Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lineage; extended

A few thoughts I've been kicking around lately. I know I tend to focus on the lineage from Frazetta through Jeff Jones to Kent Williams, but really this is just a small part of a much bigger lineage, and I'm beginning to see what my place in it might be.

The bigger lineage is really the entire history of realistic illustrative art, especially concerning the heroic tradition. Starting probably in the Renaissance - after all, those artists were mostly illustrating the Bible, mythology and historical tales.  It continues in an unbroken chain until the point when the 'Art World' lost its collective mind and degenerated into  miasma of ridiculousness - but the lineage didn't end there, it had moved to the world of magazine illustration. From there it continued, jumping when necessary over to pulp and paperback illustration and then to concept art/digital illustration for the internet, video games and etc.

In the work of Frazetta et al you can clearly see influences from many of the predecessors, in particular Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Mead Shaeffer, and several other of the Bradnywine illustrators - then J Allen St John and many of the pen and ink illustrators from the golden age of magazine illustration through the world of comics.

Recently I was looking at a lot of Golden Age/Brandywine stuff, including Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell, but particularly Wyeth and Schaeffer. I think that shows in this piece pretty clearly. This is one way to avoid the pitfall so many Frazetta imitators fell into, who only looked at his work and maybe a few of the other heroic fantasy artists of the 60's/70's who worked similarly. You can definitely see the inbreeding in that kind of work.

As for my own place in this heritage, I'm beginning to see that my figures just aren't going to be as fluid, dynamic or muscular as those of Frazetta or Williams, and that's ok, even though I always imagined them that way. And of course they will change as I learn anatomy and the rest of it better. But I think I see something else in my work, that's hard to define. It seems to be more about character and atmosphere. But I won't try to define it or categorize it now - that would only be self-defeating. It will grow best if left to its own devices with no attempts to analyze it or control it. But I do think it's an important step that I now understand I don't need to be just the way I used to think I would. Let it evolve…

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I never intended to work on this one any more, but I used the drawing to play around with gradient maps from the last post and ended up with the above. Thought it had some potential, so started painting over it, loose and with no regard for drawing, strictly painting.

There's a lot I like about it so far.

Gradient Maps & Layer Masks



Friday, October 24, 2014

Sleeping sickness

Don't know what the heck was wrong with me but for the last 4 days or so I was incredibly sleepy all the time - so much so that whenever I would sit down to draw I'd nod off in seconds. Could not seem to get enough sleep, and had absolutely no ability to concentrate. The 1st page of Bridgman was done on the 1st day of the malady (just the left leaf), and I decided it was impossible to draw until it had passed. The 2 pages of quick figures were done during it, in moments when I had a little burst of energy. Then finally yesterday I went to bed super early and slept like Rip Van Winkle, and today I feel much better. Weird - psychosomatic? I don't think so, but I could be wrong.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Force arrives!!

I ordered both Force books at the same time a few weeks ago - the second one came in within a couple days, but the original was from the UK and apparently they put it on a slow boat. Just came in today, and gave me a new burst of distortin' inspiration!! But damn, it was so hard!! I had to do the drawings straight first, then distort them. On the first sheet anyway, on the second I was able to do it right away, after thinking abut hw to approach it for a little while - I sort of did the first drawing in my head and then critiqued it before ever touching pencil to paper. Oh, and I found out the conte pencil will flow pretty well and make a good strong line if you press hard enough.

Also, after doing my Bridgman today and then this, and remembering the video I posted yesterday, I couldn't help but see the similarities. Vilppu (and the guy in yesterdays' video) shows you how to do Bridgman, because he draws each mass separately, then adds the next and the next etc. Starting with head, chest and pelvis, the biggest and most forceful masses.

Ahhh - I couldn't leave it at that!! I was wanting to do a couple of imagination sketches, based on that 1st Bridgman above. So here they are.

Hmm - maybe not entirely as bad as I thought - they look strong next to these other ones. The anatomy is pure shit - but then I was concentrating on force-style figure distortion - after I start to get a handle on that maybe I can start to bring in anatomy too. Weirdly - I didn't intend for the poses to completely mimic each other and wasn't aware they were until very recently, but the silhouettes are essential identical aside from the arms and head.

I notice I've got the shoulders sitting right up against the ribcage - it doesn't work like that. There's like a spacer in between. Must remember this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Forms - influenced by Watts method - and thinking about signing up

I spent most of the day completely immersed in further researching the Watts method, including watching a number of the videos on the online school site (where I have pretty much decided to enroll, though still on the fence about it).

I looked at the Drawing Fundamentals class video and other materials, and this is the kind of stuff they're doing, learning how to really control the conte pencils and get good crisp straight lines, completely controlled shading, use comparative measurements and negative spaces etc to get the drawing super accurate… so I thought it's about time I do another set of form drawings and see if I can push them farther than I have before (without using the computer). I want to see if I can drive myself to achieve a much higher level of work AS IF I were in the classes, without actually being in them. If I do enroll, it definitely won't be for mentored classes - can't afford that! So it would be videos and PDF workbooks/handouts etc - and that's basically what I've been collecting all over the web already, though I'm sure the actual class material would be more comprehensive.

