Monday, 14 December 2015

What about the homeless?!! The knee-jerk reaction to refugees in Canada.

To begin with, let me take a second to give a polite nod to the most Canadian of gestures:  the apology.  I will be battling poor generalizations with poor generalizations, emotional outburst with emotion and hopefully a smattering of logic.  For the former I apologize, for the latter I hope to redeem myself.

I’m getting more than a little tired of well intentioned, learned and even media driven exhortations about how the government can ignore poverty in Canada whilst still manage to take in refugees.  Now, I will give a pass to the people who are spouting off a tumble of non-reasoned words like a string of curses to exercise their right to express a strong emotional response.  But, for those of you who think this is a valid opinion in any shape or form, please, please give your cobwebs of rage and fear a shake and dust out that bone-box attic of yours.  Poverty in Canada is in no way hindered by a budget constraint. 

We have heard it all before, budget cuts, the need for more funding, shelters opening, food banks closing, the need for more beds, subsidized housing, better education, an unfixable problem, a necessary evil, minimum wages, guaranteed incomes, generational welfare, entitlements, too much taxes…this can go on and on ad nauseam. The simple fact is there has always been poverty and homelessness in Canada…always.  This fact has been mollified for us in the same way we look at speed limits on highways.  We know thousands of lives can be saved year-over-year by reducing speed limits but we aren’t ready to make that kind of lifestyle adjustment.  Or, there is some sort of magical statistic whereas accidental and preventable deaths merge together to become tolerable.  This form of thought as applied to homelessness comes in the form of expenditure and property:  we know that if we house all Canadians there will be no homelessness; but, do we really want to give up all of that money infrastructure and time?  The greater majority of Canadians are comfortable with their lives, not that they don’t complain, but generally have no need for charity. 

This is why I’ve become comfortable saying Canadians don’t care about the homeless.  What a horrible thing to say, right?  Oh, I’ve been called out on it more than once.  I’ve had people say they volunteer, donate, offer respite and even campaign for these hard social issues.  Hell, I’ve even had it thrown back in my face—why don’t I do something?  But, the facts don’t lie.  With the income that our government collects we could easily provide food and shelter for all Canadians.  That is not to say we wouldn’t have to adjust our priorities, we would…significantly.  And when I say Canadians, I’m talking about us as a whole…not a smattering of individuals that feel, share, live and empathize with the less fortunate.  We would rather have a good internet connection than eliminate poverty.  So, please desperately try to avoid this comparison when discussing refugees.

‘Wait!  It isn’t about whether we can afford it…it is about us already paying into Canada and these people getting all these things for free!’  Ah, yes.  This, again, is why I feel no reticence in saying Canadians don’t care about the homeless.  Now, if we put aside the childish idea that we can ear-mark our taxes or that most people pay the lion’s share of what they receive by living in this country (it is and they don’t) we have yet another example of entitlement that oh so commonly gets branded into the poor hides of people suffering through welfare.  We have an obligation to recognize the importance of the struggles of our past:  we certainly don’t have the right to rest on the laurels of our past.  We, as a modern nation need to pave our own way just as much as the generations before.  The idea that we inherited this great wealth and have the right to horde it as we see fit destroys everything that was fought for in generations previous.  When people say we were founded through immigration that isn’t just a pleasant thing to say (and for the sake of brevity, I will avoid the obvious colonial atrocities involved) it has meaning.  It means we don’t have a unified culture:  we have a unified state.  To confuse this leads to the burning hatred that becomes nationalism.  Yes, nationalism, the personification of the worst tribal instincts distilled from human-kind. 

Further, you will always have to pay taxes.  That an immigrant or refugee gets a degree of compensation does not change that.  In fact, in short order they will start paying taxes.  In fact, a refugee has a much higher chance of actually contributing more taxes than your average Canadian long-term.  This leads to a comparison most people don’t like to think of.  Giving a refugee money is more akin to doling out money for infrastructure projects than contributing to welfare.  Strange right?  This is truly why I am for supporting refugees.  My cold-hearted mind stabs my bleeding heart in the back and tells me that Canada needs the influx of people to be able to sustain it.  It needs refugees because they are far more likely to be an entrepreneur, far less likely to need social assistance long-term and far less likely to commit crimes.  Refugees tend to be far more industrious than our average citizens in terms of motivation and labour:  happily taking any work and collecting billable hours far past our lazy eight.  Investing in immigration and refugees is more like repaving our economy than helping the less fortunate.   And generally, it only takes one or two generations for their kids to feel as entitled as our angry tax-paying dissenters…but don’t worry accepting more refugees will fix that too.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Turning Over an Old Dry Leaf

I'm so excited!  It was only the middle of December (2012) that I decided I wanted to change my life.  Having been away from the stressful environment of retail management and consulting for a year, volunteering at the local school for the last six months and learning to be comfortable with my 'home' self without my 'work' self:  I decided to become a professional illustrator.  Now...I guess this isn't the type of thing that happens everyday; but, it feels so natural to me.  So now I sit at my one-day-old computer (capable of rendering the images I will be producing) and I'm trembling with excitement.  Not just the thrill of a new career but for an opportunity that has presented itself.  

The ArtOrder is a website devoted to illustrators learning their craft through meaningful critique by professionals in the industry.  They have thematic challenges allowing new artists a chance to flex their artistic muscle.  The thing is, this current art challenge is being critiqued by Chris Moeller, Daren Brader, Jeremy Cranford, Lauren Panepinto, and Tony DiTerlizzi.  Not to mention it is being organized by Jon Schindehette. That means my work will be viewed and critiqued by four art directors, two great artists (not counting the art directors) and one of the artists is Tony DiTerlizzi.  I can't expound upon how wonderful that is to me!  Having Tony hate my work would be a dance through the dandelions because he would have reviewed my work like he would a contemporary.  I absolutely adored his work on the Planescape setting...and I have bought children's books just for his art.

So, the theme...nymphs...okay...okay, yeah, I can work with that.  I mean every fantasy artist in the entire world has drawn a nymph.  So, what are they about...what are the 'what-ifs'?  Okay, all pictures of nymphs and dryads and mermaids tend to be in their 'glamour' form.  I mean...nymphs aren't characters...they are like a summer rain or a harsh blizzard.  Nymphs are creatures without destiny, they are animals...but they are more than that.  They are wise...they have the wisdom of Mother Nature, or Father Time.  What if they grew old, what if they were a part of entropy, what if they lived in modern times?  I think I want something beyond the has to be part of it...I need a patsy.  Yeah, all the Greek myths have patsies and heroes; but, I need to illuminate what they are...not how they are.

I love the idea of dryads in the fall.  The crisp brown, red and yellow leaves twisting and turning...the dryads must celebrate the solstice...harvest?  They could change color with the seasons!  The older nymphs would look different than the younger...there would be differences in they still feed off of humanity...but are an intricate part of nature.  What if as they grow older they gain more powerful glamours to compensate for their loss of physical beauty...or the older ones organize the younger ones to lead the patsy into temptation of a type of dyadic coven?  

As of today I have worked on the composition a total of 3 days.  I think I am making good progress.
It started with an idea for a single-side cover for a book (that could be worked into a fold over if I were to extend the scenery).  I am being mindful of space for a title and author and want to make it captivating enough at a glance...not just interesting under scrutiny.  Careful not to have any of the nymphs eyes daring the viewer I have the patsy, a half-orc, looking uncertain and bemused right at the viewer.  The older nymph to the right is thoroughly enjoying the entrancement of the 'mark' while the younger looks on at her elder with bemused respect...but with just a trace of sexuality with the twist of her knee (she doesn't have the power yet to simply beckon...she must still use her physicality.    

The background will be a darkened autumn forest with a ring of dancing nymphs just out of focus through the mist and swirl of the fall celebration.  Leaves will be falling and swirling.  Each of the nymphs will have a 'natural halo' circling their cranial crowns.  I like the otherworldly bearing the long wooden horns give the dryads (wood nymphs).  They don't consider the half-orc as a living thing...more as a tool to continue their traditions and continue to makes the seasons come and go...not evil...but definitely not good:  this is the hard neutrality of a pack of wolves circling a moose who has fallen through the spring ice.  This is a look at nymphs without the fog of glamour--this is how other nymphs see nymphs.

Okay...this is what I have so far...not finished...but by the weekend I hope to be on to my next iteration (you can submit up to 20).  I wish I had seen this in early December so I could have more time to work on the challenge.  

So, hurrah to turning over an old dry leaf!

I need to still do the background forest, the dancing nymphs, the foreground nymph's bodies and halos...and of course the foreground ground covering.


Started working on some of the I mean foreground.  I'm happy with the bottom one third of the work...and will like the figures and middle ground when I am able to do my washes for proper light...but I want the background done first.

Update part II:

Need to finish the right figure's hand and reconcile my discomfort with the middle-ground.  Not sure if I like the dancing figures.  I don't want them to be detailed; but, having them in the current state bothers me.  All of my sketches placed the dancing figures in two groups of three...or two triads--very Poussin-like.  But as I was working the piece, the figures seemed too close and the right side too crowded.  Also, composition seems dark...which has me guessing at some of the colors from the direct light versus the ambient light.  I really like the idea of the falling leaves casting shadows...but I'm gonna leave that one for now.

Update III

I'm still not satisfied with the middle-ground; but, several people seem to enjoy the look of it...and honestly that is where the bottom half of the title or subtitle will go if it is used for a book cover.  I reserve the right to change it at some later date...beside that I'm gonna call this a finished piece.  I know I suffer from the artist's derangement of never-finish-itice whereas nothing is ever good enough.  I'm setting this aside for my next project and take a look at it in about a week for a second opinion from my future self.  Some of the minor changes I made since the last iteration was the obvious display of magic and power, the adjustment of the right figure for more precise proportions, a toning down of the cartoon like folds in the half-orc's pants, some reworking of the color blending,  a bit more direct lighting over the ambient light and of course the leaves which were always going to be a part of the finished piece.

I really like the idea that fairy folk have different vision than mortals.  I commonly play that card in my games.  Part of this vision allows them to see auras.  Every fairy creature possesses an aura, commonly in the shape of a halo, that describes how and where they draw their powers from.  That is where some of the imagery I used comes into play.  I like the idea that we are seeing these nymphs in their true fairy form instead of their glamoured form.  

I'm hoping this tells a story...more of a genre piece for a narrative that you would see on the cover of a book.    The large half-orc that takes center stage is just a lamb for the slaughter.  He is glamoured, half resisting, half wanting to succumb to what ever will befall him.  Initially he would have seen the creatures in their true form  celebrating the Autumnal Equinox (enough so that he drew his weapon) but is eventually swayed by the fairy power of the nymphs.  The left figure took the lead using her glamour and sexuality; but, the older and more powerful dryad saw the power of the resisting warrior (possibly a follower of Kord--for any fellow geeks) and stepped in.  The left figure respects and admires the strength and wisdom of her leader (hence her gaze is at her senior rather than the half-orc) and together they lead the half-orc out of their lands...or perhaps to the traditional glen of the nymph to fornicate and discard--to further their numbers.  If this were to be a book cover this event would have to be very important, and about the character and development of the nymphs over the half-orc who could easily play a strong secondary character...perhaps he could be a major character in a comedy like a fantasy Pink Panther book...that would make more sense.  A fantasy, half-orc, Sergeant Cluzo!  I like it.  In the Case of the Dryad Stone of the Equinox!  Well, I think of these types of things...painting really is story telling in a lot of ways.

Why not play with a mock title?

David Paul Simcox

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Sound of an Unfinished Painting

When I leave my art to the lumbering moniker of 'hobby' I tend to let things slide.  This was evident in my youth and throughout my professional career.  As soon as I started giving myself deadlines and goals my work became exacting and timely.  This is very important for me to understand...I needed to know myself better in order to accomplish the things in life I hungered for. 

 I'd like to go back to an unfinished piece I started about a month into the ownership of my stylus--and the emergence of my digital art journey.

I discovered this amazing site where professional and amateur artists display their works, discuss the art and industry and promote events and education called  They have drawing challenges:  sometimes run by Art Directors, sometimes just members of the community and sometimes both.  They start with an idea, or picture, and you are supposed to adhere to that theme, or imagery, to create your work.  Stumbling late into this one (admittedly the first time I noticed the process) I was eager to join.  The challenge revolved around a big demony thing with a beguiling witch-like naked know, typical fantasy mumbo-jumbo.  We were supposed to create a box-cover illustration for the promotion of a miniature--based on the drawing given.  It was not supposed to be a draftsman like rendering:  we were to take licence with it to create an interesting cover.  This is the picture.

I blocked out a few ideas...sorry I didn't keep the sketches...and then decided upon one.  I thought it would be interesting because it would be neat to give the woman an equal kind of footing in the composition--power-wise.  A tough road to hoe for a little naked chick next to a big monstrous demon.  I positioned the woman in the extreme foreground staring straight at the viewer--while completely ignoring the hulking mass behind her...I think it would be neat...perhaps one day I will finish it as a side project.

 So now it kinda looks like she has summoned the beast and he is at her beck-and-call.  I was also cognizant of the need for text so I made sure there was a fairly large amount of negative...or uninteresting space.  

