Sunday, August 20, 2017

Live Event This Weekend!

This month's Live Event will be 'Photography for Illustrators'.

Few things can help improve an illustrator's end product as easily as a great piece of reference. Find out how to get that perfect shot that's going to help push your realism to the next level. In this 2 hour demo, we will discuss and demonstrate a variety of photography topics that specifically pertain to illustrators, including:

  • Hiring & Paying Models
  • Lighting Techniques
  • Action Poses
  • Blending Reference
  • Photographing Original Art

Please join us Saturday, August 26th from 3-5 PM for this highly informative demonstration and lecture.

As usual, all $5 Patrons get access to the live event, and $10 Patrons receive a digital download of the demo afterwards.

Sign up, or get more info at:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Artist of the Month: Annie Leibovitz

-By William O’Connor

In our line of work as illustrators we all use photography to a lesser or greater extent. Some illustrators, like myself, have a very stylized technique where our use of photography may be merely inspirational, while other artists I know have photo studios, set up models with costumes and lighting while others actually go as far as to paint directly on top of photographs. There is no wrong way to work, but whatever way you do illustration it's unlikely that photography has not played at least a small part in your work. Despite our effusiveness of Caravaggio or Sargent its arguable that modern photography has been as important (or more) than painters in our vernacular as contemporary artists. I realize that I have not highlighted a single photo artist yet so I hope to start today.

When I think of photographers who influence art there are Steiglitz, Adams and Sherman, but few who I can see more of a direct impact to our contemporary fantasy illustration aesthetic than Annie Leibovitz (1949-) Born a baby boomer in middle class America Annie traveled around the world with her Air Force family taking photographs and later studied painting in San Francisco in the 1960’s. Taking a job with Rolling Stone in the Seventies and later with Vanity Fair in the 1980’s Leibovitz became the foremost portrait photographer in America. Her early art education is well evidenced in her use of lighting and composition infusing her images with a classical elegance that seems almost Baroque. Her painterly use of the figure sumptuously draped in color and an attention to detail that captures a stark reality of her often fantastical tableaus is remarkable. In her portraits she is able to capture the essence of the person’s character by use of body language, detail, lighting and sometimes in a candid unposed moment, which is the real art of any photography. 

Today, Annie Leibovitz is one of the most sought after and copied photographers in the world both by photographers and artists alike. The next time you are leafing through the latest edition of an illustration annual take a look at how many beautifully composed images look uncannily inspired by Leibovitz and you can begin to see her influence.



**Please leave a comment below or DM on what artists you’d like to see me explore. Remember, this column is for artists who are outside the illustration field that you feel we may be overlooking as illustrators.

  A Gallery of Works by Annie Leibovitz:

Moncler Photo Shoot

Friday, August 18, 2017

New Blood

by Howard Lyon

New Blood sounds like it could be the title of a WB show where a clique of teenage vampires looks for new and worthy recruits for their brood, all while dealing with unrequited love, math finals and looking fabulous. So I must apologize, because this post is about a new piece of art that I created for Magic: the Gathering Commander 2017.

Within the Magic: the Gathering universe, among the many worlds I think that Innistrad is my favorite. Any chance to paint something in that setting is a treat. Gothic spires and tri-corner hats with baroque sensibilities and dramatic lighting. Please sir, I'd like some more.

Mark Winters was the Art Director on this piece (thank you Mark!) and I jumped at the chance to revisit Innistrad.

The idea was to show the vampire Olivia Valderan stalking a victim. The hapless young man enjoys his drink, not knowing that he is being eyed by the powerful woman behind him. She gently raises her hand to his neck, hungrily eyeing his jugular. Good times were had by all.

The sketch

Painting steps

The final - Mark made the good call to crop in a little bit to bring more attention to Olivia's face and her hand on his neck.

