Finding expression in the language of the line
Emerging from beneath my rock I decided to take a respite from my solitude and re-engage with the outside world. In no way was this to be in any physical sense for that would involve a clean shave and fresh underwear; this was purely going to be an exercise to participate with the online community by contributing to Friday Illustration.
A simple concept, Friday Illustration is a weekly art activity with no obligation and very little restrictions. The premise is simple, each week members of the community suggest a single word theme and the chosen proposal is used as an open brief for those who participate. This week the topic was ‘Stuffed‘ and there were already plenty of submissions early doors. People stuffed into boxes, strange taxidermy experiments, and (of course) characters who have over indulged.
This would be a chance for me to play with a casual brief and take the opportunity to work on a few things. In this blog post, I will discuss this project, and use it to demonstrate a key part of my aesthetic: the attention to line expression.
Stuffed! A simple word, but one that can have several meanings depending on its context. The sensation of being stuffed from a spot of gluttony, finding oneself in an awkward situation could be described as such, or the physical act of either stuffing or being stuffed. Think Turkey at Christmas – elbow deep in poultry…
I wanted to use this project to explore a graphical composition, introducing illustrated elements and text to convey a simple message. Taking advantage of a diverse brief to implement a theme with subtext, a homonym at the core of my concept was to demonstrate the guilt of self-indulgences, setting oneself up in a compromised situation, and temptatious delights.
Occasionally, when approaching an idea for the first time, it can be a slow process of development, learning with every discarded sketch. This project was not going to be this way. Working for a quick turnover, I got drawing right away, setting out a composition, I quickly moved onto investigating the illustrative elements.
At this point colour and shading tend to be much less of a consideration while searching for the tangible form to my ideas. Working this way allows me to concentrate on the naked image without embellishment, using expressive strokes to develop the image.
Cross hatching may be used to add a variation in texture, a curved stroke may suggest form or an acute angle may demonstrate a folding surface. These are merely a few tools that will later be refined to produce control, but during the initial drafting stage, the fluidity of the hand is key for the eventual expression of the final illustration.
With the sketching down, it is time to start thinking about making the composition presentable to the outside world. This means tidying up the lines and adding depth in a process referred to as ‘inking’ (having recently spent time watching Jim Lee in a drawing demo, I fear that this may be something of a misjudged term – a world of talent away) as is the case in comic book illustration.
Vectors are a great digital tool when ‘inking’ that create clean lines that may be easily manipulated, but this process can be quite time-consuming and it is not a case of directly copying from the sketch. By default each vector line has a flat character with consistent thickness, ending abruptly at either end. It is by paying attention to the character of the line that I can introduce elements of a visual language.
If there was one thing I picked up from my studies as an Architectural Student, it is the importance of line character. When dealing with technical drawings it simply will not do to apply the same treatment to every stroke. This can lead to flat images that lack definition where clarity is paramount. By implementing a legible visual language that utilises varied line weights it is possible to simplify complex drawings making them much easier to read at a glance.
When digitally ‘inking’ with vectors this principle applies. Simply tracing a sketch with vectors results in a flat, lifeless illustration with no line providing any sense of prominence. When drawing by hand, there is a natural fluidity but the sense of expression can often be lost when translating to vectors. In the same way that one will establish a language for orthographic drawing, it is possible to adjust stroke weight to introduce a visual hierarchy. This is akin to varying pen thicknesses or brush heads when working with one’s hands.
Now the image makes more sense to the eye. The perimeter of each object is clear while details and texture are much more subtle. A step in the right direction but there is still not much fluidity with each stroke retaining a consistent thickness. This appears clumsy and unnatural, lacking any of the expression from the original sketch. To address this, attention is paid to the character of each line.
Using variable line widths and a decent graphics tablet, it is possible to translate the gestures from the hand drawn sketch into dynamic vector strokes. Tapering off lines at the end points, or tucking in the thickness through its centre can break up the consistency of the linework. The result is a much more fluid illustration where the lines create a legible visual vernacular.
Paying attention to the character of the line can be very effective. Not only does it make an illustration much easier to understand, but it can also add life to a sterile composition and convey a sense of energy. For an artist it may take a bit of practice to become familiar with the gestures and where appropriate to implement them but largely this can be quite subjective.
Without drawing particular attention to the line detail, it can be quite easy to overlook. Just like the wallpaper on your walls, when it feels natural and appropriate it can be easy to accept without giving it much thought, but when it is done badly it can be quite intrusive. At a glance, the line work should be intuitive.
Fundamental to my process, it is not a case of trying to mimic hand drawing but instead translate the fluidity of my own hand in a balance of measure and expression. Of course, this is just one visual tool that can be called upon when working on an illustration. In the example above I concentrate on the line work as a demonstration of technique but this is rarely implemented in isolation. Where strokes may suggest form or texture, this can be reinforced and complemented by shading or colour. The final illustration made use of both these in its completion.
In the end, my endeavours to participate with Friday Illustration were to no avail. Due to technical issues with my submission, my contribution was never uploaded onto the website, even after adhering to the limited image restrictions, emails and queries through social media. No joy.
Not that I’m bitter, but let’s just say my taste for the project was less than sweet…
So here I am sharing it with you now. Enjoy.