Thursday, May 25, 2017

Artists and Mental Health: Brian Wilson vs. David Bowie

By Lauren Panepinto
  
I've been working on a project that has had me doing a ton of reading lately into artists and the psychology of why artists make art, and what sometimes (often) stops them from making art. And I'd very much like to hear what you guys think about the issue, because most of the readers of this blog are artists and creatives, and thus have experience with the mental health of said artists and creatives.


Brian Wilson by Bjorn Lie • David Bowie by Daria Theodora

First let's define terms. When I say artists I don't mean just visual artists. In Otto Rank's Art and Artist (his 1932 work about the personality development of artists) an artist was defined as a "productive personality" — by which Rank meant someone who produces something. I think it's too easy to get "productive" confused with "productivity" (aka efficiency) so I think a more accurate term for us today would be "creative". I know that's a fancy buzzword these days, but I think it captures the idea that we're talking about artists and writers and musicians and all kinds of people who make creative stuff.



I'm trying to distill a very big book dense with a lot of ideas (originally written in German) down into simple terms here, so forgive me for oversimplifying if you know his work but Rank says artists make art because of two reasons:

1) The universal human fear of death makes people crave immortality, and the productive personality deals with this fear through making works that will outlast them. (As opposed to other personality types who freeze up in the face of this fear and get stuck, or ignore or avoid dealing with this fear entirely.)

And/Or

2)  Productive personality types are more sensitive and take in more stimuli than non-productive personalities do. This extra stimuli/sensory information will overload them unless they do something with it, so they offload the excess energy by putting it into their creations. This second theory aligns nicely with the Highly Sensitive Person theory by Elaine Aron, which I'm currently rereading. (Thanks to Chris Oatley for reminding me of that parallel when we talked recently.)

Now, while reason #1 (fear of death) certainly holds true on some level, I have to admit most artists I know don't start making art for immortality (or fame). Yes, I know these kinds of motivations can easily be subconscious. However, most artists I know have been making art since before they were old enough to really understand death enough to fear it — that seems kind of a post-pubescent problem at the earliest, unless you've had some kind of trauma in your younger childhood. And while many artists certainly do get praised for their art young, and are encouraged to continue due to that praise, that doesn't seem to be motivation enough to choose a creative path for life.

In fact, most artists I know really didn't choose creating. Whether they do it as full time work or on the side, creating is something they were compelled to do. Something they have to continue to do.

So that brings us to reason #2 (creating as a compulsion). It seems to me that many many artists do use creating as self-medication. Very often as a self-directed therapy. I know I do. Sure I want to create a lot of the time, but sometimes it's a lot of work, or I just don't feel like it, and I still have to do it, for my sanity (or semblance thereof). I'm a wreck if I haven't made a thing in too long. However, if you dig into this reason, I think you come to a big chicken-and-egg question: Are people born more sensitive and then become artists to deal with the input overload? Or does being an artist force people to become sensitive, taking in more and more sensory info, until they are forced to keep creating or overload like a tap stuck open?

I'd really love to hear your reactions, input, and opinions to all that. I apologize if it's not perfectly formed, these thoughts are very much still a work-in-progress, as well as mid-research.

Wilson by Ana Mourino • Bowie by Rebecca Leveille Guay
This might seem like a purely theoretical mind exercise, but I think it has definite real-world implications. Recently I read Brian Wilson's memoir, and I was struck by how profoundly his mental illness crippled his ability to make art. You may or may not be familiar with Wilson's music, or you may suddenly be asking yourself "she doesn't mean the surfing music guy, right?" but in short, this is a musician of such skill (I won't say talent on this blog or Greg Manchess will kill me) that John Lennon called Pet Sounds the best album ever made. He had a nervous breakdown in the mid 60s (from some combination of overwork, a bad acid trip, depression, and maybe schizophrenia), and he wasn't able to tour or create music for decades. He fell into an abusive doctor-patient relationship with a predatory therapist for years. Through work, family, and friends, he was able to pull out and create music again many years later, but as an obviously damaged artist and individual. Reading the memoir, I couldn't help say to myself over and over, what creations of such a genius were lost to us because he didn't find a way to someone who understood the mental health of artists and could support him properly enough?

Wilson by Matt Rota • Bowie by Marc Scheff

Then I read Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (thanks for the recommendation Mallory O'Meara) and read the chapter on David Bowie. The book is a great look at the origins of rock music and how much religion, ritual, and art have affected it throughout it's evolution. The Bowie chapter is a great description of a man who pushed himself so hard and so far artistically, who absorbed so many influences (and cocaine) and struggled to digest and synthesize them into persona after persona, rebirth and redefinition, that he had a nervous breakdown. But Bowie was able to put himself back together and return to making art from a stronger place that supported him for the rest of a very long and insanely fruitful artistic career. It reminded me a great deal of reading that shamans and medicine men of many tribes around the world were chosen for the job because they had a mental crisis or disintegration (what we would call a breakdown today), and were able to reform their personality, often with the help of the current shaman. This also mirrors the descent into and return from the underworld in Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. If there is a musician that fits the bill of a shamanic hero artist, it's Bowie. So what was it that made Bowie able to survive his mental demons while Wilson drowned?

I feel like the answer is somewhere in the above questions about why artists make art. I'm not cocky enough to think that's an answer anyone is going to be able to figure out once and for all, but I think it would be critically useful to artists working today if we had a more recent working hypothesis. Could we figure out what the difference was between Wilson and Bowie? If we could distill that down into actionable steps we could save more masterworks from the jaws of mental illness, and more artists from being stuck and frustrated and in despair.

If you have a book recommendation along these lines, I'd love to hear it. If you have thoughts and/or stories about how these questions apply to you and your creative life, then please comment below.






Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Portrait Demos

Victor Frankenstein, from Penny Dreadful

--Greg Manchess

During my SmArtSchool classes I try to work in at least one or two demos during the fifteen weeks we work together. And I’m beginning to understand that watching someone paint multiple times can be the push needed to bring one’s work up to another level of understanding.

It’s usually difficult to squeeze many in because I feel that the student should get as much attention about the piece they are working on at the moment; to get them at a time when their insights are at keen levels of listening strength. But sometimes, showing is better than telling in this regard.

Notes about painting these:

After the initial sketch, start with a mid-tone value, even on a face; be bold and sweep the tone all around.

Next, a mixture of any darks can be applied to the bolder areas of the face, i.e., hair, eyebrows, eye socket shadows, nostrils, lip line, under bottom lip, ears, under nose, under chin.

Then, work your way up through the value range, darker skin values first, laying lighter and lighter skin values on top of them.

Ta-daaaa! Simple and direct.

Remember: value first, then shape, then color. Value is color, shape is form, color is description. In other words, once we know the value, we need the shape to tell what it is, and the color becomes the final information. Worry least about color, but get value down immediately.

Last bit of info: consider that the difference between painting a man’s face full of brushstrokes and a woman’s the same way is how much the value shifts between strokes. A man’s face can take a broader jump between values and still look manly. A woman’s face should have more shallow shifts between the values, a tighter range, so that the impression is one of a smooth transition, and therefore smoother texture on the skin. Just study the pictures here for a bit.

Jyn Erso, from Rogue One

So I plan on adding more demo time to my classes. If you’ve been thinking about taking one of my classes, sign-up for the Fall semester is coming up. I keep the atmosphere in the class a comfortable setting where all questions are welcome because they usually lead to even better questions.

I consider the class like a dojo for training. ‘Cry in the dojo; laugh on the battlefield’ is an old saying that helps us understand what we are really trying to achieve in an educational setting.

I want you to eventually laugh on the illustration battle field.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

3 Photoshop Speed-Paintings and Some New Brushes

-By Justin Gerard


Recently, I released 3 new Photoshop brush sets containing nearly 100 of the digital tools that I use for my personal and client jobs.  For today's post I am sharing a few videos which show these brushes in action, as well as the method I use when I work digitally. 



Demo from the Pencil Set


Samples from the Pencil Set

Why bother making your own brushes? 
The reason I started making my own brushes was that my first true love was traditional media. When I discovered digital painting, I fell in love with so much of what it could do, but I found that most of the digital brushes looked too, well... “digital.”  They look flat, plastic and they lack character.




To make matters worse, my favorite use for digital painting was to apply it over top of a traditional underpainting. But I found that most digital brushes looked unnatural over traditional material, and the final painting would feel unfinished and soulless.

To solve this problem, I sample scans of MY OWN BLOOD.  (just kidding)  I sample scans of actual brush strokes, paint splatters, pencil marks and paper textures, made with various traditional tools and surfaces. (And some spilled coffee)
I then arrange all of the 10 billion sliders and knobs in Photoshop to arrive at a specific mathematical formula. This transmits my subconscious into the computer, you know, like that guy from Tron. And once inside, there is a whole universe in there, filled with millions of people, all of whom hate me and want to kill me with laser frisbees and motorcycles.  BUT I KILL THEM INSTEAD. And I use their ground up bones to make my digital brushes. 

*ahem* Anyway, once I have imported these "real" marks and input all the correct settings into Photoshop, I am left with better brushes that look natural alongside traditional media and leaves you with something that feels traditional, yet unique. Sort of like the robots that will soon be among us; they aren't quite human, but close enough that you won't be that bothered by them serving you fries at McDonalds.



(Coffee. Not human blood!) 

I'll be releasing 6 more sets this year. Next week I will be releasing a set made up of coffee spills! 


Colorizing a drawing with the Texture Set




Colorizing a traditional drawing using the Watercolor Vol. I Set



To learn more, check them out here on our store!