Thursday, April 28, 2011

Juried Show Success and Failure

I start this entry with a simple question.  If you've submitted your work to a juried show or annual, have you gotten in?  Depending on your answer, you may wish to read the appropriate entry below.  Or you may wish to read both.  Or neither.

Yes. Yes I have gotten my work into a juried show.
Congratulations!  Welcome to the club!  (Breaks out smoking jacket, puts on monocle.)  Clearly you've made it to the big time and you won't have to work quite as hard any more.  After all, hard work is for suckers and the have-nots.  Now, the successes will start snowballing, the cash will finally start rolling in, and you can finally begin to relax.  Right?  'Cause that's what happens, right?

Well, no, actually.  Not for most of us.  I've heard tales and rumors of art directors using Spectrum or the Society of Illustrators Annuals as catalogs for finding artists.  I've heard that there are illustrators out there who have gotten endless work from being honored in the pages of such tomes and hit it really, really big.  Thing is, that doesn't happen to most illustrators — and more than likely if you're reading this, it's not going to happen to you.

While getting into these competitions and winning medals are feathers in your cap, they're just that: feathers.  Light, airy feathers.  Sure the competitions will raise people's awareness of you, and that whole getting work thing might even become less of a problem — who knows?  However, tomorrow you'll still be working just as hard as you did yesterday.  You'll still be the same person you were before, and the product your putting out will not suddenly have gotten better just because you've managed to get into one of these shows.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want to belittle the accomplishment.  Obviously a lot of hard work has gone into getting to this point.  I'm just trying to caution you to not let the success go to your head.  You can't start handing in B-game illustrations to clients who you formerly deemed worthy of your A-game work just because you might have a little name equity now.  It doesn't work like that.  The expectations will still be high and may have even gotten higher.  People will still be looking for the best you can give them, and at the end of the day it's always in everyone's best interest to do just that.

Still, I congratulate every one of you on your accomplishments and the great work you've been doing.  Great job.  Keep up the good work.  Etc., etc., etc.  Now, get back to work!  Next years entries aren't going to paint themselves.

No.  No I haven't gotten into one of those stupid shows.
The first thing I'm going to tell you is not to give up.  Easy for me to say, having gotten into a show or two.  True.  But, like so many, I spent a lot of years submitting to shows and never getting in.  I threw countless work hours and more money on entry fees than I care to think about at the problem, hoping my fortunes would change.  They did eventually, but it was a very frustrating process along the way.  However, it was because I didn't give up in the face of repeated failure that I managed to eventually break through, and I encourage everyone who reads this to keep at it as I once did.

I know several folks who I consider to be more skilled than I am who have been wildly unsuccessful at getting into these juried books and shows.  What anyone has against their work is beyond me.  These are guys whose names many of reading this would recognize, and are also some serious fan favorites.  So what gives?  Simple.  Subjectivity.

The jurors for these shows — like all human beings — have their own tastes, prejudices, and preconceived notions.  And while ideally the jurors should do their best to toss these feelings aside and look at things as objectively as possible, they're not always capable of doing so.  At least not completely.  Some jurors may dislike stuff that's too "cartoony" or too realistic.  They might love something because it's made with actual paint and dismiss something else because it was rendered on a computer.  They may gravitate toward stuff that looks or feels like their own work, or reject it for the same reason.  I know.  I've juried shows before and had discussions with other jurors after the fact where some of these very truths dribbled out of their mouths.

So what can be done?  Well, until someone invents the Art Jurorbot 9000, things are unlikely to change.  Even if someone did invent the Jurorbot, things still would not be ideal.  After all, the prejudices of its programmers would invariably destroy its soulless objectivity.  Plus, according to the laws of robotics in television, should anyone manage to put some sort of artistic paradox in front of it, it's CPU would explode causing a complete breakdown of the process and costly delays.

Clearly the system just isn't going to change anytime soon.  Subjectivity happens, and there's little you can do.  In fact, the little that you can do is to wait it out.  Next year, it'll likely be a completely different jury with all new prejudices that you cannot account for.  So, while the system as a whole stays the same, your circumstances will not.

How do I know it'll change?  Simple.  I've known lots of folks who have submitted a piece one year and fail to get in, only to submit the exact same piece to the exact same competition the next year and get in.  Sure, I know that the rules say to stick to only work you've done the previous calendar year or some such, but resubmission is a common practice.  The reason for it is simple.  The illustrators in question believe in a piece so strongly, that they'll toss it back out there waiting for the right eyes to see it.  They're doing their best to deal with the very subjectivity I've been talking about.  Once again, the important thing here is that they kept at it, and so should you.  I give this same advice to both neophytes and hardened veterans alike. 

Sadly, some of the big names I spoke of earlier have given up.  They've stopped submitting.  The books are worse for it, in my opinion.  But on the other hand, they're doing pretty darned well in the most important competition there is in this business: getting work.

At the end of the day, whether you make it into these competitions or not, it's all about the work.  It's about making a living doing what you love.  If you've successfully managed that, then you're already winning.  Not in the Charlie Sheen sense, but in the real world, gotta' put food on my table sense.  There are many folks out there — big names, small names and no names — who haven't made it into the hallowed pages of Spectrum or the various illustration annuals who do a whole lot better work-wise than some of the folks who do.  And that is not feather in the cap, but the cap itself.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Glistening Oil

I traditionally have gotten a lot of dark work from the fine folks at Magic.  It's not a complaint, just an observation.  I suspect that they like the darker work I've done and consequently give me more of it.  Again, not a complaint.  Despite my not being a fan of the horror genre, it's pretty clear that I've managed to carve out a little corner for myself in Magic's horror section.

In general, I take what I'm given, assignment-wise, and try not to complain (still not complaining), but what I've found is that I rather like working on these darker pieces.  I like the tense mood.  I like the palettes.  I like the opportunities for subtle expression to drive the story.  I like the contrast between large shapes and jagged, pointy small ones.  There's a lot of fun in there.

See, I told you I wasn't complaining.

Despite the joy I have in painting some truly awful imagery, there is a downside.  These are not usually the kind of pieces people want on the walls of their home.  No matter how beautifully painted, no matter how much the palette matches their couch, the subject matter (not surprisingly) just isn't something most folk are into.  Sure, they appreciate it on one level or another — be it the technical facility, or the attachment to a beloved card in their beloved game — but at the end of the day, of the few people who buy original art, the audience for such pieces is relatively miniscule.

Hmmm....that sounds like a complaint right there.  Except that it isn't.  Strangely, I have found one or two of the folks who just so happen to be into such things.  As for the rest of the work that I'm stuck with, I actually don't mind.  Indeed, some of my best work falls under that horror heading and the fact that I've gotten to keep most of it really doesn't keep me up at night (though I do want to mention that it's still for sale).

Anyway, I'm not really sure why I'm mentioning all this except to say that the most recent Magic set, New Phyrexia, resulted in a fairly strong group of pieces in that darker genre that included the previously written about Phyrexian Hulk, Surgical Extraction, and the heretofore unnamed Etched Monstrosity.

At last I can give you the final piece of the lot.  The card is called "Glistening Oil."  The painting is oil on paper on hardboard and measures 12"x9".  I'm not sure if the painting shares the title with the card (I'm not always sure of these things), but I do think the title will contain the word "oil" in it.  And, despite it seeming so, I can assure you that the piece is not some commentary on our dependence upon fossil fuels, unless you think it's a good representation of such a thing... In which case, it is exactly that.

First the sketch followed by the finish.

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Phyrexian Hulk Redux

So I was asked to do a new version of the Phyrexian Hulk for Magic: the Gathering.  I've been asked to make new versions of old pieces several times in the past, and the difficulty of such a task can vary greatly.  Whenever I've been asked to break from the original, it's been far less difficult because I needn't worry myself too much with what has come before.  The freedom allows for the same mindset as any other piece I'd done where no previous version exists.

When asked to do the complete opposite, however, things tend to get a little more complicated.  The piece becomes an exercise in balancing the original work with my own sensibilities — something that can be exceedingly difficult depending on the previous version's artist.

In the Phyrexian Hulk's case, I was definitely asked to do something of the latter.  While a complete rehash of the original was certainly not what the art director wanted to see, it still needed to clearly be a Phyrexian Hulk.  And so my sketches became a filthy mess of smears and eraser marks as I added this, subtracted that, and fought to keep the flavor of the previous iteration.

©Wizards of the Coast

Above is the original Phyrexian Hulk.  Below is my sketch.

©Wizards of the Coast

Straight away several things are obviously different.  As an image, it reveals more of the hulk itself, and the details are quite a bit different.  Still, the silhouette is similar, and I like to think that I kept a degree of the original's spirit.

A side note on the sketch: A lot of cutting and pasting went into this one.  I drew and redrew parts of this guy at various scales and had to put it all together in Photoshop.  It made for a really ugly sketch, but one that I ended up sticking fairly close to as evidenced in the finish: 

©Wizards of the Coast

The changes I made were for various reasons.  First and foremost, compositionally I wanted to get away from the original and do my own thing.  Second, the original is more about the interplay of smaller shapes and I wanted mine to be a bit more about larger ones for greater legibility when reduced.  Third, the shapes themselves were changed to infuse just a touch of sleekness found in the world of Mirrodin (where the card block this piece belongs to is set).  Just a touch, mind you.  Finally, I put the hulk in a setting.  I wanted the hulk to be in an environment, rather than be a portrait of the hulk.

Despite these changes, the hulk is still clunky (hopefully in all the right ways) and the original is directly referenced in more ways than one.  Still, it might fall short in a couple of areas for some.  For me, the biggest shortcoming is how difficult it is to see the red eyes.  Though I was asked to not include the original's laser, I wanted to reference it somehow and the red eyes seemed the best way.  Unfortunately, they were just too small to be clear.  When I scaled the eyes up the whole creature felt smaller as a whole.  That was clearly not the way to go.  So, I zoomed in, but then found the whole composition either poorly cropped or too cramped.  I then tried different poses to allow for a tighter angle and found the revised poses to be rather stagnant.  In the end, I was forced to choose whether the overall piece or more visible red eyes were more important.  I like to think I made the right choice.

One last tidbit about this piece before I go.  I worked on this painting at the same time as Rally the Forces.  Though not asked to, I included a bit of a crossover.  There, silhouetted in the distance is our Phyrexian Hulk.  I stuck with the same pose in order to help the keen observer make the connection.  'Course I've gone ahead and ruined this Easter egg, but not many people read this blog, anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Letting Go and Moving On

If there's been a recurring theme for me this year, it's loss and letting go.  Wait.  That's two themes.

If there have been two recurring themes for me this year, they would be loss and letting go.  While I'm not going to bother covering the loss thing (because it's horribly inconvenient to my talking point), I do want to address the idea of letting go... as it applies to my work.

Now, there are many ways that I am forced to let go of things in my work.  One way that I let go occurs when I stop working on a given piece.  Another is when I finally put a piece up for sale.  Both potentially interesting subjects that I might address at some other point down the road.  What I really am trying to drive at, however, are those occasions when I decide to abandon an unfinished piece.

Abandoning a painting is something I rarely do.  With commissioned work involving deadlines, abandoning something will invariably require me to repaint it anyway, so in these situations it pretty much never happens.  In my personal work, however, it does happen, and of late it's happened more than usual.

Before I moved to Boston, I had a few personal pieces started that I'd been futzing with for a year or two.  They were pieces I'd pull out when I had nothing better to work on, and despite the hours I spent on them, I never actually got closer to completing them.  Why?  Really simple, I was getting better as they sat there and every time I worked on them, I spent more time fixing stuff that was already there than covering new ground.  So, despite being worked on, they hovered in a perpetual state of rawness, and became clutter more than art.

What made things worse was that the pieces no longer spoke to me.  I stopped feeling any kind of passion for them.  Over time, their compositions and subject matter began to bore me, and consequently the work I put into them became stagnant and laborious.

Still, I didn't have the guts to sand them down and let them go.  For some reason, I got hung up on the hours that I'd already put into them and felt to some extent like it would be better to finish them and have something to show for my efforts.  This was a mistake, and a waste of time.  I had failed to apply a very basic concept that I employ in so many other ways and in so many other situations.  I ignored the cost/benefit ratio.

Cost/benefit, as it applies to these paintings, required me to estimate the total amount of time and energy that I would have to put into the pieces to finish them, and weigh that against the potential end result.  Now, any given painting has huge potential, but as I've already stated, my interest was waning and the work would be tedious at best.  Even if the pieces that resulted ended up being decent, I was no longer convinced that they'd either be good additions to my portfolio or something I could sell.  While I knew the truth of the matter, I chose to ignore it.  I got lost in the obligation of it all.  I felt like I owed the labor to myself and my work.  Until, that is, the move to Boston became official.

For some reason, I woke up to the fact that the work just wasn't up to par and came to the conclusion that I was not going to get a whole lot out of it if I saw the pieces to their conclusion.  After much hemming and hawing, I finally did the cost/benefit analysis and sanded the pieces down.

I've been pondering a similar circumstance lately, as well.  I've got my original Legend of Badass painting that is essentially finished (minus a few changes that could be made in an hour or two).  Then I've got the revised cover that is part giclee, part painting.  I've been toiling away at the thing for a couple months between jobs, stealing the time here and there to work on it, and I'm a little unsure as to whether I should bother seeing it to its end or not.  I mean, the parts that are giclee don't look terrible, and the piece is about 2/3 painted.  Should I continue and see it through, or should I just find a good place to stop and call it a day?

The main reason that any of this is even an issue is because I want to start digging into a personal piece again.  I have a solid idea that I'm happy with, I have my reference shot, I have a good sense of what I'm going to do with the piece, and it's now just a matter of sitting down and doing it.  Still, that cover keeps staring me down from across the room.  "Finish me," it says.

The trouble is, I'm getting that same itch I've gotten before.  I'm retreading ground with the piece and I'm starting to get boring.  As such, I've decided to impose a deadline on myself.  I have until the 30th of April to complete the piece.  Whatever state it's in is the state it shall remain.  Then it's off to a new assignment and a new, large painting.  For me.

In the meantime, I must make a trip this weekend.  A long drive down to Pennsylvania to spend a couple days with family, before heading to New Jersey where I will once again revisit the year's two themes: loss and letting go.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Days Without Context

When I was a kid a question I asked my father only a handful of times and quickly learned to avoid was, "how was your day?"  Upon asking that question, I would be awash in tales of blast furnaces, grease and conduit, not to mention the actions of various coworkers who would never break into his top ten list of favorite people.  There was always an assumption on my father's part that you knew what he was talking about and had met the various cast of characters.  However, if I met any more than a handful of the guys he worked with at an age where I'd reached full cognizance I can say that I really don't remember ever having done so.  I can also say with authority that I've never fully understood what it is that he did beyond knowing enough to say that he was a high-voltage electrician.

The point I'm getting at, I guess, is that there was a huge disconnect between my father's work life and his home life.  We didn't really socialize with his coworkers or their families, and quite frankly I'm not entirely sure I'm capable of understanding all of the principles involved in his day to day labor at the mill.  Nevertheless, when prompted, my father would spill out the details of his day with little or no context to a rather confused audience.  I suspect that his need to vent and get things off his chest were a bit more at the forefront of his mind than bringing this listener fully up to speed.  As I said, the net result was that I stopped asking and he stopped telling, which still worked just fine as Pop was always good at leaving work at work.

Still, I regret never getting the full story and am constantly aggravated at how little I understand.  What I've learned over the years, however, is that the assumptions my father made about the knowledge of his audience aren't uncommon.

Nowadays, my friends (those with "normal" jobs, that is) are often guilty of the same thing.  Ask how work is and you'll hear random names and tales of their buffoonery.  Try and interject a question for clarity and the conversation comes to a screeching halt so a bone can be thrown to give some context.  Then it's back off to the races.

Ask my wife a similar question, and you'll hear a similar tale.  Her world is full of "Joes" and "Marks" and "Heathers" — faceless entities I imagine as department store mannequins in some elaborate play at the heart of which is sneakers and athletic gear.  I have no real concept of what she does on a daily basis except to say that she is often in meetings, which gives my imagination a nice place to set the play.  Always with me meetings are held in large rooms with gray low pile carpeting and long tables at the head of which there is someone in a suit with pyramided fingers sitting in an over-sized leather chair.  One wall is always comprised of windows often covered in venetian blinds.  The furthest my imagination has ever gotten is that my wife is in on these meetings, the rarely seen light of day streaked across her visage in neat rows as she and her fellow subordinates await approval from "the boss."

By comparison, imagining the play version of my day is easy.  The set is a standard bedroom with an easel and chair instead of a bed and dresser.  There is a television in the corner.  A single character sits in front of the easel, periodically stealing a glance at the tv's screen.  There is naught but the sound of the film he has playing in the background and the occasional swishing of a brush in oil.  In a really action-packed sequence, our hero swears then grabs a rag to wipe away a mistake.  Riveting stuff.

The fact is, my day involves almost no human interaction.  It has been exactly a decade since I've had a coworker.  If there are any anecdotes from my day, they largely involve something being rather difficult or time-consuming to paint.  Perhaps there was something funny that someone posted on Facebook or there's some random bit of movie news I've learned.  When prompted, the descriptions of my day are rarely longer than a few words.  Any stories I have to tell are so mundane as to put even the most caffeinated person to sleep.  Nevertheless, I will volunteer them should the opportunity arise which is kind of sad.  Sadder still is the fact that there is no context to omit.

I can't rightly say why people tend to assume that I'm fully aware of the details of their day.  Perhaps it's because the details aren't what's important.  Perhaps the whole point is to get the day off their chest so they can move on.  It's entirely possible — probable in fact — that the question of "how was your day?" is not for the one asking the question at all.  It would certainly explain why my attempts to flesh out the stage have always been so fruitless.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cheese Platter 6

•Amy and I come from completely different shoe cultures.  I come from a family that took their shoes off as soon as they walked in the door.  There might be slippers or something for around the house, but for the most part we went unshod while indoors.  The only exception to this rule was the basement of our house where wearing shoes was prudent due to the random screw or nail that might be lying unseen on the bare concrete floor.  Amy's family on the other hand wore shoes at all times indoors except when sleeping.  While this freed Amy's Dad to leave nails and screws just about anywhere he so chose, it likely had an impact on the cleanliness of his carpets (the primary reason I suspect my family kept their shoes off).  Either way, it's been a struggle between Amy and me that is ongoing.  Curiously our habits have rubbed off on one another.  There has been no dominant personality in this.  Slowly, but surely, we are coming to a neutral stance where sometimes the shoes are on, while other times they're casually scattered about the place, waiting to be tripped upon.

•Last night our refrigerator started making a funny noise.  It reminded me of the sound made when you stick a baseball card in the spokes of a bicycle wheel.  I figured it had to be something interfering with the fan blades and thus should be an easy fix.  I was right.  But to my astonishment, the access panel for all of the fridge's mechanisms was made of cardboard.  You'd think that such a thing would be far more substantial given the cost of the appliance.  While clearly not a top of the line model, I think it still deserves better than the equivalent of cardboard underpants.

•This coming Monday is the Boston Marathon and also Patriots' Day here in Massachusetts.  This being my first April in Massachusetts, I was completely unfamiliar with the holiday — all I knew was that Amy had the day off.  Turns out it's a state holiday that commemorates the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord.  What I think it's really about is people not wanting to deal with the huge traffic issues that would invariably be created if they actually had to go to work during the marathon.  Either that, or it's just another excuse to get drunk.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Surgical Extraction Art

So finally I get to reveal the piece I've teased a couple times.  I'm going to give it to you in card form first for you to check out:

©Wizards of the Coast

There's more to the piece, however, and I give it to you now in full:

©Wizards of the Coast

The piece is oil on paper on hardboard and is 16"x 20".  Admittedly, there's not a whole lot going on above the figure, but hopefully it adds quite a bit to the piece.  It was my first attempt at pushing a piece beyond the borders of the card art, and trying to make it something more.

The early reviews are pretty mixed, but I'm totally cool with that (though until this point they've been based on the card version).  There are folks who demand action all the time.  This piece is not for them.  Some find it a bit boring.  A fair criticism, perhaps.  Bilaterally symmetrical compositions aren't for everyone.  Some folks dislike the concept.  I invite them to direct their attention to something they do like, instead.  Still other folks take issue with the fact that there's no surgery in something called "Surgical Extraction," and they're welcome to take that up with the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast.  While that may be the title of the card, it is not the title of the piece.

The fact of the matter is that the piece in general is completely in line with my own aesthetic goals.  Simple, iconic, and immediately legible.  While I generally try and avoid full profiles, this piece seemed to call for the graphic nature of such a choice.  The strong shape in contrast to the bleakness of the landscape was an attempt to hammer home the direness of it all.  It is a piece about mood and atmosphere, and I think that I came pretty close to squeezing everything I wanted out of it.  But, of course, that isn't enough for some.

Like it, loath it, or lack interest in it, I'm pretty proud of this one.  It's a handsome painting, if I do say so myself, and I didn't make it for the fans.  Sure, it was a job.  I got paid.  And there are plenty of folks who really dig it.  But this one was really for me.

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yesterday's Sketch

Usually I include the sketches for new work but for some reason forgot to include the sketch yesterday.  Here's the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

Rather shockingly, this sketch is a pretty clear representation of that the piece came to be.  It's even relatively tight — unusual to be sure.  Why?  Well, I really didn't know what the thing was meant to look like so I tried to solve as much of the mystery as possible.  I didn't want to make too much up in the paint lest it should start traveling down too conservative a path.  I wanted to really be on the same page with the art director on this one.

As for the vital statistics, I failed to mention those, as well.  It's oil on paper on hardboard and measures 14" x 11".  I was going to go as large as 16" x 12", but I found that I didn't like the proportion as much with the composition (as minimal as it might be).  I did this by simply creating two documents in Photoshop — one at each proportion — then plugging the sketch in to see how it looked.  I do this a lot to determine the size of things I'll have to paint as my paintings tend to be larger than my sketches and I have a difficult time doing the mental math.

Also, as I mentioned in the comments below, I was working on a much larger piece at the same time (which I look forward to revealing soon), and I really didn't want to tempt fate with more than one "larger" piece lest the experiment go horribly wrong.  Surprisingly, the 14"x11" dimension of the piece seemed to suit it quite well.  It does actually have some degree of presence despite its smaller size.  I'm guessing that that's to do more with the high level of contrast within the piece itself.  But that's just a guess.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Catching Up With New Work

Our move to Boston has continued to be something Amy and I are really happy with.  Though we're only now entering our fifth full month as permanent residents, things continue to go smoothly and we're pretty happy in our new home.  Despite all this joy, life has not been kind to either one of our families over that same time period.  A lot of death, a lot of sadness, and a great deal of disappointment.  There have been times where Amy and I both have felt like Cerberus' chew toys, and the repeated punches in our mental and emotional guts have left us a little worn and weary.

Nevertheless, we are alive and kicking.  We continue to do what needs doing.  We manage to keep moving.  The blog, however, has suffered.  A bit.

I've been trying to write some stuff recently but distractions have been many and severe, and I'm finding certain stories I want to tell difficult to nail down.  Perhaps I'm aiming a little too high with some of these things, but that's always been my nature.  In the meantime, I figured I'd pop in and write a few words to bring things up to speed.

I'm going to go ahead now and make a couple announcements then close with a new piece.  First, I will be at the Magic Grand Prix in Providence, Rhode Island next month, along with fellow artists Lars Grant-West, R.K. Post and Ryan Pancoast.  I can't say whether any of the other guys will be bringing paintings, but I'll have a few, and I'm sure there will be prints and proofs available all around.  Should be a nice event and I'm looking forward to it.  Secondly, I am still headed to Japan in June.  As long as Wizards plans on having the Pro Tour event there, I will present to support it.  Joining me will be fellow artist Mike "Daarken" Lim.

Further details on the above events will appear on my site's news page as we close in on their respective dates.

Here, now, is the newest piece spoiled officially by Wizards of the Coast for the upcoming New Phyrexia Magic set:

©Wizards of the Coast

I can't tell you what it's called because they haven't released that info, but they did at least spoil the image.  As soon as that bit of info has been released, this guy will end up in the gallery on my site.  I don't fancy leaving him untitled until then.

Well, I'm off to finish up the voluntary changes on one painting and make a go at completing the unfinished second take on the Badass cover.  With a little luck, I'll be able to start that personal piece I was talking about at the beginning of May.  I shall keep you all posted.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Worst Process Sequence Ever

I've tried doing process photos several times in the past.  It's been a struggle because I usually forget somewhere in the midst of a piece to keep taking pictures.  I either get wrapped up in actually doing the piece in question or get pressed with deadlines or some such.  Add to that the fact that someone (and I'm not going to mention any names), keeps moving the camera around and I've often found myself remembering to take a snapshot but then finding no camera to do it with.

