Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Epic Painting - The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship in Hollin     Donato Giancola   2017  Oil on Panel   65" x 34"
by Donato

In pursuit of my continued explorations in landscape painting, and love of seeing the immense canvases of the Hudson River School painters, a new oil painting was premiered at the Balticon Science Fiction Convention this past memorial Day Weekend - The Fellowship in Hollin from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.

This image was initialized five years ago while exploring possible scenes and compositions for a private commission showcasing the Fellowship of the Ring.  I feel in love with the idea of the adventurers reflected in a still body of water, a foreshadowing of their impending journey underground into Moria.

The motivation to jump into the final oils struck when cleaning out my studio storage.  I was reminded of a large, empty frame waiting to find a new image to be placed within.  It was of landscape format created from dark warm wood...a near perfect vessel for the Fellowship concept in Hollin.

A few visits to Albert Bierstadt and Frederick Church paintings at the Metropolitan Museum and Brooklyn Museum of Art helped prime the desire to pull this off in a grand, epic way.  Although much in the shadow of these landscape giants, it is a pleasure to play within their aesthetic. The saturated colorful paintings of Thomas Moran were also an informing source.

Attached are a few detail shots as well as the rough abstracts which laid the groundwork for this piece.

Limited Edition Giclee Prints of this painting are available within my store:

Below is a detail of the art with a US Quarter to provide scale...those were some small heads to paint!

The Fellowship in Hollin     Donato Giancola   2017  Oil on Panel   65" x 34"  detail

The Fellowship in Hollin     Donato Giancola   2017  Oil on Panel   65" x 34"  detail

The Fellowship in Hollin     Donato Giancola   2017  Oil on Panel   65" x 34"  detail

I enjoy using the palette knife to create controlled, chaos within organic forms such as rocks and vegetation.  A wonderful way to force choices upon the image without deliberate brush strokes.

The Fellowship in Hollin     Donato Giancola   2017  Oil on Panel   65" x 34"  detail

The prime motivating factor - the frame!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Last Chance For Discounted Price!

This month's Patreon video is 'A Portrait in Pencil, with Greg Ruth'. A $10 donation to our Patreon gets you a downloadable copy of this video, but only until the end of the month.

After that, this reward will expire and the download will only be available via Gumroad, where the cost will be about double what it is currently. So if you want to snag a copy of this 2.5 hour demonstration at the lowest possible price, you need to do it before Thursday morning!

Check out the trailer above to get a taste of what you're missing. More info here:

Summer School

-By Arnie Fenner

Skowhegan School of Art students in Maine sketch a nude model in 1948

"Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel."

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of Summer in the U.S.; graduations have taken place and most schools are out, NY publishing generally ratchets down to a 4-day work week, people start to embark on vacations, and, of course, the geek/pop culture/what-have-you convention season kicks into high gear. There are also a number of educational workshops that take place over the Summer months and extend into the Fall. Some have been booked solid for months already, but others still have a handful of openings.

Whether you're a student, an aspiring artist, or a working pro, the opportunity to improve or modify your skills under the personal guidance of creators who are at the top of their game is, let's face it, pretty damn exciting. Instead of a road trip to see the world's biggest ball of twine or to pay Stan Lee for his autograph for the umpteenth time, maybe one of the workshops listed below would make your Summer (or Fall) unforgettable.

Above: From Legendeer's 2016 Canadian workshop. Photo by Loic Zimmerman. 

Starting today—so, obviously, interested parties will have to be thinking about 2018—is Sterling Hundley's Legendeer workshop, which is something of an "art in the wild" experience that takes place in different scenic locations each year. With a focus on mentoring and skill-building, the 2017 class takes place overlooking Utah's Zion National Park. Instructors joining Hundley include Adam Paquette, Apolla Echino, and Muddy Colors own Vanessa and Ron Lemen. You can learn more about Legendeer here.

Above: Gary Kelley demos at the Illustration Academy. 

