Monday, December 17, 2007

More Sketches

Yep, more sketches. I have a lot more than these but I can't really put them all online. Most of them are pretty boring exercises in construction or light and shade (or both), kinda like this one:


Doing a lot of airplanes, because I've been watching the Scott Robertson DVD on aircraft. Mine are not so fanciful as his. However, airplanes are excellent practice for drawing 3D forms with accurate perspective.


Pulled one of these planes out and cleaned it up on tracing paper:


I traced this plane off a very messy scribbly sheet of sketching, I liked the shape:


So I went ahead and did a more elaborate drawing, which turned out with parts that aren't right:

Somewhere during this drawing, I came up with a sort of story idea where this plane is going to try to be the first prop-driven aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. Actually I think that may be physically impossible (though it was apparently done a few times in steep crash dives during WWII), but it's a fun sort of romantic extension to the old prop-plane/barnstormer sort of tradition. So this is a plane that's got a really huge powerful engine with two counter-rotating props to partially offset the massive engine torque, and some fancy swept-serrated wings like a jet fighter, with control surfaces that are more like modern supersonic fighters - the older control surface systems don't work well up around and beyond 1.0 Mach because the physical airflow forces are much different from subsonic flight. But I digress...

Anyway, I could see that the drawing was off, so I laid out a more formal perspective grid and got it more accurate:



I guess it's hard to see since this isn't a completed line drawing, but the wing on the right was too long in the first drawing, and some of the details at the front weren't in proper perspective. I tried to correct all that. I spend a lot of time trying to get the prop ellipses right drawing by hand; I don't have ellipse guides that big (this sketch fills a sheet of 9x12 marker paper) so I'm gonna have to check them in Illustrator or something.

Eventually I wound up with this side view, which I rendered quickly with marker:

I'm still gonna go back and work the previous sketch, most likely doing a layout in Illustrator and then ink drawing in Painter. Might go on to do a full photo-real rendering too.

I was also watching my Syd Mead DVDs again, and among other little drawing notes, I made a couple of "master copies" of the "Sport Hypervan in the DuPierre Equine Courtyard" image value comps:




The Hypervan isn't really drawn in the right proportions, but these were still fun, quick and good exercises. Someday I'll have that kind of layout and design sense...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sketchy Dumpy

As you know I'm working hard on rebooting core skills, so I've been doing a lot of sketching. Basically I'm working from the Gnomon Scott Robertson DVDs, the ones on basic perspective drawing and shading. This week, mostly on the perspective stuff. Here's some of the better pages:





Getting the ellipses right in freehand is really hard, but it's something I have to master. You can see the wheels on the car above aren't quite right, and the prop on the shaded airplane in the next image up is off. I'll take these into my programs and correct them so I know where I messed up.

All circles drawn in perspective become ellipses; so for things like wheels and any other circular item you have to master nailing exactly how the ellipse looks in that view or it's just off. Even people who know nothing about this sort of drawing know that the wheels are off, because we all see wheels every day... so this ain't something you can slack on. Of course I can nail them digitally, but that's too easy. :)

I really like the plane on the right in the next-to-last image, that came out really well. For that one I drew the prop ellipse first, using an ellipse template; see how much more "right" it looks?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday is Art Night: More City Gates

I decided that tonight was going to be "Art Night," and that I was just gonna come home, eat a quick dinner and then crank on some arting. Here's the results as of 10:30pm:

First, a bit of warmup...

Working on making 3D cubes and then lighting them properly. It's good warmup for my hands. I recently noticed that I hold a pencil or pen differently from how I hold my digital tablet stylus; the stylus is thicker so I wind up with my first and second finger both on the barrel, as opposed to only the first finger. I find that I grip a pen or pencil much, much harder, but if I instead hold it like my stylus, my grip immediately loosens - which smooths out my lines considerably. Too much muscle tension is bad, can even cause carpal tunnel.

Then, I put about 90 minutes into the City Gates color pass, while running the Syd Mead color preliminary DVD in the background...


