Jeffrey Wiener holds a BA from Florida State University, where he studied printmaking. In addition to exhibiting his surrealist drawings and paintings in American galleries, he was a pioneer, in the 1990s, of the process of exhibiting online. As publisher of www.thegreatnude.tv, an online magazine, he promotes artists working figuratively, connecting them with collectors, gallery owners, decorators, and fans of figurative art. The GreatNude Registry is his curated collection of contemporary figurative work.
Helen Dwork: What art and artists do you view as influences, and how does that influence translate in the field of digital art, which would have been unfathomable to previous generations?
Jeffrey Wiener: At a very early age, I was exposed to the artists of the Renaissance through art books that my mother brought home. It’s a bit geeky I suppose, but most of the artists who impressed me were themselves seeking solutions to their works using new technologies. Those artists seemed to have had so much to say, and yet did so much with such “flat” tools of communication! They empowered themselves with the new technologies of their time. That really made an impression on me.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s quest to document the world around him impressed me, as did his thirst for knowledge and wide professional career. Or consider the multi-medium-talented Michelangelo, with his ambitious handling of both narrative and presentation in a difficult project that took many years to accomplish—the Sistine Chapel.
There were also a few twentieth-century artists who also caught my attention: the activist-oriented artists of the WPA, including Thomas Hart Benton, Diego Rivera, Grant Wood, and Paul Cadmus. I was very impressed that each of these artists had a great deal to say about the world around them, and channeled that need through their public artworks.
My favorite artist though would have to be M.C. Escher, with his accomplishments in lithography and with his entertaining, conceptual illustrations. When I was a teen, I had Escher posters on the wall along with my Farrah Fawcett posters.
I think these artists have given me the perspective to see that technology can be harnessed to amplify an artist’s message. This is such an important component of an artist’s career in the modern world. I’m constantly asking artists if they manage their own websites and are taking advantage of new technologies to help promote their careers. There’s very little excuse for an artist to be afraid of technology. The challenge of learning new technologies to “share” is part of the world everyone lives in now. These same technologies can be harnessed to promote artistic experiences directed by artists themselves.
HD: How does your digital art relate to your art in traditional media?
JW: I have always been a geek, and I have a history of purchasing drawing tools just to try them out. My “Old World” drawing toolbox, however is a simple wooden cigar box with a handful of my favorite lead and graphite pencils, kneaded erasers, little sharpeners and blades, everything placed just right. There’s this technical fascination I have with the process of drawing, and specifically life drawing, which makes trying out the iPad and using a Stylus a natural attraction. It’s a “lighter toolkit” so to speak, and a very clean work experience. No wood shaving or graphite dust to smudge up your work.
While I have done some very involved drawings on these devices, I still think most of the works I have produced on the iPad are experimental drawings. They are smaller, more intimate, and inwardly focused. But they are still as highly detailed as my drawings on paper. The same amount of time is needed to create that kind of drawing. When I print the iPad drawings out on paper and place them next to my “real” Escher-like drawings, you really can’t tell the difference between the printed digital drawing and the graphite drawing on paper.
HD: How did you develop your teaching technique, and how does it vary based on the experiences of your students?
JW: I must admit, teaching students how to draw with the iPad is new to me. The hardware and software are still evolving. I have to spend more time teaching how to use the iPad itself sometimes before explaining how to use the drawing application. There are many beginners who draw well, but who are new to drawing on these digital devices. They are excited to do something natural with a different set of tools. I teach these students the basics and let them get comfortable with the device before pushing any refining techniques. Just watching their faces as they use their iPad or smartphone to do a short-pose life drawing is such a blast.
Then, there are advanced students who know the tablet and already draw with it. Life drawing with the iPad is a perfect challenge for them because they already know what they desire to achieve in a life drawing session. There are new techniques I have been developing to create wonderfully detailed, controlled drawings.
To create videos of a drawing session, some apps allow you to record each brushstroke, compiling them into full-length HD movie of your drawing in progress played in high speed. Students in my upcoming workshop at the Art Students League will be participating in an art video experiment with me. I’ll be combining their individual life drawing videos into a single video as a multi-media class production.
HD: How did you become interested in using electronic devices for figure drawing?
