Art and the Hobby: illustration, fine art and street art
This is a little embarrassing. It’s uh, been quite a while hasn’t it? Thank the various gods and philosophies for Dave G and Thuloid, hey? Those guys… they’re really holding it together while the rest of us take five. Oh and Fearless Leader Lo of course. Anyway I’m back. A little older. A little crazier. Let’s party…
I don’t want to go into a big dramatic story as to why I suddenly vanished, so I won’t. Briefly: I had some sort of a… something. An episode. If I were a religious man I’d say it was an epiphany. If I were a business man I’d say it was a mid-life crisis. I’m not sure what a psychologist would say because I’m still on the waiting list!
I was feeling quite depressed and anxious for several months, which is unlike me. Especially because I couldn’t identify an obvious cause. Then one morning I woke up and it was like I’d woken up in more ways than one. My mind or soul or some deep but convincing part of me said “what do you think you’ve been doing with your life for the last twenty years young man? Why haven’t you been drawing and painting pictures? Stop pretending you like doing anything else and get back to it!” And the rest of me said “hey, that guy’s right!”
So I did. Aside from going to work and spending time with my family, I have done nothing but draw and paint for a couple of months now. I’ve been drawing in my lunch breaks at work. I’ve got a new perspective on life and my place in it. Actually it’s more like I’m a different person, so things look different. A lot of what I used to care about seems to have lost its importance. Also, I’m being glib. It’s been a pretty unpleasant and unsettling few months.
On the positive side, I suddenly don’t discriminate at all anymore between art and hobby. I find it hard to comprehend why I ever thought the two things were somehow separate. I’ve been trying to do a bit of art every day and this can mean a sketch, some work on a canvas, or on a model. It’s all building skills and it all cross-pollinates.
All of this means basically that a) I’m finishing models lately, and b) I’m in a pretty good place right now to talk some more about bringing the hobby and art together. Which I am happy to do because this place is a genuine community with a good heart and worth contributing to *wipes away manly tear.*
The first of my articles on this subject is here. I mentioned three kinds of art that I felt our hobby has links to or a possible affinity with, of one sort or another: illustration, fine art, and street art. Today I want to talk about those approaches in a little more detail. There are also obvious links between our hobby and crafts, but I think Dave has that covered. Taking our hobby to makers movement events is a strong step towards getting what we do more widely understood, and that’s a good thing right?
The hobby as illustration/fan-art
I think this is what most of us do, although we don’t call it that. We express ourselves in illustrative art. Our models bring to life a scene or an individual in the context of an existing story. That story is the game setting. The models are the characters. It’s as if we’ve been commissioned to provide art for a book. We read the book, get a feel for what the audience expects to see, and then make our illustration. Another way of looking at this is that we are fan artists, making works that celebrate the thing we love. I suppose it depends on the work you produce. A “historically” accurate pre-Heresy Death Guard Fellblade is more of an illustration; my company of human and Tau mercenaries are like fan-art. I made them up to fit in the cracks of the 40k background and people could conceivably argue that they could never “happen.” I think this illustrative ideal best captures what is unique about miniatures art in its current and most-practiced form: it blends story-telling and narrative with three-dimensional physical objects.
Either way, to count as art, our work needs to meet some standards.
The illustrative modelling and painting we do has to look good. It’s art after all. “Looking good” can of course mean fabulously ugly, but works that violate the general tenets of colour matching and such that humans have painstakingly discovered over millenia aren’t going to cut it. Again, Dave G has posted a great series here at the House on these more basic technical aspects. My series is going to be more conceptual. The way I see it, art has several aspects, including the technical and the conceptual. I want to hopefully start some discussion of the conceptual aspect of miniatures art because I think the general focus in the community, even amongst our best artists, is on the technical aspects.
Right, so secondly, our illustrative art has to be “correct” or recognizable to the audience (in our case others who are familiar with the game worlds). This can be restrictive, but I suppose that’s where the illustrative approach hits its limit. Bright purple-skinned Cygnar guys in a Warmachine game are going to mess with a lot of peoples’ suspension of disbelief, and suspension of disbelief is important with this approach.
Thirdly, as a bonus, it has to fit with the setting aesthetically, while looking fresh. This last one can sometimes be the hardest to achieve. If you’re Angel Giraldez or someone doing a studio paint job, you need to be subtle. You have to achieve the fit and the freshness purely with the paintjob, rather than messing with the model at the elemental level. He can’t kitbash a robot to represent McMurrough, obviously. But you or I could…
The hobby as fine art
This, I think, is where I am at and what I’m most interested in right now. I find the idea exciting and like I said, I don’t see why art and hobby can’t be one big thing. It probably means forgetting about a model’s intended use (in games or what-have-you) and what it means to our little subculture, and instead using the models to create some sort of calculated effect that is readable to someone who doesn’t even know what a space marine looks like. Fine art is meant to have a wider context after all.
There’s no reason not to include things that only a member of our scene would get, but I think it’s not strictly necessary. They’ll be able to take more away from it anyway, just by looking at the models you chose to use and other choices you have made. A general art consumer though will probably assume, if they see a miniatures-based art work in a gallery, that the artist sculpted all the models themselves, and I think it’s therefore important to be clear when you have not.
It occurs to me that you might not get what I mean when I say “use the models to create some sort of calculated effect that is readable to someone who doesn’t even know what a space marine looks like.” I mean something like this: a local gallery in Canberra recently had a show of “low-brow” artworks inspired by Danny Trejo. There were Danny Trejo paintings, and street art, and skate boards, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I heard about it too late to try and contribute, but I immediately wanted to buy one of the many Danny Trejo clone miniatures on the market and a bunch of zombies and create a diorama of Machete fighting zombies. This would be instantly recognizable as having been done before in our scene. I mean there’s a character who is basically a Machete knock-off in Zombiecide right? But to someone not in our scene, it would look like an amazing artwork of a super tiny Danny Trejo fighting teeny tiny zombies, and they could draw all sorts of pop cultural statements out of it. And they might even buy it…
The hobby as street art
This is also exciting I think. It’s art as playful rebellion, and our hobby is in many ways decidedly non-rebellious and conservative. Politically and creatively. I think to work well, miniatures-based street art would need to be similar to miniatures-based fine art, e.g. readable to passersby outside our scene. Every time I see a tree with knitting all over it I want to put a tiny crashed UFO at the base of it, with grey aliens scratching their heads. I wonder how long they’d be there for?
Anyway that’s enough for now. Sorry I went on about myself for a bit at the start. Setting the scene you know? I don’t know exactly when I’ll be back; hopefully sooner rather than later. Next time I’d like to talk about creating a miniatures-based artwork, from concept to the beginning stages of execution. I’ll give you a hint: it’s about samurai…
Till then, have a good one!