Saturday, June 21, 2014

Realism and Representation

Beatrix Potter once wrote," I can't invent, I only copy". By this she meant that she painted what she saw. While her children's book illustrations had animal characters dressed up as humans, her style still leaned towards the near realistic portrayal of her subjects.

I had grown up learning to copy objects (or sceneries) as much as possible. The two summer art teachers I had were both classical watercolorists. I remember them reminding me that with watercolors, it was all about the light, paying very close attention to where the light is and the shadows are. I needed to master that if I wanted to make my paintings look more realistic. Colored pencils I find, is an excellent medium for making realistic drawings. It allows a more precise depiction of details as seen in my drawing of a woman below.

Woman done in colored pencils
With children illustrations however, it is entirely different. I've looked at a lot of children's book illustrations and found myself preferring those illustrations which are more representational and symbolic. Seeing very realistic illustrations on children's books somehow lessens the excitement for me. With children's illustrations, it has less to do with how accurately the illustration depicts the real thing than the fact that it conveys the idea and "feel" of the real thing. Often, simple lines and shapes would do. The imagination does the rest. That's what I believe anyway.

Below is a drawing of our cat done by my 8 year old daughter. The next one is my sketch of the same cat. Totally different styles, with mine closer to looking like a real cat than hers. Personally, I like her drawing better, its more fun and effective in portraying the cat's character in a few lines and simple shapes. Maybe this is how they see the world. They absorb and convey the essence of the character with just the key features being represented.

Drawing done by my eight year old

Pen sketch of our cat

It is this challenge of capturing the essence of the animal or imaginary character in as much simplicity as I can that I find exciting and difficult at the same time. It is almost as if I need to overhaul the way I see the world as an adult and put on the child's eyes that I use to have (or that my kid has). Either that or I let my hand run without my head. On this latter one, I find the brush and black ink a very helpful medium in freeing one's tight grip on reality.

Racoon and gang quick sketch in brush and ink


geri said...

Love Julia's cat drawing too. And your raccoon group has a lot of potential. I like it!

emilie said...

Thanks Din! It's always a challenge for me to simplify images but for Julia, it's second nature. :)