I think it's starting to look a lot better. Now that I'm putting in these saturated greens in the foreground, the middle ground of the gate structure is looking a bit too sharply defined and saturated. I'm gonna have to knock that back to give some distance, some atmospheric perspective. It needs to look halfway between the far buildings and the foreground. It's actually quite some distance away, the inside of the tunnel roof is something like 30 or 35 meters high so it's gotta be around a kilometer away from our viewpoint. Each of those horizontal bars to either side of the rounded gate is a balcony, so the walls are about 7 or 8 stories tall.

It's nice to get some stuff done. I'm gonna spend a little more time tonight just sketching.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wizard World Texas

Not exactly "art," but I've put some photos from my Texas trip up on my Flickr page.

Also, in case you're not on my mailing list, I've put some sketch cards that I did while at the table in Texas up in my store for sale (only $15 each plus shipping):

Captain America - Boy Howdy Jeff - Metal Years Jeff

Friday, November 09, 2007

City Gates, some headway


I was able to get a bit done on the City Gates painting in a couple of sessions, one 2 weeks ago and one last night at the CAPS meeting. Still quite a ways to go but at least there's some progress happening. This is the one that I'm doing in a digital version of the Syd Mead method, previous posts here: sketch & grayscale, detail line art.

It was nice to get some stuff done on this...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Back. To. The. Drawing. Board.

I am in the process of starting over. And I do mean starting over. I'm speaking in the sense of art education, which is something I have very little of, since I never went to art school. (The reasons for that are a long story, but I'm trying to discard all that baggage, which is holding me back.)

I've given some thought to actually dropping everything and going back to art school, full-time. If I was to do that, I really wouldn't want to go anywhere but Art Center in Pasadena. Almost all of the people I look up to in my business are AC grads and usually also instructors there. I know that if I could go there, I would come out an absolute monster artist; Art Center seems to turn pretty good artists into insanely great ones. Another advantage of going there is the industry connections; if I come out of there with a great portfolio, a jump to the highest level of my business is pretty well assured. Basically I would be doing nothing at all but learning art at my maximum capacity for the next 3 years, in a "push myself beyond" kind of environment. Sounds like heaven to me.

The downside is simple: it would cost roughly $200,000 to do it, and I would have no time to make any income during that time. That's a hell of a lot of money, and I'd probably have to borrow it all. I don't see my dad being able to pay for another college education. Also, I'd practically be living at the school the whole time, so it would require a great deal of patience on the part of The Girlfriend.

On top of that, I'm already a professional artist, and most other pro artists I know (including some Art Center grads) tell me I don't need to go to art school, that I'm already doing just fine, and that any skills I need work on I can deal with on my own time.

All this makes me have to really examine why I feel this urge to go back to school. Mostly, it's because I keep running up against what I call "gaps" in my art skills. These are generally technical things and "core knowledge" things that I haven't picked up in my self-learning, but which are essential to successful visual communication - precisely the kinds of things that a school like Art Center (but not necessarily many other art schools!) teaches. Now, these gaps can't be filled by just instruction or raw study alone, they also require endless practice, drills and exercises - i.e., cranking out a LOT of art, all the time - to develop mastery, confidence, speed and quality. Art Center is a school that pretty much demands that you do nothing but art the whole time you're there, or you just won't do well.

So my thought about going back to school is all about demolishing these limitations in a setting where I both get the instructional information that I need to know, and the "do nothing but art" time and headspace to practice it until I can do it in my sleep.

That just isn't happening, and probably can't happen, in my life the way my current schedule works. There's always something I have to deal with. On top of that, the stress of dealing with whatever that something is makes it very hard for me to get into an "art head" during times where I actually have "free" time.

So the desire to go to art school is really about that old (and very human) desire to just throw everything away, run away, and start over from scratch when things get difficult.

What's really going on is that I'm unhappy with myself for being unable to manage my time and all the things I have going on in life in an effective way. My time management skills are generally poor. The only success I've had in time management is when I set up a very very rigid schedule and adhere to it as brutally as possible, like I did when I paid off all my debt. I could do that again, I could set up a day-to-day schedule where every minute is mapped out and where I've got large blocks of time set out for art and specific art tasks and deadlines all laid out.

Unfortunately, that would probably destroy my relationship with The Girlfriend. Since I don't want to do that, I have to try to figure out some other way of getting the knowledge and the practice in, that will work with my work schedule, my love life and my social schedule.

