• alexjgardner

One sketch, two artists

A linocut challenge accepted...

A couple of weeks ago, my best bud Joe set me a challenge during one of our regular FaceTime calls. To take a sketch that he'd done during one of his 'late night doods' sessions (you can check out his many 'doods' here: https://twenty3thirty2.wixsite.com/latenightdoods) and turn it into a linocut. He would do his version too, on an iPad, and we would see just how different they turned out.

This was quite the challenge for me - I hardly ever do faces. Or living beings. Or anything organic (at least with any detail). It's really not my strong point - I'm good with geometric shapes, technical lines, typography, and my mind gravitates towards charts and maps and the like, but representing living beings, and particularly human figures just never seems to work for me. I end up either with an unintentionally child-like image, or somewhere in the world of the uncanny valley. So I tend to steer clear. I think a big part of my problem is that I don't sketch well (my freehand drawing skills are woeful to be honest, mainly because I've never practiced). But this little project was perfect for me to learn new ways of interpreting a face thanks to having the initial sketch come out of Joe's talented hand. The blueprint was already there for me to build off.

Interpreting the Sketch

Having said that, I spent the first couple of days frustrated with the image. I ended up in my usual routine (one I'm trying to break) - trying to go for realism, getting pissed off when it doesn't work out, trying to go for a different style which is similar to what I know of Joe's work, getting more pissed off when that doesn't work either, regretting saying I'd do it, feeling like I wasn't going to be able to do anything good and doubting my skills generally. If this had been a project I'd started on my own I don't know if I'd have persevered with it or whether it would have ended up in the 'Things I've started but will never finish' file. But the fact that this project was in collaboration with an artist pal made it much easier to keep chipping away.

I've started to realise, whilst doing this blog, that getting past that hump - the self-doubt, the urge to quit - is probably just a part of my process. It's like I've got to clear out all the crap from my head before I can get see the way forward. In the case of this piece, it was the realisation that I was trying to create in a style that wasn't my own. Of course that's why it wasn't working! It's not MY style. One of the things Joe has taught me over the years is how to 'see' differently, and to have faith in my own way of interpreting things. So I went back to basics - instead of looking at a face in the sketch, I found shapes and layers. Instead of worrying about what hair is meant to look like, I played with textures that I liked, that I felt were appropriate for the work. Rather than trying to hide sections that weren't drawn in the sketch with heavy shadows (such as the figure's left ear) I drew them in, sketching over and over again until I got it right. That's one of the biggest lessons for me - don't expect to get something perfect on the first try, it's gonna take many iterations and much rubbing-out and tweaking! As soon as I shifted my process in this direction the design flowed freely. And thus my finished work (slowly) emerged.

The finished pieces

So here are finished pieces - mine on the left and Joe's on the right. Two very different interpretations of a single sketch. As they should be, we've both got very different ways of working. This has been a hugely enjoyable experience for me - I've learnt loads doing this. There are plenty of things I want to improve on but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. So much so that we're now onto the next challenge - for Joe to sketch a comic book page from his superlative imagination, which we'll then develop in our respective mediums. Am looking forward to it already. By the way, I did take lots of timelapse footage of the carving and printing processes for this project, so I'll drop that on Instagram when it's all edited together.

Before I sign off for this week I reckon it's important to note that in addition to experimenting and playing with new ways of working and seeing as an artist, we all need people around us who can nurture, encourage and support that development, both in terms of skills and philosophy. That's what Joe is for me - he's not just a good mate, he's a mentor and big brother. 15 years ago he was the one who introduced me to the world of digital art, and the possibility of creating my own artwork. Without that introduction I doubt whether I'd be working as an artist today. He's been endlessly supportive of me and my work and out of all the people I've met during my 40 years on earth, I don't think anyone has had more of an influence on me, perhaps with the exception of my wife. I think it's about 50/50 to be honest! Being an artist can be a lonely pursuit sometimes, especially when you have hermity tendencies like I do, but having like-minded folks to lean on and collaborate with makes all the difference. If you have a 'Joe' then hang on to them, they're worth their weight in gold.

Until next time...