Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm all pixelated.

In about an hour I'll be taking my friend to the airport, so I whittled away my time (not sleeping) watching the Terminator trilogy and scribbling in Photoshop. I'm becoming more and more comfortable making images in Photoshop, and one of these days I'm going to actually finish a piece with it.

I'm still having a fair amount of trouble when it comes to choosing colors. On this one I cheated a little by creating a bunch of swatches from the original reference. (But, I suppose it isn't really cheating since "no one cares how you got there".) With about a half-dozen colors plucked from the reference I laid in blocks of color and then tweaked the opacity to come up with "new" colors to fill out my range. It's the closest I can come to mixing so far.

Sigh. It's getting there, but I miss painting. Painting started making sense - or at least it became less mysterious. My friend pointed something out to me the other day that hadn't fully occurred to me about working digitally. The arm is missing. Since I usually draw/paint at about 16x20 or larger, I tend to work more with my arm than my wrist. I find it's more comfortable and that's why I don't keep a sketchbook as much these days. But, I can't work that way with digital. There's no holding the tool to work with it's side, and that's taking some getting reacquainted with.

Photoshop has sort of become my working sketchbook in an attempt to get used to it again. Since I started painting I started thinking more in terms of blocks of value and color. Pencils became inadequate for getting at what I was thinking, but now I can knock out full value roughs with the same kind of marks I'd make on canvas. (Kind of like working with a sketch canvas like Leyendecker used to, so he'd know where all of his brushstrokes were on the final painting.) So that's neat. I'm thinking more and more I'll just use it for preparatory work for illustration, but who knows...

Monday, March 23, 2009

J.C. Leyendecker

Today is Joseph Christian (J.C.) Leyendecker's birthday. Or, well, it would be if he were still alive. He was born this day in 1874 and is American's unsung illustrator. Though, I'm happy to say, in recent years he's been experiencing a much needed resurgence.

He was one of the greatest influences on Norman Rockwell, though he is rarely credited as such due to a falling out, of sorts. in fact, Norman used to hang around the train station when he was a lad to catch a glimpse of Joe coming home from the big city.

J.C. lived a very secretive life, so there isn't much in the way of readily available information, but there are two books on him now, one by Michael Shau (1970) and the new one by Cutler and Cutler (2008). It was the secretive lifestyle that served as the wedge driving him and Rockwell apart. Joe's "handler", Charles Beech (model, manager, and lover) always managed to keep the two apart, or to limit their interactions. I suppose Beech didn't appreciate the adoration Rockwell showed Leyendecker. Rockwell took it personally and went on record to say that Leyendecker "couldn't paint a woman with any sense of compassion." It was an attack that suggested Leyendecker was homosexual, without affirmitavely outting him. Despite how he may have been hurt by Joe however, Rockwell purposely stopped one short of Leyendecker's impressive 321 Saturday Evening Post covers in silent reverence.

I've had the great fortune to see many of his originals in person, and he continues to be one of greatest inspirations. I'm slowly collecting his post covers when I can find them, and one of my loftiest ambitions is to own an original painting before I die. I was planning on writing something up on his art, but I think I'll let it speak for itself:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I forgot to sleep.

I often joke about forgetting to eat, but it's actually the sad truth. When I sit down and start to throw myself at something everything else around me just gets blocked out. It isn't a good thing when you stop to think about it. In fact it's dangerously close to self-destruction on more than one level, but it is what it is. Like tonight. I was looking for something to serve as a distraction temporarily before going to bed and I had finished the book I was reading, so I thought I'd play with my new tablet some more. I couldn't think of anything immediately so I went to my tried and true stand by - I redid something I've already done. (Well technically I'm in the process of redoing it, but you know what I mean.)

Some people do master studies, others do... ok, so I don't know what others do. But I typically will take another stab at something I've done that I thought had some merit to see if I've actually been learning. The original of this piece was a cover for an environmental magazine two years ago, and amusingly - at least to me anyway - enough it was the last digital piece I did for an assignment. I've wanted to recreate it as a painting as I gained confidence in that arena and that's still the plan. When the redraw is done I think I may just render it as a grisaille, print it, enlarge it, and then transfer it to canvas and paint it. (I can't shake this desire to have a tangible original in my grubby little hands.)

Whatever I do, I want to do it fairly quick. I've got another project quite literally on the board that I've put on the back burner to play on the computer.

Photoshop CS3 and Intuos 3 tablet.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dreaming in Digital

I have digital fleas. I can't see them, but they keep biting me and I just have to sit with my tablet and draw draw draw. After the other night all I want to do is sit in front of my computer and push pixels around.

So I present a quick portrait study of my friend Graciela.

576 x 864 pixels. Photoshop CS3. 9 x 12 Intuos 2 tablet.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back to digital?

I keep hearing that digital is the wave of the future. Actually, if you recall my meeting with Donato he went as far as to say that painting for illustration was dead. Well, I still don't agree with that but something compelled me to see where my digital chops were these days.

I aimed to kill two birds with one stone with this piece. I've noticed I have a tendency to want really dramatic light patterns on the model when I'm working with the figure. I think it's something I've picked up watching a lot of beautifully lit movies and television shows (Lost, in particular). After all, "light is the great designer". But I'm slowly working towards having more well-lit models and not just "TA-DA!". So the first challenge was to use a picture that wasn't so dynamic with the light composition. Something natural. (Though I should have used a photo that wasn't lit in the luminous nightmare that was my school, where the light was anything but natural.)

Second I wanted to create the entire image digitally. I'm still undecided when it comes to digital illustration, which is funny because it wasn't that long ago that I considered myself a digital illustrator. I think there's definitely a place for it, and there are people who are doing fantastic work with pixels, but there's too much out there that looks the same. To paraphrase a teacher of mine, you can walk into any high school in America and find dozens, if not hundreds, of kids who can do it. I personally would like to create something that my client's niece or nephew couldn't cobble together.

That being said, this digital painting was created on two (count 'em, two) layers. I have been infected with the traditional approach to a painting! The next time I give it a crack I'll be sure to use multiple layers, and masks, and blending options and, and, and... The most difficult part for me was I could think of my palette and know what colors to mix in what amount for the color I wanted, but with Photoshop I wasn't afforded that luxury. (Another reason I love painter...) Sure, I could have imported the photo I was working from and just use the eyedropper to get the exact color I wanted, but I didn't want to do that. Somehow it felt like cheating. All in all I'm pleased with the results. I may go back in to darken some bits up here and there, but I like it. I think my bias for square brushes shines through. I was frustrated I couldn't just twist the tool in my hand to get the shape I wanted. I know I could fork out a few hundred bucks to get the newer tablets, but I think I'll play with it some more and then decide...

It just all still feels too clean to me.

4 x 6 inches (288 x 743 pixels). Photoshop CS3. 9 x 12 Intuos 2 tablet. 1 1/2 hour.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Black Mirror

In a recent post I mentioned that I made use of a black mirror. I hadn't heard of a black mirror up until a few years ago when I was at the studio of one of my professors. He was milling about his studio picking things up and telling us what we ought to invest in if we were to make it in the field. Good ol' Vince was a bit of a dreamer, but he never stopped producing good ideas. He pulled out a black mirror and said it was definitely something we should get. Promptly I made a note of it in my sketchbook and tucked the knowledge away. Basically what it is is a reflective surface with a black backing, instead of the normal silver mirror backing. What it does though, is knock all of the values in the reflections down a couple of notches. It's particularly handy for deepening shadows.

The result of looking into a black mirror isn't too far off from this set of images. On the left we have what might be considered a normal reflection, where the one on the right has been doctored to resemble the decrease in value you can expect. Of course one could squint to condense the value patterns even further, which is what I tend to do out of habit.

I haven't really been able to find any information on the internet about where to purchase such a device, and the few glass/mirror shops I've called were equally helpful, but the premise is simple enough I figured I could approximate it effectively. I picked up the deepest black piece of matboard I could find and stuck it into an 11 x 14 frame with the really cheap and reflective glass. And that's it.

The bugger was nefariously difficult to photograph well, but you get the idea. The matboard I used is actually a "suede" board, chosen because it's a deep deep black, but the draw back is it has a bit of a mottled texture. As soon as it bothers me I'll end up just painting something black to replace it with, but it works extremely well. You can see how the darker values of my face sort of become one shape with few reflected highlights.

At any rate, this little guy cost me about $15 at my local frame shop and took all of two minutes to assemble. Yet again listening to Papa Vince has paid off.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


A few years back a buddy of mine told me, "the difference between you and Rembrandt is that Rembrandt would do it again." Now, to this day I'm still not sure if he was aiming this comment at me directly or kind of lobbing it into the open as a something-to-think-about grenade, as he's been prone to do. Either way, it's something that struck a chord in me and I just can't forget it.

Well, Rembrandt, I've done it again. Truth be told, this is the third time I've done this painting. (And it probably won't be the last.) I mentioned the other day that I was working on something to enter into the Communication Arts annual, and this is one of the pieces I brought to the game. Not wanting what I thought was a solid image to go to waste, I tackled it one more time, only with a different arsenal of knowledge, namely a black mirror (more on that tomorrow).

So here you have it. The "real work" I was setting out to do the other night. For truth I like the portrait I did a little better, so I'll have to explore that some more, but this is a step up for me from the last time I tried this painting six months ago.

~20 x 20. Oil on canvas.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vacation's Over.

I'm back to finishing off my 4x6 portrait series. I know it's been a month since I've posted something, but I plan on returning with a vengeance. I was sitting down last night to work on a submission for the Communication Arts annual and I decided to knock out a portrait as a warm-up before I sat down to what I thought of as my real work.

If nothing else I'm pleased with how natural this one came out. I worked on it for about twenty minutes and decided I liked it just the way it was and just stopped painting out of fear of ruining it - as I've been known to do.

Aside from that I've spent two weeks delving into the work of Ashley Wood ( here and here ) and I think it shows. I've been wanting to loosen up and be more... expressive (Mark Eanes would be proud, I think) in my paintings, and I think Mr. Wood helped me do that whether he knows it or not.

I've got one more 4x6 canvas in my arsenal at the moment, so I may be calling it quits on that in the near future. But fear not! My lady gave me a stack of painting surfaces she happened across, so I'm sure I'll be experimenting on those as well.

Oh! Also, before I forget; my buddy Rusty showed me some love on his blog, so I'm going to point you over to his blog in hopes that you'll give him some love too. Here.