Spotlight Saturday: Echo-X

Amoungst the art community, there has been an ongoing debate considering the quality and worth of digital art. Traditionalists prefer to believe that if work isn’t created using physical mediums and on something physical, they deem it worthless. Their argument is that there is no original piece, and with all pieces being prints it completely devalues the work.

On the other hand, digital artists can have incredible prints made. There is a state of the art (haha) printing method called fine art Giclée or even lithograph (which is a CKMY process print) that could yield incredible prints and representation. Not to mention, there is an entire sect of traditional art based on making prints using wood cut blocks and screen printing. These processes have been around for centuries, and mirror that of the same processes used for digital art, yet digital art had been for a long time seen as worthless.

Also, part of the problem with devaluing of digital art is the discredit of the skill required to make digital art. I messed around with trying to create digital art for a few years. Most of mine was relatively terrible, and took hours to create. The skills used for traditional art aren’t a 1:1 representation in digital. You can’t just draw, or paint. The colours are absolute and the use of blending and natural chaos disappears. You have to really know what your intent with each stroke will be.

fse2_500

Then there is the cost.

Traditional art requires a few materials, many of which can take quite some time to run through. Any artist can get started painting for less than $100 for creating museum quality art.

Whereas digital art, requires a computer that is at least $1000. A single high end graphics card for rendering artwork can start at $800, and it doesn’t output video, those are purely for rendering what people are working on. You then have the digitalizer, which is both the work surface and tools for creating arts. Cintiqs are the best known brand, those run at least $1000 and many artists need multiple pens and airbrushes (they start at $50 a piece.) Cintiqs have the screen built into them so you can draw where you look and require a $200 device to balance the screen colour so you get accurate prints. And that doesn’t cover the cost of the software which can run $120 a year to $700 for the software outright. So for the sake of argument, $2320 would get an artist started with digital…

That doesn’t even cover the cost of the printer.

I bring all of this up, because I want to put this in perspective for people. I want people to understand what digital artists have to deal with. This artist is incredible. She’s a fantastic woman, a mother of 2, her husband is a very talented graphic artist. And I want people to come to look at her art with the same beauty and appreciation of skill that is needed for traditional art.

She is known as Echo-X.

echo_portrait-banner_670

 

I met Echo by chance back in Fort Myers. A buddy of mine took me along to meet her and her husband. My friend talked a lot of Shadowrun with her husband and I was able to start talking about art and I was in for a deluge of amazing stories, fantastic tips (most of which slip my mind now,) and I even walked away with one of her misprints.

From what I learned about her and her husband was really interesting. Both of them worked their ways through art schools, they busted their asses working on basic graphic design and slowly building into digital art. Somewhere along the way, she became the cover artist for Shadowrun books. Her work can be found on packaging for Lipton tea, Budweiser, Camel, quite a few seasonal ice cream containers for Publix. They made it clear that there was where they made a good amount of their funds to continue working on art.

Of course, the thing with Echo’s art is that it is rather sexualized. Or from a graphic stand point it felt sexualize. For instance, there is a great interview with her on a piece for I believe Penzoil. The interviewer is talking to her about how they felt about some of the pieces, what their reaction to it. And she laughed as she told the interviewer about how the piece was described as being too sexualized. That the nipples being mild bumps through her suit (in the art piece.) Echo’s client was a little upset, they felt it was too sexual and apparently she showed them the original idea where the dipstick for the oil was near the ladies mouth.  Apparently, the client effectively went “no no, what you have is fine. Leave out the dipstick out of this.”

Of course, that is just her graphic design work. What she is truly known for, would be none other than her Art Novelea style. When I was first exploring art and trying to get higher quality prints done I found an artist and printer in Fort Myers. When I walked into his studio, he was printing a roll of prints for an upcoming art show for Echo. It was tables of her Pie Cthulhu. I think in a 11 x 17 size, and they seem to stretch out across the room. They were beautiful and a little twisted. They had this style I only knew from what I assume of Western European art around the time of the first world war (despite that was really the rise of the modern art movement.)

pie-cup-cthulhu

Her professional art follows the standards of Art Novelea. High arches, pieces produced in portrait, the colours were heavy and well stated. There is a weight when you look at her pieces, the characters in them seem to speak to the viewer. They have a reason for being there and the painting seemed to take them into each piece. Some of the ideas are rather entertaining like that of Pie Cthulhu (which started that series.) I mean, a pseudo mythological ancient god, a clearly tastefully covered nude lady, and slices of pie. She also has one with cookies, another with cupcakes. Yet she also has her pieces like Icarus’ Revelation, and Swan Queen. Her works tell a story through her style and it is absolutely apparent.

Also, because I realize now I kind of glossed over it, she is the lead artist for the Shadowrun tabletop game. She handles all of the cover art for the books which is insanely detailed and nuanced. She manages to display the bizarre mix of intensity of an underground society, crime, future, magic and madness all in single images. Every piece is beautiful and stunning. She has been working on their covers for at least the last 4 years from what I know and I don’t know of any artist that deserves it more than her.

 

Materials:

When it comes to her the way her stuff is created, it is a challenge to go into. She does several things that I came to incorporate into how I create my art. She photographs her models in the poses that she desires. She wanted would go through an choose the one she would want and then set them up in a small photo studio she had. After photographing them she would often draw or sketch out the work. She liked being able to see the piece physically in front of her before starting to work on the piece.

I can’t speak to heavily on finding models, however in every area there may be rules and conditions you have to follow. Real quick, I am not calling models a material. Yet they are part of her process. I recommend using friends if you can for models if you wish to create art similar to hers or of portraits in general. There should be no shame in photographing an actual person, trying to create a face without a reference is much tougher than is appears. I recommend for starters to use a cheap DLSR or mirrorless. Currently, I am using a sony a5000 with a kit lens. I recommend natural daylight on a cloudy day. If you are going to photograph inside… 3 point lighting will get the best results.

In terms of hardware for digital art, the machine she uses is a custom built computer. I recommend spending more money on a high end processor and motherboard for the computer. I highly recommend an i7 quad core and a Mobo for gaming or a workstation mobo should have the support you need. Graphics cards as her husband explained to me aren’t expressly needed. it is a good call to go with something in the mid range for support however, unless you have a few thousand dollars laying around the true for graphics graphic cards are unnecessary. They are for studios like Pixar or Studio Ghibli where they creating massive pieces of work at a time. From there the rest of the system is just getting it up and running. I would recommend a SSD and separate backup for the system for storing stroke data and previous states.

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not really her workspace, but close to what I remember.

Also, she uses a Cintiq. She had the Cintiq 22 set up with an omni directional mount so then she can get the exact curve an angle she desired without having to rotate the image inside of the programs. She had the basic pens. I believe 2 of them set up with different tips so then she could get the hard strokes with some and soft curves with the other without having to stop her work flow.I definitely recommend any digitalizer with a built in screen. Having used a Cintiq and the Intous 4 tablet, frankly being able to see where you draw makes a massive difference.

What about the confusing parts about software? Software is fairly complicated. There are a plethora of softwares available. Echo-X mainly  uses Adobe products. Luckily the price on them have gone down, yet you might be looking at dropping anywhere from 10 to 50 dollars a month. In particular, she uses Adobe Illustrator and does all final editing in Adobe Photoshop. For those not familiar, Illustrator is quite a challenge to get used to using. It has a high learning curve and I would be surprised if somebody would be able to start drawing within their first 5 minutes using the program. That being said, the program is fantastically robust. It renders everything in vectors instead of pixels (a vector is like a 3-D version of a pixel. Imagine the difference between a square and a cube,) so it has virtually no limit on how massive a piece can be made or how small it can be reduced to before it will lose quality. This makes it essential for printing, just because you will never lose the image quality. The caveat, is file size. She can have a Photoshop file in excess of 10 Gb. The average size is like 24 Mb for the average user.

That is more than 400 times more massive.

Finally, what about prints. If you do go through all of the hoops and maneuvers for creating digital art, the question then becomes what do you do in order to get a piece printed. There are a few basic things that when you bring your file to a printer, they will recommend or do. One of the big ones, try to factor for .125 of an inch for bleed as a border. Chances are, they will do this for you anyways however you can save some times setting it like this before you show up. Also, try to find a printer that offers high end art prints. I recommend Canvas or high quality paper to have it printed on. The best printers will hold the piece for a day or so after the print so then they can go through and treat it with a UV coating. This seals the surface and leave it with a matte or satin finish. The printer I had found charges around 10 cents a square inch. So a 9 x 12 will run you $10.8, and the price does escalate rapidly. Just keep in mind that doubling the dimensions quadruples the surface area. Printers can also do museum mountings or putting it on stretcher bars as well. It can be a great way to have a piece ready and prepared for a gallery if it is put on gallery stretcher bars at that  time.

Final Note:

Echo’s skills are subliminally incredible. There is something amazing and delicate in the way her art comes together. On her website, she has a full biography and a little more detail as to how her art comes together. It is worth the endeavor to read. It may even shine a little light into how to approach art from an entirely fresh approach. I highly recommend looking into her art, her books, or just watching some of the streams that she is looking to set up shortly. To keep up to date on everything going on with her and her art, feel free to go to the links below.

  1. Facebook
  2. Website
  3. Twitter

If you have additional questions concerning technology or a more detailed idea on how to build an art machine, please contact me and I would be more than willing going through a run down of what I am running and what I recommend. I am including a gallery below (NSFW, just as a heads up,) of some of my favorites and I hope you have a lovely day.

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