Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Saga of the Cheerio Buckle

Taking a break from grinding on this to post real quick. I've been laboring away incessantly, making lots of little changes that are almost unnoticeable, but together they make things look significantly different. This is the biggest change - what I'm calling the Cheerio belt buckle. It isn't great, but I'm starting to find techniques for painting this kind of detailed bronze ornamentation, so prevalent  in Barbarian Chic this year (well, every year I suppose). It really draws the attention instantly - thanks to the high contrast and detailed patterning - and unfortunately it looks good enough that it makes everything else look bad in comparison.

I consider it a transitional step - already I'm getting ideas about how to rework it so it won't look so wonky - or rather so it's okay to look wonky. I think stuff like this could have been forged by rather primitive artisans, and it wouldn't necessarily be precise and perfect. But the problem now is that, because I used circles arranged into what is supposed to be an oval pattern, it LOOKS like it should be precise. These are all geometric shapes. But I realized - if I just replace the Cheerios with non-geometric shapes - something like runes - then it would be ok for them to be a bit off kilter and lopsided. Nobody would even be able to tell really.

Also, because the buckle is looking so good - I'm going to let it be the new standard and try to bring the rest of the painting up to that level as well. That won't happen by New Year's Eve (unless it's some kind of New Year's Miracle!) -- but I'm looking for it sometime early next year. That's how my paintings tend to work, ya know - pick it up every year or 2 and bring it up to a new level..

Anyway, back to work on it!! Gotta re-do that sword next!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Heart of Darkness

This is just  quick and dirty demo to serve as a reminder to myself of this little trick that I (Finally!!) discovered. The lack of it has been draining my work of punch and power all this time.

If you click back and forth between the 2 pictures there's one small (but very crucial) difference - one of them has a core of gray in the deepest part of the pectoral shadow - the other doesn't. It's surprising to me how much difference that small difference makes - and it must reveal an important axiom of painting. Color actually drains away the power of a shadow for certain purposes. This is a form defining shadow - an accent to show that the form turns more sharply here, more deeply into darkness, and these accents really punch up the form where it needs it. ---- and color kills them. The shadow must be done with black, then you can fade it until it looks right, but it ends up being gray, not a darker color. Or if you want to get fancy, use the complementary color in hopes they'll balance out and create gray, but that's trickier.

This is all closely related to something I'm struggling to understand about color - how to effectively use blacks in a painting. Mine have tended to be all color with little to no black or white (or other grays), and while it can be very attractive - there's something vital missing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Well, I'm having a blast with the newfound skillz! Here are the latest 2 pictures. On Fafhrd (below) I'm not going to try to finish it - it began life as just a quick sketch, so the drawing itself is pretty screwed up and so are many other things about it - but I did want to see if I could fix that insanely saturated orange skin and develop more of a three dimensional feel to it. On the fighter chick above I feel like another day or 2 could carry it to a whole new level, just with the right subtle little touches - but I really wanted to get these posted by midnight on Christmas Eve - maybe I'll take it farther in the next couple of days. 

Big year-end wrap-up post coming in the next week! Stay tuned! Oh, and you might have already guessed - but I've added a couple more progress images to the last post. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


I'm picking up one from a while ago that needs some more attention. I don't think I ever showed my photo reference - I usually don't, but this time it's relevant to something I want to explain that I'm leaning how to do. 

I should have reversed these, so the original is on the left, but oh well! I've highlighted the important factor with red lines above - the way I modified the gesture. In the picture there essentially IS no gesture - her stance is ramrod-straight. If you trace the line of her spinal column it's boringly straight - in fact so are the legs, and then the head is just suddenly stuck on at a crooked angle as if the neck is broken - there's no nice smooth transition to it at all. 

The ability to modify reference is an important one to develop - there's almost always something you DON'T want to copy from the picture, be it the lighting, the color, maybe the position of the arms, or the gesture. Changing these things represents a pretty high order level of abstraction - you need to basically imagine what it would look like if it was just a little different and draw it that way, while still retaining the information you do want from the picture. If you want to be able to do dynamic art, then it's necessary to learn how to make changes like this. 

