Thursday, January 31, 2013

Some Truth For Today

A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it does not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

George MacDonald

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dragon Tamer: WIP

Just in case someone out there is wondering what "WIP" means - it stands for "Work In Progress".

Moving along, slowly but surely.  This piece has become infinitely more intricate and complicated than I originally anticipated.  I'm about 22 hours in on the final, way off schedule (I'm supposed to be working on my sister's save the dates, shhhh), and I am now stuck and having to lean heavily on Photoshop to solve some of the color problems I am having.

I had intended to have the final done by next week's post, but I doubt that is going to happen.  So look forward instead to another update on this as well as an update on the Save the Date illustration I will be working on.

It's going to be awesome when it's finished, though!

The sketch for the Save the Date.

Friday, January 25, 2013

An Artist You Should Know About

A lot of people don't realize that Alphonse Mucha was a fantastic, classical oil painter as well as a fabulous commercial artist.  Honestly his oil paintings are among some of my favorite paintings of all time.  

Artsy has a page that shares some of his work and like Mucha with different artist who's work is similar:

Dragon Tamer

This is a rough summary of the story that was inspired by the Dragon Tamer piece.  I debated for a while even putting up this much, but I wanted people to have an idea of what was going on.  

I hope this gives you a good idea of what I was thinking when I thought of this piece.  There may or may not be a book in the works, and I reserve the right to take everything back to the drawing board.  I'd love to hear what you think, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Please don't steal anything.

Once upon a time, but not very long ago, there lived a boy named Gabriel Predergast. He lived somewhere between this world and Fairie, so as you can imagine, some wonderful and fantastic things have happened to him. But it wasn’t always like that. For a long time - 17 years in fact - nothing amazing had happened to Gabriel except that he was the one wizard in a family of wizards who couldn’t do magic. Magic never did what he wanted it to do. He was very good at building things, however. But in a world where magic is the rule rather than the exception, “handmade” is rather less than ordinary. For years he despaired of ever doing anything important or great or even interesting until one day his family went to a party. 
Gabriel and his whole family were invited - his father and mother, his seven older brothers and three younger sisters (who were all fantastic wizards, which made Gabriel’s failed attempts look even worse). Now, lots of things happened at this party – most important being that there was a real, honest to goodness dragon in a cage. A dragon that Gabriel and Jason, one of his older brothers, stole.

It was, of course, Jason’s idea, but he ended up dragging Gabriel into his hair-brained scheme (it happened a lot). Through a series of events too complicated to get into now, they ended up sneaking the dragon out that very night and no one was the wiser. Gabriel and Jason managed to ‘borrow’ their father’s car, stuff themselves and the dragon inside and drive out past the city limits. It’s a good thing it was late and there was no one on the road; neither of them had a license and Jason had never managed to pass any of his multiple driving courses. They stopped at the first secluded spot they found and let the dragon out of the car with firm notice that it was to ‘go back to its home’ and, this from Gabriel who was a little bit smarter than his brother as you might have guessed, that it wasn’t under any circumstance to follow them home. But you never know with dragons what they understand and what they don’t. Or at the very least what they choose to listen to. 
Gabriel and his brother made it back to the party in one piece - sans dragon.  What is more important is that their father’s car made it back in one piece, which could be considered a minor miracle. Everything went according to plan - at least until the morning. 
The dragon took a liking to Gabriel and ended up following them home.  You can imagine the chaos that ensued as Gabriel and his brother tried to hide the dragon from the rest of their family – but no matter how they pleaded threatened or cajoled, the dragon would not leave.
They hid it in the basement. No one went down there much and they might have hidden it pretty well, if the dragon could have been persuaded to stay there. Jason’s skills were sorely put to the test finding and fixing the myriad of things the dragon broke on its wanderings through the house. He didn’t find all of them in time either - Mrs. Predergast’s china and china cabinet fought the dragon and were cast down rather spectacularly. And loudly. Gabriel ended up shouldering the blame for that - even though Jason fixed everything ‘good as new’ for his mother - and was grounded for a week. By this time, the “theft” of the dragon was headline news and Mr. Prendergast was heavily involved in the investigation casting more than one suspicious glance at his sons. To Gabriel’s credit, he thought all eight of his sons were in some way responsible, and by the end of two weeks, all eleven of his children knew and were actively involved in trying to keep the dragon hidden. The triplets of course were first, being the most in the house, but the other six boys weren’t far behind.

