Under Western Skies

So, I had this doodle, several months old, I didn't like it much, but I had posted on my deceased artblog, just because I finished it. What I DID like about it was the cowgirl and the spaceship, not that either of them were drawn especially well, just that cowgirls and spaceships are-- simply by being themselves-- cool.

I found the doodle again this morning and thought, I should fix up that cowgirl and post this. I fiddled a bit with the cowgirl. Eh. I should do something with that thing-- that mesa or whatever-- in the background. I did that. Eh. Might as well fix the spaceship. And the sky. Did that. Eh.

Now I have a totally different painting, not a lick of the old one is in there, and I haven't improved my relationship with it one bit. Art can be like that.

The old one will not be shown because it looks just the same even though it's all entirely different. I may have wasted my time with this one but here it is, because I finished it.


It's inspiring to see so many people doing so much work and posting it with such frequency. I'm going to try to set a pace for myself that-- while not quite as heroic as some-- will get me to exercise some muscles that have atrophied. TWO posts a week! Either I'll make it or blow out the artistic hamstring. No crying allowed.

Hopefully this will keep me from overworking things-- nothing worse than laboring three weeks on something and then noticing that you're painting the toenails on the lifeless corpse of the great idea you had way back when.

So here is my mid-week attempt in a state of unfinished-ness but I'm posting it anyway. I may re-adjust later. I may just give up on it and leave it. Or delete it.

The End.

The Iron Apes of Mercury

A very long and monotonous step-by-step of an old painting.

This was my first digital painting. And then I painted it again, later; so it's also not my first, but it's a favorite of mine. Bear with me. My goal was to create a cover for a fictional science-fiction novel-- that is to say, a real painting for a pretend book-- and I'd never painted on a computer before.

I'd seen some very sharp-looking digital paintings on the web, and I'd read that they were done using "pen-tablets" and once you got one of those you could be Photoshop-Frazetta by sundown. I couldn't wait! I ran to ComputerWare and bought the biggest, bestest tablet I could afford-- the really tiny one. I think it ran 300+ bucks back then.

The First Attempt
With a newly acquired wacom, I ventured into unexplored territory with only a printed out tutorial or two to guide me. I scanned in a piece of cardboard and used it as the background-- I'd read somewhere that was the thing to do-- and on a layer above, I roughed in a vague idea for what I wanted this to be.

It's obvious I had no plan beyond "make a painting." More forethought and I might have done better, but it appears I expended energy on crazy details (like the naked woman!) before I had a complete idea about where it was going. It was a struggle with an unfamiliar medium compounded by unclear intentions.

When I decided it was done I remember being (inexplicably) happy with it, but the experience had put me off. Pen lag, crashes, memory issues and a lack of knowledge on how to deal with those problems left me irritated with the process. I filed away my efforts and chalked it up as a learning experience-- as in, I learned that digital painting was not for me.

. . . . .
Going Ape
A year passed, and I had been creating art digitally at work, making strides in my comfort level with the tablet and with the nuances of the process. Doing projects at work and bringing them home--to my smaller computer-- and working on them there-- with all of the unhappy trappings of working on a lesser machine-- taught me what the limits were, and how to get around those limits through various means of hard-earned know-how and trickery.

In my spare time I did painting exercises-- going back to school, so to speak-- practicing smooth gradations, working with opaque and transparent color, figuring out what textures were and how to use them (still working on that, by the way); basic excercises such as painting spheres and blocks, water-drops, soft shadows, shiny eyeballs-- all that "slick" stuff I don't really care for-- but I was getting results that were finally looking like what I was going for. I started getting a grip on the computer as an art-tool.

Long story short: Looking through old zip disks I found the first Iron Apes painting and I was horrified. "That," I thought, "is embarrassing." Again, it was clear I'd had no plan going in; that poorly ad-libbed landscape was amateurish and the ape didn't even look like something I would do. The WHOLE THING looked as if it had been done by someone else-- except the girl, she looked like one of mine.

I decided to rebuild that ape in a way to make him look as I thought he had looked when I finished it the first time. How blind I had been.

. . . . .
Try, Try Again
Since I had gone that far with the ape I felt compelled to do the rest of it. There was an imaginary author out there somewhere who was still ticked off at me because of the crappy cover I'd turned in previously-- Ernesto J. Cupps deserved better.

Iron apes, I decided, do not live on some half-assed lava flow, but in a grungy city of steel mills and ironworks where they forge metals and weld together their steam-driven & coal-powered spaceships. With these fitfully chugging vessels the brutal apes commit bold acts of piracy along the trade routes between planets, focusing primarily on the banana shipments from the tropical worlds, of course. It always helps to have a story when I'm working.

With the more technologically advanced environment I suppose that I had to put pants on our heroine although it appears I was determined not to give her pants that would help her in any way. There's some kind of diaphanous body-suit going on there. It's okay, but if I were to do it again (and I'm not) I'd give her some sort of space-suit looking thing, perhaps also see-through, but it would have better pants! Or a skirt. Well, maybe it wouldn't make any more sense but it would be more "futuristic" looking.

. . . . .
A few finishing touches and we have a slightly over-rendered painting but, I feel, it's a lot more competent than that first ugly thing.

. . . . .
I'll try to do something new for the next post, that was my plan for this one but I lost what little free time I had to a minor disaster!

I finally upgraded my web-hosting service this past week, but when I re-uploaded my website nothing worked. I have very limited drag-and-drop-only skills for website management and this ruined my life for about two days. All my rollovers, gone, links busted and useless, and nothing I did could get them to work again. I found myself forced to almost entirely rebuild it, going step by step through the help, trying different things until I could get it to work the way it used to-- although I had to compromise a little since some things no longer work the way they used to.

"What a drag, man. Technology. What a buncha crap. And yet," he paused, pushing the upload button, "here I am."

The End

p.s. Edited a few days later to put the step-by-step photos into groups-- thereby lessening an annoying number of clicks that one would have to make to see all the bits-- and to tidy up an awkward sentence or two.

Faux Sci-Fi Paperback Cover

This painting was one of my first start-to-finish all-digital illustrations. I worked at 5400 dpi in height, on a lime-green imac, so it was very slow going to say the least.

I recall fighting through crashes and error messages complaining about how there was not enough space available to save changes. I had to save to a zip disk every time, and those things weren't all that reliable. Often, after saving to a zip, I would be unable to open that file. "Disk error!" it would say. Things are a little better now. Enough complaining.

Rough doodles
I had just finished my "Iron Apes of Mercury" painting (see my website or wait a week or two-- I'll post a step-by-step of that one soon) and I wanted to do another in that vein-- a sci-fi paperback cover.

I was designing, of course, to make allowance for the title and author's name but, since this was an imaginary project, I figured I could just change the title until it fit nicely.

. . . .
After I had an idea as to what the layout would be, I transfered the roughs of each of the three main characters into their own files; this was to cut down the save time and the pen-lag by giving them their own documents.

I'm guesing I didn't care for the more lion-like face that I started on and tried to make in more "man" than "lion." If I were to do it again I would design the face more like the first one, more lion-like, although maybe it looks too much like the "Beauty and the Beast" guy.

. . . .
I like monkeys. Who doesn't? Wouldn't it be great to have a monkey? Probably not. Imagine your dog or your cat, only a lot smarter and with hands! What a nightmare that would be. But, a robot-monkey? Now we're talking.

Since I was imagining this book as a sequel to the "Iron Apes of Mercury," I imagined that the heroine of these stories had, during that riveting adventure, picked up a little tin sidekick: a tinpanzee! Sadly, he sacrifices himself to save our heroine's life during this story and thus, I don't have to paint him in the next one.

. . . .
Amanda Rose
I read quite a few sci-fi/fantasy novels during my early years-- and for one particular series the hero character in the cover painting on book one looked nothing like the same character on the cover of book two, and so on through three and four. It didn't occur to me that they might have been published at different times by different publishers-- what did I know?

But, in the spirit of the sense of confusion I felt, when I started on this painting I decided to purposefully make this depiction of Amanda Rose different from the first. Perhaps I should have given her a more unusual outfit, something weirder and much more fantastic, but in this case, it doesn't distract from the whole.

. . . .
3 steps
What I did here (I think) was I brought the individual characters in and merged them onto one layer over the roughed-in background. There were discrepancies in brightness and color between the three of them and the background, so I believe I created another layer, filled it with some green and set it to a low transparency, and it sort of unified everything. I didn't know anything about levels and curves at the time, so it was the best invention I could come up with-- just like a transparent glaze in oils.

The following three snapshots show how I wrestled with figuring out how to light it and how to render the various bits, probably selecting areas and tweaking them with the brightness/contrast slider.
. . . .
I clearly remember deciding to do one of these covers for each planet. Mercury, done; Saturn, first version of that was done; Neptune, I was working on Neptune as I finished this one: and this one was going to be called "The Lion Men of Mars" because it sounded good. I was avoiding the whole "Uranus" thing. You know why.

As I was placing the title on the final I decided this would be a good one to use for Uranus and I changed it. I simply had to get it out of the way. It was weighing on my mind. Could I come up with a name for the fake Uranus novel that wouldn't make me giggle? Probably not. But "The Lion Men of Uranus" for some reason was not as ridiculous as, say, "The Seven Serpents of Uranus," or "The Bee People of Uranus."

See? So there. Done.
The End

p.s. So, is this intersting in any way? Let me know.

From Start to Finish

I took a few snapshots while I was working on this illustration/layout and here they are, accompanied by dull and long-winded observations by the artist:

The story: How technology is changing the way we get our entertainment, focusing on TV. Now you have TV on your computer, your ipod, your cell phone. The way we watch TV is changing!

The idea: The family at home watching TV on one of these newfangled devices.

First scribble: In photoshop I quickly roughed an overhead view of living room furniture around a TV. I added a clickwheel and it became an iPod.

Second scribble: A quick refinement and simplification. Right here I see the whole design problem and feel that I have it solved-- with a little bit of squishing things one way or the other I have my headline and story placement.

Third: Now I struggle with style. I try to do things differently now and then. I get bored looking at my own work and seeing the same thing all the time. It may be something that can't be helped-- your style may just be what you're stuck with-- and I can accept that, but I try not to. So I fight it as best as I can.

I do a lot of "cute" stuff at work. Nothing wrong with that. Cute is good for most projects involving the Living section, after all you don't want to scare away readers when they're expecting fun and informative stories about food, entertainment, etc. What I decded to aim for was a cute illustration with "ugly" characters. A less-than-cuddly looking couple on the sofa was my solution for that.

Fourth scrbble: The kids. No real insight for this sketch. It was a simple rough done in the interest of figuring them out, although-- in retrospect-- it didn't carry them much further toward a resolution than the very first thumbnail.

Fifth scribble: I printed out the rough sketch of the couple on I sofa and, on a light box, I started inking them in. I used my left (wrong) hand for most of the contour lines so that I could get a shaky/ugly vibe going. It worked well enough so that my right hand got into the spirit of things and I committed a horrible inking job. . . to my great delight.

Sixth: And then I decided... the characters were a tad TOO strange for my eye. The thought of such a "bad" drawing (intentionally so or not) running on the section front with my name under it made me wince. In a cowardly and self-serving move I re-inked their heads in photoshop before the editors saw them. Wrong? Who can say? (Probably wrong, I confess, but I'd likely do it again.)

The kids could have been crafted more strangely, but I was running out of time. I used a shaky line for them also and bent their fingers awkwardly to give the children a sense of peculiarity.

In an effort to fill up a dead-space in the composition I quickly drew up a cat. I live with cats and they are a significant (if not dominant) component of my daily life and they do manage to creep into (if not dominate) a lot of my work. Plus, if you put a cat into an illustration, it immediately cutes the whole thing up a notch!

The Final: I used a purposefully garish palette for the final. I felt unusual and outlandishly wrong color would add even more weirdness to the thing. I put a canvas texture over the illustration (more ugly weirdness) and used one of my scanned pieces of parchment for the spot where the type would go.

All in all a very unusual piece of work for me. And yet, somehow, it still looks like it's in my style. Bummer.

Footnote: What happened to the iPod?
Isn't everyone a little iPodded out? No offense intended but was it this bad with the hula hoop? The rubik's cube? The walkman?

I admit that I have one. It's the second one I've owned. It's great and-- I kid you not-- I even SLEEP with it. (I listen to old-time radio shows in bed-- it's kind of my way of watching TV until I fall asleep.) I take files to and from work on it, I back up my work files on it, I have my website on there, my digital portfolio, current sketches and paintings and comics and reference photos and notes and so on.

BUT! Over the past two years at work not a week has gone by that we haven't had some iPod related story with graphic/illustration that we've had to deal with. Great for Apple. Monotonous for graphics folk. "Please, not another ipod story," cries the graphics department. But they keep coming.

For this illustration I opted to use the cell phone instead of the ipod because of ipod burnout, and I like the way it turned out-- really. Yet I think it would have been better if I had just drawn an ipod. It's such a distinct and attractively designed bit of machinery that it would have stood in elegant relief to the unattractively designed family sitting around it. Oh well.

And now I will post this long and probably uninteresting thing, I will go lie down, place my iPod on my chest, and listen to "The Shadow" until I drift away.

In Progress and Done (?)

I really like to see the "step-by-step" and "behind-the-scenes" stuff from other artists. The finished product always stands alone but I believe that it's in the roughs and sketches that you can see the THINKING that goes on-- that is to say, the real work. After the capture of the concept, design and composition it's a (simple?) matter of application of technique.

So this is probably a bad example, in that the concept was given to me and it didn't vary from rough to finish, but I think you know what I'm talking about. You can see me trying to figure out what to do with the cat, but that's about it.

This is an illustration done for the business section of the paper. The story is about after hours trading and its growing popularity with individual traders. The concept I was given was "someone in their house with a night time setting outside...and some guy on a computer frantically typing thinking should I buy or should I sell."

And this is how I see it appearing in print. The headline is a dummy, just to give me something to work with.

Too many stars, eh? I'll fix that.

The End.