Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Oil Pastel Demo part 2

Green Window - pencil, charcoal and oil pastel on paper - 11 x 14
It's done (tentatively, as always). I decided I really didn't like the green on her face, and I always have the pic of it from above, so I scraped it off as well as I could. That's one of the fun techniques with oil pastels, especially in the later stages when you're putting it on thick over top of the wash drawing. I have a nifty little tool called a burnisher (seen below) that I keep in the box with the cray-pas because its so amazingly useful when working with them.

These things are sold through the MicroMark website as a burnisher, for burnishing down the edges of masking tape and similar type stuff - they also make great sculpting tools and excellent oil pastel tools. The end that's close to the camera, with the red wax on it, is a little spoon shape - the back side of it is for burnishing and smoothing things down, but turned up like this it's good for scraping off some color from a stick of oil pastel. Once you've got a little glob of colored wax you can sort of place it oh so carefully right where you need an accent and then burnish it down to make it permanent - it becomes like a thick little glob of paint there, totally opaque. I used this trick to put the highlights in her eyes and a few other things. The other end of the burnisher is a little blade (not sharp really) that I use to scrape off unwanted wax, like the green on her face.

I discovered charcoal is excellent for making dark parts (the wall behind her). Just be sure to always blow off any loose charcoal dust carefully before it gets stuck in the wax anywhere and makes a nuisance of itself. Then you need to rub over it to sort of blend it down into the wax.

You can manipulate the wax in all sorts of ways - to finish this one up I was rubbing with my fingers, scrubbing with paper towels, using the point or edge of the scraper to remove tiny little dots of wax that just didn't look right (it's easy to get those when working with something as messy as cray-pas).

Oil Pastel Demo

I got in a couple of new drawing pads and wanted to try one of them out, so I decided to go ahead and do it last night. Here's a drawing I cranked out - I did this loose and modern-style partly because it's quicker but also I like working like this sometimes:

his one and the 2 at the end were done on the scanner, the rest I just shot on a digital camera, that's why the quality of them is pretty poor. But it's good enough to demonstrate the steps.

Here I've sealed the pencil drawing with 3 good heavy coats of Krylon Matte Finish spray. It also helps to use a fairly hard pencil - otherwise the next step can really smear up the graphite and make a big mess of it.

I picked 2 oil pastels, both pretty unsaturated earth tones - one a light brown and the other a darkish yellow - this creates the overall tone for the drawing. This technique is actually very similar to techniques used by artists from at least the Renaissance if not earlier - though usually they'd do the initial drawing on paper that was already toned in a light flesh color or some light neutral color like grey or green. Not having any such toned paper I decided to tone it myself.

It's been a long time since I did this, and I had forgotten you really need to keep your scribbly lines pretty close together to avoid what you can see below - the lines didn't completely 'melt' and you can still see some of them in places.

All I did here was to fold over a paper towel 3 or 4 times, hold it tightly over the opening of my turpenoid can, and tip it. Then I took the moistened paper towel and scrubbed rather vigorously all over, going against the grain of the lines and trying to make them disappear. Turpenoid is an oil painting medium and bush cleaner - it's essentially a far less toxic version of turpentine with almost no odor.

Here I picked a darker brown and laid in the hair color. This one was burnt umber, a classic earth tone, and it melts into the turpenoid a lot easier than the other colors I've used so far.

When you scrub it down it creates a really soft beautiful effect. Wish all the colors would do that!

Used some more burnt umber to scrub shading into the background in places and also certain parts of the face/hand. It gives it all a nice look and starts to create some shading. I also decided to lighten up the hair a bit and let more of the paper's texture show through.

Now it's almost finished. Did some more shading on the skin with a sort of orange color, then some highlights with white and a few little touches of color here and there. It's a slight variation on the three-tone drawing system used by the old masters, only I deviated from the strict three color rule and used a little more color. But I did most of the work only with a dark and a white on the toned ground, which is a great way to learn abut the basics of painting or realistic fully-shaded drawing technique. In case your wondering, at this point I didn't like the pale pencil lines so I took a softer pencil (a 2B) and drew right over them. Once you've got some wax on the surface of the drawing (oil pastels are in a wax base - they're really just like extra-soft crayons) the pencil really glides smoothy and makes very dark marks very easily. I couldn't believe I was able to go over all the lines with almost no screw-ups! Got lucky on that one. Oh, and for this kind of line quality you have to hold the pencil 'underhand' - not the way you would when writing, and use big arcing motions of the entire arm to draw.

Finished up with some pale green. The window behind her is a classic example of overpainting - where you have the drawing on a toned ground and then come in at the end with a new color representing bright glaring light and paint opaquely right over the darker colors. It would look a lot better if the drawing was overall darker and if the green was brighter.

It was hard to learn to stop 'coloring inside the lines' - it actually looks a lot better if you leave gaps to show the underlying colors so people can see the technique and the simplicity of it. Some people may prefer the step before the last one - when it still looked pretty realistic. The green in the shadows gives it a much more modern look.

The original looks much better than the reproduction does - a transparent art medium (like an oil pastel wash) has a nice glow to it and the colors blend beautifully in a way that can't be captured by a photograph or scanner. In the reproductions colors look harsh and dark and gritty - whites and other colors seem to have hard outlines around them. None of this is there when you look at the original. It makes it frustrating - I can't really show what my work looks like online or in any way unless people want to come over and see the originals..

Green Window

Just finished this one - worked on it for 3 days I think, done in pencil charcoal and oil pastels on paper:

Old stuff digitally re-worked

Cornflower Blue - pencil and oil paint on paper, finished digitally
Purple Sky - pencil and oil pastel on paper, finished digitally

Some stuff from old sketchbooks

Got my ld scanner hooked up, and sure enough, it works with the new computer!

I think I'm starting to absorb Kent Williams…

Ever since around the time I started to get good at drawing he's been there, appearing on the scene suddenly like a rock star artist, kicking ass hard and always doing exciting things. 

Immediately I wanted to be him, or at least to be like him. 

I couldn't ignore him, and he exerted a powerful gravitational force that affected nearly all my efforts. Pretty much every time I drew or painted something I was either trying to be like him, or deliberately trying NOT to be like him. It's what I figure things must have been like for a lot of the fantasy painters in the 60s and 70's with Frazetta. For a while I was afraid Frazetta might influence me too much, but that actually doesn't seem to be the case - although that might just be because I haven't actually tried paperback-style fantasy art yet. My Fafhrd and the Mouser paintings don't look like fantasy art yet - well, except for Longbow, and actually that one does show a bit too much Frazetta influence, doesn't it? 

But most of my work does show some level of Williams influence. Except for a particular way I draw when I build up a mass of lines into a thick outline that seems to vibrate with energy and that also seems far more accurately to delineate anatomy than a single line. That approach was actually inspired way back in the 90's or even maybe the late 80's by Mark Texiera, but I absorbed it and was able to make it my own, rather than it still looking like his. Whenever I try to do anything williams-derivative though it's not my own and it really shows his influence. Usually anyway. 

Recently though I suddenly understood that he really doesn't always distort as much as I thought he did. In fact now I can quite clearly see that he does that mostly just in his GN work and his sketchbook work - his gesture sketches. His big fine art paintings aren't distorted at all really, aside from the occasional slightly exaggerated curve or angle, but when he does that the lines still seem to start and stop at the right place. And I suppose it's largely his crazy powerful way of painting that makes it seem like his work is so unrealistic - but when you examine it really it's extremely accurate (again, talking about his big paintings). Occasionally he does exaggerate a bit on purpose - for instance in the figure called Vampire in the original sketch, with elongated arms and legs. And often the limbs are extra skinny and stretched out. But allowing for this exaggeration, all the bony landmarks and muscular forms are there in exactly the right places. Just skinnier. And maybe bent a bit farther than is really possible. 

But anyway, the point is - what I really mean (Hah! I LOVE when I can sneak in an Elton John lyric!) - he's a very versatile artist, capable of several different ways of working, some of which are pretty distorted, some of which are extremely accurate. I think he uses wild seemingly almost random painting techniques over some of the accurate figures which makes them feel powerfully distorted (to me anyway), but when examined many of them really aren't. 

Hmmm - didn't mean to spend so much time on just distortion and accuracy - that's only one issue here. Williams is also a very iconic artist. A rock star, as I said. He doesn't do anything conservatively - it's always explosive and bold. He's obviously one who would rather see a mark made boldly and wrong than carefully and right. 

But in looking through his books and my folder full of images gathered from the web (including some shots he posted of some of his big paintings in progress, using a blue underpainting technique) it's clear that he actually has a good deal of technique and accuracy. Craft in other words. 

When I'm setting out to do a piece and I want it to look like something he might do (which is all too often) I tend to go at it very haphazardly, just slashing lines around too fast and not paying much attention - hoping that if I keep working that way I'll somehow get better at it. But I know the marks that look like they were made fast really weren't. I've seen that a few times, and heard it from the artists themselves. You don't abandon all craft and just go nuts - instead you draw very carefully - using every bit of technique and accuracy you can muster, and you draw in such a way that it looks a bit crazy. It's partly in how the pencil is held - underhand rather than like you're writing, and you make moves of the entire arm and wrist rather than just the fingers. You can do it fairly rapidly if you're working from reference - either a photo or a model. That's when you've got guides for exactly where to place your lines and forms, and can think a lot more about expression of character and niceties of the pose rather than having to think about basic proportioning and anatomy like you do when you're working from the imagination. 

I suppose a good way to encapsulate the intent of this post is to say - I've always had a certain 'Kent Williams Mode' that I drop into when I want to work like he does (or at least like I imagined he did). And that mode is actually wrong. He's much more careful and methodical than I wanted to imagine. I've actually come to this realization a few times before, at least dimly. But somehow I always managed to forget it afterwards and slip right back into 'Kent Williams Mode'. But now I'm on this concentrated art advancement thing and it's come to my attention once again that this imaginary mode of mine is totally wrong and destructive - in fact if I want to be more like him (which is not to say to make my art look more like his) I'd do well to be more accurate and methodical. 

What exactly am I doing?

It occurs to me that I don't usually set out to create artwork - everything is an exercise or an experiment. One piece I did that I think was done as artwork and not an exercise was the Beastseekers painting I did with Winton painting medium (the slow-drying stuff), with me and Rob as kids standing on the cliff. And it looks great. 

I do go into a different mindset - for instance when doing a school assignment. Or when showing off. But if my thinking is that I'm doing this piece just to build skills, then it's different. 

Also, I need to start learning how to create genre work, or type-specific work. Example, something that would work in a graphic novel, as opposed to something that would work as an illustration. And illustration is too broad a term - it encompasses the Brandywine school and Sienkiewiecz - totally different. Williams has his GN stuff, his big wall paintings, which are his most realistic work, and his sketchbook exercises, all of which are quite different. There's 60s/70s type paperback fantasy painting, there's 80's style GN/Epic Illustrated stuff, there's comic book (many different subdivisions there, 60's Kirby-style, or 80's Byrne/Austin?)

This is something an aspiring pro needs to be well aware of - it wouldn't do to get an email from an art director asking what genres you can do and you reply "what do you mean?"

Getting the feeling in

Jeffrey Jones said on his site that when he's painting he becomes super aware of sensations - the way things feel on his skin, the smell of the air, etc. That might have something to do with why he was able to get so much feeling into the work, or rather to express so much through it. 

I feel like most of my work is little more than exercises. I don't usually get much feeling into it, or express it anyway, but when I go back and look at my drawings and paintings they always remind me of things - I suppose it's because I mostly draw things and people that I know. I was a bit surprised when going through and scanning my work recently to realize how many of them show places or people I know - it's like a journal of sorts. My life in pictures - handmade pictures filled with memories. I was really glad to have the ones of the restaurant where I used to work because not only is it shut down now (still standing but vacant) but shortly after I did those drawings they gave it a 'face lift' and the whole interior changed drastically I'll always remember it the way it originally looked, and now I have a pretty good record of it (even though I drew it after getting home, strictly from memory - but I did spend some time studying it each day for the purpose of being able to draw it better). I also now have a record of what our uniforms looked like at various times and some of the people I worked with. As well as drawings of the house I used to live in, which also at the moment stands vacant and empty. 

But that's only got meaning to me personally. That isn't the focus of this entry. I'm talking about being able to express a feeling or a state of mind or an atmosphere to viewers. Some artists do this even before they learn the mechanics of drawing or painting. I think Kent Williams is one of those. Myself, I think I'll be able to express myself better as I get better at the basics that I'm concentrating on learning now. It's an old axiom in acting, as well as I'm sure just about every other branch of art - before you can express it fluidly you have to internalize it. Meaning you have to learn the basics so well that they become second nature, and then you don't have to think about them consciously anymore. The conscious mind is a slow, awkward cumbersome beast, and it gets in the way a lot. The subconscious on the other hand is graceful and fluid. It can express things effortlessly. Artists who get caught up in technique and never let go to work through the subconscious will probably have a lot of trouble being able to express anything really powerfully. 

This is why I'm concentrating now on working in color a lot and developing my techniques for it - I'm ready to move out of this awkward 'just learning' phase of painting and move on to where I can paint from the subconscious. In order to get there you have to have some well-developed techniques and methods for approaching color work, and some experience to fall back on. That's what I'm doing now, developing those techniques and gaining that experience. 

I want to talk briefly about the type of person who might be able to express themselves before they know technique. I used to know a guy like this - a friend named Keith that I grew up with. A super high-energy person. Actually he suffered from manic depression, which was probably a key factor, but this guy was like a natural born comedian and actor, always 'on'. His life was like one endless improv, and he'd move effortlessly from one mood to another. You never knew when he was being serious, sometimes you'd swear this was the real Keith but then all of a sudden he'd crack up and go into another improv, revealing that what he had just been saying was all a performance. He drew a lot, and he never bothered to learn any kind of technique - he didn't need to! He could express everything through is lines and shapes. They could be jagged and electric, or fluid and graceful, or staccato or whatever he needed depending on the mood he was in. Though I don't think he was in control of it at all, it was the other way around. 

I seem to be the opposite - I'm a very reserved person who never reveals any emotions even if they're just about tearing me apart. I think I learned that as a survival mechanism when I was young, so people couldn't manipulate me through my emotions (yes, there was somebody who would do that every time). I was never consciously aware of developing this strategy, and it took me until I was somewhere in my 30's or maybe even early 40's before I began to really become aware of why I probably did it. Maybe this explains why my drawing and painting is more about technique than feeling? I don't know. But I am good at creating a sense of atmosphere in my environments. Maybe that's a different way of expressing the feelings I'm afraid to let out in front of anybody? 

I am not saying people who freely and naturally express their feelings or are like natural improv actors on the stage of life can somehow be artists without needing to learn technique - though some of them can I'm sure. I also don't think it's necessary for a person to be like that in order to get feeling in their visual art. I was just exploring the idea of expressiveness in different forms. 

But I hope that as I internalize the process of making art and begin to be able to do it unconsciously I'll start to be able to express feeling through my work more. 
I think I'm the type of person who needs to do it this way - which gives me plenty of time to develop my techniques and practice the basics as I work on gradually breaking through my internal baffles. And I'm not sure it's really necessary to express what I'm feeling - I think it's totally possible to express feelings or moods that you aren't necessarily experiencing at the time. A good artist can do this, just as any good performer can. Or maybe it's more a matter of being able to 'access your emotions' like they talk about with acting. Meaning at any time you can bring up the needed emotion or feeling or mood and let it guide you. 

Interestingly, on a completely unrelated note I was reading an article about the stages of development of self-awareness in children and adults today, just after writing the above, and ran across this extremely relevant section:

"As adults, we do indeed manifest all of the levels of self-awareness developing early in life: from our immersion in skilled actions such as competitive sport which entails a great deal the implicit self-awareness of Level 1 (differentiation) and Level 2 (situation). Interestingly, if one rises to the next levels of explicit self-awareness (Level 3 and above) while engaged in skilled actions such as playing tennis or golf, this transition is associated with dramatic changes in performance, typically a deterioration. Tennis and golf players will tell you that if they step into explicit self-consciousness, erring into explicitly thinking and reflecting on what they are doing, their game tends to collapse. There is nothing worse for tennis players than self-reflecting on the shape of their backhands. The same applies for people engaging in meditation. People meditating and teachers within the Buddhist tradition for example, will tell you that certain states cannot be attained without emptying oneself from self-reflecting mental activities."

 ---- It's really talking about the phenomenon known as Flow. 

Sometimes also called "being in the zone" - it happens a lot when playing sports or video games or anything that requires your full undivided attention and action without conscious thinking . In order to experience flow while painting you need to have already fully absorbed the lessons and practiced to such an extent that you no longer need to think about what you're doing, you can do it on automatic. That's when you can do it without the need for conscious self-reflection, and let the inner artist take over. And I believe that's when Ill be able to stop thinking so much about technique and anatomy and composition etc and just make decisions intuitively, and when I'll be able to really get the feeling in. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Starting to get serious now...

This is an old painting I did in 01 - pencil and oil on watercolor paper. Below is the original scan, and above what I've been doing to it in photoshop, starting with a sepia photo filter to neutralize the harsh cartoon-colored background, and punching up contrast. I've also been adding complementaries to neutralize and grey down some of the colors on the figure where it's needed. I just spent 2 days digging out a crapload of old drawings and scanning them (coming soon) and I got disgusted with the cartooniness of my lines, shapes and colors. I used to really go all loose and sloppy and rough, and distort way too much. I looked through Amalgam and surprisingly, Williams doesn't really distort nearly as much as it seems like - it's very controlled when he does. And his colors are pretty realistic and toned down, except in some of his graphic novel stuff that's intended to look a bit comic bookish.   Plus I'm taking to heart what he said about no trying to artificially develop your own style, just do the best most honest work you can and your real voice will come through. I love the way this is starting to look! My new bywords are Careful and Controlled. And I quit trying to become Kent Williams jr - he has his way of working that's natural to him, and I have mine. 

** Edit:
I was just looking at some Kent Williams (found a big folio-sized book containing a few of his paintings and drawings while I was digging out my old stuff) and got disgusted with the meticulousness and precision of what I'm doing - but then I started to remember what it was like when I first learned to draw really well - it takes a long time and I had to go through a meticulous phase to get there. So I figure it must be the same when you're learning to work in full color - you have to become methodical and meticulous for a while in order to learn the principles and fully absorb them, and then once you've done that you can start to get faster.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

About "Style" - and a few vids featuring Kent Williams

Paraphrased from Kent Williams:

He says he dislikes the word style and the very idea of it because it sounds like something from the fashion industry - something you can put on and take off. He prefers to think in terms of growing as an artist, becoming ever more honest in your work, and expressing yourself through your own language.

My own thoughts -

Too many times I've seen young art students use style as a crutch - their instructor shows them something they're doing wrong and they say "Dude - that's my style!". Then they refuse to listen or to try changing. It blocks growth and progress until they outgrow it. And what they're calling style is actually just an affectation - probably adapted so they can pretend like they're better artists than they actually are.

Here's the video where he talks about it, along with a lot of other things - its an hour and a half long ( ! ) and shot in the Philippines, where Kent hails from:

Here are 3 more (much shorter) ones:

And a correction on something I wrote earlier - Williams didn't meet Jeff Jones until he moved to New York for art school. That was when they would talk in Jones' studio, not when Williams was a kid. Weird factoid that makes me kind of sad - Williams is the same age as me, and was already having amazing short graphic novel work published in Epic Illustrated in the early 80's, while he was still in art school - when I was just about to experience my first artistic growth spurt.


It took me a long time to decide what I wanted his face and hair to look like. I went through a lot of people that might serve as inspiration, and strangely enough, I ended up with a young Roman Polanski. Surprised the hell out of me, but somehow it works. Using a simple 3 tone system, mid, light, and dark to define the big forms of the head and face. And yeah, now that I've posted it I can see the nose is a bit too long, it's crowding the mouth down onto his chin..

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Calligraphic Shorthand

Williams is a master of calligraphic shorthand. No extra lines, no extra brushstrokes - only the absolute essential, and he knows how to get an amazing amount of mileage out of the essential. He makes each line say an incredible amount - carrying loads of information all at the same time - similar to the way a symbolic image in a dream can carry amazing amounts of information on many fronts at once. 

This carries through into his painting as well. My thinking is that it originates from gesture sketching. That's where an artist learns to express himself rapidly and forcefully with the bare minimum of time and mark-making. I marvel at the way he depicted the buildings in the image above. So rapidly done, and yet so expressive of complexity without being at all labored. It looks like he made his decisions almost instantly (sometimes I;m sure that's not true). Just by changing tone or color slightly he suggests plane breaks or breaks between slabs of material - all appearing time-etched and grungy. Everything also has an organic feel to it - straight lines aren't actually straight, but we never question that because it's clear it's an artist's rendering and needn't be perfectified as long as it looks good. I need to break free of my current slavery to perfectification (though it's mainly just because I'm doing my classical period right now - the classical places an emphasis on imitating nature and on detail). As I gain experience and facility Ill be able to start working faster and make my choices more rapidly. 

When he does environments it's clear that they're sort of an extension of the figure - the figure is always primary in his world. This is another indication that's he's an artist who derives most of his technique from gestural sketching.

Friday, May 10, 2013

New thoughts on Kent Williams

Recently I got in Wolverine Legends: Meltdown (formerly Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown) and Amalgam, both books of KWMS art, and I read in Amalgam that when he was a kid he used to draw Bruce Lee obsessively. Somehow that seems perfect - not only is Lee an iconic Asian figure with amazing physical anatomy, but he's also the perfect  - erm - amalgam (sorry) of character and physique - through an act of sheer sustained will he sculpted his body into an amazing machine of pure strength and grace. I can see this being where Williams started to get the idea of a human body distorted by an energy flowing through it, seeming to reshape the very bones and muscles. And that same incredible will flowing out directing a pose down to every last detail moment by moment - dictating gesture, flourish, expression.. even seeming to distort the very space and colors around it. Yes, indomitable human will seems to be at the center of Williams' artistic world. Maybe not always will - but always the figures and environments express the person's inner state. Expressionism through figure painting, but not as distorted or crazy as most of the old German Expressionists and their ilk liked to do - much closer to realism.

I did a google bu can't find any of the drawings - though I did run across his Crow cover paintings (I've been searching for my comic books and haven't found them yet) and suddenly realized how perfect it is that he's painting Brandon Lee, Bruce's son.

Ran across a lot of Wolverine and Batman drawings by various artists, and the vast majority of them seem perfectly content to settle for generic figure and anatomy - as if they're afraid to freely express themselves through even slightly distorted form. Also the conservativeness (sp?) of the shading/coloring etc is endemic - wow, comic art is full of extremely timid artists! Except for a handful like my favorites Jae Lee, Frank Miller, Mark Texiera, and Sienkiewicz.

These qualities are what really draw me to these artists - the boldness and fearlessness to distort form and figure freely and expressively. It only comes when you've fully absorbed and conceptualized the figure and anatomy and can now scrawl it out rapidly - bold gesture sketches.

I think after my little stint here doing Fafhrd and Gray Mouser paintings I definitely need to get to work on some figure drawings - I suspect it'll work best to start at my own speed and gradually get faster. Hell - no reason I can't do figure drawings even now.

Couldn't help noticing this Wolverine seems to have Bruce Lee's body..

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Documenting the process - working out the pose for 2nd figure

Now I knew where I wanted to put him and decided he'd be crouching rather than sitting - I want him to look active and athletic. So I deleted the colorforms layer and roughed in a sketch. It's still tentative at this point - I'm trying it out and seeing what needs changing.

Here I had flattened the sketch and the grey blob layer and just started painting right onto it. That's necessary before you can start cutting it up and moving parts around.

Wow, that white was hurting my eyes! A neutral color is so much nicer to work over. It's a separate layer that'll be deleted once it's served it's purpose.

Most of the re-adjustments were done using photoshop's Free Transform and Distort tools.