Ian Gibson: Advice and observations

Ian's been making some, well, observations, lately. About observations, and art, and criticism... He's also got some advice for any aspiring artists out there.


“Observation”. Did you ever have a friend who says that? I mix the tenses deliberately, as I would assume that someone who says that isn’t likely to retain many friends. But maybe that’s just me?

The phrase is usually the harbinger of criticism in one form or another. Pretty much a warning that you may not like what comes next. I am hoping that such is not the case here. And you will love it all and hang on every word.

Observation is, after all, a skill. And hopefully one employed by artists more than anyone, apart from the odd philosopher who is likely to have more time on his hands than your average artist, as they do in fact have to get down and dirty and do something arty on occasion, just to warrant the title. But other than that, it is the job. It comes with the territory, as they say.

A critical skill in both senses of the word: an essential part of the artist’s armoury as he dissects the world to be able to translate his ‘observations’ into images, and the art of casting a critical eye on his subject so that he can install that understanding into his work.

Ad – content continues below

Now all this is pure wishful thinking. And many of us poor (in all senses of the word) artists don’t have time for all that fancy philosophy. We just have to get down and get it done! Deadlines to meet; bills to be paid and the occasional night’s sleep can all get in the way of a quiet moment or two of introspection.

But to contradict myself, to save you the job, I think that the mind is quite capable of processing all the relevant data, even in the midst of a hectic work load.

An artist creates a world that reflects his personality; his take on the world, even in or maybe more especially in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction, where he is creating a new world with its own paradigms of good or evil or both. These are his observations: his choices of what is worth showing and what needs to be hidden or ignored. In that way an artist is in a perpetual state of criticism: of the world he sees, and self criticism of his own abilities to portray it the way he wants. Always seeking the best way to convey his personal message in marks.

And the reason we enjoy the work of some artists more than others is the amount we agree with their view of the world. Some we can respect for their abilities and skills; some we will ‘enjoy’ because of their subject matter or decorative qualities. But some will take our breath away as we suddenly see a new angle on the world or find confirmation for how we thought about life as they speak to our inner spirit.Not that I’ve ever tried that. But it does sound like fun!

Now, all of the above is merely a bunch of philosophical persiflage. I don’t want any aspiring young artists to take it personally and worry about how they see the world and blame their lack of success on their inner demons that warp their world image so that nobody loves them, except their mum, and they can’t get work. It could just be that they’re crap! Just like I was when I started out. Keep at it, keep practising and above all: enjoy it! It shows, more than any amount of skill, when you’re enjoying the process. Just like making love…. But that’s a subject for an entirely different blog!

So, even if you think this was a load of hogwash, I hope we can still be friends. After all… It was only an ‘observation’.

Ad – content continues below

Ian Gibson, long-time artist on Judge Dredd, is the co-creator of Halo Jones, and has also drawn for DC Comics. We think he’s ace. Find his website at www.ian-gibson.com.

More Ian Gibson on Den of Geek: The Economics of ComicsTurning comics into films – and vice versaLetter from an anarchistManga, anime, and MiyazakiThank you for the comics