Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stories Within Stories

Look at this wonderful painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist, entitled "Valdemar Atterdag Holding Visby to Ransom, 1361".  There are so many wonderful compositions going on within the confines of a single greater composition.  I'm sure the original must be a sight to see, spanning more than 10 feet in width!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Schoolism Interview with Bobby Chiu

-by Eric Fortune

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Bobby Chiu for Schoolism. Though I've been a fan of Bobby's work for years we met for the first time at Spectrum Live.  He's a super nice guy and we had a great talk.  Hopefully, there are some insightful nuggets you can glean from the conversation. 

Listen to the interview Here

This painting is several years old now.  But I thought I'd share a decent sized image of the painting I had pulled off the wall during the interview. The piece is titled "Divided by Time"

Guest blogger - Bill Carman

-By Petar Meseldzija

Bill Carman is an artist, a very fine Fine Artist. He is an illustrator, too, a very unique one. He is different, strange, sometimes a little weird; he is funny, but at the same time he can be deadly serious. No matter whether he is creating pictures for a gallery show, or for a children’s book, he is always the same, whole, recognizable, himself and brilliant.

As far as I am concerned, his work stands for honesty and being yourself, for daring to openly and publically dream your dreams through your pictures. And although these “visual dreams” are reflecting Bill’s personal mental and emotional landscape, they are in their essence yet another emanation of the same, hard to express symbolic language of the subconscious that we all share. This, perhaps more than any other quality of his work (and they are many), makes him a true artist.

I secretly (apparently not more) hope that this post, that contains a significant dose of Bill Carman’s imagery, will help people, especially commercial illustrators among them, to awake to their own unique creative personality, instead of endlessly running after other people’s ideas and depicting them…This “awakening”, after all, might be bad for your finances, but on the longer run it will bring the always sought after internal satisfaction and contentment, for no money, or any other kind of external material compensation, can (permanently) fill the gap, the hole, in the troubled artist’s soul. This is my personal conviction.


Gallery Stuff
-By Bill Carman

Being asked to contribute to Muddy Colors is a tremendous honor. Being asked to contribute to Muddy Colors twice in a lifetime means I should get paid. Seriously, I would like to thank the Muddies for their continuing wisdom and specifically Petar for inviting me again.

My immediate thought when I was asked, other than no time or no one wants to read what I write, was that I would write about humor in art. But I’m not very funny. Then came the suggestion comments a while ago. One arena in which I am pretty confident is the gallery stuff arena.

I have been in galleries pretty much since I graduated 8,124 years ago. After school, the recurring theme with my work seemed to be, “Oh, I love it but how can I use it.” Hence galleries became the immediate default route. Because I had some ability I continued to do illustration but the gallery world always sucked me back in. The latest version of that sucking is the result of what I believe to be a natural development in the art world; the recognition of image based work (again) as a marketable commodity for wall space.

In the past 10-15 years there has been a major shift in the gallery world resulting in an exciting playground for not only the serious (no humor in art), all black wearing, philosopher quoters but for image-makers who like to tell stories and make things people like.

Could have used a painting example much cooler than mine but this is my post after all

There are many reasons for this shift, including pop surrealist/low brow art and the digital explosion in entertainment, I won’t go into because it would take a book sized post.

And there is certainly no way to cover all the possibilities of the gallery world in a single post, so thankfully I’ll limit this post to one man’s recent experience. I’ll leave the exhaustive how to get into galleries list to someone good at such lists like Greg. (See how I did that whole shift of responsibility thing)

I was one of those kind of old school guys who plugged along doing illustration and the local gallery thing. With some reluctance I started to build an online presence. Getting in to certain annuals like Spectrum and Society of Illustrators helped my cause and scoring awards didn’t hurt either. Now with the magic of the internet (still not quite sure how this happens), the result of this plugging away was that my stuff got passed around a little.  When I was first contacted to be in a “theme show” I thought it was a scam.

My memory is a little foggy, I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so my memory is a little foggy but I believe the fist theme based show to which I was invited was “Rom”. I had no idea what a Rom was. Turns out he’s a comic book character of some renown in Rom circles. I answered the invitation by informing them that I am not a comic book artist. To which they replied, “That’s even better we are looking for different takes.” I was prepared to just ignore things from there but went to the site and saw work by very good artists whom I admire. When I saw Renee French’s work, an online friend and acquaintance, I thought OK if she’s in it I’ll try something new.

My take on Rom
After that fairly positive experience things seemed to steamroll. The next show was in LA and it was a comic book character of choice. I chose The Main Man.

The show that really turned up the heat was Terrible Yellow Eyes a Maurice Sendak tribute organized by Cory Godbey. It was held in conjunction with the movie release.

The Sendak show generated a lot of publicity and my work was seen all over. Theme shows started to pile up.
He-Man (How could one say no to this?)

Airships (Right up my alley)

Twilight Zone (Didn’t need to think long about this)

A blockbuster Alice in Wonderland show coinciding with the Burton movie.

High profile pro bono and charity shows can garner great publicity. The first was for Artblocks for Ghana”  and the second for “Art Tails” benefitting the Japan disaster.

There were more, and more I had to turn down but the result was people in big cities and all over the cyber realm saw my work. Seeing my work led to buying my work, which is a good sign that someone will give you a show. They no longer say, “I love your work (well they thankfully still say this), but what do I do with it?” they just put me in a show and let the public decide. So now I get to sit in my wonderful studio, living much like an art hermit and paint things like this:

"Amended: Albino Narwhal Synchronized Swimming Doping Law"

“3 Wishes”

"Batgirl and Batsquid Ride Batpug as Batbat Leads the Way"

Remember, this is one man’s recent route to gallery fame and fortune. There are many ways to approach and work with a gallery. I said I would leave the lists to Greg, and I will, but I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts:

  • Be honest, work hard and your unique voice will find you.
  • Be ready if the opportunity comes.
  • Find where you belong. (Personally my most difficult thing)
  • Reward your viewers. Gallery work is about presence. The image should, of course, look great in print or on screen but when it arrives at the gallery people should gasp, swoon, and faint. Surface, presence, craft all work toward making not simply a picture but an object. So even if your work is digital how do you make it stand out among all the other prints on the wall as something that should be on a wall?

Bill Carman FaceBook

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"The Cairn at Slater Woods" Progression

-By Eric Fortune

This piece just went live online so I thought I'd share some progress shots.  As always I highly recommend getting decent photo ref for your art.  The reference I had taken had some pretty interesting folds.  But these didn't really reflect what I had in my head so I took what I liked and made up quite a bit.  I hate it when fabric doesn't obey my wishes.  I have to give props to Irene, the Art Director at Tor, for her direction on this one.  Totally worth the extra effort :)

To see the art with copy click here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 Things I Remember...About Portfolios

-Gregory Manchess

If you were drawn to this post, you’re probably serious about developing your portfolio. Let’s be honest. You’re already thinking about how to sell your work, not stumbling over what many artists fear: that promoting one’s work considered artistic prostitution.

Lighten up. This is about getting work and keeping clients. This is a fundamental part of any artist’s career: their portfolio. The thing that says, ‘this is what I do’ and, ‘I do it really, really well.’
Even today, when the classic black portfolio has been mostly replaced by the iPhone or iPad, your presentation, the promise of your work being a good experience for a client, is the underlying key principle.

There's no forgiveness in this business. You must think like a pro from Day One.

1. Convenient
It should be a seamless endeavor for the client to look through your book, no matter what form it takes. It should be easy for them to hold. Get rid of the clever faux cow skin covering and pop-up sparklers and surprise extras. They’re never a surprise, and they’re never extra.

You may find this odd, but the best thing I did at the beginning of my career was realize that I didn’t want a portfolio that ‘stood out.’ I wanted it to blend in, become a part of the freelance landscape. I wanted my book to look like it had been used. Like it was a portfolio that people missed until they opened the thing and were surprised--at the quality. I let my book get beat up from multiple shippings and if it didn’t look the part, I wasn’t beyond giving it a little ‘travel patina.’

Don’t be clever. Be smart.

2. Start smart, end smart
Your best piece should smack them in the face on the first page. Each successive piece can be of less quality than the first, but then in the middle, your next best piece should strike there. After that, you can take them through other pieces, but you must end on one of the best possible pieces you’ve ever created. End on a high note. People remember beginnings and endings. Period. Not so much in the middle.

