Friday, November 30, 2012

Remarkably resilient inks!

Today I got in my cream colored sketch pad and my 2 different brown inks (Pelikan Brilliant Brown  for the fountain pen which hasn't arrived yet, FW Acrylic Burnt Umber for dip pen and brush). It's dipped below freezing the last 2 nights, while they were languishing in unheated warehouses, and they felt like ice cubes when I opened them, but were still liquid. And remarkably enough, they don't seem adversely affected at all.

Also remarkable is the way I managed to salvage the drawing I put on the first page of my new pad. I really want this pad to look good - like Vilppu's Old Masters sketch pad. And as carefully as I drew the pencils for it, the wash was looking pretty bad - but I layered more washes over it several times and actually made it look better each time.

I also hit upon the idea of posing the Ahab armature for it - the world's most poseable artist's mannikin. It came out looking a bit stiff and awkward - drawn too tightly, like I used to do my comic book stuff inthe beginning before I loosened up. I think it'll help to copy some more Master sketches and try to figure out how to draw loose and flowing like that in wash - it tends to freak me out and intimidate me.

I also think my work will improve once I get bold enough to bust out the new $85 kolinsky sable wash brush that arrived complete in its little case with a little lint-free towel and a bar of perfumed soap for washing it with (!!)I wqs having trouble getting good edges with the cruddy old brushes I was using (but they blow away the super-crappy one I did the recent Tiepolo copy with!!)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marvelous! And Fritz slips in past my guard

The Marvel Way

In response to my poorly-proportioned pectorals, I decided to beef up on proportioning, and started digging through my library for a good chart. I peeked into How to Draw Comics the Marvel way, which I hadn't looked at in ages and was a bit embarrassed about having. But Lo and Behold! It's actually an amazing book - basically the Hogarth technique boiled down to its essence and with the addition of composition, backgrounds, and layout for sequential comic pages. Except that they start with a gesture sketch in stick-man form, and then develop that with oval forms that can be given direction by adding the center lines - in other words, the best stuff from Vilppu and Hogarth thrown together into one tight system. Though they push for a bit too much dynamism - far more than will work in a fantasy painting.

Fritz slips in

Tonight I drew a wiry little theif/rogue who's caught an attacker's heavy axe on the haft of his rapier and is holding it with straining arm pointed straight overhead as he draws his dagger for the fatal thrust. Dammit - I realized a little ways in that it's a ripoff of Frank's John Carter painting. My only saving grace is that the legs are different - well, sort of. At least I was thinking about changing them so one points out more - but then I realized that's ripped off from a different Frankie. Crap!! I'm afraid I grew up on his stuff and the images are whirling through my head to rise unbidden when I'm trying to find a pose. I've really gotta watch that. 

My drawings are starting to tighten up though and the anatomy is starting to look a lot better, even though it took a lot of re-dos to accomplish it. Thanks to plate Strathmore, a kneaded eraser and 4B pencil (should use a lighter one for preliminary guidelines). 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I mean by 'Painting like Frazetta' (not copying his style)

When I mention to people that I want to learn to paint like Frazetta I get a lot of panic reactions - people immediately assume I want to copy his style. But I don't.

What I mean is that I want to learn the techniques and methods he used. Thanks to the Fritz Frazetta website and the excellent notes by Doc Dave, I've discovered what those techniques are, and my suspicions from the very beginning are borne out. He blocks in directly in oil paint on the canvas after doing thumbnails, sketches and color treatments, does an umber underpainting and finishes in one sitting using the alla-prima wet-into-wet technique.

He also doesn't labor aanything - he's develped a sort of shorthand where he uses sweeping lines to draw in the figure and indicate all the prominent forms and shadows, then he does the shading (all part of the underpainting). This leaves nothing for followup aside from putting in some colors - by this point the 3 dimensional sense of solidity is already fully developed.

But knowing how he does it is not the same as learning the techniques - that requires a lot of practice until I eventually work out my own system and start to get good at it.

And now I believe I"ve come far enough in drawing alone to justify beginning the painting portion of my training. Time to start rendering basic forms in monochrome and discovering what colors I can mix from my limited palette.

Self-Critique and thoughts so far

Seems like a good time to evaluate this system and my work so far and to record some important thoughts.

Start with ovals rather than boxes

When I start by drawing boxes I don't know how to attach arms and legs. They just sort of float next to the body or drift right inside of it. I definitely need to start with ovals, which can then be placed in directional terms with centerlines and the rest of the guidelines. Then square u as I go in order to help find the plane breaks.

Plane breaks make all the difference

I went through a bunch of peoples' sketchbooks on Conceptart yesterday and noticed most people don't seem aware of the plane breaks, and those who do have much stronger drawings because of it. It really does impart a sense of solidity that's lacking in most amateur work.


I also noticed that some artists who don't use plane breaks still have fantastic looking art because they pay particular attention to presentation - they just have a way of making even a simple scribble look fantastic. I need to work on my presentation - most of my work looks kind of rough and raw and crude, even though the figure drawing and anatomy are pretty good usually.

My consistent proportioni problems

I tend to make the ribcage too small. I see it even in my older drawings. Remember it's supposed to be 2 full head lengths highm with the 5th rib and base of the pectorals falling at the halfway mark. On the Anatomytools ecorche the pecs are about as tall as from just above the eyebrow ridge to the end of the chin. Hogarth shows one full head height from top of acromion process to 5th rib. Oh, oops! Ribcage isn't 2 heads high, it's one and a half! It's 2 heads from top of ribcage to navel. I've been making most of my ribcages only about 1 head high, and not deep enough. 

I really need to start measuring off the figure every time. 

Skim Milk as a fixative??!!

Note - dec 6th -


Don't do it - at least not unless you can get a better sprayer than mine, which spit out big fat drops along with the fine mist, and wherever a big drop hit the drawing turned super dark. So glad I took pictures first! I decided whst the hell - it's either going to lighten back up as it dries (yeah - sure it will.. ) or it's ruined now, so I went ahead and soaked it pretty good. It turned black, as if all the white chalk just went totally transparent.
Maybe the way to 'fix' chalk drawings is to take a good digital picture and then just throw away the original. 

Going through a bunch of boxes and my old school portfolio yesterday I ran into a huge mess of charcoal dust and pastel dust that's essentially ruining all the drawings in that protfolio and gets all over my hands. Yuck!! But today I was looking through the Pen and Ink Book and found reference to using skim milk as a fixative. Apparently Van Gogh used entire glasses of it to fix his pencil drawings. He liked the matte finish it puts on heavy graphite marks (interesting).

Here's an article about it:

Need to try this out. Much cooler than spraying aerosol cans of toxic fixative.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It Has Arrived

One of the first things I did when I decided to commit myself totally to artistic growth was to finally order an ecorche figure, something I've long considered. Paid $399 for this bad boy (and now when I visited the site to grab the pic I find they're having a Christmas sale on the older models for anywhere from $179 to $299!!! Crap, I would have settled for an older, gently used model!) I checked the box requiring a signature for it, because lately a few UPS orders (including my $60 book of Moby Dick illos/paintings/engravings etc) have been delivered elsewhere - to neighbors or something (I got some packages for the Opplingers recently, and some guy knocked on my door with a few things for me that he found on the doorstep of a house he was house-sitting - right address number, wrong street! What can brown do for you, for reals yo?)

I prepared for it - even though I'm on a nocturnal schedule just now I left the shades open on the front door and decided in advance what my procedure would be when the knock wakes me up - decided to sleep with a shirt on and just grab up my jeans and pull them on while hobble-stomping to the door - the shades left open so he can see I'm on my way. I'm very glad I thought it through - I woke from a deep sleep to the knock and after a second of disorientation flew right into action. If I hadn't planned my attack I would have sat there trying to decide if I should put socks on and shoes or...

Got there just as he was putting the sticker on the door, and he peeled it right off and the deal was done. The box was like a monolith - I could literally hear the 2001 music playing as excitement mounted.

Anyway, now I've got him ensconced in my studio, his place of honor right next to Mr Thrifty my medical-school skelton (which only cost me $40 back in the 90's!)

In related news, I also brought the tall bar stool down last night for the studio - it's the perfect height for the easel - and I dug through some boxes in my room trying to unearth some watercolor paper - I know I have a lot of it - but what I found was some slightly grubby illustratiom board and a few of my best 90's drawigs - the ones I KNEW I had done but could never find before - demonstrating the height of my artistic skills to date and just before my backslide into the decadent Alternative period of the late 90's when distortion and flattening and bad colors ruled the day (my terrible attempt to be like Kent Williams, ignoring all my anatomical knowledge and all other knowedge and skill I posessed. By the way, I now understand, that's NOT how he does it!)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Learning from the Old Masters. Damn - they had a complete freakin' SYSTEM for this shit!!

Thanks to all these Old Master studies - copying their drawings and paintings and also learning what I can about their techniques from Hale and Vilppu etc, I'm actually starting to get a lot more than I bargained for - I'm actually getting a complete system for constructing the figure that begins with a thumbnail composition sketch, then a gestural sketch which allows you to place the figure and pose it without thinking too much about details yet, then construction and anatomy by placing the bony landmarks and running lines from the origin to the insertion of each major muscle group - and finally placing the plane breaks properly and core shadows. As well as always running your shading lines etc around the form to show roundness.

This stuff is exactly what I need - a system that allows construction of figures directly from the imagination - no need for models (who tend to pose in deathly dull ways and are very expensive) or photographs, though using either will only help to advance the learning process.

Had a revelation tonight while walking Pepper - the figure is not identical to the body or to a person. Those are actual flesh and blood things - the figure is actually an artistic convention - a virtual model and a system for drawing it. A set of ideas if you will. I mean, I mnow - it sounds pretty obvious, right? But it holds a meaning I had never fully understood bfore in all its glory - a figure painting isn't a painting of a human figure - it's the artist's hard-earned awareness of his own particular version of the figure, done in his own method.

One great thing about copying these drawings and paintings - you get great poses! And all these awesome muscular old men, balding with with long flowing beards and long hair. The very image of Renaissance masculinity in maturity.

By doing only one figure a day I'll amass 365 of them in a year - if I make it double or triple that I can hit a thousand in a year's time. A necessarily compressed master artist training session (compressing a dozen or so years' worth of daily study into a single year, though the learning process continues ever onward). Right now it's pretty crazy, struggling with new techniques materials and ideas each day. But soon I'll become familiar with some of them and start to really get a handle on how to work with them, and then it's on baby!! That's when the skills really begin to flourish.

Teachings of Tiepolo

Doing that Tiepolo last night was hard, but what a learning experience! The posing - no symmetry anywhere, every form askew in some way, each figure also askew from all the rest. And especially his masterful way of sketching in the figure - striking in flowing lines that always run from origin to insertion, with a break between lines (always at the bony landmarks or where muscle groups overlap). Then the decpetively simple wash always denoting plane breaks, with a few accents only where needed.

Tombow lives again

What a break - learning to do the wash before the inking! Means I can use the Tombows again, which I did tonight, though it still didn't go great - until I decided to google how to use them that is. Ooohhh - so you're not supposed to just blend dry? Oops! A damp brush will work wonders, and allow intricate and perfectly controlled wash effects. Also, scribble on plastic and pick it up on the blender to add just a touch of tone or color into an existing wash. Awesome!!! Now THIS is rockin!!

Inevitably, as soon as I saw how excellently I can work with the Tombows (yes Virginia, there is a w) I considered getting a limited range of colors resembling my palette. Something to keep in mind, but not surprisingly there followed directly on the heels of this thought another one...

Cracked the Aquarelle code!

I had tried in the past but never got anything good using water to blend the aquarelle pencils. But then I never tried using a damp brush! Plus I only tried once or twice that I recall, and always got too-intense colors and didn't understnad color theory or anything about painting really. A quick test shows this works very nicely indeed, with a somewhat different effect than the Tombows. Tombows are more washy while aquarelles are more like a drawing/airbrush type medium. I like them bth in different ways - I definitely do want to get a set of Tombows that includes a burnt sienna and some kind of cooler darker brown like an umber or vandyke or choclate. This is a beautiful, simple and very non-messy way of doing wash work that's extrmely precise (if you want it to be) with super-easy cleanup. Same goes for the aquarelles. 

Hah! Had to laugh... it was only after writing this above : "soon I'll become familiar with some of them (new materials and techniques) and start to really get a handle on how to work with them, and then it's on baby!!" that I suddenly got a handle on Tombows and then, immediately after, aquarelles. Oh it is on! 

Broken Down and Humbled by Tiepolo

Tonight's sketch was a copy of the Tiepolo wash drawing from last post. Damn! By far the most difficult thing I've attempted so far since starting this blog. Not in terms of complexity, but because of the difficult up-view foreshortening and the fact that so many landmarks are hidden - I could hardly tell which way either of their ribcages are facing. Appropriate that it's a cloud picture - I felt like I was free-floaing with no point of reference most of the time. It really raised the stress level and broke me down the way they do in boot camp to make you stronger - hopefully it works.

Came out decently decent I suppose - especially considering the only brush I could find was a big fat Masterstroke that won't hold a point and has about as much spring and shape as a wet sack of grain. For next time - don't erase the pencil drawing too much before starting the wash - it gets really hard to see anything when you're in the thick of it and have to keep applying wash before the last puddle starts to dry. Use a color with very low chroma - what I took to be brown turns out to be orange.

But all in all when I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief and start putting in the pen lines it came together pretty well - better then I had any right to expect I suppose.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Various Ways with Wash

Ok, I've been starting with a drawing in waterproof India ink and then washing over it, trying to give the ink enough time to dry and cure completely (and still getting smearing issues sometimes). Apparently it's a common practice to first lightly pencil in the drawing very sketchily, then go directly to wash, and then ink or pencil in the final linework, often right onto the still-wet wash.

I want to try doing studies from master drawings, and trying to work the same way they did (some had very distinct approaches). It's recommended to use watercolor for wash rather than ink because ink usually looks harsh - interesting. Ok, I'll keep that in mind.

Various approaches to doing a wash drawing :

  • Filling in the entire figure with one solid wash of a single value, then sketching in linework
  • Essentially the same thing, but only fill in the shadow side with wash
  • A more detailed method (Tiepolo stylie) using 2 values of wash to develop a darker level of shading and more fully develop the volumes. Notice he isn't using the dark wash for shading, only for cast shdows and only where he wants the image to really pop.

The importance of doing wash drawings 

is that it's a fantastic way to make you think in terms of major plane breaks and rapidly develop a large dark/light value plan. This helps to impress in your mind the importance of these basics, and keeps a solid sense of form in your work, so when you go to paint you don't just start in with a lot of detailing and forget about blocking in the big forms.

Damn, looks like I need to shell out the big bucks for a nice fat Kolinsky round, like a #10 or so.

Nib Tips

I really want to be able to use the superfine and highly flexible #108 Hunt Litho Crow Quill nibs, but they're very sporadic for me - and Google informs me I'm not the only one having diuffculties. Some tips:

Make sure they're clean

I've been soaking all my nibs in acetone overnight and then scrubbing them with an old soft toothbrush, wiping on rags and rinsing with water. Then of course drying thoroughly. You have to remove the factory coating of varnish that protects and keeps them from rusting in storage and transit. Yes, they coat the nibs with an invisible material that makes them utterly unfit for draing with, and nobody tells you that unless you go deep into the databases or happen to know a professional artist. How many frustrated wannabee inkers never figured that out and gave up in disgust? 

Break them in

Gently bend the tips back and forth just slightly a few times - draw on scrap bristol for a while - it all helps to loosen up the initial stiffness of the point and make it work smoother and more fluidly. Also there's a trick where you pinch the tip between your fingers and slightly twist the pen until the tips pop apart and then together again. Don't force it, it's supposed to happen easily and naturally. Make sure you don't permanently deform your delicate drawing point. 

File them down

With fine Emery paper - not a big bastard! It helps to take off the extremely sharp point and round it down just slightly. 

Shake it up

At least if you're using waterproof India ink. You need to mix it well before using or the varnish settles and it's not waterproof - might be why the Tombo markers are dissolving it? Though I suspect they have some kind of solvent in them and I won't be using them anymore aside from maybe a test or two. And finally - in conjunction with this tip..

Make sure the lid is on snugly

Speaks for istelf now, doesn't it? Thankfully it just missed my jeans!

Use smooth hard paper

The problem might be that I'm using a vellum surface Strathmore bristol (yup - tried all the above tricks as well as cleaning thoroughly several times, nothing's working). Fibers can get in and clog the pen - so I tried using a plate finish Canson bristol instead and got somewhat better results, but still too spotty for my liking. I want to know when I draw it's going to make a damn line, not every other time or maybe after 12 or 20 tries. Even the Canson paper isn't all that hard though - it's got a somewhat soft surface. Maybe a really good hard smooth plate finish paper would do the trick? Don't know - if I ever get ahold of any maybe I'll try the Crow Quill nib again. Really would love to be able to use it - I want finer lines occasionally than I can get with my #108 (though for general drawing I absolutely LOVE this pen!!)

Or just use the Crow Quill #102 (even though it's not as fexible)

Just tested, and this pen works beautifully for me every time - at least on the Canson paper. Need to try it on the vellum Strathmore. It makes super-fine lines that are almost invisible if you draw with a very light touch - this would be the pen to start a drawing with, when you're blocking in and doing gesture etc - the stuff you want to almost disappear in the final result.

To help me remember...

The bronze-coated nibs are always the most flexible ones - not sure what the bronze coating does exactly, maybe it glides over the paper more smoothly than steel? 

My preference in both the big and small Hunt pens (the little brown stick handles and the long black tapered Speedball handles) is the most flexible, bronze-coated tip. But unfortunately I can't get the #108 Litho Crow Quill to function properly so far, so instead I'll fall back for my superfine near-invisible lines and fine hatching on the #102 Crow Quill (which actually is fairly flexible - though you have to press fairly hard to make the line get wider - not responsive enough for really delicate drawing technique).