Ok, here's what this one looked like last time I posted it:

And in its most recent incarnation. Still more work to be done but looking a lot better:

I've managed to put the emphasis on the abdominals, as it should be. Those core muscles are what is creating that powerful gesture after all, and the center of a fighter's power-base. I used lighting and color saturation to draw attention to the torso, which is a trick I learned first from copying Tiepolo paintings, and then I also noticed Frazetta uses it. Which makes sense - if you're doing heroic paintings you want the emphasis to be on power rather than personality, so you direct attention to the torso, not the face.
*  *  *  *
12 - 14:

Important factors:
I carefully modulated color saturation across the image rather than doing a global adjustment. It has a sort of spotlight effect centered on the torso/abs area, the same focal area indicated by the strongest lighting.

Added outlines almost all the way around, which I then carefully worked - making them thicker or thinner in each area as needed. This is a Frazetta thing, and I believe he did it very naturally, coming off 20 years as a comic book inker - he had amazing control over his brushes. I notice using outlines really tightens up the image everywhere - it does away with any sense of the figure disappearing into the background in places. It also gives great control over the silhouette - the curves.

Using black really increases the dynamic range and lets you get some serious punch in, in terms of contrast. So does using some powerfully saturated colors, but controlling where you put them (and using those "colorful grays" elsewhere, as Jeff Jones recommends. I think I need more of them though).

It really came to life when I added the green wrist bands - made me realize how color-starved the image was for anything cool. So I made the bikini blue, which was one of the best moves of all.

                                   *  *  *  *

                                   *  *  *  *

Just about finished!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Education Train rolls on..

I've stumbled upon another amazing resource for self-education in the form of Jordan Peterson's videos. This is an excerpt from his Joe Rogan interview - I chose this to act as a demo of his work because it's about how he reconciles religion and science. Actually he also reconciles psychology, philosophy, literature, myth, and a few other things as well, and weaves them all into a tapestry that so far has kept me fascinated without ever violating rationality or veering into anything ridiculous. While he is Christian himself, he isn't dogmatic about it and he freely talks about the comparative elements - the fact that it takes stories from older religions and that God is an invention of Man, while at the same time being also a connection to something profoundly deep inside us or between us, so that while the Bible is in no way literally true, it contains some of the most profound truths known to man - in literary and mythological form. He also discusses the idea that something does not need to be literally or factually true in order to be true, in spite of what a lot of science geeks will tell you - you know, the kind who love to sneer at and argue with religious people.

When I first discovered Joseph Campbell I thought he did this sort of thing - well, I suppose he does, but when I try to read his books I quickly get lost - not sure if he's just way too smart for me or if his writing style is just opaque and difficult. But I have no problems of that sort with Peterson - every video I've watched thus far is clear and concise and packed with an amazing amount of info all presented with passion. He's obviously had a lifelong interest in just the same sort of ideas I do, but whereas I've mostly made what connections I can intuitively, he has a vast education to draw from - Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Milton, and on and on - all writing some of the most profound human truths of all time.

Much of his YouTube channel consists of recorded lectures from his classes at University of Toronto or Harvard, but I believe he's also put together some using edited-in material as well as just talking to the camera. The link I posted above - and am posting again here - goes to his Playlists, which give a good idea of how the videos break down into subjects.

Ok, enough babble from me - this has either caught your attention or I'm wasting my time writing any more about it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Continuing the Roman Saga

Ok, I don't like the backwards posting from last time - impossible to keep adding new images unless I re-work the whole entry each time. So it's back to posting them in order. This one is actually from the last post, just as a starting point.

Took it to here tonight...

And decided it needed some more TLC.

Think I lightened it up too much. Backing off a bit - looks better to me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Roman Nose

Presenting this the opposite way round this time -- above is the most recent version, progressing backwards to the oldest. I'm playing around with the ideas from the previous post, about color saturation. My current strategy is to get the picture all fairly desaturated and add in touches of more vivid color where it seems appropriate. This is working very nicely. I also kept this blog open on my desktop, so I could see the Vampirella image in the last post, and used that as a guide. I'm experimenting with mixing up the airbrush-smooth stuff with the chunkier, more painterly stuff. It's kind of weird looking - the entire forehead is smooth while everything below the eyes is chunky. And the background is looking really streaky.