Next up is the Illustration Academy's annual Summer Workshop, which is actually sort of the granddaddy of all of today's various offerings. Originally started in the 1970s by Mark English, the workshop is now headed by his son (and fellow illustrator) John. With an intense focus on career-building, for a week—up to a full five week experience—students will learn from a rotating group of commercial art giants including Gary Kelley, C.F. Payne, Karla Ortiz, Jon Foster, Bill Sienkiewicz and a host of others. As the longest-running and largest illustration workshop, spots might still be available for latecomers. The deadline to register is this Wednesday, May 31: you can learn more about the IA (as well as their online programs) here.

Above: Mike Mignola explains everything at the 2016 IMC. Photo by Dave Palumbo. 

The middle of June is the time for Rebecca Guay's IMC (originally known as the Illustration Master Class, but its focus has now expanded to include gallery and Fine Art disciplines) in Amherst, MA. Featuring a week of guest speakers and, of course, drawing and painting, IMC fills up early, but they also offer longer digital mentoring classes with a choice of instructors later in the year via their SmArt School program. Faculty for 2017 includes Julie Bell, Boris Vallejo, Cynthia Sheppard, and fellow Muddies Donato Giancola, Dan dos Santos, Greg Manchess, Lauren Panepinto, and John Jude Palencar. You can learn more about IMC here.

Above: The 2016 Fantastic Workshop Class. 

Looking a bit further down the road into the Fall is the Fantastic Workshop November 15-20 in Nashville, TN. An outgrowth of the popular One Fantastic Week podcasts and focused on the business of being an artist—along with plenty of art instruction, naturally—teachers this year include Allen Williams, Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Sam Flegal, Peter Mohrbacher, Sean Murray, Annie Stegg, and MC's Justin Gerard. If you've watched Annie's and Justin's presentations via Muddy's Patreon program, you know you're in for a treat. Limited to 50 participants, you can learn much more about FW here.

Frankly, it's hard to keep up with everything Bobby Chiu's Schoolism is doing...because they're doing a lot. Both online and with workshops spanning the globe, including ones upcoming in London, Berlin, Portland, and Copenhagen. They even host a month-long bootcamp in Montreal in the Schoolism House. Rather than try to list them all, just go to their website to learn more. Also...enjoy several of their videos below.

Is there a cost attached to these various workshops and educational opportunities? Of course there is. As kind and giving as all of the instructors and organizers are...they have to eat, too. But any form of education is an investment, not only of money but of time and intellect: it has to be the right class or workshop or school for you, one that matches your wallet as well as your outlook and long-term goals. Is a workshop the right choice for everyone? Of course not. People learn and work in different ways and high-energy, fast-paced situations can be rewarding for some and intimidating for others. They aren't exactly everyone's cup of tea. Which means, simply, to do your research: talk to your fellow artists about their experiences, ask the organizers questions, and ultimately make an informed decision based upon what's right for you.

But...nobody can learn (and improve) in a vacuum. Taking part in a live workshop or in online classes or by attending informal life-drawing gatherings (like those the Illustration Academy sponsors regularly in Kansas City) can help artists advance in their craft and ultimately help them achieve their potential. No one knows it all and every opportunity to learn should be—must be—embraced. There will undoubtedly be reports about each of the events mentioned above, here on Muddy Colors or on various other websites. Think about it. It's never too early to plan for the future. It's never too early to plan for your future.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anne With an 'E'

If any of you have been watching the new show, 'Anne with an 'E', you've probably noticed that the opening credits are directly inspired by the incredible works of Brad Kunkle.

You can see that Intro here:

These similarities are no coincidence. Imaginary Forces, the studio behind the elaborate opening sequences for shows such as Stranger Things and Mad Men, worked directly with Brad Kunkle to help make his paintings come to life on the screen.

Check out this behind the scenes look at the making of the opening sequence right here:

You can see more images, and read more about the whole process over at Buzzfeed:

Friday, May 26, 2017

An Interview with Bryan Mark Taylor

-By Howard Lyon

Bryan Mark Taylor is a name that I have known for some time, but just recently have gotten to know him personally.  He moved this last year from San Fransisco to Alpine, Utah which happens to be about 10 minutes from my place.