Success at last!!! Wet and Reset

From the excellent Penciljack forum, where inkers talk shop:
  • Always dip the pen in water before starting, and once every few times you dip it in ink. This will fill the channel with water and help the ink flow better. I'm not sure why, but it helps prevent the ink from sticking. Remove excess water with a paper towel or tissue. After dipping, test the pen on scrap paper. (Brushes should also be dipped in water and blotted before use; it makes them easier to clean -- I think because the ink has to displace water to stain them, whereas if you don't then water has to displace dried-on ink to clean them.)
And :

  • A little known trick is to "reset" the nib. Damn scary the first time, almost had a heart attack when I saw Joe Rubenstein doing it in the Marvel Bullpen. He'd do it every 2-3 minutes whether he "needed" to or not. Hold the pen as parallel to the surface as possible with the nib "upside down" (concave surface up, convex surface on the page) Press the nib, as flat as possible, against the surface until the tines cross with an audible click. You're reset.
    Obviously, this only works with flexible nibs like crow quills and mapping points but, not with stiff nibs.
  • Tines, once flexed out, never return to original positions. Each flex stretches them out even more until ink flow stops. "Resetting" the nib pushes it all the way closed AND MORE restoring ink flow.
  • Brushes are mops, they'd rather absorb than release. Pens are upside down spoons. The trick is how to load them. Don't overfill, hold nib against the inside lip of the bottle to allow excess ink to flow out, take a few practice strokes on the side so any blorps happen away from the work.

Did both and scribbled all over the back of a sketch - as soon as it started working it went beautifully for as long as I wanted - not a single problem.

St Jerome, St John, and NO TOMBO!!!

Tonight's sketch

Sketched a St. Jerome in the Wilderness tonight from a painting by one of the Venetian Renaissance masters, though not sure who exactly (looks like one Bassano). I found a bunch of suitable paintings, mostly on one site featuring the work of competing artists. Kind of screwed up the anatomy around the shoulder and a bit on the arm too -  really want to learn the exact origin and insertion points for each major muscle group.

Line work

My line work is loosening up and getting nicer - in fact I found how to get those free-flowing lines I was bemoaning a couple of entries ago - you need to angle the pen way down to a very shallow angle. Hold it loosely and develop a feel for the thick and thin lines without forcing anything.

St. John

Looked at a book of J Allen St John illos earlier - more than Frazetta he shows a direct lineage from the Renaissance masters - in fact I'll bet he studied from tham as I'm doing. His poses are very Renaissance, as are his rather emaciated bodies (compared to Frazetta anyway). He also shows a strong connection to Howard Pyle in his painting technique. I'm now sure it was in Creative Illustration where Loomis described techniques he had learned at the foot of the master - I have it in my wish list in case anyone wants to get it for me as a Christmas present - otherwise I'll buy it right after.

Facility in penmanship

Also I developed a scribbling/shading technique halfway btween a Renaissance draftsman and a Warren artist - this is what I want to persue. Getting better at laying in lines in the right directions, though still screw it up from time to time. Experience will make the difference - get it into the subconscious.

No Tombo over India Ink EVAR!!!

Tried it on the St. Jerome for a wash and black background - wow, what a bunch of CRAP!!! The Tombow blender hardly blends the Tombow markers themselves, but as soon as it snags a bit of fully cured india ink, WHAMMO!! Bloom! Blop!! All freakin' over the place. No mo Tombo. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Drawing like the old masters - Glen Vilppu and Burne Hogarth lectures

Ok, I don't know what the hell happened at blogger recently, but it's almost impossible to embed videos now - it used to be easy. And every time I try this, I just get a copy of the Hogarth video embeded below. Fix it blogger!!! 
Meanwhile, since blogger is broken, here's just a simple link:

A Glen Vilppu video showing him sketching figures from a Tintoretto painting. This is an excellent idea!! Much better than trying to find random photos of people that are in good poses to draw - as long as you choose a dynamic artist then you're assured of good poses. Personally I tend to prefer classical drawings to the paintings, but in this case you don't want to use drawings or you'll just be copying the construction lines already used by the artist. The idea is to look at the painted figures and reconstruct them using your own construction lines. And I love the idea of using figure groupings rather than just isolated figures - you're dealing with placing figures together so they seem to be on the same ground and in the same environment interacting with each other. 

Plus I love the fountain pen/waterbrush combo so much I just ordered a similar set for myself. Heh - I'm so enamored of these Cambiaso drawings and others that I've also ordered a cream colored drawing pad and some brown ink, and even a quill pen made from an actual goose feather - I can swear looking at the drawings these guys did that their pens could move more freely across the paper than the sharp steel nibs I've been using in my Speedball and Hunt pens. After looking at reed and quill pens and a few others I decided the quill pens seem like the best option - but they're very difficult to make - you need a pen knife (guess why they're called that - think about it for a minute) and cutting the nib is actually more of an art than a simple task. You need to temper the feathers in boiling water and then in hot sand and make a series of like 15 carefully calibrared cuts at various angles, all skillfully placed - and apparently calligraphers can get maybe 6 pages out of a pen before needing to re-cut it (and you can only recut maybe 5 or 6 times). 

I also ran across an amazing video of Burne Hogarth delivering one of his incredible drawing demos:

There are also a couple of videos of Robert Beverly Hale delivering his famed lectures (they both taught at the New York Art Students League). Both of these lecture series are available on video for outrageous prices (priced for academic organizations I assume) but while it does seem you can pick up certain things better from watching the demos, the books are an excellent and much more affordable resource.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let india ink dry for a full HOUR to cure fully waterproof

Just a self-reminder - I used to know this but it had slipped out of the sieve of my memory - had to look it up again in The Pen and Ink Book (amazing and highly inspirational book, packed full of incredibly useful information that's hard to find in today's shallow sound-byte surfing world). Good to know - I almost decided to let last nights' ink drawings cure overnight before adding the charcoal wash. Finally I just said screw it and tried, and no smearing. I don't think they had waterproof ink in the Renaissance, did they? No wonder they always used big simple washes - it's when you work a wet area too much the ink threatens to smear and infect your wash. So simple bold washes is the way to go.

Also, just found this amazing page on a blog featuring Cambiaso drawings as well as some other great ones that are just as informative to an artist trying to learn figure drawing from the old masters. Ubaldo Gandalfi in particular is also fantastic!

** Edit

Changed it from 30 minutes to an hour because I just got a little smearing (more like faint but noticeable blossoming on some of the thickest lines) after waiting at least a good 25 minutes. Don't want any more of that. Also, I want manilla paper and brown ink - I want to be Luca jr!

Lessons from Luca

Luca Cambiaso - one of the great master draftsmen of the ancient world. He's one of the artists Hale goes to frequently, and it's easy to see why - his sense of design is impeccable. Like Durer often did (and most of the other masters of the ancient world as well) he conceived the figure as a series of boxes and threw light onto them in order to keep his lighting plan ordered and clear. Not only that, but his use of wash continues into the background, creating one simple well-designed composition (very much as Frazetta does). 

Tonight I busted out a speedball pen and did a bunch of similar little sketches on a sheet of paper that I then washed over with charcoal wash. Very crude in comparison with a master like Cambiaso, but starting to look pretty cool. According to Hale (and I for one believe him) this is how the masters became masters - they'd fill sheet after sheet with drawing like this - posing the figure and lighting it, learning where the plane breaks of the body are over and over. After a few thousand of these they were starting to get pretty good. 

I dug out a book called 18th century Italian drawings in the Met.. and pored over hundreds of pages of amazing stuff like this, and several of them were done with three distinc tones of wash - something I'd like to try. One day I need to bring my scanner in here and hook it up - see if it works with this computer, If it does then I can upload some of my actual drawings on paper. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

1st value sketch

Fiddled around with my Wacom a bit and scribbled out this little value sketch today. Rough as hell, but that's the way I wanted it. In fact, it looks best in the little thumbnail above - no need to open it. I had a little trouble for a while - couldn't see my cursor at all over a middle grey ground - but found how to change the cursor and then it came together.

Thoughts -
Simply having the figure in 3 or more values against a middle background does wonders - as long as the values themselves are in the right places. The figure really seems to pop 3 dimensionally. Though at certain stages I started to get caught up in details and began to lose that sense of form.


This is where it's super-important to envision the figure in terms of boxes and flattened cylinders - somewhat curved planes that meet at rounded edges. Now that I understand the point of these sketches I want to crank them out rapidly and hopefully improve my visualization technique.

This is the stuff Robert Beverly Hale stresses so much , especially in Master Class in Figure Drawing - showing all those drawings by Rembrandt and Ruebens and DaVinci etc - now I understand exactly what they were paying attention to in doing them.

To quickly review the information I'm talking about:

Whether you're drawing from a live model or a photograph, don't just copy the shapes and tones you see. That isn't learning anything - it's only copying and often results in drawings with little or no sense of 3 dimensional solidity. Instead, create in your drawing a virtual model of the figure you see. Build it from boxes and cylinders, but even the cylinders need to have some sense of form - so they're slightly squashed cylinders. That's the form of arms and legs anyway - they're not purely cylindrical. So you're visualizing something like a little artist's mannikin made from soap that's been wetted and rubbed down a while, until the corners are nicely rounded and the planes themselves are curved the same way the planes of the body itself are curved. Each plane is either facing toward the light or away from it, to varying degrees, and this determines how light in value the entire plane is. Sometimes there's a lot of visual confusion (on the model or photograph) that makes it hard to see which planes need to be light or dark - and often the lighting is itself confusing, so a good artist doesn't rely on exactly what he sees but instead draws his virtual model of the figure, adjusted to resemble the person he's drawing, and with virtual light thrown onto it so that the planes all show clearly which way they're facing in relation to the light source. This is the way the great masters learned to draw - it results in a very clearly readable drawing that leaves no doubt as to which way each portion of the body is facing or how it's shaped or exactly how the light is hitting it.

Other than wanting to improve on the rendering of the value areas themselves, I also want to fix the contours of the drawing - get the shapes right. In other words, I want to improve the boxes themselves and the information they carry - the tilt and direction of each part of the figure. It's these 2 things that will benefit tremendously from these sketches. When I learn to draw the figure properly in terms of limited values (only used the lower 4 off the palette and even lightened up the darkest dark considerably) and to pay close attention to the shapes of each part of the figure and which direction they're facing, then I'll have the basics of figure drawing down pat. This is the most important thing you can possibly improve on in your art - everything else is very secondary. Also, when I can do this right, I should be able to do speed paintings.

Core Shadow and Shadow Mapping

Back in 2008 I posted a couple of core shadow exercises to my blog that I had done on Conceptart - an exercise led by Ron Lemen (amazing teacher!). Apparently at the time I misunderstood exactly what the term core shadow meant. I was thinking it represented some kind of core of the figure or object you're drawing, the foundation of it's solidity. But just now I did a google and discovered all it really means is the core of a shdow - ie the darkest part of the shadow - usually right next to the brightest part, and often with a dimmer reflected light opposite.

Huh! Well, in that case, I guess I messed up! No reflected light bouncing back onto that figure above - because there was no such light in the source pic. Wow - maybe that's what Ron meant when he said I needed to keep working on it...

Anyway, what I THOUGHT it meant referred to something I picked up from a drawing or painting book a while back - I believe it was Dodson's Keys to Drawing as a matter of fact - something called shadow mapping. Yep, just checked - sure enough. Dodson's shadow mapping it is indeed. He talked about drawing an outline around the shadow areas that define the form of a figure and letting them all run together like little puddles of water if their edges touch.

This is definitely something Frazetta does. Now these 2 terms are interlocked in my mind and together they strongly define a figure (or an object) in terms of form and solidity. Looking at the drawing above in fact, I'm struck by the fact that it uses a limited palette of 6 values and by how freaking good the drawing looks, even though most of the face is just one almost undifferenciated value. It's because of exactly the stuff Robert Beverly Hale harps on so much - using three distinct values to define the planes of a figure.