Now, the really remarkable thing was that the dragon – the wild, untamable, fire-breathing dragon – followed Gabriel around like a puppy (or at least it tried).  Both brothers were at a loss to understand what was going on, until Jason came across an old book on dragons. It talked about a very rare kind of person that dragons were attracted to - any dragon, whether it be old or young, from near or far, ferocious or gentle, would be docile and calm and good natured when confronted by a dragon tamer. 
Gabriel had lived all his life without magic, without anything that really set him apart from the rest of his siblings, or even brought him up to their level. But being a dragon tamer didn’t sound like all that great a consolation prize. What good is it to be able to charm dragons with your mere presence in a world where dragons were all but extinct? And that didn’t help them with their immediate problem which was that they couldn’t get the thing to leave. He didn’t care about the dragon, he didn’t care about being a dragon tamer – he just wanted the dragon gone. 
Unfortunately the dragon belonged to a very powerful wizard who wasn’t about to sit back and just let a bunch of kids steal his dragon. Obviously.
Now a lot of other things happen before Gabriel gets to the  point you see developing in the illustration above.  One important thing is that Jason and Gabriel find a flute that allows a dragon tamer to control a dragon.  More things get stolen, feelings are hurt, the dragon gets kidnapped and in the process of rescuing him (and with no small degree of anger) Gabriel ends up doing a lot of stupid things - including setting a house on fire.  But while things don't end perfectly  lessons are learned and Gabriel takes a step towards understanding and accepting himself for who he is and who he is not.

I will update this again when things are a little more settled story-wise.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Truth For Today

To inquire into what God has made is the main function of the imagination. It is aroused by facts, is nourished by facts, seeks for higher and yet higher laws in those facts; but refuses to regard science as the sole interpreter of nature, or the laws of science as the only region of discovery.

 - George MacDonald, “The Imagination: Its Function and its Culture”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Drawing Dragons

On the off chance that this might be useful to someone, or for myself to look back on later: here is how "Drogo" came to life.

Anytime I try and do something in art that I haven't done before, I look to the masters.  Fortunately there are several Dragon Masters and they all tend to congregate over at Muddy Colors blog.  What's even more helpful is when all said Dragon Masters congregate to talk dragons over a two week period - which they did last September.  And piz-de-resistance: Justin Gerard's fantastic post on filling the storehouses in your brain with reference info from real life which you can read here, as well as some other tips on using real life to inspire fantastic illustrations here.

So I pulled up a whole mess of reference and dived in - and almost immediately got lost.

But I discovered two very important things: one being that I don't like drawing reptiles.  At all.  And two, Gerard knows his business and should always be heeded lest brain sucking aliens who feed on the unwary and under-researched find you and . . . well, eat your brains.

What I'm trying to say is that despite my distaste for two-dimensional reptile reproduction, I learned a lot.  And I know my dragons are better for it.

I sat myself down and drew a bunch of lizards and crocodiles and eels.  That was more frustrating than I anticipated and might have added to my general dislike of the species.  I leaned a bit too heavily on my reference and the first few came out too . . . crocodile-ish.

I kept at it, hated everything, and finally just put all the reference away, listening to Gerard's advice despite my doubts of being able to pull something like this off without guidelines.  Then I put in too much turtle - which was odd because I hadn't been looking at any turtle reference.  Then because owls are always on the brain, they decided to jump in at one point and I had to call everyone to order.  But by then, my youngest sister had tossed in some seahorses and that yanked all of us down a completely new path.  Out of nowhere, some real horses joined up with a komodo dragon or two and by that point I really had no idea where we were going and was just along for the ride.

After I had the rough idea of what to sculpt (the word sculpt being used here in a very general rough vague sort of way) I attempted several times to start . . . and restart.  And restart.  Then I brought out the tin foil and everything started working a little better.  A not to those who are masochistic enough to try this in the future: armatures make Sculpey much more bearable.  And usable.  

I did the head separate because it was a nightmare trying to shape it while it was on the body.  And it kept coming out looking like the lizard from Rescuers Down Under.  No joke.  

Finally I cooked the darn thing and hung it up between two chairs to photograph.

The problem that I ran into after that is I tend to lean too heavily on my reference and the lack of detail 1. was making my drawing look half-assed and 2. was good because it made me see that about myself.

So.  A general outline of how I made the little dragon guy.  Hopefully some pitfalls identified to avoid in the future.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

An Artist You Should Know About

Jean-Baptiste Monge is a illustrator/concept designer/character developer/vis-dev artist based in Montreal.  I look at his work and wonder what I'm doing with my life.  I strive for the life, character and storytelling he achieves in his work.  You can find him on Behance, or on his website.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Some Truth for Today

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. 


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Process

First let me say that there are some much better (and knowledgable) illustrators out there who have done post similar to this.  You should check them out, too.  A good place to start is the Muddy Colors blog.  Justin Gerard takes you through his entire process for a painting starting here.  Greg Manchess has a great series that he's been doing called 10 Things . . . This article on generating paintings is very useful, as is this one on planning pictures.  And Dan Dos Santos has a great article on sketching thumbnails here.

This is mostly a record for me - if someone out there is interested or finds this helpful, so much the better.  I find it beneficial to be held to some level of accountability with my art and as I have been struggling a little with some of my art and rushing (a big stumbling block for me) I thought it would be good to set my process down for all the eternal internet to see.

So first I start out with thumbnails.  Everyone starts out with thumbnails.  At least, I hope you do.  You should.  and if you don't and still come up with great art, do me a favor and don't tell me.  Please.  I don't need any more bad habits.

In all seriousness though.  Me, myself and I need to do thumbnails.  It helps to get all the ideas down on paper.  My professors at college encouraged us to do at least 50 thumbnails.  I really should do 50.  My goal is always to draw 50.  But reality usually looks more like 20.  Or 15.