Mmmmm wow - sorry this one is bigger, doesn't show up right for comparison, does it? It's because I cropped off the edge of the image to get rid of all that empty darkness on the right. Those colors really scream out don't they?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Color Saturation - overdose and addiction

I just got a Bud Plant Comic Art email with these 3 calendars grouped together, and couldn't help but notice the contrast in how the artists handled color saturation. The outer 2 blatantly abused it - everything is just blazing at high intensity. Like neon signs screaming for attention. Meanwhile, the Frazetta in the middle is far more controlled.

Observations - The eye is actually repelled by too much color saturation, but can glide restfully over properly handled color. Blazing color destroys the sense of solidity and any chance at atmosphere and creates a cartoonish look. Oversaturated color is like too much sugar - sensational and stimulating, but deadens the palette to subtlety and causes an addiction. Once you've gorged on it you lose your appreciation for well modulated color and just want more overload. This same kind of addictive sensationalism is rampant in movies and music and all the popular arts. It fits in well in this age of extremism and cartoonishness.

Frazetta is remembered for extremely vivid colors, but what people tend not to notice is the subtle control. In looking through a few of his books with this in mind, what I notice is that he tends to give one color high saturation (and it's not all that saturated really) and the rest of them are more sedate. Though at times he does manage to work with 2 or more highly vivid colors. Obviously there's a strategy (-ies) for it. This is undoubtedly one reason students are taught to work their way up gradually from greyscale through limited color palettes until reaching full color.

Lighting too. Vampi is fitfully lit, dark and brooding - a small not overbright spotlight aimed down at her torso, face left in shadow. Like Tiepolo and other heroic artists of past eras, he emphasizes torso rather than face - physicality over personality. The others just flooded everything with bright light with a few shadows thrown weakly across the background to set off the figure compositionally. As a result the Frazetta has a sense of chiaroscuro, of the figure actually emerging from darkness.

Strongest saturation is in the moon behind her, and the colors there are melting into a swirling soup - lost edges creating a diffuse sense of softness. In other words, he's controlling edges to draw attention where he wants it. That's not a criticism of the other 2 pieces by the way or the industry that forces these choices, just comparison and contrast to illustrate the point.

This is an issue very relevant to me - here's what my Flickr Gallery looks like these days - a chunk of it anyway:

I tend to get carried away - once you try cranking up the saturation it does something to your brain, so when you turn it back down even a little you get a sense it's lost something and you want to turn it up again. Then you decide to try even more. If you're not careful you'll just keep pushing it higher and higher.

Even in my most recent ones (upper row toward the left) I reduced saturation but ended up with a bland result. I suppose a few master copies are in order with an eye toward analyzing how they handle color. I can see from the Frazetta above that he modulates it across the image - areas of brilliant flickering color against greys and much lower intensity colors. He uses it to manipulate the attention. So far my approach has been rather to reduce intensity across the board.

I need to remember Jeffrey Jones's advice about using 'colorful greys'. Here's an older post about his approach to painting. And here he proves you don't need intense color:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Learning to see better

That's what's happening now as a result of my decision to paint airbrush-smooth - I'm learning to see better. It's happening gradually, stage by stage - the painting is slowly moving toward looking much more human, and much more subtle and complex. It's because when you paint smooth, everything is tight and in crisp focus (except those areas you deliberately make soft-focus, or where you screwed up). It's like you can see much deeper into it now - like when a mud-veiled stream clears and you can see the bottom.

And it's only happening because I'm putting so much time into this - wait for the veils of mud to clear away, study the topography, and make the decision. Execute it - see how well it worked (compare back and forth a few times to the previous version - it's a lot like using a framegrabber program to do animation actually). Sometimes even after comparing back and forth for a while and deciding it looks good, some time later you might realize you overdid it or did it a little wrong, but now you begin to see what needs to be done.

As Dave Sim always said - first you get good, then you get fast, then you get good and fast. Working on the getting good part now.

