Humble beginnings

I consider this a very humble beginning. This image was created using a 3D render program, followed by some postwork in Photoshop with the kind of things I would do preparing a photograph for print. It’s a very basic and a humble beginning because I know a vast pool of talent is out there producing stunning works of CG art with far greater skill and competence than my simple 3D tinkering.

After years of studying and practicing photography, I’m now venturing into the world of CG art, a natural progression in pursuing my imaginings. However, in my wanderings to find information and tutorials online I’ve noticed some occasional snobbery in artist forums. It is mainly to do with whether 3D renders, overpainting of such, and any art produced in this or similar manner constitutes real skill or artistic ability as opposed to traditional creation by hand.

I’m going to ignore this in my journey on the pathway of being an artist. When digital photography was just beginning, there was much discussion whether photography would decline and whether digital photography would ever be comparable to the works of masters who innovated in extraordinary ways to achieve their techniques and visions. Instantaneous capture and computer manipulation of images was questioned as genuine photographic skill because it made certain aspects of the photography workflow much simpler and quicker to achieve. I once spoke with such a master photographer, who rather bewilderingly did not even consider photography as a form of art. It was somehow an insulting notion that a photograph could be considered art alongside its status as a photograph. The onset of digital photography to this man was also a decisive doom for the future of creative photography. While I respected that photographer’s opinion, I believed that perhaps it was simply his (very valid) fear dictating his response to change, that as a master innovator in the world of analogue photographic capture and printing, his knowledge, experience, and methods of achieving his vision would very quickly be redundant in the world of digital capture and manipulation. Perhaps he also feared that he would no longer be at the top of the hill with the advancement of technology that could assist ‘lesser’ photographers in achieving similar success.

If you excuse my dismissive tone, to that I would like to say rubbish, because experience is never redundant, nor is the skill learned along the path of that experience, especially not from one who had spent decades refining his skill and vision. One thing I learnt very early as a photographer from observing professionals is that the tools of your trade do not make you. Despite the bells and whistles on your camera or how expensive it is, the most valuable and important tool for creativity is your mind and emotions. The experience of decades of composition and consideration of the quality of light can easily be carried over into new tools and workflows that can broaden and make possible visions not previously possible. Digital tools, no matter how fake some methods may seem, are an expansion and enhancement of creative possibility, not a limiter. Settings on a camera, and by extension a computer and 3D software, any art software, are mechanical and can be learned. How they are applied though depends all on your mind and your ability to think and feel beyond the limitations of physical obstacles.

In a controversial topic, it’s suggested that some of the old master painters may have even used a camera obscura to aid the creation of their works, yet we would never doubt that a Rembrandt painting, for example, is anything but a masterpiece attributable to the artist’s skill and vision. Do the tools and methods we use to create art matter? How is one vision less genuine than another because of the means used to achieve it? Is it so important to disguise the fact that technology can assist us in artistic creation? The invention of celluloid film, for example, also changed the landscape upon which photographs were produced, as was the invention of the SLR camera. These things were simply tools more versatile than the previous generations of tools that lead to the creation of even more tools, consequently expanding and enhancing creativity. The only danger is in losing sight of the historical traditions and skills that lead us to current methods, in not seeing the technology and techniques of art as a progression reflecting the dedication and passion of previous generations of artists.

Technology assists us in just about everything we do. Stone age rock paintings are considered artworks, yet the tools used to create them were at best rudimentary and it is almost certain their creators were not thinking consciously about aesthetics or golden ratios. Do we judge art according to the tools and methods, or its ability to inspire thought and emotion, to relate human experience and imagination in a manner that is meaningful?

So, my words to anyone believing that 3D renders, overpainting, or using similar means is faking art – or more importantly, to anyone doubting the validity of their own art because they perceive a lack of technical skill compared to others – I would suggest reappraising your tools and using the history of art as a guide to learn from, because such discussion is not new. If you create, you are an artist. It’s up to you how you learn to apply your tools, how you achieve your vision, how you enhance your workflow. If you can touch another human being emotionally with your works, you are successful, and the process or perceived value of that process is completely irrelevant.

My simple 3D render was composed in my imagination – its aim was to depict an expressive gaze of calm and reflection while referencing a certain photographic aesthetic, fairy-tales, and a personal fascination with elves in human literature and mythology. I found the tools to create it, and I hope you like it.

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