Monday, September 30, 2013

Take a chance

Michael Moorcock (Elric) wrote an introduction to one of the 90's editions of Leiber books I just got in so I can preserve my 70's editions with the gorgeous Jeffrey Jones covers, which are falling apart now, in which he reminisced about the days when he and Leiber lived near each other. In those days, if you were trying to get work published, it was normal to live in the same city as the publisher - generally you'd bring your work in personally. That's why all the heroic fantasy painters knew each other, and all the weird fantasy writers of the 30's, etc. They'd meet in the publishers office and they'd hang out together sometimes.

That's beside the point really. My point is that in the introduction, he make it abundantly clear that none of today's publishers would ever have accepted most of Leiber's work. Today they go by the demographics - they publish what's going to being in the most readers statistically. The woman who was running whichever magazine it was (I should probably learn this stuff) just liked Fritz's work, so she took a chance and kept publishing it, even though it was fantasy with nary an elf or goblin in sight.

This further reinforces what I was saying 2 posts ago - that artists/writers etc can only flourish if there's someone publishing what they do. And the really excellent ones need publishers who are willing to take a chance when they do things not according to the demographics. This is how excellent work gets made in the first place - if no publishers will take the chance, then only the same tired old formulaic stuff and endless ripoffs of it ever see print.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whoah!! ... I draw in ITALICS????!!!#@$!

I've learned to frequently flip the image, which lets me fix all kinds of problems, but even at this late date I've always been bothered by something - when flipped it looks like everything is leaning too far in one direction. As soon as I un-flip it it looks right again, but I suddenly wondered - what would happen if I use the Skew tool to - um - skew the whole image until it looks right when flipped? Results follow..

Flipped, you can see the slight tilt to the right..

Straighten up soldier! I know, you can't really see a difference - but it's very apparent when you click through and look at these in Lightbox. Like night and day.

That's more like it!! So weird.. how did I never notice this before? Apparently, everything I've ever drawn - like EVER --- in my entire LIFE --- has been crooked!

I wonder if that's true for a lot of people?

Spearpoint Diplomacy

Earlier tonight I put brilliant blue spots and stripes on the creature. It looked kinds neat, but totally didn't belong in any world with Fafhrd and the Mouser. So I stroked my bearded chin, pondered a moment, and thought about what kind of creature would fit better.

Of course - it HAD to be a rat! A mutant rat - some kind of sorcerer's apprentice like Slivikin, or similar to the upright-standing and clothes-wearing intelligent rats of Lankhmar Below. Rats feature quite prominently in Nehwon after all - being the natural enemy of a Mouser and also a sort of symbol of the filthy, decadent cities.

With only 4 days left till my self-imposed deadline, I was starting to stress over the fact that I wasn't making any progress at all on the creature - I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pull it off at all. And now in a matter of a few hours I nearly finished him! Still some detailing needed here and there - mostly on the bluffs, a little more work on Fafhrd's hair, got to move one of the eyes so he's not wall-eyed anymore, and paint in a hand behind his head. But now I'm not stressing anymore - I feel like I got this one in the bag.

Did some detailing, mostly on the big bluff.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mirror Fafhrd

It's subtle, a bit hard to see, but I didn't like the way the highlight areas were looking flat and glaring - mostly I think because I had left them rather than painting highlights onto darker skin colors. So I painted mid/light tones over them on a darken layer so as not to cover up line work and details etc, then painted new highlights on another layer set to Soft Light or Hard Light, don't remember. Didn't get quite the look I was after (suggested by the impasto highlights on the Abbot last post), for that I could have used a smaller harder brush and worked a bit more opaquely, scribbling marks in all over like the reverse of the way I did the subtle shadows under the pecs. But what I ended up with is actually a bit darker than the original highlights and more yellowish, complementing the purple shadows nicely.

He likes it!! Hey Abbott!!

I was scouring the web for images and information on how Phil Hale works (apparently he applies black paint and then scrubs it off, using a rag at first and brushes later) and somehow I ran across this amazing portrait. It's not by Hale - I don't remember offhand who did it - I need to check my history though and find more of his work. I saved it because I love it - so much power and subtlety, accomplished with the extremely limited Baroque palette - nothing but earthtones I believe. No real blues even. Greens made by mixing yellow ochre with black - wow, harsh! But the masters really made it work.

Anyway, I've been keeping this image open next to photoshop to remind myself not to use silly bright cartoonish colors. I call him the Abbott, and he looks on as I work, his face conveying either his approval or lack thereof. As you can see, he's quite happy at the moment (that's about as happy as he gets).

It might actually be counter productive, keeping such an amazing painting next to my own meager effort, it makes me feel pretty bad about my simplistic approach and lack of subtlety and power as a painter. But as long as I don't give in to the temptation to try to completely repaint it all to look like a Baroque portrait, then it actually does help.

I think a big part of the problem is that all you can get from the color picker is pure color. So unless you create a palette and actually mix 2 colors together to make a new color each time before going to work, you're going to end up with cartoonish primaries and secondaries. For subtlety you need to use 'broken color' - mix in a bit of the complement or a near complement with each color. Never straight from the tubes! An experienced painter can tell at a glance if you've used tube colors, and it marks you as a rank amateur.

I could actually open a painting next to each project and pick colors from it. Or make a palette like I said, or just blend my colors there in the painting itself, and then pick from it as I go. I also think I should start with a selection of colors analogous to the limited palette I use in alkyds. Limiting your palette really helps to banish the bright oversaturated colors.

Just adding this for posterity - Frank Duveneck; American painter 1848 - 1919; title Old Monk. Obviously not a Baroque master, though it really does look like he used a very Baroque palette for this one and went so far as to start with transparent darks in warm tones and then apply thick impastos of cool highlight colors, just as they did.

Monday, September 23, 2013

So close I can taste it!!

I'm finding I really have to lighten up the image and reduce contrast before making a jpeg or it looks too dark and contrasty, with hyper-boosted saturation. Just to record a pretty good strategy - I'm using brightness + 29, contrast -13. It's actually a little too light - maybe somewhere between +20 to +25 would be better.

Weird - I never would have thought I'd end u spending the majority of my time doing the bluff over and over - but that's how it went. And that was possibly the most important learning experience as well - I ended up with something very much likeFrazetta's swirling colorful mist (quite by accident really). I had some really awesome looking detail going on all over the bluff face - but it was too attention-grabbing - I literally always wanted to look at that for a while before finally glancing at the comparatively boring figures. So in an effort to reduce the contrast of all that detail I chose a nice midtone off the bluff and started scrubbing it in half transparently all over with a really big brush. The results are as you can see - though since then I've added in some colors and sharpened up a few shadows here and there. It needs to have a defined edge to the overall shape - it's really just a big shadow pool like the ones I've been putting on the bodies.

I'm a bit bothered by the over-juicy cartoonish colors. I don't think I'll do anything about it on this painting - maybe, who can say with something like 8 days remaining? But n the future I;ll try to put in some neutral colors here and there. I notice St John seems to use a lot of greys in his shadows, and even in the lights as well. Broken color style. Need to think about that - I actually did it in the hair because after several failed attempts at it I scrounged up some pics of stawberry blondes and picked colors right off one of them, and I found a lot of very neutral greyish midtones - maybe the majority of the color in fact.

Just noticed something else I need to address before it's done - the arms lack definition, except for the Muser's back arm and Fafhrd's down forearm. Looking at the Mouser's well-defined arm makes it obvious how vague and formless the rest of them are. They need to be as clearly defined as Faf's torso and as both of their faces. A daunting task when an arm is at a weird angle or foreshortened - but it's a necessity or I can't call myself a figurative artist.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sussing out the Mouser

I've been having a pretty hard time coming up with the Mouser visually, or even understanding his character really. Wasn't able to nail him down quickly like I was with Fafhrd, but instead have been sort of building him up from bits and pieces - for instance I've always very vaguely had a bit of a Robin Hood sense about him, and I wasn't sure why. I guess it's partly because of the overblown way he acts, courtly and elegant at times, while being a rogue. And his acrobatic, physical nature as well - like an Errol Flynn. I recently started re-reading the series (and ordered newer editions of the books because mine are turning shockingly yellow/orange and beginning to come apart - I've bought some paperback bags for collectors to store them in). And the Mouser's origin story The Unholy Grail is set in a forest very reminiscient of Sherwood. It so happens I became fascinated with Robin Hood stories a year or so ago and downloaded a book written by Howard Pyle collecting them and read a little ways in. Now I know there are lots of stories with medieval settings that would be very similar, but I detect some subtle similarities going beyond that - for instance mainly the idea that both Robin and the Mouser are protected and sustained by the forest itself and sort of become forest spirits of a sort - though only temporarily for Mouser. And both dress like a medieval forester, with a short cloak with a hood.

Robin hood, as well as Peter Pan, are people who have sort of become forest spirits like elves or fairies or sprites.

On thinking about this I also hearkened back to the discovery that Superman was based largely on Doc Savage, and it occurred to me that Faf and the Mouser in some ways are a very Batman/Robin pairing, and obviously Robin is named for and dressed like Robin Hood.

Ok, but these ideas only go so far - in many ways the Mouser is not at all like Robin Hood. He's got a real nasty streak and is extremely vainglorious, with a Napoleon complex that drives him to "walk among bravoes with a swagger though he's but the stature of a child". And there's also the clearly stated idea from Unholy Grail that he tried for a time to practice white magic (and to be a good and honest person I take it) but that there's a darkness in his soul that comes forth naturally and makes his nature grey rather than black or white. Taken quite obviously from Gandalf.

I'm getting overwordy. Anyway, I read Fafhrd and Me, which I have saved to my Documents folder, and Leiber gave a very good description of the Mouser, and related the difficulties he had in apprehending the character himself - he said he wasn't at all able to conceive of him all at once or easily like he was with Fafhrd, but instead built him gradually from bits and pieces of characters from literature (most of which I'm unfamiliar with, except for Loki - and that gives a really excellent idea of what he's like). So, the same way I'm piece-mealing him together myself then. Good to know.

Finally, I think my lifelong impression of him has been a bit too nice. Mostly because I was so young and innocent when I discovered the series, and knew nothing about the ways of inner city youth aside from Oliver Twist (which I think is also a very powerful influence). And these costume drama movies present things too sweetly and cartoonishly - too nicey-nice without the dirty, grimy realism that's actually present under the flowery language of Leiber. Since then I've met a few people who had to learn early in life to become hardened and quick with words in order to con people. Thinking about them, I have a much better handle on the Mouser now. He's a good deal more hard-bitten than I wanted to see him before. Maybe a lot less Errol Flynn and a lot more Jesse Pinkman (not quite right actually, but getting close). He's mercurial - his expressions changing rapidly along with his moods.

Another very important aspect - I have now seen one and only one picture of Harry Otto Fischer, the real life counterpart. And as I was reading I believe in Ill Met in Lankhmar, there was a scene where the Mouser threw back his head and flared his nostrils and made his eyes hard and staring - and that's exactly like the look on his face in that picture. Click. Also, I was surprised (though shouldn't have been) to learn in Fafhrd and Me that Fischer spent part of his life as a ballet dancer. So - the picture begins to come together. He was obviously a very hyperactive little person, with excess energy, who was a trained dancer and would apparently go dancing and skipping about making big elegant courtly gestures like deep extravagant bows in his normal daily speech. Click.


Since the last post I sublimated the bluff so it no longer detracts attention from the 3 figures. Now my eyes travel naturally to Faf, then Mou, and finally the skreet. The jpegs are coming out pretty dark.

All in all a good nights' work I'd say.

My core trio of artists - what they have in common

I've made many posts discussing Frazetta, Jeff Jones, and Kent Williams. The first 2 were heroic fantasy artists of the 60's/70's, while Williams started in the 80's and never did fantasy art. And yet in some way I associate them very closely with one another - and it's not just that they were my favorites. I think I have a handle on what it is they have in common.

Quite simply, of all the artists I've heaped respect and admiration on through my adolescence and young adulthood - the period so fertile with amazing art thanks to Warren publishing and then Epic Illustrated - these were the guys who did the best figurative painting. They also essentially made no concessions to genre in anything they did - though Frazetta and Jones worked as fantasy painters I know neither of them accepted the limitations of any genre and considered themselves artists and painters foremost, who were working in a normally limiting field but ignoring the limitations lesser artists would be forced to adapt to (or would choose to accept).

This is something I first came up with when thinking about progressive rock a few weeks ago - and how completely unlike anything previously (or since) labelled Rock it was. Rock and roll, when it was created in the 50's, was dance music with a simple repetitive drum beat and simple repetitive bass line. Nothing but pop music for the kids to bop to, with a rebellious streak. But the prog rock bands never did anything remotely like that - which made me wonder why ot was ever called rock to begin with. I reasoned it was really because it was being played on the FM stations - the ones adventurous enough to play non-format music and to spin entire album sides rather than just play hit singles under 3 minutes. It was in the mutating field still called rock music that the real excitement was happening - and it no longer conformed to any formulaic labels of what rock music was. It had the rock sensibility to it - edgy and energetic, often made by rebellious and rowdy youths. Even the more orchestral music like Kansas and ELO was powerful in a way no orchestra music ever had been before - it was something entirely new and as I once heard the drummer from YES say - nobody had ever told him rock drumming was supposed to be simple and catchy.

So I realized these guys were basically not making any particular kind of music at all - they were just making great music, with no limitations, no genre, no labels. Drawing inspiration from all sources available. It's just that the only place they could get it played was on the ostensible 'rock' stations.
It's the same for the fantasy artists and the - whatever you'd call Williams. They're really continuing the tradition of figurative painting begun in the Renaissance that moved to magazine illustration when the 'art world' lost its collective mind and declared the figure to be dead. It then moved to the pulps when the golden age of the illustrated magazine died, and then when they went the way of the Dodo it moved to Warren and the Epic Illustrated and similar formats.

So essentially my trio of artists were really just great figurative painters finding where it was possible to get their work published. Their work always went above and beyond the limitations of genre, they were in love with the figure and with painting it.

Then it hit me - the great rock stations of the 70's, Warren Publishing, Epic Illustrated - what they had in common was that they pushed for excellence in a field that's normally limiting, and thus enabled artists to flourish and to do amazing work. And I suppose that's the real key - amazing art can only happen when there's someone pushing to allow it to happen. A publisher like Jim Warren, who went way above and beyond what was necessary to make money on the publishing game - he created an environment where excellent artists were rewarded and were enabled to do what they love and to do it to the highest standards. If not for people like that, the great art would not be getting made - people like Frazetta and Jeff Jones and Kent Williams would be forced to work as plumbers or bakers or something.

One step forward, two steps back

It's hard to get used to the nature of improvements - the fact that as you make some things better other things slide downhill or are destroyed completely. I clearly remember when the bluff looked like it did in the below post, and thinking it needed the detailing hardened up a bit - some solid edges and some rugged detailing. I went overboard on it at first (pics coming soon below) and then sort of evened things out by applying a layer of mid-opaque browns over all the shadows and some of the light areas to draw the values together more and push the detailing into the background more. It still kind of fights for attention with what you're supposed to be looking at - I've considered flattening the best-looking part of the bluff, just behind Fafhrd's shoulder, which is the busiest and highest-constrast part of the bluff. Tough call. But unfortunately that bluff steals all my attention now.

I've really addressed the problems with Faf's pose though. Compare to below image - so much more natural and relaxed, as well as taller and more lanky, as he should be. I removed all the pink from his skin tone, but now he looks too contrasty and a bit sickly/greenish.

Been lightening up the dark shadows all over, and adding in patches of faintly visible greys and blues and occasionally reds.

There are two essentially different techniques being used here - one that I consider a 'painterly' approach, with visible brushstrokes and form developed by layering midtones and lights over the darks - proper shading technique And then there's the kind of techniques I developed in my pencil drawing days, like I used on the bluff. The tones are in the right places but you don't see any brushstrokes, instead it's either smooth s can be or there's fine lines visible - because I used pencil techniques essentially. I want to move more toward the painterly stuff.

I also want to work on design - I mean really work on it. I keep thinking about those amazing Jeff Jones covers for the Fafhrd/Mouser series and how incredibly simple and strong they are. No details at all - they're just the way Leiber described Robert E Howard's writing. But I don't only want to work like that - minimalism to the extreme. I couldn't handle that. I also want to do fully detailed pictorial paintings like this one with natuarlistic landscapes or somewhat fantasized landscapes and details galore.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Comparing these you can see how I straightened Faf up - I kept thinking there was too much headroom, and his body lingo was all slumped and weak. Now he dominates the space.

I also decided against the yellow stretchy pants - it was looking like a Calvin Klein ad or something. Swapped em in for some nice barbaric pants with metal-adorned belt.

But mainly Ilm dealing with one of my most persistent problems - color saturation and how to deal with it. It's fantasy art, so it should be brilliant and juicy, but not all over - you need a strategy for where and when to crank it up. In my head I know the strategy - saturation only in mid tones, as color moves toward dar and light grey it down. I know this, and yet I don't do it - not sure why. Then I have to go through all kinds of acrobatics to fix it.

I also think I should have put some reflected sky blue in the shadows, same as I did on Faf. Why would the entire cliff face, in sunlight and shadow, be orange? Slap forehead now.

I suppose it's just a matter of starting to trust my instincts and act on them.