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Living in Your World

Details. People all the time tell me that they like and are impressed with the level of detail I give my artwork. It's true that I enjoy working on textures and details. I can get lost in it, and it's the best way to make a dull area more interesting to work on.

You can paint a Rock, for example, or you can paint a real rock. What's the difference? Well, everyone knows what a Rock looks like. It is hard and roundish and gray or brown and comes in several sizes: Pebble, Rock, and Boulder, for example. It's got a kind of speckled pattern on it, and it can be used for a variety of uses such as Pounding and Smashing. We're talking Platonic ideas here. Tell an artist (or a child, or someone off the street) to draw a rock, and the results will be variations on a theme. A Rock is just a collection of ideas of what a rock "should be."

A real rock, however, is completely different. You pick a real rock up when you are outside, you roll it around in your hands and see the veins and grit and flecks of mica. You feel the heat on one side from the sun and cool on the other where it sat against the ground. You brush off the gray dirt and the doodlebug crawling on the cool side. A real rock may be roundish, but it may also be long and flat with a kink on one edge, or wedge-shaped with a sharp edge and a streak of quartz a third of the way through it. It will be granite or limestone or sandstone or obsidian. Real rocks have character, are individuals.

There is as much difference between a Rock and a real rock as there is between a 2-dimensional stock character in a book and a well-developed character. That difference is determined by the details.

In my mind there are two different types of detail, which for now I'll call objective and subjective. Objective detail is how something is made- all the bits and parts and textures that make THIS rock different from THAT rock. It is the anatomy that makes a world look like it was built by real people or by real natural processes. For example, imagine a wall. We want this wall to be a specific type (part of its objective detail), so imagine a stucco wall, off-white, with a rough, hand-made texture covering it. Add a window, a pipe going up one side, a vent near the base. A board runs along the ground. The window perhaps has a black wrought-iron grate across it, with Spanish flourishes at the corner and thick nails holding it to the wall. All of this is the wall's anatomy, its objective detail.

Subjective detail is the wear and tear something receives from being subjected to an environment (the common word for it in 3D modeling is "weathering," so we'll use it here, too). It really separates the idea of a Wall from a real wall set in an environment. Do you still see that wall in your mind from the previous paragraph? Well, now let's weather it.

The wall is old. There are nicks on the corner edges, and a good square foot of stucco has crumbled off one corner to show the plaster and wood underneath. There are cracks around the feet of the wrought-iron bars across the window, because over time the stucco wears out there. There are also faint red streaks running down from where the iron contacts the wall, and rust spots on the bars. There's a white square on the wall because it was repaired after that ladder punched a hole in the wall. Rain and travel have kicked up dirt and dust that now faintly colors the bottom foot of the wall. There are a few blades of grass and cigarette butts where the wall meets the ground. And finally there is a crooked, faded poster (with a corner torn off) for Marco the Wonder Cricket, because everyone likes Marco the Wonder Cricket.

Subjective detail makes a world look lived-in. In a real world, things get dirty.

Here are some photographs of real walls and grounds. Look for objective and subjective details. Then click on the image to see where I've pointed out some instances of both objective (blue) and subjective (red) detail- detail you could see on your own but might not think to include when you are working on your own artwork.


(Click on the images to see objective [blue] and subjective [red] detail labels)

By this point you may be wondering, "What does all of this have to do with the marketplace?" Well, since the previous IMPrint, I have painted the wall, the concrete sidewalk and the dirt on the bottom level. It has been a lot of work, but none of it is the kind of work that catches the eye at first. It is not a dramatic landscape, neat creatures or exciting special effects.

But that doesn't mean the detail can be neglected. A lot of detail goes into making the setting look like a worn, lived-in real place. We'll get to the new version of the marketplace in a minute. First, here is a quick look back at two previous pieces.

Below is Late Night at the Depot. Sure there are a lot of aliens going through the depot. But notice that there are also smudge marks on the floor, litter, graffiti, and cracks in the walls. They are, in a way, boring and mundane... and yet I have received many compliments directed specifically at those details because they bring the world to life. The details in Late Night didn't go nearly as far as they could have, though.

More recently completed is Happy Hour. Again, even with all of the mayhem in the scene, there are also spots on the wallpaper, cracks in the back wall, smudges on the floor, etc.

It seems like every piece I make becomes more complicated, more detailed. That holds true for the marketplace. Below is the current state of the painting (click on the image to get a larger view). Notice that the back wall has patches of light and dark, water stains, and cracks. The ground has ridges and standing water. The sidewalk has cracks, dark spots and tire marks. It becomes a living world in which concrete ages, metal rusts and dirt gets everywhere. It's a world we can understand. And it's a unique location with its own character, a real place instead of just a Place. Include details and weathering in your artwork and you will find that it is much more realistic, and people will notice.


(click on the image to get a larger view)
The detail isn't finished. The inhabitants still have to through some trash and vegetable matter around. A few plants still need to pop up out of the sidewalk and in the dirt. Some of the visitors may leave behind trails. We'll have to wait and see how it ends up, but it's off to a good start!


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This document last updated Mon Oct 2 11:00:31 2006.