The National Cartoonists Society Foundation‘s Thanks&Giving art auction to benefit hurricane relief efforts is down to its final two days. If you have not at least visited Heritage Auction‘s auction NCSF auction pages, do yourself a favor and go take a look. Bid if you can or wish, but enjoy looking at the images. There are some amazing pieces in there. Looking at them myself I’m reminded how rare these sorts of pieces of original art are starting to become.
A few weeks ago I was at a cartooning get together and I overheard an artist I admire telling another how he now does 100% of his work on the iPad Pro. He no longer needs to even use his desktop computer, scanner, and certainly not paper, pencil, or pen, at all… everything sketched, inked, colored and uploaded from his tablet. The artist he said this to asked what programs he uses, clearly thinking this would be a great goal of his own. These artists were fairly young, looking at several decades of producing really good work, which I will be looking forward to seeing and reading. However, one thought went through my head and would not go away…
…that artist will never produce another piece of original art.
Outside of commissions that cartoonist might do on actual paper with actual drawing utensils, nothing he does professionally will exist in the physical world. None of his published work, the work that is the real fruit of his creative talent and skill, will ever be anything but images projected on a screen via electric impulses, or inks placed in small dots on printer paper. His entire career will consist of 0’s and 1’s on some electronic storage device.
Maybe no one really cares about that anymore. In the end, it’s about the finished work and not the journey that gets you there…right? That’s true, but if you’ve ever held an original inked page by Wally Wood, or a watercolor by Jack Davis, or a cover painting for a book by Frank Frazetta in your hands, you cannot help but feel something special is being lost. These pieces have a connection to the physical world that moves you in a way looking at some print cannot. Here is a piece of paper or board or canvas that the artist’s hands slaved over. On it their pencil, brush, or pen, created something incredible from nothing at all… and you hold the tangible results in your hands. The brush strokes, the pen lines, the demonstration of mastery of the medium they used, all interacting with the surface of a humble piece of pulped paper or woven threads by the actual hand of the artist. They bent over that same piece of board or canvas that you are now bending over, and spent time making their magic. That original is a connection with an artist no print or RGB screen, no matter how many pixels dense it is, gives you. It’s like a time machine…a physical connection to the moments when this piece of art was created and to the person who created it.
Sorry… got a little melodramatic there. But I really do find it sad that one of the major drawbacks of the rise of the computer as a tool for art is that less and less original art is being created. The entirety of many comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, illustrations, animations and other forms of art are being done entirely digitally, and as a result no original art exists for these works. Looking at the surface of the iPad Pro they used to created all of it just doesn’t have the same impact. Actually, it has zero impact at all.
I’m not some grumpy old fart that laments “the good old days”, and thumbs my nose at the digital age. God knows I use digital tools in virtually everything I do. I would never begrudge anyone the chance to use any tool they wish to create their work if it meant they got the results they want and maybe it even saved them time so they could get more work done. In fact the techniques I use for coloring on the computer have only the printed results in mind. When zoomed in to 200% or more on the screen they look loose and sloppy, but I only care about what it looks like in print not on the screen. The results not the journey. Art is art and the computer or tablet is just a tool. Art done digitally is not more or less valid that work done traditionally. The hand, mind, and talent of the artist is what really creates the work, not the paint or ink or pixels used to mold it.
That said, I think I am allowed to heave a sigh and lament that so few originals are being created these days, and I will be denied the chance to hold those originals in my hands and get that connection to those moments its creation really happened and to the artists that created it.
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