Here is the final image on the card:

Thanks for taking a look! Come and join me on Instagram and Twitter to see various sketches and paintings in progress.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Note on Confidence

By Lauren Panepinto
It's funny how sometimes trends will happen in conversations, and I think it's the universe (or at least the Muse of Muddy Colors) trying to tell me what my next post should be. Recently I've been having a ton of conversations about confidence. People seem to think I am a confidence expert, and I think they assume my ability to be silly and geeky and loud and have green hair has to do with an abundance of confidence...when in reality they're mixing up the chicken and the egg a bit. The more weird shit I do, the more people love it and the more positive reinforcement for my decisions — that's what gives me the confidence to go do more weird shit like dye my hair and wear leggings and be walk into rooms full of strangers and get up an speak in front of heaps of people. But even more than the wins, it's the fails that reinforce my confidence, because nothing builds your confidence more than surviving something you were afraid of, and finding out it really wasn't that bad. You pick yourself up and keep going, even more secure inside.

By the way, this isn't the first column I've written on the topic, so definitely check out Confidence 101 in The Con(fidence) Game, then come on back.

In that article we talked about Imposter Syndrome, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and Power Poses. Now we're going to fine-tune the conversation a bit.

When we talk about confidence, what we're really talking about is fear. What's the opposite of confidence? Insecurity. And all insecurity comes from fear—generally fear of rejection. Rejection sucks and feels horrible. There have been studies that prove being rejected actually physically hurts. And there's a reason for that. Back in the caveman days, when we were all huddled together in tribes,  we had to work together to stay safe and fed. If you got kicked out of the tribe's cave, it was a toss-up whether you were going to starve or become a sabertooth tiger snack first. Rejection equaled death, and rejection still feels, instinctively, like pain and dying.

But we are not cavemen anymore, and you are not going to die from rejection. Embarassment is not fatal, or none of us would have made it out of high school. Fear exists to warn of us risks. Your goal is actually not to never feel fear, but really to embrace fear and choose to do a thing anyway. That's risk-assessment. And that is the way to gain confidence.

So we fear rejection. That's evolutionarily valid. The fear is there to warn us of a possible risk. But we have to dial the fear back down to match the real-world risk. You shouldn't have getting-eaten-by -a-sabertooth-tiger-level fear for a situation where the worst thing that could happen to you is embarassment.

Confidence is not fearlessness. Confidence is acknowledging that you do feel fear, telling yourself that's a rational response to a scary situation, but then adjusting your response to the actual risks. It's saying I know there is a chance, at worst, that X might happen, but the payoff is probably going to be worth it. And if the worst thing happens, you know you'll be ok. It's saying I know the risks, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Confidence is also not arrogance — It's not I AM THE BEST HERE. It's I AM WORTHY OF BEING HERE. And that's a big difference.

Here's a list of things that people I've talked to lately have said they wished they had the confidence to do:

—The confidence to post sketches and process online, not just the perfect final image.
—The confidence to email art directors their work.
—The confidence to go to a networking event that you don't know anyone at.
—The confidence to go to a new convention.
—The confidence to ask an art director for a portfolio review.
—The confidence to start a big crowdfunding project.
—The confidence to walk up to a group of strangers and work your way into a conversation.

So, ask yourself...what's the worst case scenario? But also remember to think just as hard about the BEST case scenario, because it's at least as likely to happen, statistically. And is generally more likely to happen, in my personal experience:

—The confidence to post sketches and process online, not just the perfect final image.
Worst Case Scenario: people post mean comments about how your art sucks.
Likely Scenario: some friends will like it, no one will say anything bad, maybe some people will say something nice.
Best Case Scenario: It gets a bunch of shares and new followers and nice comments.

—The confidence to email art directors their work.
Worst Case Scenario: an AD will write back and say your work doesn't fit their needs, and ask to be taken off your list.
Likely Scenario: you will get no answer.
Best Case Scenario: An email hits an AD just at the right moment and you get a job out of it.

—The confidence to go to a networking event that you don't know anyone at.
Worst Case Scenario: You stand around awkwardly and don't talk to anyone.
Likely Scenario: You'll make some perfectly fine smalltalk, some awkward smalltalk, you'll make a new friend or two. No one remembers the awkward bits but you.
Best Case Scenario: You end up meeting some art friends, strengthen your peer network, and maybe meet someone that leads to being hired.

