Saturday, May 31, 2014

What happened with me and comic book drawing

When I discovered a while back that Creepy and Eerie were being published again I got super excited. I used to love the Warren magazines, and I dreamed of being an artist for them, so I swallowed my suddenly pounding heart and decided to put all my effort into becoming a comic book artist, specifically horror, of a style that I hoped would land me a chance to work for Dark Horse. It literally seemed like it had fallen into my lap - here I was, pushing to try to become a professional illustrator of some kind, and lo and behold, the very comics I grew up on and loved immensely were back now!! Almost as if fate or karma or something had set this up just for me.

I bought digital downloads of a bunch of the issues and all the tools and materials I thought I would need, including Manga Studio Paint (now re-branded Clip Studio Paint Pro), and started drawing. At first I was mostly just looking at the artwork in those digital comics - the art was always the thing for me. Incidentally I used to feel the same way when I was interested in superhero stuff too - it was almost entirely for the art, though in both cases I occasionally found a story or 2 that stood above the rest.

One thing I noticed right away was a lot of cartoonish looking work or work that looked like it belonged in a mainstream superhero comic rather than a horror comic. Mmmmmmm, ok, that used to happen back at Warren too sometimes. I guess there aren't a lot of artists who really do good horror art, especially considering that, aside from Warren back in the day or Dark Horse now, nobody is publishing black and white horror comics, so there isn't really much call for artists to learn to draw horror. The reason those Spanish guys were so good at it was because they could draw ANYTHING - many of them were illustrators in addition to comic artists. Plus of course in Europe comics weren't like the mainstream superhero stuff published here, they tended to be more free in artistic terms and - I don't know quite how to word it - more human. Whereas superhero comics tend toward spectacle and special effects like Hollywood action flicks do now, the European comics are usually more humanistic. Therefore the Spanish artists like Jose Ortiz, Luis Burmejo, and Jose Gonzales to name my 3 favorites, could really draw people expressively, even if those people were just ordinary people wearing normal clothes in very mundane settings. They could also draw period stuff excellently - Bermejo had done a lot of western comics (which is why he did it so well for The Rook) and all of them were able to do their research and draw period clothes and architecture as if they were born to the age.

But I'm getting off topic. Anyway, a quiet but very insistent little alarm started going off in my head when I noticed so much cartoonish art that didn't look to me like it belonged anywhere near a horror comic. I mean, ok, I get that they hired Peter Bagge (creator of Hate!) to do single-page bits about the Creepy Family or whatever, to provide some comic relief and tie in between stories, but in addition to that, it seemed like usually 4 or 5 of the stories also had very cartoonish art or very superheroish art. In fact often I was only able to find one story in each issue that looked like horror to me, usually the first one in the issue. Plus of course the classic Warren reprints when they started doing those.

Then I noticed a little blurb - don't recall where, probably in the letters or something,  that proudly proclaimed their devotion to producing Modern Horror. That sent a chill down my spine far more than any of the stories had. Modern horror? What exactly does that mean? Does it mean what's happened to horror movies, which have become pointless crapfests more concerned with gore and heavy duty computer-processed STYLE and a lot of cheap shock scares than characters you can relate to and anything actually scary happening? In fact, what does it ever mean when someone proudly proclaims their Modernness? I've come to the conclusion it means a rebellion against quality mostly. Against the classical. These rebellions against the classical usually start off with good intentions, but after a brief foray by excellent (and classically trained) artists who actually have great ideas that don't fit into the classical model, it usually degenerates into nothing more than a mindless rebellion against what's now seen as old-fashioned, but with none of the actual quality that made it classic in the first place --- only reactionary shock appeal, and it's usually done by or made to appeal to the young, who are in a stage of life where they hate their parents and everything they stand for (which is the classical).

I read a few more stories, and it could just be that I stumbled upon a group of very similar ones, or maybe there's a trend going on, but they all shared a group of traits that made them feel very limited in scope to me - in the same way all those ridiculous sub-genres of heavy metal were in the 80's and 90's, which seemed to define themselves entirely through limitation. The stories I read were all psychological horror, but they shared a lot more than that. Essentially they were all "is this guy really a gritty anti-hero murderer/savior chosen by god (or whoever) to kill the abusive, as he believes he is, or is that just his own psychological defense mechanism and really he's just a serial killer?"

