Fantasy RPG concept artist Marc Taro Holmes shows you how to turn the unpredictable nature of traditional media to your advantage
The insightful watercolours workshop from multi-talented artist Marc Taro Holmes is a great read.
My background is in concept art for video games and feature animation, an art form that’s greatly benefited from the arrival of digital painting. Yet as visual effects become more impressive, they also become more technical. Naturally, I want to meet rising standards. But I worry about losing touch with the simple enjoyment of making art. It’s a job. There’s something to be said for concept artists – who are supposed to inspire the team – needing to first be inspired themselves.
What I love about ink and watercolour is the way the media itself sets ground rules. You can’t wander through endless variations. Once the brush goes down, by-andlarge that mark is forever. You need to go with your first statement and stop worrying about perfection.
At the same time, simplicity has hidden depths. The brush is a subtle tool, much more sensitive than tablet and stylus. It can change instantly from a point, to a broadly textured drag, to a splayed ratty bristle. Not to mention the excitement of truly random events. You can’t predict when a pen might splatter. Digital artists are always trying to add grain, to program brushes to emulate randomness. But it’s impossible for software to be truly out of control – you’ve already told it what to do. Natural media will do things with a mind of its own.
Here, I’m going to go old school. I’ll be drawing with antique dipping nibs, painting with sable hair brushes and working on a textured watercolour paper. You’ll see what I do to safeguard against unforgivable mistakes, and when I just go for it and let the ink splatter where it may.
And at the end though, I’ll probably go back to the computer to make some final revisions. I’m not crazy! This is the real world. You’re only hurting yourself if you fight the software. Let’s use it in partnership with some flying paint.