Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Who's Afraid of Photoshop?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Digital by Greg Newbold
Another fun theater poster project just came off the table (or the desktop, rather) and I am pretty happy with how things progressed from concepts to finish. This one was also for the Footlight Players in Charleston, South Carolina. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was written by Edward Albee in 1962. In 1966, the play became an award winning film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It tells the sad tale of two middle aged people in a caustic marriage as a drunken night of verbal and emotional abuse plays out in front of a younger couple. 

Step one was to watch the film. I readily admit that I had a hard time watching it and wondered how it has become so critically acclaimed over the years. It was like watching a train wreck and I felt like I needed to take a shower afterward. It's possible that this was the intent of the author, but I would rather not subject myself to that subject matter. That said, I had a job to do and I dug in and came up with the three above options. The client gravitated to the screaming mouth, which was appropriate given the amount of bickering that pervades the work.

Photo collage with some painted shapes around edges.
This rough is a combination of painted shapes and sections of my own photos pieced together in Photoshop. I make these types of roughs quite often and then I usually create a  separate finished drawing which becomes the basis for my final art. This one was so simple and was already working so well, I decided to just paint over the top of the photo comp. Now, there has been a lot of discussion on various blogs about whether this type of "photobashing" is cheating, so I will put in my two cents here. 
Photobashing is a common practice in concept art circles where the essence of a scene must be captured quickly to convey the idea to the production staff.  An artist takes existing photos and cobbles them together and paints over the top, adding effects and shifting colors as needed to get the result that tells his story. Of course with the pervasiveness of Photoshop in the commercial art world in general, this technique has spilled over into illustration and even trickled into the college classroom. 

Starting to refine the shapes and paint textures over the top
The most common complaint is that photobashed pieces are not really art because the artist did not draw the piece "by hand". Don't get me wrong, I respect the amount of time and drawing skill that many artists put into their work and would never want to downplay that. I am one of them. That said, my approach to this piece was to get the best result possible in the quickest amount of time. I used the tools and knowledge at my disposal to do so. I created the concept, took my own photos and rendered it in my own style. I just don't see how this piece is any less a piece of art than one of my oil paintings. 

adding more over painting, shadows and textures
I am fairly certain that if Leonardo Da Vinci or Johannes Vermeer had had Photoshop at his disposal, they would have been using it to the full extent of it's capability. It's just a tool. Essentially, digital technology is no different than a tube of paint, or a palette knife. In the hands of a talented artist, the results can be amazing. When wielded by an artist with an under developed skill set, it becomes a crutch. The resulting work from these two artists can be like night and day. One will likely be individual, stunning and highly crafted while the other will be clumsy, stiff and carry the telltale signs of a piece that has been heavily digitally manipulated.

Final work with final detail, lettering, and signature added
So what makes the difference? I think the bottom line is that those who allow tricks to overpower what they have to say and allow the easy use of photos to squash the way they naturally draw, will stifle their creative potential. When I teach college courses, I always encourage students to draw first. I make it mandatory that each student show me thumbnails and roughs before doing a photo shoot. Then they are required to show me final drawings before executing the finished art. It is paramount that the student have a concrete idea of what they want to achieve before getting caught up in the deceptive lure of photography. Photos have their place. I use them a lot.  But make photos fit your vision, do not resign your vision to merely what the camera gives you.

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