If Machines Make Art, Is It Still Art?

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A few days ago a fellow artist sent me a message on Instagram about a post he had saw that he thought I might be curious to see. In the message was a video clip of a person creating a drawing with an electric stippling pen. I don’t know if anyone has seen these pens (watch video below if you’re curious) but basically they’re an electric charged pen with a nib that rapidly goes up and down while releasing ink onto your drawing surface much in the same way you would use a regular pen in traditional stippling. It looks like a pretty cool, convenient and time saving art tool. But after watching the video, I was reminded of an MIT article that I read about teaching machines how to make art and I couldn’t help but wonder, exactly when and where do we draw the line between convenience and technology and express of the human spirit? As I thought about it more I couldn’t help but feel that the electric stippling pen was like cheating a bit artistically. To me, it’s akin to you grandma baking buttermilk biscuits from scratch compared to popping open a can of Pillsbury. Okay, maybe that’s comparing apples to oranges, anyways Pillsbury’s Grands are good as hell but I digress. At least with the electric pen, you’re still controlling the movement of the pen, so it’s not like it’s creating a drawing all by itself and you’re also still employing your own imagination to the artwork. But maybe it’s just me that’s haunted by this nagging, creepy feeling that gadgets and machines are taking over our lives and that in the process we’re losing something. What that something is, I can’t really put my finger on it but I’m sure two or three decades from now we’ll start to see reports and research papers coming out pinpointing what it is but it will be too late to correct the course.
Art has always been a form of human expression, so if we’re striving to teach machines how to be creative and make art, something that was once solely a human endeavor, can we still say that it’s art? When you take the humanness out of the equation of creativity is it still creativity or is it just an algorithm mimicking human creativity?
Needless to say, you won’t see me drawing with an electric stippling pen partly because I’m a traditionalist in that respect but also because stippling is my form of meditation that allows my mind and soul to slow down, which in this data driven, high tech, high speed, constantly connected, modern life we’re living, slowing down is something the human spirit sorely needs . And I don’t want some gadget taking that away from me.

The World Beneath Our Feet

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Dandelions from the yard.

After a few days of rain, the sun broke through the gray and I was able to get out and spend some time in my backyard this weekend. Most of the time was spent cleaning up debris from some strong winds that broke off weak tree limbs and getting my herb bed ready for some new herbs. I plan on keeping things simple and small this year. I’ve been itching to try my hand at making some hot pepper jelly, so jalapenos are the only thing on my short list that isn’t an herb that I plan on planting. Other than that, I’ll be sticking with my three favorites; peppermint, lemon verbena (or lemon balm if I can’t get any starters for the verbena) and thyme.

After cleaning out my herb bed I took a rest on the grass. What started off as a simple moment of relaxation turned into a mini adventure. I found myself paying way too much attention to the grass as I begun to notice all the tiny plants that I had been trampling and sitting upon. I’ve had a few botany courses, so I can identify flowers, trees and a few plants, but nothing I discovered among this sea of grass was familiar to me except for some clover and dandelions. I’m sure my neighbor, who was out raking her yard, found it a bit peculiar that I was on my hands and knees with small pruners clipping at the grass but I was fascinated. It occurred to me that the plant life in our yards are so common that we never give much thought to what’s going on with it, other than having to cut it and getting rid of pesky weeds so that we can have that manicured look. But as I watch all kinds of tiny insects move and flutter about, I realized that there’s a whole other world going on beneath my feet.

I took a few clippings and made some references photos from them for future sketchs. You can see them below. Other than the clover, if you know the names of any of these plants feel free to comment below. 🙂

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Progress And Coloring Sheets

Here’s a little progress on my “Moon and Stars” mandala. The subtle shading is proving to be a bit tricky. It’s much more noticable in person than on camera so frequently I take pictures of the drawing as I go along just to see if the shading comes through and then make corrections where they need to be made. It can be a bit frustrating when something looks great in person but turns out lack luster on camera. So I take this added step to try and avoid.

Anyhoo, while working on my mandala I had the idea, if people are interested, of offering downloadable coloring sheets created from the line drawings that I do before I start inking them. I was thinking of creating packs of five coloring sheets based off of my own drawings, putting them into a pdf format that could be purchased, downloaded and print off at home from your own computer and then you can color it yourself or if you have children or grandchildren that are into coloring, you could give it to them. It’s an idea for something in the works for the future but I’m interested in your thoughts on it so if you like the idea or don’t like the idea feel free to let me know in the comment section below. 🙂

A Giddy Respite

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“Moon and Stars” (wip)

It’s a good sign when you enjoy a drawing the moment you start laying down the first bits of ink. I’ve barely gotten started on this and I’m all giddy. I have to admit that some of that giddiness comes from this drawing being a break from doing realistic drawings. One of the underlining stressors of trying to create realistic art is making sure it actually looks realistic and that can take a lot of time and focus. A horror of mine is churning out something that looks more cartoonish when that isn’t the style I’m striving for. With this drawing the focus is more on design which is more flat and straight forward rather than realism which requires making objects look three dimensional. In other words, my brain gets to relax and not think so much. And honestly I could use the respite of something simple and relaxing. The hardest part to this was doing the line drawing which required some deal of measuring and a compass. Mandalas are beautiful but you really have to take the time to get the measurements right or you might end up with a lopsided mess.

I’m using two different nibs on this drawing, a 0.15mm nib for mid-tones and a 0.20mm nib for dark tones, the slightly larger nib allows me to achieve a darker quality since it puts out a little more ink while the smaller is better a mid-tones. The one thing I’ve learned and always keep in mine when it comes to creating a good pen and ink drawing is that there must be some contrast between light and dark. There should be some elements that are dark and some parts that are white or highlights with some mid-tones or grays in between, otherwise the drawing will look muted and lifeless. It’s an unfortunate yet common mistake that’s made when getting started with pen and ink drawing. So keep that in mind if you try your hand at pen and ink drawing. 🙂