Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Next Wed March 24th I will be on a panel alongside my good friends Yuko Shimizu, and Fernanda Cohen, as well as illustrator Zina Saunders and Fred Harper to talk about our first jobs - more specifically, how we got them.
After thinking about this for sometime, I realized that I had some of my paintings that I did while I was a student at art college, here in my studio (shown below).
It's very strange to hold them in my hands again, and stare at what I had done. To reiterate from a previous post, these paintings were done using acrylics and alkyds on illustration board. I was taught how to paint through observation via one of my instructor's demos.

I was a sponge.
I took notes.
I didn't blink.
I devoured as much information as I could.

I think back and wonder if my skill level could have improved had I continued along the path of painting and was formally taught how to do so.
Unfortunately, I never really enjoyed painting.
It was extremely difficult for me.
I mean, I wanted to.
I wanted to be a painter.
But it didn't feel right for me, at least it didn't feel right trying to become the painter that I thought I wanted to be.
I believe part of the reason I felt this way was because I hadn't experienced other mediums, or other creative disciplines outside of what I was already familiar with yet.
And so, in the meantime, fantasized about becoming a bad-ass painter who could render a biscuit and have my dog crash into the canvas because she thought it was real.

As a result, I left University after studying fine art for one year to go to art college to learn the techniques of painting (as well as to become a better drawer). I was very interested in honing my skills and dexterity. But as time progressed, I found that it became more and more of a painful task for me to paint. It wasn't until I was a couple of years out of school, that I finally embraced drawing as my medium. Side note, for a long time, drawing has gotten a bum rap. It was seen more as the preparatory stages of an artist's painting, or a low form of art i.e. cartoons, and illustrations, which obviously isn't the case anymore for many people.

When I was in college my hero was Anita Kunz. I remember seeing her work one day while walking along Bloor Street in Toronto, and seeing the poster that she had done for the Toronto International Film Festival.
I stopped.
And like many art lovers, I stepped as close as I could to the poster. I'm not certain if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember the figure on the poster was life-size. I remained fixed on the face, and peered into the eyes of the woman, Eve, who she painted. I traced the soft contours of her body with my eyes, noting the pinkness of her flesh against a raw umber/yellow ochre backdrop, and saw how the a film strip coiled around her body like a vine.
At that moment, I felt immediately that I wanted to illustrate professionally.

Anita and I are friends now, but I don't think that I ever told her this story. Her personality is as generous and beautiful as is her work.
I remember trying to memetically render my school assignments in the likeness of her paintings. Unbeknownst to her, Anita became another instructor of mine. And I admit that when you look at the work that I did while I was in school, that I was obviously her copy cat, but during that stage, I knew it was part of my learning process; that over time, with some maturity, experience and some confidence, I would grow into my own aesthetic and shed the layer of work that I did in art college. I really the appreciate the fact that none of my teachers called me out negatively about that - one or two may have mentioned it, but I don't recall ever being made to feel badly about it.
It upsets me when accusers call other artists and illustrators copy cats, especially in school where it should be a safe environment for people to learn, make mistakes and grow forward. As an instructor and illustrator I try to quantify that label, and I wonder about the validity of such a comment, and it's uselessness for both parties.
I'm reminded of my friend Philip, who in a fifth grade speech arts presentation, said that we all had prejudices. He was only 10 years old, but it did not go over well on the rest of the students. After his speech, his classmates, friends even, began to pick on him because they were offended by his accusation. But, looking back, I think that what he said was true. And in the same likeness, I wonder how much of the work that we do is truly original, and not influenced or prefaced by another illustrator and/or artist?

I have been accused of copying by others before (their names of whom I care not to mention) and I have heard this word thrown about many times to friends and peers of mine in the industry. We experience so much in our lives in the way of mass media: on television, the internet, public transportation, billboards, so much - so much of the time that somehow I believe that for most of us through sheer subliminal influence, aspects of various people's work creep and manifest into our own.
In the case of the paintings that I did in school. I knew who I was referencing, but I also embraced the fact that I was still learning - I was still a student (and a perpetual one for the record). As a result of being aware of this, I was confident that I as I grew and changed as a person, so would my work.


Kathryn Hosford said...

I was at the lecture wednesday and it was very helpful, thanks for sharing! But I completely agree with your post especially now with the internet you are getting sources of inspiration left and right and it is so easy to unconsciously copy another style. Its hard to tell when you have crossed the line of copying or not. Especially as a student when your not sure of your own personal style.

Marcos Chin said...

hi kathryn, thanks so much for coming to the lecture last week and for reading my post!... i think if you're aware of where your influences are coming from and try to work through them bringing your individuality into the mix, then the issue of personal style will resolve itself over time. good luck with your illustration work!

Kidchuckle said...

wow I remember those in class! blast from the past.
Have you touched much alkids and oils lately?