Hell, one phase (semester?) costs a little less than what I paid for Level Up (for a year) and it's definitely going to be higher quality education than that (nothing against Level Up, it is what it is and it's good stuff in its own right). But my thinking is basically that I should at least take one Watts course to see exactly what it's like. Then if I never take another one, at least I've got a taste of the Watts experience and I expect that will propel me for a long time afterwards.

The drawing isn't perfect obviously, but it's a good start. I was able to do a surprising amount of erasing and re-working and actually corrected a lot of what was wrong with it, but those long verticals need some serious work!! I wonder if using a mahl stick for those would be considered cheating?

Little more work on it:

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Reilly method via Watts atelier - what I've been able to learn so far

Quicksketch drawings by Kevin Chen - a student of the Reilly method and excellent teacher

I've made a lot of scattered posts about the Reilly method, and recently about Watts atelier and the way they teach their version of it. It's a beautiful holistic system designed for professionals, with figure drawing, gouache painting and oil painting all intimately tied together in such a way that they feed into each other and what you learn in one applies to the others.

I just went through and put tags on all those earlier posts so I can now make a link in the sidebar directly to them, but this post is to present the overall picture, of which I've only been able to present puzzle pieces before. Now that it's all coming together in my head I need to write this up. For further elaboration check the Reilly method and Watts method tags (at bottom of post) to see the original posts which contain more specific information and demos, and some analysis by yours truly.

Here's what I've been able to glean - the Reilly method apparently begins with what he called Quicksketch technique for figure drawing. It's very precise and elegant, it seems to be a bit more involved than most figure sketching methods but once learned it seems to give you great precision and flexibility and the ability to draw any part from any angle accurately and rapidly. It also includes rapid shading using core shadow and reflected light, and once you've learned descriptive form shading you also learn mood /atmospheric shading, so it's a crash course in everything you need before moving on to paint. I think Reilly's quick sketch is also very similar in many ways to Glen Vilppu's quick sketch. Or at least I use a bit of both now when I draw, and I'll be incorporating more Reilly as I learn it.

Once having become proficient in that, you move on to painting in gouache, first in black and white, then you add in one color, and then another, at which point you're using what's called the Zorn palette (or you can substitute different colors and use somebody else's palette or make up your own).  This Zorn palette is vitally important in the Watts curriculum - once you've learned to handle the 4 colors it uses, you can then paint in full color. Or just stick with the limited palette - many painters used them all through their careers to great effect.

For gouache painting they use a method - also  taught by Reilly as part of this overall system, called Tiling, which involves placing small carefully shaped tiles of color, following a precise drawing, and then blending where needed. And they often also use a method of softening edges that involves a rapid flick of a finger over the just-applied paint, which is exactly the same way they often draw in quick sketch.

You use gouache to learn about painting because it's inexpensive, non-toxic, and not smelly and has easy water cleanup. Plus you can just paint on paper or in a sketchbook. Very nice!! Also you can stop at any point, let it dry, and still pick it up whenever you want - the paint will still re-activate when it gets wet, unlike oils.

Then after developing some proficiency in gouache painting you move to oils where you follow the same procedure - first monochrome, then add one color, then Zorn palette etc. At this point you've already tackled many of the problems of painting itself, and now you can concentrate specifically on the problems of handling oil paint which is slick, slippery, and temperamental. Of course it helps immensely to use Alkyds, which are essentially oil paints in a synthetic alkyd binder that makes handling properties and drying times all uniform, as opposed to oils in natural media which all have very different properties and drying times.

Adding this here - they also do Oil Gestures - the quick sketch of oil pairing technique, basically 40 minute to an hour long sketches done alla prima in wet-into-wet oil. You can see the pattern - at each level (figure drawing, gouache, and then oil) there are quick sketches and also more painstakingly developed pieces with a lot more measuring and checking of values etc. These play off each other.

I'll collect a few key tutorials here that helped me figure this stuff out - these are all by Watts alumni or staff:

E M Gist

Here's a very key pic from the KChen tutorial - I'm hoping since he posted it as a learning resource he doesn't mind people posting excerpts from it, as long as they also link to the original and give him full credit:

I had seen this but didn't like it at first - I thought it was much cooler and looked more artsy to go ahead and draw arms and legs with loopy lines, capturing the outline right from the get-go. But now I understand that way lies madness! It becomes way too easy to loop too far and go way out of bounds. I'm learning why construction lines are straight - it's just easier to measure and to control your forms, then when you come back in to drop the expressive lines over the light construction lines, that's when you get all loopy. 

