Success Leaves Clues: Learn from the Greats
by Taylor Slattery | November 5, 2019
So you want to learn from your artistic heroes, only there’s one big problem: they’re dead. Or maybe they just don’t teach. In which case, they may as well be dead, just like your hopes of ever learning from them. But wait – ancient wisdom passed down through generations of motivational speakers and self-help gurus tells us that success leaves clues. Maybe we just need to do a bit of sleuthing. If success leaves clues, surely we’re resourceful enough to sniff them out.
Well, lately I’ve found myself drawn to the work of Ayran Oberto. I would love to learn from him, but the only resources I can find online seem to indicate that he doesn’t teach. He has a few demo videos but they don’t have voice-overs. So where should I start?
I guess I’ll start with what I know. I know that he paints digitally, which must mean he’s using a tablet, maybe a Wacom or an iPad. If he’s using a Wacom he’s probably painting in Photoshop or another similar software, and I know that they all tend to have comparable tools. Well, I have a tablet too, so I guess there isn’t a lack of tools preventing me from making the same caliber of work. So what’s next?
I’m most struck by the textures in his paintings. In particular, I find the way he renders hair to be interesting and I’d like to capture some of that magic to put in my own work. He’s got a good balance of soft and hard edges with just the right amount of strategically placed high-contrast texture to add visual interest and guide the viewer’s eye. Taking a closer look at the hair, I can see that a lot of his strokes start narrow and sharp, gradually tapering out and becoming softer. Knowing that he’s working digitally, there are only a handful of tools at his disposal, so I should be able to deduce how he accomplished this. Wacom pens have the ability to use pen pressure to scale the brush, so it may be as simple as that. Or maybe he applies loose brush strokes in a new layer above his painting and uses a hard-edged eraser to carve them to a point. It’s also possible that he uses the lasso tool to make a sharp-edged selection and then paints loosely within it. Interesting. I’ve got some leads.
Seeing as he’s a digital painter, and I have Photoshop, I suppose the next step would be to put my hypothesis to the test. From here I can select different portions of his paintings and try to recreate them side by side in Photoshop using the methods I described before. As I do, it’s likely that the process will lead me to new questions and hopefully some answers.
To recap, I chose an artist and something specific I wanted to learn from them. I then used the limited contextual information I had to make a guess at how he might have achieved that effect. I’ll now attempt to walk in their footsteps as I try to recreate the effect I’m after. Along the way, I’ll either find out that my guess was correct, in which case I’ve now added a new technique to my toolbelt, or I’ll find out that I was wrong, in which case it’s back to the drawing board. I’ll continue to experiment, asking new questions and conducting research until I’ve figured it out. The most important thing to remember is that the answers are right in front of you, but they’ll only reveal themselves when you ask the right questions.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.
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