When done well, that's a pretty good idea for a story. Or even 2. But when you begin to feel it taking shape again in a third, it feels like you're being swindled. Come on - really? I don't know, maybe I just stumbled across a run of stories by the same author when he was suffering from writer's block. Nope. Different writers for each one. So it seems this is some kind of editorial choice, as if the writers are being coached in what kind of stories to write* - see note below. In fact I can't hep but wonder if this is actually Postmodern Horror. Ugh - now there's a truly horrifying thought!!

* It's possible I was looking at a themed issue and didn't realize it. They do those sometimes. I ought to check.

Oh, and also at about the same time, I realized that I really dislike drawing ordinary people in ordinary clothes and settings - pretty boring stuff!! This surprised me, because for the most part that's what the Spaniards always drew, and I loved looking at their work. But then they all have amazing styles, and can draw anything and make it fascinating to look at. I'm not there yet myself, and I know you shouldn't be trying to draw with a 'style' while learning your fundamentals. That will happen naturally when you're through the learning curve and drawing all the time, you can't rush it or force it or it's just artificial and will actually impede learning.

So that's where me and comic book drawing stand right now. I lost my drive for it. Though I do think I could get it back, and I also think I could most definitely bring myself to work for Dark Horse as long as I can draw the way I want to. Obviously they do print what I consider horror art, I don't think they'd try to make me draw like a cartoonist or anything! Oh, and I did run across some very different stories too when next I looked inside. Maybe that really was just a run.

I do wish they'd do some sic-fi or fantasy themed stuff like Warren used to do, though it does make sense that they'd want their horror comics to feature horror. After all, they have a lot of other titles as well, they're not like Warren who only had a few titles going and had to squeeze everything into them.

Another thing that disappointed me about the new format is the letters page. Every response - and in fact every letter - is done in Creepyspeak - that Cryptkeeper style of graveyard humor littered with bad puns on the theme of death and decay. It's the kind of thing that's very addicting, like Piratespeak or Pythonspeak, and the editor let them get carried away with it. I busted out some of my old yellowing Warrens to check, and while there was an occasional Creepypun, most of the responses and almost all of the letters were written seriously. There was a good deal of actual CONTENT in the letters pages, and Warren was famous for not censoring things - he'd publish even the most critical letters. I haven't seen a single even remotely critical letter in the Dark Horse reboots, in fact the whole letters page feels like a silly punfest.

But of course there's no sense in criticizing Dark Horse for not being Warren, or as good as Warren (especially considering Warren Publishing at its best was a high water mark in the comics industry). Are they postmodern? I don't know. Does it matter? Probably not. Would I work for them, even if they do turn out to be the dreaded P word? Why not? A chance to draw comics for Creepy or Eerie? Hell yeah!! That's a lifelong dream, even if it's a resurrected Creepy or Eerie that, like the ones who come back in Pet Sematary, just aren't like they used to be when they were alive…

But it's a big decision. Do I concentrate on drawing comics, or on painting? My gut instinct tells me that I'd get really sick of drawing the same characters in slightly different poses day in and day out for essentially the rest of my life. I know from experience I'm not that kind of a workaholic. Though of course, doing stories for Creepy or Eerie means 12 pages in a month, opposed to 32 for a superhero title, since Creepy and Eerie are anthology magazines featuring several short stories per issue. It also means no guarantee of steady work (but then does anything guarantee that really?)

I suspect I'm better suited to doing an illustration rather than a dozen pages of little intricate drawings. Comics is one of the most labor intensive jobs there is in the arts alongside animation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Having fun painting with strong colors. Done mostly with opaque hard round brushes. I did get in-betweens by laying one color down transparently over another, but then usually found I had to make the brush opaque and pick up the resulting color with it, otherwise wherever two brushstrokes overlap you get double-strength, resulting in splotchiness or streakiness. And of course whenever you do need transparent soft brushes for that fine blending, it's vitally important not to ever lift the brush until you finish the area.

Oh, and to my 2 or 3 viewers, I kept adding new versions of my last painting to the bottom of that post. Scroll down a bit to see it.

Why did I only realize today that Photoshop can generate PNGs from Save for Web? They look sooo much better than jpegs or gifs!! I could not get a good jpeg version of the last painting, try as I might, though this one os a jpeg and looks fine. Guess it works for some paintings not for others.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Yelena Isinbayeva, Russian pole vaulter.

I'm starting to really do this right now - using big soft brushes, describing form without detail, and my latest - adding in subtle tints to the skin in different areas - a little green here, some orange there, a little yellow…

It seems if you do this and get the values and the edges right then it already starts to look solid and human before even putting in details like faces and stuff.

Next stage.

It feels like what's happening is I'm getting control over all 3 aspects of color now - value, hue and chroma. It's weird though - I don't think about it consciously like that at all - it's more intuitive now. This is looking crazy - all airbrushy and sort of photo-real-like. In fact it has a bit of Monty Python flavor to it right now lol. I don't want my paintings to look like this!! But I do think this is an important stage in the learnin'. After this I need to start working toward a bit of stylization and making it look more painterly.

Tentatively finito.

Mas finito.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lighting up Keri

After seeing the power of saturated colors in the last piece, I decided to mess with this one a little. Punched up levels and had to adjust saturation a few ties before it looked ok, but the adjustments made the lighting and shadows look too harsh:

I had to do some repainting and make the transitions a lot more subtle.

Incidentally, the first one above is the closest to the actual reference (screen grab from The Americans). It's a very dark show with lighting that frequently leaves the characters faces in shadow and draws attention instead to the space behind them or maybe a ray of light slants across part of the body - very much like the ultimate 70's movie, all nihilistic and anti-heroic. But the painting just didn't work that way - I had to punch it up to make it work. Guess this is all part of learning how to be an artist.

I hate when I do this!! Post an image, work on it some more, post the new version, work on it some more… ad infinitum. But I guess this is how you learn. It seems to be only after I post it to my Flickr gallery and see it nestled among all my other paintings that I can actually gauge it. Anyway, now it looks strong and smooth - strooth? Ok no - that'll never catch on. And forget smong.

Color, strength

On this  last one I cheated - the rules are don't trace your reference and don't color pick from it. I color picked, and look how much stronger it is than all the ones around it. Seeing it surrounded by all those pale pastel pictures set off the alarms - suddenly for the first time I realized how weak my colors and color values have been. And all because I broke the stupid rule! I remember wondering why you're not supposed to color pick way back in the beginning - a part of me rebelled against it immediately - I mean I understand it's good to force yourself to develop your color sense, but I thought it would be good practice to also sometimes pick right from an image, so you've got something to test your choices against. You need to test them against reality so you can see how well you're doing, otherwise you'll just keep right on making the same mistakes indefinitely.

If there's one thing I'm learning as I get older, it's to trust my instincts, especially when conventional wisdom rules against them.

Oh, and I also went against conventional wisdom by not using any cool colors to balance out all the warms. Unless you consider the grays cool, which some people do. Hell, maybe that's what makes it work, I don't know, but whatever the case, it does seem to work. Or maybe in the past I was just too heavy-handed and literal about it? That's entirely possible, especially considering I'm pretty new to working with color, at least in a medium that I can do anything with.

I now understand my older paintings not only fell short in the light values department, but also the darks! I guess it was a very restricted value range, and I also seemed to sabotage my color saturation - it seems like I only let middle values be saturated and squelched it out toward darks and light, greying them down for that pastel look. Here at last I put in some color strength, even in darks and lights.

Ah, the things you can learn by simply breaking the rules!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Studying Fafhrd

I decided to do some studies of Anthony Keidis for Fafhrd. It's almost eerie how he resembles a cooler, less ridiculously muscled-out and more playful Arnold. Since Fafhrd is basically a less hardass/grim Conan, that works out insanely well. I didn't realize until I saw his face in this pic how much resemblance there is.

All soft round brushes (except for a few touches of chalk). I'm experimenting with cutting into the shapes with an eraser before merging them down. And I'm trying not to scribble.