Another major problem is that I keep messing with my process.  To show a sequence of pictures and say that "this is the way I work," would be quite untrue.  I can only really say "this is how this piece came together."  Except I can't even say that because I don't have a full sequence of photos to show on the subject.

Despite this, I'm going to show a few photos depicting the closest I've ever come to actually managing the full process.  There aren't many pictures so I'll have to talk you through them.  Here goes...

©Wizards of the Coast

Here we have Perimeter Captain in it's earliest stage.  On this occasion, I printed my initial sketch out and pasted it down onto a piece of hardboard.  The sketch was just a standard quick and dirty black and white job and can be found here.  On top of this sketch, I threw down some quick colors and tones — mostly yellows and browns.

©Wizards of the Coast

The next day, I dove into the piece.  I all put finished the main figure's head and hand, and blocked in the sky.  I've touched very little else admittedly, but I was working on several pieces at once and I often rotate through them over the course of a day.  This helps keep me from becoming bored, and also ensures that the pieces all attain about the same level of finish come the due date.

©Wizards of the Coast

Early the next day, I did another pass over the sky and clouds and began to block in the armor.  On this particular piece, I ended up blocking in the rest of the main figure later on this day.  It all would have ended up having about the same level of finish as what's blocked in here.  After that, I started completing things just as I did the head and hand.

So, at this point I stopped taking pictures.  I'm sure my failure has rendered this exercise useless, but I'll try and fill you in on what I did as best I can with words.

Basically, after blocking the main figure in, I spent a couple days finishing him up, only taking the time to darken the foreground area where there would eventually be a line of troops.  I also did one more pass on the sky during this time, bringing it pretty much to it's finished state.  Once all that was done, I finally spent a day or so doing the line of soldiers.  As stated before, I had no reference, and I kind of just banged them out really quickly.  They're not the focal point so I burned through them without getting too wrapped up in their details.

Now, like any good cooking show, I just happen to have a finished version here...

©Wizards of the Coast

Looking back over this post, I realize just how unhelpful and uninformative it all really is.  On the other hand, I think you can probably see where I was headed from the few pics I've got when you compare them to the finished piece.  I dove into completing the head and hands straight away and they remained largely unchanged throughout.  They were my proof of concept on the overall color scheme and value structure.  Once I nailed them and blocked in the rest, I just went about finishing the painting piece by piece.  In fact, the only photo that I regret not having is that blocked in stage.  After that, it was just about replacing unfinished parts with finished ones.

On the whole, the early stages of my paintings are pretty slapdash, and the paintings tend to be rather ugly little things for the vast majority of the process.  Sometimes I work them up more piecemeal like this, while other times I treat them more as a whole.  It really depends on a lot of things I can't even begin to verbalize right now.  What tends not to change, however, are these stages:
  1. I put down some sort of ground color.  Killing the white of the surface is always the first thing I do, and the color I use always has something to do with the completed color scheme, even if only tangentially.
  2. Blocking in the large shapes.  Pretty simple.  Sometimes I do this immediately after putting the ground color down, sometimes I wait until the ground is dry.  No idea why, it's just fun to experiment.
  3. Finish the piece.  This portion always has some degree of a piecemeal mentality.  I work longest on my focal points, then spiral out to a point that instinctively feels natural.  Then I go about completing the rest from right to left because I'm left handed and I try and avoid dragging my hand through something I've just finished painting.
Admittedly this is really basic stuff, but these are the only elements that remain relatively consistent in the broad sense.  Step number 2 is actually a more recent addition to my process.  I used to just finish pieces up like a fresco painter, but I've been burned enough by having no real plan that I've stopped doing this.
To make up for my failure to pull off a true process sequence, I've decided that the next personal piece I work on will have a daily image here on the blog.  Since I have someone to hold me accountable (that'd be you guys), I should be able to keep at it.  My plan is to start on a largish personal piece in May, but that could possibly be delayed by a cover I've been offered that I'm waiting to finalize some details on.  However, even if that happens, I've gotten the okay to do the same thing with the cover, so you should be seeing a work in progress in the near future.

Fingers crossed...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions 9

Is it Steve or Steven?

Off the bat, I'm going to admit to this being a pretty mundane question, but it just might be the most frequently asked question of them all, so it seems worth addressing.

