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Author Topic: Symbols, Vocabulary and Art  (Read 345 times)

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Offline eldritchmaestro

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Symbols, Vocabulary and Art
« on: September 26, 2017, 05:49:55 PM »
Symbols, Vocabulary and Art - A Case for explicitly using Icons and Symbols as a Foundation to being an Artist


Writing, Drawing. What are the cores of the two crafts? I feel it is the transmission of ideas using recognizable marks on page, whether physical or digital. At the core is the relation of an idea, the expression of an artist through his craft, but people focus on how the idea is represented more than the form. It's not about sharing an idea; it's about sharing it as objectively accurate as possible, as photographic as possible, as stripped of style as possible. With this, I take the other standpoint:

That the idea is more important than the scientific accuracy, that as humans the subjective representation of a subject should be focused on before obsessing over the correctness, that when you first focus on having a foundation of good ideas and your own expectations, that you're more ready to accurately depict them and share them.

(A lot of this has been inspired by Sketchnoting Made Easy by Mike Rhode. If you can ever get it cheap, I'd really recommend it. Or better yet trawl through Pinterest for other sketchnoters' works. It's a pretty simple but revolutionary concept to get behind. )

1. Introduction
I was back to studying my favourite mangakas styles for some insight in how they draw, in this case Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell (The Insane Massive Training Workshop for the win, although I doubt I'll ever do something so crazy again.)

For someone who knows his cybernetics and guns and spends a preposterous amount of time going off in tangents about interesting theories in the middle of a story, he has a certain charming style that is truly boiled down manga. Of course, when he pulls out the big guns he knows what he's doing i.e. drawing, but still, I always loved that his work had that old-school manga feel. You know the one, with the basic emotions used more often than not, chibi being a matter of course, and the 80s esque aesthetic for the female characters.

I've been working on a comic, after all, and as of now I feel like I've reached the art level that I wish to have, but there was something missing. There's still that horrendous intimidation when it comes to thinking up scenes. There's still a great sense of emptiness to my scenes that no walls of text feels like it could solve. It's not a lack of inspiration, just a general overwhelming of the senses. Despite my worst intentions, the mantra still sticks: Perspective! Lighting! Dimension! Anatomy! Over and over. It's never a fun thing to confront.

And as I thought of this I doodled my thoughts on the page.

2. Building Blocks

The problem is not that I can't draw. It's that I can't draw well enough.  There's often a 1:1 correlation between my vocabulary and my visual library... Except there isn't (which is why it's crossed out up there).

I was surprised to see that although I can speak and write well enough, I learn those definitions more often than not without visual or emotional context. While my vocabulary increased, my visual library stayed pretty much the same.

AND: My entire vocabulary consists of a tool set of 26 alphabet characters that are stringed together with other punctuation marks to build words, to build sentences, to tell stories.

Just as in drawing, you can't get away without squares, triangles, circles, dots and squares (which of course become complicated as you progress.

And yes, these tools are set in stone, but style influences them no matter what. Or rather, your inability to draw like a computer or a penman ensures that you'll have the ability to relay the idea correctly, but it's not something you expect to print in the market.

However, just because you can't accurately mechanically represent the letters of the alphabet or the forms of something, it doesn't mean the idea suddenly vanishes in the wind, unworthy of even looking at, or unable to even relay or express emotion and information.

I tested myself to see how little of the most basic visual vocabulary I had, and found myself lacking on one hand, but actually doing much better than I thought on the other.

I noticed how Masamune Shirow managed to make a background character that really, alone was just a scribble, but managed to convey a travelling tourist type with a rolled up backpack, leaning against a tree.

Palm trees were little more than squiggles. The buildings were in great perspective, yes, but the windows were just squares. I was quite surprised.

I thought to myself: I have these building blocks for sure. I can do this! I know thousands of words in the English dictionary, I know how to spell most of them, and they are all built up of the same letters, surely that applies to art as well then, right?

I looked at one page and decided to name all the objects and consult my own memory to see if I had at least a rudimentary representation of the objects. On one side there were surprising solutions to depicting the objects that I never thought of, simply because I was never confident enough to do so, but on the other hand it's pretty barren in my visual library. I found that more than thinking of the high concepts, like the interior of a car engine I needed to have basic slots in my head to represent objects.

I.e. Symbols. Yes, the dreaded word to all fundamentalists out there. But I'll say it again: Symbols first. Idea first. The truth later.

3. Iconography

This is my case:

An Artist (here meaning writer, mangaka) is someone who wants to deliver their ideas to the world.

The aesthetics are more than important. Please never forget that I appreciate and love good looking art, because if you completely throw that aspect out of the window you end up with billion dollar paintings that are black squares. There is some modern art that I have truly no patience for, especially the ones that rely on shock factor, but that's another story altogether.

In any case - The idea is the core of a work.

Before you're in the luxurious world of an anime and mang fan with a passion and the time to make your artworks, art had a practical function: Relaying information. Caveman Bob needed to tell his family that there was a dangerous woolly mammoth out there, after all. He needed to tell him that white lines came from the sky and set a tree on fire, a great gift that can warm, heal and hurt.

Caveman Bob is the luckiest  and most honest artist there is, because he gets to be utilitarian in his expression. There is no abstract art giant looking over his work.

The brain has never stopped being a codifier. Anyone who sees with their eyes sees thousands of things at once. That was an obvious statement on the level of 'people die when they are killed'. But you also hear thousands of conversations at once. Or see thousands of texts. You filter them out or codify them automatically. Mother, Police Officer, Swan in a lake, Bench, Car, Bus, Watch, Phone, Computer, Text message notification sound, Some foreign language romance novel, Someone's talking about politics, That's a song I know (but not the lyrics).

It's to the benefit of an artist to be able to focus and study on singular things and features so that you truly know what they look like, but before all that you have to be willing to save inferior copies of what you see and notice and file them away for later. NO - A step further than that. Codify them yourself and say 'This is what it is in my mind' so that you at least have a reference point, rather than denying remembering anything at all if it's not accurately depicted enough.

Doodle it. Turn it into a symbol.  Have actual fun and interest when trying to think of how to draw something with the building blocks you have at first, and then, when necessary, look up an image. But the idea and how you put it down first should be what you start with.

I've been googling a lot of doodle art and the sketchnoting book has become my bible when it comes to building up a visual library for me. I don't remember the last time that I felt so free when it came to improving my visual library, and I look forward to having thousands of such ideas in my head to match my spoken and written vocabulary. If I ever do that, then my pen will flow over the page when drawing.


Drawing stuff with doodle-logic, with simple building block methods is not some crime. Yes, anime and manga comes from Japanese influences. People don't frown or laugh or have those silly smiley-esque expressions. Those are highly symbolized and don't accurately display how muscles act on a human face, but do they lose their charm or effectiveness because of this?  No, they gain their expressive power, especially because a community accepts them over time as part of the language for the particular medium.

One could say that such things destroys' an artist’s life, expressing everything with photographic accuracy is the holy grail, and still know exactly what a heart symbol means. Is it accurate? Hell no. The heart is disappointingly anatomically when it comes to being an artist, a mass of muscle that has no interest in being drawn off the bat without some relatively serious study, but you can still convey it with a single continuous stroke, and there's a beauty in that.

A dry run

I'll be posting in my Miscellaneous Arts topic, but I made a dry run of objects off the top of my head to see what I could doodle so far without completely losing the sense of the object itself. It was a surprisingly better result than when I studied the GITS manga page, and it's my current marathon drawing project.

I'm not happy with the record player, the window and the pencil case

Stationary is pretty easy for me, but animals are pretty much non-existent even as symbols in my head. Well except cats. I actually learnt how to draw a dog from a classmate, and you can draw a rabbit with the number 52, but birds, fish, sharks, horses etc. are a no go. And sadly, I didn't even know how to doodle a guitar.

I just can't stress how good it feels to feel interested in drawing. I waited long before I wrote this to make sure I was out of my honeymoon period to see if I could push myself to try to doodle something off the top of my head, and it still worked out okay.

This is something that I'll always be thinking about and looking into, because I need to be able to formulate this idea better in my head. All I can say is that I'm excited for it and interested in it.