This year’s Christmas art feature’s the lyrics of a Me Without You song called “A stick, a carrot & a string”. I like it a great deal (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen it for my holiday post) although I had never heard their version of it until recently. I first heard it from the Dustin Kensrue cover and since that is still my preferred rendition here is a link to his: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-MIcKWowS4
A couple of years ago I agreed to do a number of black and white interior illustrations for a book for young readers. It was the story of two brothers from a faery village who are forced to undertake an adventure to save their people. Along the way they make several allies as well as enemies and, as such stories usually go, they learn a great deal about themselves and the world around them.
During the six months or so of character development and finished illustrations I learned a great deal as well. I learned that I could reign in my ADD tendencies and remain focussed on one story and repeating characters long enough to complete a book’s worth of art. I learned that my first ideas were not always the best ones and that the layout for the words and images was as important to communicating story as any other aspect of the book.
Most important of all, I learned that I could fall in love with simple pencil illustrations again, and even though most of the traditional art world undervalues the common pencil, that doesn’t mean that I have to. Sure, after completing so much B&W I was going crazy to do some color work and I basically took most of the last year and a half off to work almost exclusively in color on personal art, but because of the book project (as well as a some conversations at Pac Con) I have gone back to the simple pencil recently and I am really enjoying it. I’ll post more soon on this and where it is leading me. For now I’ll leave you with the drawings in this post, which are some of my personal favorites from the Faeries book.
A couple of weeks ago at Pac Con I was asked to speak on a panel about designing and illustrating monsters. It turned out to be a panel of one without a moderator. I don’t know how that happened but I jumped on the opportunity to assume total power over a group of diverse individuals. After all, these people had come to this panel to hear my words, to absorb my wisdom, to catch a spark of light from the vast inferno that is my encyclopedic knowledge of all things monstrous! I think some of them also had tired legs from walking around all day and just wanted to sit down. I would have to strike a fine balance to maintain my hold on them.
Back in high school I was given the chance to travel to some of the local elementary schools and teach some drawing to the kids. It got me out of school early and helped the district save some money from their dwindling art budget. I loved teaching the kids and this experience at the convention reminded me how much I enjoy encouraging others to explore their interests.
When I found out that I would be doing the panel I decided to sketch something up to illustrate some of my points, and I naturally delved into some Lovecraftian inspiration for a play off of the deep ones. I took the sketch along to the panel to show how messy and all over the place these sorts of things can be and I transferred most of what I liked about the sketch to a finished drawing so that I could demonstrate how to clean things up and arrive at something more polished. I had originally planned on painting him up with some background elements but I found I have too many more important things to work on right now so I ended up just scanning it in to Photoshop and dropping some texture over it with a little tonal work.
I had a great time on the panels and in particular the monster one. It scratched that teaching itch that has been nagging at me for a bit. I’ll have to see if there are other ways to get involved with class room settings. If nothing else the sense of power was very gratifying. As Jack Handy once said “I think in a past life I was a king because I like people to do what I say.”
This is the final version of this painting. After taking a break from it for a couple of days and working on other stuff I came back to it with a fresh perspective and decided to experiment a bit. Photoshop is a great medium for this as there is always Ctrl-z if things go off the rails.
I ended up editing the original pencil underpainting over the rest of the flattened image. The effect was similar to the quality of an inked comic image. It added a nice level of contrast and helped sharpen and define the details. After spending a couple of hours tinkering I felt like I had what I was looking for.
In the end the painting worked pretty well blown up 3’x4′ for a banner at the booth and the 11″x16″ was the best-selling of my prints at the con.
This concludes this series of process posts. We will now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcasts.
Here is what this looked like after several hours of pixel manipulation. Initially I just cleaned up some of the edges and made some slight color and contrast adjustments. After that the majority of the time was spent sharpening up the details. At this point I gave it a rest for a couple of days and worked on other stuff. Sometimes you need to come back and look at your work with fresh eyes. I almost always spot little things I want to change as a result.
Tomorrow I’ll put the final up and discuss the last phase of production. If you want to cheat of course you can already see the final on the Death, the Bear and Sheol page.
This is as far as I got traditionally with this piece. After the initial colored pencil underpainting I laid in a wash of warm yellow watercolor with a touch of purple splattered about to add some visual interest. I sealed it with a coat of workable fixative and then built up my shadow tones and the background with light washes of various greens in acrylics and then developed some local color into the foreground elements, again with acrylic. I then spent several hours refining my edges and adding texture with colored pencil.
This is the initial scan of the painting without any digital adjustment. While I was pretty satisfied with it overall, there were definitely some areas and effects that I wanted to push further but there are limits to my talents with the various media as I have really only been using them consistently for about a year at the point that I painted this. There is also only so much that the bristol will handle. The wax from the Prismacolors doesn’t always want to layer over the acrylics and the repeated washes start to pull the painting away from my work board no matter how thoroughly I tape it.
