Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I've been mentioned!

The book I helped illustrate was reviewed, and I'll be damned, my art was specifically mentioned! No, really, I'm damned. Because he pointed it out for being terrible. Sigh.

I suppose he didn't say terrible, he said 'suspicious.' You can read the review here.

EDIT: Since the website doesn't work for everyone, here's the quote:

"One picture bothered me quite a bit, it was a picture of a man and a woman at a shooting range firing at overly large insects. If you follow Shadowrun, you know bugs are a big problem. What was so bothersome about this picture was that I swear I’ve seen this shot as a photo and it looks like the man and woman have been transposed and the bugs inserted into line art. The fact that both people are wielding current day firearms rather than really cool Shadowrun era firearms makes me even more suspicious."

Basically, he's saying that I cut and pasted some photos. Honestly, I'm a little hurt. But this isn't the first time something like this has happened. When I was in highschool, I made this:
See that hand coming out of the drawing? I sculpted it out of clay and fired it. I was really proud of it. I would lug it everywhere to show at college portfolio reviews. One teacher looked at the drawing, hefted the sculpted hand, and said, "This is great. I love the imagination, but what if you sculpted the hand, instead of casting it? Show us some other talents?"

I was dumbfounded. "I did sculpt that," I said. The man shrugged it off with an "Oh, okay."

Fast forward to sophomore year of college. The teacher is trying to get a feel on our particular talents, and assigns a drawing. One figure, beyond that, the drawing could be whatever you liked. So I made this:

When the projects were passed back, mine came with a sticky note attached. "See me, bring your photo reference." I showed my teacher the drawing and the photo side by side, and he shrugged, "Okay, sometimes kids will trace their photos to try and impress me. I can see you didn't. Nice." 

I got a B+.

Maybe I'm too sensitive, maybe my artist brain gets haughty and dramatic, but I'm proud of the work I do. Especially when I burn through hours of painting. Saying 'this is too good' is something of an underhanded compliment, and one I don't take lightly. Of course, the reviewer mentions other tidbits that I honestly dropped the ball on: the weapons aren't Shadowrun weapons. I should have looked into the arsenal instead of filling in what I knew. Whatever, let's get to it.

I was going to wait until later to make a post about how much trouble I go through to get reference. But, teacher, you wanted to know if I traced.

It starts with the thumbnail.

Then I try to line up some photos as nearly as I can to the thumbnail.

Sexy, right?

Yeah, that's an Aperture Science jacket. Be jealous.

My sister Ruby is lovely and the best and is super helpful. These are three out of more than twenty that I took making sure everything was right.

Once this is done, I gather other elements to paint off of. I was given some 'spirit bug' reference that I used, I looked up crabs to see the shape of their shells, and I grabbed some shooting range photos. I have a lot of sandy/grassy fields on my computer now.

Now you get to compare:

Obviously, I'm not going to post every time I get a negative review, but I go through great pains to achieve some semblance of realism in my work, and I pride myself in the fact that I don't take shortcuts. In that area, I'm always more than happy to defend my practices.

Those guns, though? Yeah, my bad.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shadowrun: Stormfront, Lesson 4

And now it is crunch time. I've produced three illustrations, I've learned plenty of lessons, but now I have little time for the last illustration. It was supposed to be about five magic users in a basement who delve into dark magic with deadly results. There's a bang! A nearby shadowrunner rushes to see what is wrong, his hands up to defend. A few weeks earlier, I had sent my AD this sketch:

I thought it was kind of cool, but I was unprepared for how not cool it was: I'm showing only people's backs, the perspective is truncated, and the illustration should be about the aftermath not the explosion. I had to start over. But instead of redrawing way back then, I started on the other projects. Fast forward three weeks: now I had two days, no thumbnail, and no direction. I hastily scribbled this and sent it away: How does this look?

I get nothing back.

One of the reoccurring issues I have is the definition of thumbnail. My AD wants to see basically the finished piece minus the detail and extra busy work. On my end, I'm throwing out mind pictures. They're like dreams. The space is undefined, the characters are vague, but the feel is there.

Since I work realistically, I try to get a thumbnail approved, then I take reference of models (me, most times) in the various poses, and then I fill in the thumbnail. Sometimes I find that what looked good in my head simply doesn't work physically in real life, and so the composition has to change to accomodate. Many times I've sent in a thumbnail and get critiques on proportions, etc, things that would be ironed out in the final. So it is my responsibility to put in enough effort to get 'most' everything right, so that my AD doesn't have to trust me not to send him a guy with a tiny hand or a scribble face. But this time, I didn't have that luxury.

I wanted to get this piece to him with a full day to spare, so that he could mull it over and send me the final revisions. That meant, since it was due on Thursday, that at 10 in the morning on Tuesday I had 24 hours to shoot reference and finish an illustration. I knew there was probably just a little bit of panic on his end, seeing the scribbles I sent him, but I drove forward anyways.

I sent a goodbye to my friends on Facebook, taped my living will to the door, and dove in, shooting reference, cobbling it together, changing the composition as I needed on the fly. I drank coffee, guzzled water, and took breaks every two or three hours to stretch and pretend that everything was okay. Sure enough, 20 hours later, I sent him this:

He loved it. I really liked it, too. It showed me that I could take what was a weak illustration and turn it into a strong one. It also showed me what I was capable of come crunch time. It also told me that I didn't want to repeat this performance. But it took less than two months before I not only repeated this performance, I trumped it with double the time. That's a story for another day.

Until then, thanks for reading, and join me next time on David's Journey's in Professional Illustration: How to find the ladder to succes, and what to do with the rungs when you're on it.

Shadowrun: Stormfront Lesson 3

This piece went smoothly as well. I figured out what I really needed early on with this piece, and that was a detailed thumbnail. Again, this is something they teach you in college, that the more time you spend on the foundation, the better your final will be, but for some reason I either forgot or chose to act smarter than my teachings. Regardless, this time I made sure to nail it down.
Here we have a Shadowrun secret agent in camouflage, sending information on troop movements in the forest. I was asked to fix just a few things, like size and distance, just so that she didn't look huge and she still looked hidden. Then I worked on the final.

I showed this piece to my friend who is in the army. He took a few minutes to take it in, nodded sagely, and said nothing. "What?" I said.

"Well, she's wearing a ghillie suit, but her head is uncovered!" he said, trying not to hurt my feelings.

But this is another one of those 'illustration as stage play' moments. The viewer doesn't want to see some anonymous fur suit sitting on a log, they want to see a real person, they want to see her reaction to the soldiers, how she's feeling. As my AD said when I asked what he liked about the piece: "the hot spy chick in the trees sold me!"

Final note: the girl I used as a model saw this painting and gasped. She said, "David, now I really want snake bites!" To her I say, do you really want to be a secret agent deep in the forest wearing a ghillie suit, too? I know I do.

Shadowrun: Stormfront, Lesson 2

Welcome to Lesson No. 2 out of 4 in my series on what I learned during the trials and tribulations of my recent commission. This lesson, oddly, is that sometimes you just got it right. Remember last time, when I learned not to show the character's backs to the viewer? Well, as Missy Elliot says, sometimes you gotta flip it and reverse it.

David! There's nothing but backs, here! You fell into the trap you just figured out how to climb out of! The key here, just as it was last time, is focus. I needed to have the priest as the focus, so he became a larger part of the whole. Here, I'm doing an illustration on 'some soldiers' using giant bug spirit monsters as target practice. Since the focus is the bugs, it becomes more about what the soldiers are doing, and less about who they are as individuals.

My AD loved this one from the get-go, and just told me to execute the finish (no pun intended). So here goes:

I think this one turned out to be his favorite, and it is one of my favorites, too. Atmospheric touches, like the sunlight glaring on the second shooter's hands and the sandy middle ground, as well as all the gross little details on the monsters, really came together almost effortlessly on this one. I wish every project were so easy. But then, we'd all be artists if this stuff were easy. Not to mention, I have no time to slow down! Two more to go, and I've already spent more time than I thought I would on these!

Stormfront: More Lessons to Learn

Another one of the books I worked on is available for purchase! I was asked to produce four(!) paintings for Shadowrun: Stormfront. You can see all the details here.

Each painting was a special sort of learning experience. So, over the next week, I'll take you on a journey fraught with ignorance and adventure, if adventure is defined as sitting at your computer.

Shadowrunners find sanctuary in Bogota. Oddly enough, this piece was one of the ones with the least amount of changes made to the thumbnail, but it still had a long way to go.

First, mentioned my AD, I was showing all of their backs. Second, the priest was supposed to be a badass, but not an aggressive one. Here, it looks like he just busted up a birthday party with his lack of remorse and a semi-automatic weapon. Finally, when this illustration goes to print, it will be 5.5x8. By giving so much space to the background, I have limited the focus on the characters, especially the priest, who is the real star of the painting.

So I pulled in the focus and redesigned the priest:

With the go-ahead, I got busy on the final. This is, in my opinion, the weakest of the bunch. That really comes down to being lazy with the thumbnail and not redesigning it when I had the chance. It still got the message across, and there are plenty of things I like about it: the shadow of the stained glass on the pillar, the textures of their various suits in the darkness, and the feeling of dimension in the architecture of the church.

The most important lesson (that I probably knew from college and promptly threw away) was that these illustrations are like a stage play: the audience needs to see the characters and be the center of the action, even if you have to fudge it. But, no time to reflect! I have three more paintings to do!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Recent news and future plans

I've been quiet, I know, but I've been very busy. My dad and I have a show going on in Portland, Indiana, where I have fifteen pieces. It's a good mix of traditional and digital. My dad has about twelve of his sculptures there.

I've been working on commissions, both published and personal, and hopefully I'll be able to show something of those soon. I also started in on my novel again, updating it from the beginning and infusing it with some new life. The more I polish it, the darker it seems to get, but I think the quality rises at a similar rate, so I'm not too concerned with that. If you want to read the new and improved first chapter, you'll find it here.

I also consolidated my online portfolio. Mostly old pieces, though there may be a surprise or two. I had stretched all my work out between the pages, but having it all on one page just looks nice, doesn't it?

Plans are still a go on moving to Seattle at the end of April. Wait, did I tell you that I was planning to move to Seattle in April? Well, this is awkward.

Why Seattle? I was visiting friends in Toledo, Ohio, when the conversation went something like this:

Me: Adam, I'm moving out of here. I have to get away from the Midwest. You're coming with me.

Adam: Naw, man. I can't. I have responsibilities here.

Me: You're doing the same thing I'm doing, living with your parents at the age of 25 wondering who you are and when the adventure starts. It starts now.

Adam: I wish you luck, but I can't.

Two weeks later:

(Phone rings) Adam: Let's go. I'm in.

Me: Okay, how does New York sound?

Adam: Too crowded.

Me: Okay, screw New York. Texas?

Adam: Too hot. And too Republican.

Me: Okay, screw Texas. California?

Adam: Too expensive. What about Seattle?

Me: It's a big city, not in the midwest, and it isn't my parent's house? Let's do it.

And thus the plan was formed. This isn't an exaggeration. I look forward to the adventure, and I'll make sure you get to see/read everything, from my trip to my recent art endeavors.

If anyone wants to help me fund my trip by purchasing prints of my work, check out my website and email me.

Here's a picture, since I'm an art blog and all that, might as well: