Saturday, October 18, 2014

Spectrum 22 Call For Entries!

John Fleskes has unveiled Victo Ngai's Call For Entries poster and announced that Spectrum 22 is now officially open for submissions.

Titled "Rule Breaker," Victo has this to say about her poster: "The girl represents the role of an artist, bringing colors and surprises into predictable routine (monochromatic checker background) as well as breaking rules and confinements (leech monster in square checker suits) which suck blood out of life."

This year's blue ribbon jury will be (top to bottom) Justin Gerard, Virginie Ropars, Greg Ruth, Annie Stegg Gerard, and Dice Tsutsumi

What's Spectrum? Well, you can hit this link for some history and background, but the bottom line is that it is the fantastic art community's book. For 22 years it's been promoting an international array of artists of all sensibilities and the field as a whole; pros, students, sculptors, painters, digital artists, comics creators, illustrators, fine artists—all are welcome under Spectrum's umbrella Join in! Take part! Each book can only be as good, as diverse, as the artists who enter. This is an opportunity to show the world just how good you are and just how exciting the field of fantastic art is.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spring - Lawrence Alma-Tadema

I love art.  Not just looking either.  I love reading about it, talking about it, I love the smell of the materials and it is one of the great and simple pleasures of life to buy a new brush (or a roll of canvas/blank sketchbook//new tube of paint/okayallnewartmaterialsarewonderful).  I know with the Muddy Colors readers, I am not alone in this.  It also means that my list of paintings that I love only grows longer as the years pass, but there are few paintings that stand above the others.

Spring by Lawrence Alma-Tadema is one of those paintings.  I am fan of many of his paintings.  I find his dedication to history and details appealing and fascinating.  Tadema's rendering of different textures is incredible and his willingness to tackle the insane and complex is singular.

I love paintings that give me:

  • A sense of excellence
  • A feeling of wonder
  • A desire to learn more
  • Inspiration

When a painting does all of these things it feels like there is a energy inside, right in the center of my chest that lifts my soul a little higher.  There is nothing else like it.  Spring does this for me.

Spring was completed by Tadema in 1894 (some sources say 1895) after 4 years of intermittent work and is 70 1/4 x 31 1/2 inches in size.  Not a large painting when you consider all of the detail in the piece.  In Victorian England, it was becoming the fashion to send kids out into the country to gather flowers on May 1st.  This painting echos that contemporary scene.

It has been speculated that the scene depicts the Cerealia or Ambarvalia, but more recent scholarship leans towards it being a representation of the Floralia, wherein young girls were sent into the country to retrieve flowers and bring them back in procession to honor the goddess Flora and celebrate the coming of Spring.  This was done right around the 1st of May as well.  There is much that has been written and researched about Spring that I won't relate here, but if you want to read a really in depth analysis, I will include a link at the end of the post.

Let's take a look at some details from this amazing painting because this is one of those paintings that really rewards time spent examining the details.

Patrician class observing the procession from a "reviewing box."

There is so much content, so beautifully portrayed that you can find mini compositions within the larger piece that stand well on it's own.

Be sure to click on these images to enlarge them.  Some of the images are very large and have excellent detail.

More exceptional details.  Look at the capital of the column on the left of the detail above.  The curls of the carved acanthus leaves and spirals are so convincing.  The subtle sense of light penetrating the marble is handled perfectly here and the forms are perfect.

Look at the sculpture on the right hand side of the image above.  It is a silver sculpture of Bacchus.  There is another on the left hand side.  Tadema had an extensive collection of photos from his own journeys as well as those he purchased.  We can see how he used reference to help construct this painting.  See the image below to compare.

Photo from Tadema's collection

One of the things I really love about this painting, and many of his other works, is the depth of interests.  While the primary focus in on the central figures, as you follow the procession back, it goes on and on and you see more faces and figure in the shadow, the back into the light.  Then a large bronze equestrian statue and further back another bronze sculpture.  Even further you see a gorgeous structure with green patina bronzes on top with pink marble columns in support.  All of it works together.

Tadema's wife and family members modelled for several of the figures in the painting.

The spandrel in the image above is usually the domain of deities, but here we see a sheep and a cow.  It is thought that Tadema added this detail to represent April and May, or Ares and Taurus, the two months that straddle the Floralia festival depicted.

If you want to see this painting in person, it is in the Getty collection in Los Angeles.  I managed to get a couple good shots while I was there that have some raking light and reveal a little more of the texture, both in the canvas and the paint strokes.

Again, large images, so be sure to download or give them a click with your browser full screen to see the detail.

Would you like a huge copy of this painting?  You can go to the Getty Museum site and download a 53 MB image, almost 10,000 px tall.  Click here.  Under the small thumbnail on the page you will see the download link.  Follow to instructions there to get the image file.

Also, here is the link I mentioned earlier to a very extensive analysis of the painting.  Follow the link and you can read online or download a PDF.

Thanks for giving the post a read!

Howard Lyon

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The 7 Deadly (Art) Sins: PRIDE

-By Lauren Panepinto

Hello, fellow sinners! I'm back to working my way through the artistic applications of The Seven Deadly Sins. Or, if you're going old-school catholic school, The Seven Cardinal Vices. Last time we covered ENVY, which I think is the easiest sin to apply to us professional artists. Next up is a wily one: PRIDE.

Aside: Pride is also known as "superbia" which sounds like the perfect title for a Judd Apatow movie about Brooklyn hipsters moving out to New Jersey. Right?

Let's all start on the same page and define the term:

Pride is a "feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired."

William Blake, "Satan Arousing the Rebel Angels"

Well, that doesn't sound so bad, does it? And that's what's tricky about Pride. It's all about balance. Too little pride and you won't be successful. Too much pride and no one is going to want to associate with you. (Not good for business or friendships.) You need to balance in the sweet spot of having pride in yourself, but always keeping a healthy inner voice of reality keeping you in check. If you fall on the shy side of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, "pride" might sound like a dirty word to you, so feel free to swap the term "pride" with "confidence".

I find I struggle with the proper balance of pride most acutely in my cover meetings. I need to have enough pride in my work and the work of my artists to be confident in it (because editors always smell the blood of hesitation in the water) and defend it in the discussions. However, I also have to keep my pride in check so that when criticism comes, I do not immediately become defensive and hurt. I have to keep my mind open to the possibility that the non-art folk in the meeting might <gasp> have some real constructive criticism to make. This is a zen balance I have been fighting to achieve for all of my 13+ years in publishing, and let me tell you, things still get under my skin.

The proper balance of pride is like having a thin skin and thick skin simultaneously.

Let me tell you, you freelancers think getting an email of changes from an AD is hard? Try getting a chorus of often-conflicting demands from a group of people who are not only not artists, but don't even have the proper art vocabulary to know the difference between contrast and brightness (even when you've tried to explain it to them a hundred times). And then sift through all that chaos for the useful bits. Be happy you're not in-house staff, trust me.

Jamie Wyeth, "Pride"

Too much Pride... This one is easy to see from the outside. We all know some artists that are overconfident to the point of coming off as assholes. The thing to be careful of in that situation is to make sure you're not projecting your Envy onto their Pride. (Tricksy deadly sins!) Don't dislike an artist because they are successful, no matter how young they are or how easy it looks like it came to them. If you must, dislike them because they treat people less successful than they are poorly, or because they gloat about their success and are generally insufferable to be around.

Pridefulness is much harder to diagnose when you're judging yourself. Are you coming off as confident...or overconfident? Braggadoccio can repel clients and peers, and maybe the only way to know if you're walking that line well or stumbling is to ask some trusted friends in the industry for their honest opinion.

