Physical/situational limitations and art: help me work better with what I have

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  1. #1
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    Physical/situational limitations and art: help me work better with what I have

    I'm a new member here who may not belong, and I'm sorry if this is in the wrong subforum. My aim is not for this to be an introduction, but I'm going to have to mention some personal details due to my physical situation. I'll try to be as brief as possible.

    I have had a love/hate relationship with art (in particular fine art) for a long time now. Since childhood I was always captivated by games as an art form, and the worlds and FMV's therein. I have a natural creative streak and was always dreaming up concepts and characters. But, to put it bluntly, I am a horrific artist, and my ineptitude is compounded by the fact that I have a physical disability which makes actually making art, and most of the learning techniques such as sitting outside and drawing, very difficult. I've been on/off with practicing and recently had a resurgence (and now I'm genuinely looking to what I can do to improve.)

    The last time I worked with traditional physical media was over three years ago, when I was still in school. I'm wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy, and my particular case affects my hands as well as my legs. In art class, I couldn't stand up, so using an easel was impossible--I had difficulty even writing on whiteboards due to height. I couldn't reach the edges of most large papers/canvases from a desk without pulling them over the edge, which would crease the paper. I would wind up drooling on my paper, smudging, the works. I couldn't press hard enough to generate more than three or four values with graphite or charcoal. All of this would often lead to getting docked points in the craftsmanship category of grades--I had a C in high school until my last two years, wherein a more sympathetic teacher introduced me to digital art.

    Thanks to the above instructor I was able to get a small, low-end tablet and some painting software, so I could continue to practice at home. The tablet makes things a lot easier--no more smudging, an eraser I can actually use, no need to buy expensive paints and ask someone to help me clean up the ensuing messes... My lines and shapes are still horrible, however. My knowledge of lighting is inconsistent and basic at best--sometimes I have a hard time carrying over what I learned to actual pieces. About the only thing that saves me is my use of color (and from what I've read, relying on that to support a weak set of abilities doesn't get one far here.)

    I was friends for a brief while with a fine artist over the Internet (exhibitions, practicing for years on mere color studies, so on...) and when I explained how I held a pencil he was surprised that I could draw at all. Make a fist with your thumb near the side of your hand, and put the pencil through the hole sideways, so it's between the index finger and thumb, and the index is curled around it: that's the best I can explain it. My fingers aren't too functional aside from the indexes. Because of that, all my lines are scratchy and I have to "scrub" back and forth to get dark, defined lines. They aren't smooth and I have to erase out around them just to have a presentable outline.

    Here's a brief summary of my problems:

    1. Can't stand up, so can't draw with anything other than my wrist. My tablet is a 2008 Bamboo Fun, active area about 4.8 inches, which doesn't help this.

    2. Have experience with but can't use physical media due to space constraints, messes, and it being detrimental to craftsmanship/presentation.

    3. Can't go outside due to living in a non-accessible area and not having a ramp. If I need to see what a real-world object looks like, I have to Google it.

    4. It will be several years before I can attend an art school/art courses due to living issues. I'm trying to improve in what areas I can.

    5. I seem to have some natural knowledge of color theory, to the point where one of my teachers was infuriated and confused at the fact that I struggled so much with grayscale. Apparently it should be the other way around.

    In the last few years I've gone from practice-tracing images and changing bits, then coloring them, to now looking at photos for unfamiliar things and drawing them. For some things, like heads, I'll even work from scratch using guide lines. I used to view linework as something to rush through so I could color, but now I actually bother to spend time on the lines, even if it takes me hours. They do look marginally better despite having loads of anatomical and form issues. I would like to post some example images, but what I have on flickr is not practical nor realistic, and it would be childish to post those. (It looks like a 5 year old drew it compared to what is here.)

    I do not want to stop pursuing art, nor do I want to get complacent. I am asking if there are any techniques or hardware that might make art easier for someone in my situation or similar. All I was told in middle school was to "define" more, and I wasn't able to get the detailed analysis and presentation of possible solutions I needed to understand things better. Should I invest in a larger tablet? What can I do to make better lines forms?

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  3. #2
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    It doesn't sound like your middle school was equipped to handle your case, and I do not meant tools and easels. It sounds like you had been taught as if you could move in a standard way, and that did not do much good for you. You will have to invent your own way for everything. Line sketches do not work? Learn to sketch in lit planes. Pencil uncontrollable? Use chalk. But expect that you will have to experiment a lot, and find what works best for you. It is like that for everyone, in the end.

    But you have two sets of difficulties here. One stems from your body's limitations, which you have to find a way to work around. The other is lack of practice/direction, which is an entirely different thing and something that your condition does not affect.

    First, let's think of the physical difficulty. I do not know what your reach is, exactly, but it doesn't sound like you could not use an easel at all, for instance. You could not use it as other people do. That is an entirely different thing. You could still find a way to prop a canvas up, for instance. You could find ways to steady your arm, to extend your reach, to use pre-mixed color, to use soft pastel instead of pencil, to make three values work in a painting (it is entirely possible), find tool grips that work for you, reduce your use of the line in favor of spot, find ways to avoid touching the paper with your hands, and so on. Be creative, creativity is not just applicable to painting itself - it can also help finding technical solutions that work for you. Every artist, after all, finds solutions that work for them. Your case is simply limited in different ways. There had been artists who had to deal with limited movement. Did not stop them at all.

    Consider the case of Renoir. He was arthritic; in his later years he could barely grip a brush, and could not pick it up on his own; he had an assistant who helped him by sticking it between his deformed fingers. His joints had limited movement; he changed his technique to compensate for that. His reach was very short; he employed an easel that rolled the big canvas around for him, allowing him to reach all of it patch by patch. And so on.

    The other set of problems is simply knowledge. The artist paints, primarily, with his brain, not his hands. The problems with value and lighting are invariably due to the lack in ability to see and analyze the subject, not painting technique. But in this way, it does not sound that you are limited. Not being able to carry over what you learned to practice is a universal problem; the solution is understanding what went wrong, fixing it, and repeating it ad nauseam until the knowledge sinks into your brain. Try, analyze what went wrong, fix, repeat until you master it. Tracing or copying from photos does not help the skill acquisition a lot if it does not involve that analytical phase. You cannot draw something you do not understand, and you can only be as true in your drawing as your understanding of the subject is deep.

    And that, you can do. Learning to see as an artist requires mental work, not physical movement. In your case mental work is easier than the physical part, so do more of it. Planning more than painting is always a good idea; in your case it is a necessity.

    Recommended reading: "Creative Illustration" by Loomis, "Color and Light" by Gurney, "Framed Ink" by Mateu-Mestre. These show how to put down the basics that I believe to be more useful in your case than line drawing.

    Be advised, incidentally, that drawing on a tablet is more difficult than using any real tool. The layer of indirection between the tablet and the screen makes lots of things a challenge. Line drawing on a tablet is one of the more challenging things. So you should find what works for you; the easiness of digital drawing is deceptive. You might be better served by an easel that moves around easily than a tablet.

    Also, consult a motion therapist. They may be able to advise you on how to use what you have to the most, and invent ways to do things you currently cannot. Sometimes they even can help find ways to compensate for the limitation.

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  4. #3
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    You may also consider getting into 3D art. You expressed an interest in games and FMV, and a lot of those are done in 3D rendering programs. It is less tactile and hands-on, which can be both good and bad, though. You have more control over the effects but you also have a greater degree of separation from the art.

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  5. #4
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    Thank you both for replying!

    It's unfortunate that most school curriculums can't accommodate individual situations due to having only so much time and certain things that must be taught: additionally, in very small (~200 students) districts such as mine, there's not the money or incentive to be equipped to deal with those situations. You make some very good points, and already had me thinking about how, if I had the means to work with physical media, I might go about it. Wearing gloves, using special paint containers and trays, and a particular easel as above (I'm 4'9", which means that sitting down I'm about the average kindergardener's height.)

    Unfortunately such accommodations will have to wait until I am able to leave the current area. There are attachments made for wheelchairs such as tables for carrying things, but I don't have one for my current chair--and there's a lot of red tape involved in getting one. As it stands now, I'd have to ask my parents for help getting paints and water and cleaning... they don't understand the importance of art, and as my relationship with them is strained, I'd prefer not to have to ask them for anything more than what I must.

    In middle school and my first two years of high school, when things were most difficult, we had homework assignments in which we had to draw from prompts ("Find some inanimate object and draw it"), but generally the medium was not specific. So while everyone else was doing the graphite pieces that had dragged my grade down, I tried outlining and hatching with ink and then going over it with layered colored pencil. The pen was more responsive to my strokes and conveying values was easier due to not being so reliant on pressure. I received modest grades for those, and it was positively commented upon as a unique style since the ink enhanced the color. (I've also tried to do such outlandish things as completely eschewing lines...)

    My last two years, the last of which did not technically count, was where I started to have more confidence in my ability. The teacher who gave me the tablet focused more on what I could do and adaptability than what was frustrating. It wasn't that he omitted criticism altogether, but that he managed to make helpful suggestions instead of nitpicking without specifics. He noted my skill with color and made sure I was allowed to use it (and the assignments were general enough to allow for such.)

    My strokes are very short due to my hand issues, and typically what most professionals would call poor or too loose, but this particular instructor never told me what I was doing was outright wrong, instead that I had a delicate style, and how to polish the lines up so they looked more "finished". (I have been sharing art with semi and non-artistic friends, and they all seem to actually like my lines and get upset when I change. One said they were unique and not really seen today: I actually had to argue that they weren't seen BECAUSE they were amateurish, to no avail.)

    I became frustrated with certain things like still lifes, so he would bring in books pertaining to what I was interested in and show me how those works applied the same principles. He would tell me how my colors and strokes resembled impressionism and encourage me to work abstractly (and see the value in it) to lessen how self critical and negativistic I was.

    One time we were learning how to draw tree branches in grayscale, and the class went over the basic shapes and structure. They practiced for a bit before going outside to sketch actual trees, and I was left with a laptop/tablet. When the class came back, I had done a series of lines and branches, bold, as advised.... painted arterial blue with the negative spaces swathed in reds and violets as if to suggest some tangled cardiac undergrowth. I wasn't faulted for the image, as he cared more that I was applying principles, putting in effort, and improving. He discouraged me from trying to be faultlessly photorealistic.

    I will look over the books. Gurney in particular seems to have things right up my alley, especially with regards to fantastic realism, which is what I set out to do with art in the first place. I've also been looking at alternatives to Cintiqs, since I'm stuck with a tablet for now. The indirect layer you mention is the biggest problem I have since it is hard for me to coordinate the cursor and my darkening lines are a hair off. Otherwise my tablet sketches look identical to paper, if not a bit neater.

    I think the problem is that I am a painter at the core, even using a pencil like most people do a paintbrush. Sometimes I miss physical paint due to the tactile element that digital art lacks--the experience of different brush hairs, more/less water or paint, and actually mixing colors is lost or poorly imitated.

    I had both physical and occupational therapy, but the experiences were rather shallow and I was discharged from both by the time I was in middle school. PT always focused on my legs, while the OT lacked artistic focus and knowledge, so the issues were never touched. It is yet another thing to look into when my situation improves. The teacher above genuinely believed I had the potential to do well in art as an industry, and I regret not being able to go to school for it when I graduated.

    I had the fortune of working with a concept artist who did tutorials for a major online site once. He actually had me help colorize some sketches for a game one of the company teams was working on, and would send me pieces to color and send back to assess my skills. He was impressed with my vividness as well as my work ethic, so I suppose there might be a future monetary opportunity for me as a colorist or something.

    @vineris: I get the urge to look into 3D art/modeling every now and again but have yet to find a particular program that "clicks" with me. I've tried Blender as well as trials of 3DS and Maya before, and even the simple fact that there is always four viewpoints/angles confuses me. Again, I keep thinking like a painter and stumbling about the interface. Perhaps I should keep looking for programs.

    Something like Mudbox or some other sculpting software may be better, but I'll still have to learn how things are shaped and such...

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  6. #5
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    If you lean to painting this much, then sketch like a painter, with value instead of line.


    Well, it sounds like you got at least one teacher worth the title. Build on what you learned from them. Did you notice how that teacher worked with what you have, rather than demanding you do what everyone else is doing? Think about that well.

    You are going to meet people who are supportive like that, and people who are unsupportive like your parents or those friends who do not want you to change (though change is required for growth.) In some areas, you've found the supportive ones (that art teacher), in some you have not yet (physical therapy). It will always be like that.

    In both cases, keep looking to know more people. Be a person who is worth knowing for them. Keep the people who are supportive. Ditch the ones who are unsupportive. It will get progressively easier then.

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