Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mellowing the Mouser

Worked out an excellent technique just now for adjusting skin tones and getting some blues and greens in there very subtly, with absolute control. Created a new HSL Adjustment layer & paint bucketed it full of solid black. I then made a mask by adding together 2 elections made with the lasso tool (for the skin areas). Then I set up both an eraser and a brush as Chalk brushes at low opacity. And finally I pushed Hue way over to one side so I could easily see exactly where I was erasing through the solid black mask.

Now I played around with the eraser, putting subtle marks here and there and if they were too much filling over them with the brush tool. Oh, and as soon as I made a few makes I could then adjust the Hue to exactly what I wanted. I discovered you don't want to adjust Saturation at all, leave it zeroed. Instead adjust intensity with the opacity level of the layer.

You can do this several times, using blue once, green the next time, whatevs. And finally when it's all done, since I always have a Mouser Copy layer under the top Mouser layer, which I make sure is identical before trying anything crazy like this, I can then adjust opacity on the top layer to find the sweet spot.

Ohm and Ilm exceptionally happy with the way I;m painting tonight. The previous work was over rendered - especially on the arms. Tonight I was working loosely and rapidly, rather than being all meticulous. It's going pretty fast and I really like the look. Starting to smooth things out and iron away some of the excess detail that stops the eyes.

It's really getting late, but I still want to sketch in a pouch real quick before I sack out - then all I have left is some finishing on the Mouser and some kind of background.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sometimes a particle, sometimes a paint

I've been using almost exclusively the Heavy Flow, Dry Edges oil brush and the Chalk brush. Love the way they work together! Chalk brush looks like pastels on rough paper, little dots that build up - it's neither a hard nor a soft edge really. The oil brush has a rectangular shape and a similar edge, but rather than being made of dots is has tiny little holes in it that get more profuse toward the edge. But it comes across as a solid brush with a hard edge compared to the chalk brush. So using both, paint behaves sometimes as a particle, sometimes as a pint - little quantum contrast there, and in close up it looks a heck of a lot like some of the Renaissance paintings I've seen closeups of. I love the way they play against each other.

The skin tones need some cool colors though!! And everything except the arm needs to be brought up to that level of workmanship.

Oh, and I said this in the last mega-post, loaded with 3 days' worth of process pics and observations, but I want to put it here where it isn't so buried.

I found a technique that results in the painterly look I've been after for so long. The arm was looking too smooth and almost airbrushy, too much chalk brush applied too carefully. Made a new layer, scribbled in some slashed marks using the oil brush, and pasted it down as a Soft Light layer. Instant visible brushstrokes! And since I originally did them fully opaque or nearly so, they don't have that weird too-thin look that plagues my older brushwork.



​I suddenly realized last night that I had never flipped the image to check it. It looked fine to me, but I flipped it and got smacked in the gut by cold hard reality. Completely wonky!! I struggled with it for hours and thought I was making some headway, but it seems to be unfixable without basically starting from scratch. It looks so good otherwise though, and it's so close to finished, that I;m going to go ahead and finish it and let it stand as an object lesson.

Flip your shit frequently kids, and start early!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Middle Aged Mouser; Frazetta + Flamesword

A couple days ago me and Pintersby (alias) were yakkin it up on his sketchbook thread and we talked about how we both used to draw comic book style for many years, but it was before we knew anatomy or were getting serious. I thought back to those years and decided I wanted to draw like that again. I really like the way my Texeira drawing style used to look, and even when I wasn't emulating Tex I had a way of drawing that for some reason I haven't dusted off in recent years. I think it's because I've been trying to learn new ways - all the talk of sketching styles and drawing from the shoulder etc. Well screw it - I went back! I drew the head above in a sketchbook, unfortunately in between a couple of super crap attempts, just messing around trying to do something like the old comic style. So I scanned it and drew the body in Manga Studio.

Refining it. I busted out some ref for the arms, at one point the ref had me drawing them quite differently, more realistic but nowhere near as cool. So I went back to this and just fixed it using the understanding I gained from the ref. It's grizzled middle-aged Mouser. Looking back now at the very first one, it has an amazing look to it - wish I had just used it exactly like that!! Need to get more adventurous soon - hell, it's the freakin' name of my blog!!

Very straightforward - picked a dark, mid and light and scrubbed them in loosely to create basic form. I remembered I had once seen a tutorial on some way to remove background color to get the lines all on a transparent layer. Turns out it's one of the erasers, 2 of them actually. I tried both - pretty excellent.

Doing new stuff on a separate layer, but as soon as it works I paste it down - only 3 layers going on this one - Body, Jerkin and BG (plus my usual BG copy). And in the beginning I had a Lines layer, but it's now been incorporated into the Body layer. So simple and so great of a technique.

As soon as I started putting in the near-black shadow accents it really popped. Looked through the old Fafhrd Art folder filled with clothes, weapons, and ref for different characters. Cobbled together a couple of jerkins for this. I really wanted to use the 4 belt-like straps buckled across the front that were on the black leather jerkin, in fact from the beginning for some reason I pictured several black straps with buckles, probably on an arm. Either to hold a weapon (why 3 straps though?) or to secure sleeves. Then I found the jerkin with straps and buckles as fasteners - perfect!!

But as I was doing the slit down the middle it ended up with tight wrinkles, and both sides wrinkled the same - which wouldn't happen with 4 straps, but would with a lot of closely spaced buttons. So I did buttons. On their own layer though in case I decide to change it.

_______________________   ++++   __________________________

Flamesword is an alias (my own) for one of the coolest artists on CA - I don't want to call anybody out by name because pros tend to google their names every so often. And I'm not saying anything bad about him - not at all!! Quite the opposite - but I just don't want to attract a bunch of attention.

I've heard it said that the way to grow as a student is to combine 2 or more artists, so you're not just copying one of them, but you still have guides. It's so much easier to proceed when you have a good solid idea of what you want your work to look like. I once had ambitions to combine Frazetta and Kent Williams - in fact that's been the plan all along really. But to do Williams you need to work from life --- all the time -- and I'd need to do it for many years to get really good at it. But Firesword is one who has admitted that he hasn't done much life drawing, or apparently even much drawing from life (one is people, the other inanimate objects), he uses a sort of comic book inspired style, and makes it look amazing. He's proof that in spite of what I keep hearing, it can be done with little or no life drawing.

Which brings up another point. I've noticed a lot of the more advanced artists on CA keep saying "I didn't do it this way, but you need to" - in other words do as I say not as I do. Many of them didn't actually take much life drawing or do still lifes until much later - they actually learned their stuff the way most of us are trying to, straight from the imagination or from ref. I do understand the importance of pushing life drawing etc - it can only make you better after all, but after you've been there for a while you can start to read between the lines.

Wow, I'm really wordy as hell tonight!! WTF??!! Anyway, to wrap this up - so yeah, I'm combining Frazetta and Flamesword now and it's a much better fit for me than Fraz/Williams. I suspect Flamesword is also a Texeira fan, his work seems quite similar. And I already know I can draw like Tex - so it's a foregone conclusion really. Damn, I need to stop!! Words keep spilling out…

Oh, one more thing - on this one I finally figured out how to Merge Down. Cannot believe I've been using Merge Layers all this time and I always needed to cut.paste the name of the bottom layer, because it uses the name of the top one in the stack. I realized there must be a simple way to combine 2 layer and end up with the name of the bottom one - you're doing the new experimental stuff on the top one, so it just says Layer # (whatever). Looked under Layer drop down and saw Merge Down, tried it and dayum!! Now I'm in business!!


Spent a ridiculous amount of time last night doing this because I thought I should get rid of the wrinkles and develop the rounded form of the torso more. Was planning to detail the surface, and add in a few wrinkles. But I saw a small web version of the earlier one and it looked so much better it was ridiculous!! Unfortunately I hadn't saved a copy at that stage, all I had was the tiny web PNG file. So I tried enlarging it to the right size, and bingo!! It looked surprisingly good. Pasted it on top and erased everything but the jerkin.

.. And today started painting in the straps and buckles that were the vision that inspired the whole piece. Now we're talking!

The way I'm working now is essentially exactly the way I used to draw when I was at my peak. I'd work slowly and deliberately, gradually developing the forms very lightly and then erasing and fixing it where needed, taking as long as it takes. This is the part that I haven't been doing in the last 2 years since I got back into art. I got wrapped up instead in this whole quick sketch thing and also of course I had found the Doc Dave Winniewicz blog where he detailed Frazetta's techniques and conversation. My technique is exactly what Frazetta was contemptuous of - starting with a careful drawing and coloring it in. Screw it - I aint Frazetta and I aint Kent Williams - they have their own thing and I have mine. Of course as I develop experience and skills I may be able to work without a careful drawing going forward. Hell, Frazetta did drawing only for 20 years before he started painting!

But this is also something I remember about learning to draw, the point where I started to get good. It began just like this - all careful and meticulous and detailed, with endless patience. And over 6 years I got better and became able to put much less time into the drawing and make it more powerful - better poses and expressiveness etc. Got faster and better at everything. I think the meticulous stage is essential, it's the beginning.

