Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yet More Monsters in Action!

Here are some more monsters doing their monster thing. If the last one isn't clear, those are little eyeballed tentacles coming out of the brush. It makes more sense in the book.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some Random Monsters

Some incidental rough illustrations for a work in progress, my big monster book. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

When does Dr. Seuss Merchandise Become a Doctor Seuss Book?

Well, never. Not really. Believe it or not, this:

is not written by Doctor Seuss. It's called The Cat in the Hat, but it's written by Jesse Leon McCann and drawn by Christopher Moroney. It is based on the movie that was loosely based on the book.  Through some Amazon snafu, when you click "look inside" you get sample pages of Seuss' actual book. You also get reader reviews of the book by Doctor Seuss, not the book by McCann and Moroney. Here's the same book repackaged as a Little Golden Book

On Amazon you'll also see reviews of this one, but they're a little less enthusiastic. Once again, not written by Doctor Seuss or published in his lifetime, but it's not so easy to know the difference if you're not careful. And here are a few more:

Doctor Seuss, the real Doctor Seuss, as in Theodore Seuss Geisel, had nothing to do with these books. But The Cat in the Hat is a brand. Doctor Seuss is now a brand. These are, in the commercial sense, "Doctor Seuss Books." If you want to buy your kid some "Doctor Seuss Books" these will fit the bill, but what they are is merchandising, licensed products. This isn't an unusual practice--there have been books and even comic books licensed by Charles Schulz of the Peanuts characters that he had little if anything to do with creatively. These Seuss books aren't entirely different than what Schulz did, but there is a difference, however subtle, beyond the fact that they were all done after Seuss' death. These books resemble books by Seuss, but are not books by Seuss, and they are presented as interchangeable with the original classics. They are presented as more of the same. Do you like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish? The Cat in The Hat? Then you're going to like, I Can Name 50 Trees Today. Apparently the over 50 books that he wrote aren't enough. 

It's not really worth getting worked up about merchandising and the original creator's intentions. There's plenty of horrible sequels and merchandise licensed with the full knowledge and permission of the creators of otherwise great work. Maybe they needed to send their kids to college? Or in the case of Schulz, keep his ice skating rink open. It's not for me to say. Eventually everything gets appropriated. There are a million different interpretations of Shakespeare, and I hope there will be a million more.

This said,  it seems like Seuss' work has been more bastardized than most. His widow seems to have said "yes" to everything, including several horrible movies. But the books, the books I just don't understand. Maybe they're not even that bad, but they can't be anything like the books that I grew up with and continue to treasure. They're something else that has nothing to do with good literature, and that's what Seuss' work is first and foremost--some of the greatest children's literature ever written. Kids often choose their own books, and it's a disservice to them to camouflage these books as books by Seuss. It's hard enough to find good books for kids to read, but books as merchandising only make it that much harder. 

When I was a kid I had my heart set on a Little Golden Book that was a merchandising tie-in with Donny and Marie. I liked it because it had a robot in it. My Dad was a little appalled. He said, "do you really want that?" I really did. So they got me the book. I liked it, but it didn't stick with me like the truly great books from my childhood. Kids will always choose books that aren't exactly the ones you would choose for them, and if you want them to be good readers, you should encourage them to read whatever interests them. Even Donny and Marie. Even fake Doctor Seuss. But you can also make good books available to them. If you have good books in the house they'll be discovered. Kids have pretty good taste in the end, and they will find the good stuff, but the good stuff has to be around for them to find. 


Apparently, there are over 70 commercial tie-ins with the new Lorax movie, based on Seuss' environmental cautionary tale, including and SUV and disposable diapers. Ahh, Seuss merchandising as its best.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Piecing It All Together, and What I Learned from Barron Storey

I've mentioned before that I ink pieces of my images separately and then combine them later in the final image, and I think this may have been a little confusing, so I thought I'd share a little more detail about how this works. Often I draw each figure in a scene separately much larger than it will appear, so in the case of a big figure like Blackbeard, who dominates the image, I drew him about 18x24 inches, scanned him in pieces, then pieced him back together on photoshop. Here's the figure in pencil, already cropped:

 I added in the background later, but this is how I went about inking the figure. On photoshop, once I pieced him together, I cut him up again, this time in pieces that will be easier to ink. I make the pieces as large as they will fit on a piece of watercolor paper or bristol board trimmed to 11x17, the largest size that will fit in my printer. Then I blue line the parts, and print them out for inking. Here's the blue line:

And here's the inked hand. I inked it this large so I can get more detail where more detail is required, while still working fairly loosely. 

This gun is a small detail, but it's such a specific piece of hardware I inked it very large so that I could get it right. I inked the whole thing, even though only two thirds of it are seen in the image. This allows me to move it around if I want to make a few subtle changes, but it also helps it to look more consistent--the inks don't stop on one side of the belt and start again on the other--the strokes are continuous, giving more of a sense that the gun is actually behind the belt.

The torso required the least amount of detail, and I actually ended up inking it smaller than scale.  The belt I did separately. The buttons and button holes I did with white gouache. 


And here's the head:

Again, I inked it as large as I could blue line it. Some of these took more than one attempt, and since the original drawing is preserved, I can print out as many blue lined versions of each part as I want until I get it right. This not only provides a huge safety net if I screw up, but it allows me to take more risks with the inks. In general it allows me more control over the overall outcome, even when I'm using a medium (dry brush) that's very unpredictable. I count on it being unpredictable--it's the little accidents that provide interest--but I don't want it to be so unpredictable that it doesn't do essentially what I want it to.  For dry brush--a rendering technique that uses less moisture and more pigment on the brush--I use whatever works, usually cheap craft brushes, and usually paint in a mixture of india ink and brown acrylic ink. The brown ink is mainly to fool me into using bolder blacks, since when I work in black ink I tend to be more timid with blacks. Once I scan it I turn it all black anyway, or I can turn the line any color I want to in photoshop. 

One of the Many Lessons I Learned from Barron Storey

The materials available to you, in a lot of ways, determine how you're going to work. I'd love it, for instance, if my computer could print  in 18x24. Then maybe I'd ink my portraits larger than life! But the best thing to do is use these tools as an asset rather than a limitation. There's more than one way to skin a cat!

My teacher, Barron Storey once showed us an image he did for National Geographic. There looked like there were a hundred different animals in the picture. It was filled with detail. It seemed like an impossible thing to draw. Then he showed us something that to me, was a revelation. He took a little drawing of a monkey that was drawn on tracing paper, saturated the picture with fixative, and pasted it on the image. The paper disappeared and all you could see was the monkey! This is how he had done every animal in the picture. They were all a bunch of little pictures collaged together!

Storey once told me that he didn't think he could paint. This didn't make any sense to me. He did portraits for Time and other magazines that looked like paintings to me. He showed us the originals--they were made with just about anything he could get his hands on--colored pencil and markers and ballpoint pens and somewhere in there, paint too, but he used whatever he needed to get the job done. The message that a lot of his students took from this was: mixed media is the way to go, but mixed media wasn't the point. The point was problem solving. What do you want to achieve, and what's getting in your way of achieving it? You don't have to follow someone else's path to achieve what they do. It's not cheating to find your own way. You don't have to draw every monkey in the picture if you're afraid you're going to screw up. 

Using the computer to assemble my images from scanned watercolor textures and ink drawings, I get to make more choices and take more risks along the way. I can push the color in different directions. I can be more bold with my inks. I can't control everything--you can never control everything, and you don't really want to--but I can make discoveries that I would have never been able to make otherwise with different tools. I think the computer is great, but it's not the only reason why I'm able to solve these problems the way I have. Without the computer I would have found a different way, would have made different discoveries. I would have used tracing paper, or magic markers, or toothpicks, or whatever worked, but the tools aren't important. What's important is that you use your assets to overcome your limitations in whatever way you need to. Be inventive! You might not find my way easier, but find what works for you.

 I would stay away from the spray fixative though. Thanks to digital airbrushes and other digital substitutes for effluents, we contemporary artists stand to have a lot fewer respiratory problems. God I hope Barron has stopped smoking...

Oh, and if you missed it, here's the finished pirate.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Silent Majority?

Lately I've been averaging about 10 hits a day on my website, with about 30% return customers, but this blog has been getting an average of about 100 hits a day with 10% returnees. For me, that's a lot of hits. Tons of hits. I am sincerely grateful for your hits. But also, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment. You won't be judged. Are you an illustrator? Illustration fan? Just curious about the stuff I write? A Lucian Freud fan? (The essay I wrote after Lucian Freud's death seems to be, by far, my most popular post). And then there's my much neglected website.  Introduce yourself! wants to know!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


So here's my last pirate, this one a painting. Or at least, partly a painting. I scan in watercolor textures and then add a few shadows and highlights on photoshop, coloring some of the black line on another layer. Here's the black and white version: 

The figure is first drawn all in one piece, (aside from the background which is done separately) and then inked in various pieces at various scales. The hands and face were inked quite a bit larger than the jacket, and the belt and guns were done separately as well. I like to draw big when there's a lot of detail involved, and I add a lot of detail in the inks. So this is all one big puzzle pieced together. And here's the finish:

I'm very pleased with how it turned out, and so is my agent, Abigail! With this one I experimented with laying in some of the watercolor textures over pieces of the image in multiply, rather than what I typically do, which is confine them to my flats. (sorry folks, but this is just for the photoshop people). So these big swaths of watercolor texture and color get blended in with the rest of the image, and gives a lot of texture to whole thing. It's a good look. And here's a close-up of the finished face, which I showed a close-up of  in its dry brush phase in an earlier post:

You can see here where all those messy looking dry brush marks came in handy. They're sort of like the contour of a paint stroke, the outside of the paint stroke that gives the paint stroke shape, even though the inside is almost flat color. So it gives the illusion of an oil or acrylic brush stroke. Pretty cool, huh?  I've also got a nice blue reflective shadow that really brings out the form, with that hard touch of red on the nose to make it pop, subtle but effective. I love when I get away with this kind of expressionistic color--there are few circumstances in life where you see a pirate with a devil red face, but since the whole image is washed in red, it doesn't seem unnatural. 

These pirates are portfolio pieces, but I like them so much I'm doing a short story to go along with them. Maybe a magazine submission? We'll see...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

99% of All Young Adult Books

Angst ridden protagonist, usually with a dead parent or two dead parents, possibly adopted only to later discover that they're from a fantastical alternate world, a fairy, or an alien. If it's a girl, she's persecuted by the bitchy girl antagonist, but then there's the hunky guy and the best friend who later becomes a love interest thus creating the classic romantic triangle, though our heroine may be in competition with the bitchy girl for the attention of the hunky guy, and the bitchy girl may do something reprehensible to sabotage her chances or otherwise screw her over. Insert fairies, vampires, werewolves, post apocalypse here. Also, single themed dystopias are popular--a future where everybody has to conform to something or other so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, but that something or other is super oppressive in some way, denying our hero their fundamental humanity, but our hero is somehow unique and transcends all obstacles so that they may liberate themselves and perhaps the world. Oh, and organ harvesting may possibly be involved. Or a horrible trial. There's always some horrible trial or series of trials given to test our exceptional hero to his/her limits in order to discover if they are worthy of something or other, but our hero subverts this awful system, see: Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, etc. may possibly involve a horrible infectious disease, a rebellion or zombies.

Don't forget to visit my website, sketches, illustrations, comics and more! Also comment if you so desire. A lot of traffic lately, but alas, no one comments. I'm a good listener!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Quick Note About One of the Most Exciting Developments in Comics: Kickstarter

A lot has been said recently  in the comics community about what the recent Kickstarter campaign for Rich Burlew's The Way of the Stick may mean. Whatever you think about the strip, or even whether you've even heard of the strip, lets look at this simply from an economic perspective.

He raised a million bucks past his initial goal of $57,000 with little more than 12,500 backers. Diamond, the largest comics specialty store distributor in North America, made a total of $417 million wholesale last year. They make most of their profit from superhero comics. The average superhero comic sells about 30,000 copies. The highest selling individual superhero comic last year sold 231,00 copies. The Order of the Stick raised 1058,465 and counting with only 12,622 backers for a second printing. They offered premiums for people who donated more, such as iron-on patches, coloring books, magnets and a new previously unpublished story in PDF form. I doubt people were contributing as much as they were for the coloring books. They simply love the comic so much that they want to do whatever they can to support it.  Kickstarter seems to be rapidly becoming the main form of funding for comics in the U.S., but rather than relying on aggressive marketing and merchandizing like Warner Bros. and Disney (the owners of DC and Marvel comics respectively), the creators who use Kickstarter rely on small groups of very loyal supporters. And these are creator owned, self-published books. There's no denying it now: this is the future of comics. Music and film might follow suit. That means smaller audiences, creator owned product, and more diversity all around. What could be cooler than that?

If you want to contribute, or simply check out what all the fuss is about, you can go to their Kickstarter page, here.

Incidentally, my blog is getting more hits than my website by about 10 to 1, so if you like the stuff you see here, please check out my website.  There you can see most of my illustrations, sketches and comics at one central location!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why People Who Make Stuff Should Stop Using the Useless Word, “Haters” Indiscriminately

The slang term, “haters” has been getting a lot of circulation on the web, but it has an unfortunate reductive effect. The word is often used among young creatives. The term is equally as interchangeable with true maliciousness, as it is with people who simply disagree with you. It's a dismissive that doesn't allow any constructive criticism or dissent. It's often used to describe a collective, invisible enemy, whose target is a single individual. People also talk about “my haters”, or simply, “haters”, as in: we're in this together, you an I, us against those who indiscriminately hate us and our opinions or creations out of pure malice. This is in part based in a true kind of maliciousness that exists because of the anonymity of the web—people prove to be more vicious when they don't have to face their targets.

People who make stuff, pictures, music, whatever your passion is, tend to be sensitive, and justly so, when first learning their craft. These disciplines are difficult. Sometimes criticism, especially unconstructive criticism, can crush you before you get a chance to start. Encouragement is good, but I also think the indiscriminate acceptance so common on the web can be almost as destructive as indiscriminate cruelty. You can easily get into the trap of categorizing people as “haters” or supporters. The problem is, this is the best way to stay stagnant in your development, to have no conception of how much you're learning. In the arts, much is subjective. There's nothing that can definitively be declared of quality, and not of quality. Taste and aesthetics vary, but making anything still involves discipline, and when that discipline is directed towards a goal, it can be easy to lose sight of how close you are to that goal. If you seek out people who do the thing you want to do, and do it well, at least according to your own aesthetic, they can help you, if they're willing, to come closer to that goal. That's the whole purpose of teachers and mentors. If you are in it for the fun of it, with no particular goal in mind, by all means embrace your supporters. But if you have a goal in mind, strangers don't know what your goals are, and if you post your work publicly and rely on the opinions of strangers, ultimately you're going to receive some very extreme reactions. But these people don't and can't possibly hate you. They don't know you, your goals, your intentions, why you make this stuff. They don't matter. Not really. You can't let them harass you either, any more than you can take them seriously, but the more you think in terms of this invisible enemy that's out to get you, the more distorted your sense of self worth, and the true value of your art, is going to be.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Close-Up Look at My Dry Brush Technique

Dry brush is a technique where you paint with less moisture on the brush so that the brush strokes have a more rough textures, sometimes leaving a kind of tread mark from the bristols. It's a technique I've developed over time, inspired in part by artists like Robert Fawcett and Noel Sickles.  Here's a close-up look of a piece in progress so you can get a better sense of what I do:

Another inspiration is Rembrandt, who had a way of getting just the right character of expression with just the right mark. Here you can see I incorporate a variety of marks in a very intuitive way. Often I have to start again when it's not quite working out. I can never control the brush completely, and there's always surprises and accidents that enrich the image, and in the best case scenario I can make less marks do more work. This one will eventually be in full color, so come back soon and see how it all worked out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another in the Pirate Series

No actual pirates in this one. It's my kid protagonist, standing his ground against invisible adversaries. I'm pretty pleased with it. All that wonderful black! I think I've finally overcome my fear of black. I've been having such a good time with these pirates I've decided to write a story to go along with them, which I'm working on now. And one last pirate! The last one in color.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Some Wednesday Figures.

This first pose is about 15 minutes, the second about 20. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pirates! Arrr!!

So here they are! Pirates! The first two in a series of four.

The Stowaway

"The Boy's Escaped."

So these aren't actually illustrating any particular story, but are done as examples of how I might illustrate the interiors of a young adult book. They're meant to have a Treasure Island feel. The title for this nonexistent book might be something like, "Blackbeard's Ghost." These images get their inspiration from all those great classic black and white illustrators from the beginning of the last century, Like Noel Sickles and Robert Fawcett, and Joseph Clement Coll, and of course, Hal Foster and Alex Raymond. As a kid, when I'd see illustrations like these they seemed impossibly perfect, and I only just think I'm beginning to do work that comes within a mile of that kind of draftsmanship. It's always gratifying to do a picture, that makes you think, "I would have loved these when I was a kid." I'm also greatly inspired by N.C. Wyeth, who did what were arguably the best illustrations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island ever published. 

When I was a kid I had this illustrated book put out by National Geographic about pirates, I'm not sure of the name of it, but it was filled with all these great images, Wyeth's among them, and that first glimpse of those Treasure Island images stays with me. There was also these great illustrations by an illustrator whose name I may never know (I'd love to have that book again!)  of free divers, these guys who would dive naked for sunken treasure and pearls. I loved that stuff! I remember as a kid dressing up as a pirate with an eyepatch and a wooden sword and these gold clip on earrings my mom gave me, but the other kids teased me about the earrings. Earrings were just too girly, even when you were seven, even if you were a pirate, apparently. I remember feeling deeply embarrassed about that. That was before gangster rap, so I just missed the boat, I guess. It was a good look.

But this was a good time. More pirates to come! 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pirate ship interior

Here's a background done in dry brush and watercolor for one of my pirate pictures. It's been a while since actually fully painted a background--usually I  do the drybrush and pencil and color it in photoshop using scanned watercolor textures, but this has a more spontaneous look. I'll see how it looks in the finished image!