This in fact is exactly what was done in all those amazing drawings by the likes of Raphael and Rembrandt et al - the figure defined as curving planes with rounded corners and a simplified plan of tone to clearly define which planes are facing the light.

Now I plan to do a bunch of quick figure sketches on the tablet using a palette of 5 values to do just that. Core shadow mapping. I looked at my best figure paintings so far, and guess what - very spotty use of value - it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the planes of the figure and how they're catching the light. I'll bet just keeping this concept in mind will greatly strengthen my work very rapidly.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Frazetta?

Let me elaborate on my specific reasons for choosing Frazetta as my teacher. First, I believe figurative painting is the best possible way to learn the true discipline of painting so that you can see whether you're doing it right or wrong. Not just figurative, but classical figurative painting. If you indulge yourself in modernism then you can't tell if you're getting things right or not - nobody can say whether the distortions or weird color choices are because you don't know what you're doing or because of the modernism. For learning purposes I believe it's of paramount importance to paint realistically, and that the human figure is the center of the artistic universe. I also believe Frazetta is the figurative painter who best appeals to today's viewers AND who used a fast method allowing paintings to be completed in one sitting (important to me). The painters of antiquity did some pretty dull subjects and took way too long to finish a piece - each layer of glaze taking days or even weeks to fully dry!

The most important thing my delvings into stopmotion have taught me is that it's vitally important I be able to finish a project within a week or so. If not, I not only lose interest in it (which implies a rather passive state) but the project in fact can become complete anathema - so that I can't stand the very sight of it or to think about it for long periods of time. Then it can be months before that aversion fades and I can again try to work up interest in the project. This is why I've always been able to complete drawings that take a day or maybe 2 days, but not projects that take more than a week, unless I can somehow trick myself into maintaining or artificially re-invigorating my flagging interest. It's important to know yourself and not try to fight against your natural tendencies but to instead use them.

Classical figurative painting is the center of the artistic universe

This is true in several senses. Those modern artists who achieved greatness about a hundred years ago were all classically trained - they spent years drawing from anatomical plasters and then drawing models from life with an emphasis on developing great facility in lighting and shadows before they detoured into the more abstract realms. And when they did they had that classical foundation on which to rely - they had internalized the way paint works, the way drawing skills work - and these axioms remained strong and guided them in their seemingly anti-classical endeavors. When they broke the rules of classical figure art they knew they were breaking them, and what's more, they understood the rules they were breaking quite intimately, as opposed to an untrained artist just making random choices with nothing to guide him. How does an artist rebel against classical tradition if he doesn't even know what that tradition is? 

Another sense in which the figure is the center of the artistic world is that when you've thorougly learned the human figure, you can paint pretty well anything with only a little additional training. After all, thanks to evolution, animal anatomy is just human anatomy adjusted in certain ways. Once you really know human anatomy, learning the anatomy of the horse for instance is just a matter of understanding the differences rather than starting from scratch - the horse consists of a ribcage, pelvis, skull and four limbs each with exactly the same joints ours have, it's only the lengths and shapes of those bones that are different. 

Some people will find fault with my statement on technical grounds and say "Ah, but it isn't true that animal anatomy is modified human anatomy - in fact it's the other way around! Humans evolved from a line of animal forms!" Which is indisputably true of course. But as our very late understanding of that very fact demonstrates, humans are a very human-centric species, and it's only natural that we understand the world through a very human-centric lens. Because we're human, we have the innate and inborn ability to tell in an instant if a painted face looks correct or not, where-as there's a lot more leeway on whether an octopus looks correct in all its myriad details or not. We have a hard time in fact telling one octopus from another, but we have no difficulty telling one person from another. So our human barometer is nearly infallible in detecting even minute flaws in painted human figures and faces, thus this should be our learning ground. Because the entire point of the learning experience is to draw and paint things believably, so it's important to draw and paint things we're intimately familiar with so we can tell at a glance if they're correct or not. If you're not doing this, then you're not taking a truly disciplined path to improving your skills. By all means, if you're only interested in painting octopii, then only learn them. But if you want to be a true artist, then your field of endeavor must be the human figure. 

But more than that - when you have a good understanding of proportioning and anatomy of the human body, then many other things click into place as well, like chairs, tables, toilets, cars, doorways, windows etc. All of these things are built to fit the human body. When you know how high the knee is for instance you know how high to make chairs tables and toilets (which are just chairs after all). When you know how tall and how wide the average adult male is you know how to proportion doors and windows to fit them. This also applies to corridors, rooms, the height of ceilings, and on and on. In fact just about everything man-made is proportioned to fit the human body. 

Extending beyond the man-made world, in figurative painting you also learn to paint environments. So figurative art includes at least a primer course in landscape painting. You learn how to integrate figures into an environment and how to use the same light and shadow to tie them together. This is vitally important in other skills such as making sets and lighting them. 

All of this explains why I maintain that if you have a background in clasical figurative art (and by classical I mean realistic) then you've got a really strong foundation from which to tackle other arts (such as stopmotion animation and especially making puppets and sets and props). 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Digging up history

I've been rooting around in the massive stacks of books in the next room and box after box upstairs trying to locate all my best figure drawing and anatomy texts, and just now I finally located Master Class in Figure Drawing; one of the very best. I believe I've now assembled the complete volumes of both Hogarth's Dynamic series and Hale's Great Master series, though Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery still resides near the bottom of a very heavy stack next door until I decide to unearth it. I even located a forgotten book called Artistic Anatomy by a Dr Reicher, translated and edited by Hale. One rather troubling note - most of the book have a distinct musty odor and even some page yellowing - especially around the edges. The unfortunate result of my decision to move them to the basement years ago due to too many books and too little space in my room.

While upstairs I also decided to look through the sketchbooks from 95 and my original figure drawing/anatomy studies. Wow, I remembered them being much better!! Funny how we can fool ourselves about our own artwork! Poring over parts of Dynamic Figre Drawing I see I've forgottn probably 95% of what I once knew (or thought I did). Time to go over it all again - I even remember that when I first studied this stuff I knew it was too much to absorb all at once, but thought of it as a rough first go-round, which would begin to impress the information into my mind, and that subsequent re-readings and sessions would solidify it much better. Time to dip in again.

Limit your choices and take a methodical approach

Now I really begin to use this blog the way I intended - to post reminders of important things I've been learning so later I can recall them at a glance.

Limited palette

Often students are overwhelmed by too many possibilities - too many colors on the palette, too many possible ways to approach painting etc. It really helps to reduce the choices. For one thing a limited palette forces you to get used to the selected colors and how they interact with each other. After using it for a while you become pretty proficient with it - whereas if you're using a wide range of colors you're constantly bewildered and never learn what particular ones do when mixed with other particular ones. The limitations become an asset. 

Limited values

The same is true for values. It was on the Fritz Frazetta blog that I first heard many artists limit themselves to 5 (or even 4) values. It was a shocker at first - but it does make sense. Start with your lightest and darkest values plus a middle one, then insert another level of values in between each to end up with 5. Or else just use 4 rather than 3 to begin with and leave it at that. Doc Dave pointed out that Frazetta doesn't usually blend his colors or values much if at all - in fact his edges are pretty harsh most of the time - no subtle gradations. It runs pretty counter to the way I learned to draw in my 80's drawings - where I used a pencil and found countless ways to blend using fingers and an eraser to create every possible gradation imaginable. The result is something that looks slick and airbrushy. 

However it's clear that Frank starts (often anyway) with a washed-out underpainting, and achieves his values by means of washes. In fact it looks like his wahses run through a pretty smooth tonal gradation in places - so he didn't adhere strictly to any particular number of values. I would guess he was particular about choosing a darkest value and used his paint straight or with very little turps in it for those, then began to add turps and push things around in whatever ways seemed appropriate to achieve his lighter values. He definitely didn't do what I've been seeing a lot of painters do on YouTube - lay out his values right on his palette and underpaint with uniform thickness all over. That would result in a more mechanical look which was anathema to him (and to me).

But I understand the value of working with a distinctly limited number of values - so I'll definitely do sketches with very minimal blending - forcing myself to find the exact right placement for those form-turnings. 

Pay attention to the edges of forms! 

In the Robert Beverly Hale series I learned that there are certain definite edges to the forms of the body where it turns fairly sharply, though it's a rounded edge like a bar of soap. Knowing where these edges really are helps immensely. Fritz knows where they are and he always exploits this. If you look at his paintings, often an entire arm or leg is just one value and even one color, maybe with a very slight edging of another color/value just to give it a slight sense of turning (this is very similar to Egon Schiele's way of only using color right along his edges).

When you pay attention to these edges you can block in a form with proper values where they belong and end up with something strong and clear. If you instead just go around blending values to the Nth degree you end up with a form that seems to fluctuate and seems unsure of it's solidity. So it's clear that limited value plus rendering form as flat planes with rounded edges can really help to clearly delineate form.

Separation of drawing, modeling and coloring

All these techniques help to separate the drawing modeling and coloring stages of painting in order to keep things methodical. Work up an idea in a sketch or series of sketches, then do color treatment sketches until you have a clear idea of how to approach the painting. Transfer the drawing to your canvas, scrub in an underpainting with 4 or 5 clear values and make sure that looks correct, then begin to bring in color while still paying attention to value. Use desaturated colors like earth tones for the painting until near the end, and then decide which color will have some real punch to it. This is decided in the color treatment stage and carried out in the final painting. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Let's get some ART on this art blog, shall we?

My 1st tablet drawing
Here it is - my very first attempt to draw anything on a tablet, after just a few excited practice squiggles. I know it's a terrible pose - I had nothing in mind (was just impatient to begin drawing something - the way it usually is when new art materials come in!) And now I'm stuck with this crappy stupid male model pose. Oh well, on with it anyway! A problem I can easily see now - should have drawn figure AND background, and used a full range of tones including full darks where needed. I'm always hesitant (to put it mildly - terror being a more appropriate term really) to try to bring in full darks after the coloring is already underway. 

Ooooo - hung over. Is this a park?
WOW is he ORANGE!!! I was aware I could keep changing the colors - had already done it several times. Didn't realize how much desaturation and punching-up of contrasts would be required to make it look less like a neon nightmare cartoon black light poster and more like an actual painting. All those saturated colors are fighting each other for attention, like flashing neon signs along the strip in Las Vegas.

For the background I was thinking about parts of the woods near my house where I used to frolic and disport myself as a lad. I thought it was pretty good - didn't realize how weak it all was - practially a golf green with a tiny little stream trickling through it. And as hard as I worked on those roots I hate the way they came out - calling Dr. Seuss!! But I did make the realization that trees aren't really brown - learned that by checking one day while walking my dog. The ones around here tend to be grey (ranging from almost white to almost black, or fully black after it rains) some with a strong bluish cast to them. And yes, there's a bit of blue in the water, but I was already free of that particular cliche - the blue is reflected sky light, and there's desaturated colors where the dirt embankment and grass are reflected too. Even some atmospheric perspective in the background! Groovy! 

Busted out some photo ref for the abs and the face, but it looks puffy and bloated and the blandness of the expression is only exceeded by the blandness of his straight spine and forward-facing head. It's like there's a ramrod driven through his spine.

Adjusted face and abs - looking pretty good, but dayum!
Self tanning failure on steroids!! 
 Photoshop is an amazing tool - I was easily able to pull the tops of the embankments way up and the stream down to create a much stronger shape behind him. Now rather than a collection of small items rendered on a flat sward, the background is a couple of powerful dark silhouetted shapes creating a strong composition. Refined face and abs - I really like the sense of strong character developing in the face now. Did some of that with the Liquify tool. And this is a very important point that I only realized in the last few days - drawing (painting) with a tablet is an excellent way to learn because you can go much farther with corrections and complete re-do's than in any kind of traditional medium (and always know you can get back to the original in case you mess up). As in stopmotion - digital is definitely a great way to learn.

I desaturated the whole image and punched up the contrast a bit - thought I had fixed the Tang effect of his skin, but I was deceiving myself. Well actually I knew it was still pretty fluorescent orange, but I thought I would be able to fix that by adding dabs of different colors here and there.

Getting muuuuch better!
Here I decided to get ruthless with desaturation and contrast and to shift the whole image strongly toward blue. It all helps immensely! I'm stunned at how far I had to reduce saturation and increase contrast in order to fix what I thought looked pretty good at first. Blue, being the complement to orange, neutralized and greyed the glowing flesh tones and gave a sense of the brooding overcast sky light tinting everything. This is starting to look more like a painting done with a desaturated palette. And one more cliche bites the dust - dirt is not brown! It can be - but it can range to any color actually - I've literally seen black dirt, white dirt, grey, yellow, orange, blue - several colors marbled - every color of the spectrum actually.

I can see using a tablet to fine-tune a preliminary drawing and work out details and color ideas before committing to canvas (or in some cases finishing in Photoshop I suppose). I would never have summoned the courage to try any of these things on a canvas! 

Mission Statement

I've decided to commit myself to advancing my oil painting skills, one of my lifelong ambitions but something I've never made much headway with in the past.

In particular I want to learn to paint similarly to the great 70's fantasy illustrators, with emphasis on the best (meaning my favorites) - Frazetta and Jeff Jones. And I know, there have been countless imitators - so many in fact that the burgeoning paperback publishing market kick-started by Frazetta eventually collapsed, and what I consider the classical period of great fantasy painting gave way to a decadent period of far less talented painters, not studied in the methods leading all the way back to the Renaissance (as Frazetta was - one of the last popular artists to benefit from this type of training). Most of these imitators laboriously copied photographs of bodybuilders down to every last straining vein and muscle fiber - something Frank never did, or they did very detailed line drawings (with no character to them) which they then colored in, resulting in some very lackluster efforts more like a coloring book or comic book image. Most of them also began with a figure and then drew in a background in realistic fashion, rather than starting with a powerful overall composition of abstract forms and swirling forces which then suggested figure and environment at the same time.

Another factor separating the greats from the rest - though Frank did occasionally snap photos of himself, Ellie and his friends to inspire poses (and even occasionally swipe from other artists he admired) he did the majority of his work directly from his own fertile imagination. You can't get a model to hold a powerful off-balance action pose like the ones Frank painted - you just need to understand the figure and anatomy well enough to create the imagery entirely from your mind. Frank obviously could do this with little to (usually) no reference - but then it's become apparent to me that he had some kind of eidetic memory. Being at the opposite end of the spectrum in that department, I have no qualms about using reference as much as I need to - especially in the early learning stages. But I don't usually copy anything from photographs or paintings - I'll generally study them for what I need, put them away and then go to work, checking as necessary along the way. This is what I refer to as working from a photograph - as opposed to copying it.

I've recently been lucky enough to stumble across the blog of Doc Dave Winiewicz, Frazetta-centric art collector who visited Frank once a month for many decades and was foresighted enough to always write down their conversations as soon as he got home from each visit - preserving the master's thoughts for posterity. One of the (many) amazing things I've learned thanks to that incredible blog is that Frank often worked (in his oil paintings; my primary focus) over an underpainting done in Umber (burnt I assume? Or possibly raw + burnt + maybe black?) which was essentially the entire painting in rough form done in monochrome - this is a classical technique creating the all-important separation of drawing, modeling and coloring which allows you to get correct tonal values first and then begin to bring in color. He worked alla prima (all in one sitting, wet into wet) and generally completed a painting in 8 to 12 hours. By the time the underpainting was done it was already getting dry enough to paint over with wetter paints, blended with Liquin Fine Detail medium to conform to the traditional concept of fat over lean.

In researching limited color palettes (which I also believe he employed, though probably with a rotating cast of colors) I learned in general they consist of earth tones and very desaturated colors - often entirely omitting any blue altogether (it can be approximated by mixing black and white, or greens by mixing black and yellow). Well, I thought there's no way Frank used such a desaturated palette! I recall his painting being vivid with brilliant colors!! But lo and behold - a browse through my Frazetta folder reveals each painting consists mostly of very desaturated earth tones with a warm/cool bias and then usually only one color of greater saturation - usually a compliment to the majority of the painting. In fact the Conan leaping onto the beast-man's shoulders with the brilliant red cape - that painting has no blues or cool colors at all! Many of the paintings are simply a few earth tones plus black and maybe a little white. Amazing!

What I hope to do is stand on the shoulders of these giants - otherwise I'd have to dodge between their feet. What I mean is that, with giants striding the land - you're going to be either scurrying to avoid what they've done, copying them, or climbing onto their shoulders to learn from them and hopefully then move on to your own approach. I hope to learn from their techniques rather than copy their style - though I assume some of that style will come along with the techniques in the beginning. I have no problem with that as long as it doesn't persist - after all, Jeff Jones learned to paint by copying Frank's style and then developed his own, becoming an amazing and unique talent.

I don't want to be Frazetta - he was the ultimate alpha male; his men were brutal and his women were either prizes to be won by savage swordplay, fierce warriors themselves,  or sorceresses to be feared. Jones was his less masculine counterpart -  his figures whether male or female were graceful and elegant - I believe his sexual identity was already expressing itself through his art before he decided to finalize the deal by undergoing transgender surgery later in life and changing his name to Catherine Jeffrey Jones. I believe there's room between them, or perhaps off to the side somewhere - for another artist interested in the same type of techniques and the stellar results they create, which stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of more mundane and safer fantasy illustration techniques - mostly stiff and awkward - pneumatic figures standing in realistically depicted landscapes playing dress-up. The alla prima technique, with figure and environment carved in bold aggressive brushstrokes from the whole cloth, and only after (and in service to) a nearly abstract composition - makes for paintings that resemble the classical art of antiquity, but with far more verve and power - much more engaging to a modern audience.