That’s it, folks: a couple months ago I made decision to go analog with my art, and in a few more years, I hope to be free from the shackles of Adobe, and therefore the shackles of expensive and bulky (Windows) computer set-ups that can sufficiently run the bloated behemoth that is Photoshop.
For those of you who aren’t aware and who don’t want to read that first link, the jist is this: Adobe has, by most definitions, a monopoly on the digital arts market. They’ve spent the last 15 years slowly buying up their competitors and then shelving their software so that users had no choice but to start using Adobe products. PSD, PDF and many other Adobe files are standard filetypes several industries over, and now Adobe has ended their sale of perpetual licensing, forcing all of their customers into the position of renting their software.
This is really the endgame of planned obsolescence. So long as someone owns a product, they can always tinker with it, fix it, and keep it long past its prescribed expiration date. This is bad for companies who make their bread through the sale of yearly or monthly (or whatever) release cycles, and who rely on the novelty of newness itself to move product that is, by all accounts, barely better than the previous product that people just bought.
In the film The Light Bulb Conspiracy (which I totally forgot to include on my list!), the history of the light bulb is explored, as it is arguably where the notion of planned obsolescence was born. Early models of incandescent light bulbs were commonly designed to last in excess of tens of thousands, even 100 thousand, hours. But manufacturers soon realized that they’d be driven out of (growth-based) business if they kept making such good-quality light bulbs, and so standardized an industry-wide 5,000-hour limit which we only just recently decided to start ignoring.
What if the light bulb manufacturers had decided that 5,000 hours wasn’t good enough either, and to make sure that people didn’t resort to candle or gas light for any length of time when their bulbs went out, they decided to simply lease bulbs to every home in the US for a flat, monthly rate per bulb?
That would have been a plot so appallingly preposterous as to belong squarely in the pages of Detective Comics to pre-war Americans. But not anymore – not only do the vast majority of us accept this coming era of non-ownership, but some of us even welcome it in the name of “convenience”.
Well I, for one, do not. And in preparing for my hard-earned copy of CS5.5 to one day stop being supported or compatible with whatever hardware I’m running, leaving me with no other option than to prostrate myself before the fat cats at Adobe, I’m making the transition to go analog. Though that’s not to say there aren’t impeccable, and in some respects, even better free and open-source alternatives to Photoshop on the market, like GIMP or Krita, but I’m doing this for other reasons too.
For one, I grew up using and honing my skills using traditional media, and didn’t start preferring digital until college, when I suddenly had access to all this fancy, expensive equipment. I dabbled with PS7 a little through high school, but didn’t really make anything that could be called “art” until I started making comics in my freshman year. Being a disciple of color, though, I couldn’t think in black and white like a lot of the old cartooning masters often did (thanks to pre-digital printing costs and constraints), and so almost all of my inspirational material was digital. Coloring, lettering, and formatting digitally just seemed to be The Thing To Do. I didn’t take to drawing digitally however, and I never did; for some reason my brain just ceases to understand any sense of scale when it comes to working on a screen. I “lost” myself in digitally drawn pages too easily, and unless I had some kind of real frame of reference, like panel borders I’d drawn by hand and scanned in, it was rare that I could intuitively make heads or tails of what I was looking at. That’s one of the reasons that I still do my lines by hand – I can manipulate those all day without a problem, but as soon as I try to construct a page from the ground up on the computer, I’m lost.
Secondly, the occasions where I do draw digitally (usually quick commissioned illustrations that aren’t meant to be printed out), I rely very heavily on CTRL+Z, and also on the collage-like nature of layers to piece together art. For some people this works fine, but for me, I’ve noticed that I’m barely half the draftsman that I used to be and that I can no longer create pieces from start to finish on paper so easily. This is incredibly frustrating, and as an artist, it’s really a matter of pride. If I can’t take a pen to paper and wind up with a finished product that doesn’t need doctoring up in Photoshop, then what the hell kind of artist am I? There’s a weird undercurrent in contemporary art that has this implication that artists and their works can transcend media. But that’s not true. Art is as much a medium as we are our bodies: that is, fully.
Thirdly, digital art values speed and efficiency above all else, and the world of commercial art that has built itself on a foundation of digital software values this foremost too. Lightning-fast turnaround times, ever-increasing shortcuts taken at the expense of visual complexity by self-employed artists simply to stay afloat, and entire art forms dedicated to showcasing ideas expressed as quickly as possible (speedpainting) are celebrated as progress. We are outsourcing more and more of our creative labor to expensive machines and esoteric algorithms in exactly the same way that US manufacturers have outsourced manual labor to sweatshops overseas. At some point, it’s going to come back to bite us in the ass… if it hasn’t already.
I am all about slow these days. I do my laundry by hand; I sew by hand (more on that in another post!); I don’t own a car; I make my own pantry staples and condiments; I plan on living in a house that I have built by hand. The next logical step is to take the speed and cold efficiency out of my art-making, and re-learn the art of making art, you might say. I want to rediscover how to enjoy the process as much as the finished product.
This is going to take time, though. I may do lines by hand still, but I will have to revisit hand lettering again, I’ll have to relearn the art of penciling (with Photoshop, you can draw in colored pencils, ink right over them, and not even bother erasing because you can very easily eliminate the color after scanning) and perhaps more daunting of all, coloring. I’ll probably go the watercolor/pigmented inks route for that.
I can’t think of a single artist who works this way anymore, beyond maybe some aging European master whose work I’d recognize but name I don’t know. It’s hideously slow and inefficient work – I might spend 10+ on a page that, using Photoshop, might have taken me half that – but it’s better for me mentally, artistically, and I will be beholden to no one’s bottom line to get my work done. I will also have all my materials physically occupying space with my in the studio. There will be no question of what sorts of resources I’m using up to make my art, and no delusion of where any of it came from and how much I need. It’s a more intimate relationship grounded in reality, I think.
I’d actually started off intending to write a post about the fountain pen I’d bought recently, and how it was going to mark my return to inking with ink and nib in lieu of expensive and short-lived pens like Copic multiliners. But I realized the “why” portion is just as important as the “how”, so I’ll save the actual shop talk for a future post and hopefully share with you the progress I’m making on my transition away from dependence on Adobe and Wacom over the next few years.
Please do read the Archdruid Report piece linked above, though. I’ll leave you with something very important he says that is no longer obvious to many folks. It’s about the internet, but I wager that it’s relevant to all industries that rely on the internet to function, as Adobe does now.
It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people seem to have forgotten that the internet doesn’t actually do very much that’s new. Long before the internet, people were reading the news, publishing essays and stories, navigating through unfamiliar neighborhoods, sharing photos of kittens with their friends, ordering products from faraway stores for home delivery, looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients, and doing pretty much everything else that they do on the internet today. For the moment, doing these things on the internet is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and that’s what makes the internet so popular. If that changes—if the internet becomes more costly and less convenient than other options—its current popularity is unlikely to last.