Didn't take much to finish it, it's hardly different from the last version really. I still might work on it a bit more - some parts bug me a little. You know, it's really weird painting a torso when you can't understand it - I can't tell where the ribcage is, or what's abdominals and what's serratus… and what the hell is that lump in the center of the abdomen?? Weird-ass anatomy..

I darkened the shadow across the abdomen and cooled it a bit - it really wasn't clear in some places what's shadow and what's light. It reads much better now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


*squeeak - squeeal* big chunks of rust start to flake off my figure drawing skills

Ok, not flaking off yet, still rusty as hell actually. It's been months since I did any figure drawing, but I've decided the most important things I can be doing right now are figure drawing, anatomy study, and environment/material studies.

Rather than all the totally unfocused studies I was doing - sort of random - I need to be actually starting from what I was able to accomplish in my 2 illustrations and forge ahead from there. I feel right off the bat I learned some vitally important things from the basic form studies - in particular how totally changeable the core shadow and bounce light are depending on the situation - I now know there's no right or wrong way to do them. But I need to focus my attention now on developing my understanding of the body and of creating powerful compositions in the genre of heroic fantasy.

One unexpected thing has happened that I'm glad of - when I first rejoined Conceptart the only type of art I could imagine doing was too close to Frazetta, Jones and Williams - now my ideas have expanded to a much wider horizon and come a ways into the more modern era - though I'll always hold the Trinity as my central inspirations.

I also think I need to work on the methods I've discovered for image creation - thumbnailing, comp sketches, studies, character and accessory development through the paper-doll method etc. I don't want to ever approach another illustration cold with no preparation.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Big brushes? No rushes...

Well CA is still down (2 days now), but I decided to take a look at Rene Aigner's youtube page (one of the top artists on CA) - pretty sure he uses the big brush method. Yep - turns out he does. I also see his work is every bit as messy as mine, it's just that his brush strokes are laid down in the right directions and with no extra scribbling around, so they look good rather than messy.

This was one of the suggested videos when that one closed (actually Blogger seems unable to find it now - this is by the same artist - the video I wanted to post is called Digital Speedpaint | Feathers). I found it intriguing because he seems to paint more like I do - a bit messier - and yet it still ends up looking good - I'm guessing because he knows what he's doing and is able to lay down the right color/value at the right size with pretty much every stroke.

So I guess it comes with experience - eventually I'm sure you get better at putting marks down that are close enough that you don't need to do a lot of scribbling and overpainting to fix everything. Maybe put a stroke down on its own layer so you can tailor the edges, play with color and value, and whatever else might be needed before blending it down.

I remember being told on the board that I scribble too much and should use a bigger brush, and my protests fell along the lines of:

  • But how do you know how big of a brush to use? as big as the character's head? Eye socket? 
  • But I want to end up with energy, and I don't want to add brushstrokes on top of a finished painting - I want it built up from layers of strokes

That's all I can think of now. My own retroactive answers - I suppose experience will tell you how big of a brush to use - it varies depending on what you're doing at the moment. And using a big brush/economy of strokes doesn't necessarily result in a static, plastic-looking painting. That probably depends more on how meticulously you blend and fix things as you go. 

So now? I go forward and gain that experience, working on trying to put down a single plane with each brushstroke (something somebody mentioned on the board that was very helpful - and it wasn't one of the pros or anything, just a struggling newbie like myself but a bit more advanced. Funny how they tend to give better info while the pros like to drop extremely minimalist statements without enough explanation). 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ok - it's not THAT bad

I considered deleting yesterday's self-loathing and vitriol-spewing post, but I'll leave it as a record of how I was feeling at the time. I rarely sink to such levels of emotional self contempt. And now, in the clear light of a fresh day, I know that I really HAVE improved in some ways, and that indeed some of the more recent work is smoother, though I have yet to do an image that's smooth all over. I only really did the face and chest smoothly in the Julia Stiles piece, the neck and hair were left rough but that was by choice - I could have smoothed them if I decided to. It was also by choice I left the Keri Russell one so rough - it was a quick sketch, not meant to be a polished portrait.

I think what I really need to do is work on my process - I keep hearing about some method where you use big brushes in the beginning that's supposed to help with that, though in all the demos and tutorials I've watched I have yet to see anybody who uses big brushes anywhere except the background maybe.

Smooth move dude

I'm suddenly disgusted with all my work. Everything. I looked back over it hoping to see improvement, and really there isn't any. In fact the best things I've done to date are the 2 illustrations I did right in the beginning, before rejoining Conceptart and doing all the endless studies. But the thing that disgusts me the most is a recurring problem - or rather an ongoing one, since in order to recur something needs to stop first.

Everything looks scribbly and scratchy and blotchy. I thought I was starting to get things to look smooth with the last few, but not really. Even now that I'm using almost exclusively big soft round brushes with the occasional chalk brush for texture - maybe it's improved slightly, but still I can see ugly sloppy blotchy crap all over. FUCK!!!

I need to learn how to make things smooth or just give up this farce.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Americans

Weird situation - I had made some improvements but screwed it up in some ways. Luckily I still had the old version on a layer underneath, and what I ended up doing was blending them 50/50 and doing a little overpainting, mostly the join the upper and lower halves of the face, which had become somewhat separated. I think the result is slightly better than either.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Julia revisited

Now 40% brighter and with more color!!

Color saturation trick to boost apparent brightness

Ok, I've always heard the common wisdom, from art teachers even, that high contrast will draw the eye to a focal point, and that "the lightest light against the darkest dark" provides the greatest possible contrast. But that's bunk. Look at this chart:

Notice how much brighter the white n the center looks? And yet it's around the outside edge where you have black directly against white, so shouldn't that be the highest contrast? Nope - the illusion of glare is far more powerful than mere contrast. And it's not just the fact that the green grows gradually lighter value-wise toward the center - it's also because of the increasing color saturation (chroma). Black against white is dull - but fade that black toward ever lighter brilliant green and you get an illusion so powerful that the eyes literally contract for a while believing they're looking into a bright light. It's actually a little hard to look directly at the center, isn't it? And yet the white there is no brighter than around the outside edge.

This was posted on a thread about glowing color associated with this painting:

Julia more finished

Even after my recent revelation concerning values and saturation, and even after several times boosting the brightness and carefully modulating saturation on this, it was still pretty dingy looking. Its tough to tell when you've got it right - so easy to fool yourself one way or the other. It still doesn't look completely finished to me - could probably use some skin texture and a few freckles on the face - maybe I'll try for that later. And maybe the eyes are still a bit small, but I like the way to looks and I feel like if I mess with it more I'm just gonna screw it up. It seems like there's only so far you can advance on one piece and then it's time to call it finished and move on. One thing I found is that if I boost the highlights too much with the Levels adjustment I lose all the fine shading in the halftones. I did that and then noticed it when comparing with the earlier version, which looks murkier but much more nicely modulated in the lights. So I backtracked and re-did the Levels, this time not boosting highlights at all, just mid tones and punching up the darks slightly.

I also used a little trick in the background. Where there's a patch of light on the wall I added some lighter and higher saturation versions of the colors - the red and green. I went into the color picker and slid the cursor up and to the right, toward the brighter and more fully saturated version of each color. It could also work to adjust it toward the next higher color along the spectrum too - a spectral shift. Worth a try anyway. I need to try to find the diagram I saw recently that made me want to try this and post it here to stick it into my memory.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Julia Finished

The big advances

Twice now I've made discoveries concerning color saturation, and in the second case also value, and each time it's signaled a big advancement of my abilities.

The first time was early on Spearpoint Diplomacy - so something like a year ago when I was still doing fluorescent paintings (the Tang Man period). I recall I had looked through a bunch of Frazetta paintings and was surprised at how toned-down they really are, when I thought of them as being extremely colorful and vivid. I realized at least in his earlier work he used a lot of earthtones and apparently chose one color to apply at high saturation, that then became the vivid color for that painting.

And now, after looking at my entire gallery page on Flickr I noticed that all my paintings suffered from low value ranges and some from dim color saturation (and some from too much saturation).

I'm not sure what to call these kind of revelations - global? They're on a very basic level, about some of the most basic elements of painting (of image-making itself, whatever the type). Something that affects the entire image overall, and in fact all of my work across the board.

I'm not sure what it means, if anything. I find myself now trying to make other such discoveries, looking at all my work, and at large groupings of the work of artists I admire, and hoping another lightning strike will signal yet another such quantum jump. But I don't think it works that way. I think it happens more gradually and you can't force it - it happens when it happens, and who knows, the next one might be about some totally different aspect of art. Or maybe from here it's more a matter of gradual accumulation of small tidbits of learning.

But anyway, it's really gratifying to see that all the word work does pay off, and at times with sudden leaps forward.

The first one was a big rough adjustment, from fluorescent Tang land to something roughly resembling more realistic painting. The second was more of a fine tuning adjustment. It's happening because I've been working with color enough, and long enough now, that my brain has subconsciously worked out some important aspects of color that I was still struggling with, though I wasn't aware of the problems. Man, I really can't believe now that I ever looked at those early paintings and didn't notice how dark they all were!! I knew there was something off, but I thought it was something more esoteric, some aspect of color I wasn't aware of yet or something.

** Edit

I just remembered - I had a similar experience way back sometime - I don't remember if it was the late 90s or early 2000s (probably) when I did the 1st oil painting of Fafhrd - the one of him standing in front of the blue mountains. The night before I had gathered together a stack of art books - Frazetta, Jones, and I don't recall who else, and looked at them until I became extremely sleepy all of a sudden, and I closed my eyes and literally had visions of all those paintings floating through my head. It was like one of those multiple exposure effects from an old movie with a bunch of eyeballs spinning across the scene gigantically. I'm not sure how to describe the revelations I had that night, but when I woke, I had a decent idea of how to approach painting in a similar style - it was something about leaving linework to describe the figure and then having large areas of light color like the whitish blue of the snowfields, contained within the linework sort of coloring book style. Big flat shapes, rather than a bunch of ill-defined scrubby scribbly stuff.

I think it's time to schedule another marathon art book sleep-in (and I suspect it's important that it take place in the state between waking and sleeping if possible)..


Saturday, May 10, 2014


What I'm doing here, and it seems to be working nicely - is the exact opposite of what I said a few posts back - something to the effect of hard-edged opaque shapes creating definite form, while soft fuzzy stuff is impossible to work with.

I used almost exclusively soft brushes and chalk brushes here, except for the initial lay-in.  Creating firm or hard edges is a matter of using a smaller brush at high opacity. Though I'm sure it would look good to use hard-edged, opaque brushes in places - it's the way I see a lot of concept art being done.

I also like working from a rough drawing - not meticulously measured off, just loose, and modifying it as necessary in the early stages. These techniques combine to make it look more like my own interpretation rather than a precise copy of a photo.

This reminds me of Jeff Jones and Brad Holland - a good combination.

Friday, May 9, 2014

About Silva and Beckett - the push-pull of hard versus soft edges, and the illusion of surface

One thing I notice about both of them is a mix of hard and soft edges, not entirely intentional. I think I had left some soft fuzzy edges on Silva when I stopped working on it a few months ago that I intended to come in and firm up, and also some hard edges that still need softening. When I picked it up recently I just wanted to get it done, and I left them. In fact it's pretty rife with weird edges. Beckett has a couple too, though far more subtle.

Looking at them both today I really noticed that what Jason said about lines is true of edges too - hard sharp ones come forward in space while soft fuzzy or fainter ones fade into the background. There's a whole soft mushy area on Silva's side (left side of the picture, his right side) that just looks somehow like distant mist that's out of focus, and the too-sharp edge under the pectoral just above it pops forward jarringly. The edges that are the proper firmness seem to sit on the actual surface of the form, like skin, while the too-soft edges seem to be somewhere behind the picture plane. There;s also a weird area just over his left nipple (right picture edge) - a few drops of blood seem to float several inches in front of the soft darker area of skin behind them. I'm not sure if this illusion applies to all soft edges, or just ones made with very transparent brush marks layered over each other.

With Beckett it's mostly just a couple bits of hair I added right at the end in a hurry and didn't soften them appropriately. They stand out too much.

Something similar also happens with texture, something I noticed a while back (really it was when I did White Cap with the freckles). The texture created by the chalk brush, when it looks right (not too soft, not too hard but juuust right) seems to create the illusion of surface - of actual skin. That picture is the first one where I feel like I created such an illusion - it's surface patterning, like a zebra's stripes or a leopard's spots. Very illusionistic. It can really make something look much more real and solid. It's there faintly on Beckett's face where you can see a very fine skin texture (chalk brush again). Not nearly as visible as the freckles on White Cap, but it still creates the same effect.

Another thing Im doing lately that helps with the illusion of reality is the subtle color blended in everywhere. Oh, and looking back at the over-saturated Silva and the more toned-down one, in a way I actually like the over-saturated version better. De-saturating it did something to the colors that sort of makes the illusion fall apart. Weird - I have much to learn about this beautiful beast color.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Beckett - finished now

Weird - I just tried to post a smaller jpeg and it looked washed out with no detail - which is the way the previous one looks too. The exact same jpegs look fantastic on Conceptart. This one is a much larger PNG file and now it's properly detailed and toned.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Adjusted Gallery

I went through and made some simple adjustments to levels and color saturation to most of my paintings - you can see the new versions above and the old ones below. It's amazing how much of a difference it can make! So tempting to crank up saturation and blacks, but so damaging. The interesting thing (or maybe not) - if not for digital painting capabilities I wouldn't have been able to fix these so easily without repainting them, but I also wouldn't have been able to screw them up so easily in the first place. Though I suppose these kind of adjustments could always be made to illustrations during photography.

Looking back over my work - it's a value thing

I said recently that the biggest problem in my work overall is probably color saturation. Looking at my gallery page on Flickr, I'd say it's actually values. Most of these paintings use a limited value range tending from middle to dark, with very little light value, usually only for the highlights.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Auto Awesome image - Silva process

Google turned this into an Auto Awesome image - it's kinda fun:

Silva process

I never posted these before. Click on one to see them bigger in Lightbox and step through.

This pretty well answers the question from last post, about how I did it. Interesting - I had already worked out a pretty sophisticated process of switching between hard and soft brushes, high opacity and low. I'm so glad I kept all these pics in a folder - I tend to work out an ongoing narrative of my life that becomes oversimplified and leaves a lot out - for instance as I remembered it, I had finished all of these MMA paintings before rejoining Conceptart and beginning all the studies, exercises and copies. Though when I thought about it I did recall that the last few MMA pieces are actually posted on the early pages of my sketchbook there - so derp!! In reality my history is a lot more complex than I tend to remember, as evidenced when I look through old posts here or in the sketchbook, or various other of my online journals. I was actually interspersing these with my exercises, possibly even the earliest level up work (and I think of that as being one solid block of work during which I did nothing else).

Looks like I once again succumbed to the temptation to over boost color saturation right at the end. It's so hard to maintain objectivity - when you boost saturation or levels it looks so much better immediately, it can take a while till you realize it's too much. And once again I realize - when you think a piece is done wait a day or two before posting it. I almost always do lots of reworking for the next few hours after initial postage. And I suppose the rule for illustration work is to finish it a few days before it's due to allow for those last minute revisions.


Dug this one out and decided to finish it. It was a real shock to the system after all that soft fuzzy stuff last time around. I started this one right after Charmaine using pretty much the same techniques - building everything up with very hard shapes and then softening strategically toward the end. Man, I wish I had recorded exactly how I did it - I actually don't remember it very well, though it seems pretty straightforward. I definitely think this approach is far superior to building the image up using huge soft brushes at low opacity and then trying to harden up certain edges later. That way is like sculpting with cotton candy and then trying to solidify parts of it - it's easy to get lost and end up with a formless lump of fluff. This way you keep things solid and clear.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Beckett (finished?)

Overall it looks misty and airbrushy - too soft and mushy. There's not enough solidity to it - I greatly prefer the hard edges in Charmane. There's a definiteness about paintings like that, and they're a hell of a lot easier to do. At least if you can clearly see where to put the edges. I like that I was able to reach a new level of subtlety, but I need to combine that with the older method. To be fair though, I think the main culprit was the soft diffused lighting and my response to that.

I did well in terms of color complexity - this has subtle colors blended in everywhere (the skin at least), doing away with that problem I mentioned a couple of posts back, where I was just using one hue for skin in light and one for skin in shadow.

Actually looking at it, I might be able to finish it up and fix the problems if I approach it right. I'm starting to see what needs done.


Playing around with some different approaches - this has gone through some really scary phases getting here! I looked back at Charmaine, which is the best of my original cycle of paintings, a leap forward just before I stopped with the MMA series (well, there was that male fighter, but somehow I couldn't work up the same level of fascination with the males as the females).

This time I started with a pretty rough Reilly style breakdown, but I only used it to lay in the basic shapes and then discarded it. Once I had 3 or 4 values I just kept picking them and working back and forth, occasionally laying one down very transparently over another to create a mid-tone. Did a lot of the work with ridiculously big soft brushes, then cleaned up with much smaller but still soft ones for the most part.

I notice I'm now able to work much more subtlely with values and colors. This makes my MMA series look crude in comparison. The best thing I'm doing is taking the time to really work up the forms through shading and lighting before putting the features or secondary forms in. I probably coulda (shoulda) gone farther with that, but I was getting impatient and I want to get one done, then I can slow down and work more leisurely on the next one.

Notice I exaggerated the value divisions from how they look in the photo (though now I see I can still go darker in some of the shadows). I'm a-learning'..

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Took a little break - and 2 goals to pursue

Journal mode -

2 reasons behind my break over the last week:

1) My car failed its last emissions inspection, so I had to schedule an appointment at the dealer to get it fixed. My aunt was kind enough to drive me out there to drop it off and pick it up, but it was early in the morning each time, and I'm nocturnal by nature, so that resulted in a couple days of extreme sleep deprivation. I found I was utterly unable to concentrate enough to draw or paint anything for a few days. I'm still feeling the effects of it, but expect to be able to get back to it today.

2) Just before that I happened to look at my paintings on Flickr and realized I was having a blast back when I did those, and haven't enjoyed all the studies and exercises and copies anywhere near as much, and that I need to get back to doing paintings on my own terms, at least for a while. I was making some good advances then too. Beginning with Spearpoint Diplomacy, what I consider my first successful painting, through Charmaine, I can see some good strides being made, especially in value contrast to separate shadows from light/halftones, and even a bit in getting control over color saturation, which I now understand was too strong all over in my earlier ones*. Color should be strong in certain places and weaker in others - generally it's strongest along the edges of shadow shapes, and weaker in bright light (especially if that's glaring light) and shadows. Though depending on the strength and angle of the light it can also be strong in halftones. I was just doing it strong all over, which fails to create any contrast. But I see I was handling it better on Charmaine, my last painting before beginning the studies associated with Conceptart and especially Level Up.

2 goals I want to pursue in upcoming work -

1) Painted drawings

That group of paintings on Flickr are fully painted, like Frazetta's later work or some of Williams' fine art stuff. But all 3 of my favorite illustrator/painters also did what amounts to line drawings that they then painted in. Jones also did both kinds.

2) Work from reference of non-muscular bodies

Fionkell made me realize in a recent sketchbook post that when I work from muscular reference (photo or cast) the hard shapes of the muscles take my attention away from the larger and much more important shapes of the human body itself. Essentially I was studying anatomy without figure drawing. I do assign equal importance to the skeleton and muscles, in fact even more to the skeleton, but that's not actually the same as the human body, which consists of many more things than bones and muscles and has a fluidity and grace that must be studied aside from muscularity. Only after learning figure drawing/painting should you really start to work on muscular figures.

Of course this is weird, because in order to learn the human body in the first place it's necessary to exaggerate the bones and muscles so you can memorize their shapes and positions. I guess it needs to go in phases. Now I need to be doing a soft-body phase, paying attention to forms like the chest rather than the ribcage and pectorals.

* Actually I don't think it was just a color saturation issue. That's doubtless a part of it, but it's also about hue. I notice in all of those paintings, except Charmaine, I used essentially just one hue for skin in light, and one for skin in shadow. Local color, only modified for shadow. I think I need to pay more attention to Jones' colorful greys, and to using many colors in both light and shadow. It's a good beginning strategy, the way I approached it, but I do need to work toward more complexity color-wise.

Gilles Vranckx

Click on images to see them larger in lightbox

I can see influence from Kent Williams and Milo Manara. Added a link to his blog in my ever-growing sidebar.