Monday, 22 August 2011

Gem Polishing

Been a fascinating few weeks. Of course, I'm more than happy to share them with you...

Much of my time has been spent mentoring dear young Sally and her impossibly short skirts.
It's a role I take very seriously. (The mentoring.)

What's fascinating is to witness Sal's transformation - seeing how effortlessly she absorbs certain requisites, and how she struggles with others. There have quite literally been tears and laughter. This is Sally's story as seen through the eyes of her art director - me.

Much of technique is easily assimilated. Sal already had a good grounding; in particular, she demonstrated a sophisticated control of form. Years of life drawing can drum this into an artist: if you don't quite capture the subtle curves of a leg or shoulder, your work sucks. Sal is a whiz with curves and with pose and, in the main, composition.
She has struggled on and off with the style, but guiding her through the more clandestine and vainglorious halls of Photoshop, and providing her with hands on demonstrations, have worked wonders. Thing is, Sal is good at leaving her comfort zone, a rare trait born predominantly from a desire to improve, and an ability to listen.
Technique is largely about tools - about the means by which we can achieve an end.

So what is that end?
I gave Sal an illustrated keepsake task.
She was required to create an illustration for a piece of text. The text related the crucifixion of Brites, bride of the cyclopean blacksmith Oban.
I was interested to see how she would interpret the text: which mood/s would she aim for? How would she decant the essence of the text? (Note that I was never in doubt that Sal would understand to choose a mood and then pursue that mood with robust technique.)
Sal went for loneliness. She depicted Brites nailed to the tree, her head hung, and nothing more.
This really was missing the point of the text. It was the evil of the Puritans that was paramount - an evil which would bond the player to Oban - his sorrow and his lust for vengeance.

This is a topic that Ben and I discuss frequently.
Sal's next attempt at her crucifixion scene was an improvement. She worked in the Puritan nailing Brites to the tree. But the scene still seemed superficial.
Ben and I have noticed that this ability to enter 'the zone' - to tune out the real world and to step into the fantasy world - is one of the recurring characteristics that distinguishes the good artist from the bad. Oh yes, this applies to the writer too in bucket loads.
I sat with Sal and we walked through the events leading to the crucifixion, taking in the scene and smelling the sea air and then listening to the gulls and then the nails being hammered through bone and the sadistic laughter of the bystanders. We talked about how Brites would behave and how the Puritans would behave. We sought the key ingredients - and only the key ingredients - that would capture the very heart of the mood which we had decided upon.
We chose the moment immediately after the crucifixion. We found wooden steps which the executioner had used to reach up to work; we found his aide who would hold Brites' limbs to the tree, and we found authentic early 18th century tools and costume. We found expressions and relationships. We found the drama of the scene.
Often, Sal finds little trouble capturing a mood through the thoughtful implementation of her techniques; but she tends to capture a secondary mood over the primary mood, and this is a question of judgement - a deep understanding of the function of any scene.

Sal's third attempt captured enough of the essence to receive the thumbs up. I'll probably make some notes and add them to the wishlist for later: I'm still not wholly sold, but it's more than adequate to the task.

I've come to realise that this is a rare talent, and not the fundamental skill which I imagined all good artists must wield. We need many icons and elegant designs and concepts in the game; and yet they all fall to Ben and I to originate. Beyond her occasionally questionable judgement, I've watched Sal painting in little flourishes and spending sometimes hours on details which I would then ask her to remove in a flash because they detracted from the key functions in some way. Everything we add to a work must perform an important function. If it doesn't, then it is clutter and detracts from the whole. Check out these famous logos. To add or to remove any element of any of these logos is to detract from its success. And this is precisely what Hemingway referred to when he spoke of the mot juste.

Designing narrative for an illustration is a task fraught with danger. The slightest nuance in a facial expression, a stance, the shape of a leaf, can all mould the viewer's response, and the more we add, the more chances we create of introducing something inappropriate or contrary or disparate.
Sal, like so many other creatives blessed with raw talent, finds it difficult cutting through to the essence, and masks this shortcoming with superficial ornaments. And let's be fair, it's one of the toughest skills to learn, and is seldom absolute!

In Sally I see enormous potential. She has good technique, and an attitude that allows her to build upon her tool set. And she uses her technique to create emotional responses. The subtleties and judgements come in time through experience...

I've just finished the new dream cards and I'll be posting the full set of eighteen cards along with a little insight into some of those subtleties and judgements as soon as possible. And remind me to talk a little about how I'm attempting to add character to each puzzle!
Oh, and we have a goat chocolatier outstanding if I'm not much mistaken.

There's one particular skill that a creative director needs which an artist doesn't: I need to be able to immerse myself instantly in a multitude of assets. I'll breathe the air of any given dream card, and at any moment be torn from that vivid microcosm and throw myself into Ben's scene, then back into my own work, then into Sal's painting, then into a 3D scene...
That's my day and it's splendid!

P.S. Speaking of school reports, here's what my son wrote on his end of year report under 'funniest moment':
My funniest moment was when my class began a conversation about my dad's ear. Even Mr. Kittle was interested in the topic.

But check out the irony in this misspelt statement from his teacher:
Accademically, [he] has excelled in all areas of the curriculum...
(Oh, there were many more spelling mistakes in that report! Sigh.)

P.P.S. Actually, I've just spent a few minutes studying Sal's crucifixion scene and I know just what's needed! See if you can figure out how best to capture the essence of that text, and I'll post our solution soon...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You speak like you are trying to be a lot wiser than you are my son. I advise that you retrain your artistic ways, perhaps take a fine art course, a writing lesson or anything to lose your horrible self indulgent comments.