Oh, and now I see my work looks nothing at all like Frazetta or 'Flamesword', though I started with their ideas and methods. It looks just like my old pencil drawings, but with much better anatomy and form and a lot more work put in.

I'm using almost exclusively the chalk brush (36 px, sized as needed) and the dry oil brush. I realized what they have in common - they're both more like drawing than painting really. They lay down a swath of dots spaced apart that's like pastel going onto paper. I've always been much better at drawing techniques than painting, it's just 2 completely different things - I love the way you can lay down pass over pass of pastel or graphite and it slowly obliterates what's under it but in that dot matrix pattern. Totally different from paint. And it creates a nice random texture that looks like skin or anything soft - it gives a surface like old worn blue jeans. This does away with that airbrushy slick look I dislike so much.

Ugh… stubby arms much? Lol!!

Once again I went back to an earlier version - this time I was smart enough to spawn off a copy before I worked on it more, and I Frankensteined it all together - both hands and part of the forearm come from the earlier one. Forearms still seem shorter than upper arms, but I'm calling it foreshortening and moving on. Time to enter the final leg on this one (I hope). Tomorrow..

(Still same night)

Screw that ramrod-straight shit! Added some 'Tude and some gloves..


Yes, even using the chalk brush you can get carried away and end up looking airbrushed. But I found a nice fix, and this creates a good painterly look (almost more of a drawing-y look really). Scribbled over it a bit with a hard-edged brush (my trusty Heavy Flow, Dry Edges oil brush) and then set the layer to Soft Light and faded it until the marks were just visible. Results below.

Oh CRAP!!! I hate to even admit this, but I had never flipped the image until now. Derp!! It looked all crazy!! Ok wait, let me grab that..

So I worked on it in frantic desperation for w while - here's the result flipped to compare with the above:

.. And the right way round.

Still kinda funky. Dammit, I gotta flip this shit much much earlier!!


9-29: Determined to make an abstract background. After screwing around for hours with a semi-cool but ultimately crappy castle window design (that I wish I had kept a version of) I did a triply space background. When the images are dark like this you need to make adjustments to contrast and saturation and lightness, that's why I made several versions and posted them all, then deleted the bad ones. 

9-30: F'in crazy-ass star background WTF??!!#%&?! Lol, if it was a sci fi piece that would be great - looks like a Frank Kelly Freas cover for Fantastic Science Fiction in the 50's (which is actually a damn cool thing). So I merged it with a stock leather photo from

Still pretty freakin' weird though. I need to paint up a quick and dirty chiaroscuro BG. Screw this half-character floating over a generic background thing. I don't seem to do it very well yet, or this image isn't well suited to it (I'm for option 1 actually).

          **************** ++++++++++++ *******************

… And finally, after another all-day all-night marathon session, it is finished!! Ladies and gentlemen, I present - The Grey Mouser! 


10-2 - Dammit, I thought it was FINISHED!!! 

Looks like the forearm still needs detailing yet. The one I re-painted today when I was just going to put the finishing touches on him. And it led to the rest of the arm, the face, parts of the clothing and sword etc. I also see I've lost the green zone around the mouth and jawline. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

On Work and Finishing

Tentatively finished - the saga is detailed 2 posts ago. A couple of things I noticed from dong this one - the detail of the forehead creases really helps because it sets up a finer level of scale that, when you're looking at that, makes the basic forms become secondary or subliminal. Whenever you're concentrating on one level of detailing the other is still there to be seen peripherally, it sets up a sort of vibration that really sells the piece. But it only works because several other things support it - the expression, uplifted eyes and brows, and the tilt of the head all work in conjunction with the detail of furrowed brow.

Also the colors are juicy compared to anything I've done before. I notice there's a lot more red in evidence, mixed into each color, something I always tend to avoid. Usually my secondaries tend away from red for some reason. It makes most of my work seem cold.

And finally, I've realized that most of my paintings are unfinished. Well, I knew it about many of them, and in fact I left most of them that way because I figured I had learned enough as a study and there was no point in putting more time and effort in when most of them aren't well conceived enough to stand alone. But I'm really starting to realize that more work on each could push them past the point of critical mass.  The ones that look by far the best are the 2 first ones - the Fafhrd illustrations that I put probably hundreds of hours each into. They have a surface vibration and sense of scale to the detailing that none of the rest have. And then last night I ran across this Thomas Sowell quote:

"Doing 90% of what's required is one of the biggest wastes, because you have nothing to show for your efforts. But doing 110% of what's expected is one of the smartest investments because it can pay off with big rewards for just a little more effort." 

I have almost nothing to show for the last 2 years because I haven't put enough effort into anything. I want to finish out this year strong. You can't change anything else about a painting - the skill level you have at the time, the concept you came up with, etc, but you can certainly put in more time and effort. It's the one factor you have complete control over and can tip the balance strongly in your favor.

Work is just the time that would be passing anyway put to good use. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Airbrushing T shirts

Yesterday I suddenly had a realization. I remembered back to when I was first trying to figure out how to airbrush T shirts, how long it used to take me (often like 8 hours) and how crappy they looked - I used to nickel and dime it to death, work small areas at a time and keep going back over parts again and again. Until I bought some video tapes with tutorials done by pros, and almost overnight I got way faster and way way better. It was all about the way I was approaching it.

I feel like I'm at that stage now with digital painting. I can get some halfway decent results, but it takes for-freakin-evar and I'm nickel and diming them, working small areas when I should be working holistically on the entire image.

Though I suppose a lot depends on what kind of image you're doing. If you're trying to do a fully detailed portrait or a vast battle scene with loads of detail it's just going to take a long time and a heck of a lot of work. I should try to figure out how to do easier stuff - work out techniques I see people using like starting with silhouettes. I think it's important to learn how to simplify the early stages of the process, to develop a straightforward technique that quickly gets you through the bullshit parts.

One thing I notice is that some people are doing a very specific kind of art. Certain types of stock poses and stock ideas for instance. While I'm just spinning my wheels with no idea what kind of art I want to do, just basically "trying to learn the basics of painting".

I think when you have a very specific goal in mind you get there a lot faster than when you have no idea where you're headed. It's just a damn shame I don't want to do any of the typical stuff that's popular now, like fantasy card art or video game design. But I still need to work on streamlining the process.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mug shot

Finally the dry spell breaks. I was just sitting here looking at this mug shot (not sure if it's real or fake) from one of the google ads ("{Name of your town} is rocked by this website!!" - arrest records) and was admiring the great bony structures in her face as well as the very strong composition in the pose and the tilted sideward thrust. I tend to like unconventionally attractive women like this who look tough and strong, like Julia Styles, Ronda Rousy, Meisha Tate, etc. It's why I started doing the female MMA fighter series in the first place really.

Ok, I've accomplished my goals on this one, no reason to keep laboring on the non-essential parts. This way it draws attention to the focal area of the eyes, brows and corrugated forehead and detail falls away elsewhere. I know it looks crappy but I just don't care - I see absolutely no reason to make this a finished painting, it's just a copy of a photograph. Aside from wanting to figure out how to do the forehead creases I was mainly concerned with color value - getting the mids and darks dark enough to create a sense of solidity and roundness of form. This is a recurring problem for me - I tend to think I've got it all nailed and then very gradually realize my mids and darks are waaay too light. So I darken them up, hoping I haven't overdone it, and after a while realize they're still too light.

It could use some more work but I nailed the basics and have reached the point where thinking about working on it more fills me with an overpowering aversion.

Oh, and I was also interested in developing the rounded bony forms of the face - the upper face specifically, meaning forehead, brow ridge and nose. This is something shared by all the 'tough chicks' I tend to dig.

Shortly after what I wrote last time I realized the reason for the aversion was my abdominal issues - they tend to creep up on me and I don't notice them at first, but they make me feel awful and develop an aversion to - everything really. Feeling somewhat better now and decided it would be a shame to just leave it looking as bad as it did. Still needs a bit more - especially the hand and a little bit of background love.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Marble menagerie

Ok, not really marble, unglazed porcelain actually - but they do look like classical statues, sort of. I decided to order a few of the Unicorn Studio sculptures in hopes of breaking out of this slump - when I get new art stuff in it usually gets me raring to go. And I was getting a little annoyed that all the casts I already had were incomplete - just pieces of people. These are complete and graceful, and so realistic I think they must have been done from real models using a 3-D scanner and printer combo and probably finished by an artist. They're quite small - ranging from around 5 to 10 inches or so high (or long for the recliner) and pretty inexpensive - most of them run to $30, a couple a bit more.

Bought from Jatashop - links:

Male Sculptures
Female Sculptures

Scroll down and you'll see the Unicorn Studio sculptures near the bottom - they have several different versions of each in different finishes and sometimes different sizes. For drawing you want unglazed porcelain - it has the best surface and color for catching light and shadows perfectly. And if a larger version is available it will look better - the detailing is pretty soft on the smallest ones (but should be fine for drawing regardless - gonna find out anyway).

Really looking forward to drawing people with arms and legs and heads!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Deeper thoughts on Katsuya Terada

Since getting his book, I've become really fascinated with his art. I've spent a lot of time looking through it, focusing on individual pieces for much longer than I usually do. I once told a friend my theory that the average viewer will look at a piece for about one second for each hour the artist put in to creating it. Just a very rough estimate of course. But generally you get the 'feel' of a piece very quickly, and you'll only continue to look if there are interesting details or if you're an art student and really admire the technique. This definitely applies for artists like Frazetta, whose work is designed to read at a glance, so it will catch the eye rapidly on the small cover of a pocket paperback. He was concerned mostly with dynamism, so the eye moves fast across his work.

Then there are the more photorealistic artists - if their work is interesting you might spend more time perusing it because they put in a lot of realistic detail. This is especially true in today's illustration world where the art is made to resemble the CGI effects in blockbuster movies and video games. No more simple powerful dynamic design uncluttered with extraneous detail for the most part. It must look as much like photography as possible, with any effects resembling the CGI effects we're all so familiar with.

But Terra is different. There are many more who do this, but right now I'm using him as an example.

Looking like Manara's style here

When I first started looking at his work, because of how well he can capture a sense of 3 dimensional solidity, I assumed he was probably atelier trained. But it rapidly became clear this is not the case, in fact he may well be entirely self-taught. But I do assume he did a lot of drawing from life, because his line knows how to wrap around forms perfectly. So do his brushstrokes. Well, sometimes anyway - I notice his work isn't consistent. Some are extremely 3 dimensional looking, some not at all. He switches up styles a lot. Or maybe the really excellent ones are when he has good photo reference? I don't know.

Sometimes he does use reference, but often he works without it, like comic book artists do (that's what he mostly is of course). Sometimes he's so playful he's more like a cartoonist.

Aside from this ability to capture 3 dimensionality (sometimes) however, his work would get pretty well ripped apart on Conceptart. I began to notice in particular that he never has a strong sense of exactly where the light source is. That's one of the things always being harped on, because there's a belief that art must replicate the physical/mechanistic aspects of reality perfectly. His light is always meandering and playful, it's where he needs it to be. It isn't enslaved to dull realism, but imaginative and creative.

How can there be a solid shadow under the chin,
but not under the eyebrow ridge or the nose or underside of the top lip? 

There's also always a sense that he's making it all up as he goes. This is in direct contrast to the concept art methodology of meticulous planning, doing dozens of thumbnails, working out details through studies, etc. I assume he begins with a pretty good idea for a pose and maybe the face and/or body type, but the rest seems to be invented on the fly, and it looks like he has a blast doing it. He never worries about trifling details like if it would actually work. He puts huge thick metal cuffs on wrists and even weird places like the middle of a thigh, which would be incredibly inhibiting in real life! You'd never be able to put your legs together!! But he happily lets it grow as he goes forward, unrestrained by such real-life problems, which by the way don't actually exist in the imaginary world of art unless the artist decides they do.

Dig the metal cuffs all over the thigh!

He comes from a manga background, and he uses line for everything, which I think is why he can invent so well - drawing line after line lends itself well to this kind of moment-to-moment creation. In fact it reminds me of stopmotion animation, which is distinguished from drawn animation and CGI by the fact that it must be done 'straight ahead' - laying down one frame after another in linear progression, with no chance to go back and change things later (opposed to the key framing technique which makes planning and changing so easy with the other methods). His art captures a strong sense of improvisation.

In fact, by a lot of standards, his art would be considered pretty amateurish! And yet I find it endlessly fascinating. Obviously a lot of people do - he's considered an artist's artist, one that many other artists look to for inspiration. I think what makes it work is the endless sense of invention and playfulness, and the fact that he's just so damn good he can somehow make it all work. When you look your eye is captivated and wants to spend a lot of time wandering in this magical realm.

Here'a quote from him I really dig, from his book Dragon Girl and Monkey King:

"Realism doesn't mean making it look exactly like a picture would, but conveying the air, the feeling, the scene, the taste of the image, and conveying the feeling of the existence of whatever you're drawing."

I suspect Terada is an example of the kind of artist someone was talking about recently when he said "If you want to paint like Waterhouse work from life. If you want to be like a comic book artist use reference." (something to that effect - I forget the actual wording). I think he was trying to knock comic book style work, but it actually gave me some solace, because it means there are definitely artists, and many of them, who haven't worked extensively from life and yet who are widely respected and loved. Many of my favorites are comic book artists or began that way (Frazetta did, though he did some life drawing and his photographic memory and many other gifts make him a special case).