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Following the Dirty Rainbow by Denise Vitola

Has the Internet trivialized art? According to JASC, makers of Paint Shop Pro, 12,000,000 people own a copy of this all-purpose, low-cost image editor. Most of them, if the figures are correct, have or are currently adding to the glut of artwork on the World Wide Web.

Anyone who can use a mouse is fancying themselves the next great Picasso. With the flick of a radio button, they are applying color, highlights, and shadows. They are making reflective water and they are modeling in pixels instead of clay. In short, they are becoming proficient at art without ever having to learn the first thing about it.

This is not to say there is not a lot of natural talent out there. Humans are by nature, innovative beasts. We long to express ourselves, our imaginations and our knowledge of the world. It is almost as if our species is saddled with unmitigated wonder that pops up like a blister at unexpected times. If we don't pay attention to the boil, we jeopardize our lives by having it turn into an infection of the creative spirit.

Before the advent of the electronic age, many people would have watched their talent wither on the vine, unable to indulge in art for the sheer cost of materials and education. They suffered for it as did the world, denied of talent and beauty. Now, art imitates life in the most gregarious way, by evolving exponentially across the digital board.

Still, for all the opportunities to create and show individual viewpoints, there are some things that painting with pixels cannot do for us. It is these things that separate the artist from the wannabe who would be better off using a paint by numbers set. Since I'm part sci-fi writer and part sci-fi artist, I try to think with both sides of my brain. Comparing the writer to the artist makes it a lot easier for Joe Shmoe to understand what he needs to do to create art that screams out the vagaries of his soul.

Do you recognize yourself in the preceding paragraphs? If so, how do you best express the colorful notions blasting through your brain? The following quick tips may help you understand new ways to coax your creativity onto the electronic page.

Be A Space Mother

In a science fiction story, the writer must be able to consider the whole composition. I call this, thinking like the 'space mother,' or 'birthing the universe.' Every writer must understand the entire story from plot to character to theme. He must go into the work with an idea about what his worlds look like, what his aliens look like, and what his protagonist must do to save the day.

This is the same with the artist. What do you want to express? Do you want to concentrate on the minutia or show the big sweep of the scene? Do you want to visually represent a play on words, a fantasy concept, or render a slice of daily life? Do you want to express minimalist views or cram as much onto the electronic canvas as you can?

Despite your desires, try not to squash each profound thought you've ever had onto the canvas. Form the scene in your mind first, and if you need to sketch out your idea before going to your electronic canvas, then by all means, get that pencil scraping across the linen. Take your time to sort out your ideas and look at them from all angles so that you can decide on what you really want to say.

Shopping the Leviathan Market

Most sci-fi writers know that two kinds of aliens in a story can be good, but three can be bad, because the more diversity you have the more complicated it becomes for the reader. Picking and choosing the necessary story elements is known as 'shopping the leviathan market' and as with whales, Jonah only needed one to tell his story.

With access to the Internet, a wannabe artist can download free mesh objects, pose able figures, black and white or color clip art, and even pre-made web page parts like buttons and separator bars. The challenge then becomes one of choice. People will try to fit in as many interesting objects as they can and because of this, the design's balance begins to suffer.

Limit your design elements, allowing one of these elements to carry the scene you're depicting. Make sure your other elements enhance the painting instead of detracting from it. One object, figure or color should be your focal point and everything else should flow from it. Remember, a whale can take up a lot of room.

Following the Dirty Rainbow

For a sci-fi author, following the dirty rainbow means finding the right track through the story until the conflict is resolved and the pot of gold retrieved. For the artist, following the dirty rainbow talks about object placement and how it is perceived by the viewer.

Many new artists like to plunk all there objects in one place on the canvas. There is too little white space and too much stuff. Additionally, there is nothing to draw the eye from the 'front' to the 'back' of the picture. When you begin to design your electronic painting, make sure you place your elements in such a way that the picture is not static. Bunching your objects together creates a dead zone and limits the movement of the piece. Even still life paintings require objects to be situated in an interesting manner so as to allow the eye to arc over the page.

If you are using 3D art software, be creative in following the dirty rainbow. Change your field of view or move the camera from the default angle to one that produces an entirely new perspective for your objects. Cover the camera with transparent objects, aim them at the scene and see if you get a point of view that is radically new.

Begin each canvas by knowing precisely where your pot of gold will sit in the painting and then design from that point. This will help you to intuitively uncover the picture that is waiting to be born.

Fright Ballet--Knowing When to Stop the Dancing

Sci-fi and horror writers often refer to their stories as 'fright ballets.' One thing is for certain, if you start the fright ballet, you need to know when to end it. That last scary scene might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. By adding it, you risk destroying the impact of the story.

The same holds true when you are creating a canvas. That extra object or the addition of garish color might be too much for your painting. Sit back and 'rest' your piece. Get away from it for the day by doing something else that is far different in concept, and then, come back to it with a little more objectivity. You may decide that your painting is done right where you left it.

Of course, following these tips may not keep art from being trivialized on the Internet, but following them will keep you from making amateurish mistakes. They will help you to find your deep down talent, too, so that what you express turns out to be an electronic masterpiece every time.

Copyright 2001, Denise Vitola, All Rights Reserved

This article was published on Wednesday 15 November, 2006.
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