Anyway, the short answer is that I don't care.  Call me either one, or simply "Belledin," if that's easier for you.  I likely will answer to any of them, so don't sweat it.  I'm sure that this lax attitude regarding my name will cause about one percent of you to then wonder why I use "Steven" over "Steve" to begin with, if there is no preference.  For the curious, I will provide an answer.

When I showed up on the scene of gaming illustration, there were already several guys with the name "Steve" working in the genre.  Steve Prescott and Steve Ellis were two guys that I not only knew of, but then was privileged enough to get to know personally.  So, straight away you've got three of us, and it so happens that we usually end up in close proximity to one another at conventions and such. Then there was this guy called Steve Argyle who came along.  Suddenly the industry begins to feel Steve-heavy.  Add to that other artists who currently work or have worked in the industry like Steve White, Steve Firchow and Steve Luke, and things really started to feel quite crowded.

While our last names are all wildly different, I figured it might be worth separating myself a little further. My first option was using my first two initials then my last name.  Seems like a good idea, but I've never been referred to in that way my entire life.  I don't have initials that work as a second name like A.J. or C.J, either.  My initials are far too clunky, so I tossed that idea aside and kept moving.  The second option I came up with was to use the initial for my first name and go my middle name instead.  I knew a few folks in college who did this, and it seemed like a viable possibility.  Once again, it just felt awkward and clumsy so that idea got a pass, as well.  The only real option remaining was just to keep the full name of "Steven" in there.  Sure it's a little more formal, and possibly pretentious, but it's used far less in the industry.  Obviously it's the option I went with and so it remains — it is my name, after all.

The choice to use "Steven" instead of "Steve" has had its good sides and bad.  There's at least a point of difference at a glance, and so on the page it sticks out (though only just a little).  It's not major, I admit, but it's there and I'll take what I can when there's a room full of signs for various Steves.  The other nice thing is that there's a specificity to it.  It somehow feels more precise, though I guess it's really not.  That might just be the pretentiousness seeping in.  On the other hand, it does provide a bit of alliteration with my last name, so there's that.

One of the biggest downsides early on was that it made finding me online a little more difficult.  Before search engines became as advanced as they are now, entering in "Steve Belledin" brought up slightly different results than "Steven Belledin."  One of the biggest differences in the two was that my website would appear in the results only if the "n" was included.  "Steve Belledin" typically brought up online conversations about how terrible I am at this whole art thing.  Fortunately, things have advanced enough where you can get both kinds of results by entering either name.  Gotta' love the internet!

As far as I'm concerned, "Steven Belledin" is what I like to be credited as.  I do art, "Steven" gets the credit.  I make a sign, "Steven" is the illustrator.  "Steven" also has business cards, prints... all kinds of stuff that clutters the house.  As I've already stated, however, you're welcome to call me "Steve."  Where this really falls apart, however, is at conventions and such where there is at least one other Steve — something that happens quite frequently (there being so many of us and all).  Add to the mix all the artists whose names happen to be "Stephen," and there's a fair chance that some confusion (and possibly hilarity) will ensue.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cheese Platter 5

•I endorse anything that comes in a flagon.  In fact, I think more things should come in flagons.  That's it.  No joke here.  Flagons are cool.

•My profession, as listed on our mortgage paperwork, is "homemaker."  A curious thing.  I rarely make homes.  I usually make paintings.  (Wakka, wakka!)  While the reason for the altered profession is technical and not worth getting into, I must confess that it's given me a bit of a complex.  Though I sometimes question my abilities as an illustrator, there is solid proof of my inability to keep a home, so I know it's not really the kind of thing I can fall back on.  Let's just say that when I become rich and/or famous, there will be a cleaning lady.  With my luck, though, it'll be a cleaning lady who can paint better than I can, too.

•Speaking of cleaning house, you can always tell how close Amy and I are to deadlines by the condition of our house.  Right now, for example, calling it in disarray would be kind.  The fates have aligned our schedules in such a way that we are both slammed at the moment and have major deadlines within a week of one another.  The curious could actually track the timeline of our restructured priorities by going on an archeological dig through the piled up mail sitting atop our dining room table.  Don't get me wrong, no one needs to call "Hoarders," yet, but the place certainly has taken on a quality that Miss Havisham would find rather familiar.