As you can imagine, trying to figure that out is causing me a great deal of angst. I just never feel like I have enough time for anything, I feel like I'm being pulled every which way, and I just keep going around in circles. It sucks, and it's getting me nowhere artistically. My progress has been glacial at best - as you can see from this rarely-updated blog.

And of course, when I get feeling that angst, the urge to blow everything off and run to school starts kicking in again... sigh.

So at the moment, I'm just trying to do whatever I can. I've picked up some DVDs from Gnomon that are all about very basic technical drawing and rendering - cubes, spheres, cones, perspective, etc. - and there's some books I need to get too. I'm really going right back to the very basics, I'm determined to go back and master all these very simple skills that I've either glossed over, skipped, faked or sorta figured out backwards. It's clear to me that I'm not going to get any better if I don't.

And I have to get better, or not only will I get deeper into the angst (which affects everything in my life), but also at some point I will cease to be employable even at the level I'm at now.

Oye. I'm spending too much time writing about this. I have to get back to work.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Return to Volcano Temple (Part 1?)



I decided to go back and do some fixing to the Volcano Temple painting - after all, it's digital, I can do that anytime - because there was a problem with it that was really bugging me. I didn't know what it was, and I was very annoyed that I couldn't figure it out, until a cow-orker pointed out that the image had no atmosphere. Everything in it was clear and sharp, no matter how far from camera. We've got an outdoor scene with some long views, that has an erupting volcano and a bunch of fires in it - with no smoke, no haze, no atmospheric effects. So I'm like, well DUH *headslap*, no wonder. Compare to the original:



I like it better now.

However, it's still a little dead-looking to me, because there's no people in it, and thus no story, no intrigue, no suspense. Not every image needs people to have that, but I think this one does, it needs explorers! Hidden natives! A sense of jeopardy! A zeppelin! (Zeppelins are just really cool things.) What's the Mystery of Volcano Temple? That's what we should ask ourselves when looking at this, but there's nothing in the image now that spurs the question.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Inspiration from a Master

I've really been diggin' on Ryan Church lately. Here's a vehicle sketch I did that was spurred by diggin' his stuff:



He's a really nice guy, I got to talk with him for a while at Comic Con, and he's one of the top concept guys out there. He's got great techniques and I've been working with them, applying them to my own stuff. He likes doing flying stuff and spaceships, so we're kindred spirits there.

I also did this one while watching his instructional DVD for Painter, just trying to imitate what he was doing right along at the same time, grok the techniques he was using and try to keep up with his work speed.



He's just got a really cool, loose-ish way of painting, which gives really great results. And that's why he gets to work on Star Wars... :)

Monday, July 09, 2007

SGA Cover, Hour 4



I spent most of these two hours of work on her eyes and the lit side of her face. This is not easy to do... Rachel has some very strong angles and planes to her face, but she also looks very feminine. It's an unusual combination and I want to make sure I get it right. This will take a while.

I'm of the opinion that I'm not going to finish these covers in two weeks, which means I won't be using them to try to audition for work at Comic Con... I guess I'm gonna have to come up with some other idea. Clearly I can't produce these fast enough to do them as a side gig. :\

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Green Lantern, Hour 4



Well, really more like hour 4.5... This one may take more than 8 hours. Then again, it may not - sometimes the last hour or so becomes the Magic Progress Hour where everything just falls into place. Right here in the middle of the piece, this is the part I call the "Hate It Zone." Every artist knows this zone well. This is the part where the thing looks like crap and you despair that it will ever not suck. As you may imagine, it's very very important to just. keep. going. and get thru the Hate It Zone. :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Green Lantern, Hour 3

Quick pass to figure out where I want to go with the main lighting:


Then rendering Hal's face to a dim neutral ambient light (and fix his mask so it has the nosepiece):


Still more to render on his face. I wiped out the forehead hair temporarily to try to get the forehead rendered accurately. The face will change a lot when I go back and light it up. I'll also add a light from directly above and behind, not sure what color yet.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hour 2

Here's two of the covers after 2 hours work. Clearly the GL cover I was a bit distracted, not as much progress, heh...



Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yet Another Project...

...but one with a specific purpose. I've decided to do a set of full-painted comic book covers to bring with me to San Diego this year and show around to various comic companies, to see if I can drum up a little side work. I'm doing 4 covers and giving myself only 8 hours work time to complete each one. Hopefully that will mean I can get them all done by SDCC which is in late July...

Here's three of them, after 1 hour each, done all in Painter:



These are for Sci-Fi, DC and Marvel (a rework of a sort of obscure cover); the last one will be some sort of Horror type thing.

Hmm. Need to fix GL's shoulder anatomy. No worries...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Portfolio Update

Volcano Temple is finished! Finally!



Full resolution JPEG, 3300x1500, 484kb


I decided I'd had enough with this thing, so I let go the idea of adding people to it. That would be a nice addition, but I've got too much to do to spend another 10 hours on this thing. I need to apply the same kinds of deadline standards as I do at work, where I've got X hours to do a piece and that's it.

I actually finished this last week, but I wanted to leave up the film stuff for a while. BTW, we got 6th place in that contest, which is 1st Runner Up, not enough to move on to the Top 5 Finalists. Bummer! So close! But at least we can brag a bit. I'll be putting a copy up in my portfolio eventually.

And now, I have just about zero excuse for not getting personal art finished, since I have this excellent new MacBook Pro and blew this year's budget buying Adobe CS3 Premium... this laptop is now a fully operational battle statio-- uh, I mean mobile art production studio HAHAHAhahaha... ha... ha. Well anyway I have Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Flash, Dreamweaver and Acrobat Pro, plus Painter, and I have them with me everywhere I go plus I'm wireless, so I can just work... anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. I'm still a bit mind-boggled about that.

Oh. And it has WindowsXP on it too. Isn't that weird????

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Worked on a film spoof!

Hey, my buddy Marty has directed and produced a film spoof for the MTV Movie Awards spoof contest, for which I did titles, credits and graphics - check it out! Don't forget to give it a nice vote after you've watched; you click on the stars right below the movie, be sure to click on the fifth star if you liked it.

Here's some of what I did, in still image form:


Cloud background layers, which were animated


Lightning and logo layers, also animated


This is the blank original plate of the scoreboard monitors


Monitors with strike graphics overlaid


Monitors with final scores overlaid


Closeup blank monitor plate




Closeups with score graphics added


Lastly, the director's credit...


...and mine on this screen with other artists.

It's great that these days a very small group of people using off-the-shelf software can throw something like this together in less than a week once the actual photography is done. I did all my bits in Photoshop using layers and groups of layers, then ZIPped up the PSD files and emailed them to the editor and the effects supervisor, who used AfterEffects and Final Cut Pro to take my various layers and composite them into the film. Since all the apps are inter-compatible, putting it all together is pretty much drag-and-drop.

10 years ago, this piece would have cost a million bucks. Tho nobody got paid for doing this, the cost if we had been paid would be less than $50,000. Yay, technology! :)

Still working on portfolio stuff, I'll post some more later this week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Incremental progress

Been busy with other things, but made some small progress on these two:






From now on just going to post the art, not write much about it. I want to keep lots of art on this page.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Gettin' Somewhere



I think I'm pretty much done with the left side of this image, yay. On the right side, I've gotten onto the clouds, which I'll be done with pretty quickly. I need to do a little work on the water, maybe a couple of trees, and finish the stone arch. I still haven't decided exactly how I'll add people to this yet.

One thing about using photo overlays for textures and things like plants and stonework is that once you start doing it in an image, you really kinda have to keep doing it, because it's usually difficult and time-consuming to duplicate that kind of texture to the same degree of accuracy with brushes. However, trying to do that duplication, you learn a lot about how things actually look. I'm trying to only use just enough photo texture to bring the photo "look" in, but then I'm painting as much of the rest of the texture as possible. I did this on the clouds, both the orange volcanic plume (where I overlaid an actual explosion) and the white clouds on the right, where I laid a cloud photo over the rightmost cloud tower, and then hand-painted the other two towers using the first as reference and to sample colors.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tonight's work



Tonight I did a bit of work on the shipyard painting. I decided to widen it a bit, for a more movie-like aspect ratio. Then it's all just little detail work. There's a lot of detailing to do on this one... probably will take a long time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

City Gates: Line Drawing



Here's the fairly tight line drawing which is the next step in Syd Mead's process, after doing the grayscale value study. I left the file at 3000 pixels wide (it's reduced here to 800), but I used a pretty fat pencil tool in Painter and didn't zoom in too far to simulate drawing on a smallish piece of paper. Everything here is drawn by hand, with no guide curves or Bezier-path-generated ellipses.

It's actually not as hard as most people (and I used to) think to do smooth accurate curves (and ruler-straight lines, for that matter) by hand without tools or templates. The secret is twofold: speed, and use your whole arm - and of course, a lot of practice. But it's important to practice at speed to learn how to make smooth lines and curves. Pretty much everyone starts out trying to draw such things very slowly, sort of "petting" the line a small bit at a time. This just doesn't work at all, you get a rough or squiggly line; I tried it for years and of course had little success, and thus always fell back on rulers or templates.

This is probably one of the most important things I learned from Feng's class, from watching Feng draw: first, anyone can do this, so you can let yourself (if not force yourself) to believe that you can do it; second, just go ahead and do it a lot and practice and let your hand and arm learn how to do it, learn to trust your brain/nerves/muscles to do this action. It took maybe a couple of weeks of daily practice to get my first absolutely ruler-straight line drawn at an exact length... but after that, I knew I could do it and it ceased to be a problem. Same thing with curves and even ellipses (although I'm still a lot better at narrow ones than wider ones).

And of course, doing it digitally means you can make your curve, and if it's not right, hit Undo and do it again until it is right. But always try to make it right the first time, and you'll quickly find that you're hitting Undo less and less frequently - and your productivity explodes. :)

Anyway, so next I will attempt to imitate Mr. Mead's process for the "color miniature," a small-scale preliminary to figure out the colors of the final piece. I might wind up doing several different passes at it, just to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hey, progress!

Some, anyway, heh. Yesterday and today were slow at work, so I spent some time "leveling up" on these paintings. Just like in video games, if you wanna get to Level 60 Artist, you gotta grind, grind, grind...



Some progress on Western Building. I'd done a bit yesterday but it wasn't that obvious so I waited until I got further before posting. All the work is on the left side (compare with 2 posts down).

After I wrote yesterday that I should do something via Syd Mead's process, I went ahead and started doing it, so now I have yet another piece in the pipeline:

12. City Gates



This line sketch is from the first thumbnail page at the bottom of the art dump post, I thought it had potential to be interesting, so I blew it up and started doing a value study version, to figure out light and shade:



This is a little bit of cheating on Mr. Mead's method, since rather than doing this totally freehand I did use the original at low opacity to trace under, but I'm following the same basic plan. The next step is to do a pretty tight line drawing for what Mr. Mead calls the "color miniature," a "small" version of the image to plan out all the colors. He does it on board at 7"x10" to work up to a 20"x30" final image, but I've already rezzed this up to my final size, 3000x1500 pixels, so I'll actually want to rez it DOWN to 1000x500 or smaller to do the color rough.

I think this has a nice balance of dark to light. There's no pure white or pure black anywhere in it but it's got a nice range and things seem to read well to me, so I'm happy so far.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I forgot this one...

This is another old one that I'm reworking, which I forgot to add to all the others.

11. Cargo Unload



I started working on this a looooong time ago, while I was still at my old job; the rough start on it is on my portfolio site, here it is:



You can see that I've expanded the image to the left and top by a bit, to make room for some people and the buildings in the background. I'm not sold on the buildings, but for now I'm letting them stay as I detail the ship in the foreground. Who knows, I may wind up cropping it back again. I also added in an actual sunset photo that I took from our office, to make the sky more real-looking. I'll be adjusting it some, I think it's too saturated the way I have it blended.

I have to try doing a piece from start to finish using Syd Mead's very meticulous methods - I have the Gnomon DVD set of 4 discs where he shows his whole process working on an illustration from rough thumbnails to finished piece. He's very methodical and each step is fairly laborious, but you can't argue with his results, which are always brilliant. He's where I'm getting the focus on making sure there is a story to every image, with people doing things, interacting with whatever piece of hardware or architecture he's illustrating. I'm sure it can't hurt to try following his steps precisely with my own story illustration.

I'm going to work on one of the other ones now. I think I understand why Feng said he likes to have 4 or 5 projects running at once; if you get bored with the piece you're working on, switch to something different and work on that.

Now, how to decide... heh...