3. Best work only
Sounds simple, right? You can’t imagine how many people put everything in their portfolio. Endless pages of drivel. Only show the very best work you can do. Nothing else. If you don’t have it yet, then work to get it, and in the meantime, have a very short portfolio. Do not pad it with junk drawings. Ever.

4. Lose the figure studies
Unless you’re applying at Disney for a studio job, your figure studies scream, “amateur!” “just graduated!”

5. Only show the work you want to get
If you want to get book cover work, do not show your flower paintings. If you want to impress TIME Magazine, don’t fill your book with your conceptual paintings. They buy portraits. Going for gaming? Then don’t show them your TIME portraits. Show them what they buy, for cryin’ out loud.

Which leads me to...

6. Research the client
Learn what they buy. Come on, how hard is that in today’s market? So, a publisher prints books on gardening. Then put that kind of work in your book, not your “Death Drives A Pale VW” pulp fiction covers. They. won’t. get. it. And if you are going for gaming, then that’s the time to add your drawings of figure work, costumes, etc. That’s what those guys are looking for.

7. Multiple books
Still fascinates me that many potential illustrators have not figured out that if they have a range of different styles, they shouldn’t put them all in one portfolio. Separate those different styles into several portfolios and only show a particular portfolio to a client that buys that look.

One look per book. If you do watercolor and oil and pastel and pen&ink and mixed media and digital, (“wow! you do so many things!!”--not what you want to hear) separate them as much as possible so that each book makes logical visual sense of what you are showing. Oil with oil, digital with digital, cartoons with cartoons, editorial, advertising, etc.

Not very hard to grasp, hmm? You’d be surprised how many ignore this. If they’re impressed with your book and want to see more, that’s when you pull out your watercolor book.

8. Show, don’t tell--no excuses
I don’t care if Godzilla burst through your bathroom window and caused your printer to “mess up the color” of your prints, or your dog was raptured during The Second Coming. DO NOT make excuses to any potential client. If your book should look better, then make it look better, before you show anyone.
And being ‘new to the business’ is no excuse. If you are already making excuses for the portfolio, guess who’s thinking you’ll be doing the same on their job? Uh huh.

9. Perfect reproductions
Get quality reproductions into your portfolio. I don’t care what it costs. Neither does the client. You can carry just a handful of examples of your work if you are still putting a killer portfolio together. That’s ok, explain that, and then show the potential client a few samples of that killer work.

10. Flexible uses
After you’ve researched the client and know what they buy, go through your work and rearrange your pieces into another book or another presentation that will focus toward that particular client. If they buy both portraits and fairy paintings, then adjust your book to reflect that. Leave your horse and motorcycle paintings out.

Think of your portfolio as flexible. Use smart ways to show off your work, certainly, but your work must look professional and succinct.

Clients remember a presentation because it’s a reflection of your potential job performance.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Billy Bones Character Design Process

-By Justin Gerard

Pencil Drawing, Watercolor, and then Watercolor and Digital

This was a brief experiment in working more opaquely than I usually do. (Both in the watercolor and in the digital.)

The digital work is very minimal. In CS5 it is just one Color Balance layer and a few normal layers.

Usually I will use hundreds, nay thousands, of multiply and screen layers to finish even a simple character when I am working over a much lighter watercolor.
As for the brushes themselves, they were mostly Photoshop standards and a few pencil brushes of my own. Nothing fancy since the traditional watercolor does most of the texture work.

I didn't do very well getting bright colors in the original watercolor. But if I ever need to paint something so that it looks like a complete mess, then I am pretty confident that I will knock it out of the park.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pictogram Mystery

A few days ago, I watched an Indonesian action film called 'The Raid' (which was excellent, btw). Prior to the film starting, what I assume is a warning screen popped up. Normally, I wouldn't have made much note of it. But on it were a series pictograms, including a depiction of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream', which immediately caught my eye.

Upon closer inspection, I came to the conclusion that these pictograms were ratings devices, indicating the film's inclusion of sex, violence, horror, etc. I found them really intriguing.

I expect I guessed most of them accurately, but a few of these pictograms are really weird, especially the last one. What kind of warning could that possibly be?! 'Beware, may cause dangerous levels of existential introspection'?

