever go as philosophical as you described there regarding gender or the action of standing, I have been getting into the heads of my characters more, like "where are they going", "what are they doing", "why are they smiling", and often finding the answer has enabled me to add more details into the scene to support the motion or action, or to change the action/pose/character to suit a more believable scene.

Talking into account your intended audience, if you have one, is quite important I definitely agree. Especially for writing a manga, you are expecting to have readers that are trying to understand your story, perhaps more than people just glancing at your illustrations.

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But if you don't show that, then people won't see it.
I think that's especially true of illustrations as opposed to stories/manga, where you can add a lot of details about a character, an illustration is a single snapshot so it has to convey everything that you want it it, in one go.

I think as you say the fact that there is no correct answer, and everyones answer will differ, really highlights that you need to have a style as an artist, which is more than just the lines you use, but the entire concepts that you create and the reasons for it.

I didn't quite realise how philosophical my question was when I wrote it, but perhaps that's why I was struggling to find an answer, because it's not a logical true/false answer, it's more emotions and morals and all sorts.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 07:01:33 AM by Suuper-san »
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Offline MK

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2020, 01:59:48 PM »
There is a point to which you can't render something further, then you would be redrawing it or it can be considered done.  You really shouldn't need to redraw it the whole thing from scratch very often and if you do then you need to take more time with the composition.

In terms of can you always get better?
Yes you can but you will hit plateus along the way.

Offline legomaestro

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Re: The limit of improving an idea?
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2020, 02:55:32 AM »
Given enough time, you can and it would be imperative and even fun to absolutely improve on every idea you have ever concieved if not to completion then to at least 70% level of rendering (whatever that may mean to you in relation to any of your idols of your art style)

Time is the real practical limit to look out for. I still have my sheets of paper for 10,000 stick figures and I could pick out at least 30 ideas I found good within them and turn them into an illustration book or something... Given enough time.

But it's just not practical. There's a lot more other ideas, and my goal isn't necessarily to turn all of them into complete works.


Anyways as far as your drawing is concerned, even if you're not asking I'd say I'd improve it by

1 - Giving it a narrative (maybe a short story? A bio description?)
2 - Drawing another and relating it to this somehow (maybe an illustration line of fashion ideas/ characters in a universe?)
3 - Adding a background
4 - Redrawing the image in a different pose
5 - Explaining what exactly the cloths and materials are made out of.


Rather than improving you can enhance the idea in peoples' minds and make it more than the illustration. Heck, collaborate with a cosplayer to make the costume even