Finding My Style
While most of my writings (as well as my personal life) focus on politics and economics, there is, of course, more to me than just that. This past year has been a transformative one for me, as a yearning to develop more artwork took hold. I have always had at least a minor amount of artistic talent, with some interest in helping it to mature. It has been a winding, bumpy road, for sure.
I do not think I was ever considered one of the “artsy” kids growing up, and this is probably because I have never been a prolific developer of art. I have never been constantly producing; I was not that classmate that you could reliably see doodling away between assignments. Instead, I spend and have spent a lot of time thinking about what I might make. I would say that it was not until college that I started to make serious strides as an artist, and that happened when I stumbled into the software program of Microsoft Paint.
Now, we are all aware of MS Paint. Usually we think of it as something that can only produce simplistic, puerile images, and that is often what we see. In 2012, though, I began to explore its possibilities.
Why MS Paint? Well, it was a medium that allowed me to produce images without much need for supplies. I do not need to buy paper, pencils, canvas, or oils, nor do I need a large space to produce anything on it. It offers advantages that a young person with little space and a small budget requires to create anything.
Secondly, MS Paint provides all of the charms of digital art without any of the drawbacks. Indeed, as graphics programs go, MS Paint is possibly the most underused. More mainstream applications, such as Photoshop or even GIMP, dominate the genre of digital art, but they often strike me as having less humanity. I think this point is better made with an example.
There is no doubting, for one, that the technique in the work above is on point. The problem seems to me to be that it is too perfect. I think that the real goal of art is, in effect, to produce a high-information image with as low of resolution as possible. Part of why paintings are impressive is because you can look at them and see that they are clearly pigments on canvas and not real, and yet they look like the things that they pretend to be. You can see the brushstrokes and the smears and understand those elements for what they are, and yet they somehow fit into an overall result. There is something appealing about that.
I would say this is true even of non-visual forms of art. The poetic style of haiku, I theorize, is resonant because it is about packing as much as possible into just seventeen “syllables.” Popular music often emerges not from complex arrangements but from distinct riffs and motifs that we can identify in an instant (think “Seven Nation Army”). In essence, I think most successful art is the result of achieving a high level of information density in the work.
MS Paint is, by its nature, not too ambitious, nor does it offer many shortcuts for creating something visually stunning. An example of a fine piece of art that I think displays this quality can be seen below:
Here, the fact that the piece was made on MS Paint is easy to observe. The rough pixels stand out, as well as how that influenced the artist’s choice of lighting and shading. The result is a style that seems “comic booky.” As I have browsed the Web over the years to see what other MS Paint artists do, I see that most of them gravitate toward this kind of style.
For whatever reason, however, this is not the approach I have ever wanted to take. I wanted to develop something that seemed more similar to traditional art and less similar to cartoons. I first began this with a commitment to realism, and this is where we finally begin to see examples of my own work. Perhaps the only good example I have from my attempts to develop a realist piece in MS Paint is with the work below.
I deviated from what appeared to be the more linear, compact approach to MS Paint that other artists pursued. Instead, the evidence of the digital medium is found in its non-linear, speckled appearance. Rather than use a solid gradient of colors to achieve the illusion of three dimensions, I used a comparably limited pallet and had the colors overlap more to achieve a similar result, one that I (and others) have found to be a convincing likeness of the subject depicted.
The Bittersweet, Outdoors was developed in 2015. We are now three years after that fact, and my considerations in that time, especially this year, have led me to a more Impressionist approach. While I was relatively happy with my realism, I wondered if this was the style that could truly bring out all that the medium of MS Paint has to offer.
I began to ponder the aesthetics of MS Paint and to look at art history for parallels. I found that what MS Paint could do best was to make use of vivid colors and (while realistic depictions are possible) to provide a relatively easy approach to semi-real images. These traits seemed to fit well into the Nineteenth Century’s Impressionist style best. In fact, if there is a style of visual art that most closely typifies the successful execution of high information at low resolution, I would say that it is Impressionism.
So I began to borrow from these techniques and eventually produced something rudimentary but with enough content to put theory into use.
In Evening Tides, I abandoned my speckles and embraced the linear, to greater extremes than that of my contemporaries. Still, I could see that this was not totally Impressionist in its implementation. I had the vivid colors and the accurate depiction of light, but the strokes (while human on my touch screen), were not quite bold enough. Soon, though, a friend requested that she be depicted in my art, and that gave me a chance to experiment with the inclusion of this third element.
By widening the pencil tool by only one pixel, I feel that I achieved this. I produced an image, with relative ease, that imitated the brushstrokes of Impressionist painters better, while also producing an immediately recognizable likeness to mutual acquaintances who were unaware of this project. I think I finally translated the Impressionist style onto the medium of MS Paint, and I can see that this is the style that I truly want to utilize on this medium.
The moral here, if I may deign to call it such, is that you, the individual, need to work on a style that suits you. This is not the same as free-balling your efforts without discipline. On the contrary, it requires you to think carefully about what you want to make, about what your abilities, preferences, and available tools will allow. It requires you to assume that aesthetics operate according to fairly universal principles of appeal and resonance and how your approach will abide by those principles.
By doing this, I have finally found my way as an artist, and it is something that all of us are able to do. If you have a creative spirit inside of you that feels lost, my advice is to deconstruct both yourself and your medium. Understand the building blocks, and then you will be able to rearrange them as you like.