Going Analog: Part 1

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.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons – many of which I explain in detail here. (No, the cloud is not a green or eco-friendly alternative to real product. It’s just a form NIMBYism.)

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.



5 thoughts on “Going Analog: Part 1

  1. Interesting! I don’t blame you for wanting to go analog.

    As it happens, through a series of unlikely events I acquired a perpetual-license copy of Photoshop CS 5.1 in 2011, not knowing that Adobe was going to stop selling stand-alone copies of the software and switch to the subscription-only model in 2012. That piece of software has turned out to be a very valuable possession! For reasons of principle I can’t see myself paying the Adobe subscription fee even if I could afford it. Not sure what I’ll do when my copy is no longer supported. Time will tell…


    • Yes, hold onto it! Double especially since pirating copies became just about impossible after CS3. But eventually, it will stop working, unfortunately… I think they even made sure the last versions of CS weren’t backwards compatible with files made with previous versions – I remember my husband having some trouble with that at work.

      Depending on what you use PS for, there are alternatives out there, just nothing that does all of it. GIMP doesn’t have a particularly good reputation, but I’ve tried it recently and found it to be a very well-designed powerhouse! And for painting and drawing, Krita honestly puts PS to shame. It has built-in components that I’ve paid third-party developers good money for, and Krita is still better at it.

      Hopefully folks will start realizing that free alternatives not only exist, but can produce just as professional finished product as any $600 program once you get past the initial learning curve.

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  2. I could never get into digital art for the same reason, it’s so difficult to get a sense of the images size on the computer. And I like having art feel like a real, tangible object rather than some fleeting set of pixels online. My only problem is trying to find a replacement for the 005 and 01 micron pens for the pointillism that I do, cause I need a pen that can withstand all that hammering.


    • I’m still very new to the whole fountain pen world (and apparently is it a veritable world) but if you look at some of the blog posts at Jetpens.com, you might find something that you could try for not too much money. They have a lot more than just fountain pens too, and a lot of pens with replaceable components. The copic multiliner might actually work for you more than it did me – I draw hard, and I draw over colored pencils, which are waxy and gum up my tips, and that forces me to draw harder, so I go through tips like TP. That might be the case for you too, but the tips are a little cheaper with the smaller sizes I think (you can buy them in 2-packs too, which is nice) and pointillism doesn’t strike me as being particularly ink-guzzling like with what I do. I should also note that micron inks are barely archival; I’ve heard horror stories about professional original comic work turning yellow after only a year or two when drawn with micron. Copic ink is significantly better (you can tell by the sheen it has; it looks a lot more like India ink) but I’m not quite sure what the exact longevity is.

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    • I got curious and did some stippling with my pen, the Kaweco Sport Classic. It didn’t take any pressure at all to get it to leave a mark, and I was surprised that the ink kept flowing, as I think they work via a wicking mechanism in conjunction with gravity. Here’s what my F nib got me (that line next to the dots is that nib’s heaviest line weight; one of my panel borders):

      I think any kind of metal nib would stand up to stippling just fine. And if it does show wear eventually (I imagine it might take a few years!) then all good fountain pen brands usually sell replacement nibs too.

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