Saturday, September 6, 2014

Deeper thoughts on Katsuya Terada

Since getting his book, I've become really fascinated with his art. I've spent a lot of time looking through it, focusing on individual pieces for much longer than I usually do. I once told a friend my theory that the average viewer will look at a piece for about one second for each hour the artist put in to creating it. Just a very rough estimate of course. But generally you get the 'feel' of a piece very quickly, and you'll only continue to look if there are interesting details or if you're an art student and really admire the technique. This definitely applies for artists like Frazetta, whose work is designed to read at a glance, so it will catch the eye rapidly on the small cover of a pocket paperback. He was concerned mostly with dynamism, so the eye moves fast across his work.

Then there are the more photorealistic artists - if their work is interesting you might spend more time perusing it because they put in a lot of realistic detail. This is especially true in today's illustration world where the art is made to resemble the CGI effects in blockbuster movies and video games. No more simple powerful dynamic design uncluttered with extraneous detail for the most part. It must look as much like photography as possible, with any effects resembling the CGI effects we're all so familiar with.

But Terra is different. There are many more who do this, but right now I'm using him as an example.

Looking like Manara's style here

When I first started looking at his work, because of how well he can capture a sense of 3 dimensional solidity, I assumed he was probably atelier trained. But it rapidly became clear this is not the case, in fact he may well be entirely self-taught. But I do assume he did a lot of drawing from life, because his line knows how to wrap around forms perfectly. So do his brushstrokes. Well, sometimes anyway - I notice his work isn't consistent. Some are extremely 3 dimensional looking, some not at all. He switches up styles a lot. Or maybe the really excellent ones are when he has good photo reference? I don't know.

Sometimes he does use reference, but often he works without it, like comic book artists do (that's what he mostly is of course). Sometimes he's so playful he's more like a cartoonist.

Aside from this ability to capture 3 dimensionality (sometimes) however, his work would get pretty well ripped apart on Conceptart. I began to notice in particular that he never has a strong sense of exactly where the light source is. That's one of the things always being harped on, because there's a belief that art must replicate the physical/mechanistic aspects of reality perfectly. His light is always meandering and playful, it's where he needs it to be. It isn't enslaved to dull realism, but imaginative and creative.

How can there be a solid shadow under the chin,
but not under the eyebrow ridge or the nose or underside of the top lip? 

There's also always a sense that he's making it all up as he goes. This is in direct contrast to the concept art methodology of meticulous planning, doing dozens of thumbnails, working out details through studies, etc. I assume he begins with a pretty good idea for a pose and maybe the face and/or body type, but the rest seems to be invented on the fly, and it looks like he has a blast doing it. He never worries about trifling details like if it would actually work. He puts huge thick metal cuffs on wrists and even weird places like the middle of a thigh, which would be incredibly inhibiting in real life! You'd never be able to put your legs together!! But he happily lets it grow as he goes forward, unrestrained by such real-life problems, which by the way don't actually exist in the imaginary world of art unless the artist decides they do.

Dig the metal cuffs all over the thigh!

He comes from a manga background, and he uses line for everything, which I think is why he can invent so well - drawing line after line lends itself well to this kind of moment-to-moment creation. In fact it reminds me of stopmotion animation, which is distinguished from drawn animation and CGI by the fact that it must be done 'straight ahead' - laying down one frame after another in linear progression, with no chance to go back and change things later (opposed to the key framing technique which makes planning and changing so easy with the other methods). His art captures a strong sense of improvisation.

In fact, by a lot of standards, his art would be considered pretty amateurish! And yet I find it endlessly fascinating. Obviously a lot of people do - he's considered an artist's artist, one that many other artists look to for inspiration. I think what makes it work is the endless sense of invention and playfulness, and the fact that he's just so damn good he can somehow make it all work. When you look your eye is captivated and wants to spend a lot of time wandering in this magical realm.

Here'a quote from him I really dig, from his book Dragon Girl and Monkey King:

"Realism doesn't mean making it look exactly like a picture would, but conveying the air, the feeling, the scene, the taste of the image, and conveying the feeling of the existence of whatever you're drawing."

I suspect Terada is an example of the kind of artist someone was talking about recently when he said "If you want to paint like Waterhouse work from life. If you want to be like a comic book artist use reference." (something to that effect - I forget the actual wording). I think he was trying to knock comic book style work, but it actually gave me some solace, because it means there are definitely artists, and many of them, who haven't worked extensively from life and yet who are widely respected and loved. Many of my favorites are comic book artists or began that way (Frazetta did, though he did some life drawing and his photographic memory and many other gifts make him a special case).

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