The Reilly method uses straight tubes essentially for arms and legs, and then you come in and add the very specific shapes of parts that protrude outside of that gesture line. It's very methodical. 

Conte figure

Ron Lemen demos - now with analysis!!

He has many more, detailing quick sketch technique, tiling with gouache and oils, etc.

Analysis on ^:

It really helps to have seen the video above it as well as the Jeff Watts 3 hour sessions I posted recently and some other tutorials by Ron Lemen, Kevin Chen, EM Gist etc. - having absorbed a good deal of this stuff now I can really see how the entire system works as a whole - or at least to a much greater extent than I could before. I might be missing a few important chunks.

I can see he's using a variant of the Reilly method of quick sketch - I'm assuming he learned it at Watts or possibly it's his own version of that. He doesn't draw in the big triangles - but he does indicate them - he establishes the pit of the neck, center line, points of the shoulders, and then he indicates the crotch placement. I'm quite sure when he did that he visualized the inverted triangle. It's also clear what he's doing when he draws the arms and legs in terms of straight construction lines - he extends the lines a little farther than needed and then quickly estimates just where the length needs to be, then he draws in the second segment of the arm or leg. This is mostly apparent on the arms because they're bent. He also often makes judgement calls when he goes in to place the expressive lines over the construction lines, and puts it a little to one side or the other.

He's learned how to do expressive shading too, for mood and effect rather than just descriptive of form, and he can now do that very rapidly.

One really nice tidbit I noticed - the way he draws a line and then often flicks a finger over it (of the drawing hand) just like how I've seen both him and Jeff Watts do in gouache painting. Very nice to see the same techniques used across different media.

I'm assuming that when you've learned all the Reilly construction, you then can skip any lines that aren't necessary to the current drawing. You can doubtless skip a lot of them by just visualizing them before drawing. But you need to learn them first of course.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Zorn palette - Aaron Coberly limited palette thread

From No-One Special blog
Another thing Mr Watts mentioned as part of the system taught at the atelier is the Zorn palette. Anders Zorn used only 4 colors in his portraits - Ivory black, Titanium white, Cad red and Yellow ocher or some yellow anyway - many people prefer ocher. The Ivory black is very cool, so mixing it with white makes blues. Looking at the swatches above mixed entirely from those 4 colors makes it clear you get a pretty wide gamut to work from, and all the colors have a harmonic unity.

Apparently from a defunct blog, but the picture showed up in an image search.. ?
Students start by learning black and white gouache painting, then add one color, then another - and whoops!! That's it - that's the Zorn palette right there!! Pretty much all you'll ever need, though by the time you learn that you'll be ready for full color.

A search for limited palette painting turned up this thread on Conceptart

Ordered gouache painting supplies - and dreamed about it last night

Just ordered a small set of Windsor& Newton gouache, a few Escoda white sable brushes (the Robert Simmonds were all out of stock) and a small butcher's tray palette from Blick's. So into this I was literally dreaming about painting in gouache last night. About to mess with my Holbein Acryla gouache in a bit - but it isn't going to allow re-activating dried colors, so won't really work for the all-important blending stages - well, not after about 20 minutes anyway, and I'm not that fast of a painter! And while I was at it I also got a dozen Conte pencils - the Pierre Noire 2b, just like the one I've been drawing with lately. Really dig them!!

Jeff Watts demo - "Stains don't re-activate" - "figure drawing prepares you for painting at a high level"

Another 3 hour tour with Jeff Watts talking up a storm while painting like a total bawss. He makes working with gouache look like so much fun. I used to mess with it, but never quite figured out a good technique - too bad the internet wasn't around in those days.

Just heard him say this and wanted to jot to down -

"Stains don't re-activate" 

Good to know!! One of the big issues I used to run into is when I'd get several layers of gouache built up then try to paint over them, all the layers underneath would re-wet and come up into the mix. It's important to know they do this and to plan accordingly.

While working on the Lyendecker piece he answers a question by saying:

"That's what I use it for - preparing people for turning form in oil - basically a juxtaposition of warm and cool tiles."


"figure drawing prepares you for painting at a high level"

Focusing on figures

I delved into the Faragasso book on the Reilly method - it seems a lot easier and makes more sense now partly because I already have some familiarity with it from before, and also because I've been finding nuggets of great info by the likes of Ron Lemen, Eric Gist, Kevin Chen, and Jeff Watts. These guys are all associated with the Watts atelier, which teaches the Reilly method. After watching the Jeff Watts video I posted recently I want to learn this and try the tiling method - if not in gouache then straight to oil maybe. I used to have some gouache and was all set up for it, but it's long since dried out now, and now I'm set up for oil. The gouache really does look like fun though, and I did find my old set of acrylic gouache, which is not dried out, but I don't think it will blend the right way. Could try it and see.

I really liked this one, and it had some unfortunate issues, so I did a little cleanup in photoshop: