Last week, I spent four days at Toronto Pearson International Airport, sketching on a touchscreen at the Microsoft Windows 8 booth. This gave me enough time to complete a significant body of work – between 6 to 12 illustrations per day, from which I’ve selected a handful of what I feel were the most successful images.
At first I felt a bit nervous about this project – would I be able to adapt my illustration style to the Fresh Paint program? It is a bit of a high-pressure situation to be performing your art in front of a captive audience. Once I started though, it became apparent that this challenge was going to be a lot of fun. Not only do I get to share the booth with a bunch of young, enthusiastic event workers, but at the same time I’m taking a bit of a crash course in digital drawing.
The idea behind Windows 8 is that it’s an operating system you can do a bit of everything on – work or play, as they say. As such, the Fresh Paint application is not a specialist, professional program with an overwhelming plethora of tools and options. It’s a straight-forward, simple toy with two basic options – either pastel or paint. It has a visual interface that is so easy – it was fascinating to watch both children and elderly folks in the airport figure out the program within mere moments.
That said, as a professional illustrator who is used to working with extremely versatile, complex software, adapting to the limitations of Fresh Paint required a shift in attitude. Although the programmers have done a great job creating a simulacrum of wet and dry media, knowing how to use paint doesn’t mean you know how to use Fresh Paint. Like every medium, it requires thought and strategy to use to its best advantage.
Using Fresh Paint is like a game. There are several available effects I can use – how can I combine these effects to create a composition? The canvas is low-resolution and landscape-oriented, which doesn’t adapt well to my usual style of figure illustration – so what is the creative solution to that?
There is this idea that digital art is by its very nature is slick and facile – I don’t believe that it has to be, although of course mine is by virtue of its subject. There is certainly a tendency to perfect and polish an image until it loses all sense of humanity. It is an interesting creative conundrum to attempt to allow an element of wrongness into a digital illustration. The oxymoron of deliberate spontaneity.
So over the course of this project, the concept of the “New Aesthetic” has been on my mind. When creating work using watercolour, part of the art is letting the unpredictability of the materials play a role in the work. Whereas when using a computer program, everything is predictable – brushes are always the same shape and angle, edges react with other edges using the same set of data every time. So the only way to introduce a sense of artificial life into a digital image is to find a glitch in the program, and exploit that glitch in a purposeful way.
At the end of the week, they’re just a bunch of simple, superficial images I’ve created. Yet, I’m quite excited by them. I’m going to be doing another four days, so next week there will be a second portfolio, and maybe some more thoughts, too.