A Response to Noah Bradley’s Rant

I came across this on Twitter the other day:

 

I ignore most of Noah’s bravado; it’s largely noise that is catered to a pretty niche group, yelled atop a soapbox. Don’t get me wrong, his art camp idea pushed a lot of industry veterans to rethink their business plans and forced them to listen to how this young buck is actually making real money. He’s a charlatan who outgrew the insult as soon as it was verbalized. He’s still a whipping boy of sorts, as any larger-than-life personality in a group of introverts will become. I think his art is good, but I’m still waiting for his next big thing. I think he’s on the cusp of it, and yet, I’m not quite sure what that is yet.

Noah came onto the scene big with his “Art of Freelancing” video and really looked at the art market to understand what in the hell was going on with college students being utterly unprepared for their actual careers. Noah is not a master artist yet, but he’s a helluva good marketer. Why do industry giants listen to what a twenty-something has to say? Because he’s cornered a market and stolen market share from them and because he continues to innovatively sell products and content to a large demographic with ease—that and, if you must teach others, it’s incredible how much you learn for yourself along the way.

I’ve seen another artist live in a similar manner: Leroy Neiman.

The Minnesota-born Neiman knew two things: how to make himself visible amongst crowds and that whatever he was doing and wherever, he wanted to be a part of it in an instant. I see Noah getting there. Neiman painted so many American sports events that nearly every team, in every city, has an iconic image made by him. He penetrated culture and became relevant to millions. This was before the Internet, of course, but in the art world, word travels fast. And the way Noah is shaking up freelancing feels similar. I just hope Noah keeps improving and doesn’t get hit by a bus. I see big things coming from his business workings coinciding with his art on an optimal basis.

Noah Bradley writes rants from time to time. I always read them due to their nuggets of truth hidden within them. He can finally take risks to speak out, and he should not be shushed back to a hallway locker like many art students are. He wrote another of his rants entitled Paint Women Like Women not long ago. Please read his challenge to artists below:

Paint women like women
Because they’re more than just a collection of parts.Dear artists in fantasy/sci-fi/games/films,Your paintings don’t have women in them.

You paint boobs. You paint butts. You paint legs. You paint a hollow shell that vaguely resembles a woman. But you sure as hell don’t paint women.

You paint a collection of parts that women have. All faces merge into one monotonous ideal. Boobs are big. Waists are non-existent. Clothing is rare. Baby oil is in constant supply. They’re all young and they’re all beautiful. Female characters could be swapped between games or films and no one would take a second glance. A pair of fake boobs and a round butt and she’s ready to go. I’m not going to call out specific games or movies or artists or paintings. Nor am I listing exceptions to this. Because that’s not the point. It would take an incredible amount of ignorance (intentional or otherwise) to not see this issue. Talking about specifics just invites nit-picking.

Women are rare enough in our world of fantasy & sci-fi. Most of the time in games and movies they serve little purpose beyond eye candy or something to rescue or something to exploit. They’re things. They’re not people.

And it’s our fault. It’s our fault for treating women like this.

You can blame society or your boss or popular culture. But at the end of the day it’s your call. You can decide to keep doing things the way they’ve been done or make something a little different. You can paint Women. The way they are. The beautiful, wonderful, amazing people that they are. The young or old, beautiful or plain, curvy or skinny, short or tall. And I’m not even saying they have to be covered up all the time. I’ve seen paintings of classy nudes and trashy, fully-clothed women. It has far less to do with what you’re showing as how you’re showing it.

So let’s see some different women. Women with different bodies. Different faces. With imperfections. With personality. Strong, powerful, independent, amazing women. I’m not speaking for women here because I can’t possibly do that—I’ll never know what it’s like for women. But I’ll say as a guy that I’m sick of seeing women portrayed this way. It’s boring at best, offensive at worst.

I’m sure you’ll ask why I’m focused on paintings of women and not men. “Men are idealized too!” you’ll scream. And you’re right. They are. Big, buff, ripped guys abound. Cut jaw lines and 5 o’clock shadows. But let’s be honest: there’s more variety in male body types than female. There’s big guys, small guys, thin, thick, old, young, everything. And we see ‘em all. So we’re already getting a variety, even if it is a variety of ideals.

Then you’ll scream, “But it’s fantasy! Why should it look real?” And you’re right. It is fantasy. And fantasy is amazing. We escape reality and enter a fantastical world of infinite possibility. But the best fantasy is always based in reality. It is a relatable, understandable world with fantastical elements. Big-boobed, mindless women with vapid stares do not have any place in fantasy. Paint ideals, but keep them grounded in reality. Too many artists are taking the easy way out. They’re foregoing even the slightest amount of creativity. It’s a lot easier to paint yet another “hot chick” than it is to paint a “beautiful woman.” So we just keep painting those “hot chicks.”

We should strive to push our field beyond this. To push it into a territory of diverse beauty. Women are incredibly beautiful and it cheapens that beauty to paint them the way so many of us do.

We can do better than this. And it can start with your next painting.


Ideal women from years past

You might’ve missed this, but remember his expert demographic segmenting? Yes, you are his audience.

Who are you? You’re an appreciator of art and—more so as of late—an actual artist. I know this because I am no longer a formal art director, yet I still have thirty friend requests on Facebook who are obviously amateur artists. Lately, it’s been a follow-up from Cynthia Sheppard and me discussing a wonderful piece of hers on Facebook. Anytime I write anything on art, folks poke their heads in to say hello. I don’t cater my content as much as Noah does because I don’t have a tangible object for them to buy. I don’t know my audience perfectly as he does.