After scanning and stitching the image together in Photoshop I take the original and mount it permanently to some 1/8 inch paneling with gel medium.
Tomorrow I’ll post the initial work that I did from there on the computer.
I wanted to put up some work-in-progress shots that would show a bit of what my process looks like from start to finish. This first is the finished pencil work that I transfer to bristol board after several sketches that establish composition and detail. The piece itself was a pretty important one for me as I knew it was going to be blown up into a large banner for shows. I wanted to make sure that it gave a decent summation of my artistic interests as well so I incorporated several of the subjects that I go back to repeatedly in my art, namely trees, eyes, bones and teeth. The full size drawing measures 19″x24″. Tomorrow I’ll post the image finished with traditional media.
My first Con is behind me and I’ve had 24 hours to process things so here are my thoughts.
First the bad.
I have been lied to! I did not make a million dollars in art sales. I didn’t break even. In fact with all the set up expenses and nit-picky costs, I lost money. Outrageous! Blasphemy I say!
Here’s the thing: If I am not mistaken everything I have ever read or heard about being an artist has promised nothing but good times, adoration and best of all wealthy benefactors appearing out of nowhere to shower the artist with money for little or no effort. I stuck with my booth for hours and hours and that benefactor never showed.
Even the classic irony of the ‘starving artist’ turned out to be not so ironic. Everything I learned about irony from that Jagged Little Pill album might as well have been a lie too. I, in fact, had to go many hours without food while I waited for adoring fans to offer to hand feed me. The ‘Pay to Feed the Artist’ nut dispenser in front of booth went completely ignored!
But I’m over it. Mostly. Mostly.
Let’s move on to the good.
I had an outstanding time! I met and interacted with amazing people who genuinely seemed to respond to the quality of my work and more importantly the content. If you spend hours chasing down the images in your head all by yourself in your studio alone it can be pretty easy to begin to believe that you might just be the only person interested in those images. You might even begin to think that the rest of the world thinks it is childish and strange to spend your free time drawing and painting monsters, teddy bears and creepy junk. But when you take a chance and share your personal stories and creations with other people and so many of them respond with the same enthusiasm that you feel, it can be amazingly gratifying. Sure some folks ignored me, some glanced and walked on by. I don’t expect to be everybody’s cup of tea. But for everyone who did that, another would pause and raise an eyebrow, maybe smile and nod in appreciation. And best of all some would come over and take the time to really look at something I had spent hours on and ask questions, want to know the story that was happening in this image or that one. Dozens of these even spent several minutes listening to me talk about my art and my ideas and inspiration. They expressed interest in the paintings and stories dearest to my heart and confirmed for me that this story is worth pursuing. Every one of them made my day all over again. If any of you are reading this, Thankyou. You made a monster drawing art hermit very glad he took a chance.
I also had the opportunity to speak on some panels and kind of teach an art class of sorts to a decent sized and diverse group of people who seemed to really be listening to the strange old child man in front of them. I think I at least kept them entertained for most of an hour and hopefully slipped in a few nuggets of art knowledge that they might benefit from. I haven’t gotten to teach in front of a group since High School and have really only spoken in public since then at funerals. This was a happier occasion and I felt pretty comfortable doing it and I enjoyed it immensely.
None of this would have happened without the help and support of my friends and family. To all who helped, Thank you. The encouragement meant a lot. In particular I want to thank Jeremy Vermilion, who is such a talented pro that he could even help me come off as fairly professional at my first show. You should check out his Art with a capital ‘A’ at http://jeremyvermilion.com/
Also, of all the great artists I met displaying stuff at the con, I had the outstanding fortune to land in a booth right next to Matt Nelson, an absolute class act and all around cool guy who helped finish the job Jeremy started by giving me tons of free advice even though he didn’t know me. He also made the hours that weren’t spent with con guests fly by with great conversation and lots of laughs. If you like cats and pirates and comic books that are genuinely funny you need to check out his independent creation, Catbeard the Pirate. http://www.catbeardthepirate.com/
So that is my take on things. If you are an artist of any sort you probably spend a lot of time alone and creating but I highly recommend taking a chance on people in general and getting your work out there right in front of people from time to time. You will be nervous at times. You will experience rejection. And you will not get a visit from that rich benefactor (if you do, send him or her my way). You will meet some great people from diverse backgrounds who connect with what you are creating. And that is why you are probably really doing what you do in the first place.
Way better than new car, new CD, or new spider monkey and without all those harmful downsides like cancer or spider monkey bites!