Friday, September 4, 2015

Warcraft and Hearthstone Art

Last time I posted, I showed some of the pixel art/icons I have created for various video games.  I hadn't really shared that before.  This week I share some more artwork that I haven't publicized much.  More about that later.

I met Jeremy Cranford at San Diego Comicon (btw, almost all of my big clients have come from a face to face meeting) and showed him some of the work I had been doing for Magic: the Gathering and was fortunate enough to get some commissions from him.  Jeremy is an excellent art director and was generous with good input and patient as I worked to find the WoW style.

Later on, Ben Thompson Art Directed for the WoW card game and was also great to work with.  Blizzard was a client that I had worked with before (I worked on Starcraft: Broodwars) but not as an illustrator and I was thrilled to do some work for them.  I ended up doing about 50 illustrations for them.

In 2013 the card game was cancelled.  The game had many avid fans who were upset with the cancellation.  I think a lot of people were scratching their heads at what seemed to come out of the blue.  What the world didn't know though, was that Hearthstone was around the corner.  I don't know if that played a role in the cancellation or not, but it did mean that a lot of the card game art was repurposed (in addition to many new images) into Hearthstone.

Some of my art as it appears in Hearthstone

I haven't shared a lot of the art I have done for WoW because I don't really feel that it is indicative of what I love to paint, or the look and feel of my work, but Blizzard was an amazing client and I loved working with them.  I no longer include my work from WoW in my portfolio, but Muddy Colors is a good place to bring some of this work out and give a little time in light of day. :)

I have to admit I haven't ever played WoW, at least not more than a few minutes.  I had this underlying feeling that if I started playing it would prove to a black hole for my time and once I crossed that event horizon, I might never break free from its pull.  Because of that, some of the characters were totally new to me, like this Boomkin below.  I had a great time painting him.

Thanks for giving this post a read!

Howard Lyon


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Imitation Game

-By Lauren Panepinto

I'm writing this post from Muddy Colors HQ, otherwise known as the studio of Dan Dos Santos, our fearless leader. I'm here for 2 days before we head to DragonCon (my first!) and I've been just enjoying living like a freelancer for a few days while Dan works on the next cover in Lilith Saintcrow's Trailer Park Fae series for me (and Orbit).

Dan & I are the same age, and we pretty much had the same childhood influences, pop-culture wise. All Voltron and the Thundercats and He-Man and early 90s X-Men. So he couldn't wait to show me his recent nostalgia purchase:

I hadn't seen any of these Marvel card sets for ages, but as soon as I saw them I immediately remembered every line of most of these cards (especially the Jean Grey ones), because I had spent hours and hours copying them obsessively. It was the same for Dan, he remembered copying some of his favorite cards dozens of times until it was perfect. His sons do the same thing to their Pokemon cards now, and we got into an interesting discussion about whether that intense copying behavior was an early marker of a future artist. I still have a notebook from 7th or 8th grade that's full of nothing but these drawings. (And one of these days I'll get around to doing a group post on childhood art and you can all laugh at them.)

If you're an artist that has had traditional training, you know that there is a long history of "master studies" where you are encouraged to learn by copying a work of art by a master stroke by stroke. People used to get special passes to set up easels in museums to make a copy, and in today's digital world it's easy to track down hi-res copies of masterworks to paint from. People also copy film stills to study composition. There are things you can only learn by doing with your hands, not just appreciating with your eye and mind. It's also a common hallmark of a recently-graduated artist to still have a portfolio where you can pretty much tell who their top 3 influences are. It takes a while for your hand to intake and assimilate many styles, until it gels into a unique style of your own. 

This is a common—if not universal—stage of an artist's career, so I have been surprised lately to be getting a lot of questions about whether it is unethical for artists to study and copy other artists' work. Some people feel that this is somehow cheating. It's absolutely not. Just like a musician learns important classical works before they can compose on their own, it is absolutely part of the learning process to practice drawing and painting by copying. With one caveat: just be sure to label it a master copy anywhere it is posted (social media, your website, etc.) and never take mistaken credit for the work.

Since I'm away from home and can't scan embarrassing old work right now, Dan offered up one of his Rob Liefeld moments from about age 13 he estimated:

Hell of a lot better than I was doing at age 13.

This kind of learning-by-imitation is not only common amongst artists and musicians, there's also many cases of writers copying out famous novels either in longhand or by typing out, so they can really feel the rhythm of the prose. While Hunter S. Thompson worked at Time magazine, he supposedly spent most of his time copying The Great Gatsby and parts of Hemingway and Faulkner.

Here's what he said about the practice:
"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it. Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald - these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me - so yea I wanted to learn from the best I guess."
While we're on the topic of copying, let's also put aside any crazy ideas that using reference photos is "cheating" as well. The overwhelming majority of professional artists use reference - whether it's live models or reference photos. As you know if you've seen my infamous Artist Selfies post, many artists even use themselves as reference in a pinch.

Since I'm at Dan's studio writing this, here's one of his reference photos.
And here's a collection of Norman Rockwell's illustrations next to his reference photos:

So hopefully I've put this particular issue to rest. Not only is it not unethical for an artist to copy and use reference, it's absolutely encouraged! Especially if you are an artist who is not following the traditional art school route. No matter where you are at in your career and your skill level, taking the time to copy and learn from other artists is always worth the time.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Night of the Salamander

Greg Manchess

Another in the series of illustrations for the Michael Swanwick stories of The Mongolian Wizard for

These short stories take place in a world that’s one part Napoleonic, one part 1930’s Germany, one part espionage with a large helping of the fantastic, stirred with hard crime and shaken with the medieval. I almost never know where the story could go, but I’m hooked in a U-boat-captain-screaming ‘dive! dive! dive!’ sorta way.

I recently spoke with Michael at the latest WorldCon in Spokane, WA, and he mentioned that there’s many more stories to come based on these characters in this marvelous and familiar place. (It’s hard to wait.) There’s been a murder in "The Night of the Salamander" and it takes place in a palatial setting. But it's not just any old crime.

I like to wrap the composition around Ritter, the main character, but with plenty of room to showcase Freki, his telepathic wolf. This time, however, I chose a secondary character to keep from overusing Ritter. From there it’s a matter of bringing in elements conducive to the story such as more characters and main settings.

I projected my favored thumbnail sketch with pencil and Prismacolor onto an illustration board prepared with a watered-down mixture of gesso. When dry, it takes pencil like velvet. Then I mixed several pools of different colors of gouache and slapped (yes, slapped) them down with a broad brush, allowing them to blend in and out and run around, tipping the board to coax different effects.

Once dry, I came back in with liquid-y oils to continue the flowing effect. Once that set up, I came back in with opaque color.

The classic montage still works to draw a reader into such a varied and creative tale. I explored multiple groupings of elements, searching for just the right shape to the overall concept. A montage must flow not only from item to item, but as an overall elemental shape in itself, and lay on a page in an inviting way. I love the way the color invades the white of the background.

I honed my composition skills by working on montaged themes when I was a young illustrator. It drives one to be efficient and concise. If you’re looking to jumpstart your design abilities, study and then experiment with this effect.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dragoncon 2015 New Sketchbook Preview

by Justin Gerard

DragonCon 2015 begins this Friday September 4, in Atlanta. For the show this year Annie and I are debuting our new sketchbook.

The sketchbook is a little special this year. First, it is a combined book of our work, (which means there are almost double the pages this time around!). Second, this year's book focuses heavily on tutorials, and offers 30 pages of step-by-step guides inside. And third, we were able to arrange for fancy gold foil for the cover.
This gold was mined and smelted by dwarves and then wrought into perfect designs by house elves who worked tirelessly and under terrible conditions to get every little leaf and vine curl perfectly right.

As with previous year's books, this year we are doing Special Editions which come with a hand-drawn original sketch as well as a limited 6 x 9 mini-print in the front. We will be debuting the book at Dragoncon, but if you want a Special Edition you need to order it through the store here!

Hope to see you at the show!

 Disclaimer: Gallery Gerard does not condone the use of house elf slave labor. No fantastical creatures were harmed in the making of this book.  That we know of. Maybe. Hopefully. Please don't sue us. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Inspiration: Metalmorphosis

This public sculpture by David Černý is entitled 'Metalmorphosis', and depicts the likeness of author Franz Kafka.

The piece is more than 30 feet tall, weighs 39 tons and is composed of 42 independently moving layers which are controlled via the internet.

This particular version is located in Prague. But there are alternate versions, including one in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

False Start: Part 1

Some interesting thoughts on the origins of complex composition inspired by a flashback of my childhood.

-By Ron Lemen

First of all I would like to thank the many beyond amazing talented artists here at Muddy Colors that gave Vanessa and me a chance to share some of our stories, history, and knowledge with all of you. I will admit that when I first heard about this I thought I had everything together and would blaze through the first article with flying colors but they were soon muddied up when I began. But in all honesty, just thinking about this first article really broke me open with some glimpses from my past, a history of sorts as to why I choose some of the choices I make as a preferred way of working. I'd like to share this discovery as my first article before launching into a series of "how-to" articles. Thank you all again and I look forward to sharing what I can to help you improve your craft.

I like raised paint with lots of energy in it and brush strokes with many colors in them you cannot meticulously paint one by one. I love story and I am taken by complex design. I didn't become aware of why I make life miserable for myself and build pictures that are too complex for short deadlines, painted in a way that is little appreciated unless standing before the actual piece, and reproduces like crap because of all the shadows that the brush strokes cast when lit from ANY direction until I wrote this article. Here is what I discovered.

This Dean Cornwell example shows thick paint throughout and the top left corner is a series of "chords", a complex colored brush stroke.

This is a close up of a Nicolai Fechin painting.  Here you can see the thickness of the paint and how beautiful it looks and how meaningful the stroke is to what he painted.

I have vivid memories as a child of exploring antique stores and glass stores, and watching my parents as they mined bins and box after box of bits of colored glass called panels regardless of whether they were square or a broken shard, looking for just the right color, just the right texture, just the right noise in crazy cavernous buildings throughout the Sacramento Valley all the way out to the San Francisco Bay Area.  These were adventurous places where caution was exercised, because with just the right pressure glass would shatter (barely touching or leaning against), or skin would rip and tear with ease just turning around down an aisle.  BUT oh man, the colors that danced around the rooms and aisles between bins and stalls were fantastical like a kaleidoscopic portal to a child's dreamland.

These glass racks pale in comparison to the aisles of stores we used to frequent.

In my eyes all those bits of glass my mom and dad would sift through looked like chunks and shards from broken things, and I couldn't quite grasp their jubilant cries of victory when that "special" piece of glass was found.  These shards of glass were gold nuggets to my folks if the streaks or the misty frosted bubbles flowed in just the right direction and more so if there happened to be a unique splash of colors combined together.

Some interesting pieces of glass panels.  Notice the interesting marbling, swirling, etc. that look very much like brush strokes.  These patterns are chosen very carefully to be used in a stained glass window, lamp, etc. very much like a brushstroke in a painting.

My parents worked to transform several famous Sacramento painter's works of art into stained glass windows for private collectors.  Each piece of glass represented a brush stroke and the "recording" of the stroke, or the orchestration of colors in a "chord" if any glass could be found that mimicked these complex brush strokes of many colors.  Each brush stroke carefully planned to look spontaneous, and my parents had to find the perfect glass to emulate this effortless look and feel that was never effortless to begin with.

I was exposed to exquisite colors from these amazing pieces of glass.  I was also exposed to texture and noise with the different colors blown together.  And no matter how many photos they would shoot of the windows they made, nothing every beat the experience of looking through them live.  My parents put together complex drawings and diagrams of the paintings they were replicating and mapped them out on illustration board that would then be cut out and used as the templates for each piece of glass they would cut and assemble into the final window.  And with these thoughts going through my head as I was thinking about the history of painting and how it originated with stained glass windows and tapestries, and as I had a flash flood of images from my childhood, I started to see the connections to my favorite artists, my style of working, my preference of color choices, and my taste in compositions more clearly.

An example of the intricate detail of a stained glass window.  All those shapes are calculated and worked out before any glass is cut.

I love painters like Dean Cornwell, during his first two periods or styles, P. P. Rubens, Fechin, Mucha, Brangwyn, Wyeth, Rembrandt, Rockwell, etc.  I love them in print and double that, no, quadruple that when viewing their canvases live.  I see the marks they made, the design they perfected, and the life and energy they found in the materials of their craft that I believe is why the canvases they made of the stories they tell are so vivid and feel more alive than they look painted.  Whether I succeed or fail, and fail a lot, this is what I search to find in everything I craft.