Weird - I basically ended up re-creating the first image above, after deciding I didn't like the more lit-up, more colorful version as much. Unfortunately I failed to save a version at that stage (Waaat??!!) so I ended up grabbing the one posted here and inserting it back into photoshop (as a .png!) and reworking it slightly.

And now I see the windowshades of the soul need some tender loving care...

Monday, October 31, 2016

Again, Abandoned

As usual, I've added this to the procession of stages in the last post, where you can flip through to watch it change and grow to its present state. So many little nitpicky things I still want to do, but there aren't enough lifetimes. Putting it to bed once again, perchance to resurrect in the future for more work. This one has seen me through a massive upgrade of skillz!! And I believe it was mostly because I decided to forget about brushstrokes and paint all airbrush-smooth. That brought it into tight focus and let me see it so much more clearly.

My attention was being pulled right to the top of the head because it was the brightest part. I did that because the logical part of my brain kept telling me it would be brighter up there, that part is closer to the light source and facing directly at it, plus hair reflects more than skin. Finally I got tired of always getting drawn up to that blank area and put a shadow over it, which immediately allowed me to look a the eyes and the face first now. Ok, actually not the eyes themselves - they're downcast and veiled; mysterious (sharklike actually, I softened them in that regard from the photograph). But that fits her character - cold and inhuman, no interior life, so the windows of her soul are blank and dark. It's actually the eyelids you look at - the blinds of the soul. Fitting methinks.

Tightening it up some more; human-er and human-er.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Art is never finished - only abandonated

I could tweak this till the end of days, but there comes a point where it needs to stop. In some ways I prefer previous versions - the breathing room, for one. She seems too tightly jammed into this little box. Maybe at some point I'll un-abandon Milady (it's based on a screengrab of Faye Dunaway from The 4 Musketeers) and move her into more spacious digs - finish it more.

Adding critique:

What bugs me the most is the looseness - everything is just slightly off. Shape of the head, placement of features, size of them. The eyes look slightly different, in terms of size, shape and placement. There's something off about the placement of the temporal bone - it should be higher and maybe a bit scooted forward - maybe a bit too much space there on the side of the head. All of this relates to the process I used - slapping everything down loose and sloppy and unfocused, and then moving things around as I gradually firmed it up. This is like the process I used to use in drawing that I called ghosting it out, where I'd start by drawing very lightly, then look at it and see what needs changing, and then I'd erase parts that need fixing and re-draw, still very lightly, until it all looked right. In fact often I'd erase the whole thing and re-draw over it. Erasing doesn't completely remove the lines - it just makes them less visible. The difference though is I used line, which is much more precise than formless blobs of digital paint. 

One of the things that's been improving vastly in recent pieces is my control. Just from experience and familiarity. In fact now I might be able to draw halfway decently using the stylus and tablet - something I couldn't do before. Need to do practice each day and see how it goes - just circles and shapes, but going for precision. 

And if I still can't draw digitally then I need to do the drawings on paper and scan them in before painting. Or find a way to make my digital alla prima approach a lot tighter. 

There's more critique I could add - about color and a few other things, but this is the most important, and the rest will develop just through practice. 

Also - start drawing from life. A lot!

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Montage of improvement - supply your own music please:

It's almost to the point of permanent abandonment now - I just want to work on the forehead and then I'll call it quits.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Smooth move dude! (I used this title before, didn't I?)

Probably a bit premature - it doesn't feel quite done yet, but it was time to give it a new post. I've been filling up the previous one with the in process shots if anyone is interested in seeing it develop.

This one was the result of a very belated realization that I'm 'Frankly' ashamed to admit I'm only having now. I formerly left my paintings very rough with what were supposed to look like brush strokes - largely because that was the way I thought Frazetta's paintings looked. Well, I do know he leaves some clearly visible brush strokes - but I was surprised in looking at a couple of his posters I recently bought that the flesh is painted smoothly. Aside from the occasional background figure in deep shadow or maybe a monster or two. But on the majority of his human characters the skin has an almost airbrush smoothness. So I finally broke down and decided to do the same.

One problem - as I found I had to keep amping up the contrast to bring back the lost punchiness that for whatever reason likes to fade away as I'm painting - areas (especially in the reddish shadows on the side of the face) that were formerly nice and smooth suddenly jumped out in stark contrast and became very ragged, with extremely visible edges. I painted most of them out - several times actually, but there are still a few left. I suppose I'll have to smooth them down again *Sigh*.

Main lessons learned:

1. I need to learn to draw a proper head shape and any time I make adjustments, make sure I don't screw it up! The head doesn't look quite human. 
Proportioning is off - eyes too big and oddly shaped, nose too big, off center and angled wrong, mouth too small. The outline along the edge of the face is exaggerated. I could go on..
2. Always start by putting down your lightest light and your darkest dark values from the beginning - how many times do I need to learn this one (by messing it up over and over)??!! I know the technique of 3 value drawing - I need to use it.
3. There's no damn color!! I just used the most straightforward 'flesh color' for everything. Come on man - I know how to do this stuff!! 

But on the good side:

It does have a strong sense of solidity and rounded form. I got much more subtle curvature of surface effects than I was getting when using 'brush strokes' all over. It all coheres together much more strongly than most of those earlier paintings. A lot of subtlety in the shading and nice soft-ish edges and out-of-focus effects in shadow and non-focal areas. I'm starting to think of digital painting as a sort of crossbreeding of drawing and airbrush - or something like pastel drawing, which allows for great blending and smoothness as well as a rougher approach, but doesn't lend itself as well to simulated oil painting techniques. I should definitely hold off for a while on trying to get 'brush strokes' - go for smoothness and blending for now. 

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Critique on this - though it isn't finished:

I seem to be a bit intimidated about finishing it - afraid I'll mess it up. Even though I know I can (and definitely will) make a new version, leaving this one untouched just in case; and also that any time I mess something up I do have an undo button. It seems there should be no fear associated with this - and yet there is. Or is it just because I haven't taken a digital painting beyond this point yet - it's new territory? Probably that yes. Now it's about adding the finishing touches - the brightest highlights and the darkest shadow accents - the little patches of texture and detail it needs to make it pop and sparkle. Now it has a nice well-worn cloth feel all over, like a favorite old sweatshirt, but it needs the pop and sparkle to come to life. It also still needs some color. In fact what I need to do now is go in with that spirit of adventure - grinning fiercely and just slash and hack at it like I'm carving out a jungle path. Have fun with it!

And very soon I need to graduate from these studies and start doing full paintings with backgrounds again.

Also - 

I need to really learn how to draw!!!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Head Shot

You know how it's done - first you just slap something down that's approximately right - or maybe way off.

Then you look at it and start refining.

... and refining...

... and refining...

And so on...

And so on...

Ugh. I'm done fussing with this one - it keeps turning into more and more of an unfixable mess. I don't know why every time I paint on it it gets increasingly bland and lower contrast, then I have to keep punching up contrast artificially and adjusting saturation. It's pushed past the limits now, looking completely unnatural. Well, it's been a great learning experience.

Actually, I think I do know why this is happening. It's doubtless because t's a 'pretty girl' picture, with soft lighting. So when I work in either the highlight areas or the low light areas I keep dabbing and blending away, trying to smooth everything out. That always results in anaemic, airbrushy looking art. Time to do something less pretty, in a stronger, more definite technique.

Also, to remind myself of old advice I used to know but keep forgetting; right in the beginning, put down a light color and a really dark one - maybe solid black, so you can estimate contrasts. Cause otherwise, you paint in super low contrast and can't tell, then you need to keep punching it up artificially..

*  *  *

And in a case of "the artist says one thing and does another" ---

Looks like I couldn't stop messing with it after all.

And now we're rollin'!

*  *  *

... And the saga continues...

My control has increased quite a bit on this piece. I used to not drop below 33% opacity, but toward the later stages of this one I'm working frequently at 12%. Getting subtleties I couldn't do before. Probably the most important thing I've used is an organization principle for the lighting - the Asaro approach (deciding which planes face the light most directly and lighting them the strongest, and working outward from there dropping light levels accordingly as you go).

Ok, I've signed it, but it wants a bit more work done on't. They usually evolve a bit after the signature is appended.