Sometimes the key to appreciating art is understanding the process behind it. For example, there is a misconception that “anybody could make” a Mondrian painting because it seems like such a simple concept. To grasp what Mondrian was trying to do with all the squares, rectangles and primary colours, it’s useful to follow his gradual progress from figurative art to purely abstract painting.
These days, at least in the Yukon, there is a similar misunderstanding about digital illustration. For folks who aren’t familiar with the digital artist’s process, it may seem like the computer simply does all the work. It may seem like anybody could do it and it’s not “real” art.
For artists in the Yukon Illustration Coalition (YILCO), this misconception means their art might not be taken as seriously as fine artists, says Teagan Beemer, coalition member. It can impact everything from illustrators’ success in selling work, to their ability to obtain grants and exhibitions.
That’s why Beemer pitched the idea to the coalition of having an exhibition that revealed the processes involved in creating digital illustrations. The show, Dreamland: Demystifying Digital Illustration, can be seen at Arts Underground from Feb. 4 to Feb. 26.
“Fine artists don’t have to explain how their work is created for it to be understood,” the coalition says in its online statement. Dreamland is the coalition members’ efforts to explain their practice in order to be understood. The exhibition is meant to help audiences see that making art in a digital format requires the same artistic skill and individual creativity as when using more traditional media such as oils, acrylic and watercolours.
For the exhibition, Beemer chose a broad subject theme (dreamland) so artists could have fun and interpret the idea however they wanted. As the artists created their work, they documented their pieces at different stages of completion. Then, in the exhibition, the various stages are exhibited next to the final version, so the viewer can see how the artist used the digital medium from beginning to end.
At the time of writing, I had access to images of the dreamland theme as interpreted by three of the artists: Beemer, Asia Hyde and Sheelah Tolton. All three of the artists take various explorations in fantasy, including a girl in the garden with friendly toadstools (Beemer); fairies in flight (Hyde); and a man discovering dragon eggs (Tolton). In comparing the work, it’s clear that the artists have unique artistic visions and distinguishable styles.
In Beemer’s “In the Garden,” the first stage of her process is a sketch with very simple lines and shapes. Beemer used a stylus to draw the sketch in her tablet, just as another artist might use a pencil. As the work progresses, more and more detail is added, including bright colours and dapples of light. The final piece is a charming illustration reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
Hyde’s piece, “Fragments Made Whole,” begins with a simple sketch as well. However, her process differs from Beemer’s in that she began her sketch on paper before moving her work onto the computer. Hyde gradually added more detail, such as facial features and shadows, in the progressive versions of the work. Then she integrated muted blues and purples.
Tolton painted her piece using Photoshop on her tablet. You can see the different techniques that Tolton has used, similar to painting with a brush on canvas. Beemer points out that while she uses simple, defined lines, Tolton uses a more painterly approach with visible brushstrokes creating shadows, shading and depth.
The tone of the works is also unique to each artist. Beemer’s illustration is marked by its cheerful, playful vibe, while Tolton’s is more realistic, with earthy colours and a darker mood. Hyde’s piece has a dreamy quality, with the fairies floating in a magical, moon-lit landscape.
The diversity of the artists’ work shows that they each take a very different approach to their digital practices. Just like artists working in charcoal, paint or clay, members of YILCO have distinct styles, sensibilities and interpretations of the same theme. The display of the progressive stages of their work juxtaposed with the final versions accomplishes the purpose of the exhibition: to demystify digital art. Hopefully that will lead to a greater appreciation of the artists and their illustrations.
Read more about the exhibition and YILCO at https://www.artsunderground.ca/exhibitions/dreamland-demystifying-digital-illustration.