He knows I’ll be sharing this. He knows you’re reading this. Hell, he has a reddit subreddit for that exact purpose. Tumblr was made for Noah’s type of text post. It’s click-bait 101.

I find it amusingly readable, not unlike the mornings I find myself yelling at a faceless corporation over some inane thing and receiving a text saying, “Simma down now,” from my brother. I love seeing people get all fired up over something I share with them.

The issue comes in that Noah knows that talking to kids in art school won’t fix this problem. It’s a start, as any rant can be, but he knows he can make major impact, and he held back. It’s far easier to talk about a broad subject than to name names, point fingers, and make impactful critiques for change. Largely, it’s because people naturally do it because it’s a perquisite for improving.

Then and Now


Copyright Mike Linnemann and UMN Archive

I love then-and-now photography. I don’t make much art in my free time, but one thing I actively do is look up old photographs when I’m in archives and then recreate that image, down to the month of the photo. I find it fascinating to see what endures over decades of change.

One of the most glaring amateur mistakes I see with futuristic cities and world-building efforts is making them so linear and clean. It’s as though no civilization came before it. Has anyone wondered why Washington D.C. was chosen as the capitol? You should see the difference with Bern and Berlin as previous and current capitols of Germany. History is never clean, and I love seeing that explained as concisely as possible. A singular photo can do that.

I have seen artists make portraits of themselves once a year to show improvement of skill. Sadly, in many, many cases, a plateau is shown, and it becomes a lot more depressing than inspirational to see how far they’ve come. I have been seeing these “recreation” paintings by Magic artists and have begun to think the same thing.

Noah, you see, can easily talk to his fans, his followers, because he sees the before picture. He knows it well. He’s preparing them for a future vocation in art, and while taking the over-$1,000 commission from Applibot’s Legends of the Cryptids pays the bills, one settles into making terrible art that will dry up like a Desert.

Church It Up

Magic only has a few hard rules for making art:

  • ”Make an effort to illustrate a variety of races, genders, ages, and body types.
  • Feel free to paint beautiful women, as long as they're shown kicking ass. No damsels in distress. No ridiculously exaggerated breasts. No nudity.
  • Don't use real-world letters or symbols. This includes religious symbols such as crosses and ankhs.”

The Magic Style Guide, Part 1 by Matt Cavotta

When artists get to Magic, they’re usually past the points that Noah is arguing. Even amazing artists are asked by companies to make T&A-laden artworks. That said, there is always a gray area in which artist always push too far. Let’s look at some examples to see what I mean.

Below are two works by Mark Winters. Mark is now an art director at Wizards of the Coast. He made an elven character for a Warhammer Invasion card-game expansion, and I couldn’t even find a high-resolution image of it online. It’s just gone. It looks like a pre-teen with boobs. Flash forward to 2013, only a year after the Warhammer expansion came out, and Mark made Emmara.

That is what Noah is talking about.

Mark Winters:

Now, what you might now know is what the character on the left is. That is a Dark Elf Witch Elf. That race’s entire branded image is to be near-nude. Really. It’s actually on-brand to look as it does. Below are three examples:

I would argue that the middle and left pieces are much better images than the far-right piece simply due to subject matter. Also, notice the center image’s dark elf. That’s Christina Davis. I think she could be a Cynthia Sheppard in a few years. Look at that little softness in the witch elf’s stomach—that’s a great usage of a different branded image but still within the bounds of being, well, bikini-clad.

Mark looked at his work and improved, and he now works for the fricken’ Wizards. He put his mind to it, took time, and then swung for the fences hard. He made it.

Marco Nelor:

That image was actually for a magazine tutorial talking about armor in 2011. The armor—the reason the article and image was made—looks pretty darn good. It’s just impossible to see over the egregious centering of your eyes to the figure.

If that was then, this is Marco Nelor today in 2014.

Stormcaller of Keranos

Side note: This is probably the art that got him Magic work.

Stormcaller of Keranos has a little junk in the trunk, and I’m onboard for that. I wrote about it being a really great thing about Born of the Gods in my art review.

I’ll refrain from going on. It’s a learning curve; it really is. It’s just far easier to find reference on women who are waify. There just exist more photos from advertising and on Google. Honestly, give yourself a few minutes to look for yourself.

I respect Noah’s view, and I hope his urging will prevent a lot of young artists from being pigeonholed into making mediocre fairy art or plastic-boobied playmates, only to be forgotten by time.

Magic is quite lucky. Art directors there are able to pick from the top crust of talent and can demand full new sets of sketches if a Barbie doll appears to be sneaking into a warrior’s card art. I respect them for that, and I hope more companies will slowly follow suit. How any movement begins is talking to artists; companies can’t produce art assets out of thin air. If all three sketches show variety and, well, body types that look like humans, we progress forward. It’s really that simple.

 


 

Below is a quick smattering of artists who are using a variety of body types already. While some of them have had misses here and there, artists like Jason Chan are utterly pushing the boundary of badass women doing badass things. Look closer at the art; you’ll be pleasantly surprised and pleased by Magic’s intensified foray into diversity as of late. We just need to always remember: The fact that it isn’t our body type doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included, praised, and showcased.

Next week, we talk more art and fewer formal Internet responses. Such yes.

-Mike

 


 


Hero of Leina Tower, Aaron Miller

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, Aleksi Briclot

Courtly Provocateur, James Ryman

Curse of the Swine, James Ryman

Naya Hushblade, Jason Chan

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