Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I think I'm starting to absorb Kent Williams…

Ever since around the time I started to get good at drawing he's been there, appearing on the scene suddenly like a rock star artist, kicking ass hard and always doing exciting things. 

Immediately I wanted to be him, or at least to be like him. 

I couldn't ignore him, and he exerted a powerful gravitational force that affected nearly all my efforts. Pretty much every time I drew or painted something I was either trying to be like him, or deliberately trying NOT to be like him. It's what I figure things must have been like for a lot of the fantasy painters in the 60s and 70's with Frazetta. For a while I was afraid Frazetta might influence me too much, but that actually doesn't seem to be the case - although that might just be because I haven't actually tried paperback-style fantasy art yet. My Fafhrd and the Mouser paintings don't look like fantasy art yet - well, except for Longbow, and actually that one does show a bit too much Frazetta influence, doesn't it? 

But most of my work does show some level of Williams influence. Except for a particular way I draw when I build up a mass of lines into a thick outline that seems to vibrate with energy and that also seems far more accurately to delineate anatomy than a single line. That approach was actually inspired way back in the 90's or even maybe the late 80's by Mark Texiera, but I absorbed it and was able to make it my own, rather than it still looking like his. Whenever I try to do anything williams-derivative though it's not my own and it really shows his influence. Usually anyway. 

Recently though I suddenly understood that he really doesn't always distort as much as I thought he did. In fact now I can quite clearly see that he does that mostly just in his GN work and his sketchbook work - his gesture sketches. His big fine art paintings aren't distorted at all really, aside from the occasional slightly exaggerated curve or angle, but when he does that the lines still seem to start and stop at the right place. And I suppose it's largely his crazy powerful way of painting that makes it seem like his work is so unrealistic - but when you examine it really it's extremely accurate (again, talking about his big paintings). Occasionally he does exaggerate a bit on purpose - for instance in the figure called Vampire in the original sketch, with elongated arms and legs. And often the limbs are extra skinny and stretched out. But allowing for this exaggeration, all the bony landmarks and muscular forms are there in exactly the right places. Just skinnier. And maybe bent a bit farther than is really possible. 

But anyway, the point is - what I really mean (Hah! I LOVE when I can sneak in an Elton John lyric!) - he's a very versatile artist, capable of several different ways of working, some of which are pretty distorted, some of which are extremely accurate. I think he uses wild seemingly almost random painting techniques over some of the accurate figures which makes them feel powerfully distorted (to me anyway), but when examined many of them really aren't. 

Hmmm - didn't mean to spend so much time on just distortion and accuracy - that's only one issue here. Williams is also a very iconic artist. A rock star, as I said. He doesn't do anything conservatively - it's always explosive and bold. He's obviously one who would rather see a mark made boldly and wrong than carefully and right. 

But in looking through his books and my folder full of images gathered from the web (including some shots he posted of some of his big paintings in progress, using a blue underpainting technique) it's clear that he actually has a good deal of technique and accuracy. Craft in other words. 

When I'm setting out to do a piece and I want it to look like something he might do (which is all too often) I tend to go at it very haphazardly, just slashing lines around too fast and not paying much attention - hoping that if I keep working that way I'll somehow get better at it. But I know the marks that look like they were made fast really weren't. I've seen that a few times, and heard it from the artists themselves. You don't abandon all craft and just go nuts - instead you draw very carefully - using every bit of technique and accuracy you can muster, and you draw in such a way that it looks a bit crazy. It's partly in how the pencil is held - underhand rather than like you're writing, and you make moves of the entire arm and wrist rather than just the fingers. You can do it fairly rapidly if you're working from reference - either a photo or a model. That's when you've got guides for exactly where to place your lines and forms, and can think a lot more about expression of character and niceties of the pose rather than having to think about basic proportioning and anatomy like you do when you're working from the imagination. 

I suppose a good way to encapsulate the intent of this post is to say - I've always had a certain 'Kent Williams Mode' that I drop into when I want to work like he does (or at least like I imagined he did). And that mode is actually wrong. He's much more careful and methodical than I wanted to imagine. I've actually come to this realization a few times before, at least dimly. But somehow I always managed to forget it afterwards and slip right back into 'Kent Williams Mode'. But now I'm on this concentrated art advancement thing and it's come to my attention once again that this imaginary mode of mine is totally wrong and destructive - in fact if I want to be more like him (which is not to say to make my art look more like his) I'd do well to be more accurate and methodical. 

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