I have loved Bryan's landscape and plein air work for some time now.  It strikes a wonderful balance where Taylor has simplified the information but created complex and interesting textures and surfaces.

Bryan grew up in Utah and credits the state's long tradition of outdoor painting as an influence on his career. He attended Brigham Young University, receiving a BFA and then studied at the Academy of Art, San Fransisco earning an MFA.  As he was wrapping up his MFA he began teaching at the school and particpating in various shows and competitions.  Taylor estimates he has been in over a hundred group shows and competitions and 15-16 solo shows.  I mention this because it speaks to his work ethic and dedication to his craft.  I am including several paintings through this post, but also go to his website to see more and find contact information too.

His work has be evolving in the last few years.  After thousands of paintings chasing different kinds light, texture and color, Bryan said that his interest is turning to new ways of applying paint.  

He also see the changes happening in the environment/climate and is motivated to capture the effects as well as some of the places being impacted. He has recently been on a couple painting trips (that make me a bit jealous) to Cuba and China. 

When the opportunity to go to Cuba came up, Bryan wanted to get there before the inevitable flood of American tourists brought money and change.

Bryan's work is a wonderful blend of interpretation and realism.  I can only imagine that it comes from doing so many studies from nature.  Look at the washy brushwork in the foreground shadows in the image above. It is contrasted by the geometric, heavier flat-brush application throughout the painting and the clarity of the rendering of the blue car is in beautiful contrast with the background.

Bryan also went to China. He said that he was able to travel with some other painters from China and visited some smaller villages.  While there he as able to observe the impact of environmental damage and advances in technology and industry to the poorer population.  It brought out some interesting thoughts. There was often a juxtaposition of beauty, tradition and change.  This was especially clear in some of the junk boats he saw.

He said that there are whole populations that live on the boats.  Raising animals on them, fishing from them and depending on the river for much of their living.  They also pollute the river, dumping trash and human waste right into the water.  The government in China is removing many of these people, disrupting a lifestyle that goes back generations and placing them in apartment buildings. Most of those being transplanted don't have skillsets to do something other than live on and from the river. It is challenging situation with complex problems. 

Bryan said that his roots in art also come from sci-fi though and feels that the time is right to come back to what inspired his imagination from childhood.  He is taking his experience and applying to more imaginative work. I couldn't be more excited to see where this takes him. - ArtStation page for Bryan

His concern for the environment influences his sci-fi work too.  The painting below is called Industrial Reef.  It is meant to evoke the Great Barrier Reef.  I can see that, especially in the way the ship seems to be lurking inside the opening in structure, ready to either duck back into the shadows or dart out. There is a sense of decay in the painting but also wonder. I see in these works that the technology we create has the potential to inspire and create wonder but with a cost.

As I asked Bryan to elaborate on what inspires him in his sci-fi work.  He said that one of the things he loves in sci-fi movies are those moments and scenes that inspire a sense of wonder and vastness.  The shots that usually come before the conflict, before everything goes wrong. He always wants those moments to last a bit longer.  You can see that in his work.  They feel cinematic, capturing the a moment filled with tension and possibility.  I love the tilt of the ship in the painting above, conveying motion and action and the perspective of the painting below invites the viewer to lean forward to try and peer deep into the scene.

Bryan will be at Illuxcon this year and I am so excited to welcome him here on Muddy Colors to the world of sci-fi and fantasy art.  His work is complex and exciting. I see influences of John Berkey and Syd Meade but the work is clear and unique.  Given how prolific he is, there will be many more inspiring paintings to come.

I closed my interview with him asking where he wants this new work to go. I think the fun and excitement of not knowing exactly where it might lead is part of the appeal for him.  He did say that he would love to work on Star Wars or Avatar or even do some book cover work. If anyone reading this has a say for any of those things, definitely reach out to him because I want to see where these go!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Artists and Mental Health: Brian Wilson vs. David Bowie

By Lauren Panepinto
I've been working on a project that has had me doing a ton of reading lately into artists and the psychology of why artists make art, and what sometimes (often) stops them from making art. And I'd very much like to hear what you guys think about the issue, because most of the readers of this blog are artists and creatives, and thus have experience with the mental health of said artists and creatives.