I'm hoping some of our readers can help me figure them out!

I'm afraid to say too much, for fear of confirming my ignorance, but the language does not look Indonesian to me. If I had to guess, I would say it's Korean. Does anyone know why the warnings would be in Korean on an Indonesian film?

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live - IAIN MCCAIG

Dwight and Swain, the Podmasters at SideBar Nation are at it again with a presentation and interview starring the energetic creator Iain McCaig.

Another power packed event at Spectrum Art Live 2012.

Listen to it HERE!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Disney, Brother Bear and the “Bear Necessities”

-Terryl Whitlatch

One of the major divisions of Creature Design is that of depicting real animals, as opposed to imaginary ones. In fact this is altogether much more challenging; on an intrinsic level we are all familiar with living species—we either own them or have ready access to them via farms, riding stables, zoos, museums, or video. We’ve seen, fed, and touched them. This, as opposed to imaginary creatures, where no one is able to stand up and tell you what is wrong.

One of the tasks I’ve had throughout my career as a concept artist is to supply studies of living animals as reference for various film projects. A case in point is Disney’s 2003 animated feature Brother Bear. This was a film whose overriding sensibility and design was one of extreme naturalism—its closest aesthetic comparison was Bambi, a sublime production produced nearly 63 years earlier.

I was hired to provide the Disney Art Department assigned to that production with as many anatomical analyses and breakdowns of actual bears (as well as moose and other animals) in all sorts of poses—in particular showing how the muscles performed under the heavy fur, and then, breakdowns of the fur itself, showing the blocks, directions, and tracts, for ease in stylizing down for animation.

Fur has weight, direction, and heft, and in healthy Kodiak bears this is multiplied beyond that of most mammals, except perhaps for yaks, musk-oxen, and on a much smaller scale, Persian cats. It takes some in-depth study to understand this, and thus it was my task to supply the production artists and animators with this knowledge in a readily digestible form.

I estimate that close to a hundred of these drawings were produced—from bears fighting, sitting, roaring, hunting, you name it. From there, I went on to do many narrative illustrations, lip-syncing studies (making a moose talk) and further stylizing down to the Brand character. I must say, that is was one of the most satisfying gigs that I’ve worked on, and I was privileged to meet some of the most artistically gifted people that I have ever known, and I’m convinced, ever will know.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Daisy , Step 2 : Painting

-By Serge Birault

First step here :

I'm not a specialist of grayscale. I don't use it very often. I came from traditional painting and this technique is not very « natural » for me. But let's try, I will try to avoid the « washed » effect.

I put the sketch on a « multiply » type layer and I start to work under it. I choose my basic tones and my ambient light, it will be green. Of course, the saturation is not very good.

For the painting-like effect, I don't use airbrush but different Ditlev brushes (once again). You can download the pack here:

I have to paint over the sketch now. I don't want to change the contrast and the luminosity too much so I create only « overlay », « linear burn », « linear dodge » and « difference » layers.<

The amount of layers is quite ridiculous but I add the tones one by one. I often decrease the opacity of the layers to 0-10%.

The choice of colors is logical … Green and orange. I think you know the complementary tones.

Here's the result. It's not perfect but I'm on the good way.
I merge all the layers.

I add the bag full of daisies. It changes a bit the meaning of the picture but my composition is better now. The « hole » on the bottom-right now longer exists.

I add details and I change the contrast and the saturation a little bit.

I can't if tell I'm totally satisfied by this technique. My palette is very close of the one I used for an old picture, « Sashimi's revenge » but the result is not as good. By the way, I spent 80 hours on that pin up and « The daisy » was done in only 8 hours. I think I can work faster with a bit of training but I'm not sure I will use grayscale again. I go back into the one's old ways now.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Career Education Choices

-By Donato

I just graduated from high school and I'm wondering about college and such. Is it worth attending an expensive university or should I just go to a smaller school? I'm very serious about my art and I'm very dedicated... I want to be an illustrator.  I want to do everything from magazine covers and book covers to concept art for games or movies.  Is it possible to be in debt and be an illustrator?  

college works, 1988-90
These are very tough questions from a young artist that could take a life time to answer. I'll try to provide some insight as to what has worked for me and look back at my career with 20/20 hindsight. To start with, my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Syracuse University (coupled with three previous years at the University of Vermont) was very important in laying the foundation in developing my career, but equally important was the drive to be creative, prolific and open-minded.

Every artist has to seek their individual path to success, no two are the same.  It has taken many long years of practice, patience, and devotion to craft to attain the level of quality now exhibited within my work.  I am sure this advice sounds similar to others before, but it is the truth, practice, and plenty of it, makes for perfection.  Pursuing the arts is an admirable and challenging goal, but you have to be willing to make great sacrifices along the way to achieve those ends.

Creative Impulse,  198
One of the greatest changes I struggled through was learning to detach myself from the hobby work, drawings, and paintings I had loved to create in my youth.  To take art seriously I learned to study and find validation in all art forms.  I am the artist I am today because of my ability to shrug off the old subject matter (comics, realism, science fiction and fantasy) and embrace new aesthetics which teachers and professors were exposing me to: abstraction, post-modern theories, deconstruction, gesture drawing, impressionism, surrealism, cubism, sculpture, print making, digital media, etc...  Without stepping into the unknown, I would have never truly challenged myself nor experienced anything new.  I would have never learned to what it felt like to fly, content to spend my time walking and jumping the distances I knew were 'safe'.  I see many artists who, while technically proficient, are grounded far too much in their youth and the content they find comforting there.

The paths I took to become a successful artist are unique and cannot be duplicated - like losing detailed sight permanently out off one eye two weeks before I was to move to New York City to begin my career as a visual artist, or moving to New York City and finding work at the Society of Illustrators as a coat-check boy (ok., maybe not impossibly unique on that last one!).  All of these events, and much more, contributed to the drive and insights I developed to become a successful creative individual.  Each of these experiences  challenged my assumptions about who I was and what direction I was determined to take as an artist.

I can tell you I am very happy with my career and would not trade it for another.  I make a comfortable living in New York City, being able to support my family and travel and vacation when I wish to do so.  But on the other side, if I had know how few artists actually make a living at this, I might of had second thoughts about pursuing this career.  The burdens of financial debt weigh heavier on this new generation than they did on mine.   I teach at schools in New York,  hold annual seminars and lecture at a dozen others across the country.  Throughout all these presentations I stress how the love of your craft must be the one driving force compelling the artist to create their work, for if they are pursuing this purely for financial gain, it will end in abject failure. The visual arts is a highly competitive field with only the most driven and studious surviving to make a career of it.

Joan of Arc, 2011
My suggestions are, if you wish to pursue this career, you must take it very seriously and be willing to work seven days a week. (I’m not kidding here).  You have to love it down deep.  Really deep.  As in the reason for existence is to express yourself through art.  Next is to pursue interests outside of the requirements of the art major - history, philosophy, sciences, sports, etc.... If you don’t learn about life, what will you have to say in your art?  Many of the greatest minds in art were not ‘educated’ in art classes, the schools were a ‘polishing’ wheel to their minds which focused their ability for artistic expression.  This is not to say you cannot learn great things in an Art college, just realize there is a much greater world to embrace than what is in the class assignment.  Most importantly chose a major which focuses upon content, not just technical skills.  While almost all commercial art programs teach worthy technical skills, you can learn much through a few additional classes/courses with hard labor and practice on your own, through an apprenticeship with another professional, or at a multitude of Atelier studios across the country.

Learning a specific technical skill to become an illustrator now is like learning to use a whip and spurs to get around town; the needs of the industry will be different by the time you graduate and in the decades after, change is constant in the freelance marketplace.  What you want are classes and teachers that open your mind to another way of seeing and interpreting the world, these skills can be used across media and fields, not limited to illustration.  Major Universities have programs and offer classes far outside the traditional arts fields and supply your mind with a well rounded and stimulated education.  The art I create stands out because I attempt to bring a different voice to the genre, a new view on the characters or places involved in the stories, a sample from my life experiences, something not typically found in science fiction nor fantasy.

I love what I do and I wish all of you luck in the pursuit of your dreams.   Finally, my studio door is always open to those who wish to visit and learn if you make it to New York (just call first!).


Donato Giancola

Studio in Brooklyn, 2012