I had first written about Scott Ligon’s artwork 6 months ago right around the time I first began my monthly Art Picks posts. Now fast forward 5 months, I reached out to him to donate and participate in a fundraiser a collective group of people, myself included, had put on in May, which he did quite graciously and kindly, even though he no longer lived in area and it was definitely appreciated! What caught me by surprise was that he had actually just recently written a book and I honestly had not paid much attention to digital art, yes yes Warhol is noted as being part of this movement, but it wasn’t until I came across Ligon’s work, that I took notice of how real digital art could look….if that makes any sense at all. Artwork made on by a computer program that looks literally just like a real painting made by hand. In this day -and-age where there are so many different programs and capabilities for people to create art I was extremely interested in finding out more about digital art and also learning more about how much art has progressed and transformed into different mediums especially now with the existence of so many different technologies at our disposal.
He was kind enough to grant me an interview and talk more about his work, the development of his career, the future and his new book, “Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop”:
How long you have been doing digital art?
About eight years.
How did you fall into this form of artistry?
“Fall into” is a pretty good way of putting it. I was trained as a painter. I worked as a freelance Graphic Artist and Illustrator for several years (in the DC area!) so I became familiar with all the art-related software, including Photoshop. My wife is a painter and wanted me to enter a show with her. I didn’t have any recent paintings so I made a couple digital works, almost on a whim. One of them won an award in the show. I just made digital art because I enjoyed it and it took awhile before I started taking it seriously.
Do you intend on sticking strictly to digital art?
Well, you know, I’m interested in so many different kinds of things, and digital art is a way to incorporate my many creative interests and tie them together. I’m sure at some point I’ll make physical artwork or combine it with digital approaches, but right now digital art and digital film-making are the things I’m most excited about.
What are the themes you like to explore in your pieces?
I tend to explore my personal relationships in an abstract or general way. I’d also say my work is about the way we are all constantly bombarded by information in modern life. I’m making multi-layered images with an overwhelming amount of information in them and I’m attempting to pull moments of clarity out of the swirling mass. Which also reflects my life, I suppose. My works are kind of a mix between abstract expressionism and pop culture. There’s a big comic book influence in my work.
Are any of the people real people in your life?
Almost all of my work features people from my personal life. I suppose it’s that they have meaning in my life, combined with the fact that they are convenient reference models for photography and digital painting. My digital films are the same way. My first film, Escape Velocity, is about the connection between ADHD and Creativity, features my family and my upcoming second film, Figure/Ground, is about my father passing away.
How long is the process generally for each piece?
It can vary wildly. I usually don’t have a concrete plan in advance, so I’ll keep adding, subtracting and experimenting until everything works. Most works will take between one and four weeks. A few might’ve been done in a couple days and there are a couple works that have taken several months, with some pauses in the middle when I wasn’t sure how to make them work. They’re done when they’re done. My films, of course, take much longer.
What inspires you as of late? A person? An object? An Idea?
I feel really passionate about the value of creative thinking. A lot of my writing and video work is about this. We tend to value people who are organized and good at sitting still, memorizing and repeating things, especially in our educational system. Creative thinking is responsible for all human progress, but it is undervalued by society. My family also remains a source of inspiration, as does popular culture.
You recently relocated to Cleveland, OH to teach. How did that opportunity come about?
I was living in Fredericksburg, VA, working as an artist and teaching part time at a local university. My first film had gotten distribution and I was in the process of getting my book deal, so I decided I was in a good position to apply for a full time job. I applied for teaching jobs and one of them was at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’m the coordinator for the digital classes in the Foundation (First Year) Environment. I’m really interested in Foundation concepts of the visual language and visual communication as they apply to the revolutionary new possibilities introduced by digital technology, so the job is a good fit. I accepted the job and we quickly moved to Cleveland. I just completed my second year.
Do you intend on continuing with teaching or do you want to be able to transition yourself fully as an artist and not teach after a certain period of time?
I intend to teach for the foreseeable future. It’s a job that really goes well with being an artist. I can make things that interest me and help other people do that too. Also, although there is quite a bit of preparation and work at home, I only teach three days a week, so it doesn’t feel too much like a 9-5 job. The job not only encourages me to make art, but it’s actually required in my contract. They want teachers that are living what they are teaching.
A very early digital work, “Pam”, is based on my sister’s old school photo, which is cute and awkward at the same time. I also have great affection for my short film “Escape Velocity” which toured in festivals all over the world. I really felt like I was part of a community touring with that movie and watching audience reaction.
Which took the longest to create?
“Escape Velocity”. I sat in the living room with my family, using my laptop and a drawing tablet, drawing this film frame by frame, often with multiple layers. I did this off and on for about 2 and a half years, with several months of working night and day. I rationalized it by saying, “well, some people just watch TV every night. Some people knit. I’m with my family. I just happen to be drawing a cartoon.”.
Which piece you least expected to receive the most attention/praise but did?
Again, “Escape Velocity”. I sent this film out to festivals and it did incredibly well and won several awards and was ultimately picked up for distribution by Shorts International, the leading short film brand. They do all the Oscar-winning short films. You can buy the film on iTunes for $1.99 by the way. I was almost immediately participating in film panels at festivals along with all these professional filmmakers. It felt really weird. It was as if I’d just made my first painting and then I was asked to talk to people as if I were an expert. It took a while before I’d acquired enough experience to be helpful to people.
How did the book idea come about? Was it always something you wanted to do down the road or was it something that fell into your lap?
“Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop” is my attempt to write the book I wished I’d had when I started out, but wasn’t able to find.
I’d taught Photoshop classes for several years. I am a digital artist who was trained as a painter, and I really taught Photoshop in a painterly way, as a tool for self-expression.
Any Photoshop book that had fine art in the title was more about short cuts and copying art history.
Photoshop is a really powerful tool for taking images and information from wildly different sources and manipulating them into something unique and unified. “Digital Art Revolution” isn’t about copying art history, it’s about using these revolutionary tools to MAKE art history.
I worked really hard on an insanely long and detailed book proposal. (160 pages!). A friend that was an author recommended my book to a literary agent. I signed with the literary agent, Margot Hutchinson of Waterside Productions and she shopped it around to publishers, eventually selling it to Watson-Guptill. I think it makes a big difference to have a good literary agent. When someone whose opinion the publisher respects tells them to take a look at your book, there’s a better chance that they’ll pay some attention to it. Ultimately, you’ll never sell anything if the publisher doesn’t like it, or if you haven’t done the preparation to make your case for the book, but it’s much better than having your book sit on the big slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts.
Do you foresee yourself doing more down the road?
Yes, I have several ideas for books I’d like to do.
Who did you look to and why for advice, reference and guidance during the development of the book from initial idea to completion?
My friend Michael Dean, who is the author of $30 Film School, was a great source of inspiration and advice. He wrote the introduction to the book. I also read several books on publishing and did a lot of internet research to make sure that I knew how to make a proper book proposal and that I provided all the information a publisher would want.
I really like books on creativity that have personal and inspirational elements rather than just instruction. The Artist’s Way and Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain are two books that come to mind. I tried to do this in my book as well.
Who is your primary audience with this book? Would someone like myself who is new to digital art be able to get a full grasp of the art form or is it for the more experienced?
The book starts with an overview of all the Photoshop Tools and the Photoshop interface, along with some basic exercises. A person that is a complete beginner to Photoshop could learn from reading the book. In fact, the book also features a crash course on visual communications, so a person who knew nothing about art at all could still find everything they needed to get started in the book.
The advanced exercises, along with an emphasis on creativity and developing a personal voice as an artist, insure that an experienced digital artist could get a lot out of the book as well.
You have a website, you teach, you create your own artwork and now you wrote a book. Pretty great to be able to say you do and are doing all those things. So what sorts of advice would you give to other emerging artists, whether in digital art or other mediums, to sustain themselves as artists especially in when the economy is not the greatest?
Do what you love and what you are passionately interested in. You will create unique and personal work that no one else can do. If you are excited by it, you’ll do it all the time and get better and better at it. There are so many ways to make people aware of your work thanks to digital technology. If you are reliable but are doing unoriginal work you’re competing with everyone else in the world that does reliable but unoriginal work and the reward goes to whoever works the cheapest. You don’t want to be in that position. If you do something that no one else can do, and practice until it’s great, you’re in a position of power. You’re also less vulnerable to economic downturns.
What is next in store for you? What are the next upcoming projects and/or exhibits you have coming up?
I’m working hard to promote “Digital Art Revolution” I’ll be finishing my second movie, “Figure/Ground” in the next couple months. It’s starring Washington DC actor Allan Kulakow, who has been in several movies and was the chief of staff in West Wing.
I have a book proposal I want to put together. It’s also really past time that I start working on a new body of digital images. My artwork has taken a backseat to my movies and book, so I’m going to carve out some time just to make some pictures.
SCOTT LIGON is the author of Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop (Watson-Guptill/Random House). He is an award-winning digital artist who frequently lectures on the subjects of creativity, filmmaking, and digital art. Ligon is the coordinator for the digital foundation curriculum at the Cleveland Institute of Art. He is also the author/director of the short film Escape Velocity which has played in theaters and festivals worldwide and is now available on iTunes through Shorts International. http://www.digitalartrevolution.com
I hope you enjoyed reading the interview, learned few things about digital art and especially about Scott Ligon. Make sure you go and check out his book here. Keep checking back for more interviews and covers on various artists.