Even though I wanted to include more power for the woman, I was really mostly interested in the monster.  I mean, you get a lot of figure drawing in school so even though it had been ten years I was still a little burnt out.  

Again, still not knowing how to use the computer program...but fairly confident with the stylus...I set out.  Mostly I paint wet on wet oils, so that is really how I started this picture.  I started with a quick wash on the background--settling into a chiaroscuro type of situation where I would bring items into the light from the dark background.  I new I should block my light and shapes (not realizing I could greyscale first) but wanted an idea for how to make my painting different from the others.  When you are using tones you can just go darker and lighter to make shape and light; but, with color you use opposites or slit-opposites.  A really good habit is to deal with warm and cool tends to make your paintings pop more.  

Thinking I was all cool, I decided to use purple and yellow (knowing that most people use red and blue) to divide my that my piece would standout more (whether that is good or bad I'm not sure).  Now, as I mentioned earlier, in digital art there are many options that are much better to utilize.  I could have blocked out a greyscale in one layer, a line map in another, and then start picking out my colors in a third.  Let alone individual elements such as arms, swords and even heads which would allow me to go back and change or adjust to a more formal accuracy or design.  But, alas, I started painting over my lines.

I new I wanted everything lit from the bottom...because that is how scary stories are told with a flashlight.  And, I knew I wanted this thing massive with his trophies hanging gruesomely from his massive chest.  So I started at the face and worked my way out figuring the best thing to do is lay down my limited palette and just blend the colors using the smudging tool.  Ah the smudging tool, the trap of every young digital artist.  It makes things look cool and swirly and eliminates those pesky transition lines; but, it also muddies the composition.  If you make a mark:  make it with authority.  Own that brushstroke.  Of course you are going to build texture and atmosphere with it...but it is not a swirly tool of destiny to fix any painting.  Beware.

Now I stumbled into an important aspect of looking, viewing, and working on a digital piece.  Not only can you flip it sideways and upside-down to see if it is looking right and not just a trick of your eyes...but you can change the background colors without spending hours refilling in the space.  Even better...since I was blending the colors over top of the white background there were some spots that were more transparent than others.  Little spots that the white from the background were seeping though.  For I wasn't doing a true tenebrism I really had only did my wash around the line blocking of my mid and fore figures.  But, when I accidentally used a fill tool on my background layer...something wonderful got better!

All of the creepy lighting jumped out, all of the negative space sunk back and the passion of the piece increased.  Now, if I had been doing a proper chiaroscuro from the beginning I wouldn't have discovered this wonderful tool.  And it lead me to far more discoveries.  There are thousands of filters and scripts that you can run on these programs that can drastically or minutely manipulate the composition.  It never hurts to randomly try one...just for a different perspective...who knows:  It might change your mind.  Eventually they become tools for not only the whole piece but small individual sections that need a little work.  

I love the stunned silence that escapes my mind as I sit before an unfinished piece realizing I have just improved every other painting I will ever make. 

David Paul Simcox

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Timid Toe into the Pool of Pixels

Although I've been painting since I could reach the top of the table:  I'm new to digital art.  Approximately a year ago I bought a $50 stylus from the local Future Shop to see what all the fuss was about.  Now, I take pride in my palette knives, brushes, and the sound my canvas makes after I stretch it; but, I must admit I really like painting on the computer.  There is a fresh newness to exhibitionists zeal--you can make mistakes all day and not have to throw anything out.  Dear lord, you don't have to scrape off $20 of 'artist tested' oil paint just to realign a slight miscalculation because you were cocking your head slightly to the right last Friday.  Er, well, I mean, it is a practical modern medium.

Some of the drawbacks tend to come in the form of appreciation.  The audience expects a little more, has a little less respect for, and seems to not understand the inherent sameness involved with the more traditional mediums.  There is the implicit understanding that digital art is easier and that just about anyone can make a realistic composition because it is on the computer.  If you are one of these people let me be the first to emphatically state:  it is not.  Don't get me wrong there are some benefits...but with the added tools comes the added complications:  there is a lot more to learn and a lot more technical savvy than traditional painting.

So, what I would like to do is go over the first small composition I did with my new $50 stylus using the freeware program GIMP.  GIMP I've come to really like and I am considering it in loo of Photoshop because of my familiarity with it.  My first piece is a concept piece of a knight in a game I've been playing for the last couple of years.  It is loosely based on the Knights Templar...but in a fantasy setting.

At first I went searching for references.  I was looking for armor, swords, tabards and spears; but, since it was just for my own amusement...not to be sold or redistributed...I found a great painting by Zvonimir Grbasic that fit the feel for exactly what I wanted.

