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"Cheating" as an Artist

Banes at 12:00AM, July 23, 2015

Years ago, when I did my first animation and posted it online, looking for attention like always, there was one comment that made me defensive, annoyed, and eventually, thoughtful.

I had no idea about animation timing or any of the little rules at the time; I just wanted to do animation. I'd managed to find a tutorial online about creating animation using a whiteboard and free software.

It was a little one minute joke thing called “Hair in a Can”.

Anyway, the comment that struck me a little odd was this: “If you drew this on paper, it's pretty good!”

My initial reaction (which is fairly close to my reaction now) was “who cares if I did it on paper? What difference does that make?”

I guess the commenter was gauging my level of artistic skill. To me, that's irrelevant (a convenient point of view, maybe, for a lazy artist).

To me, the only thing that matters is “was it entertaining? Funny, or scary, or touching or whatever? Could you understand what was happening?”

I heard the great comic artist Neal Adams in an interview where he talked about the idea of “cheating” in artwork. He doesn't see using photo references, copypasting as anything but tools to increase his output. To get a job at Archie comics, he even traced some Dan Decarlo art. I'm told that a lot of comic artists trace photos to create their pages.

There are a lot of webcomics that use copypasted or simplified styles or stick figures or whatever. Some of them work and some don't (for me personally, I mean). All that matters to me is whether I enjoy them.

What do you think? Does it matter how a comic is created? Is it “cheating” to cut corners like this?

Have a good Thursday, Ducks!




strixvanallen at 10:28PM, July 25, 2015

All in all, without my shameless laziness, I wouldn't have had most of my artistic growth. Go figure. (And for the record: professional comic artists would never be able to crank lots of pages in their tight deadlines without lots of copying and reusing. The only way to make all of your panels unique snowflakes of the ultmost quality is having a team working with you, like some mangakas do, or not having a deadline at all.)

strixvanallen at 10:22PM, July 25, 2015

As long as you are not infringing copyrights by tracing/using other people's art in your own without permission, I don't think that anything is cheating. I'm not a "born" artist. I didn't have a innate talent at drawing, it's something that I've been painstakingly developing in my spare time for almost twenty years (and it's still far from the level of most artists in this site). So, I can say with assurance that even something as "basic" or "lazy" as tracing need a level of practice to be done well that I frankly respect. (One of my biggest frustations when I started to draw is that I couldn't even trace that well because my hands weren't steady enough for this.) I also used so much copypaste that it's a miracle that I don't have carpal tunnel or something. If, in one hand, I do regret SOME of this copypasting, on the other hand, I have so little time to spare that I would never be able to experiment and grow as an artist if I haven't cut some corners by doing it.

Ironscarf at 8:02PM, July 25, 2015

I don't see how anyone can call themselves an artist if they're not using photo or other forms of visual reference. You can't cook up a decent meal without using some ingredients.

PaulEberhardt at 8:13AM, July 25, 2015

If using photo references qualifies as cheating I guess that makes me quite a cheat, even if it's almost exclusively for backgrounds. ;) However, since I took most of the photos myself for the sole purpose of drawing what's on them, like sights or vintage cars, it doesn't really feel like cheating. Going to all kinds of places and try to get angles and viewpoints you don't find on Google is work too. I've never done that copy-paste thing with old panels. What I sometimes do however is using my homemade light table for panels on one page that have more or less the same background and viewpoint, but only for the basic sketch part. That way every panel still looks a little different and I quite like it that way. It may not fit everyone's style, but it sure fits mine. It's the fastest way for me to get it done, too, faster than editing pictures with a computer anyway. I've never really had the patience for that.

Peipei at 3:51AM, July 24, 2015

I think most comic artists do this from time to time, myself included. It saves a lot of time when you're busy during the week or are looking to save some time! I for one am guilty of reusing some of my old panels, but instead of leaving it as is, I usually heavily alter things in it, including the background, size, facial expressions etc. So basically, the reused panel becomes a base in short. I think the only really "cheating" as far is comic art goes is if you outright plagiarize the art and the art does not belong to you, otherwise, I only see this as taking a shortcut! xD

Gunwallace at 2:33PM, July 23, 2015

I'm confused ... does this mean that Ashley Madison is a website for comics books artists now? (I use photo-references for everything I draw, but then I don't consider myself an artist, more a desperate writer that needs to get stuff done. If you are serious about the art side of things then I think El Cid makes the key point below.)

VinoMas at 11:47AM, July 23, 2015

I think I'm one of the only artists that create in my paper crafting / photography here on the Duck or maybe anywhere. Some may call me a cheater, and I would say I go around things that are difficult for me and I succeed with something original. An artist gets to choose his/her art in anyway they desire, or are told to do for a paycheck or teacher.

fallopiancrusader at 7:27AM, July 23, 2015

I would say the only real form of cheating is plagiarizing the copywritten material of another artist and calling it your own. That's not even cheating, it's just plain illegal. Other than that, cutting corners is a time-honored tradition. In the Renaissance, artists used the camera obscura to project scenes onto a canvas and then trace them. That's no different than modern -day digital artists using photo-bashing techniques to produce matte paintings. Copying other peoples' art to learn from it goes way back too. You can still see art students at the Louvre today, working at their easels and copying from the masters in order to learn from them. If you want to be really really safe, make sure you own the copyright to the reference you use. This isn't usually a problem, but it could come back to bite you in the ass in rare cases. Just remember Shepard Fairey's Obama poster from 2008, and the copyright lawsuit that resulted from it.

Banes at 7:23AM, July 23, 2015

@KimLuster, @El Cid - Great point about how taking shortcuts can prevent the development of an artist's abilities. You're absolutely right! I hadn't considered that!

El Cid at 5:56AM, July 23, 2015

I wouldn't use the word "cheating," but I would worry that taking too many shortcuts, in the long run, can result in you not learning fundamentals and failing to grow as an artist. On the other hand, I guess you would grow and improve as a cheater (erm, I mean "shortcut taker"), which may be just as good!

HippieVan at 5:40AM, July 23, 2015

I think tracing/outright stealing is the only thing I would call "cheating." Although - I do think it's a bit lazy when comic artists copy/paste the exact same image from one panel to the next. Even if two panels call for the identical character in the identical pose, I feel like it should be redrawn. That being said, I've copy-pasted backgrounds images A LOT. I'm sure people could see that as lazy as well (probably because it is). I definitely don't see using references as cheating. I would be a terrible artist if I couldn't turn to reference images or sometimes the mirror to figure out what the heck a hand actually looks like holding a handle, or what a disgusted face looks like, or whatever.

KimLuster at 4:42AM, July 23, 2015

Very interesting topic! I don't 'cheat' at all on my current comic, other than googling images here and there, but really only because I'm trying to improve my artistic ability and cheating at improving is kinda a non-sequitur! (Although improving at cheating has possibilities...) But I wouldn't hesitate if I was professional or if I was trying to make a painting for someone as good as possible I might cut corners... I often used a lightbox to roughly trace a picture of someone onto the canvas just to get those annoying proportion problems out of the way...!

usedbooks at 4:32AM, July 23, 2015

As someone who honestly can't "art," I can say that no medium or program in the world can make you an artist. Period. I have a garage full of expensive art supplies and old hard drives full of piss-poor attempts at digital work to back me up on this. What does it matter how you create? If you create something you like and/or other people like, use whatever method works. (That's how I developed my, uh, unique coloring style. It worked for me, and I decided it was okay if it doesn't look like what other people do.) In comics especially, if you can find a "shortcut" that produces a desired result, TAKE IT. Comic pages are so slow going. Time-saving is not a lazy thing, it's a necessity. Besides that, copy-paste can make it look better and be used for effects. If you want to show passage of time with nothing happening or make a small change to the scene, it's the very best way to do it.

kawaiidaigakusei at 1:59AM, July 23, 2015

After the movie Chasing Amy was released, non-comic types had this whole idea that inkers just traced over lines, "You're a tracer." My sister once accused me of tracing, but I had also drawn the underlying sketches and I had to explain to her that inking required a lot more skill than just tracing. I get upset when negative criticism comes from people who do not have the skill or experience in the area they are critiquing. I do not consider taking shortcuts in comic creation as cheating as long as the final page looks good.

plymayer at 12:55AM, July 23, 2015

Hmm.... Art can be created in so many ways. Is it cheating to have some one pose for you? Using photo references is just modern day version of some one posing. It is probably cheating if you know you "stole" some thing. What ever that means....

Ozoneocean at 12:47AM, July 23, 2015

Thinking really hard, the only "cheating" would be stealing the artwork of others and changing the dialogue and then putting your name on it. There have been some "artists" who did that. And of course a lot of shitty rap artists made their name doing that in music... Puff Daddy, Coolio with the ridiculous "Ganger's Paradise"...

Ozoneocean at 12:45AM, July 23, 2015

Very true man, very true. If I have a character's face in a front on portrait view I will often just erase a side, then copy, paste and flip the other side to replace it so I get a more symmetrical face... then change it up slightly so it's not perfect because perfectly symmetrical faces look artificial. In the old days I'd use tracing paper, light boxes, carbon paper, overhead projectors, and photocopiers to get those sorts of effects so there's nothing new about what you can do with computers. That goes with having levels and an "undo" function as well- in that if you made copies (which I did), you always have an earlier version. There IS no "cheating".

entropy0013 at 12:19AM, July 23, 2015

Nothing wrong with using tools and time savers if the strip doesn't suffer. Using background layers for re-occurring locations is the same as the 'permanent' set the use in TV series. They have it to save time while advancing the story. My only peeve is if they are using this as a filler or a stalling tactic.

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