Friday, September 12, 2014



  I wanted to talk about shortcuts today and the benefits and more importantly, the issues I personally have using them. This isn't about hotkeys or photoshop tricks, literally just shortcuts in general in every aspect of creating work.  I ramble a lot and just throw up all my thoughts so be wary of that :).

Shortcuts are very alluring, they're super tempting and I think everyone uses them to some extent. I personally used to wait for anybody seemingly professional to come out and openly give me permission to use them so I wouldn't feel shitty about doing it myself. So many times people will say it's part of the job, everyone does it and you really shouldn't feel bad about doing it yourself. I agree, you shouldn't feel bad about using them and there is totally a reason why they exist. But should you really be using them all the time as a normal work flow?

More often than not I think shortcuts come about when you're really pressured to turn in a finished piece. And when you absolutely have to finish something in 1-2 hours you may have to turn to alternatives. So, in order to show your idea you could, for example, mix up photos into the piece to relay a concept to whoever hired you. This is fine, but what happens when you can then apply that to something you really care about? Do you still go for the shortcut and work out something for yourself in 1-2 hours?

The problem I personally have is that I think using shortcuts robs us of the time spent planning an image. When you can throw a couple chance photos together to create a concept how much care really goes into it? And also, could you replicate this sequentially using the same technique at all angles? I think it's an awesome luxury to be able to bust out tons of paintings without waiting for anything to dry and without having to go through laborious steps to finish. But what does that cost you? Knowing that something is so simple, do you still value the concept as much? When you know that if this sketch isn't great then you'll be spending hours working up a mediocre piece, don't you go back and make sure it's the best it can be?

I think thats my real issue and I noticed how, over the years, I would jump into speed paintings with throw away ideas and no real focus. Speed paintings can of course be a great exercise, but like most shortcuts I think they can often be very harmful to the intent and overall execution of a piece. It felt like I was being robbed of moments where I'd zone out in the planning stages discovering better ways to work everything up. Where I'd catch imperfections right away without waiting to fix everything later knowing photoshop had that option. Learning from my mistakes and knowing I'd make sure it didn't happen next time.

Being able to jump right into the finished stages has, for me, left my portfolio full of meaningless content. What I noticed was that when I started working in comics I could no longer just wing it. I realized how shortcuts had made me so impatient with the work. I'd be super excited and just start without knowing the direction of the story and would end up throwing away tons of pages. Basically I had to turn around and go back to the old way we all used to have to work before things were so quick and obtainable. Having to write up a story, build characters, create readability for the designs of each character/creature and then create layouts for all the pages that would read well changed everything for me. It was funny to go back and focus solely on creating something that would either be funny or action oriented with the whole purpose being to convey an idea.

It seems obvious to me now, and I think it always should've been, but before I started playing with comics I never really 'illustrated' anything. I had never illustrated a real moment that was more than 'screaming monster screams before battle'. My whole idea of action in a painting had come from the Frazetta rules of showing whats about to happen or what just happened in a piece. Sadly I didn't even really read about whatever story or scene I was illustrating to relay any serious story elements. But beyond that it showed me how little I even spent constructing an image I was willing to spend days on. That I had never even thought about what this image would be about.

What I ended up feeling like was that most of the process of creating images fast was simply to garner feedback from peers. I'd been rushing things out to just be seen without really caring. As long as it was rendered or looked to be rendered it was considered done. It didn't matter if it worked or was cool at a basic level, just so long as it looked presentable.

Basically because of how easy, at least in comparison to how it used to be, it is to create using digital mediums I had cheapened the whole process for myself. Just jumping in and spending no time whipping up a monster that would be forgotten by myself and peers within minutes. And I'm not saying we should all be painting moving pictures and get a message across and make you think in some pretentious way. More that there should be a feeling of a story, or at least a strong intent in showing a specific action that shows real care in the process.

Now, I don't mean to say I'll never paint anything stupid or simple again, I'll always do that. And I don't want to suggest that you remove all shortcuts at all times. Only that in my experience, shortcuts have done more harm than good for my skill, thought process and overall execution. Nowadays, anytime I can remove something from the process and make it more basic, I go way out of my way to do so. Even if it lengthens the process by hours, I know that somewhere inside it's making me faster and hopefully helping me create better, more focused ideas.

Just a suggestion! And of course, this is only my personal opinion :)!

Hope you're all doing good! I'm gonna get back to Steve Lichman and StarVeil, theres gonna be a lot of updates!


PS -

I really liked what my buddy Dan said about the topic here -

"If you keep using shortcuts more and more, then rely on them, they eventually become integral to your process and you cant create anything up to your own standard without them, and that corners you into a weird place where you're bound by what you can find rather than freed by what you can imagine."


Unknown said...

Hi! Great rambeling. Totally agree.

angwritenow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Levon Jihanian said...

Great post. I think there's a strong fear of seeming pretentious that holds some of us back from really thinking about the content we paint and how far we push it, and leads us to sticking to what's safe. I believe it's harmful and a false fear. The only people who are truly pretentious artists are art students. IMO If you're not an art student, it's not pretense, it's just having a strong opinion. :)

Going 180 on what I just said, you're damn good at drawing monsters, and what looks like a shortcut to you, looks like refined focus to me. My problem is that I try too many things, and get bogged down in planning and indecision and perfectness, and of course it's completely stifling me at the moment.

Unknown said...

When I do a concept I like to spend some time on it, I'm chasing the big fish out there and it's not in the narrow well known calm waters, I've to go deep in the unknown. But hey, maybe it's me that I've no luck with fishing :D

Ryan Michael Atendido said...

That last part about being bound by what you find rather than being free with what you can imagine really hit me. Great article!

Anthony S Rivero said...

I was chatting about the subject of photobashing with a fellow artist at work the other day and I came to a realization - concept art seems to be in its own "steroid era", with our version of "PEDs" being the use of photos. In a studio environment you almost have no choice but to partake if you want to remain competitive, just like an NFL linebacker has to use PEDs to be able to keep up with all the other pros in the NFL.

Granted, you still need an "eye" and know your fundamentals, but if you aren't "juicing" you'll be passed up.