An Interview with Comic Book Artist Ken Lashley as he experiments with Adobe’s Project Gemini beta drawing app
Ken Lashley is a well established artist who has moved through the world of Comic Books superheros, villains and assorted mighty misfits in film, print, digital media, merchandise and wherever else he can put his pens, brushes, markers and imagination to work. Adobe asked him to try out a new drawing/painting app running on the iPadPro (best with the new Apple Stylus as well) at the MoCCA Arts Festival in New York City last weekend, where I was able to look over his shoulder as he experimented.
Adobe is stepping into an arena with at least two other important and mature drawing/sketching/painting apps that do not follow the Photoshop/Illustrator approach, but rely on the use of the stylus to work as handy and quickly adaptable analog-style tools. Blending, blurring, thick/thin media, wet/dry: these are imitated with highly natural effect, and with the iPad Pro and new Apple Stylus run seemingly without lag or hesitation.
While Adobe has only released the beta to selected artists, it will probably appear in the Creative Cloud Suite by the end of the year (this is my estimation), if not sooner, and it will be interesting to see the integration into the full suite, particularly if they intend on it sharing space with the desktop-based apps, such as XD which only is complete on a desktop/laptop, or do more of the slimmer-featured mobile/tablet apps, such as Adobe Rush and Adobe Spark Post.
It is only being demonstrated on the iOS platform, but most certainly will have its Android counterpart shortly, or, as we note, may have a full laptop version that Windows users would put on a Surface or other Window tablets that can run with a stylus just as easily.
Apparently Adobe thinks that the processor speeds, graphics integrity and integration with a stylus in tablets that requires little adjustment is here, and they are ready to put this product out for professional use.
In talking with Ken, we spoke more about finding your way as an artist than about the technology. However, where technology can make a difference, even with the newer digital tools acting more like traditional ones, the ability to quickly try new things and undo them if you don’t like them or leave the “happy mistakes” you make with them becomes an entirely new part of the process. This may be the real reason for swapping into this app for artists/designers who struggle to find the reason (and the money) to depend on either higher-end graphics tablets or give in to dabbling with an app but doing the “serious” work with traditional media, or a blend of the two.
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Here’s a partial transcript of the 10 minute conversation:
Thoughts about managing a career as an artist:
Ken Lashley: Sometimes you worry about trying to be the best artist you can be or try to chase fame and all that other stuff. It’s really…It’s not important.
I remember I was young and naive when I first started. and I was always worried about trying to be…”I want to be famous. “I want to be this guy.”
Well that’s silly. Just be the best artist you can be.
And then when I became more popular, my mindset was different. So I don’t see it that way anymore. Negative reviews don’t mean anything to me. Positive reviews really don’t mean that much to me either. I’m just on my vision
to be a better artist.
Dean Meyers: Right. And also because you want to tell that story.
Ken: YEAH! And it’s really for me and it just happens that it gets published! Is that weird?
Dean: NO, that’s great!
Ken: It’s kind of how it works. If I was worried about all the other stuff it would be so difficult to know you’re making the right decision in your studio. “Oh, is this going to be marketable? Is this going to sell?” You can’t worry
about those things. You just draw what you think is best for you at that moment. Just… be on your way.
On working digitally, and using the Adobe Project Gemini beta drawing/painting app:
Dean: So you’re working with an iPad pro.
Ken: Yep, This is a newer version.
Dean: Okay. And this is the new pencil, right?
Dean: Okay… cool! So working shifting back and forth, because I know you do, you’re used to shifting out of analog material into digital tell me about that as an experience with this. Making the conversion: How long does it take to get your hand used to shifting from the stylus to the brush back to the stylus?
Ken: Oh, about five minutes, right? Based on deadlines and other stuff. You know, you really just have to come with it. But I definitely just enjoy it every day.
When I first got a Cintiq and I was playing with it was afraid of it. It was like, “Oh, what am I going to do with this? I’m much better on paper. I should just not bother with this. I’m just going to stay with what I know.”
And then I realized just like anything else, they’re just tools. They’re just a series of tools that help you get things done.
And that’s it. And I learned. The barrier was gone from there. And then it was easier. After that I decided that I’m just going to enjoy this.
Dean: Did you find a difference in dealing with the proportion of the fixed canvas, or being able to zoom in and out? How was that?
Ken: Yeah, it is a very different experience, and I made a lot of mistakes too. I would zoom in and I would focus on this one little area. Then I’d realize in the scheme of things, that’s a tiny little part.
But you know, you make all those mistakes as you go on. But I mean, that’s the beauty in it, too. When you move around you learn a lot more about things. You take chances. I enjoyed it.
I mean it was tough.
What I really learned the most about doing all this stuff is you’ve got to learn to let go of the things that you thought were important. You learn to let go of those things.
At first, you’re, “Oh, you know, this is important and that’s important, and, “Oh, I gotta do this kind of brush and this kind of thing,” and,”Oh, what does this guy use?”
And I always tell people…they ask all the time, “What do you use, Ken? What are your tools?”
And I go, “Oh, I use whatever.” I mean I use whatever.
I’m not a pretty decent artist because of the tools, you know. It’s because I play with the tools and I use whatever, it doesn’t matter. This [pointing to the iPad] is just an extension of what I always have done. This is the type of program
that makes it easier. And this is getting back to what was really important about you in the first place: being a creative person. It’s not about about learning a software. It’s about learning how to make media easier work for you.
And this is what I love about Gemini. It’s so intuitive and it’s so easy for someone like me who’s not a super tech-savvy guy. Just to click the button and say, “Oh, there’s a brush that does this!” and it interacts like real materials. And I think because it works like real materials there’s no longer a barrier of you going, “I can’t use that because I don’t know how to use it.” It’s more like, “I can use this because there’s the tool that does exactly what it’s always done, what watercolor has always done.”
Does that make sense?
Dean: Absolutely! Has it encouraged you to experiment with some things you would never have done in analog?
Painting studios are different from art studios. A painting studio has lots of stuff with texture, and I have a very good size room in my house, but now it’s mostly taken up with my comic bookwork and my Cintiq and all that stuff. And there’s hardware in there, real hardware that I use! I’m not going to have a painting studio beside it because [of] dirt and contaminants and all those things in there. You want to paint, but you have to find another studio for the painting.
So then I go, “Okay, well what’s the second best thing?”
And the second best thing is having all those tools available, but in one device. It’s amazing to have a device that has all of those tools and even tools I didn’t know that I wanted to play with are in there too, right?
And things like, [Ken taps on a brush on the screen] “Oh, let me try that!” It’s amazing, truly amazing.
Dean: Are you able to create your own brushes or things like that?
I mean, I love the watercolor brush, because watercolor is so difficult to use. People don’t realize how difficult watercolor is to use because when you make a mistake in watercolor it’s over, right? It’s done.
But here, it’s sort of like…”OH!!” you get happy mistakes.
You know, things happen, you go..”OH!! THAT IS AWESOME! How did that work? Well, let me push this button over here… OH! That does that! ”
I think when you’re on paper and you push something [in watercolor], what happens is that, “oh, that piece of paper’s ruined! ”
But in digital, it’s a happy mistake because you can undo it if you want– not that I ever undo it. I just live with whatever mistakes I make then I go from there.
Dean: it’s a classic thing with oil, you had to start all over and re-gesso the canvas and all of that if you thought… “UGH!!”
Ken: And that’s another thing too. As an art student, I gravitated towards certain aspects of art. For some art I guess I don’t have that kind of time. I’m impatient with myself in that way. Typically in my life, if that happened to me and I have to re-gesso it, I wouldn’t stop. I would just go and do something else, rather than spend the two hours trying to fix it.
Here I just go, [tapping the screen] “OH! undo!” And then try something different or live with it because it’s cool.
Dean: Speaking of watercolors, are you able to add more drops of water and things like that too? [pointing to the tablet]
Ken: I do this all the time. But I even did a comic book that way. I did a book called the Secret Six with Gail Simone at DC, and I said I’m going to try something different, and I was using watercolor. And some of the pages
were pretty good and some weren’t, right?
But, what I’m saying is if I was doing it digitally, I think I would have had a little more fun with it because it’s not so permanent. When I was doing it, it’s “what’s permanent, is permanent, if it’s done it’s done.” And also at the speed
and immediacy of comic books, I don’t have time to redo a page because I don’t think it’s quite right. It’s like: it comes out on the 14th of next month, so regardless of what I do today, it’s going of the printer or it’s going to the publishers. So this is a whole different setup. I would probably use this for my professional work.
I mean, we’ll see what happens, but I definitely could see myself using it because there’s so much flexibility in the range of things you can do. I would take way more chances with this than I would if I were doing it traditionally on paper.
This interview took place in NYC at the MoCCA Arts Festival, Saturday April 5, 2019.
Please follow Ken Lashley on Instagram: @ledkilla
Adobe is sharing info regarding Gemini at @adobedrawing
This interview can be seen complete on Instagram at @vizworld