Wednesday, June 12, 2013

People Are Like Moths

How important is light to painting?

Yesterday I had dinner with a friend of mine from college whom I hadn't seen in nine years. We used to talk a lot about painting, going so far as to geek out about how warm cerulean blue is and why it makes your skin itch when you use it (tiny crystals get under your skin, seriously.) I showed him my body of work and suddenly found myself in the middle of an art critique.

He commented that "The Monster That Ate My Socks" had better lighting, color, composition, movement, and rendering than "The Imagibles: Slips' Slip Up" did. Interestingly these two titles are separated by about a year of work and around fifteen books. That's something like a hundred and fifty illustrations between the two pieces. I was baffled. "Am I actually getting WORSE at art?"

"People are like moths, they're drawn to light."

The major differences between these two pieces are the application of lighting. The sock monster has a high level of lush light and shadow and a background that provides nice contrast to the form. This gives  the piece depth, even when it's a tiny thumbnail on your kindle. The Imagibles, by contrast, has the flatness of a playing card and doesn't feel "alive" in the same sense. The color is also flat. There are no cold values weighted against the hot values so the eye isn't as enticed to explore the image. Pretty heavy stuff for a book cover, no?

What's interesting is that as we looked at my body of work, the titles that had this luscious sense of lighting were invariably more popular than the covers that did not. It didn't matter what the illustrations on the inside of the book looked like either, it was the cover, and only the cover, that communicated the quality of the work inside.

My friend quoted his favorite teacher who said that "people are like moths, they're attracted to light." I have to agree. Good art has a sense of light built into it and I think that this is one of the phenomenons you can point to when people say things such as "I don't know why I like it, I just do." Everyone intrinsically has a sense for good art regardless of their training or ability to illustrate because our sense of art comes from observing the world around us. We are conditioned by living life to know instinctually when something seems out of place and thus we are naturally attracted to those images and forms that fit more closely into what we expect out of the world.

I would also take the quote one step deeper. People are not only literally drawn to light but also figuratively. The stories, places, and personalities that put out a "luminous" quality also attract the most attention. 

What exactly is luminosity? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

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