This post comes to us from Alex Salazar, Curatorial Intern.
“Since the dawn of picture-making, illustrators have taken the tools available to them to document and react to the world around them,” explains Scott Bakal, the curator of Pixelated: The Art of Digital Illustration. The face of art is constantly changing, and new tools like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter are exposing artists to a virtually unlimited range of possibilities. On view at the New Britain Museum of American Art’s Low Illustration Gallery until Dec. 9th, 2012, this exhibition showcases “the brilliant ideas and processes that go into making illustrations today.”
Pixelated gathers a wide variety of artists together, from seasoned illustrators with over 30 years of experience to the newest names in the field, each bringing a unique process to the table. “One of the field’s first true pioneers,” Barbara Nessim (b. 1939) has her work displayed in the show. When she was an artist-in-residence at Time Video Information Services, she taught herself to make art on a Norpak II computer that “had a resolution of 199 x 256 pixels and offered only 6 drawing modes: a line, a dot, a rectangle, a circle, an arc and a polygon, which could be left blank or filled with a choice of 6 colors and 6 shades of grey, or further enhanced by a set of patterns,” as Nessim explains. Red Headbegan as an image produced with a stylus on an electronic tablet that simultaneously appeared on a Norpak II computer screen and a CRT monitor. When the drawing was complete, she photographed it on the monitor with a 35mm camera and processed the film in a photo lab.
While only a limited range of digital tools were available in the 1980s, over the years, a wider variety and complexity of programs have been developed. In February 1990, Adobe released the first commercial version of Photoshop, a program developed by the Knoll brothers that is used to edit and create images. In 1994, the “layers” feature on Photoshop version 3.0 revolutionized the execution of digital art. Acting as a transparent canvas, this feature allows artists to adjust color and other effects to a specific section of the composition.
Trained as a traditional painter, William Low (b. 1959) created his first digital illustration with Photoshop 3.0. For this artist, going digital “was a natural evolution—the computer was just a new medium, a new way for me to make marks.” In New Concourse, an illustration used in the children’s book Old Penn Station written by Low, he utilizes the advantages of digital media. “The complexity of the scene was made possible through the use of layers.” Below is a link to a video demonstrating his process:
Aside from Adobe products, new, upgraded tools continue to optimize digital methods. Apple’s 2012 MacBook Pro, for example, features a retina display that is able to support millions of colors, while Corel Painter 12 (a digital painting program) is able to mimic the appearance and quality of media such as watercolor and oil paint. Todd Lockwood (b. 1957), a traditionalist, was not initially fond of digital illustration yet “felt obligated to learn Painter.” To his surprise, he was enthralled, finding it “liberating, completely intuitive.” Lockwood uses this program to paint War of Angels, a promotional poster for Bullseye Tattoos.
Although many artists use digital methods exclusively to create their work, many others synthesize traditional and digital techniques. Jack Tom’s (b.1950) Seven Deadly Sin Series: Envy is a prime example of this merge. To create Envy, he began with numerous pencil sketches. Once a final pen and ink drawing was developed, Tom scanned it onto the computer and used Adobe Photoshop to refine the image and Adobe Illustrator to add color and various layers. Scanned close-ups of Gustave Doré’s (1832-1883) illustrative engravings for Dante’s Divine Comedyform the background. Appropriately chosen, this source pays dual homage to the unique textural effects of Doré’s masterful prints and also to Dante’s classic text which was among the first to codify the Seven Deadly Sins.
“Illustration,” as Scott Bakal explains, “is about exploring and conveying new ideas and putting up a mirror to the face of our cultures and lives.” With 26 works on display, Pixelated provides just a glimpse into the vast range of tools and techniques that modern illustrators use to accomplish such a task. The featured artists model a remarkable ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions and to create some of the most recognizable images in today’s visual culture.
The featured artists include: Melinda Beck, Mark Bender, Richard Borge, Harry Campbell, Marcos Chin, Lisa Desimini, Leo Espinosa, Tomer Hanuka, The Heads of State (Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers), Todd Lockwood, William Low, Matt Mahurin, Barbara Nessim, Victo Ngai, Edel Rodriguez, Zina Saunders, Yuko Shimizu, Shout! (Alessandro Gottardo), Chris Spollen, Nancy Stahl, Brian Stauffer, Dale Stephanos, Katherine Streeter, Jack Tom, James Yang, and Heidi Younger.
How do you think the transition from traditional to digital media has impacted artists’ style? Have digital methods changed the illustration world for the better or worse? What tools and features to you believe will be available in the next 10 to 20 years?