—The confidence to go to a new convention.
Worst Case Scenario: you hate it and people are creepy and you go home.
Likely Scenario: You'll meet a ton of new people, get a little tipsy in the hotel bar, and spend the rest of the year on social media keeping up with the new friends.
Best Case Scenario: You make a new art bestie or meet an AD that leads directly to a dream job.

—The confidence to ask an art director for a portfolio review.
Worst Case Scenario: they say they're too busy and walk away.
Likely Scenario: they'll give you a time to meet them later or they'll give you a business card and ask to email your portfolio to them.
Best Case Scenario: They say yes and you guys have a great in-depth review

—The confidence to start a big crowdfunding project.
Worst Case Scenario: it won't get backed.
Likely Scenario: it'll get backed and you'll have to spend way more time than you expected figuring out shipping to all your backers.
Best Case Scenario: It will get 500% backed and be a career launcher.

—The confidence to walk up to a group of strangers and work your way into a conversation.
Worst Case Scenario: everyone stares at you when you try to join the conversation, acts awkward and conversation dies until you leave the group.
Likely Scenario: the conversation will expand and you'll feel a little awkward at first, but settle down and have a nice conversation.
Best Case Scenario: You exchange info with the group, expanding your peer group, and maybe get a job out of it.

Look back up at all the worst case scenarios. Not such a big deal, right? You'd survive any of them and move on. In most cases the potential reward with beat the potential damage by multiple times over. 

And that's how you build confidence. You realize most things fall into the "likely" or "best" case scenarios, and you survive a few "worst" case scenarios and realize they're not actually so life-threatening. Keep flexing that confidence muscle, and after a while that insecurity voice inside you will slowly start to starve and lose volume. And poof, like magic, you too are a confident person, and people will talk about you in that wistful tone of "If I was as confident as you I could...X" and you'll smile and send them the link to this post.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SmArt School with Greg Manchess, September 13th

--Greg Manchess

To pull a person into your image for the split-second opportunity you have to capture their attention, you need mad skills to do it. Skill is not automatic and must be learned. Learned through hard training.

And training takes focus.

My SmArt School online class starts up again this September 13th! For 15 weeks we are going to focus on just how that’s done. Over and over again, on each of your paintings, I will guide you to understand depth, value, contrast, line, overlapping, light, and lots more, including paint mixing, and application. Building an image a level at a time, working your way to the finish. With every piece.

I’m not talking about technique either. I’m talking about learning to use each of the principles above to build powerful composition, and composition, used well, will give you concept. Not the other way around.

That’s right. I doubt you’ve ever heard that before. Learn to design good concepts by understanding powerful composition first. In my class, over the course of the Autumn semester, you will learn more about composition than you even thought possible. It takes 100% focus, but the simple principles are easy to understand.

It’s just the massive dedication you might stumble over. But then, you knew that…right?

Join me this Fall and we’ll step our way through it together. We have a great time, and if you want more of an idea about my teaching, listen to what this student said about my class. (scroll down)

Find out how focused training can give you the skills to produce the paintings you want.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Toned Paper Drawings

by Cory Godbey

As I've been working my way through my 2017 sketchbook, one facet I'm particularly excited to show is the toned paper and white charcoal drawings.

While I've been putting together yearly sketchbooks since 2008 it's only been since 2015 that I've included toned paper drawings and studies in those sketchbooks. Why only since 2015? I have no idea. I really should have been doing this all along because they are a joy to create.

They are relatively quick to do and when that white charcoal hits the paper they really come to life. 

One of these days I'll to do a post on the how and whys of creating annuals sketchbooks on a theme but until then here's a look at some of the finished toned paper drawings from my upcoming 2017 collection. If you're going to be in town for New York Comic-Con I hope you'll stop by and take a look! I'll be debuting the sketchbook and related work at the show in October.

If you, like me up until pretty recently, haven't gotten around to exploring what this medium has to offer, the materials list is nice and simple. Low stakes entry point, well worth experimenting.

I start most all my work with a brown Prismacolor Col-erase. From there I'll lightly work up the drawing switching back and forth between a BiC 0.5 and General's Kimberly 2B. For anything darker I'll go with a General's Kimberly 8B (or 4B). A blending stump can be useful for rendering. Lastly, the white charcoal.

