Or are they?
Three young illustrators – Edmund Liang, Kirk Shinmoto, and Thomas Zenteno – who worked on a current collection of adventure stories, reveal in interviews an inside view of their craft. Times may have not changed, just the media. “If Rockwell, Leyendecker, Pyle, Sargent, and Cornwell were all alive today, they’d already be my Facebook friends and on my speed-dial,”
Liang and the new generation of artists create galaxies of digital concept illustration with the help of tools like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, AfterEffects, and Cinema 4D. They feel they have the best of both worlds: traditional drawing and painting, as well as the full range of today’s digital toolboxes. Consider the extensive imaginary worlds of online games like Halo and Worlds of Warcraft, or the lush moving palettes (dozens of landscapes, scores of characters) of animated movies like Kung Fu Panda and you begin to see what they mean.
In what many consider the “Golden Age” of illustration at the beginning of the 20th century, artists like J.C. Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson, Jesse Wilcox Smith, and of course Rockwell captured the images and spirit of the times like no one else. N.C. Wyeth murals decorated our courtrooms and civic spaces. Their magazine covers, posters and even advertisements were coveted and framed, their images (remember, this was before television) treasured.
Yet today, the sheer volume of original illustration that surrounds us would overwhelm the quaint studios of those Golden Age artists. Hundreds of young illustrators are creating dozens of imaginary landscapes and characters for the consumption of gamers and moviegoers on a scale never known before. The cyberworld is a vast universe largely invented by these modern-day young Rockwells.
Three of them – Edmund Liang, Thomas Zenteno, Angela Sung, and Kirk Shinmoto – share their thoughts in interviews about their work on a new illustrated ebook, Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories. Tom Durwood, the ebook’s author, who commissioned the artwork, is a fan of the Golden Age work and a frequent visitor to the Brandywine Museum in Philadelphia (where he teaches college English). Durwood was eager to commission illustrations for his work, and plans more.
Names like Craig Mullins, Robh Ruppel, and Alberto Mielgo are as famous to them as John Singer Sargent and N.C. Wyeth were eighty years ago. “If Rockwell, Leyendecker, Pyle, Sargent, and Cornwell were all alive today, they’d already be my Facebook friends and on my speed-dial,”
One of the dilemmas that Norman Rockwell faced was technology. During his career, controversies cropped up over the use (and overuse) of photography and projection, a technique in which a painter would project a photographic image onto canvas and use it as a basis for the painting. Projection machines were widely used and rarely discussed.
The same dilemma faces today’s illustrators, only more so: traditional charcoal pencil or digital mouse? Edmund Liang’s answer is simple: “Do I draw, paint, and or work on the computer? Absolutely! All of the above! Do I prefer traditional or digital? My answer would be that I couldn’t live without either.”
“Technology has definitely changed illustration for better and worse,” in Thomas Zenteno’s opinion. “A lot of students I see forget that technology is just a tool, and it takes over their entire process. The upside is that it has allowed concept artists to operate extremely quickly and produce a lot of images in a short amount of time, which is helpful for all of the entertainment industries. I think illustration and concept art are at a high point right now, on the cusp of understanding how technology is going to shape the industry for the next 20 years. One example would be digital landscape painting becoming increasingly popular.”
Kirk Shinmoto compares the two ages by content as well as technique. “I think illustration has really shifted from its original place in advertisements for magazines and books to being used more in the entertainment industry for things like animation and games,” he points out. “I wouldn't say it's a ‘golden age’ like back in the day, when illustrators like Norman Rockwell were household names, but I feel like it is still going strong. Illustration has expanded into all these new outlets.”
The full interviews with these three talented illustrators can be read at:
Their work can be seen in Ulysses S. Grant in China: