Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's Get Organized — Part 2 of 2

By Paolo Rivera

Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

In Part 1, I talked about the benefits of keeping track of your working hours with digital calendars. For this installment, I wanted to share how I organize my various assignments, while also tallying income and expenses.

But before I move on to the next subject, I wanted to clarify how I use Calendar. If I have a specific appointment that is time-sensitive, I will, of course, mark it down at the appropriate time in the future. Everything else is simply logged as I go (pressing Control + the Up or Down arrow moves events forward or backward 15 minutes, while that plus Shift increases or decreases the duration by the same amount). It's a to-do list and a log, as opposed to a schedule.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #646, Variant Cover. 2010.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 x 17".

Moving on. It's tax season yet again, and while I entrust my accountant to take care of filing, I still need to keep track  of the many projects I complete throughout the year (and whether or not they were paid for). Prior to 2012, I had an exclusive contract with Marvel comics, which meant that although I was paid per project like a freelancer, I was actually treated like an employee when it came to payroll and taxes — in other words, I received a W-2 at the end of the year that was calculated by my single employer. Nice and easy.

When I became a true freelancer with many different projects and clients, deadlines were no longer the only detail I had to worry about. To keep things from getting out of hand, I created a spreadsheet with Google Docs that can record and tally all manner of information. (I also use Google Docs for recording art print inventory and to write comic scripts. It keeps everything updated no matter what computer I'm working from.)

Here's a link to the document in the Template Gallery. It contains fanciful information, but I filled in all the cells as if for the current year. The rows are color-coded according to the type of work — that makes it easier to see what's on the slate at a glance. Red is used to highlight projects in progress and/or pending payments. (If you've used a spreadsheet before, it should be intuitive, but you can find more detailed instructions here.)

There are two main benefits to keeping these records: (1) my gross and net income for the year is automatically calculated as each project is added and (2) my project rate is divided by the hours, which lets me know how valuable my time is (to people other than myself). This information will help me make decisions in the future, like whether or not I want to work for a particular client again. The pic above reveals 7 of the 148 rows from last year's records. As you can see, my hourly rates are totally unpredictable. (And I get into negative territory when I do pro bono work that nevertheless requires paid assistance.)

Long before I started using a spreadsheet, I recorded all my transactions with Quicken, an easy-to-use personal accounting program. I still use it because having separate records can help me discover errors when there are discrepancies between the two. If you're diligent about categorizing every transaction, Quicken can generate a year-end report that lets you know how you spent your money. When it comes to tax-deductible purchases, (computer equipment, conventions, travel, art supplies, meals, lawyers, utilities, rent, advertising, printing) you still need to save all your receipts, but you won't have to add them up — it's already done.

That's quite a bit of information that you need to keep track of. And that's not even counting the countless digital files that comprise your actual oeuvre. It's only a matter of time before your computer gives out on you, and you had best have a backup. After burning through several external hard drives, I stopped using them years ago, opting instead for an on-line service, CrashPlan. I don't ever want to have to use it, but that's what insurance is for.

You've probably heard of Evernote, but just in case you haven't, it's worth a look. Although they offer a paid subscription, the free service is more than enough for me. I use it for reading (it can strip away ads and save articles for later), gather reference for projects, structure plots and ideas for my own stories, or even remember people I meet. (Oh, and recipes too.) They seem to be a responsible company as well. When Adobe's servers got hacked, Evernote was the one to tell me — not Adobe. They cross-referenced the leaked data and informed anyone with an email address that appeared in their own records.

Last, but not least, my most annoying recommendation: I have my computer announce the time every 15 minutes. My wife hates it (and I can't blame her). I got the idea when visiting then-Marvel-editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada. It was a constant, grating interruption — but it kept us focused on the task at hand.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Giants are coming

                                                                    by Petar Meseldzija

Back in 2011, a client from Canada commissioned me to do a drawing for his collection. A few days later, while walking through the woods, an idea presented itself, so during the lunch break I did a few rough sketches in my sketchbook.

I remember getting quite excited by the idea that gradually crystallized itself in my mind while walking through nature. The emotion that grew out of this picture was quite powerful. Recognizing a well-known pattern of picture and emotion simultaneously growing out of the same source, a process that often resulted in a good piece of art; I could not wait to come home to start working on the drawing.

Back home, and as soon as I started to draw, quite spontaneously a story all together with the title (The Giants are Coming), “came out” of the scene that was evolving in front of me. I then quickly wrote down the story, not knowing that this would mark the beginning of my writing a whole series of stories which would eventually make up the foundation of my  new book, the book of giants.

Before that, I was already reading about mythology and folklore. However something strange happened in me that day, something like a subtle switch, that made the inner mythology, or my personal myth, come to the surface. Writing that short story was a very special moment for me. It made me delve even deeper into the realms of mythology, as well as psychology. The next few years, I spent much of my time reading about it, writing stories, and doing drawings and paintings inspired by the myth, epics and legends.

Then, about a year after the drawing was finished, a collector from the US commissioned me to do a painting. Because I was quite sure I wanted to do a painting of the recently finished drawing, I presented this idea to him. Fortunately he was excited about my proposal, so I soon set on another adventure with the giants.

The creation of the painting was not as easy as I hoped. Many different things, some having nothing to do with painting whatsoever, interfered with the work on this piece. Finally, after a long struggle that included many short and long breaks, the painting was finished and delivered. And with that, this little journey which started spontaneously about 3 years ago with a glimpse of a future painting I saw in my mind while walking in the woods, came to its end. However not without leaving a significant trace behind. In one or another way, a few important thing came out of all this: my new book inspired by mythology and based on discovery of my personal myth; rediscovery of the work of C.G. Jung and psychology, and the new elan and inspiration that proved to be so important for a further development of my work.

The Giants are Coming, oil on canvas, 70X100 cm


Friday, March 28, 2014


-By Greg Ruth

There are as many ways to approach crafting a graphic novel as there are creators trying to do so. But without being overly equivocal, there are better ways to do it than others, and this is but one way to attack a project. It seemed fitting to use my current collaborative project with Ethan Hawke, the graphic novel INDEH as the subject. Ours was a particularly wild ride getting this to the production stage and it should hopefully provide a window into how to navigate and deal with the ups and downs of the process.

I was initially contacted by Ethan through our respective agents to take this project on after he’d read my work on Kurt Busiek’s Conan: Born on the Battlefield. He loved the collection and felt like perhaps for the first time he’d seen the way to visualize his long simmering and massive script, INDEH. We live in a time where comics are being used as a means to a film, and this is in my opinion, a devil’s handshake. The opportunity both bestows a larger sense of attention to a medium that has suffered terribly under the insane stewardship of the comics industry for so many generations, but also robbing it of its legitimacy as a valid stand alone medium unto itself. So my first reaction of Ethan’s interest was one of caution. I would never and could never do a project as long and involved as a graphic novel solely to make it into a movie. That to me is a loathsome practice. But it turns out he was entirely devoted to the notion of this as a book unto itself. If there was to be something later, then we’d worry about that later. Right now we had a book to discover.

We first got together in a café near his former home on the west side of the Chelsea area in Manhattan, and despite every reticence I may have had about meeting a famous movie star, we got on like a house on fire. We had a similar background both growing up in Texas and being of the same age, but beyond that we just simply clicked. I cannot insist enough how essential this basic foundation is when working with a creative partner on any project, much less one as long and involved as a graphic novel of this scale. Building something like this is a lot of work, demands long hours and requires a deep creative intimacy based on trust and mutual respect. Without that, you are doomed right out of the gate. No matter how much you think you may get out of a chance to work with a famous person, or on a high profile project of any kind, it will all turn to dross if the relationship lacks this most basic element. The chemistry just has to be there. And the story had to demand to be told in this form.

One of my triggers for this is when reading a proposal, to see if it sparks visuals in my head while reading it. Not all of them do, and those that don’t are best left behind. If you can’t see the book, as an artist, in your own mind then there’s no way you’re going to be able to visualize it on the page in a successful way later. Indeh exploded in my head after the first few pages so this was an easy one. I adored it beyond words. I was so exhausted by the process of the The Lost Boy at this time, I never expected to be so taken and excited by another giant book, but once I read this I had no choice really. Whether we’d ever find a publisher or not didn’t matter. This story needed to be told and I felt honored beyond words for the opportunity to tell it with Ethan.

Once we agreed that if we were to really take this on, it would have to be entirely about making the best book we could make. Any talk of film later or whatever had to be taken off the table so as not to pollute the process. Much to the contrary of many screenwriters and movie producers, comics and graphic novels are not storyboards for films. At least the ones that work aren’t. Ethan, I think, was especially glad to agree to this and we were off.

The first thing to do was to read, and then reread the screenplay he’d written and find a way to pull a fully realized graphic novel out of it. And it was a beast of a script- clocking in at around 340 pages- which is crazy long for a screenplay. The big challenge though was what to cut out- so much of it was truly great and alluring, it was clear early on it was going to be brutal exercise in pruning than one of building. The initial problem with most biographies, (and Geronimo being at the center of this tale made this essentially a biography), is that the arc of a human life isn’t really well suited for dramatic storytelling. Bios become chronicles of events or at best, a catlaogue with an overlay of some kind of theme, (Charles Foster Kane’s chasing after the one thing he could never buy as symbolized by his childhood sled “Rosebud”, for example). Neither make for an especially compelling read unless the reader is already predisposed to being interested in the subject matter. We wanted to grab people who thought they knew all they needed to know about Geronimo and the Apaches, and we also wanted to turn the heads of those who would never think to read a book, especially a graphic novel, about them. That meant finding the story to tell within the piles of dense and incredibly alluring interviews and anecdotes contained within the script. And that took almost a full year of work.

Graphic novels are not comics, nor is a collection of comics a graphic novel. Collecting a series of single issues into a 200 page book is not the same as writing and drawing a full fledged narrative meant as a 200 page novel, told graphically. The structure and arcs are entirely different and each have their own value, but are not the same at all. I conceive of and write long form comics narratives and now publish them through book companies and thus I am for the first time in my career, a graphic novelist. I’ll delve into the newly changing landscape of periodical comics publishing and the book world’s new love for the medium in later articles, but for now… back to Indeh.

Despite being a published writer in his own regard, Ethan was new to comics. But despite the myriad differences between film and graphic novels, there are enough commonalities that helped us fast-track the learning curve and get right into it. So for that year we each traveled back and forth to our homes and offices to meet and sit on the floor with reams of paper pulling together our favorite bits, casting aside others and honing this might beast of a script down into a cogent and trim narrative. I had not written a full detailed script for myself before but in this case it seemed essential, and being the comics guy of the team, the first draft of that script fell to my shoulders. No all of us who draw comics can write, but we should all of us, train ourselves in how to tell a story well at the very least. Even if you’re simply executing the details of a script- as was mostly the case when I did Conan with Kurt, how you position the images and the panels requires a fundamental understanding of stories and narratives. You don’t have to go to school for it- I never did- but you do need to study it whether in comics or even in film. Read or watch what you love, study why it works, and read or see what you hate and study why it doesn’t. Sometimes the bad stuff can be more educational than the good.

So. Once we figured out our themes, and our structure I set about using all our collected notes, Ethan’s research and transcribed interviews, and began working a proper fully detailed panel by panel comics script for Indeh. My first and last love in this area is Alan Moore, and I’ve studied most of his scripts for his books for years and tend towards this form in my own: detailed panel descriptions attended to by movie script style dialogue, page after page. It’s a simple and basic approach to this kind of thing and was such a successful exercise I now employ it for every project I take on. This isn’t to say once scripted, I as the artist is now fully married to the script in every detail. As with film, the script is not the book, and a lot more comes into play when you start translating the pages into pictures. New ideas arise, previous ones thought to be brilliant turn out to be clunky and unworkable. So the script becomes the map for the journey rather than the journey itself. But what it does do is bring about a greater freedom to let yourself more freely explore the story visually because, like a map, it will keep you from getting lost. 

So we parried back and forth, adding this and removing that. Rewriting remotely in our respective homes, then chatting on the phone and coming together when our schedules allowed to slowly and seriously build our story. In the end we both crafted a roughly 200 pages graphic novel script. I can say that despite how overlong this stage of the process felt, it was at times and often, the most fun I have ever had on a project before.

This was all simultaneous with ramping up and scheduling pitch meetings with publishers, and the early stages of crafting the look of the book through its characters and design. I’ll spend the next entry laying out that process and talking about the dos and don’ts that come with setting and making pitch meetings, story kits and what is best to think about when it comes to picking the right publishing house for a project like this. I’m heading out to New Mexico this week to meet Ethan and explore the area and meet with some folk out there and will include some of that research in the forthcoming articles, as well as interspersing other posts about the medium of comics in general, children’s picture books and the ins and outs of making a business out of being a freelance creator of such things. I hope you’ll get something out of it.

Feel free to ask any question that comes to you and I’ll endeavor to provide some kind of cogent answer as best as I can!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Daenerys - A Song of Ice And Fire 2015 Calendar Cover Art

-By Donato

Over the past year I have been creating twelve new oil paintings for inclusion in the 2015 Calendar for George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.  Also known to many as The Game of Thrones.  One of the great pleasures of this commission was the chance (and requirement!) to read all five novels of the series currently in print.  Luckily I had the buffer of a few months to get started before we needed to settle on concepts for the first image of the calendar, the cover.  George is an amazing writer, taking you on a roller coaster ride of places, events and emotions as first you hate someone then learn to appreciate their inner workings.  And there are others we just keep on despising, page after page...

As I began to delve deeper into the novels looking for potential content to develop as calendar images, the clarity of persona which can strike clear as a bell in a short story character was getting  muffled and complex.  Where was the easy hero, the epic battle, the righteous quest for good?  Who was the protagonist now that Ned has lost his head?  Who's storyline will lead to the Iron Throne and who are these books about anyway?!  I LOVED this about George's writing.  There is no black and white (well except in Braavos), there are only shades of gray.  Very much like our own world.  It is for this reason I wish there were 36 months to each year, as my ideas came flowing like a river and twelve was far too few a number to choose to create from such a rich universe!  I love ambiguity, I love the reluctant hero, I love seeing through the lenses of the other side and most of all I love a challenge.

Very early on I decided to create a unified series of these paintings.  Rather than approach each image as a separate solution to solve, I wanted the set to read as a wonderfully unified whole, with plenty of variation within each unique piece of art, but brought under a common size, complexity and interpretative voice.

With the very first concept I set out to create the calendar as paintings each of size 30" x 30" and all oil on panel.  I knew the first few would be easier to undertake given the time for the final deadline of this past February, but was heavily burdened by these constraints as the final three paintings needed to be finished in one month! And they were not the easiest of compositions either (twelve plus figures of the Night's Watch in one of them!)  The challenge was stressful, but the results all the more satisfying.

With the source material of the calendar as the original writings from the novels, I was not beholden to the likenesses nor portrayal of the actors from the Game of Thrones HBO series.  I was at liberty to interpret as I saw fit, from castle creation to cultural invention to character physiques.  George Martin is an avid lover and collector of art, and it is his desire that the artists commissioned for these calendars be free to exercise their own visions of his worlds.  I owe a deep thank you to George for both the confidence and freedom he has given to push my abilities to their limits in creating this series.  I hope it lives up to his expectations.

Random House has just released the cover to the calendar, and although I cannot share with you any other art at this time, I thought this would in the least allow an introduction on my thoughts and intentions in where this series is headed. The HBO show has created an beautiful world from the novels, and it is very difficult to compete with those creations as a visual artist.  It is hard not to imagine Ned without seeing the face of Sean Bean.  How do you compete?  I took an approach which has always been successful and my focus within illustrative art commissions, that of conveying intent and emotion without chasing after details.

I found myself asking larger questions about conflict, family and wealth imbalances as a way to tap into ideas - concepts which resonate with our modern world.  Seeing the worlds of Westeros through these lenses opened my work up to broad interpretations of the story which went past simple character portraits.  It is for this reason I am extremely happy with the results, and a reason many fans may not be satisfied with my paintings.  This is not a calendar of specific moments from the novels, but rather a way to taste the bitterness, brutality and passion George brings with his words.

Drink deep.

Preliminary Drawing   23" x 23"  graphite on paper

rough concept   6" x 6"  pencil and chalk on toned paper

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spectrum Lecture This Saturday

Saturday Lecture with Arnie Fenner and Jon Foster

The Art Connection Academy is hosting a free public lecture with artist, art director, and publisher Arnie Fenner. Joining Arnie will be the highly acclaimed illustrator, Jon Foster. The lecture will be on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. CST.

Attendees may also submit their portfolio for possible review during the lecture. A PDF version of your portfolio must be submitted no later than Friday, March 28, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. CST. The lecture will be hosted online and will be available internationally in real-time. Space is limited, so attendance will be on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the lecture. Sign up for the lecture HERE.

Cross Purpose

-By Jesper Ejsing

Here is another Hydra Magic card from the “Face the Hydra” deck expansion. When I first got the assignment I thought it would be very simple and easy. The description asked for a hydra with 2 heads entangled so that they were out of action.

I did a sketch that turned more into a pile of tangled heads and not just 2 being affected. So I sketched endlessly trying to come up with a composition that was clear enough that you could see the tangled heads and some necks that were free, and still very much kept in mind that the illustration needed to look cool. No matter what I did, I think I ended up with either the one or the other.

In the end - after about 25 thumbs - I got somthing I liked. It feels like a knot untying itself in the stomach. It is like suddenly a feeling of “this could be good” fires up in your head. All doubt and problems seems to disappear for a moment and you can get on to the next stage of the drawing. Every Time I screw up an illustration I tell myself to wait for this feeling. Every Time it does screw up, it is usually because I thought I could go faster into the next stage and wing it while I transfered/ color roughed/ painted or; well... you get the picture.

So I took my very rough sketch and scanned it and added some more linework and tonal values in Photoshop. I think the value sketch is great for me to show light and mood rather than just outline.

When I started the colors I had this idea that I would try to make it a bit more Kev Walker than I am used to. The way to go about that I thought was to make the background very watercolor-like. So ai added thin washes to the whole surface. I sprayed the acrylic with water from my airbrush to keep it from drying too fast. That way I could obtain the soft fadings of the color in the background. It looks like a camera out of focus. I am pretty sure Kevin does not use an airbrush, but basicly just paints it very wet using stunning brush control. I also saw Eric Fortune do these impressive tonal fades in thin washes using tremendous patience and lots of time. But my “Hacked” way of forcing the acrylic to act less acrylic-like, fits my temperament, and gets the job done in less time but without the finesse and control.

After I painted the background in, over all of the image I start painting the figures in thicker paint going on top of the background color. Instead of painting the background around the figures or masking them out I just did the whole background over the full surface. I do this only when the background is kept watery and is kept to washes or else I will cover up too much of my inked drawing to be able to see anything. The benefit is also that the background fades and strokes actually is going behind the figures with no strokes or texture kind of bending away from the figures as it tend to do when you have to paint around things. This way the technical use of the brushstrokes ends up enhancing the feeling of depth creating a layer upon layer effect.

In fact this image is almost monochromatic with the red acting as a splash color. I tried to have the greenish/yellow rimlight fill out more of the figure than just the rim, using it more as a strong effectfull tool to gain focus. The 2 heads most in need of attention got the brightest rimlight color and everything less important got less light. Pretty simple. I think of myself as the guys in a theater in charge of the spotlight following the actors around. As an illustrator you can put the light exactly where you want the attention and not necessarily dictated by realistic light sources.

In this painting I really like the top left head. It is build up with very few strokes, shape is mostly defined via cast shadows from the “fins” of deep shadows like the eye sockets and the mouth. Also I think the facial expression is less typical and the fact that it is seen three quarter from behind is also less obvious. It just adds to the everyday-like feeling of the scene that not all the heads are equally dangerous and conveniently facing the camera.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Visitor

-By Rebecca Guay

Hi Everyone,

Some of you may have heard that my painting, "The Visitor", was chosen as the cover for the next Spectrum annual, which truly made my year!

I thought I'd share the process with you about how I went about making "The Visitor" piece.
Its fortunate that this just happened to be a painting I took step-by-step photos of!

I am often asked how I go about my process. Many people still think I work in watercolor , but I actually work in oils more often than not. This video will give you a quick synopsis of the full journey of the image.

I hope you enjoy the video! And please post questions if you have them, I'll try my best to answer them all!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Unsolicited Advice #4 of 4: "Great, Kid. Don't Get Cocky."

by Arnie Fenner

There's the proverb that says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." That sounds a little preachy for my taste and I much prefer "everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time" or the funny crudeness of "don't act like your shit don't stink" or the directness of Han's advice of "don't get cocky."

Part of being an artist is having an ego: you need one to survive. Anyone can create in private, but it takes some hutzpah to pursue a career as an illustrator or painter and to put your work out in front of an audience. You've got to believe in what you're doing and have something of a thick skin to keep to keep from being discouraged by criticism, disinterest, or indifference.

And it is perfectly understandable to feel your oats a little after years of school, study, or struggle: you've worked for your success and it's natural to do some strutting once you've achieved it. But the trap to avoid is in thinking that anything lasts forever, that at a certain point new jobs and popularity are guaranteed.

They're not.

I know an illustrator who, upon winning one of the science fiction field's bigger awards, immediately contacted his clients and informed them that his rates had just gone up. That didn't go over particularly well and, slowly but surely, his commissions dried up; he used to be all over the place, but now I can't remember the last time I saw a new cover by him.

The hard truth is that trends, styles, looks, preferences, and fads go in and out of favor, and that applies to the art world, too. What's hot and spawning imitations and imitators one year is "old fashioned" and out of favor the next: nothing is perpetually popular or in demand, particularly in this day of multi-media cacophony and increasingly shortened attention spans. There's a constant search for the flavor of the month…and there's always a new flavor of the month to be discovered. Thousands of art students graduate and enter the marketplace every year…and they're all hungry. Your competition increases significantly each summer and, no matter how good you are, there is inevitably a batch of folks in the mix every year who are subjectively "better" at the game: they see things differently, their solutions have a unique wrinkle, they might be faster, their skill sets might be more accomplished, there are clients or galleries or audiences who simply respond to or identify with what they're producing.

And…memories are short.

In a recent interview, Mike Mignola said, "I did a show, HeroesCon, a few years ago, the year after Frazetta died, and an artist came up to me, a young guy. He was asking about composition in my work and I made some reference to Frazetta and all my compositional stuff comes from Frazetta, and he didn't know who he was. It was so grim and at the same time, eye opening. It is spooky to see certain guys that, to me, were the biggest guys kind of fading out."

How do you maintain your audience and client base? How do you stay "relevant?" How do you keep your edge? An easy answer is to stay competitive, to be a participant in the race. Yeah, there are those who embrace the purity of expression and decry the thought of artists competing with each other, either in school or the marketplace, and that's perfectly fine if you don't care who or how many see your work (and if you've got a juicy bank account that allows you not to worry about the light bill). Otherwise…life is a series of competitions and embracing them, of meeting those challenges, helps keep us sharp and interested. It makes work fun. Okay…sometimes fun.

And how do you stay competitive? Never assume. Never be complacent. Never stop learning and improving. Never stop networking, reaching out, meeting new people, and engaging both your clients and the public. Never be afraid to experiment. Never lose your curiosity. Never hesitate to investigate new venues for your abilities. Never become so rigid in your expectations that you close doors of opportunity. Never be afraid to question your choices or explore solutions outside your comfort zone. Never be too proud to ask for opinions or seek help from your peers. Never rest on your laurels. And never, never, never become a pretentious pratt. Pants: one leg at a time. Poop: stinks.

Certainly, be happy when a piece comes out well; take pleasure in praise and positive reactions. But keep in the back of your mind the motivating thought, "The next one will be better."

Never take your success for granted.

I was once treated with extreme disrespect by an executive in a job interview early in my career; I got hired, but wouldn't have if the decision had been strictly his. Years later I was sitting on the opposite side of the desk when this same person (who had lost his executive position) interviewed for a job with the company I was then working for. He undoubtedly thought that he'd always be calling the shots and was going through some rude readjustments: interviewing for work wasn't an easy task. I treated him professionally (remember advice #1: Be a pro) and with respect; we reminisced about the "good old days" at the other company and I didn't remind him of his abusive behavior to me when I was wet behind the ears. There was no point to (and he probably didn't remember anyway). I shook his hand as he left the office…

And immediately round-filed his resume. I could growl "paybacks are a motherfucker," but the reality was that his portfolio was only average and out of date; he was not current with the graphics software that was an integral part of the job; and, yes, personal knowledge made me doubt he would be an effective team player (incredibly important in a smaller company). Strike 1, strike 2, strike 3. If the third strike had a little pepper on the pitch, well…paybacks are a motherfucker.

Once you become successful (talking from the perspective that you've got the Right Stuff to make it in whatever artistic career path you follow), always remember how you got there. Remember the people who helped you achieve your goals, your teachers, your friends, your family, your significant others, your clients who saw something in you and took the risk. Show everyone respect and consideration at every phase of your career. When you're sitting on the peak, show courtesy to everyone, especially to those who may not have the abilities or fortitude to make it as high up the slope as you did. Treat kindness with kindness. Because everyone you met climbing up the mountain, you will most likely meet coming down. How you've treated them in the past will determine whether they extend a hand when you need one or give you a shove with the toe of their boot to speed you along the way.

All aspects of the arts goes through cycles and part of being an artist is to recognize those cycles, willingly respond to change, remain flexible, and keep working. And above all, "don't get cocky."

Above: A favorite 'The Far Side' cartoon by Gary Larson. Color by Donna Oatney. © Universal Press Syndicate.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Last Chance!

This is the last chance to pre-order a copy of Rebecca Guay's new art book "Evolution: The Art of Rebecca Guay". The Kickstarter ends tomorrow.

This will be an extremely limited print run, and there is no guarantee that additional copies of the book will be printed and distributed outside of the Kickstarter campaign. So grab your copy now!

More info here:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pochade Box Plans

This will be the first of a few posts detailing some of the studio equipment I have built.  I built this painting box because I am trying to get out of my studio more and do some plein air painting as well as a good portable setup for location or portrait painting.

Pochade is a french word for "sketch" (according to Collin's French Dictionary), so "pochade box" is literally "sketch box".  My goal was to create something that was lightweight and easy to setup and maintain.

I am posting the plans here for two reasons.  First, with the hope that at least some of you will find it useful.  Second, I am sure that should you make your own, you will improve on my design and send me your own results so I can benefit!  You could always buy one pre made... but that isn't much fun and I bet this will save you some money.

These plans should scale nicely.  My box is 10" x 12" inches but you could scale it up or down.  If you are a little handy and have a few tools (or know someone that is), this box will take you 5 or 6 hours to make and cost around $50 - $80 (the $50 end if you can get the hinges on sale, which happens from time to time).

Parts list 




  • Wood glue
  • Epoxy for magnets
  • Danish or Tung oil - This is a penetrating oil that hardens in the wood, sealing it at the same time.  Follow directions on the bottle.


  • Drill and small bits for pre-drilling holes for screws and 1/4" bit for drilling holes for magnets 
  • Saw
  • A set of spring clamps will be really handy here
  • Screwdriver

As you can see the most expensive and also the heaviest single part of this design are the hinges, but that is also where the magic happens.  The hinges stay where you rotate them to.  No screws to tighten, you open the lid to the angle you want, and the hinges keep them there.  They are incredibly strong.  I get no shake when I paint.  Worth every penny.  I don't know what kind of witchery is involved, but the hinges are awesome.

I will leave the screw placement up to you, as it isn't too critical.  Just be sure that the screws are going through as much wood as possible.  I countersink the screws so they don't catch and are flush with surface.  Pre-drill all the holes for the screws or the wood will split.

The Plans

If you want a larger box, just use the same basic layout, but change the size of your cuts.

Shot of the box closed.  You can see the draw latches here.

I included this so you could see how the rubber bands loop through the bottom eyelet screws.  Same thing for the upper piece.  I used a hand held manual old-timey drill to pre drill holes for the eyelets.  Much more control than a power-drill.  Also, you will need to cut a 1/16" notch for the hinges so they can close flush when the lid is down.  You could use a chisel or a file here too with some patience.  I used a router.

See how the magnets are mounted on the back of the lower support.  Make sure you align the magnets so they are all attracting and not repelling.  Use the 1/4" drill bit to create the holes for the magnets.  They are only 1/16" thick, so the hole will be pretty shallow.  Just enough for the magnets to sit flush.  I put a little epoxy in each hole to hold the magnets in.  They will fit very snug without it, but might pull out eventually without the epoxy.

This piece is tensioned by the rubber bands run through the eyelet screws in the bottom of the piece I am holding.  The rubber bands loop through the other set of eyelets that you can see in the two pictures above this one.  Getting the rubber band looped through can be tricky.  I cut the rubber band, looped it through the upper loops and tied a string to the loose ends.  Then let the strings hand  down through the slot where the upper support will sit.  When the showed up at the bottom through the cutout, I pulled them, and then the rubber bands through and fastened them to the eyelets on the bottom.

Shot to show you how the upper support piece is sandwiched in here.  You will want to sand this piece down so that it easily slides up and down.  Also note the groove cut into the top support.  This is so that it can easily hold panels.  Same on the lower support.  I used a table saw to notch these, but there are probably another dozen ways to make this work without having to have access to a table saw.  Get creative if you don't have one you can use.

Shot of the D-rings where I attach the canvas strap.  Be sure to mount them so the d-ring has free movement and clears the end of the box.  Also, you can see how there is now support for the hinges, they fully support the lid on their own and are rock solid.

Rear view.

Shot of the underside with a quick release adapter for my tripod.  You can also see a t-nut.  I put in two for convenience.  The quick release screws into the t-nut and then mounts on my tripod.

Shot of the box with the palette removed.  You could use a glass palette, but it will add weight and can of course shatter, but glass is tempting.  Nice for mixing and cleaning.

I notched the palette to go around the hinges, but you wouldn't have to do this if you cut it down a little bit.

I think that is everything.  If something isn't clear or I made a mistake, let me know and I will update the plans.

And here is a shot of a painting I did using the above box.  It works! :)

and a time-lapse of the painting for kicks:

If you remember from my last post, this week was supposed to be on process and technology, but I postponed it until next time.  Check in with me in two weeks for my post on the importance of process in art history and how we might use modern tech to adapt it for today's studio.

I hope this post was useful.  Let me know!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Concept Art and Concept Design

For the last ten years Paul has been employed at Weta Workshop as a concept designer on film, television and computer game projects. He has most recently completed work on Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy and also worked on James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and Andrew Adamson’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and Prince Caspian (2008).

In addition to his role as a concept designer Paul also conceived, art directed and designed Weta Workshop’s book The Crafting of Narnia and co-designed The World of Kong, A Natural History of Skull Island.

In 2009 Paul created White Cloud Worlds – science fiction and fantasy art from New Zealand, which comprises of two art anthology books, a touring exhibition and workshops.

Hi there, having been a big fan of Muddy Colours for a few years now its a real honour to be asked to contribute a piece on concept design - so thanks Dan :)

Typically, I am working full-time at Weta Workshp, and in the course of my job (and running my own workshops), I end up reviewing a mountain of student concept design portfolios. Over the last few years I have noticed a lot of portfolios are filled more with concept art rather than concept design and for me that raises a rather good question: is there a difference between the two?

Of course, for many people, there is no difference between concept art and design, they are interchangeable terms. And that’s cool. If you were embarking on a portfolio for concept design, however, it might be worth thinking of them in a different light. I love concept art, I have folders upon folders of it. But I define it very specifically as a visual exploration of an idea where the concept starts and finishes with the artwork. The artwork is the outcome.

Concept design is about exploring ideas visually through a design process to a brief. If successful, the outcome continues past the design or art phase and into production. A piece of concept art might explore what an armoured character looks like, but concept design would be focused not just on what they look like but also the required outcome for the armour. For example, for a live action film, a piece of armour would need to be functional and further designs would be required to resolve details and cross sections to enable someone to build it accurately. As a newbie, my earliest armour designs featured big, wide breast plates, because it looked more powerful. But in the proto-typing phase, the actor could not close their arms to hold a weapon two handed. It looked great on paper, but all that power the design suggested was lost when the actor couldn’t act in it. It was embarrassing, but you learn from your mistakes and the process. So with the process in mind I thought it might be helpful to run through a typical example of how to step beyond the art and into design.

Orcrist - Sword of Gondolin

It’s hard to generate ideas for a brief without learning about the design subject matter and that’s where research comes in handy - especially when you are dealing with a property as beloved as The Hobbit.
I always start with the descriptions from the book.

“Two caught their eyes particularly, because of their beautiful scabbards and jewelled hilts.”

“These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars...This Thorin, the ruins name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver”

“...but the goblins called it simply Biter.”

I also draw upon my own experience as well. If you are designing weapons its useful to know how they work in the real world. I joined a medieval martial arts class for a couple of years and came to appreciate how heavy armour was and how important blade balance and shape can dictate fighting style and energy conservation.

Mood Boards:
I went beyond just Tolkien’s books and looked at weapons from the cultures he was inspired by and the previous LOTR movies. I pile all my notes and reference images into ideally a single page so I can reference it at a glance on my second monitor. If your reference is not available at a glance you tend not to use it or waste a lot of time rummaging to find it.

Shape Language:
You can explore a lot of ideas just in silhouette studies and its amazing how a silhouette can also convey culture. For example organic forms for elven, geometric for dwarves or spiky for Orcs.

Options and Variations:
The most common line from a client in concept design is, “Give me something I have never seen before”.

You don’t get to that place without working up plenty of options. Options need to be different approaches to the brief rather than just working up variations around one idea. Both myself and Daniel Falconer wanted to offer options that related to the previously existing Gondolin Swords. We also had to take into consideration the end outcome that Orcrist is an elvish weapon that would be used by a bulky, squat Dwarf who in wide shots shrinks down when standing next to a human. It was for that reason I played off the heavier blade shape of Sting and the idea of more of a “cleaver” blade. Otherwise the sword in Thorin’s hands looks less imposing and when Elrond handles the blade in the film it would look like he was handling a letter opener.

For my options I tried all manner blade shapes and materials and finally tried a more wild card idea based around the description of “biter” where I offered up an ivory handle, perhaps a dragons tooth (which, given the dragon-themed story, had a nice sense of symmetry). Peter loved the idea , possibly because it was so different to any other Elven swords we had seen before and, after looking at some historical ivory handles and a t-rex tooth, I worked up the preliminary designs.

I made cardboard cutouts to explore size and function along with wooden versions that we sparred with. When it came to the scabbard I made no designs at all until I had a functional cardboard mock up that I could use as a starting point. The scabbard design was inspired in part from other designs John Howe and Alan Lee were creating for the elves. As you are part of a larger team you want to approach culture design holistically and sharing ideas and design aesthetics is important.

Good design is in the broad strokes, great design is in the details. I still wanted to get more of the original description from the book into the piece. My research lead me to the likelihood that Ethalion of the Fountain was the original owner of Orcrist. I designed a pommel detail that was his coat of arms, using diamonds to describe the fountain water.

No matter how good your design, an amazing artisan can always improve it. Our master sword maker Peter Lyon carefully captured all of my work and then, with his expertise, excelled beyond it. Its a great moment when after spending weeks on a design you get to handle something that had previously just existed in your imagination. I just wish I had a spare $10,000 to buy the Weta Collectible.....

If you want to see a whole book full of design process from the Hobbit, check out the awesome Hobbit Chronicles my friend and fellow designer Daniel Falconer has put together. I will also be at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live again this year so please drop by the White Cloud Worlds booth and bring your portfolio if you would like some feedback.

I am also running a TLC Workshop in Seattle in May 16-18 with fellow Weta Workshop Designer, Nick Keller. For More info, or to purchase tickets, visit their website HERE.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading :)

All images © Weta Workshop, Wingnut Films and Warner Bros, respectively.