Alright, so to start things off, new artwork in the Digital gallery:
Today’s post is about Incremental Transformation in creative endeavors. Also, as my art is often about playing with (and ideally breaking) the boundary between reality and abstraction, this post is about abstraction as well.
Definition (as I’m using the phrase):
“Incremental Transformation”, (noun phrase): The process by which an idea gets developed through increments, or repeated steps.
A quick example: Many artists develop a character through a process that involves
(1)drawing rough shapes
(2)tightening and refining those shapes
(3)solidifying choices and finalizing the shapes
(4)Adding details until the piece is finished.
This is a classic work flow, incrementally transforming rough shapes into a finished piece. However, there is another process I’ve observed Incremental Transformation occurring through.
Abstraction of ideas or concepts is a quintessential component to creative endeavors. Artists frequently abstract certain elements of a picture that aren’t meant to receive too much attention in a piece. An example is naturalistic backgrounds. If you look at my piece
…I chose to abstract many background elements, including trees, mountainous shapes, rock forms… in order to create a tension between the sharply defined areas and the lucidly so. Too much detail can be overwhelming to the viewer, but thoroughly fleshing out a scene requires many elements. One solution is choosing which elements to fully detail and refine, and which to leave loose. Actually, this mirrors the way our brain processes information, as we selectively choose what to give the most attention to. Additionally, it mirrors physiology–the eye is a lens, and as such cannot focus on everything in the field of vision at once. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depth_of_field)
Abstraction is necessary for development of games as well. In order to make fun simulation games, you must choose what to treat with an abstraction. A basic example is attacking ability for role-playing games. The ability of someone to attack someone or something is extremely complex and variable by circumstance, and is the reason why martial arts and military sciences cover volumes. However, in most games, a single number is assigned to “attack value” and then some situational modifiers are applied to adjust it based on the circumstances. In order for this to be perfectly realistic, one would have to program an infinite number of possible scenarios that could affect this number.
But it isn’t fun or practical to check if the character is slightly depressed and queasy after eating nachos and it’s reducing his coordination a little.
So we skip some detail. But when we have to work with abstractions we create, we have to treat them as “good enough” and the “reality” of the game at some point. This affects everything in the game, and you find things happening that you may not have expected: suddenly, perhaps, a character with a high attack value is capable of fighting many more lesser characters at once than a real person might, because there are less circumstances that hinder his attacking ability. Maybe you could program a penalty associated with attacking swarms of people…
OR, you could choose to leave it. Even more, you could embrace it. This is where the artist comes out. You’ve created a system of rules in which a high level fighter can get good enough to take out 20 guys at once. You then choose to enhance that–first, you add that to the story–there have been legendary fighters in the world’s story that have shaped History LITERALLY single-handedly. Their rise and fall have defined epochs in the world. Second, you add weapons that increase the effect even further–when a character wields a powerful sword, they can fight many more enemies at once, easily.
You also add powers–you figure the best explanation for a fighter attacking that many people at once is they learn new techniques that people in the real world never learned. You like that, and get the idea to then create specific techniques to teach the character–such as a dashing sword swing that drags the sword across multiple enemies at once as the character runs. You realize this would require very fast movement, and develop a pathway for the warrior that involves them becoming inhumanly fast as they discover new, untapped metabolic pathways for energy–similar to the way the runners described how it felt when they first broke the 4-minute-mile in reality. This feeds back into the story, as such warriors have the power to determine the fate of the masses, even without other political power…
And on and on, it goes, until you’ve created a fantastic world that runs on a specific rule-set that is different from that of the real world, but rich and vivid, with its own vast consequences and stories. And that is exactly what happens when incremental transformation and abstraction interact. As we abstract certain things, it changes the picture, and as we notice these changes, we have something new to play with and build on, which leads to more possible abstractions and possibilities. This positive feedback loop can be a powerful creative tool.
One last note–remember when I talked about Chaos Theory, here and here? This is another example of how small choices you make when creating a composition can be harnessed and amplified, intentionally or not, to enrich a piece. It’s a process of discovery, and what you choose to focus on reflects you as an artist and can help you create more original, powerful pieces.
Hopefully this inspired you, or at least was interesting. If you like it, share it with others, who might like or benefit from the ideas.
All images, writing, characters, artwork and related indicia are (c) Earl Isbell
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