I loved the battle weary feel of the knight; but, was more interested in the pose and the need to make it a knight from the game we play.  So, I opened up my program and a picture of the painting and stared at them side-by-side.  I started to sketch the general outline in a light sepia not knowing how or what I would do next.  I was just getting a feel for the pen and the different pressures and speeds I could muster out of it.  I then discovered that you could layer different drawings and colors over-top of the original.  So I could work on different parts, try new things, and not worry about wrecking the whole thing.  Jumping on that cool feature I started playing with light and tones:  fleshing out the plastic form, negative space and a little of the light source.

Now right off the bat we notice I really didn't get the contrapposto of the figure, I elongated the neck thereby shrinking the head and I have his eyes open.  One of those I did on purpose:  I'll let you be the judge.  But I really liked the process, and how it was feeling so I hurried on eager to see just how far I could go.  I knew it was only going to be a sketch or a quick painting but the whole newness of the situation spurred me on.  Gathering my darker umber I muddled on.

I caught the proportion problem and widened the jawline of the figure and continued the tonal study right down to the calves of the figure.  Still unsure, I knew I wanted to introduce light and color but didn't know which was wiser to do first.  I settled on color but have come to the conclusion that is not the best method.  You are effectively painting without direction...its like driving without a can do just don't get anywhere.  Next I started playing with tentative washes of color.  I wanted to keep the colors in a consistent tone so as to not draw attention to any one spot and I could then work the details with more authority.  This is where I started to realize my folly from the onset.

I worked the color into the tones and deciding on a direct (right) yellow light with a strong ambient white light.  I wasn't too concerned because of the nature of the large white negative space...but things look strange if there is no discernible light.  What I started to realize as I wanted to include more detail was that I was at the outer limits of the zooming capability.  The size of the digital brush was literally larger that the lines I wanted to make.  At the beginning I had randomly picked a size for the composition (which turns out to be measured by pixels) and then the program defaults at a DPI (dots per inch: related to how detailed and exacting you can make the prints).  I had made the picture too small!!  It was like I accidentally stretched a 6" x 6" canvas instead of a 6' x 6' canvas.  I couldn't believe it.  Digital art:  the media that you can always go back and correct your mistakes with--I had managed to figure out how to make a mistake I couldn't go back and fix.  Similarly, I couldn't increase the size of the picture without it getting very blurry:  these images are pretty much the extent of the compositions clarity. 

Oh well.  It is really only a sketch, and it taught me a whole lot about what I shouldn't be doing.  I did figure out that I could double up the image by copying it to enhance some of the colors and bold some of the tones--and I really kinda like the painterly quality that the piece ended up with.  So, onward and upward.  Next time I dip my toe in the pixels I'll have bigger water wings.

David Paul Simcox

Gods and Monsters

Without gods and monsters, art cannot enact a drama

~Mark Rothko

While, I fail to believe Rothko felt there should literally be gods and monsters as objective images, his intonation regarding art stands.  Tension, conflict and potential drives any stirring composition.  Don't get me wrong, there is conflict within stillness...if it is done right.  There is that potential, or uncertainty, that drives the emotion of a composition without overt action--that many artists should learn.  I feel that some of the subtle power of the Dutch Masters could easily translate into the gripping action of our modern fantasy illustrations.

Well, what I am really on about is that I feel fine art and illustration share a lot more in common than people would have you believe.  I'm not talking about the intention, or the artist statements, or even the venue; I'm talking about the actual compositions themselves.  They consistently inform the other.  Trends set and reverse based on the periphery of the age:  the matchboxes and place-mats of pop culture.  So even the methods become intrinsically tied, through devotion, if not in spirit.

Our gods and monsters derive from the explainable to the unknown.  From the friction of conflict.  From the blunt terror of unbridled ignorance that so tastefully informs our discomfort, fear, love, and awe.  For it is not in our understanding that makes things great; but, in our lack of understanding.  That is why Benjamin's mechanical reproductions still hold nuggets of truth even in this more modern era.  As soon as our periphery slips from the corner of our eyes, right into the hash-marks of our consciousness, it loses its luster and is discarded again to be picked up again in our little red wagon of nostalgia.  Ever so is the trend and labels of our arts...even going back to Lascaux and our prehistoric doodling.

But, never let it be said that we didn't try to make it great.  To instill the drama of humanity into the vast unknown.  The unknown into the unknown.  The god into the monster.  The drive.

David Paul Simcox