This article features an AP Studio Art Drawing project by Seokkyun Hong, completed while studying Art at Hillcrest High School, Dallas, Texas, United States, 2008. Seokkyun was awarded full marks for his Concentration component (6/6) and was featured on the official AP Collegeboard website, as a learning exemplar for others. His project is essential viewing for any high school Art student who wishes to draw imaginary, fantasy illustrations as part of a traditional Fine Art project.
Rather than falling into the trap of creating simplistic, cartoon-like copies, Seokkyun produces original and/or modified character designs, integrating these within a realistic setting – part of an exceptional body of work entitled ‘My Space’. His project explores the act of imagining and drawing fantasy characters, surrounded by art supplies, paper, books, headphones, crunched Pepsi cans and other desk accessories. Seokkyun renders complex three-dimensional forms with ease, demonstrating an outstanding level of observational drawing skill, while continuing to develop and extend his original character illustrations.
We were lucky enough to interview Seokkyun about his AP Studio Art Concentration. His responses remind us, yet again, that those who excel in high school Art qualifications are not just technically able, creative students, but those who demonstrate a depth of understanding and intellectual rigour.
Many high school Art students are discouraged from drawing cartoon characters or fantasy creations, due to the risks of producing low-quality copies from second-hand sources. Why did you focus upon character illustration and how did you ensure that you created an outstanding body of work?
Seokkyun: I chose this topic for the ease of access to reference materials and for the sake of variety. The primary flaws in many fantasy or secondary source drawings are that they provide diminished technical and creative scope, because they are chosen to be lazy, rather than to serve a thematic purpose or contrast. I chose to incorporate real life objects, to compensate for the fact that the original character drawings didn’t provide an opportunity to show adequate skills.
It was very important that the flat characters were not the primary subjects of all the drawings. The artwork needed to show coherency, with a willingness to move the focus around, so that nothing in the composition was neglected.
As a general tip, if you can demonstrate any form of concrete and solid understanding of one subject, this can carry you very far. Whether it be color, form, or lighting, if one thing looks really realistic, people are often willing to overlook other inconsistencies or blemishes in the work. It also helps if you switch up the focus. While I incorporated original designs and modified copied characters, not all works feature these prominently as the center of attention.
Your project contains exceptional, well-balanced compositions, with a highly imaginative interaction between the desk setting and illustrations. How did you come up with ideas for composing your artworks?
Seokkyun: Observations from various sources were combined to make the compositions. I had an idea for what general arrangements I wanted the pictures to take and it was basically a building process to make the reference materials work, which I photographed for later use. If the desired objects were unavailable to me I had to make do with reference pictures.
Compositions are always difficult when trying to work from reference photographs. Human eyes don’t see things in a solid rectangular frame, and the contextual bias is always formed from sight. It helps when you take your own photographs, or work from life, since you get a tactile understanding of what the objects involved are doing and how light and darkness plays out. The color relationship is also something that needs to be seen physically to fully grasp. The hardest thing to do was separate the conventional notion of what the thing is supposed to be, and what it looks like in context. The reflected lighting from the surroundings and the compositional flow of the picture forced compromises between the eyes and paper.
The only imperative in my compositions was that every piece interacted and that nothing was taken for granted. Empty areas were filled with a change in tone or color; details must have some relevance or companions to make them not glaring. I decided that things couldn’t touch without being at tangent; nothing could meet on a point, etc.
Your handling of mediums and observational drawing skills are exceptional. How did you develop this level of skill and what advice do you have for other students who struggle with this?
Seokkyun: I was fortunate to grow up in the household were art was plentiful and visual mediums like movies and cartoons were well respected. While I did draw, I was not skilful at all.
For those fellow artists struggling, a lesson I learned in college: practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Drawing endlessly alone will not help you. Drawing with understanding of why things work the way they work will give you the most benefit. Also I recommend that people question the intent of the work more than anything. Question what ideas the original artists were looking at.
What other advice do you have for other high school Art students who wish to gain excellent grades?
Seokkyun: You have to jump the hurdle. Art is not leisurely nor is it determined by talent. It’s a very open skill field that demands self-sufficiency. There will be a wall that one hits and you have to push through. Do not push through with brute force though. When something in your art isn’t working, doing it fifty million times will not save you. Figure out alternative solutions, don’t be afraid to experiment and attempt to start all over again.
Find yourself a good critic. A person who will say something beyond “looks good” or “meh”. Make sure they offer solutions to their critique as well.
You have to jump the hurdle. Art is not leisurely nor is it determined by talent. It’s a very open skill field that demands self-sufficiency.
It is hoped that Seokkyun’s AP Studio Art project reassures those students who wish to draw fantasy illustrations (but feel that they can’t or shouldn’t) and highlights a possible path towards success.
If you enjoyed this article, you may wish to view more of our Featured Art Projects.
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.