Dean Cornwell after he studied with Harvey Dunn.  This is his first period of illustration, the influence of Harvey Dunn is very evident here.

This is Peter Paul Rubens.  The figures in his paintings are mostly life size, the canvases enormous and the compositions flawless.

Nicolai Fechin.  The figures in this painting are life size, the brush work loose but accurate and lively.

An example of Alphonse Mucha.  These are a series of paintings depicting the four seasons.  Even the frames of his canvases were designed meticulously to match each canvas.

Frank Brangwyn and his exquisite color and shape control.  It looks and feels so much like a tapestry or stained glass window.

N. C. Wyeth and his impeccable shape design and color control.

Rembrandt and his amazing control of paint, unlike any other painter in the history of painting.

Norman Rockwell and his fantastic control of composition, light, form, color, texture, um, just about everything a painter aspires to master all in one.

These painters painted with clear, easy to read shapes.  The differences in light and shadow, and the half tones in between are easy to read and clear to the eye.  The colors are controlled and well designed together.    The textures within each shape space are cleverly designed and do not take away from the whole and are not overly busy or demanding.

These painters were very much inspired by the complex compositions developed by the artisans, craftsmen, and smiths of medieval tapestries and stained glass windows, the complex Byzantine murals, or by artists who were inspired by these historic craftsmen.  In fact, it is said that the many complex geometric composition templates in painting were borrowed from the mathematically calculated grid systems developed by the mystery artists who drafted the cartoons for the ancient tapestries, murals, and windows.  These tools were predecessors to our modern grids and tools that help to control all the elements within a pictorial space also called the pictorial matrix. 

Here you can see the complex spaces well controlled and abstracted to serve as a whole.  Renaissance painters sought out this mastery of control by studying these windows and the tapestries and murals of the ancients.

This tapestry is The Story of David.  Remember that tapestries are made 1 fiber at a time, and are not painted on after they are woven.  This requires intense planning and preparation for every fiber to land exactly where it is supposed to go.

An example of Byzantine craftsmanship.

Crafting a painting of this level of complexity means that the drawing which precedes the painted finish needs to be thoroughly designed.  This stage of building the composition is about converging the story, all of the props and figures together, bound by an invisible complex design grid hidden in the story like a magician's mirrors to the tricks performed.  All of this so the painter can focus solely on the final performance and to finish with whatever elegance or bravura necessary in the brushwork.  In many ways, the design of the piece and the final shapes designed within its matrix are what inspire the brushwork and the quality of the paint that represents the various spaces, surface facets or changes, and textures.  These tiles are in many ways very much like painted shards of glass.

Here is a great example of one of Dean Cornwell's fantastic drawings.  These are purely utilitarian, no vanity drawing in his preparation drawings.  Every design is worked out, the abstractions built and all the parts of the picture are connected and designed as a light, half tone or shadow tone.

Here is a fine example of a sketch by Peter Paul Rubens (After Leonardo daVinci).  The different colored washes and chalks help denote form and space, light and shadow.  These drawings were done to this level of finish to work out the forms for the final painting.

The painters I have listed worked with controlled color and push the color beyond a  tonalist approach.  All of these painters worked with the properties of the paint, sculpting with it, layering it and playing with mediums to elevate it or suspend it to create surface effects and the illusion of textures.  And in many ways, one could say that a good number of paintings by these painters look like stained glass windows or feel similar to the ancient tapestries.

This Dean Cornwell is a great example of a painting that looks and feels like a tapestry or stained glass window.

This Frank Brangwyn painting also feels very much like a controlled tapestry or a stained glass window, right down to the heavy lines that seem to surround almost every color in the image.
Many of the painters I have mentioned above are also linked to one another through a lineage of teaching using certain tools that ultimately lead us to what we have today as the current methods of teaching using what are called the "construction method" and the "Reilly method" of figure drawing and figure composition.  These modern tools of the trade share a direct lineage back to stained glass windows, tapestries, murals and sculptural reliefs.

An example of the Reilly abstractions that were coined by Frank Reilly, who gleaned most of this knowledge from Dean Cornwell, who got it from Frank Brangwyn who learned it from his father and the other craftsmen he worked with in his youth who learned abstractions and composition grids from their mentors that learned from theirs spanning back to the medieval period and possibly before that.

It is really interesting what grabs our attention, what we favor or enjoy and what we end up doing in our own work because of the influences we have in our lives.  Until recently, I have not really stopped to pay too much attention to these things in my life.  While it doesn't help me make a better brushstroke I do feel more complete understanding how I have come to be the way I am as an artist and why.  I also find it fascinating that what I do might really have been informed so early on in my life.  I wonder just how much what I like to look at and do in my own work has been from discovery along the way or was it shaped early on and everything after that time is nothing more than collecting what we already have a certain bias towards much like collecting iron with a magnet in sand.

I hope that you caught on to many of the little nuggets of information that I dropped in to this article that we will certainly revisit very soon.  I have several talking points I wanted to make in this first article but this diversion really helped me figure out a way to briefly touch upon them here and allows me to expand upon them with greater detail later.

Friday, August 28, 2015

ESSENTIAL BOOKS: Wyeth at Kuerners

Greg Ruth

For all of us Andrew Wyeth fanatics, and you know who you are, the holy temple, the mountain upon which his most enticing work in my view at least, can be found in his time at Kuerner Farm (aka Ring Farm). The most pervasive single location for all his work- over a thousand drawings and paintings, one third of his entire body of work at least, derived from his time at this extraordinarily haunting and beautiful place near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Of all the Wyeth books I own, and I confess readily  that I own a few too many, it is the massive volume, WYETH AT KUERNERS that is among my most dog-eared, inky stained and lovingly abused of all the books I keep in the studio.

I came across the hardcover at a used book sale for about $5 and thought I had stolen it at that price, though now I find it can be had for a similar price nearly everywhere. Why this is I cannot begin to fathom except that perhaps it is not your usual monograph of seminal works we identify with Wyeth. It is a quintessential artist's art book. While Kuerner Farm was in fact the location for all of his controversial Helga paintings, there isn't but the slightest indication of her here. It is a kind of flowing visual journal of his time in the fields and old barns. Pages of the the same bucket over a stream mill basin, or rack of crows strung from a porch, and vast wide open landscapes feather by distant fence lines and barely reachable rooftops at the far edge of the horizon. It is a book that denotes not a single work, but is a collection of many works seen and meant to be seen as a single work altogether. Sketches, ink drawings, watercolors, swaths of mud scraped across the page, sometimes a single tiny nail and a loose thread in a vast field of paper.

I came across this book when I was in the middle of working on Freaks of the Heartland, and if you looks not too closely you will see its influence throughout that book. We had just moved up to an old
red 1700's cape house on Trouble Street in Cummington, Massachusetts. Between the reality outside the twelve over twelve windows of rolling hills and sugar maples, the breezeway connected barn filled with rusted old milk jugs, wagon wheels and flat squarish hand forged iron nails, cobblestones and moss, finding Wyeth's Kuerners book was like an affirmation for having decided to leave Brooklyn for this new place.

When I look back on it now, having delved back in just this morning, I am both reminded of the place and time of its discovery as well as the imminent and readily available value of the way the book is established and presented. For me one of the most compelling aspects of drawing is the selfsame rawness and immediacy contained within this heavy volume. The naked send of searching through
line, the free flowing experimental compositions, and explorations of light and form and place live best in the kind of drawings contained within. It is a celebration of that searching in paper form, both as fuel to encourage the reader to start mapping out his or her own landscapes, or simply to see the world, whatever locale they may find themselves in, in a new way down to its tiniest overlooked detail. It is like finding a sketchbook hidden in a floorboard like an intimate secret only you and he knows.

Wyeth at Kuerners remains for me one of the top ten most important art books I have ever had the fortune to bring home, and like most of the others on that list, is affectionately abused and overhead to the point of near collapse from use. A favorite old leather shoe near its final journeys but made more valuable for it in where they take you, and how. It's easy to track it down and come across it online and in brick and mortar stores, and I would encourage you to get a hold of a copy for yourself. Being able to see many of the originals at the Brandywine Museum made the accuracy of their printing a revelation. Being able to have the entire volume of thumbnails, trial drawings and sketches,  as vibrant evidence of the well won paths towards his most seminal and famous pieces is about as close to sitting next to him at his work as you could ever hope to get. There's something new to see and learn with each viewing.