As for paper I usually work with a Strathmore 400 series. I'm sure there are others but this one has always done the trick for me.

And here's a quick look at the progression:

I've found that doing these pieces are great for studies or just taking a thumbnail and working it up into a more respectable idea. This might sound simple and obvious but somehow or another it took me years to get around to putting any real time into the medium. Again, I say all this to say if you, like me until relatively recently, haven't given toned paper a shot, go for it. It's a delight.

These can make for great pieces for collectors and they lend a nice visual variety to a sketchbook.

2017 marks my tenth annual sketchbook. 

Over the last decade I've gone from collecting random drawings done throughout the year to creating an intentional series on theme. One of the major things I've learned in that time is that by creating a framework for yourself, by creating works on theme, you give yourself a world to explore. It's concentrated development. When you take one main idea, one theme, and turn it around in your mind you begin to uncover new possibilities and directions that you might not have thought of otherwise. 

I know that's been the case for me over the last ten year's worth of personal work and toned paper drawings have become an integral part in my creative process.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Arahbo, Roar of the World

-By Jesper Ejsing

I love Magic the Gathering. I play with the cards every week, and the time I am not playing I am sorting out teh decks and try to come up with different new combos for playing. So I was extra thrilled when I got an assignment for a magic card for an upcoming Commander card. Commander is a special format within Magic and is my favourite format.

Mark Winters, my art director at Wizards, ask me to do a huge cat lord, an elephant size cat looking like a mix between a lion and a snow leapoard. He is roaring and surrounded by snow leopards in a snow canyon. “Great!”

I had a complete pure image in my head and sketched it out right away, loved it and submitted it for approval and got a green light a couple of days later.

And then I started looking at it... And my evil mind started to doubting it.

The sketch was too static. He looked moaning rather than roaring his pose was passive and the weight was weak and he was looking away from the camerea. “This is a Commander, Jesper. You cannot let this weak illustration be the Commander”, I said to myself, and started all over again. But I couldn’t go completely back to scratch, I had approval, so I needed to stay within the same angle, zoom and so on. But I could make a better Lion. I changed its face and posture. I raised him up so that he was rearing back, as if in a mid jump, roaring and showing teeth. I gave him horns, one broken to show how old he was. I even sketched in an ethereal glowing crown hovering above his head, but abandoned the idea because it would collide with my plans for the lightsource.

I was super happy with the new drawing and started painting a color comp. I tried 2 version. My ususal purple and blue, and a bluishgreen with a hint of warm brownish. I knew I would like to paint the purple one, but the card was a Green/White card and the second rough would do that way more justice. So I chose the more difficult one.

I painted it and sent it to Mark.

When I got the mail asking for some minor revisions my heart sank. First off, the horns was making him look too much like a demonic creature. “ Argghhh, Jesper. You should have known, he is right”, I cursed at myself. And painted away the horns. The second revision was harder. Mark was really liking the more stoic lion from my first sketch, and he asked if I could put his lifted foot down to make him less attacking and more regal? “I know, Mark” Palm to forehead. “ I went to far from the first sketch. Actually I looked at the old one again and found that what I liked about it in the first place was the regal pose…

I sucked up my nervousness, tightend the belt and painted the whole leg away. Mind you, this is acrylic paint on top of a complete final painting. Lets just say I held my breath a lot. I repainted a new leg pulled in under him a bit, added a cliff and some rock to rest on, and painted some the leopards in the background so they would match the new leg. Also; after I removed the horns the weight of the movement of the whole body seemed a bit shifted, so I removed a couple of fur strands. I am super happy with the final result. And a bit embarressed that I had to go through so many changes of heart. But it was mainly because I was nervous of not doing a great job.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Art of Motion

-By Ron Lemen

Motion and sound are very difficult to paint, which is why I think I am so drawn to them.  I'm not saying that I do not enjoy painting "easy" subject matter, whatever that means, but rather, I like as difficult a challenge as possible, something that wakes up every corner of the creative space in the brain, tempts and challenges everything you know and understand, and then letting it all go and allow mishaps, mistakes, other means of guidance to intervene where normally we would never allow ourselves to do such things.

A few big influences on me artistically came from all the cool magazines my grandparents had lying around the house.  Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, National Geographic, Road and Track are the first that come to mind, especially Road and Track for all the amazing car art that I remember staring at for hours.  I was in awe of how someone could "paint" something to look like it was in motion, and also make it look so real.

As I start to push my imagery towards the problem solving of sound and motion, I look more and more to my collection of favorites from the magazines.  What I take away from this group of artists is a bit more abstract than straight forward, I think their art will speak more efficiently than any words I could assemble together in attempt to describe what it is they have done for me.

Keep in mind that when I found these artists in my youth, they were a different form of inspiration and of spirit than when I found them later on in my "career" when I was actually in need of their expertise.  Regardless, what I have taken away from them in whatever stage of my intellectual or technical growth has been forever beneficial to how I think about and stage motion and movement in my work, albeit, what I still have struggle with is to achieve exactly how I feel about what I see in my mind.

To help me combat this mental battle I have a few artists I fall back upon to help reinforce the objectives I hope to achieve in my work as successfully as they did in theirs.   Here are many of my favorites that help influence my approach to the way I tackle such abstract subject matter.  You don't have to like automotive art much to appreciate the amazing things these artists have done to try and trigger the other senses in our heads when we look at and experience the art they have created.  Here are a few of my go to artists for this needed inspiration.

At the top of this list for me is Dexter Brown.  This artist pushed the limits of motion in painting, stretching rendering, abstraction, graphic design, and color to the limits.  Here is a few of his tricks I have noted from studying his work as much as I have.   He uses the diagonal, a design element the old masters found worked well to convey something in motion.  Within the diagonal striping he also breaks up the space with pattern, very well controlled pattern.  Within those patterns he controls the color depth by systematically stepping down the chroma and the hues used to create a visual motion much like a color wheel gives our eyes.

In his book there are many examples of his sketches prior to the completed canvases which in my opinion are far superior to the finished works just out of the innocence of what he is designing and his brave mark making that has no preliminary drawing to fill in the way the finishes are developed.

William Motta was the art director for Road and Track, and a very good artist.  While he did not always test the boundaries of motion, he certainly created excitement in his pieces with his textures,  his slick design sense, and his fantastic placement of color.  I tried to find a few pieces of his that show motion but like many of these artists, the internet was not around during the height of his career so the only places where any body of work can be seen is from the galleries that collect his work or fans that have set up fan site pages so I could only find a few.  But I included several other images to show his design sense and his virtuoso use of color.

I love the psychadelic waves in this piece.

Walter Gotchske was the go to artist for Porsche during the mid 20th century.  He painted elegant stand alone pieces for their catalogs, as well as painting these amazing racing images, pushing gouache to its limit with all the complex variations of motion he experimented with.

Alfredo de la Maria is a fantastic painter, pushing sunlight to its limit with his oil pigments.  He is also extremely good at creating what look like the after effects of motion photography, and giving the designs he uses for that motion amazing personality and vivacity.

Juan Carlos Ferrigno was also amazing at painting motion.  Many of his pieces are cropped in very close to the vehicles, but even so, his use of pigment and the brush strokes he commands really gives a sense of movement to the subject matter.

Also to mention but not at the top of my list are George Bartell, Gordon Crosby, and Michael Turner are all also good at painting movement, but I find more of their works to be decorative than kinetic.  George Bartell in my opinion is better at figurative movement than when he paints vehicles in motion, but still very influential in that subject matter.

George Bartell

Gordon Crosby

Michael Turner

As much as I like these last few artists, I have learned from my favorites that sacrifice is a necessity and that rendering is less of the objective and concept is far more important.  Manipulating the materials and finding the strengths of each of them is also important when searching for these abstractions.

Many of these artists can be found in this book that is long out of print but can still be found on Amazon or elsewhere on the internet.  In it are also included 4 Berkeys that are almost worth the purchase of the book to acquire.  Although the art is older art, it is a fantastic source of inspiration for painters, especially tech painters.  I hope you find this art inspiring to your art whatever the subject matter might be.