Monday, May 15, 2006

Wired Magazine - Crowdsourcing

Wired Magazined asked me to illustrate a double page spread about "crowdsourcing," the concept of harnessing the power of the crowd for industries ranging from stock photography to techonological research. The benefits of the crowd are evident the implementation of open-source software like Linux, but the crowd can also squeeze out professional photographers by providing cheap stock solutions uploaded to large databases comprised of amateur snapshots.

> graphite on bond.

I immediately thought of depicting the crowd as a 1000 armed beast rising from the sea, threatening and powerful. I took inspiration from these amazing Buddhist statues I saw at Rengeo-in Sanjusagen-do Temple in Japan.

> graphite on bond.

The first sketch seemed too stiff, and I thought that the props were distracting and confusing, especially since this beast was organized to tackle just one task. So despite the multitude of heads and arms, I redrew the whole thing, if only to shift the weight on its hips a few inches.

> blue pencil and white chalk on grey Rives BFK, 15 x 22"

I love drawing hands. After having drawn hundreds of hand studies in my sketchbooks, drawing hands from imagination comes easily.

> 11.5 x 16.75" @ 450 dpi, Photoshop CS. (Click the image for a larger image).

I really enjoyed finishing up this piece. Unfortunately, the editor at Wired thought the coloring was too morbid and wanted to depict the crowdsourcing beast in a better light, so this is the not the final version that will appear in print.


Bluebird said...

NICEEEE!! Its cool you post your sketches and then talk about your thoughts while working. I Think this piece is so much fun lots to look at and get into and say cool look at that. lol Oh the cool looks great to me. -peace Stephen

12:34 PM  
Bluebird said...

the color*

12:41 PM  
Kenichi Hoshine said...

The way you 'conceptualize' the accompanying articles is getting stronger and more thought provoking. Bravo. And stop stealing ideas from the Japanese.

2:29 PM  
Pete said...

Hey James-
Nice piece! Any pointers you can share for someone who cant stand drawing hands! Well, let me say that again, loves drawing hands but has trouble with them. Any advice on how to get really confortable with them?? Was it just drawing from life?


2:36 PM  
Shawn Escott said...

Wow James! All of that practice drawing hands payed off. You really got em down. Can't wait to see the final color! Great work!

7:11 PM  
Jed said...

I wrote a bunch of stuff but accidentally deleted it, but then maybe that's a good thing and it will force me to be more concise.

Love the drawing, (also like the added boat and cranes) though I think things get a little lost in the color version with all the graphical ellements. It has more of a sense of collage than figure ground, but since the textures are very similar, I don't think the things that feel as though they're right on the surface work as well as they might if they had the feeling that they were made with different media. I can kind of see what you might have been after here from having seen your sketchbook material, but again, that stuff has more variety.

I know that this is meant to evoke a sense of cacophany, but I think you're hitting us a little too hard. It's very optical, and kind of makes my eyes hurt. What I like about the drawing, is the quiet space. We still get a sense of cacophony, and it's contrasted with the more quiet ground. In the color version you lose some of that nice contrast--the figure/ground relationship that really seems evocative of your inspiration, those Japanese statues, while in the color version it has more of a collage feel.

Also in the drawing, there's all this wonderful detail for your eye to explore, but in the color version you lose the focal point, and I think highlighting the central figures head and writing hand in red, just emphasises how lost it had gotten--that hand STILL doesn't look quiet attached to that central figure, while this is very clear in the original drawing.

I admire your ability to chuck everything and start from scratch though--something I could stand to emulate--and the second drawing IS an improvement, though I do like that feeling of weight you get in the first drawing, like he's baring this incredible burden. In the second drawing the arms and faces are more a weightless extension of him.

Really, I just think this was probably a better picture a few layers earlier. It seems like you wanted some of these photoshop effects to do a job they couldn't do-- like the halftone dots and the red blobs and the blue streams--that you were trying to get more milleage out of these textures than they were going to allow you. Instead you have something that's busy not so much in an intriguing way, as a less than purposeful one.

12:56 AM  
Anonymous said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Jed is an idiot.

here goes:

Jed is an idiot

that felt good.

1:09 AM  
Ben Baker said...

Really impressive! I know my question might sound silly, but Did you drawn the boats apart on a sheet or with your computer?

2:31 AM  
Jed said...


From what I gather, you don't seem to care for what I have to say. I'm sorry you feel that way, but: it's not meant for you. If you want to talk to me directly, you're welcome to e-mail me, but I'm really doubting that you will, so I guess we won't be having that conversation.

Now since we're not likely to have that talk, maybe I can help you understand a little better where I'm coming from.

Now I'd say about 90% or more, I really like the work that James posts. Actually the other part of the time, I admire it--it's hard not to admire, because his craft is so consistantly amazing--but then I might have something critical to say about it. I'm also, obviously, not always right, but that doesn't mean that any critical feedback at all is unwaranted.

I think what you, and others might not realize is that I'm not antagonizing James. James actually wants to hear what I have to say. If he said today that he didn't want to hear it, I wouldn't offer it, but he's expressly said the opposite. At least last time I asked.

Now Iike you, I am a cheerleader for James, but as a true cheerleader, I want James to keep getting better, and if I think I have something of value to offer, I'm going to offer it. Since James continues to feel that what I offer is valuable, I guess that makes me a pretty good cheerleader, doesn't it?

So why don't you join me, Anonymous, in being a cheerleader for James, and look at his work with a more critical eye. Heck, maybe you'll end up saying some pretty idiotic things yourself--who doesn't? But even if sometimes you say something really stupid, Anonymous, or he disagrees with you, maybe he appreciates the challenge, because it makes him think about the decisions he makes, and maybe he appreciates that you would care enough to think about the work, and consider it critically.

5:16 AM  
Logan said...

I agree 100% Jed. Constructive criticism is a vital element for any artist.
I think that it's fairly understood that we all admire James' work. (We wouldn't check Process Recess 3+ times daily if we guys do that too right?? Please tell me that I don't have a problem. Please.)
But Jed is right, love for an artist can also mean telling them what you feel or don't feel when looking at their work. What's working or not working. Certainly none of us are claiming to be able to execute what we suggest to James better than he could. It's just that one can always use fresh eyes, another person's eyes, eyes that see the work only for what it is and not burdened by preconceptions of what it was 'supposed' to be. You need those eyes to lead you through things sometimes.
I think of PR as a place of marvel, motivation, and education for the Artist and the fans alike.
Peace, love, and understanding people.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous said...

Let's ask james to post a revised version based on your feedback.

9:29 AM  
josh said...

great piece james! I for one, love the chaos and confusion. I don't think every piece has to have quiet moments or a definite focal point. It's nice to lose yourself in the drawing

10:58 AM  
That big idiot Jed: James lover, not a hater said...

Thanks Logan.

And Anonymous: Let's ask that James do what he thinks is right for his own picture, Ok?

For the most part I feel that what I have to offer is after the fact opinion about how I feel the piece turned out. I really don't expect or hope that James would change his picture based on anything that I say here. I think when Jame's posts a picture here, he pretty much feels its resolved, and he's long since moved on.

11:11 AM  
Jed said...

And Josh:

I agree--I don't think every pictures should have a focal point or center of interest either.

In the drawing it seems important that we focus on that central figure. He seems to be our main guy here, and it the drawing, it seems important that he's got a pad and a pencil. This all reads very clearly in the drawing. In the colored version he gets a little buried--he's still our guy, but everything else is at such a high volume he feels less like our protagonist here--and that writing hand now looks like it could belong to anybody in that sea of arms.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous said...

I didn't think anyone was an idiot until I went to the site of the guy who was dishing all that criticism to James.

12:29 PM  
Jed said...

Yes, if you click on that link, Anonymous is right, you will find many of my Big Idiot Pictures, and when it comes down to draftsmanship and skill, it's true, James has me beat, though I don't know if that's why I'm such an idiot in Anonymous' eyes. Anonymous would be able to better clue you in on that one. But Anonymous just doesn't have anything real to say.

The reason I link my Big Idiot Pictures is because when I offer criticism, I think it's only fair that the person who sees those remarks can also see for themselves and judge my own work however they wish. Fortunately this is not a contest, and we're not measuring my work against James'--surely james would come out on top of that one.

Now this being James' site, it's too bad that we're talking so much about me, I don't think it's fair to James, but Anonymous seems to be singularly focused on me. Seeing as you've taken such an interest in me, Anonymous, perhaps you'd like to reveal your real name, and the two of us can talk about me in more depth, but I know how crushes can be, and I know how embarassing it is expose your true feelings.

Now I do think that I probably focus a little more on the negative than the possitive, and this is something I should work on. People who post here do such a good job of praising James' work, I sometimes assume as a given that they know that I feel similarly, so I tend to cut right to chase, and spend a disproportionate ammount of energy on what I don't like. So I hereby pledge to be more vocal about what I do like as well next time I post a comment.

1:52 PM  
Jim said...

Have you ever heard of Remi Wyart, james? some of his sketches remind me of your earlier sketchbooks and also of dave cooper.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous said...

Man, Jed Alexander Do you have a life or a career? I have seen you posting and posting before- people check out drawn. He does the same thing this back and forth to have the final word. This blog seems be to a place for giving positive/ constructive criticism. hell you act like you are roommates and know James as a brother. In short dont turn this site into drawn. go there if you are going to make a million plus comments anytime someone else is going to post a comment. I know I would freak if I saw a war of words going on my blog. Lets not make this into a back and forth . This was about the piece of art work not about name calling and milllllions of posts about nothing from one person to another. Move on and let things be. so lets end it and just post comments about the art or ask questions about his career things like that. "James don't let this comment section stop you from letting anyone post" I dont have an account so I post with anonymous at times.
p.s. James- Do you draw your final piece with a col-erase pencil? I know animators use it haha I use one then go over it with a lead penicl.

2:15 PM  
Frank said...

I really like this piece, it's one of my favorite illustrations of yours in recent memory. Too bad we can't see it in print because everything is much clearer when it's a full spread rather than 900 pixels wide.

That's all I have to say about that. I would like to request a post on the ESPN images that you just did; I saw them in the magazine this morning and they're pretty fantastic.

As for the debate, I can see how people would have comments to make on your illustrations occasionally because you're constantly pushing the envelope. It's rare that I see you come up with a conventional visual solution to anything.


2:23 PM  
Matt Bors said...

Anyway we can see the the final coloring you worked up for Wired? I won't be able to see the magazine.

3:30 PM  
Lau said...

Well, i think this is the space to leave you a comment about your website, if isn´t im sorry, i beleave this is the easy way.
Well.. I wanted to tell you how much i enjoyed your sketchbook, i think its my prefeer of your work.
Well, im from Argentina and i don´t practice much my english, so excuse me if i made a lot of mistakes..
Well, thanks for like 30 minuts of beauty..
Greats from here.

4:25 PM  
Eli said...

I really don't have a problem with this piece. I love the colour scheme and use of line. Though my eye is drawn to the ships' yellow I think the lack of clear read adds to the chaos of the piece. I love the somewhat ambiguous nature of everything and find it would add to what the story is about.
I think sometimes it's forgotten that illustrators work as problem solvers and work for clients. What we are seeing from james is the manifestations of his imagination within the perameter of the art director of the project. We don't get the whole interaction and from everything I've seen from james it won't be long before he'll have carte blanche of his work like rockwell, leyendecker, or al parker. I love everything james puts out and I'm always waiting for the next posting on his site and blog. Thanks james...

7:51 PM  
Logan said...

Today, I picked up a copy of High Focus Drawing by your old master, Jim McMullen. I'm stoked as can be; I believe every word the man says about figure drawing.
I was wondering: Do you feel that this approach to life drawing has also improved your drawings from imagination?
I know you mentioned drawing these hands out of your head, so I was hoping this would be an appropriate time for such a question.

8:51 PM  
Tony Akins said...

Out-fricking-standing! I know what you mean about drawing hands, James.
Great work as always.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous said...

Brilliant, as usual.

11:57 PM  
Kateri said...


I am a fan of yours since I discovered your site and your art – only last week.

I have a simple question: what sketchbooks do you use? They look like the kind that I would like to draw on.

Thanks for putting your beautiful art process up there for us to see and learn from.


6:46 AM  
Dan Springer said...

Great job, James; I don't know what the editor of WIRED is talking about. Your color scheme doesn't strike me as morbid at all.
Keep up the great work!

7:56 PM  
Process Recess said...

bluebird - cool!
kenichi - no country is safe from my thieving eyes
pete - one tip on drawing hands is to recognize that it can gesture as much as the entire body. Good hands convey a sense of expression and energy.
shawn - thanks . . . the print version is fairly watered down, but I'm curious to see how it reproduces
Jed - thanks for your comments. I was thinking of Julie Mehretu's work before I started sketching, so chaos and an explosion of activity was something I had in mind.
Anon - I always thought Jed was eccentric and obssessive, but aren't we all just a little bit.
Ben - I drew the background on the computer
Logan - I constantly show my work to people around me to get those fresh eyes to appraise different versions of an illustration.
josh - thanks!
Jim - I had never heard of Remi Wyart before . . . his work is very cool. I'm impressed by his 3D skills.
anon - I use .7 blue lead. Anything thinner tends to break easily since I draw with a lot of pressure
Frank - I might post the story behind the NBA series when I recover. It seems lately a lot of young artists are coming out of school 'fully formed' with predictable and slick styles. Personally, I hope to have the freedom to interpret each assignment without repeating myself.
matt - it's better that the final color version remain hidden
lau - do you know Fernanda Cohen? She is a great illustrator who is teaching in Buenos Aires over the summer right now
eli - thanks . . . the holy trinity of illustration: freedom, time, and money
logan - Jim's teachings helped me draw from imagination by training my eyes to see recurring energy in the figure and to make drawings that describe space rather than flat contours.
tony - thanks!
anon - thanks!
kateri - i use sketchbooks bound with cotton rag paper which can be found at new york central art supply
dan - thanks . . . the art director fought valiantly for my cause, but you can't win every battle.

12:45 AM  
Bluebird said...

man, I just read my post i sound like a valley girl or something haha

I work for a design firm and my boss tells me all the time "YES, make it cool"
"Oh thats cool, YES COOL" I guess it rubbed off

Either my mind was somewhere else or i was just at a loss of word to just say "wow nice piece"

Anyways thanks for all the great info about your process.

I use a red lead pencil to do my under drawings.
Again thanks!!
-peace Stephen

6:30 AM  
Process Recess said...

To be clear, I enjoy reading everyone's comments as long as they are constructive, and Jed has always provided reasonable and deep analysis of my work. So let's not descend into a steaming pile of vitriol. Thanks!

11:40 AM  
Juan said...

This post has been removed by the author.

3:32 PM  
Juan said...

Well, only I want to comment that I like the combination between traditional technics and digital that you use in your illustrations. The work that you did for Calexico is one of my favorites. Also I want to say that the links that you put are very interesting. Always it is a pleasure to visit your blog.
(Sorry for my bad english)

3:35 PM  
Anonymous said...

First off: LOVE THE WORK!
My question is: Do you draw from reference when you are in need of inspiration or 'visually blocked'? For example: In working on a composition that depends largely on perspective, do you use a digital camera, perspective book, stock photography ect.?

6:15 PM  
ping said...

I love your work. When I first saw your works, it totally blew me away. Keep up the good work!

12:23 AM  
Lee-Roy said...

WOW! A difficult concept, so well executed! Awesome!

12:30 PM  
curiousme said...

i first saw your work on "Design is Kinky" ..
and i am in awe with your work.. amazing ideas.. and an amazing imagination!

i'v just started illustration and you your work especially these piece is inspiring, inspirational...

keep up the amazing wow.. now to bookmark your blog!

11:25 AM  
Anonymous said...


7:36 AM  
Leontine said...

I found your blog after seeing this illustration in Wired - it's just amazing. The hands are incredible, but so are the faces. The faces! And the general ambiance of enthusiastic propoganda art. And those black word balloons! What are those about! Wow.

11:34 AM  

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