...or, how to hide an appalling lack of artistic talent with the help of image editing software
Poignant Autobiographical Introduction
As an odd but mostly happy schoolchild, I enjoyed drawing airplanes. The specimens of "aviation art" that I produced (in what I like to call my "eighth-grade" period) had two common attributes. First, they portrayed naval aircraft with the maximum level of technical fidelity that a youngster in junior high school could manage, with particular attention to accurate aircraft markings. I would sooner forget to draw a wing than place an incorrect tail code on my drawings. (This sort of compulsive obsession with military minutia manifested itself quite early in life, and in retrospect I wonder why I wasn't the recipient of more after-school beatings.)
The second characteristic attribute of my winged masterpieces was that without exception, they were all very poor. Notwithstanding a dogged attention to detail, my compositions utterly lacked technique, a sense of visual proportion, consistent perspective, and any understanding of lighting. They were completely bereft of drama and emotion, and even my most daring compositions could only be described as banal. Moreover, I couldn't "draw," and in fact was only marginally better at "erasing" (although the results of the latter were usually less jarring to the eye). Eventually I gave up on drawing airplanes in favor of building plastic scale airplane models (which is a whole separate tale of woe and spillage). My early creative life in the visual arts was a kaleidoscope of tortured artistic vision, superlatively flawed execution, and very, very ugly airplanes.
I would like to tell you that as I matured, I came to terms with my artistic deficiencies and embraced my essential worth as a human being despite my genuine but ultimately meaningless flaws. But, while this would arguably provide an uplifting and quite valuable life lesson to boys and girls everywhere, it would not be very interesting. So instead, today I am going to tell you about one application of what has become an extremely important theme in my life: using technological gimmicks (in this case, image-editing software) to divert attention from personal inadequacy.
A Different Kind of Airport Profiling
Aviation "profile art" consists of a well-lit side view of the aircraft, often against a plain white background. The airplane is portrayed outside of its natural environment, which to some may seem to be a rather flat portrayal of an object so often associated with free motion -- sort of like a mug shot to the rest of aviation art's fashion shoots (though profile art usually yields more flattering results than The Smoking Gun's typical fare). Profile art is excellent for displaying colors and markings, and seems to be popular among scale modelers. Because the perspective is fixed, it also is very good for the talentless novice, who does not need to worry too much about "foreshortening" and other complicated things like that. There is, of course, the wing, which juts out in the face of the viewer. But remember: wings are thin, so when in doubt, sketch something vaguely thin-like and shade vigorously. (If that fails, see if you can't bluff your way past with some kind of wingtip store that obstructs the whole mess. I'm partial to Sidewinder missiles.)
Above is a finished profile of one of my favorite little jets, the F-5E (also known to fans of Top Gun as the "MiG-28"). I like the F-5 because of its clean, simple lines, which provide only minimal opportunity for me to inadvertently do something unattractive. The wings are very thin, and more often than not they're obscured in profile by a bright orange telemetry pod (in technical artistic terms, a "lightning rod of ugly"). You also don't typically see F-5s with a lot of oddly-shaped external stores, which again reduces opportunities for blunder. Finally, in American service, the F-5 is used exclusively in the adversary training role (the Air Force calls them "aggressors," but as a lawyer I like the ring of "adversary"). Adversary pilots, being rather strange people, enjoy painting their airplanes in unusual colors, rather than the drab light grays and dark grays and medium grays that abound in the modern tactical aviation inventory. Pretty colors distract the viewer from the utter simplicity of the overall composition, and make the drawing look much cooler than it really is. A fundamental compositional principle for the talentless (which actually has many useful applications outside the art world) is to distract the viewer with shiny and/or colorful objects.
Faking Artistic Talent with Software Tools
Modern digital image editing software offers the novice easy access to artistic tools that, in a non-digital medium, would require the mastery of many different techniques and skills, most of which promise trouble for the clumsy or the accident-prone. For instance, the color blending and light gradations that give the F-5E above the illusion of depth might require an airbrush (and if you've ever had a horrible accident involving an airbrush, paint thinner, and the cat, you know of what I speak). Software allows you to achieve a very similar effect through the use of transparent layers, digital blurring, and masking -- all of which are invoked using a standard mouse with minimal risk of traumatizing your housepets. I happen to use Corel PHOTO-PAINT 11, which offers a robust set of features at a more reasonable price than Adobe Photoshop. There are other packages that offer similar functionality, such as Paint Shop Pro, which has received great reviews and is now selling for well under $100.
At any rate, the main software features that I rely upon to compensate for my artistic shortcomings are:
|February 29, 2004 || Return to Vulture's Row || Return to Home Page || E-mail|
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