Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Sculptor's Secret World, Part 1

-By Tim Bruckner

Ninety-nine percent of the time a sculptor’s work is reduced, compressed and flattened to a 2D image to be seen on the internet. Add the vagaries of lighting and the piece you see on Facebook or the like bears little resemblance to the actual sculpture. If the artist wants their work promoted, they’re forced to pick a money-shot. But unless the piece is a sculptural relief, there’s a whole lot of stuff left unseen that will never be discovered unless at a live show or in a gallery setting.

Some of the most interesting, compelling and inventive sections of a sculpture will remain hidden from the public view. And that, my friends, is a crying shame. A good part of the sculptor’s job is to move the viewer around and through the piece. And in that, expand or augment the narrative. Or sometimes, there are just some really cool bits a sculptor will include just for shits and giggles. There is no part of a statue that is irrelevant. Even sections that have been intentionally under-sculpted have intent.

I’ve asked three brilliant sculptors to select one of their pieces and walk us through it, starting with the money-shot and then taking us on a tour of the hidden beauty and mysteries few, if any of us, will ever get to see.

Virginie Ropars

Calling Virginie a doll artist is like saying Michelangelo was a ceiling painter. Her craftsmanship is always at the service of her narrative. Both are exceptional.

Morrigan, 83cm, polymer clay and mixed media.

This was a complicated piece to make, with lots of intricate details. I wanted the work to have some kind of a graphic movement that could be read from a distance. (ImageV1)

Sometimes you can pay too much attention to the details and lose sight of the general composition. It's not easy to make a composition that works in 3D. You think about it from that one special angle, but you'll have surprises (good ones sometimes) from other viewing angles which can give more information, expressing something new from a slightly point of view.  That's why 3D is always best experienced in person!

I love it when an artist works on all levels; general mood, composition and details that brings the viewer in for a closer look. That’s when you realize that all those tiny details participate to confirm the impression you had of it at first sight.

The Morrígan is a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors. I made the crows coming out her torso to blend with the movement of her costume. The one that comes out of her hand makes a more obvious statement. You see where the crows come out of her body, the laces of her suit are undone to give them passage through her. I also added some fabric to give the impression of some magic stuff coming out with the crows. This is one of those details that adds depth to the story the closer you look.

I also wanted to make some embroideries, write a sentence on the base, give some Japanese/Russian/Celtic mix to the piece, and work with very dark colors (not the best choice to make the details pop out) and give a wavy line to the whole thing.

I took elements from the Book of Kells and added the crow, with the colors matching the headdress. The text on the base is decorative as well as informative. It's a part of mythical Irish literature called, Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) in which Morrigan appears. Here she is pushing men to battle.

The problem is to keep the piece from looking unfocused, with all the intricate details. Things must pop clearly the closer you look. The details must serve the whole piece. I chose white flesh because of the contrast with all the black, and the general line brings your eye to the hand that sends the crows. I tried to make this hand calm to contrast with the battle theme.

She is definitely sexy, at least to me, and I felt this goddess in a cat-suit with heels was very appealing and to have a bit of fun

I’ve included many things in the headdress: the black wings and the horns. But if you look at the whole piece, you don't notice the wings. The horns give a kind of warrior feel to her headdress. The same design elements also work with the top of the banner post.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hour of Need

-By Jesper Ejsing

This is a magic card illustration for the set called Journey into Nyx. It is a setting much like the ancient Greece. I was asked to paint a card showing 2 sphinxes with tiny riders on the back charging down from the sky. When doing 2 figures on an image that is going to be as small as a magic card I always try to focus on one character and make the other less significant. It helps to create a clearer image. So I sketched a couple of lion bodies with wings in different dynamic poses. I was very positive with my first attempt; nr 1 and even added some colors before I was about to send it off for review. But then it struck me that almost all of the interest and the focal point would be very close to the bottom edge and suddenly it felt too squashed for me. ( yet again a victim off gut feeling ) So I tried to slightly different versions with the main focus more to the center. I did a huge mistake and sent the three of them off for approval.

