Saturday, June 27, 2009

Talent Verses Tenacity

Armand Cabrera

“Every loneliness is a pinnacle.”
Ayn Rand from “The Fountainhead”

I don’t believe in talent. I believe in tenacity. I believe what people often site as “talent” is actually desire and perseverance. I know plenty of people with talent…and they do little or nothing with it. Tenacity is never giving up until you’ve attained your goal. The level you attain is limited only by your work ethic.

While I was working as a production artist, I took a workshop from Thomas Blackshear at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I was in awe of his ability. He is still, in my opinion one of the best illustrators in the country.

Blackshear asked everyone in class what we wanted to learn that week. Most people wanted to learn how to copy someone else’s technique like Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, David Grove or Drew Struzan. I asked him to show us his process for one of his illustrations.

Blackshear had just finished a painting of a pirate with a cutlass over his shoulder. He said he would bring in his preparatory work. I thought---cool! I’ll see his preliminary drawings and a color comp, too.

The next day we walked into the class and the entire wall of the room was covered with his preliminaries, thumbnail compositions, value patterns, color comps, photo reference, rough sketches and the finished painting. There were probably 20 or 30 unique images for every stage of his painting. Good enough wasn’t good enough for Blackshear. He was at the top of his field and in all probability could have coasted---but he didn’t. It was a great lesson in perseverance and how much hard work separates the best from the mediocre.

In his book, My Adventures as an Illustrator, Norman Rockwell talks about classmates at the Art Students League chiding him for being focused and working so hard. They would say things to him like, If I worked as hard as you, I would be as great as Velasquez. His response was, Why don’t you? --- but they never did. In the end, he became one of the greatest illustrators in America.

People say they want something and they declare they are willing to work hard for it. But really, they want something the way a two year old wants it---they want someone to give it to them. People decide they have worked hard enough and then they quit. They are not willing to sacrifice their comfort, a family life or money to achieve the goal ahead of them. They unwittingly (or knowingly) take on too many interests and other commitments that render them incapable of continuing to pursue their dream.

There you have it---Feel free to agree or disagree.
( First two paintings byThomas Blackshear, Copyright Thomas Blackshear)
Last two paintings by Norman Rockwell, Copyright Rockwell Estate)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Quality of Shape

Armand Cabrera
Shape is the building block of picture making. Once you make a mark on the canvas with your brush you have actually created two shapes---the mark you’ve made…and the rest of the canvas. Because shape is two dimensional, we must carefully consider its contour and its edge. More than any other artistic element, shape is the expression of how you are interpreting reality.

Shape is also tied to brushwork and design. Good shape has clarity to it. It is not muddied by over blending. It exists as part of a set of building blocks to create the illusion of form and space in your painting. Shapes can have smaller shapes within them, repeating elements with infinite variation that strengthen the overall design of your painting.

In its most basic form, a brushstroke is a shape. But a shape can be many brushstrokes, also unified by color or value of pattern.

When entry level artists first start to paint, they unconsciously make shapes with brushstrokes. Often, there is no structure to the strokes---Brushstrokes exist only as a mark on the canvas and a means to an end. Their canvases have a uniformity of application. Their shapes run into each other, never considered for their effect on the whole of the picture. All the marks are the same; the strokes are haphazard---lacking elegance and forethought.

To create a successful painting, you must be aware of the shapes you make and their relationship to all the other shapes within the pictorial plane of the canvas.

This harmony requires a plan of action. You must train your eye to see shape as a separate idea from objects. Some of my students say they want to learn how to paint trees or waves or water. What they really want is to be able to interpret those things into recognizable two dimensional shapes in their paintings.

You can’t really put a “nose” or a “blade of grass” on your canvas. You can only apply a “shape” with paint. Decide how you will make that shape, what color and value it will be and what its boundaries are. This is what all good picture making is about.