Brian Wilson by Bjorn Lie • David Bowie by Daria Theodora

First let's define terms. When I say artists I don't mean just visual artists. In Otto Rank's Art and Artist (his 1932 work about the personality development of artists) an artist was defined as a "productive personality" — by which Rank meant someone who produces something. I think it's too easy to get "productive" confused with "productivity" (aka efficiency) so I think a more accurate term for us today would be "creative". I know that's a fancy buzzword these days, but I think it captures the idea that we're talking about artists and writers and musicians and all kinds of people who make creative stuff.

I'm trying to distill a very big book dense with a lot of ideas (originally written in German) down into simple terms here, so forgive me for oversimplifying if you know his work but Rank says artists make art because of two reasons:

1) The universal human fear of death makes people crave immortality, and the productive personality deals with this fear through making works that will outlast them. (As opposed to other personality types who freeze up in the face of this fear and get stuck, or ignore or avoid dealing with this fear entirely.)


2)  Productive personality types are more sensitive and take in more stimuli than non-productive personalities do. This extra stimuli/sensory information will overload them unless they do something with it, so they offload the excess energy by putting it into their creations. This second theory aligns nicely with the Highly Sensitive Person theory by Elaine Aron, which I'm currently rereading. (Thanks to Chris Oatley for reminding me of that parallel when we talked recently.)

Now, while reason #1 (fear of death) certainly holds true on some level, I have to admit most artists I know don't start making art for immortality (or fame). Yes, I know these kinds of motivations can easily be subconscious. However, most artists I know have been making art since before they were old enough to really understand death enough to fear it — that seems kind of a post-pubescent problem at the earliest, unless you've had some kind of trauma in your younger childhood. And while many artists certainly do get praised for their art young, and are encouraged to continue due to that praise, that doesn't seem to be motivation enough to choose a creative path for life.

In fact, most artists I know really didn't choose creating. Whether they do it as full time work or on the side, creating is something they were compelled to do. Something they have to continue to do.

So that brings us to reason #2 (creating as a compulsion). It seems to me that many many artists do use creating as self-medication. Very often as a self-directed therapy. I know I do. Sure I want to create a lot of the time, but sometimes it's a lot of work, or I just don't feel like it, and I still have to do it, for my sanity (or semblance thereof). I'm a wreck if I haven't made a thing in too long. However, if you dig into this reason, I think you come to a big chicken-and-egg question: Are people born more sensitive and then become artists to deal with the input overload? Or does being an artist force people to become sensitive, taking in more and more sensory info, until they are forced to keep creating or overload like a tap stuck open?

I'd really love to hear your reactions, input, and opinions to all that. I apologize if it's not perfectly formed, these thoughts are very much still a work-in-progress, as well as mid-research.

Wilson by Ana Mourino • Bowie by Rebecca Leveille Guay
This might seem like a purely theoretical mind exercise, but I think it has definite real-world implications. Recently I read Brian Wilson's memoir, and I was struck by how profoundly his mental illness crippled his ability to make art. You may or may not be familiar with Wilson's music, or you may suddenly be asking yourself "she doesn't mean the surfing music guy, right?" but in short, this is a musician of such skill (I won't say talent on this blog or Greg Manchess will kill me) that John Lennon called Pet Sounds the best album ever made. He had a nervous breakdown in the mid 60s (from some combination of overwork, a bad acid trip, depression, and maybe schizophrenia), and he wasn't able to tour or create music for decades. He fell into an abusive doctor-patient relationship with a predatory therapist for years. Through work, family, and friends, he was able to pull out and create music again many years later, but as an obviously damaged artist and individual. Reading the memoir, I couldn't help say to myself over and over, what creations of such a genius were lost to us because he didn't find a way to someone who understood the mental health of artists and could support him properly enough?

Wilson by Matt Rota • Bowie by Marc Scheff

Then I read Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (thanks for the recommendation Mallory O'Meara) and read the chapter on David Bowie. The book is a great look at the origins of rock music and how much religion, ritual, and art have affected it throughout it's evolution. The Bowie chapter is a great description of a man who pushed himself so hard and so far artistically, who absorbed so many influences (and cocaine) and struggled to digest and synthesize them into persona after persona, rebirth and redefinition, that he had a nervous breakdown. But Bowie was able to put himself back together and return to making art from a stronger place that supported him for the rest of a very long and insanely fruitful artistic career. It reminded me a great deal of reading that shamans and medicine men of many tribes around the world were chosen for the job because they had a mental crisis or disintegration (what we would call a breakdown today), and were able to reform their personality, often with the help of the current shaman. This also mirrors the descent into and return from the underworld in Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. If there is a musician that fits the bill of a shamanic hero artist, it's Bowie. So what was it that made Bowie able to survive his mental demons while Wilson drowned?

I feel like the answer is somewhere in the above questions about why artists make art. I'm not cocky enough to think that's an answer anyone is going to be able to figure out once and for all, but I think it would be critically useful to artists working today if we had a more recent working hypothesis. Could we figure out what the difference was between Wilson and Bowie? If we could distill that down into actionable steps we could save more masterworks from the jaws of mental illness, and more artists from being stuck and frustrated and in despair.

If you have a book recommendation along these lines, I'd love to hear it. If you have thoughts and/or stories about how these questions apply to you and your creative life, then please comment below.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Portrait Demos

Victor Frankenstein, from Penny Dreadful

--Greg Manchess

During my SmArtSchool classes I try to work in at least one or two demos during the fifteen weeks we work together. And I’m beginning to understand that watching someone paint multiple times can be the push needed to bring one’s work up to another level of understanding.

It’s usually difficult to squeeze many in because I feel that the student should get as much attention about the piece they are working on at the moment; to get them at a time when their insights are at keen levels of listening strength. But sometimes, showing is better than telling in this regard.

Notes about painting these:

After the initial sketch, start with a mid-tone value, even on a face; be bold and sweep the tone all around.

Next, a mixture of any darks can be applied to the bolder areas of the face, i.e., hair, eyebrows, eye socket shadows, nostrils, lip line, under bottom lip, ears, under nose, under chin.

Then, work your way up through the value range, darker skin values first, laying lighter and lighter skin values on top of them.

Ta-daaaa! Simple and direct.

Remember: value first, then shape, then color. Value is color, shape is form, color is description. In other words, once we know the value, we need the shape to tell what it is, and the color becomes the final information. Worry least about color, but get value down immediately.

Last bit of info: consider that the difference between painting a man’s face full of brushstrokes and a woman’s the same way is how much the value shifts between strokes. A man’s face can take a broader jump between values and still look manly. A woman’s face should have more shallow shifts between the values, a tighter range, so that the impression is one of a smooth transition, and therefore smoother texture on the skin. Just study the pictures here for a bit.

Jyn Erso, from Rogue One

So I plan on adding more demo time to my classes. If you’ve been thinking about taking one of my classes, sign-up for the Fall semester is coming up. I keep the atmosphere in the class a comfortable setting where all questions are welcome because they usually lead to even better questions.

I consider the class like a dojo for training. ‘Cry in the dojo; laugh on the battlefield’ is an old saying that helps us understand what we are really trying to achieve in an educational setting.

I want you to eventually laugh on the illustration battle field.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

3 Photoshop Speed-Paintings and Some New Brushes

-By Justin Gerard

Recently, I released 3 new Photoshop brush sets containing nearly 100 of the digital tools that I use for my personal and client jobs.  For today's post I am sharing a few videos which show these brushes in action, as well as the method I use when I work digitally. 

Demo from the Pencil Set

Samples from the Pencil Set

Why bother making your own brushes? 
The reason I started making my own brushes was that my first true love was traditional media. When I discovered digital painting, I fell in love with so much of what it could do, but I found that most of the digital brushes looked too, well... “digital.”  They look flat, plastic and they lack character.

To make matters worse, my favorite use for digital painting was to apply it over top of a traditional underpainting. But I found that most digital brushes looked unnatural over traditional material, and the final painting would feel unfinished and soulless.

To solve this problem, I sample scans of MY OWN BLOOD.  (just kidding)  I sample scans of actual brush strokes, paint splatters, pencil marks and paper textures, made with various traditional tools and surfaces. (And some spilled coffee)
I then arrange all of the 10 billion sliders and knobs in Photoshop to arrive at a specific mathematical formula. This transmits my subconscious into the computer, you know, like that guy from Tron. And once inside, there is a whole universe in there, filled with millions of people, all of whom hate me and want to kill me with laser frisbees and motorcycles.  BUT I KILL THEM INSTEAD. And I use their ground up bones to make my digital brushes. 

*ahem* Anyway, once I have imported these "real" marks and input all the correct settings into Photoshop, I am left with better brushes that look natural alongside traditional media and leaves you with something that feels traditional, yet unique. Sort of like the robots that will soon be among us; they aren't quite human, but close enough that you won't be that bothered by them serving you fries at McDonalds.

(Coffee. Not human blood!) 

I'll be releasing 6 more sets this year. Next week I will be releasing a set made up of coffee spills! 

Colorizing a drawing with the Texture Set

Colorizing a traditional drawing using the Watercolor Vol. I Set

To learn more, check them out here on our store!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pretty Pictures Failing

-By Jesper Ejsing

These days I am hired frequently as a concept artist. I am not a concept artist, but see myself as an illustrator, but I have always been very fascinated by concept art and the mere fact that I could do illustrations without having to fine render it all to perfection made me jump into this business happily and without hesitation.

I have been thinking lately about my concept art - "Don´t do that, Jesper. Don´t think, just draw". The voice in my head starts arguing again. But this time he is wrong. I have been thinking lately about what I am doing wrong and I thing it is NOT thinking enough!

When I am asked to do a concept art push for a new world being it a game or a new setting for Magic teh Gathering or something similar, it is my job to come up with a visual homogeneous vision of a race or a tribe or a landscape and so on. At first "Yeah! I can do whatever I want. But the more I draw the more I feel like it is all just a mess of elements I have stolen from real life references or historical costumes. It lacks the visual shape language that makes it unique. As an example think of Tim Burtons universes. They all have his tell tale spiral. Or Moebius Starwatcher series. As soon as you see the tall hats and the bright pastel colors, you recognize it right away. They all have a unique form and shape that is incorporated in the whole world they create.

Searching for that visual cue, is the most important thing in concept art. I see that now. I did not before. What I did was trying to make pretty pictures. Like I do when I am asked to paint illustrations.

In these examples from 3 years ago I was doing a small selection of Gypsy Characters for Dungeons and Dragons. The assignment was really simple. Draw a bunch of different professions of gypsies.

Looking back I wish I had focused more on the visual cue that would tie them together. Instead I concentrated on portraying characters - like I was going to play these guys as a role playing character. That is also fine. I know, But from a concept art point of view they are just pretty pictures and not adding to a homogeneous world. They are separate figure drawings. Nothing ties them together. Do not get me wrong. I like the illustrations. I just wanna be more Moebius and less "Men at Arms"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Portrait in Pencil : Download Available Now!

This month's Patreon video 'A Portrait in Pencil, with Greg Ruth' is now available for download.

In this 2.5 hour demo, Greg Ruth walks us though his process of creating a fantasy portrait in graphite. Using one of his Dune-themed pieces as an example, Greg discusses not only how he creates convincing form, but how he imbues his portraits with a sense of character and backstory. Additionally, Greg takes the time to demonstrate how he creates the unusual textures he is so well known for, such as smoke and stars.

This video is available to all of our Patrons who donate $10 or more. If you are not a donor, but are interested in acquiring this video, please consider making a donation here: