Them’s Fighting Words

I want to address the “technology enhanced vs. all ‘freehand/old school’ airbrushing” controversy that is lingering around the modern art industry.  Many of you know my stance on the issue, but maybe not the basis. Here it is.

You have 2 choices in life.  You can be the hammer, or you can be a nail.  You can put aside all your pre-conceived and pre-programmed ideas of what it means to be an artist, and embrace the tools that modern advancements have provided for you, or you can sit by and be squashed by them.

Today’s commercial art and sign market is progressing at an enormous pace.  Advancement in all areas from computer processors to printers and lasers keep even the largest companies on their toes.  As most of you know, right now you can have a digital rendering that was created in PhotoShop, Illustrator, CorelDraw or any number of programs, printed on film and applied to your car, truck, van, building, coffee cup, whatever.  A technology called digital sublimation is now being perfected.  This process will allow digital printing and reproduction to be applied directly on to a clear coated surface of any kind.  Every day, advancements in digital technology are further reducing the marketplace for airbrushed art.

As a modern artist, you will always be subjected to the groups of people that will give you a hard time, because for some reason they feel as though these modern tools in the hands of an artist, somehow bypass the creative process.  What a bunch of crap.  You are still the “Man (or Woman) Behind The Machine.”  You may be expressing yourself in a different fashion, but the platform, art, is the same.  If we can adapt to the changing marketplace, the art form will grow and flourish, especially with media exposure we have gotten in the past few years, and will continue to get in the coming years.  Those who won’t, or are not willing to at least consider some adjustment, will more or less suffer the consequences of not being able to meet their full monetary potential in the marketplace, and the viability of the art form will cease to exist. 

If you wish to be competitive in the marketplace as “custom paint shops” pop up all over, flood the market and drive prices down, you have to enable yourself to do a quality job in less time.  NONE of this is to say that freehand skills are not essential.  It is the basis of what we do.  The brush – paint – paper, will ALWAYS need to be there.  No technology in the world will enable you to paint better or build your freehand skills for you.  You still need to spend time with your brush and know your medium. However, utilizing technology such as computer rendering, digital proofs, mask plotting and as a way to move from sketchpad directly to getting busy with the airbrush, only makes sense to me on any level.  It allows you to get to the fun stuff (actually airbrushing) faster, and with less room for human error, mechanical failure and less time spent on cleaning up.

Early in my career, not long after leaving art school, I realized how quickly my college schooling was becoming outdated.  Within a year or 2 software companies were flourishing and the days of paste up and cameras were gone.  That realization, nearly 20 years ago, forced me to make a decision to either back out or embrace technology and accept the fact that I had wasted a lot of time being trained that I would be doing art “that way.”

I left college to pursue a musical career to supplement my artwork.  It took years for technology to become affordable for me.  Eventually I saved enough to buy my first computer, and it was years again before I could get a vinyl cutter, let alone a printer.  But I did it.  And I have to attribute a great deal of my success to the fact that I was willing to see past the old school ways I had learned and at least openly embrace something to make my life more efficient.  There is no real motive behind my use of technology, other than to get the job done.  As a career artist, I am constantly struggling to create art that will not only satisfy my client, but also satisfy myself.  I have found a method that allows me to do both.

If you are satisfied as an artist and do not want to compete in a world, local, or regional market, you can certainly continue on with old school ways with no worries.  You may enjoy art as a hobby, or find that part of your enjoyment is in masking, taping, tracing, cutting, and if that is the case, then by all means, don’t feel compelled to change.  But EVERYONE eventually has a “customer” – someone that wants to pay you for your art.  And as soon as you accept that job, you have crossed the bridge and are playing a whole new ballgame.  Suddenly you will realize what your time is worth and you will need to set a standard for yourself, and at that time you may find that technology has something to offer.

As time goes by a lot more people will be using technology to enable themselves and maintain competitive pricing.  You can rest assured that art students today are learning to use all the tools available to them and that the future great artists will not be encumbered by, or tied to, the old school way of thinking.  We are experiencing the evolution of the art form.  And as we all know, the basic principle of evolution is that only the strong survive.  With that in mind, why not embrace these efficiency tools to do the groundwork for the piece of art and spend more of your valuable time doing killer freehand airbrushing?

This article was originally published in AB-Mag vol. 1