Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rise As One

No Man's Land, first painting of the series

Greg Manchess

    During the recent World Cup Series, Anheuser Busch ran a series of TV ads during breaks in the action. Entitled, “Rise As One,” it retold the story of the 1914 Christmas Day Truce that happened in the first months of WW1. If you’re not familiar with the history, it’s a touching story of how the soldiers in both the German and British trenches established a brief peace all on their own, and ventured out into No Man’s Land on Christmas morning, to play a friendly game of football. Soccer. 


One hundred years later, I was contacted by Tarras Productions and asked if I could do a few paintings to give the film a more personal, and special feeling. I was immediately excited as this is the power of painting, to touch the heart of the subject in a way that allows the viewer to complete the scene in their own way. My paintings were to capture the feeling of those moments the agency had in mind.

The British trenches

At our first meeting, the art director thought that they might need 4 to 6 paintings to express the events of the day. They thought that my oil paintings would be a good fit, but they were also looking at a few other artists. They hadn’t made up their minds yet, and their client, Anheuser Busch, was inclined to work with a comic artist.





During the meeting, I quickly realized that if I was to get this job, I had to sell my work right then and there. I had to push them in my direction as I really wanted the assignment. I love that time in history and I thought that my paint would give the film the weight and gravity needed to pull off the emotion of the event.

The German Trenches

I explained how the oil paint would bring out the feel of the mud, the grime, the awful conditions of the trenches, and the depressed facial expressions of the men. I described how the colors could be muted for effect to enhance this, and how a few accent colors could grab attention in certain places. 

Part of an actual trench maintained in Europe


The meeting went well. They loved my work and told me as much. I offered to help find a good comic artist match for them, if indeed the client ultimately went in the direction. It’s always good to help share the work in the field. They said they’d get back to me.

They always say that. I figured I’d lost the job.


That was New York, and I was due to fly back to Oregon the next day. Once back in my studio, I scratched up a page of thumbnails to show them what I was thinking, based on our conversation and some notes they’d sent. A few days later, I got an email from the AD/director who asked if I could possibly do a sketch that looked like a comics page. I knew what they were going for. If they wanted to use me, I was going to have to show that I could handle storytelling in a panel-to-panel approach. 

Photo of the real Capt. Hamilton

One hour later, I’d sketched the page and sent it off. Twenty minutes after, I got a call. They loved it, but.....”could you add a little color?”

“I’ll get back to you.”

Capt. Hamilton

Two hours later, I’d sent them a full color rendering of the page. (I’d developed a speedy way to do this: print out the page on copy paper and paint right on it. It dries really fast, and be can scanned immediately.) They were elated.

That’s what sold them and they showed it to Anheuser Busch. The job was mine.




Photo of the real Lt. Zemisch

All we had to do now was figure out the timing and payment, etc. But they had something bigger in mind. They’d decided that they needed more paintings. Thirty of them, in fact. Yikes. So I asked when they needed them.

“Two weeks.”

Lt. Zemisch

“But...that’s three paintings a day. With research, sketches, and sketch approval, that’s not gonna happen. I’m pretty fast, but no one’s that fast. Not in oil paint.”

“We’ll get back to you.”



They must be insane, I thought. That’s it, the job’s gone. But they called back the next day. They had a better deal. They only needed twenty-four paintings. They took away six, yet, they still only had two weeks.

“That’s two paintings a day.” But it didn’t matter, the deadline was set. I wasn’t sure how I’d do it, but I figured I just might make it, if they allowed me to send thumbnails and they’d ok each painting based on those. They were happy to hear that, and agreed. Then they mentioned the gallery shoot.

“Gallery shoot?”

Stray shell that landed in Hamilton's dugout, but didn't detonate...

They planned to put the paintings in a gallery and shoot them at a ‘faux opening,’ with patrons wandering about, looking at them.

“Wait, wait--how big do you think these are gonna to be?”


They thought they were going to be gallery-sized scale, perhaps three feet across for each. I politely informed them it wasn’t possible to cover that much canvas in the time alloted. But thinking on my feet, to keep the job, I told them that I could paint them much smaller, then have them shot by Gamma One Conversions, who could also blow them up to whatever scale they needed for the gallery setting, printed on canvas. On camera, viewers would never be able to tell if they were original or not.

They loved that one. After conference calls, technical talk, budget clearance, and much concept discussion later, I was good-to-go. Huzza!

Signalman Brookes in his dugout...

I figured if I could find just the helmets for reference, I could freehand everything else. That proved a little difficult after calling all over the country and coming up short. I eventually found a WW1 German helmet and a doughboy helmet at a surplus store not even three miles from my studio. Figures. Should’ve called them first.

The thumbnails shown throughout the post are what I drew while looking at tons of WW1 trench reference. The art director signed off on them and I went from there. First step was to shoot reference of my model: me. I posed for every single figure in the series. I had to. There was no time to line up models. 

Starting Friday, March 14th, I had to hit two paintings a day. I figured as I went along, I could adjust earlier paintings while working on the latest ones. My daily schedule was this: Up at 8 am, sketching by 9, getting ok’s by noon, shooting reference and drawing directly to canvas and getting one painting done by 6-ish. Drive to Starbucks, sit and stare over a mocha for one hour. Back to painting until midnight. Watch something until tired by 1am. Back up by 8 am.


As is usually par for the illustration course, everything goes belly-up when you most need it. My stupid email program decided to download every email I had in the dang Cloud onto my laptop. It jammed the thing up tight, while I deleted files for hours. Then my iPhone stopped working, and went into a perpetual boot-up loop. The scanner crapped out, and I burned out a photo lamp late at night while shooting. No backup.


But in the first couple of days, I managed to basically finish five paintings. I shot them and sent the images to the AD for clearance. He loved them. Minor adjustments. So far so good. I pinned those first eight pieces to the wall and started in on the second set, making good progress and staying on target.

But one week in, it all started to unravel.

First, the client had multiple changes to several of the pieces. Not bad, but time-consuming. Second, I was nearly half-way through the paintings when I started losing energy. I slowed down, finding it more difficult to stay focused, and my output dwindled.

I made all the changes, though, packed the first five paintings and shipped them to Gamma One for high rez scans, allowing just enough time for them to get the shots.

That’s when Fedex lost the package.

Next post: trying to find the package while finishing up the next set...with twelve to go.

Signalman Brookes running a message across No Man's Land

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Art for Expsoure

By Justin Gerard

“I’m writing this totally cool book; I’d like you to illustrate it. Do you have to be paid, or will the exposure be enough?”

We were recently asked this question at a comic convention. Like many of you, I’ve heard this several times in my career and it still shocks me every time I hear it.

“Wait, you are wanting me to work …. for free? In the hopes that this mystery project of yours will be a New York Times #1 bestseller and I will somehow get famous for it?”

I find that it happens more often at comic shows. Perhaps this is because so many struggling artists attend and get artist alley tables in the desperate (and understandable) hope of being noticed by a publisher. And here unscrupulous people prey upon them.



Before I begin, let me clarify: This is not about all free work. There are certain times when it is right and good to do free work.

Briefly, a few examples of free work that are exceptions here:

A Charity or Cause
Perhaps it is for something you truly believe in and want to support.  (Like being asked to contribute art to the Society of Illustrators Microvisions show, the proceeds of which are dedicated to student art scholarships.)

For A Loved One
Perhaps it is for a close personal friend who you truly believe their book needs to be illustrated. Perhaps it is your mom, and you love your mom. (Note: These are almost always bad ideas to accept, but they are exceptions and people are absolutely allowed to do crazy things for their loved ones.)

For Your Artist Representative
An Art Rep is someone who you have agreed by contract to provide art for so that they can market you. In this case, you already agreed to provide art for exposure. But an art director isn’t trying to get you to illustrate his project. He is trying to put together your portfolio. He only makes money when you make money from actual clients. So this is very different, and until you get work, you should be doing everything in your power to improve your portfolio.

And this is also not about work where there is some form of profit-sharing being suggested.  That is a different article entirely.

No,
This is about providing free work, given in exchange for the dubious promise of "exposure."

Here is a flow chart I have created so that you can decide wether or not a project of this nature is right for you:




Providing skilled artwork in exchange for exposure is an exchange of services. You provide art, and they provide marketing for you and your brand.

It is not that this is an inherently bad exchange, it is that 99.9% of the people who promise this 'exposure' cannot deliver on their end of the bargain.

Here is why you NEVER take these projects:

1. Someone who offers exposure for art does not understand the industry.  If they did, they would know that they HAVE to pay you. Someone who offers this will have NO idea how to get the project produced. And therefore won’t be able to deliver on their promise of exposure.

 2. Someone who offers exposure for art lacks the capitol necessary to produce and market the product towards a successful end.

3. Someone who offers this lacks respect for you and for creative professionals in general.
They will be miserable and extremely demanding to work with.

4. It is insulting to you and to creative professionals everywhere.
By taking the work, you are supporting an evil and manipulative market and furthering a corrupt mindset that devalues the art of illustration and dehumanizes those who practice it.

If you are still tempted, ask yourself:
Could you use the time you would spend on this project to do your own, much cooler project?
Could you use the time you would spend on this project to further you art education through classes? Could you use the time you would spend on this project to improve your portfolio so you have a better chance of getting ACTUAL, paying commissions?
Do you have even a shred of self-respect?

If you said yes to any of these, then don't take the project.

Keep this in mind: 
If their project is so great and is going to be so successful, then they can go sell an investor on it, and he can put up the money to pay you a fair rate for your work. Let the sharks handle that. You make sure you get paid.

What to do when someone asks you to do work for free:
Kindly, politely, educate the person that this is not how the world works.

Perhaps they didn’t mean to say something so horribly offensive to you.
Perhaps they didn’t mean to suggest that you give up 3 months of your life for no pay because they think of you as something inferior to themselves.
Perhaps they just don't understand art.

Or perhaps they didn’t whole-heartedly agree with the abolition of slavery.

So take a moment and explain to them that illustration is a professional skill, acquired through years of difficult training and practice. The execution of it takes time and great effort.  Illustrators are just like other professionals, and they expect to be paid for their work, and to work under similar working conditions of any other human being in our society. Perhaps when they understand that you are a working human being just like them, they will change and become someone who can support the arts in a more honest and helpful way.

NEVER take unpaid work for the promise of exposure.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Breaking In" Part 2 of 2


THE FOOTSOLDIERS (series). 2000.
Acrylic on illustration board, various sizes.

In the previous installment, I detailed the series of events that led to meeting one of my favorite comic creators, Jim Krueger, while I was still in high school. After doing a piece of fan art for him, and finishing my freshman year at art school, he commissioned 3 more illustrations for his creator-owned book, The Footsoldiers.


THE FOOTSOLDIERS. 2001.
Oil on illustration board, ~18 × 24″.

Throughout my sophomore year (2000-2001), I began working on a multi-tiered montage for his new web site. Each section represented one of his many creations, and I enlisted my friends as character models. (Always preferring to kill 2 birds with one stone, I managed to turn a few of these into class assignments.)



ALPHABET SUPES. 2001. Oil on illustration board, 24 × 10″.

Then came junior year. I had the insane privilege of spending the entire academic year in Rome as part of the European Honors Program. We had complete freedom — not a single class besides Italian and art history — and so I concentrated on making comics.


CHILDREN OF THE LEFT HAND Cover. 2001.
Oil on masonite, 16 × 24″.

Jim had given me a short, 6-page script called Children of the Left Hand that turned Frankenstein's monster into a lonely, little girl. This was intended as a pitch/poster that could be presented to potential publishers. Painted in oil on canvas, I finished most of the pieces in the first semester and assembled them all digitally.





When I returned to the states, Jim offered to personally take me to the Marvel offices. Nowadays, the place is in a constant state of lockdown, but back in 2002 you could sweet-talk your way in if you knew the right people. Luckily, I knew one "right" person, and he introduced me to 3 editors. The portfolio they reviewed consisted almost entirely of Jim's characters, which meant not many superheroes.





And then nothing happened. They said "nice work," but they had nothing to offer in the way of gigs. My art at the time was all painted, and so they didn't really have a place for me, or even know where my work would fit. Despite getting the opportunity of a lifetime, I left pretty disappointed.



And then everything happened. Jim gave me the email of Joe Quesada, the editor-in-chief at the time (and one of my favorite artists). I wrote to him that night with a jpeg of my work... and he got back to me the next day. Basically, I was hired. I completed my first cover for them shortly thereafter, an Iron Man painting that I still have, and I quit waiting tables. My parents came to the Olive Garden on my last day there, and happened to bring along my first check from Marvel.


IRON MAN #63 Cover. 2002.
Oil on illustration board, 20 x 30".

I still had my senior year left at RISD. I was yet to take David Mazzucchelli's comics class, which would turn out to be incredibly influential on my work. He actually critiqued one of my Marvel gigs as I was working on it during the semester, even though it was cutting into projects from his class. Of course, it helped that he had done the exact same thing when he was in school.

So start early. Make the best work you can and get it out there. You can't predict where your "big break" will come from, you just have to stack the deck in your favor so you're ready if and when it comes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Revisiting my artwork photography tutorial




David Palumbo

Just about a year back, I wrote an article on photographing your own artwork (find it here if you missed it).  While I still follow the same basic method, I’ve learned a few new things since then and felt a brief update might be useful.

To begin, my original article suggested the choices of camera be either a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, with the point-and-shoot being the budget friendly option.  I have two thoughts that I’d like to add to this.


Buying Used

It was a major oversight to not suggest shopping for DSLRs used.  A DSLR can be had for quite the bargain if you buy a slightly out of date model which still has everything that you need.  I buy most of my camera gear used these days either through eBay or a dealer (KEH, Adorama, and B&H Photo are all excellent) and have found amazing deals on things I otherwise would not have been able to afford.  On eBay of course you have to be a bit more careful, but I see Canon Rebels of various types for $200-$300 with lens included, which is a great deal for a basic kit.  As stated in the original article, you’ll want to make sure that the model you are getting is a minimum of 12 mega pixels.  Of course, buying from a major dealer carries less risk.  I’ve never yet been burned on an eBay purchase, knock on wood, but dealers can be relied on to list accurate condition and they can also get on the phone and answer any questions you could think of.  Two big advantages over the slightly back alley feel of some eBay purchases that I’ve made.  The other glaring omission in choosing a camera was:

Mirrorless Systems

Many people will tell you that DSLR is on its way out anyway, to be replaced by mirrorless system cameras.  This class of camera should give every bit the same control and flexibility as a DSLR but in a smaller form (no flipping mirrors and whatnot inside) and often at a very reasonable price.  Interestingly, the big two camera companies, Canon and Nikon, seem to be late to the party here and if I were shopping mirrorless I’d be looking at Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji.  Latest offerings will be pricier (though often still cheaper than DSLR), but last year’s model can often be had for a steal.



And some additional notes and thoughts:

Locking up the mirror on a DSLR for sharper images

Using the tripod and long exposure method, you shouldn’t likely have blurry images but occasionally I would still notice some softness.  It was suggested to me that I try shooting with the mirror already locked up as the mirror flip can slightly jostle the camera.  On my Canon, I solved this by setting my camera for Live View, where the rear screen displays the view through the lens as though shooting video.  I’d imagine most DSLRs will have a similar feature.  Since implementing this, ever single shot has been razor sharp.

Program your settings to a custom slot

If your camera is one which features savable custom set modes, it can be handy to set one up exclusively for artwork.  My 5dmk2 has this feature though I didn’t know it until I finally read the manual sometime last year.  On the 5dmk2, there are shooting modes labeled C1,C2, and C3 on the exposure mode dial.  I have C1 programmed for shooting my paintings, which means I flip the dial to C1 and instantly I have: ISO100, White Balance corrected for the temperature of my lights, Aperture Priority mode, aperture set for f5.6 (the ideal for my chosen lens), all live view options pre-set (grid lines for squaring the image on screen, still photo mode instead of movie, etc.), RAW format, and the self timer turned on.   Before discovering the custom set modes, I would often forget one of these many details.  Now I just switch to C1 and I’m ready to go.  Of course I don’t know which cameras do and do not have this feature, so I recommend checking in your manual.

Macro Lenses?

I had a question last time about using macro lenses which I’m sorry to say I did not answer very well (sorry Joshua!)  Though it is true that macro lenses are designed for shooting at very close distances which is not really relevant to shooting artwork and it is also true that many many non-macro lenses will have sufficient resolution and build quality to deliver stellar results, I overlooked one important detail about macro lenses: they are resolution badasses through and through.  While most modern lenses should do fine, some even outperforming the current camera sensors, you can always count on a macro lens to give excellent quality.  I currently shoot my work with a 100mm macro. 

So that’s it really, just a few random extra notes that I wanted to add.  I’ll do my best if there are any new follow-up questions!

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE SHADOW HERO

by Greg Ruth

70 years after it first saw print, First Second Books has teamed up with Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew to bring back the first asian-american superhero, THE GREEN TURTLE, and they approached a bunch of us to do a pinup for the series as the book prepares to launch. I had not heard of this character, but to be fair I am not big on superheroes and there's probably more than I don't know than know about them- especially their history.

The first thought I had was getting down with the old pulp tradition from which this title originally found itself, but when you're doing a commission alongside so many excellent other folk, the trick in my mind, becomes making yours stick out from the others, or at the very least, try and approach the character from a perspective different from the others. Happily many of the other artist posted their work before my turn came up and so I got a chance to peek and see what everyone was doing. I decided to go for a Batman of China approach with this one, focusing less on the character as a central image and making his setting more of the character.




For more info on the book and to see the other pinups in the series, please follow the link below: