Process: What Counts As Cheating When Making Art?

Guitar Playing Robot In Progress


While exploring the evolution of my guitar playing robots I posted the above image as a work in progress. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s coming along and I felt that this was a good time to discuss what is cheating when making art.

This started out as pencils, many of the lighter lights you can still see. From there I drew on top of the pencils with a pen. My pens of choice at the moment are Faber Castell PITT Artist Pens. I don’t recall who gave me my first PITT pen, but I love them. Anyway, it should be fairly obvious that pencil is far more forgiving than pen and that’s why the sketchy pencils go down first. The pen work here doesn’t look super awful, but it isn’t great. Look at the curves around the guitar. They are a bit choppy. There are a few other instances like this. Most of the lines here are the product of a single thickness of pen. I haven’t drawn over them to smooth them out or make them thicker. It’s important to note at this time that this picture is pretty small. The penciled rectangle is 4″ x 6″. It’s intended use is for a 18″ x 24″ screen printed poster. The proportions aren’t exact, but there’s a lot of manipulation that will happen before the final size.

The next thing I did was get another sheet of paper the same size and draw this:

Floating strings and artifacts

What’s that all about? These are additional assets that get used in the drawing. They might more sense in context:

Guitar Playing Robot With Assets

What you see here is a digital mashup of the original drawing with the combined assets. Here you can see in contrast to the original drawing that webbing has been added to the guitar strap, strings are now on top of the guitar, and there is additional shading on the arms and legs. You might also notice a floating lightning bolt and extra pickguard. Those are extras just in case I want to use them later.

What’s next? The original drawing (not the mashup above) is scanned at a high resolution. Cleaned up a bit, enlarged, and printed out so that I can trace it on a lightbox.

Guitar Playing Robot image on lightboxThis is the point where I start to wonder what people would think if they knew I was using a lightbox. Is this cheating? If I was using this to trace a guitar playing robot that someone else drew I would say, Yes, it is cheating. However, here I am tracing my own artwork  so I’m going to s
ay it’s acceptable. In fact, it’s widely practiced in certain circles. Many comic book artists draw out a page in loose sketches on regular paper then blow it up to use as a guide when it goes on the 11″ x 17″ comic book paper. I don’t know how long it’s been since you looked at a comic book, but they aren’t 11″ x 17″. They get drawn large (after being sketched small) because taking a large finished image and then scaling it down hides imperfections.

This isn’t a comic book though, and I’m going for a different look here. The paper on the lightbox is 9″ x 12″, so it’s about four times the area of the original drawing. The finished poster is going to be 18″ x 24″, so when this version gets inked and blown up it will actually show the rough edges of the pen instead of a super smooth line. I could change that by drawing the image full size on vellum or smoothing out the lines digitally, but I don’t want to. I want it to take on a little bit of an artificially enlarged image. With non-photo blue pencil I traced over the enlarged scan of the original 4″ x 6″. Initially it’s easier to work small, but as the image gets bigger I want to add in finer details. This step gives me a chance to smooth out some imperfections. But just to be safe:Guitar Playing Robot Copies


I made several photocopies of the penciled version. Here you see a split image of two such copies as I varied the darkness settings. The darker setting actually picked up some of the non-photo blue pencil. These copies exist for me to make practice lines with my pen. Granted, lots of changes can be made in the computer, but I want the next scanned version to have as few imperfections as possible and pen is a pain to correct. If you look at a lot of original black and white line art drawn for comics you’ll find corrections made with correctional fluid, white paint, and sometimes an artist goes so far as to cut out a piece of paper and glue a new panel in place. The reason is simply that it is not the finished state of the piece. It’s meant to be reproduced later. A painter can put layers of paint on until the picture looks right. Pencils can be erased and pixels can be manipulated until your eyes are too burned out from looking at them. Carving from marble is undoubtedly more unforgiving.

It might be worth noting that I have no formal instruction in illustrating with pen and ink. Every drawing class I’ve taken has used pencils, graphite, charcoal, Conté crayons, or pastels. I’ve taken classes in oil painting, ceramics, 2D design, 3D design, animation, and film, but not one on the use of pen and ink. That never really dawned on me until just now. So don’t take this as the right way to do things, just the way that I’ve found to get what I want.

There you have it. I use a lightbox. So do other folks and before that some were using a camera obscura. Is it cheating? I’ll discuss my thoughts a little further in a second part of this process when we take the editing into the computer.

Update: You can follow the progress on this project in Process: Digital Art Editing of the Guitar Playiing Robot and Process: Editing Separations (Again) For Print

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