When I got back to the studio the day after and looked at the sketches on my table, a cold feeling of mediocre crept into my stomach and I checked the mail to see if I had already gotten an approval for any of the three. Fortunately not. This is possibly the only advantage about living in a time-zone 9 hours ahead of you art director. i had the whole day to sketch a new and better image before he got up. So I went back in and created a composition with the facial area to the top middle ( as I like best ) and with the wings out and filling the entire surface. I got an extreme foreshortening in on his left wing and used the wings to further frame the figure by almost circling him in. As soon as I got the effect in, like he was diving into us with the sun in his back, I knew I had something right. I wrote an email to my art director Jeremy Jarvis and asked him if he could ignore my email from yesterday and accept this new image as my submission instead. I gotta go with the new one, and started clapping my hands.

When the sketch is so loose and unrefined as it is, you cannot help to see all kinds of things in there in you mind, that is not necessarily put down in line in the initial sketch. you mind fills out the missing part and create an incredible painting, and sometimes getting that gridy sketch refined and made right is causing you more problems than needed. This is one of those times. For some reason, I couldn't get the hunched shoulders to look cool. The paw in foreshortening and everything just kept looking awkward and when I added the beard to the head it became too big and made the figure look cartoonie in proportions. I am sure all of these thoughts are mostly feelings of insecurity and the probably have little or even nothing to do with the actual sketch, but relying on my feelings to guide me into “Right” I am left stumbling in the dark until I see the light. After a whole day of frustration abandoned the hunched pose and tried a more erect body, sacrificing much of the aggression and foreshortening for regal and dignified. The pose works well for a better facial portrait.

I transferred the figures to a watercolor board and inked the whole drawing with waterproof filt pen, added greytones in black acrylic washes and took a print for color rough.

Since the scene was supposed to be a clear and sunny daylight-scene, I used the raw umber underpaint for the color of the clouds, by only washing a thin layer over the whole image. Then I went in with a slightly more opaque turquoise blue and cut the cloud-shapes out simply by painting sky color around them. This way the warm underpaint shines through random places and adds noise and texture.

After I finished the background I base colored the main figure in a dark burnt Sienna. If you zoom in and look around teh figure you can see all the areas, like the bottom part of the horn, or most of the wings, where the base wash is still visible.

When you compare the rough and the final the Orange cloth blowing in the wind, stands out as the most prominent change. The rough was very simple in how many colors I chose. It had only Warm Brown and Turquoise Blue. When painting I noticed that the image needed a strong extra color to add punch, but most important to avoid having the image look like it was a monochromatic light allowing the figures only to be shaped by a warm light source and a cold shadow color. The orange makes you read everything as local color and light instead of only light, and I kept the simplicity I liked.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Art Business Bootcamp 2: Getting You Hired

-By Lauren Panepinto

Earlier this month, at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, Marc Scheff & I presented three Art Business Bootcamps, drawn from the material we're working on for the Make Art Work book. If you haven't heard about this yet, then check out my previous Muddy Colors post on the book project.  

Since the Bootcamps were so popular at Spectrum that we ran out of prints, we promised to make pdfs of the one-sheets available after the con—now revised after a bunch of input from artists and art directors alike.

In my last column I released the one-sheet from the first Bootcamp, Getting You Found: Self-Promotion, Social Media, & Approaching Art Directors. Go check it out.

Now we're releasing the one-sheet from the second Bootcamp: Getting You Hired: Physical Portfolios, Website Portfolios, & Portfolio Reviews. This is the topic we art directors probably get the most questions about, and we're happy to share all the information with those of you who couldn't be at the Bootcamp.

Go to to download the one-sheets from Bootcamp 1 + 2

We're still hard at work on the book, so definitely let us know in the comments below if there's anything you want to make sure we cover on these topics (or any Art Biz topics) in the final guide. These one sheets are both a microcosm and a starting point for related sections in the book, so we want to know if you're left with deeper questions. Ask questions or make suggestions in the comments below, and we'll make sure we've got all the bases covered. We want this book to be the most useful stack of paper on your bookshelf, and we know we can do it together. This is a group effort, and many art directors and artists and students and lawyers and accountants and assorted other experts are all contributing to make this book the one place you can find all the essential information about growing a solid career as an Illustrator or Designer.

You can download the one-sheet pdfs for Bootcamp 1 and 2 at the Drawn + Drafted website. And add yourself to the newsletter below to be notified when the third Bootcamp one-sheet is released, and to be informed when the Make Art Work book is ready to go live on Kickstarter:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MicroVisions Ending!

G. Manchess, 20000 Leagues

The latest MicroVisions show, hanging at the Society of Illustrators in NY, is about to end its eBay auction of the originals on Thursday, May 29th, at 11am.

The show includes work by Robert Hunt, Iain McCaig, Richard Anderson, Carla Ortiz, Nicolas Delort, Eric Fortune, Steve Bellidin, Tran Nguyen, and Greg Manchess.

Iain McCaig, Rip Van Winkle

It is remarkable how affordable these tiny gems are to own. The generosity of the artists have created and made these originals accessible to help fledgling illustrators build their career. The sale of the paintings will benefit the Society’s Scholarship Program, adding to a wide variety of award levels for passionate students of illustration.

This series of 5x7 paintings and drawings is surely to be included as one of the best years of MicroVisions. Many thanks to the Society, Irene Gallo, and Dan Dos Santos for making the show possible.

Nicolas Delort, untitled

Richard Anderson, untitled

Eric Fortune, untitled

Influential Paintings 2

Greg Manchess

Arnold Bocklin...Isle of the Dead...shows me that creepy can be subtle, and make me curious.....

A second set of paintings that changed my thinking, and influenced my approach to making pictures.

See if there isn't something that speaks to you as well in these examples. 

Also think about this: how looking at different mediums can confuse and influence at the same time. How studying one medium, watercolor for example, can influence the use of another medium, such as oil paint. Proficiency with different media comes from studying all media. 

Picture suggestions welcome.

NC...patterns of light, shadow, and color establishes well as just the right moment....

George Lambert, Chesham Street, 1910.....shaping brush strokes to mimic form and dimension...

Sargent...simple is better....and fascinating....

Donald Teague...composition within chaos directs the viewer.....

Roger Coleman's book of beautiful watercolors, "Downland"...value is critical....

Frank Tenney Johnson...less is more, strokes define shape, and moonlight is amazing...

Frank of the greatest nudes of all art history...and it's pastel. A valuable lesson in using the Cincinnati Art Museum...

Franck Craig...just--wow. Again, battle paintings must be designed to work well....

John Everett Millais, one painting I learned that detail must have a purpose in a, it's about weightlessness....

Jeff Jones' simple and bold...and it doesn't need to make sense to knock me out...

H. Tom Hall...makes acrylics look easy, even when painting snow....simple poses can create story and again, curiosity--very important on a book cover.

Graphic design and sculpture, coupled with unique shape drawing. (I've lost the name of this cover artist. If anyone knows, please let me know.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SmArt School Enrollment Opens TODAY

By now, most of you are probably familiar with SmArt School, the online art mentorship program that a lot of the Muddy Colors' contributors teach with.

I really can't say enough good things about SmArt School. In my opinion, programs like this one and The Illustration Master Class are laying the groundwork for the future of Art Education. They cost a fraction of the price of a college semester, and provide way better instruction, which is both intensive and specialized. So if you're interested in seriously pushing your portfolio to the next level, with the help of a world-renowned artist, I implore you to check it out.

Enrollment for the Fall Semester opens TODAY at 12pm EST!

In addition to the already wonderful Mentors from last year, SmArt School is now welcoming 2 new instructors... Iain McCaig & Scott Fischer !

Above: (Left): Iain McCaig, (Right): Scot Fischer

Other instructors include: Greg Manchess, Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood, Dan dos Santos, and Rebecca Guay

In order to provide the most one-on-one time possible for each student, the classes are intentional small, so spots don't last very long.

You can learn more about the program here:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

MYTHOS: CAPTAIN AMERICA, Page 10, Panel 1. 2008.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

It's Memorial Day here in the States, so I thought I'd share some artwork that pays homage to those who have fallen in the service of our country. Although I was not much of a Captain America fan growing up, I've since had the privilege of working on two stories that turned me into one. The first, Mythos: Captain America, was written by Paul Jenkins. The second, Young Allies, was written by Roger Stern. Both stories had their share of action, but the heart of each was the loss of friends in the midst of bigger battles.

It's a bit overwhelming to visit a vast, military cemetery, even if you don't have a personal connection to those laid to rest. Drawing one can't begin to approach a family's sense of loss for a loved one, but it does, at the very least, force you to deliberate over the life that each gravestone represents.

YOUNG ALLIES, Page 1. 2009. Ink on bristol board (with digital color), 11 × 17.

YOUNG ALLIES, Page 6. 2009. Ink on bristol board (with digital color), 11 × 17.

YOUNG ALLIES, Page 21. 2009. Ink on bristol board (with digital color), 11 × 17.

YOUNG ALLIES, Page 22. 2009. Ink on bristol board (with digital color), 11 × 17.

MYTHOS: CAPTAIN AMERICA, Page 22, Panel 3. 2008.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Choosing the best lens for your… painting?

-David Palumbo

In photography, lenses are typically separated into three groups: Wide, Normal, and Long.  Each group has unique characteristics which might make it ideal for certain situations and problematic in others.  More directly, each group has a *feel* to it which has a tremendous influence over the feel of the image produced.  Choosing the right type of lens for the project is among the first steps in creating a great image.  These concepts are equally important in narrative painting.

I want to make clear that this is not about shooting reference.  This is about using some photographic concepts to help guide the composing and concepting of our drawings and paintings.  Asking what lens best suits your intention can help jumpstart development on thumbnails, improve sketches, and hopefully avoid a tonal mismatch between intention and result.

In my photographic experience I’ve spent most of my life using zoom lenses and, if you are a typical modern camera owner, you have likely done the same.  Generally zooms will cover two if not all three groups giving the user convenience and flexibility.  Paradoxically though, that tends to make us lazier in our decision making and possibly water down the results.  I never fully understood this until recently when I began taking an interest in non-zooming prime lenses and, perhaps not coincidentally, enjoying photography as more than just a method of recording light and anatomical information for later use.  Choosing a fixed lens compels you to actually think about what kind of shots you want and how to achieve them. As tends to happen in exploring a new medium, this has caused me to re-examine these ideas as they relate to all images.

How the scene might change with different lenses if we keep the audience locked to the same point of view is no different than cropping

The difference between the three groups is how broad or narrow an angle of view we see when looking through the lens.  A wide lens will give an expansive view, a normal is roughly similar to how we actually see without excess peripheral vision, and a long lens will show only a portion of our normal view.  Cropping a photo kind of simulates having used a longer lens because the perspective and relative scale in the picture remains the same.  This touches one of the key principles to understand though: zooming a lens in, choosing a longer lens, or cropping all achieve the same basic result because they maintain a consistent point of view as represented in the above image.  On the other hand, we could physically move closer to or further from our scene and the result will be a change of perspective and relative scale in the picture.  As seen below, a subject framed in your lens (in this case the foreground figure), assuming that you keep that subject framed the same size between all three lens types, will look dramatically different in relation to the environment depending on the lens type.

Maintaining the same narrative scene, the feel changes dramatically as we shift lenses because our viewpoint must move.  With a zoom, you might just take the shot in front of you.  With a premeditated choice of focal length, you have to position yourself in order to properly frame all of the wanted information.  As we switch to normal and then to long lenses, we as the viewer get further and further away to fit everything into the frame

So that is all well and good for shooting photos, but what does any of this have to do with paintings?  Quite simply, the wider a "lens", the closer we as an audience will feel to what is happening in the scene.  In addition, the wider a lens the faster space will appear to recede which will result in an exaggerated depth and potentially more active and dynamic images.  Therefore, making the conscious choice can mean the difference between feeling like we’re a foot soldier in the thick of a battle or like we’re the general overlooking the battle from a safe distance.  On the subject of action scenes, one of the frequent comments that I give when reviewing portfolios from students is that we need to get closer to the action.  I give myself the same crit very often when sketching.  Does it look exciting enough?  Get closer!  But because of the reasons given above, getting closer does not just mean cropping tighter.  That will enlarge the action but it will still feel as though we are slightly removed.  You have to actually get physically closer to exaggerate depth and crank up the energy in your composition.  Getting closer means using a wider lens to maintain the full scope of the scene.

Jeremy Geddes using a subtle but effective wide angle view to push the drama and emphasize the bound hands

Personally, I believe that using a wide lens well is the most challenging of the three categories.  Done well, it can give intense intimacy and put the viewer in the scene.  Uncomfortably so.  The wider you go, the crazier things get.  This likely either means invading the personal space of your subject (and distorting the subject in the process) or placing the subject in the middle ground with foreground objects exaggerated in size and giving the viewer context of the space which they occupy.  If you are doing an action scene or want to ratchet up the drama between characters, this is the take-no-prisoners way to do it.  In wide angles, our vanishing points are closer together relative to the field of view so architecture will have exaggerated swooping angles that recede quickly and foreground figures will distort.

Frank Stockton using wide angles like a boss

Some artists tend to do very wide angle pictures which do not have the intention of thrusting the viewer into the middle of a kinetic scene, but rather to get an epic panoramic view.  In terms of lenses, this can feel a bit ambiguous between wide and normal.  The important distinction will lie in how much depth can be depicted, and how close we feel may rest heavily on use of foreground objects.

Syd Mead maintains a sense of connection to the panorama before us with the use of the flowers in the foreground to lead us in as well as the relative scale of near and far figures

Michael Whelan presents a breathtaking view with a more distant feel due to our separation from from the nearest foreground element.  Because natural landscapes are difficult to read for scale clues to understand how fast the space is receding, we are given help in the form of the tiny far off figure which enhances the drama and scope by relative comparison

Conversely, maybe the scene is one that calls for a more orderly, stately, or designed point of view.  In this case we can step way back and then crop in, which is to say switch to a longer lens.  This look tends to flatten space for a more structured and compressed feel.

Donato, a master of arranging figures and objects to create pattern, shows how a long lens can compress space for the purpose of strong design and yet still deliver an active scene

This option is often heavily about design.  The results feel more planned and less kinetic.  Because we are further from our subject, they will be relatively similar in scale to what is surrounding them.  The space of the picture will have a compressed quality to it which can be used for more geometric and analytical perspective and compositional tricks.  The viewer will feel safer in dangerous scenes as they do not share the space with the subject.  Vanishing points will be very very far off the edges of the picture for minimal architectural distortion.  This is also generally what works best for close up portraits because the subject will not distort and background elements can be more easily controlled and arranged to frame the subject.

Sam Weber uses a long lens view to give this scene a very graphic punch.  Despite the minimalist environment, we understand the space through the scale comparisons of birds, figure, and tree combined with the lack of distortion in any of these elements.  They sit stacked on top of each other in such a way as to flatten out the space and make everything feel beyond our reach

And in the middle we have relatable scenes observed from a comfortable but still inclusive distance.  Our normal lens represents where we might place ourselves as casual onlookers.  This choice is our human default position which, like all compromises, you’ll find is often the balance needed for your picture with nudges towards a wider or longer feel.

Karla Ortiz places us perfectly in the scene.  The feeling is intimate and yet completely natural, giving the moment tangibility and just the right level of tension

This general purpose option is the standard for most natural view situations.  You will feel close to your subject without invading their space or going full tilt on the energy level.  Alternately, you might use this approach if you want the viewer to feel somewhat neutral in the scene: present but not a participant.

NC Wyeth delivers a voyeuristic scene through the use of a Normal lens field of view.  We feel as though we are in the room and yet outside the situation.  Three steps closer and we would be looking over the pirates shoulder with a wider view and it would dramatically change the narrative.

When I begin planning a new painting, I keep these principles in mind and ask myself:  "How close or far do I want for the viewer to feel to the scene?  Can I push that feeling even further?  Is the tone immersive, natural, or compressed?"  It is a good check before deciding if my sketch is ready to move forward. 

So, how close or far do you want for your viewer to feel to the scene?  Can you push that feeling even further?