LebArtFt: Jad Saber, the Online/Offline Master of Observation

If you've ever traipsed around Paris you've probably been to Montmartre. If you've been to Montemartre, you'd likely have had your portrait drawn out by a French anonymous.

The portraits I've seen on that charming hilltop are the most humble, handcrafted pieces of works. I often wonder why these artists haven't taken their works to another level where their name is as recognized as it deserves to be.

Because those artists are of a superior age, they unfortunately have missed the many advantages a speedy internet connection can grant us.

Jad Saber, an Olayan School of Business (AUB) graduate, certainly took his portraiture to another level - digitally. With such raw skill, he has identified himself with a program suited to transform fine arts into a lucrative endeavor.

Though residing in Beirut, Saber interacts with professors based in the U.S. in an online teaching system at The Art Department. 

The program is indeed strange, but it allows Lebanese students access to majors beyond the limitations in Lebanon, which really - can be counted on two hands.

I chatted with Saber on the topic of his works and the technicalities of his online education.
Bananapook: Entertainment Design 2D sounds super interesting. Where do you hope to go with the degree?
Jad Saber: It is basically about creating the concept art for a game, movie or animation which is the visual representation of an idea (characters, environments, items, etc...) that will later on get in the hands of the 3D modelers and animators, whom in turn will do the 3D part of the job. I personally would like to start off by being employed by a video game company in Europe or  America such as Bioware and Ubi soft, and maybe go to Japan sometime later.

B: Are the Lebanese surprised when you tell them you study online?
JS: They are very surprised. There are some universities who offer master degrees online, but we are talking about a full-fledged art education here, that you would think would require one to be on-site with their teachers for practicality. Technology begs to differ, and TAD is the proof it wins the argument.

B: Why did you opt for an online education?
JS: After I graduated in Business Administration from AUB, I went looking for a good concept design school abroad, on the internet. Of course there are big schools like Gnomon, Digipen and Ringling, but these would cost over $ 40 000 a year and this without the living accommodations and the day-to-day expenses. As I was considering going to Paris to study animation, I stumbled on The Art Department while surfing the Conceptart website. It was a recently founded art school, by Jason Manley (founder and CEO of Massive Black, 1st 2D/3D freelance company in the world) and John English (founder of the illustration academy and renowned Illustrator/Painter). The tuition was affordable, it had the exact major that I wanted, and I couldn’t have hoped for better teachers. I went for it.

B: How exactly does it work? Is there a lot to sacrifice?

JS: You log on to the Blackboard 11 software (educational software TAD uses) when your classes are scheduled, and it begins. The teacher, having already uploaded his slides and images, gives his presentation on the board, with the help of some tools the software provides. He can point out to things or even draw on the board. When he needs to do a live demonstration that requires video (maybe showing the students how to paint or draw something), he turns on his webcam and streams live. If you need to ask a question, there is a raise your hand icon that when you click, makes a small sound on the teacher’s end. He gives you permission; you ask your question on your microphone. There is also a chat room like tool on the side of the screen, for students and teachers to chat, in case someone needs to say something without interrupting the speaker.
Basically, there is an assignment after every class, which you upload on Moodle (software we use for scheduling, accessing classes, uploading assignments, grades, etc...) and on which you will be given feedback during the next class. The program is very demanding (about 6-7 hours of class time on week days and 4-5 hours of assignments per day), but if you’re passionate about art and learning it, then I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice at all. 

B: Would you recommend it? 
JS: If you look at my work now and consider that about one year and a few months ago, I barely could draw and hold a pencil in the correct manner, and look at the list of teachers you have in TAD, then my recommendation would be pointless. I am not boasting and couldn’t be more aware of how much I still have to learn, but the enormous progress I have achieved thanks to TAD, which pushed my hard work and dedication very far, cannot go unnoticed. It is like going to film school and having Spielberg and Scorcese as your teachers. Some of my teachers I even knew before TAD was founded. Getting in touch with them and being taught by them is really amazing. You also get to meet a lot of people from the industry and grow in a community of artists that will surely serve you later on in your professional life.

B: What do you think of foundation year? Many find it to be a bore at first, but you seem to have gotten a good grasp of the human anatomy out of it.
JS: Foundation year is essential, crucial, indispensable.  Most people in Lebanon do not seem to grasp that you have to know the rules in order to break them. Draftsmanship, composition, and color are key. Otherwise, what is the difference between a grown artist and a beginner? Creativity by itself is not a sufficient means for making art. You have to study academically and from observation before moving to interpretation. Understand how light hits the form, how the old master compose and use color. If you find that foundation year is boring, then maybe drawing and painting isn’t for you and you’d be better off looking towards another career path. Throwing in random lines and paint that makes it look like someone threw up in a colorful way on the canvas does not make you an artist. Get over it.

B: Everyone has that facial feature they enjoy sketching out best. Just curious, do you have one?

JS: Definitely the nose, don’t ask why, I just enjoy the hell out of drawing noses.  I also enjoy drawing zygomatic arches (cheek bones), especially when they are really apparent on some faces.

B: What is the transition from traditional work to digital art like?
JS: There wasn’t any real transition for me as I started learning how to paint digitally and traditionally at approximately the same time.  The principles of drawing, composing, and painting are the same for both. 

Now of course, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Digital is obviously a faster way to get things done, and gives a lot more editing possibilities since it’s through a computer program (usually Photoshop or Corel Painter). However, I personally find it more enjoyable when laying paint down with a real brush on a tangible surface. It usually also results with better mark making than digital art, unless you have your own way of making your digital paint look different from the 100 000 digital paintings found on the internet. 

The inconvenience for me is mixing the colors on the palette. It takes a lot more time than on the computer (where the colors are already there), and you have to get accurate colors when painting realistically which is not an easy thing to do if you are not very experienced. Some artists even like to start traditionally and then tweak the piece digitally for a finish. That said, nothing provides more satisfaction than a traditional finished piece that you can actually hold in your hands when done.

I often worry for those who settle for their fine arts as gallery pieces, that being their only source of income. In Saber's case, it seems as though he has assured himself a niche in a well-to-do field.

With a keen eye and such intricate observation, I am wholeheartedly looking forward to seeing his works developed for the entertainment industry, where I am only certain his name will rise beyond a corner signature.

On Saber's blog, you can see descriptions for each work, and often times - the process. Stay up-to-date for his newest paintings. 

Can you tell which works are digital and which are not from the images in this feature?

Create, appreciate,



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