Saturday, September 13, 2014

Total Commitment

David Palumbo

In the documentary Pumping Iron, there is a scene in which then-reigning Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger is advising a young bodybuilder on his posing technique.  The young man, going through different poses, tries out one in which his torso twists into profile and his left arm is extended with his hand pointing forward.  Arnold immediately jumps on him for looking too timid:

Schwarzenegger: “Remember one thing when you pose.  A lot of little guys, they have one habit, and they hide away when they pose.  When they do an arm pose, they do like, like this [he hunches his shoulders forward and tucks his chin and elbows in].  Okay?  And a big guy will come right out with his arm [flexes his bicep high with a tall, confident posture].  So never do that.  Never hide away … Show them the whole thing.  Make the move.”

I think this is powerful advice and easily related to being a visual artist.  In a sense, this is about confidence, which certainly makes a tremendous difference, but it goes beyond that.  The deeper issue this gets at is giving total commitment to your choices.

I was told something similar by one of my mentors when I was a student creating my very first portfolio pieces.  I was doing a painting of a dragon and this dragon had little dragon horns coming off of his head.  My mentor took out a piece a tracing paper and laid it over top and started drawing big impressive fearsome horns, telling me “if you want to put horns on your dragon, really go for it.  Don’t make these little horns, make them big.  Always see if you can push it further” and he then went on to do the same with the wings.  Big, bold, decisive shapes.  My shy little dragon suddenly looks believable.

I think about this on nearly every painting that I do.  It does not only relate to designing creatures by far (something which I do fairly little of) but every aspect of designing a picture.  You want to make a particular portrait in the composition your focal point?  Push it.  Do it with full commitment!  Don’t just use contrast, bring in some leading lines.  Bring in some color cues.  You want to set a piece in the Victorian period?  Push it.  Don’t just put the figures in generic Victorian clothing, research some interesting and striking costume ideas.  Design the hell out of the background.  Furniture, architecture, wall paper patterns, hairstyles.  Total commitment.  Emotional mood in a painting, interesting lighting, design of characters, creatures, costumes, objects, compositional choices… every step of the way you need to eventually get out of the middle of the road and make decisions. 

Don’t be timid, lazy, or uncertain.  When you have considered various options and are ready to make a choice, put all of your faith and enthusiasm into it and always test if you are pushing your decisive moments far enough.

Just as in bodybuilding, the “little guys” in illustration hold back.  The champions step forward and hit us with bold, authoritative work.

Show them the whole thing.  Make the move.

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE 52 WEEKS PROJECT returns with 13 DOCTORS

By Greg Ruth

20x36" lead pencil drawing in frame c. 1881

In the late 19th Century as the advent of photography ushered in an entirely new visual language that we still can see echoing through our times in the 21st Century. In those nascent days of the medium, one couldn't take a favorite tintype and enlarge it, you had to hire a draftsman to make a pencil or charcoal likeness of the photograph. (At the time they could only make contact prints or directly expose chemically treated plates of tin or glass).

SO. In an act of current procrastination, and an honest attempt to jumpstart my work ethic after some time off at the end of August, I decided to finally take the plunge and apply my admiration for the hyper-realistic pencil drawing towards another  (long overdue) series in my ongoing act of playing hooky, THE 52 WEEKS PROJECT. We had been up on the north coast of Maine, running around Schoodic Peninsula, my favorite place in the world and the combined rocky vastness and infinite fog of the place made its mark in this series to be sure.

Cover for the hardcover book collecting the first two years of the project.

I had a commission that afforded me my first go at this, one of Bela Lugosi the most famous of Draculas on the big screen. Rather than doing a standard likeness I wanted to see about picking an area of his head to focus in on and let the rest drift back into the fog. I knew his iconic face had to be obscured, and wanted to see how much it could be done without losing his identity. The end result succeeded so thoroughly I couldn't wait to get started on the rest.

FUZZY BELA (commission piece 10"x12")

Moving on into the new series, the  first step was picking a subject to experiment on. It had to be a limited series of portraits, all of recognizable characters (this I will explain later), and they had to have distinctive faces. Choosing to depict Doctor WHo in all his thirteen faces was an obvious solution, especially since this initial solution to replace a faltering actor has over time become an integral aspect of the character's personality- almost more so than any other aspect. He his as a result, a sci-fo Kali, a God with many faces. So clearly perfect fort his. So I set three rules for the project: the materials had to always be the same-

1). Blackwing Palomino pencils, and eraser on paper, 8 1/2 x 11", no photoshop trickery allowed.

2). They had to be the same pose and not a direct reiteration of any previously existing portrait.

3). They had to begin with the now, and go back in time as we counted down to William Hartnell, the very first Doctor.


I had for a while no this idea of doing a series of portraits with an extremely limited depth of field, The distance from the tip of the nose to the beginning of the ear would feel like miles like a mountain range falling back into a foggy horizon. Nut whether or not it would work would be the real test. 
Getting started with Capaldi was the best bit- he is the newest and least known and has more than any other in recent memory, had the task of shaking things up in a deeply profound way. It also afforded me a bit of time to figure out how to make the blurry doctors... blurry. In absolute contrast to my usual method of sumi ink and paper, a medium of utter gesture, slashing strokes and contrasts, the graphite was going to be soft, detailed and photographic in its feel. I had done a few piece for recently in the medium as beginning to get a grasp of it, but this was going to be a real test. It made me nervous but my absolute belief is that if making art doesn't make the artist nervous, the artist isn't doing it right. 
In this first portrait I discovered that the best tool on this earth for achieving the blur was right there at the end of my hands. I had ten of them even. It allowed to delineate light and tone in a way I found surprising and gave a stronger grip on the reigns in forcing the viewer's eye where I wanted it to go. It also did something funny to the eyes when approached with a fully blurry picture: the eyes couldn't stop trying to force focus on it. That was of particular interest to me as all perception experiments are. It immediately had me creating a new and fourth rule/challenge:

4).  As we counted down from the 13th to the 1st Doctor, each portrait would become more and more uniformly blurry.


How fuzzy could things get before identity was lost? How much would the eye compensate for the lack of clarity, and would it make the viewer more or less comfortable in seeing it? How fine to get or should I retain some sense of the mark and the artist's hand? All of these will be answered over the course of the next few weeks. More questions I am sure, will rise. But in any case the die was cast and I remembered the feeling I got from the initial run of the 52 Weeks Project: fun regardless of time and assignment. So, for the next several weeks, each and every monday look for a new and increasingly blurrier portrait of our madman Doctor. And as a special treat to our Muddy Colors community, I give you the final portrait twelve weeks early: 


 If you'd like to follow the series, you can do so via these online outlets. Only the originals will be for sale- no prints, (though there may very well be a folio series collecting all 13 Doctors when we're done for SDCC) but the originals are at less than half their baseline prices in keeping with the Project's continuing ethos:

The series will post on my website first and be archived there. Originals for sale in the storefront, each purchase will enter the buyer into a raffle to win the WHO TOTEM a 20" x 8" original sumi ink drawing created in the pre-Capaldi lands of 2013.



To purchase a signed copy of The 52 WEEKS PROJECT vol. 1 hardcover:!untitled/c19re

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Art Out Loud

Above: Dan dos Santos and David Palumbo. Photos by Greg Preston

This Saturday at the Society of Illustrators, Irene Gallo and  Kate Feirtag will be hosting Art Out Loud in conjunction with the Spectrum Exhibition. MC's Dan dos Santos and Dave Palumbo along with Julie Bell and Charles Vess will be painting live all afternoon and answering questions from the audience. This is a great opportunity to watch artists at the top of their game work. Hit this link to purchase tickets (proceeds go to the Society's student scholarship fund).

Above: David Palumbo

Above: Julie Bell

Above: Charles Vess

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Picking Pockets

-By Jesper Ejsing

This illustration was featured in the newest DnD 5th edition. The assignment was pretty simple; a female thief pick pocketing the Innkeeper. It is a well-known scene to all of us who play role-playing games, and I had all kinds of thought involving a whole inn, lots of different role-playing characters and in the mist a hafling turning around on the bench stealing from a passing inn keeper while he had his hands full carrying beer. The more I sketched and drew thumbs of this scene the more it got away from the assignment and the less clear it became. I was loosing focus of the 2 main figures and especially the action of picking the pockets.

