Saturday, January 24, 2015

Taking a big bite - part 1

I think there is great value in taking on projects that are ambitious.  You don't have to look beyond Muddy Colors to see some great examples.  Donato's incredible large scale Tolkien paintings, Justin Gerard's massive battle scenes filled with hundreds of characters, Arnie and Cathy Fenner starting Spectrum (remember to enter!) and building it into the institution it is today and many other works and projects come to mind.  Dan Dos Santos is working on a killer large painting right now as well, I can't wait to see it when it is done!

It is inspiring to see people reach high and then keep climbing.  I have found that I go through phases where I take on fairly safe work and then I build up a little ambition and bite off something a little harder to chew.  When I do that, I really grow.  Those pieces mark periods of greater change and progress... and stress.  The stress goes away though and the progress stays with you!  I highly recommend it.

I recently started a large painting (large for me).  It is 60"x60" and has 30 figures in it, just under life sized.  It is going to be similar in presentation to Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule.

My wife has been helping me with this project by finding models and costumes of kids from many different countries and ethnicities.  I have had a photoshoots in two different states, coordinating with models, wrangling costumes and working out the composition as I go.

I have been doing studies of each of the faces as well as a full sized drawing.  Here are some of the studies done so far along with :

Lola, 11"x14"

And a quick time lapse of the study:

Silje, 8"x10"


Isla, 8"x10"


Starting the painting.  Canvas is toned, drawing is transferred, first pass on face begun.

Below is the underpainting pass for one of the faces.  I will do a second pass to refine the painting, add more texture, color and detail.

A few more faces with the underpainting complete.  The face on the right has a quick flat wash that I will paint into to finish the underpainting.  I can do the underpainting for two faces a day and will spend another day to do the refining pass.

That is it so far.  I will update more in the future.  I have learned a lot on this piece so far and I am just getting started!

Now my question for you.  Do you have any projects that have been too big or overwhelming at first, but have been instrumental in your growth?  Share links and experiences in the comments!


Howard Lyon

Friday, January 23, 2015

Journeys Begun

A Look Back at Two Years of SmART School

-By Todd Lockwood

With classes filling up for the coming semester at SmART School, I wanted to give a shout out to some of my past students and show you what they’ve been up to. But first let me tell you how much I enjoy teaching. One of the wonderful things about this school is the small scale of the classes and the closeness of the interaction. It’s a full-on mentorship, with typical class sizes ranging from five to eight people. We all share each other’s critiques and learn from each other as well. Using GoToMeeting, we meet online every Tuesday. The platform allows me to do paintovers and live demonstrations, which is invaluable to everybody. I’ve learned more from teaching than I ever thought possible.

Towards the end of each term, a guest Art Director or professional will visit the class to review special assignments they chose for our students—a sample of working as a professional with real deadlines, and an opportunity to apply what they've learned. In the last few semesters I’ve been proud to have Matthew Kalamidas from Bookspan, Jeremy Cranford from Blizzard Entertainment, and Dawn Murin from Wizards of the Coast. This coming semester I’ve invited Jon Schindehette to join us. He was formerly the Creative Director at Wizards; now he's the Creative Director for ThinkGeek Solutions and founder of ArtOrder.

It’s a wonderful model, and I’m tickled to be a part of it.

I asked my past students to send me their thoughts, along with an image from before they attended SmART School (if they were so brave!) and a picture of something done either in class or since class. I think you’ll be as impressed as I was… and still am.

Catherine Gibson, like many starting artists, was drawing out of her head instead of using reference, and like so many went straight into a drawing with little planning. Her talent is obvious, but her composition is spotty and unfocused.

But look at this astounding (and as yet unfinished) painting from her final assignment:

It’s emotional and subtle. Note the ghostly wolves in the negative space between the angel's wings.

I love this “Before” and “After” from Jennifer Beasley because it appears to show the same character:

She says, “I absolutely loved learning from Todd at SmArt School. The small group of students, and one-on-one mentoring was perfect for sharpening my abilities and cultivating new ones. Attending SmArt School has been the best decision I've made for my career thus far. Take the plunge, make the commitment, and join the SmArt School family, it's exhilarating what you'll be able to accomplish!

Andrew Cefalu came into the first class I taught in the spring of 2013 with high ambitions and lots of energy. He says, “My work has grown a lot since I took my first Smart School Mentorships, and I owe a lot of my personal growth as an illustrator to this program. Todd's class, specifically was great because it taught me how to focus my compositions, by using visual elements and value. If you want to improve as an artist I would strongly urge you to take a Smart School Class!

This is the painting he did for the final assignment, entitled “Orc Warg Rider.”

We worked hard on Focal Points and composition. Andrew went on to study another semester, with Rebecca Guay, who honed his sensibilities further—and differently. Here’s his “Treetop Sniper.”

Look at how similar the values and the sizes of shapes are in this “Before” image from Kirsten Harper:

Again, though her talent is obvious, the eye struggles to find a point of entry into the story. But look at the subtlety and energy in this piece, done after class ended:

This is a creature concept done after the semester ended:

Marko Radulovic brought energy and enthusiasm to every project. His ambition is evident in this image from before his first class, even if the values are muddied and the narrative hard to read:

But look what he did in class. Marko really stepped out of his comfort zone to take on an action scene:

He said, “The class fosters a sort of closeness that is hard to otherwise fathom over digital media with an instructor half a continent away. SmArt School has a good thing going.

Marko will be back this coming semester with some very specific personal goals in mind.

Eva Toker came to class with smarts and skills, but her growth inspired envy in her classmates. This was her in-class assignment, on which we talked about the power of values and movement:

Here's her final assignment, for guest Art Director Matthew Kalamidas’ assignment: a cover for Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”

Astoundingly good stuff, right?

This is the quality of character concept work she’s doing currently for an employer:

This “Before” and “After” shows an incredible leap in confidence and courage, from Melissa Phifer:

She said, “Being in your class taught me that I have the ability to do realism and to digitally paint.” Melissa has gone on to art direct for a card company and lecture on art at Gen Con and other venues.

Finally, Chris Peuler is another artist whose talent was clear to see:

But Chris felt a bit overwhelmed by narrative illustration. With a new understanding of ways to build movement and focus, Chris created this painting in class:

I saved his comments for last, because they actually touched me. This is why I love teaching.

I was very seriously considering quitting my dream of making art as a profession before I started mentoring under Todd. SmArt School helped me realize my doubts are not the insurmountable walls I initially thought they were, and now I have a completely renewed sense of confidence and optimism in regards to what I am capable of doing as an artist.

“In a few months I went from being afraid of painting a simple story to making something that connects with me on a deep and personal level, as well as something that resonates with my peers. I suppose the greatest asset I attained from SAS is that now I look forward to painting every day... My sense of design, composition, and storytelling have never been better than what they are now, and I know I could not have gotten this far in this amount of time on my own.

Needless to say, I’m proud of all my students and I only want them to do well (I think of them as my “kids”). One of the perks of the small class size is my ability to offer continued advice and interaction beyond SmART School. It’s wonderful to keep up with everybody and see how well they’re doing. And, as you have just seen, they’re doing very well indeed.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Inspired Book (and Business Plan)

-By Lauren Panepinto

The illustration world is small, and the SFF art community tiny. Usually tiny scenes breed bad behavior. It has never ceased to amaze me that the smaller a scene or subculture—the less geography to fight over—the more people will fight over it. I've experienced this in scenes as small as steampunk and ska punk. I have seen the most ridiculous dramas unfold in small groups of competitive people. Our SFF illustration scene is different. Sure there's controversies and flare-ups, but the vibe here is overwhelmingly positive. I can't name another creative group that is so nurturing to newbies. Students and recent grads are patted on the head and pointed right at the pros, encouraged to ask for advice. In many other scenes, art directors are known for hiding in some indecipherable scavenger hunt of pieced-together email addresses. Here we are easily found, quick to give a portfolio review, and are constantly spinning off some project that will require great amounts of work for little to no personal financial reward.

Sure, I'm guilty as hell of that, with all the Drawn + Drafted projects and everything else, but I learned it from the masters of community-building that shepherded this scene way before I got here. The Fenners with Spectrum, the Wilshires with Illuxcon, Irene Gallo's original Art Department blog and all the Tor projects and events at the Society of Illustrators. Rebecca Guay's Illustration Master Class and smArt School. This very blog and Dan Dos Santos who never forgets to remind all of us to post and keeps this rowdy lot going. (I kid you not he just texted me to make sure I remember to schedule my post properly.) I hate listing things like this because I'm so paranoid about who I'm leaving out and it's a lot of people, so I'll just apologize for that now.

One person I can't leave out is Jon Schindehette, who creates a sense of community and pulls people together as easily as most people make their bed. Forget how many years of artists he's mentored and career's he's launched, he also writes pretty much all the content on the very personal and super valuable ArtOrder blog. On top of that he runs great art challenges that really give new artists the opportunity to push themselves and get their work looked at and critiqued by professionals. And if that's not enough, now there's a new level that you may or may not have noticed. ArtOrder is now also a brand new publishing model and business plan.

I am always excited to be a judge on any ArtOrder challenge, but I was honored to be part of the special panel of judges for the Inspired Challenge last year. Terryl Whitlatch, Julie Bell, Rebecca Guay, Terese Nielsen, and Irene Gallo are truly an inspiring group. Forget how impressive the work was—I loved also hearing the stories behind the entries. This is the first ArtOrder Challenge that has become a book, and the images and stories work together to give you a really uplifting experience.

However, that's not the full story. Unlike many books of art, the artists are not only contributors, but business partners. Everyone gets an equal share of the profits. So that means that if the book sells well, all the artists profit. If you purchase this book, the profit goes straight to the artists. That's a truly inspiring business model for a publisher. This isn't about just adding another group art book to your shelf, this is about forging a path to a new style of creator-owned publishing. Even if the book wasn't worth having on your shelf — and it is, I've seen it all — it would be worth supporting this project for the sheer potential of where the platform might evolve. Especially in the hands of someone who has proven over and over how dedicated he is to building communities of artists.

So go order the book, not only to put money directly in the hands of your fellow artists, but also because I am inspired by the future plans down the road from this project, and I want to see them come to life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Manchess Solo Show at Arte Verissima Gallery

"Uplift 1"...a mysterious day at Union Square, NYC

Greg Manchess

This Saturday, January 24th, I have a new solo show opening at the Arte Verissima Studio and Gallery in Oakland, CA.

Entitled, “Weightless” it is the beginning of a series of exhibitions I’ve planned to visually explore the theme of elements. Wind, rain, snow, fog, cold, heat...general conditions that we experience everyday. Landscapes, cityscapes. I love painting the figure and will find ways to incorporate them to tell subtle stories.

The paintings for this show stem from a desire to paint the images that kept coming up for me, time and again, while painting other things such as commissions from clients, and sometimes from travels and dreams. A dream is both informative and dangerous. Probably our most vulnerable stage of any day. I hesitated before each one of these pieces, but eventually withstood the risk of confusing the subject with undue meaning. Such as we might do to glean answers from our dreams.

I concluded that explaining these pieces would leave the viewer out of the venture, as we bring our own particular experiences to any painting. This first show is meant for the audience to collaborate in the undertaking, from their own memories.

I hope to continue this theme in subsequent shows, emanating from this beginning effort. Let me know if they touch a nerve or succeed in stimulating a response that’s familiar.

And if any of you are in the Bay Area this Saturday, please stop by! It starts at 6pm.

"Uplift 2"...the story continues above the 86th street subway

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's Only Forever, or My Time Exploring the Labyrinth

by Cory Godbey


Over the years I've had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of projects and clients. Among my most favorite is the time I've been able to spend with Henson properties. 

In my experience, working with the Jim Henson Co. along with Archaia / BOOM! is that their approach to art direction is unique. They are very much interested in the artist's thumbprint on work that is (technically) licensing. Put another way, even though you're working with existing IPs and characters, they are genuinely interested in the artist's interpretation of the characters, open to artistic license, and not strictly following some kind of style guide. I've always felt like I've been given room to explore.

Here is a look at one such project for a past Free Comic Book Day.


This particular story I had the opportunity to write as well. It was pretty short; four pages. Even so, that's probably just as well. My writing method is, in a word, messy. Below is a picture of only one of several pages worth of notes. Drawing feels as natural as breathing to me but I have to marshal my thoughts for writing in a different, shall we say, convoluted, way. 

I'll put down notes, circle them, draw arrows, rearrange, redirect, criss-cross lines back and forth... tends naturally towards confusion and scribbles. It's almost labyrinthine.

Bonus: I spilled coffee on this sketchbook and then very
nearly set it on fire by leaving on the hearth to dry.

Once I hit on the idea and got it approved, I scrawled out some thumbnails and planned the layout.

Behold! Slightly refined thumbnails.

Next, I moved on to the drawings. For these I ended up scanning them still in progress and arranging them in a kind of half-step between thumbnail and rough. My initial thumbnails were so loose I wanted the editor to be able to see more clearly where I was headed.

Rough pencils! Not pictured, an oubliette.

Now, you've no doubt been able to gather from how scattered I write, how scribbled out and nearly useless my thumbnails are, all of that -- my comics process is a little fragmented. Alright, fine, guess what, it's literally fragmented. I tend to draw everything separate and figure out panels later. I don't like drawing small. Or in panels. That's absurd, you might say, it's comics. And you'd be right. But I fell into comics on accident. And I'm obliged to make it up as I go. (How I started doing any comics at all might worth a post of it's own in the future.)

What it amounts to is drawing each panel individually. It's not much more effort or time and it feels more natural to me.

Here's a look at some of the original scans of these "panel" pages.

This is exactly what it looks like. Goblins overwhelming multiple sheets of paper.

Once finished with the drawings I scanned them and began to prep them for the final work, flatting shapes to block out the figures and elements. 

Dance, magic.

After this pass at flatting is done, I go back and begin to work on the actual characters themselves. This means making sure base colors are correct and that things are mostly in place. A lot of this initial color work takes place underneath the drawing.

Tally-ho! in progress.

And now for the real goblin magic! Getting those above images to final. I'm always kind of amazed when it happens. It does feel like magic sometimes. Here's a look at a few finished pieces.

So that does it! I also lettered the story, laying out the all the type.

I had such a good time with every part of this project. My editors were great, always helpful. This was also the first time I had the chance to write something Henson as well as illustrate. 

I'm not going to lie, I felt like I'd been given a challenge by the Goblin King himself. Not quite as challenging as solving the Labyrinth and rescuing a lost sibling but still, a little challenge from Jareth.


And you know what, speaking of that guy:

Look, everything I've done, I've done for you. I'm just saving you the trouble of looking up that song later.