JW: I started using the drawing apps on the iPad a few years ago to sketch while walking around the crowd during public drawing sessions organized by TheGreatNude.tv. I am interested in sharing the life drawing “moment”—as it were—which is a very “mobile generation” concept. Now it is possible to broadcast a life drawing session online, include virtual guests, or even project the video onto a large screen for the public. This technology can bring people closer in an experience generally thought of as quiet and contemplative. Actually, it is often a communal experience between many artists and a model. People find this fascinating, entertaining, and enjoyable to watch and learn from.
A lot of my design work over the years has involved drawing and painting using Photoshop and my large Wacom digital drawing tablet to paint directly onto photographic images. Over the years, I’ve switched to a digital tablet from a mouse to control my desktop computer, as it felt more natural to use a digital pen instead of a puck (mouse) to interact the computer. In addition, I have always owned the most popular new mobile devices on the market for business, and clients often supplied me with new devices to test our work.
My favorite apps so far are Procreate and Sketchbook Pro, each of which has distinctive features that are ideal for drawing on iPads as well as the smaller tablets and smartphones. Both have many ways to share, send, and save artwork that bypass the current practice of cleaning paper-based drawings: the scanning, color adjusting, and saving process to create digital versions of one’s drawings in order to share them online. The immediacy of creating a video of a life drawing and then sharing it is very rewarding. Not only can I share the final image directly from the tablet to someone’s e-mail inbox, but I can share a video of the entire drawing being created to any number of people through YouTube.
HD: The past few years have seen rapid changes in the way we interact with technology. How has that affected your work, in art and art instruction, as well as with regard to The Great Nude?
JW: Well, it is a strange time to be an artist. Our traditional tools look ancient at times, and slow. The skills we must now master include a lot of the technology that is popular with our audiences. There are challenges and obstacles as well, and many artists will find that sharing their artworks with the public is a responsibility as much as a chore. Artists need to understand that websites are like galleries, with people constantly coming in to peruse their works. Understanding what’s happening with a website’s traffic and what visitors are looking at is just as important as making sure the artworks in a gallery are well-lit and someone is there to answer questions about the artist.
For those of us in the figurative arts, there are many more challenges in working with public websites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, where people are free to comment, complain, or “flag” your artwork for being offensive. TheGreatNude has faced many challenges as we’ve pushed the envelope. I’ve retooled my publication’s strategy several times in order to accommodate more artists’ works that were banned from Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube for being “sexually provocative” or “unsuitable for minors.” There’s a great deal of censorship built into social media. Self-censorship is unavoidable as we attempt to use these far-reaching public platforms to promote our works.
As art websites evolve, I see a continuing trend towards self-aggregating arts communities online, where all kinds of artists can interact with their audiences. This is a push away from the large websites like Facebook, and more towards websites run by companies like Artsy or TheGreatNude.tv, where members share a similar taste in art. As a publisher, I’m focused on building a figurative arts community that is centered on and self-supported by the artists of TheGreatNude Registry. We’ll be broadening the platform to allow more artists to join soon, and with a new WordPress platform that allows member artists to publish articles and display their figurative artworks with no censorship from the outside.
HD: What do you foresee for digital media in art a decade from now, in terms of both how it is used and how its use is received?
JW: Well, first let me say that the fact that the Art Students League is hosting a workshop on life drawing with the iPad is quite a statement in itself. I am really excited to be a part of this exploration with my students. I feel like we can be pioneers in the field of drawing, and there are great discoveries ahead of us.
I do think that the moving image will become more important in the art marketplace as galleries exhibit digital media produced by this next generation of artists. I can see the visual arts—and art videos specifically—becoming much more popular and integrated into our entertainment culture. Right now, YouTube is a great place to find visual artists around the world experimenting with new ways to create marvelous artwork in a live audience setting, using drawing and painting skills mixed with various projection technologies.
I think digital art is going to take off as art-making software and apps become more commonplace in popular culture and especially in art education. There are babies now using iPads to draw, well before they learn how to finger paint or use chalk. There are kids in high school making professional-looking videos. Where the next Leonardo comes from is anyone’s guess now, but I am sure he or she won’t be painting with oils on canvas. He or she will be blowing our minds with something we have never seen before. That’s something I eagerly await.
Jeffrey Wiener will be teaching a workshop, “Figure Drawing with the iPad,“ at the Art Students League in September. The League holds a number of weekend, evening, and week-long workshops, in which League instructors and prominent visiting artists work with intimate groups of about a dozen students. Workshops focus on a particular aspect of art-making or specific medium or techniques. A current schedule of upcoming workshops can be found here.