Monday, June 30, 2014

Warrior Woman Close Up

It's only when you get up close and personal like this it starts to look like a painting. I actually like the way I handled the brush work on this quite a bit.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ain't so bad - and moving toward subtlety

I was too harsh on my latest. It doesn't need to be just  like the more dynamic images - which are so dynamic largely because they're based on very dynamic photos. It's a full-body standing portrait, which has different demands from a snapshot where parts of the body are cropped out - those can be far more dynamic and more interesting compositions. It invites a much more close-upinspection, and it rewards it more than the others do. Though I think it would benefit powerfully from flattening all the layers and working on the image overall with some unifying lighting/shadow.

In fact I notice now that all my paintings are clumsy and crude. In terms of lighting and color mostly (or at least that's what I'm noticing now).

I spoent about an hour looking at PreRapahelite paintings, and amazed at how subtly the light and color flows across the image - the figures and the environments. Fugitive light - touching here and these with exquisite subtlety and vanishing before it's even noticed, but leaving a slight imprint.

Must do that dammit!

One Weak Warrior

^ Final version, slightly altered from the last image in the previous post.

The instant I got this uploaded on Flickr I saw it's weak weak weak!!! In terms of value contrast and color and pose and overall composition - everything really. Except I guess detail.

Here's one reason it ended up so weak - because I was designing the clothes at the same time I did the illustration. I did it paper-doll style, essentially I painted the figure and then started making bits of clothing on it piece by piece. This is something you should do BEFORE you start an illustration!! You should know the clothes and weaponry (if applicable) going in, so you can concentrate on the pose and composition, not end up with something that looks like a - well, a paper doll, just standing there showing off her clothes!!

But a few things I did pretty well I think - the way I applied paint near the end, which was starting to take on a certain semi loose quality like what I want, but looks much better than any of the loose techniques I tried on the photo ref pieces (MMA paintings etc). I was starting to bring in some stronger colors toward the end, but I should have been able to do that a lot earlier - in fact right from the beginning.

I really like the technique I use of progressive refinement. It allows me to start with a rough idea and then keep refining. One of the really cool things about digital. Love that liquify filter and transform tools!! And I'm really happy with how the figure eventually turned out - I only used reference for the head and looked at a few pics of supermodels for the shoulders and collarbones, plus a few female ab pics, but on those I really just winged it after looking at some pics.

I should have also started with a very strong idea for lighting - I really didn't even decide on lighting at all, just let it kind of happen, and ended up with a very diffuse light coming from vaguely upper image left somewhere. The 2 images to the left of it are so much stronger, because of the strong dark/light pattern, which also allowed me to use that one-color-for-dark one-color-for-light plan that I like so much. This one was almost monochromatic for much of its lifespan, but just toward the end I brought in some pretty strong yellows oranges and blues for lighting on the skin which spiced things up nicely if very subtlely.

Ah well - this is one of my first real attempts to do a painting from imagination (the Fafhrd/Mouser illos began life as oil paintings many years ago, though I did do the Mouser from imagination in both of them). I feel like I'm a lot more confident with starting from imagination now having done this one. I plan to just do a bunch of imagination figure sketches now in color - nothing detailed or time consuming, just playing around.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Color complexity, the virtual palette, and painting vs airbrushing/drawing

Still riffing on the 2 pics from the last post.

Thumbnails serve a valuable purpose by letting you really compare and contrast images rather than get lost in the details. Like this you can really see certain differences - notably the fact that Frazetta's image probably uses terries rather than secondary colors (Hah!! I had tried to type tertieries, but it autocorrected to terries! I like it!) The yellow of the bright fleshtones is very greenish, while Bruce looks almost fluorescent pink overall. First of all I'm falling into the trap of thinking flesh needs to be pink or brown. Ok, so I visually mixed an orange and a purple to get that, but they're very simple and bright secondaries. Very warm, even hot colors. This also tends to emphasis a certain femininity (at least the choice of colors does).

I remember some time ago I was mixing all my colors on a virtual palette - when was I doing that? I don't remember which paintings it was. Need to skim through and find it (times like this I'm extremely glad I've been keeping this journal!)

I understood then that the colors coming from the picker are too simple and too primary/secondary, and that to get a complex palette (to borrow from wine tasting terminology) with subtle notes you need to mix them together across color families. Warms and cools blended, but with one dominating so you don't get mud.


Ok, looking quickly at my adjusted gallery again, it seems like I used the virtual palette concept or something very similar on most of the early paintings, the MMA fighters. Also I was using a PAINTING technique then - this latest one looks more like a cross between meticulous drawing and airbrushing. And that smooth airbrushed appearance also contributes to a feminine roundness. You know, I think it's time to start doing oil painting. There are certain inherent problems with digital painting, especially the way it lets you make endless changes and choose fluorescent colors and use that addictive soft round brush..

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Frazetta's artistic shorthand, moving through realism and blocky vs rounded form

A comparison between my latest and the painting it was derived from. Mine is very labored, with much effort toward realism and surface smoothness/modeling. I also pushed the color saturation into very near the cartoon level (computer art allows this much more than oil painting does). Both are mostly secondary colors, though his involves strong primary reds.

One thing in particular I notice, that made his much easier and mine exceedingly difficult - mine is almost all transitions, while his is almost all strong darks and lights. In fact his is blocked in roughly from a deep understanding of the human form and anatomy (very Bridgemanic) and lit in such a way that it consists mostly of the light color and the deep shadow color struck in boldly, with very little transition in between.

A big part of Frazetta's strategy involves hard raking light with very little fill light - this largely eliminates the transitions and throws everything into solid darks and lights that define form very simply.

Of course I realize it's his experience and understanding that allowed him to do this - it'll be a while before I'm capable of such simple direct statements. It's through these labored paintings that I'm developing my visual library and my understanding not only of human form but also of how painting works. So, while my eventual goal is not complete realism but a dynamic stylized and simplified approach similar to Frazetta's blended with Williams, the way to get there is to continue to do these realistic and labored paintings.

I also need to do a lot more figure drawing - both referenced and invented, as it's a much faster way to develop the figure/anatomy library. In fact I need to move beyond that and start doing thumbnails for entire compositions.

I love the fact that this breakthrough painting for me is a combination of Williams' early primary subject (Bruce Lee) and Frazetta's simplified coloring system.


Looking at my Flickr page and another revelation. That Frazetta alpha male stands alone amid a gaggle of gently rounded feminine forms. Even my males, no matter how muscular, are built from graceful smooth curves. Much more Hogarth than Bridgeman. That blocky figure is like a brick in a basket of eggs. So powerful. Now I know. It's weird how you can go so long and never notice things like this about your own work.


I just realized that what I'm doing with this post is the exact same thing I did long ago on the old stopmotion board with a thread called "Things that work well and things that don't". That thread was also about ways to work simply and directly that result in a stronger finished product. A lot of animators go to a lot of extra work to weaken their animation - for example things like making puppets realistic rather than stylized and from foam latex or silicone rather than hard marionette style materials, doing lip sync or even having talking puppets (which makes it into a cartoon or an imitation of living actors), showing puppets always walking from here to there when in live action films this is often elided with a simple cut. As I recall, the only person on the board who really got it was Trickfx*, and from that point the thread turned into my introduction to Eastern European Puppetfilm, which embodies these ideas of simplified stylization and suggestion rather than explicit copying of reality. All the extra work it takes to make puppets and sets and stories "realistic", and all it really does is take the imagination out of the equation and force the telling of "realistic" stories rather than symbolic ones, which when done right are actually far more powerful.

* Nick also got it, even though in his own work he tends toward the labored and realistic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Enter Bruce Lee

Working on anatomy of the back and using the same duotone approach from the Frazetta study.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Bloodstone study

I really love this Frazetta painting - it's an object lesson in how to paint. I was struck by how similar it is to the last Bridgman sketch I did - Bridgeman studied Michelangelo and Frank studied Bridgeman. And it shows. 

He used the simplest most direct method imaginable for this - he laid in his outlines and shadows with a dark purple-black and mixed up his complementary pale yellowish flesh tone. This would be his light color. At the top, on the light-facing planes, he applied it full strength, and for the transitions he mixed it with the shadow color. Spectacularly simple! It's duotone painting at its finest. He did scrub in a little red here and there for bounce light to make the forms pop. The paint is applied to define planes as simply as possible. 

The green orb behind the figure is done similarly, but of course is a much simpler form. He worked a few extra shades of blue-green and grey in to give it some colorful modeling. 

I want to try to do this in oil paint. I think it's time. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Figure drawing not going quite as planned..

The culprit seems to be the paper - thick and very soft. I was expecting to be able to get fine gradations of shading, but I pretty much have 2 gears - dark and medium, with almost no transition in between. This is in the big Stonehenge cream pad with the plain cardboard covers. When I used to draw like this and get decent results many years ago it was on typing paper - a single sheet on a clipboard, rathe than this thick soft stuff that feels like paper towels, piled thick in a pad t create extra padding underneath. Gotta find the right paper now.

Rediscovering the classic pencil, and a cobbled-together table easel.

Ever since starting this blog I've been trying out all kinds of drawing implements, ways of holding them, and techniques - drawfromtheshoulder, sharpen your pencil with an X-Acto knife and sanding sponge so the lead protrudes 3 inches and has a ridiculously long point, all sorts and types of mechanical pencils, brush pens, and ad infinitum. Pretty much everything except that good old standby classic, the humble wood-encased pencil pointed in a standard sharpener. It's really my one true love - we go way back, and I always knew we'd end up together no matter what else I tried along the way (all this artsy-fartsy stuff.. )

Well I finally got tired of mechanical pencils and decided to bust out the true classic - in this case a 4B (had to search for a while to turn up anything with actual honest-to-goodness graphite in it!) There's just nothing that I've found yet that has the same qualities - using just one pencil I can start with extremely light construction lines and keep ghosting them out and restating gently until it looks just right, and then I can bear down more and more as I develop the lines and the shading to perfection. This allows me to give each stage of the process exactly the time and attention it needs - to let the drawing develop in stages with great control (never managed to achieve anything like that with all the fancy-schmancy carbon pencils and charcoal pencils and mechanical pencils).

And I built this contraption partway through this piece, which is contributing most excellently to the unparalleled precision I'm getting. I got really frustrated with balancing either a sketchbook or a drawing board on my lap leaning against the table. The thing that really tickles me is that I built this in about 10 minutes without ever getting out of my chair!! Literally everything I needed was within arm's reach and after picking up a 2 x 2 and holding it in various positions against the table leg to spark ideas it came together quickly. Just a few pieces of scrap wood, a few clamps, and I covered it with black paper (also within arm's reach - made me literally laugh out loud - so were the scissors I trimmed it with). The whole thing can be put up or taken down in 30 seconds or less, and can be adjusted for angle and side-to-side (I wanted it to aim directly at the monitor, which sits at an cockeyed).

Now I'm really drawing with the right tools, and it feels like a major triumph. This drawing is going to be a big turning point. But I also feel like I've now had my getting-acquainted period with a few other tools and materials that I'll keep coming back to and getting better with - chiefly charcoal pencils on smooth newsprint for gestures and quick figure drawings. And the mech pencils and brush pen etc will be great for comic book type drawing.

Friday, June 6, 2014

So nice I used it twice!

Once again things become clear to me only after posting images to my Flickr gallery where I can see thumbnails all arrayed alongside each other at the same time - incredible how useful that is!

I guess I liked my composition in Spearpoint enough to use it twice! I marked some of the most obvious offenders with red arrows and numbered them to make it look all official and scholarly. #1 took me a while to notice, but it represents a sort of pathway through the painting curving from foreground into the background - in one case it's the stream, in the other the wall. This is a compositional idea I came up with because I was disappointed with the flatness of the original Spearpoint (before it was called that - back when the terrain looked more like a golf course or a park). I decided I wanted to somehow bring the viewer right into the landscape and give a feeling of it wrapping around, the way the terrain out in the woods does so often along streams. I guess it stuck in my mind and unconsciously affected the composition of my next illustration.

The other arrows respectively denote a tilted edge separating midground from background - dirt bluff in one case and treeline in the other. And #3 is a large dark form on the left around which the terrain wraps, placed there to help separate foreground and background and act as a sort of anchor around which the image turns.

I remember thinking, shortly before wrapping up Spearpoint that it would be more effective if I would flip Fafhrd and the creature (originally a red fish) - which would accomplish several things - the friends would be looking toward each other rather than one looking at the other's back, and the thing they're both focusing on would be between them and near the center of the image. Well what do you know - in the next illo they're reversed (and the brightly colored creature has become a flying reptile now, but still a highly saturated bright red/orange color).

There's also a misty grey humplike shape - mountain in one, tree-covered hill in the other, looming in the background. I really need to make sure my compositions aren't too similar in the future.

Torso flow

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Greywand sketch

Greywand is the name Fafhrd gives to any broadsword he picks up. I know this is horribly ugly in many ways - but I gotta play around and let this develop into something - this drawing approach I mean. This one became utterly unworkable because somehow I ended up with about 27 different layers, all different blending modes and opacities, and it became too complicated. I couldn't do anything to one layer anymore without screwing up several others in totally unpredictable ways.

Must. Keep. It. Simpler.

Why it went wrong - so I can remember later:
I had a background layer of flat color and was drawing on a separate layer, but unfortunately in places I drew with background color rather than using the eraser. Then later I changed the background layer color to green (from a pale yellow). So that meant that, unless I was going to go through and laboriously erase all the yellow from the drawing, I couldn't put my colors on a layer under the drawing - it had to be above it as a darken color layer. But the hair wasn't darker than the background, so I had to make a color layer for it and carefully avoid going over the lines… it just got more complicated from there. I need to adhere to strict discipline - only black lines on the drawing layer!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dave Sim: The Lost Interview

At various times throughout my life I seem to become fascinated with this guy - I'm not entirely sure why. Must be because he's not just a comic book artist but a true creator (and then co-creator) who's mind delves into philosophy. It's fascinating to read just about anything he writes, whatever the subject.

Dave Sim: The Lost Interview

I especially like the part about who's in charge of each part of the comic creation process, Sim the writer, Sim the artist, or Sim the letterer, and on how he and Gerhard collaborate(d).

I could swear I used to have at least one of the big phone book collections - either High Society or maybe Church and State, but it's either buried to deep to be found or I gave it away at some point.  I've just ordered the 1st 3 collections - wow, hope I like it enough to justify that!! I seem to have a nagging ghost of a memory that I ended up not really liking it that much before, which would explain why I no longer seem to have it. But we'll see.

The benefits of drawing comics as I see it

After writing the comics entry I found I had more thoughts about it, so here's a followup.

While it's true that drawing comics is insanely labor intensive, and I very much prefer my stories in written or filmed form to comics (illustrated stories are somewhat better, but still there's something I dislike about continually switching from looking at pictures to reading words) - there are definitely strong benefits to drawing comics for an artist who's learning his stuff.

In no particular order, and I may or may not organize this better before posting..

Design. If you look at a page of comics (or better yet a full spread of 2 pages) you should see a nice design flowing across the entire spread - not just each frame itself being a good design. Carefully orchestrated use of blacks, whites, and greys or marks that create textured greys. Jason Alexander is a master of this - his work really stands out from most of the other Creepy/Eerie artists of today (there are a few more good ones).

Poses and expressions and backgrounds. If your repertoire of these is too limited it'll really show in a spread of comic pages. Not so much if you're doing a bunch of individual illustrations and looking at them one at a time. If you're just doing illustrations it's too easy to only do a single figure with no background or a super simplified background (guilty as charged!) - comics force you to draw multiple figures interacting with each other in environments. And then to draw the same environment from different angles while maintaining the illusion that nothing has shifted proportions or placement. A lot tougher than just doing individual illustrations!!

Focus & Consistency. You want to keep drawing in the same style through a comic book as much as possible. You want the characters to be easily recognizable in different poses, from different viewing angles, with different expressions and in different clothes etc. This also falls partly under character design. But I'm getting at more than that - what I mean is rather than doing an endless series of studies you're drawing a freaking comic book - after a while you really know the characters and you keep getting better and better at drawing them. You keep getting better and better at integrating figures into environments, and at rendering different materials. It seems to me when you're drawing a comic book it forces to you focus much more than any other type of drawing or painting, at least in certain regards. It's the same kind of drawing, same tools and materials, day in and day out for months, featuring the same characters and places. I can't imagine a way to focus more than that!!

You're really drawing, not just practicing. One of the biggest benefits is that you're not just practicing fundamentals or doing skill building exercises, you're really drawing. Creating a finished product that requires consistency and polish. It breaks you out of endless student mode and makes you a working artist.

Prep work. One factor to keep in mind though - yes, comics do force you to focus, but a good deal of that focusing needs to be done well before you even start to draw. You can't just decide on a whim to pick up a pencil and throw down a few comic pages - you need to actually create the story and the characters first.