Friday, 27 February 2009

Website Review: ConceptArt

Alright, I'm not sure how one reviews a website--is such a complex of links and pages really a single "website"?--but I'm going to give it a shot.

I'm not much of an artist any more--peruse my posts and you may find a basking polar bear I drew, and I can assure you it isn't stellar. At least, I'm better with a shutter than a pencil. Certainly my digital painting skills aren't up to professional standards. Actually, unless you count Facebook Grafitti digital painting, I've never done it. However, this does not mean that I don't appreciate veiwing good examples of digital painting, and if you want that, ConceptArt might very well be the place to go.
I spend most of my time at ConceptArt perusing the weekly contests: Character of the Week; Creature of the Week; Industrial Design of the Week; and Environment of the Week. The genre of these tends fall under Speculative Fiction, but this is not always the case. If you're a moderate nerd like myself, that genre is not such a bad thing. This is especially low-stakes, as you needn't commit as much time and emotion to looking at these pictures as you would to reading a book or watching a movie, either. So we can indulge in the somewhat stigmad genre without fear of being labelled a conoisseur of that genre. (I swear I'm not a snob; I don't ming fantasy or sci-fi. I just cannot stand bad sci fi and fantasy and since there is so much of it I am worried that any association with the genre as a whole will reflect poorly on me.)

I admit I spend very little time with Industrial Design of the Week, actually. It is not my favourite. If you like the idea of space ships and probes and mechanized devices and seeing a literal interpretation of "Hell's Bells," then this might actually be for you. I prefer narratives, though, and IDoW doesn't provide that for me as much as the others do.

Creature of the Week was where I first learned to enjoy ConceptArt. My brother introduced me to this site by spending time over the summer looking at all the creatures. These are generally fantastic; the emphasis is indeed on developing not only interesting images but also concepts for images that people will find interesting. I suppose I ought to discuss the very genre of concept art itself: concept art is the work visual artists produce when asked to represent something a movie, novel, or video game producer asks them to draw. That's a clumsy construction, so I'll give you an example. You can buy big books for Star Wars' concept art, which contains the pictures artists drew to help the film's producers visualize what they want on the screen. They say, I have this sequence where the characters navigate underwater in a boat, and we need many large carnivorous sea creatures that try to eat them. The concept artists then draw assorted creatures and refine them with the director's guidance, and then the visual effects people and the screenwriters etc. pick those they like and make them using special effects. So the idea behind CoW is that admins for ConceptArt will give a concept and the artists in the community submit pictures that match this concept. Since you have to develop ideas of new animals, it is pretty much limited to speculative fiction.

Environment of the Week is less restricted to fantasy, though this is a recurrent theme nonetheless. Sometimes the genre is said to be 'open'; the subject of the drawing may be "A Deserted Saloon," and if the genre is open the artist is free to have the saloon in the old west, in ancient China, in a fantasy kingdom of their own making, in Stephen King's Gilead, or in outer space. These can be breath-taking images, and I sometimes find them evocative: the best artists present hints of narrative or unanswered questions in their environments and I like developing stories around these. They are often like Chris Van Alsburg images.

Character of the Week is my favourite haunt. These, to me, are the most evocative of narratives and I admit that I go through these contests like catalogues, looking for characters that I want to borrow and remake as my own in my writing. Obviously I would vary them enough that I would not violate copyright--I don't want other people's characters but rather something to ignite my own. I would still likely credit the artist's avatar, though, if I did borrow the concept for a character. Only fair, right? Like the others, these can be menacing, ugly, beautiful, fantastic, or funny, but there is the added possibility of being noble, innocent, or sexy.

If such rigid, themed subjects do not appeal to you, there are also galleries of artists' work. You can go through profiles and follow links to artists' sketchbooks and blogs. The admins and the best of the best have their avatar in the banner at the top of the main page. Click on these to see some of the most professional images on ConceptArt.

Problems I have with the site include stylistic and thematic focuses I disagree with. The emphases on sexuality and violence are, uh, problematic for me. Certainly I consume lots of culture which has these two emphases; they make for most of the world's most famous and enduring narratives. But I'm sure we all know the difference between honest portrayals of sex and violence, moderate portrayals of sex and violence, and 'exploitative' portrayals of sex and violence. Some artists venture well into the latter, moving from pretty girls and implied violence through pretty and teasing girls and explicit violence to nude women and gore. There are ideological issues about the conflation of the two latter which I will not get into here, but let's just say that if this bothers you excessively then you may want to avoid these images. If this intrigues you more than anything, I suppose I'll have overhyped it by now. So I'll move on.

Overall, I find it an interesting site and have collected images from it onto my computer. I have saved most of those pictures I have found either intriguing or particularly conducive to that elusive "inspiration." I have obviously peppered them throughout this post, largely without credit. For those whose artists I have recorded, I will post the information here:
(from top to bottom)
1) Cheshire Cat by deadred (ChoW); 2) Orange Sea Leviathan by Tyranx (CoW); 3) Flying Bazaar by Corrick (EoW); 4) Huge Deep Sea Creature by duddlebug (CoW); 5) Rufus-breasted Cavediver by Dave Neale (CoW); 6) Swamp Forest Skull Island by Gaius (EoW); 7) Pirate Cove - I do not remember where I got this, but it wasn't a contest that I recall; 8) Siamese (ie Conjoined) Twins by Chate Noire (ChoW); the description asked for conjoined twins who were guides through a post-apocalyptic wasteland; they were to be part mercenary, part warrior, part shaman, part guide, or some such thing; I liked this one because it gave both a sense of their different characters but didn't have exaggerated polar opposites 9) Supervillian Self-Portrait by Villa (ChoW); the artist was to draw themselves as a supervillian; 10) Spike the Dragon Dentist by Stephen_R (ChoW); I like this one because the artist decided to use tiny dragons, not big ones; the dragons are cute; 11) this is from the profile of Matt Dixon; 12) this is Duq's interpretation of the Cheshire Cat (ChoW); obviously this contest allowed for a lot of free reign, and Duq used that to create something quite interesting; I find this image very evocative of a narrative, and I see this Cheshire Cat as a sort of freedom fighter; 13) WIPs for CHOW 139: Jiao-Long, by Adam Schumpert (ChoW); Jiao-Long was supposed to be a sentient velociraptor found in the forests of the Ming Empire and raised as a counsel to the Emporer; I like the WIPs for the narrative, again.

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