Six of one,

I have a third piece under way for Buddhism-info org WisdomMe. (You’ll find something about my work on the two previous at my Projects page.) These items for WisdomMe are peculiar in several respects, the most significant, maybe, being the degree of interpretive discretion I’ve been granted, considering especially my lack of background in the basic subject and the relative abstruseness of the material each scheme has dealt with. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I took the first of them last year, but circumstances were favorable for it — for which I’m grateful. They’ve been an opportunity to be stretched in good ways.

With the current project, I’ve taken an approach that incorporates illustration. That was something of a risky choice, since this isn’t a side of my skill set that gets a lot of exercise. I’m pleased with how it’s playing out, though, and want to say just a little here about what’s been involved with that part of the work, now that I’m three-quarters or so through.

The image above combines the illustration elements in an arrangement close to that of the poster/chart itself, simplified a bit. In the piece as it’s planned, the central figure both dominates the whole field and recedes, merging with the background to a greater degree than it does here. The six little symbols — representing (as I guess will be obvious to anyone with some acquaintance with Buddhism) the ‘internal sense bases’ — have basically the same counter-clockwise pattern they’re given here.

There’s been initial sketching with paper and pencil at points throughout, but the bulk of the work has been in Photoshop and Illustrator, working with one of the more inexpensive 5 x 8 USB-tethered models in Wacom’s line. Working on tablet isn’t new to me, and I spend a lot of time in both applications (and have a good grounding in vector-based work, first of all — starting with courses taken quite a few years ago, back before Adobe attained hegemony, in fact). But lack of a good setup for it has made me reluctant to get deeper into digital image-making. Persuading myself that it was worth a go in this case wasn’t instantaneous.

The central figure in particular is a new way for me to tackle a drawing — and enjoyable, on the whole, in spite of the limitations of my kit. There’s no photo reference for this figure, and next to nothing done in the way of preliminary sketch, either: just the crude head-and-shoulders silhouette and eighteen shadow-shapes inside, thrown down and massaged into a drawing that (I think) works in its setting. (One aim I had for this figure was that it read neither as ‘cartoony’ nor as leaning toward depiction of anybody, or any sort of character-type, in particular. Another was that it be more or less indeterminate as to common gender and racial identifiers. Tricky things, both, and maybe not altogether advisable — the latter object especially. This drawing belongs to a larger setting, crucially, at any rate; it doesn’t stand alone awfully well. All such questions aside, I’ve gotten no resistance from the client on either point, so … no regrets so far.)

For the small ‘icon’-type symbol drawings, I worked in what we can call more conventional fashion, drawing in Photoshop via tablet and converting to vectors for clean-up in Illustrator. One or two started as scanned pencil roughs, but I ended up doing without that aid for the most part. This, in contrast to the more experimental route I took with the central figure, is a method with no pleasure in it, really. This wasn’t a surprise; I have experience enough to know that that’s how it would be. And as I found myself getting acceptable results, I stuck with the approach.

The sequence below (from the ‘mind’ icon) gives some idea, possibly, of the large satisfaction gap between process and finish. Those initial scratches feel, and felt !, like they’re going nowhere. But the end product — with a little touch-up in Illustrator the final step — is fine. I did these symbol drawings in order, one through six, so was in no real doubt as I worked on this one, the last, that it would come out alright. Even then, though, working through the mental drag in the first steps ain’t easy, when all immediate feedback says you’re wasting your time trying to draw. And hey, process should feel good, after all, or at least ‘right.’ Right? (Hence, of course, the lively market in screen-stylus devices and software — and the undiminished appeal of good old ink and paper, &c., for so many working illustrators and designers.)

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UPDATE : I’m appending below a version (not the final [this update updated Jan. 20], which incorporates late changes to the original scheme) of the full project. Also, on the subject of contemporary illustration method, an awfully nice 3-part doc-style promo Wacom’s just put out, featuring top-flight comics (and more) illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards.


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