As you can see, they are very loose.  Actually, no one really sees them at this point.  They're basically just ideas jotted down - I'm the only one who can really interpret them.

Next step is to pick the three or five best - in college that meant picking the ten strongest thumbnails, working them up a bit so more people could tell what was going on, and whatever three or five your prof thought were the strongest were the ones you went onto the next step with.  Through that you were supposed to learn which compositions worked and which ones didn't.  After college that means you kinda skip this step, pick the handful you like and hope for the best.

Then comes the fun part - the part where I really start to get excited about a piece.  Doodles become real ideas, you can start to see and feel the potential of a piece.  These are done without reference - usually still in my sketchbook but sometimes on the computer - I've been practicing.  These are ALWAYS little 2" or 3" VALUE sketches.  Value is important for me especially here at this stage because it helps create and drive the composition.  I'm always thinking in terms of value with pieces - where and how light will interact with shadow.

This is also where I decide how big the piece is going to be.  If I have a specific size I have to work with then the thumbnails at this point need to be in proportion to the final size or I run into HUGE problems later with composition.  If the composition works small here, it will work big later on, but only if it's the same proportions.

Next is the reference stage.  This is also a fun stage; I bring in people to photograph - usually I see the person I'm going to use as a model in my head and then bribe them with empty promises of fame and fortune.  Or prints of the final painting.  They never seem to believe me about the fame and fortune bit . . .

Anyway, I used to hate this stage; I hated asking people to model for me.  And then there was the whole photographing piece and I always felt so awkward.  But then I came home and I knew (kinda) all the people around and most of them either have changed my diapers, or I've changed theirs.  Or they're married to my siblings and I might potentially change their kids' diapers.  So with the common bond of diaper changing under my belt, I found my whole perspective towards photo reference doing a 180, and now the collaborative piece just adds so much life to the piece.  I find myself drawing and smiling as I work, remembering the person and or the interactions that happened while shooting the reference.  And it also helps that there's at least one person waiting with some level of bated breath for me to finish.

There's also some level of silliness that happens - especially if one or more of my brothers is involved.

The value sketches come into play at the reference hunting/gathering stage.  I try and set up the model with lighting as close to the sketch as I can.  Sometimes I find out that I really didn't want that lighting set-up that I thought I did and have to change my reference and sketch accordingly.  The Dragon Tamer piece is a good example of that.  I didn't really know what I wanted as far as lighting for it, and I didn't put as much effort into that stage of it as I usually do.  Needless to say, it's come back to bite me and I'm spending almost double the amount of time in the planning stage than normal.

Then there's the maquette stage - this is an "as needed" stage that I only recently added to my process . . . Not a huge fan, but it is going to be a huge help. 

After I've pieced together my reference and background comes the drawing stage.  I'm usually most comfortable here.  No color, just value and composition.  Sometimes I'll draw a specific aspect of the piece separate - the character, or their hands and piece the whole thing together in Photoshop.  It helps to focus attention on the character and really define details.  Learned that one from Justin Gerard, who apparently learned it from animators.  Which is brilliant.  And it's a huge help.

So once I have the background and the characters sketched out exactly the way I want them with the value stuff all settled so it looks pretty close to the two toned Little Red Riding Hood Steampunk piece up there, it's time for the color comp.

I have no strategy here. Really, I don't.  Sometimes I get some info from the reference, but otherwise I just throw color on a sketch until it's unusable or it gives me an idea and I move to a new one until I know exactly what I want.  Or at least I know mostly what I want.

Then the drawing goes on the board or paper.  I use either a light table or tracing paper to sketch in the rough shapes, but after that I do everything by hand.  And this is a tight drawing.  All the shadows, all the lines, no information is left out.  Eric Fortune and Rebecca Guay taught me this and it's been such a . . . I don't even know how to describe it.  Laying in color is easier because some of the value is already established.  I don't loose as much of my drawing - which is again what I love most about the piece at this point.

Then comes the first layers of color.  Nothing real fancy here, just establishing some of the overall color of the piece.  The first two or three layers are watered-down acrylic that I use like watercolor (but not with my watercolor brushes).  The benefit of this is that 1. I seal some of my drawing and 2. that those first initial colors don't get lifted out by the subsequent layers of watercolor.  I can get real wild with the first layer of watercolor because I know that I won't be lifting anything up that I put down first.  And by using watercolor for the rest of the piece, I get all those awesome watercolor-ish things that happend when you let watercolor do what it does.

By this point, I've usually lost myself in the painting and it's time to draw again.  So out come the colored pencils.

After that I go back and forth between the watercolors and the pencils, pushing or pulling as needed.  My biggest help at this point is the piece of scrap board or paper that I keep next to the piece to test all my colors or the strength and amount of my paint before I put them down on the actual painting.  

And then there's the part where you take the tape off and scan or photograph the work, put it into the computer and start editing it there for printing.  Ugh.  I never understood until recently how frustrating it is to see your work on the computer screen and think that it's just not as good as the real thing.