Too little Pride... I see this problem often in young artists of both genders, although it is definitely more prevalent, in my experience, in female artists. I hate to gender stereotype here, but the basic training our society gives us trains men default to overconfidence in crisis, and trains women to caution and reticence in speaking up under trial. This definitely comes to play in the professional art world as well. I realize I am over-generalizing here, and if your experience discounts this, please let me hear about it in the comments. Regardless of your gender, if you have too little pride, you don't promote yourself or your ideas well. This can lead not only to letting clients walk all over you, but also makes it harder to find clients in the first place. Confidence comes from self-worth, which grows from pride in ourselves and our work, no matter what stage we're at in our careers.

There's also a sneaky little mental loop involved with pride that affects a lot of artists I know, myself included, and it's called Imposter Syndrome, which is defined as feeling like you are not qualified enough to deserve your successes. If you haven't experienced it, it sounds ridiculous, I know, but I think all of us have suffered from crippling self-doubt at some point in our profession and can relate to that. In art we base our careers on how other people judge our work, and it's hard not to be oversensitive to that - whether it's from criticism OR, ironically, from success. Here's a great article on some tips to overcoming Imposter Syndrome when you feel it rearing its head.

Hieronymus Bosch, "Superbia" - sorry, it's not a Seven Deadly Sins post without some Bosch.

Just right... Honestly, I don't know exactly what the proper balance of pride and confidence is, because it's a constant struggle. Compounding this problem is the simple fact that even if you are happy with your level of pride and confidence, other people will probably judge you as too prideful, and not prideful enough, all at the same moment. I know that there are people who think I am a loud obnoxious bitch sometimes, and there's nothing I can do about their opinion. At the same time, there are people who think I am doing a good job at balancing my confidence and pride. You just can't please everyone any of the time.

Remember that bit about having a thin skin and thick skin simultaneously? At some point you have to have a thin enough skin to remain self-aware...but a thick enough skin to tell everyone else to go screw.

Also extremely relevant to the topic of pride: Dave Palumbo's great recent post "Getting Over Yourself" - sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just get that job done no matter what.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Night Patrol

Greg Manchess

 This Friday, October 17th, "Night Patrol" will debut in Paris at Galerie Daniel Maghen. The show will exhibit my adventure paintings from literature, science fiction, fantasy, and historical subjects, as well as new narratives.

“...something’s amiss. Command wouldn’t engage without a recon flight to reveal which group had penetrated the perimeter.

Once in the air, his mount should knuckle under from the grueling months of break-in, after inheriting the beast from the wrangler squads. But it still hadn’t imprinted yet.

If they were running raven panther gryphons, this wouldn’t be easy. His mount wasn’t ready yet, not for stealth combat anyway.

Doesn’t matter. Night missions don’t allow for a chute.”

That's a bit of the story behind this one. "Night Patrol" is another painting that took some time, just to decide to paint it. I did a thumbnail and let it sit. I wasn’t sure I could get the idea across.

But the sketch is everything, and once I had the feeling down, I could concentrate on getting the angle right. After sketching a lot of raptors, I ended up liking the thumb more and followed that instead. I researched a bunch of lions’ haunches to capture the ‘sit.’

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Battle of Five Armies: Tight Drawing

by Justin Gerard

I've been busy penciling away on my tight drawing for the Battle of Five Armies.  I am trying something new this time around and am working with graphite alongside the usual colored pencil.
Graphite has a tendency to muddy the delicate tones of a watercolor, to smudge, and to be too soluble, and so I usually prefer working without it.  However, on the other hand it has the benefit of giving you more control, sharper detail and a better value range.

With so much area to cover and so many figures to work out I have opted to risk the muddiness this time around and utilized it to lay out my figures.  I am finding that I really like how it blends with the Caran D'Ache Pablo pencils I have been using for the colored bits.

In the above image I have used the graphite to really isolate the characters from one another. This reinforcement of the major shapes will help a great deal later on when I begin to work on the lighting. It will help separate the characters from what's behind them, and thus keep the whole scene from merging into one blurry goblin quagmire.

"...with them came the bodyguard of Bolg, goblins of huge size with scimitars of steel."

A story note here: If you saw my last post you will notice that the giant goblins in the Bodyguard of Bolg have gotten their noses back. 

In "The Hobbit", Tolkien calls the orcs 'goblins' and not 'orcs.'  And though in his later writings he would use the terms interchangeably at times, he generally means orcs when describing the miscreant servants of the dark lord. (He would do this in part to give his creatures more distinction from their fairy tale interpretation of goblins.) Thus, there was only orcs of varying sizes really, and Peter Jackson it would seem, had it right all along.  

However, that explanation is not good enough for me. The damage is done Professor Tolkien. It's too late and too bad and now no matter what, when I read the Hobbit, I will always see them as big-nosed goblins. 

To add some justification for this: I still hold that The Hobbit is more a fairy tale and less a fantasy epic. Goblins fit better in this setting than orcs do.  The orcs fit in the drama and epic glory of the later writings, but "The Hobbit" is a tall tale, told by a curious and sometimes dubious author in Bilbo Baggins.

So right or wrong, I have decided to go full goblin here.   

Next Week: Watercoloring!

Monday, October 13, 2014

I'd Love to Draw

A never before seen book by Andrew Loomis is to be released tomorrow, October 14th!

I'd Love to Draw is a collection of work by the innovative American artist Andrew Loomis, previously unseen by anyone outside the Loomis family and available in print for the first time ever. Having been held in the Loomis family archive for decades after the artist's death, I'd Love to Draw has been restored by a group of devoted experts, including the globally renowned comic book artist, and Loomis devotee, Alex Ross.

More info here:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Getting over yourself: Seven tips to get through a job gone wrong

When the best foreseeable outcome is simply surviving...

David Palumbo 

This is going to seem unfair, but you can not count on your client to be the level headed voice of reason when a job takes a wrong turn.  Hopefully the client will recognize the problem and do their best to keep things moving forward, but you need to do your part as well.  Often the problems may arise because some clients are not very good communicators to begin with, in which case you are going to be doing the heavy lifting to reach a result where everyone is happy.  A job which has derailed is a painful experience that is bound to happen from time to time.  Here are some questions to ask yourself and truths to remember that will help you get though those bad times:

1. Never answer an email angry
Let’s start there, unless you are ready to torpedo the whole job.

2. Ask yourself: “What aspects of this are my fault?”
This might seem like a bleak place to begin, but I think it is one of the most critical areas to look at as honestly as possible before you can correct the situation.  Put aside all the grievances which you have with the problematic client and simply ask yourself: “have I done what I aimed to do?  Have I done what I was asked to do?  Have I executed this job to my quality standards?”
Most of the time both the client and the artist share some responsibility in a job gone south, though some times it is heavily weighted to one side.  If you step back and see that, indeed, you have short changed the job in some respect, you need to own up to that in your own mind so that you can make it right.  The degree to which you bear responsibility should reflect in the extra effort you are willing to put forward to correct the problem.

3. Identify the unresolved problems(s)
I have a theory: Bad art directors dictate a solution to a vague problem.  Good art directors clearly communicate the problem itself.  A good art director respects the expertise of their artists to find appropriate and interesting solutions to their problems, so they don’t really need to do anything other than make you aware of what those problems are.  If we are holding up our end, we must be worthy of that trust.  Good art directors know that an illustrator is not just a pair of hands, but a creative individual who is trained in solving visual problems.  
When faced with an art director who does not operate this way, it becomes our responsibility to extract the true nature of the problem so that we can solve it correctly.  Even if we still follow their dictated solution, we can do it much more effectively if we understand *why* we are doing it.  I’ve found that I often come up with better, simpler, or more elegant solutions when I understand why I’m being asked to do something and hopefully the art director will be receptive to this.  When an artist can propose their own solution, it almost always better fits to their strengths and will give a better outcome.  Working blindly off of client dictated instruction is more or less just groping around in the dark and often it does not fully satisfy the concern.  It is an inefficient way to solve a problem at best, so try whenever possible to get more relevant information.

4. Remind yourself that the client wants for the image to succeed
It can be easy to forget this when you are being asked to make changes which you don’t agree with.  Usually this feeling of sabotage indicates that you have not yet understood the unresolved problems or the art director does not trust/agree with your opinion on a better solution.  Of course the client wants for the image to succeed, that is why they are paying you to make it.  You don’t have to like the feedback, but it is always ALWAYS worth reminding yourself on a job in trouble: we are all on the same team.

5. Acknowledge that it isn't personal
I find that most jobs which end up in trouble fall into two categories.  The first are the result of poor communication.  Assuming that YOUR communication has been good (has it?), you can still end up dealing with a client who gave specific information and now they are contracting themselves.  The client wants aspects of a final changed which were present in the approved sketch.  The client gives very minimal briefs and then incredibly nitpicky feedback on the final.  The client asks for a change and then says “oh wait, I meant I want you to do the opposite of what I asked you to do” (true story).  This is frustrating for obvious reasons and these are the sort of time wasting situations that are typically justified in seeking additional fees for additional work.  When a client with poor communication has to start paying extra for their own mistakes, they generally figure out what they want a whole lot quicker.  I expect some fine-tuning with most any job, but not heavy reworking after approvals.
The second source of many troubled jobs is that the client picked the wrong artist.  That sucks, because that artist is you.  When it becomes clear that this has happened, your only choices are to walk or to try and navigate through to the other side.  Often the mismatch can be subtle and not fully mature until late in the process.  After all,  if I am so obviously not the right choice, I probably would not have accepted the job at all. The painful part of this is that the client just doesn’t understand why you are not giving them what they expected and you can’t understand why the client does not like what you are giving them.  It is very easy to take it personal. 

As professional illustrators, we like to believe that we should be able to handle anything.  Any subject, any tone, any problem.  While that should be true overall, the reality is that we are *best* at being ourselves and working towards the solutions which we find exciting and interesting.  If, for example, you are bored with conventional fantasy tropes and want to explore strange or unexpected takes on the fantasy genre, you are in for hard times if your client is producing a product rigidly set in a classic traditional fantasy universe.  If you are pushing your work to a stylized and graphic direction and the client wants highly rendered hyper-realism… problems.
Understanding that, early on, there was a fundamental misunderstanding as to what you do and what the client wants is one of the most frustrating conclusions for an artist to reach.  This is a case where you probably can not make yourself and the client both happy.  But it isn’t personal.  It does not reflect on your skill, ability, or value as an artist.  It only reflects on your appropriateness to that job or client.  Walk or see it through to meet the client’s needs, those are your choices, but don’t take it personally.
6. Comfort yourself that, once your commitment is met, you never have to work for this person again
Sometimes our clients are beyond just difficult.  Sometimes they are wrong.  Sometimes they are rude.  Sometimes they are morally offensive.  At the end of the day, the joy of being a freelancer is that you never have to work with someone if you don’t want to.  One of the greatest pleasures (and I’ve only had this pleasure once but it. was. sweet.) is telling a formerly abusive client that you are busy now and will be busy indefinitely, thankyou for your interest.  On the rare occasions which I find myself pushed to this point, it is a comfort to remind myself that ultimately I can put this person in my past and never deal with them on a professional level again. 

7. Know that a job done well is always to YOUR benefit in the long game
This is really the ultimate conclusion.  No matter how much a struggle, no matter how low the rate was, no matter how much you dislike the art director, you are a professional and every job is a building block in the ever growing structure of your career.  If you let your emotions get the best of you and refuse to deliver your best because you don’t like an assignment or client, you are only hurting yourself.  If possible, make every piece into something you would be proud to show in your portfolio.  If the job is forced in a direction where that is not going to happen, you can still conduct yourself as a professional who does their best to get the job done right.  That is something worth taking pride in and any opportunity to prove it is at least worth that much.  Sometimes jobs go wrong, but these experiences teach us better who we are and who we want to be.