So I choose to go with a simpler version with only the hafling and the innkeeper and no background at all. First sketch I liked, had the innkeeper lifting the hafling off the ground and while doing so the haflings hands grabbed something out of the guys pouch. My art director Kate Irwin pointed out that it kind of ruined the setting a bit that the hafling had been caught already. Looking at it with critical eyes I also became aware at how weak the whole hand and pouch area was. you didn´t really noticed it; mostly; I think, because none of the attention-direction of the characters was directed towards the action of stealing.

So, literally back to the drawing table. I ended up with a composition I liked. My idea was that the hafling created a diversion by asking the innkeeper for something in the menu ( or a map if you like ) . I directed her eyes to the hand that is stealing so that you would notice the action. At this point I thought the telling of this story was much more difficult than I had anticipated.

So I got this sketch approved and started grey toning it digitally, since that is what I usually do in acrylic and I haven't really found a method to pull me out of my 20 year old acrylic habit. In grey toning I simply got disappointed with the drawing of the female figure. She was standing too much straight up and down and I did not think she was feminine enough. She looked more like a dwarf than a slender agile Hafling. So I erased the approved one and drew a new hafling. I turned her towards her stealing so that the composition closed more in on it self and so that she was turned more towards her ?
And the facial expression was a battle right up till the end. I was going for the expression of a forced smile, like she is still being polite but the eyes are eagerly watching if the hands succeeds.

Well; all of this talk has been on directing the story and the composition of the drawing. To be honest it is also the most important part and the hardest part. As soon as I begin on the painting part I relax again and turn on some loud music and start singing along, letting the brush render almost all by it self.

This was one of my first digitally colored illustrations and I was unsure if the result was all that good. I was happy with the illustration but insecure about the finish. So I passed it on to my little group of fellow artists. Chris Moeller, Steve Prescott, Steven Belledin and Randy Gallegos and I have a mailing group where we share artwork and sketches to get some blunt qualified feedback or to air out our frustrations. Randy was very precise and grabbed an older acrylic illustration of mine to put up next to this new digital one. He noticed that I was using way more dark tones and too much black in my digital illustration than my acrylics.

Damn! this is something I have learned years ago, I have avoided black and tried everything possible to get more life into the shadows and here, simply because I changed media, I somehow went backwards doing stuff I KNOW is wrong. I thanked Randy heartfelt for pointing it out, and have ever since made a big deal out of avoiding blacks and dark greys in my paintings.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Favorite Art Books: Summer 2014

-By Dan dos Santos

I just got back from Dragon Con, and one of my favorite things about attending any convention is snagging new art books that I might not have found elsewhere. Not surprisingly, I found quite a few that were easily some of my favorites of the summer. I figured I share with you all some of those favorites.

Here is my list of must have art books for the Summer 2014:

Alex Toth : Genius Animated

This just may be my favorite book of the year. This book is the third volume in a 3 Volume set, and is a comprehensive look at the animation art of Alex Toth. Alex was responsible for designing some of the most recognizable cartoons of the 60s, 70s and 80s, including the likes of Space Ghost, Johnny Quest and Super Friends. The book is jam packed with concept art, sketches and storyboards for all of these cartoons. It really is a must have for any fan of concept art.

Greg Spalenka: Visions From the Mind's Eye

This is the most recent book I've acquired on this list, and certainly one of the most beautiful. Greg has been in this industry a long time, and this book is a wonderful retrospective compiling more than 30 years of his work.

It's hard to classify Greg as just an Illustrator, because I think his work surpasses that. He is an incredible designer of many things, and this book is the perfect example of that. Type and paint and pixels all bleed into one, creating a beautiful tapestry of artwork inside that screams of pristine craftsmanship.

The book is roughly 9x12 inches, with a casewrap cover, and quite literally may have some of the most luminous reproductions I've EVER seen in an art book. I'm not certain if it's a special paper stock, or some sort of metallic ink, but whatever it is, the images literally glow on the page. There is almost no commentary, so the book is an overload of intricately detailed work.

I have the regular version of the book, but there is a deluxe, limited-edition available. Knowing Greg, and seeing how nice the normal version is, I suspect the deluxe edition is an absolute knock-out.

Mike Mignola : Hellboy, the First 20 Years

Technically, this book was released in the Spring, but it was too good not to include it here. Mike Mignola is one of those artists that makes it all look so darn easy. I own a LOT of art books, but I only keep a select few in the taboret next to my easel. Mike's book is one of them. Whenever I feel like I'm complicating things, I take a break and look through his work. In my opinion, he is the quintessential example of 'Less is More'.

I already owned Mike's 2004 book 'The Art of Hellboy', so it took me a while before deciding to buy this one. But I'm glad I did. The book is large, very well produced, and contains pretty much no commentary, so you're getting a solid 100+ pages of art. Surprisingly, there is very little overlap between this book and his last, so it's definitely worth picking up even if you have his older one.

Sanford Greene: Deadlines Vol. 4

There is certainly no shortage of comic-themed sketchbooks. The artists who work in comics are SO prolific, that they can easily produce 100 page sketchbooks every year, just of unused content. But what sets Sanford's sketchbook apart from most (aside from the brilliant art within it), is it's production value. Rather than printing a small black/white ashcan like most comic artists, Sanford created a beautiful, large, slip cased book that does a really good job of showcasing his art.

Even though Sanford is a comic artist, you're not going to find sketches of Superman and Wonder Woman here. The book is filled with Sanford's own unique designs. I think this book would really appeal to Concept Artists in particular.

Marina Bychkova: Enchanted Doll

Marina's work is hauntingly beautiful, and this books does an amazing job of capturing it. Like all things published by 'Baby Tattoo', the book is very well produced. It has a casewrap hardcover, with silver gilt edges, and a bound book ribbon. The book itself feel precious and feminine, much like the work contained within.

How beautiful is this book? Let's just say, that even my Wife (who has minimal interest in visual arts) came into my studio, let out an audible 'Ooooh', and promptly walked away with it. Easily one of my favorites.

Patrick Jones: Oil Painting Techniques

Patrick Jones is great at what he does. He has a very distinct style and color palette that makes his work very recognizable.

In this book, Patrick goes over his process VERY thoroughly. He talks about sketching (both digitally and traditionally), compiling reference, doing an under drawing, painting, glazing.... everything.  It is an instructional book, but he wisely included a small gallery of additional works which helps make the book enjoyable for even those that just want to look at some pretty art.

If you're interested in learning to oil paint, but aren't the kind of person who is going to watch an instructional DVD, I'd highly recommend this book.

Aron Wiesenfeld : The Well

I'm a big fan of Aron's work, especially his graphite drawings, so it was a real for me treat to see this book released this year. The book is oversized, and printed in an eye-catching square format. With pretty much no text, this book is 120 pages of pure, unadulterated art.

This book is definitely my surprise catch of the Summer!

Frank Quitely : Graphic Ink

I've already mentioned this book before here on Muddy Colors, but had to include it in the list again. Frank is one of my favorite comic artists, and this is the only book on his art you're going to find. Sadly, it only covers his work done for DC comics, and most of the book is reproductions of his sequential work. But there are still a lot of covers and splash art included, and at a whopping 368 pages for just $30, it is a total steal in my opinion!

William Bouguereau : His Life and Works

This as actually an older book, originally published as a 2 Volume set, and long out of print. But it was recently reprinted as a single, larger volume, at a MUCH more affordable price than what the previous edition (a now well sought after collector's item) was going for.

To be totally honest, I think most of the images in the book suffer from a little bit of dot gain, and are just a smidge too dark. That nit-pick aside, the true benefit of the book is how comprehensive it is. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a Bouguereau painting that isn't included here.

Akihito: Heart of Art

This is one of those books that surpasses it's genre. It is essentially a sculpting and makeup effects book, but the designs are just so stunning, that Fantasy Artists of any discipline will appreciate it. The book also goes into Akihito's technique, which just makes the work within look all the better since it helps you appreciate just how much effort goes into it.

These are of course just a small sampling of what's available (and what I've acquired). Personally, I don't make much distinction between graphic novels and art books, but for the sake of this list, I kept it down to strict, non-narrative 'art books' which were released this Summer.

Is there a book you're interested in learning more about? Or are you releasing your own art book that you'd like me to review? Feel free to contact me at:, where you can send suggestions or request my mailing address.