Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Night Prelude, Part 5

At this point, I'm zeroing in on the end of the piece so this is likely to be the last post regarding its process until I get it scanned. For me, the changes to a painting become increasingly subtle as it grows nearer to completion, with the changes at present on this particular piece having mostly to do with background and foreground elements. In essence, I'm mostly working on trees, weeds, and fog, and it's likely not to be interesting to read about going forward.

By the end of last week, I'd gotten the painting to this point:

As you can see when compared to the previous post (link), there's some background work that's been done. Whereas before you'll see that there are larger, more nebulous shapes indicated for the background, I have finally begun to define individual trees and branches.

So far this week, I've done a few finishing details on the dress, and a fair bit of work on the foreground, with a small amount of additional progress on the background made as well. Here's where I left it yesterday:

All I've got to do, really, is finish things up. The grass and brush at front will require another pass, as will the background. I'm still not 100% sure how much detail I'm going to indicate on the tangled forest behind the figure, but I'll easily be able to work that out as I go. Too much detail may pull focus from the figure and could undermine some of the atmosphere, while too little detail might make the whole thing feel a little under developed.

The way I see it, there's no reason that I shouldn't be able to make that decision and bring the entire piece to a close by the end of today. But if that's going to happen, I guess I better get on with it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Night Prelude, Part 4

I get distracted easily. I've also got a lot on my plate right now that keeps me from painting as much as I'd like. And the sad and unfortunate events of this week did not help to keep me focused. So progress is a little slow right now. But, progress has indeed been made. Here's where we're at:

What's different from the last update?

Well, I tightened up the hands and made another pass on the dress. While I wanted to begin indicating the designs on it, I didn't get very deep into that task. I also did some preliminary work on the belt.

But, after reaching this point I realized that I didn't like where the belt was going and I was unhappy with the hand position of her left (our right) hand. Initially, the idea behind the belt was that it was made of metal. However, once I painted it accordingly and made it consistent with the lighting, it became immediately clear that the necessary highlights and reflections were distracting at best. So, I began to rethink the belt design a bit.

As far as the hand goes, I felt it to be lacking in character. It just kind of sat there without saying anything. So, I decided to open the finger positioning up a bit. Not sure if it says more now, but it's at least more interesting to look at.

With the added designs, the new hand position, and the blocked-in whip, here's where I was left:

The designs on the dress are a little difficult to see, but believe me when I say that they're there. Also there are some trees added to the background at right.

Despite the extreme amounts of glare and the fact that it was not shot head-on, I included this last image because it shows the designs a bit clearer, and because I figured that there'd be at least one person reading this who'd dig seeing some paint texture, which is definitely present herein.

So what now? Well, the plan is to just start finishing things. I need to do a final pass on the belt and finish the whip. I need to finish the background and start painting the grass and brush at her feet. Lastly, I want to augment the glow of the well-lit face, and perhaps glaze the figure back as it gets closer to the ground. But we'll see.

For now, I'm going to get to it and attempt to ignore everything else.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Night Prelude, Part 3

I've been really bad at remembering to take process photos. On the occasions I actually have remembered, the results have not been optimal. In my studio, there are three windows coming from two directions plus a virtual menagerie of lights. While this is great when I'm working, it makes for less than ideal conditions to photograph my work. But, I'm trying my best and I'll make a go of walking you through any important missed steps.

When I last wrote about the piece, I'd blocked in large fields of color with very little detail save for some work done on the face (link). After that post, a fair bit of progress was made. I began to block in some detail in the dress, did another pass over the face, and began to define the background.

Yeah. There were a lot of steps missing. Either way, it left me with a piece that looked like this:

There's something odd about how this painting is coming together. Typically, I keep the image of what I'm trying to make inside my head for much longer. The full value structure (the mapping of my darkest darks and lightest lights) typically doesn't start coming together until further along in the process, and that structure is almost always a compromise between what I had in my head and a reaction to what I've completed to that point. This time around, for whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea to get to the point a little sooner. So I did. I have no idea if this will make for a better painting, but I'm sure we'll find out.

An important aspect of what I failed to document was the day I did a second pass on the dress. Of course, I completely wiped the area after a full day's work, so the the next day the painting would have looked exactly the same, but it would have been a great misstep to show you all.

Now, I've always had a difficult time painting things that are bright red. More specifically, I've always found it difficult to give bright red things the illusion of three-dimensionality while still keeping the color pure. I suspect that a major part of this difficulty is due to the fact that I have a very difficult time even looking at bright red things to begin with. If the color is intense enough, it starts to bleed like red often might on old CRT television sets. As a result of this visual bleeding, the longer I look at bright red objects, the more two-dimensional they begin to appear.

While the above may sound like complete nonsense, I assure you it happens to me, and it's very frustrating. So, when forced to depict bright red objects, I need to work on them in short bursts, and I'll often repeatedly pull the painting out from under the lights so as to decrease the intensity of the colors in order to better evaluate my value range. On the day in question, I didn't do any of that and was determined to slog through. I can only tell you that the result was terrible, which would be why I ended up wiping it. What you see above is the result of my second go of things the following day.

Anyway, after I got things to the point above, I finally decided it was time to do a pass over the London hood, the sleeves, and the hands. I also took some time to sort the flowing dress out. Here's how it looked:

Lots of glare on the piece, and the red is a little dull, but it's fairly accurate value-wise.

Today's agenda includes indicating a pattern on the dress, some touch-ups here and there, and an additional pass over the arms and hands. I'll probably start putting the belt together, as well. Then, time permitting, I'll start finishing the background. At the moment, I see no reason this thing shouldn't be put to bed next week sometime. Until then...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Stealing Images For Your Portfolio

This post, I'm afraid, is not for you, my faithful readers. No, none of you would be reckless enough to require the advice herein. But there are folks you may have encountered who might just need a taste of this advice and I invite you to point them in the direction of this post after looking it over yourselves. Of course it seems silly that I need write this at all, but the fact is that what I'm going to talk about happens with surprising frequency, so without further ado:

Don't steal other people's artwork and present it as your own.

Okay, obviously it's wrong to steal someone else's artwork at all under any circumstances, but I want to concentrate on the folks who use the hard work of others to represent themselves.

I'm really never sure why folks do such a thing, as there's a certain lapse in their logic. Sure, it probably solves an issue in the short term, but if you commit such a crime you'll almost certainly hang for it in the end. Maybe you're a student and you're assignment has fallen flat, or you just didn't bother to do the assignment in the first place. Or perhaps you're out of school trolling for work and need to pump up your portfolio in order to find employment. Whatever your situation is, theft is just a short-term solution.

And hey, stealing that piece might allow you to pull one over on someone and you might get you your passing grade or land that job, so I suppose it could seem a very good short-term solution indeed.

But then what?

There will be an expectation from those you answer to that you'll be able to duplicate your success. You'll be expected to actually have the skills it took to make that piece of art to begin with. If you lack those skills or those skills aren't of equal value, it's only a matter of time before you're found out. Once that happens, it's pretty likely that you'll be ruined. If still a student, you'll get a failing grade and almost certainly face some sort of disciplinary action. If you're in the work force, you'll lose the gig and your art direct will tell another art director all about you. Then that art director will tell another, who will tell another and so forth. Your fellow illustrators will shout your name and your sins from the rooftops until you are shunned by the community at large and disappear in shame.

So, the solution to avoiding all that would logically be to steal some more, right? Next assignment, you find another image to yank from some other guy's website or DeviantArt page. Have a ton of creature concepts due by the end of the day? Just go ahead and download those off of Facebook. Just be sure to cover up the original artist's signature — that'll keep you covered.

Except, obviously, you're just digging your hole deeper. Each time you steal, you are increasing the chances of getting caught. Eventually you'll take and use something that someone recognizes, and then the art directors start calling and the illustrators start shunning all over again. Clearly that's not going to work, either.

Still I hear you say that I am wrong and that no one will ever catch you. You're little corner of the internet is too obscure, and you're far too unknown. And I counter with the existence of Google Images and Tineye, two websites which allow you to either upload an image or provide its web address in order to locate all the other places that image is used throughout the internet. It's a very scary thing to see how widely one's work is disseminated, and when one finds their hard work in the portfolio of another artist, it rightfully sends them into a blind fury. You will be found, and when you are found you will not be treated kindly.

And yet, you may still be pondering things and weighing what I've said. To some, the repercussions I've listed might not seem so bad. Who needs art directors and the respect of their fellow illustrators, anyway? Unfortunately for you and your thought process, I've just listed the most mild of consequences of your "efforts."

See, there's a little something called copyright. Most images are owned by someone, and some of the folks who own images aren't folks at all, but rather big, seemingly faceless corporations with deep pockets. That part about their being faceless? It's not true. They have a face made of a hundred pit bull lawyers on retainer ready to bark out with cease and desists at a moment's notice. And if your sins are great enough, you will feel the bite of their lawsuits.

But even the little guys can sue. It's not just for the big dogs. There are such things as statutory damages that can be claimed by whoever holds the copyright and isn't afraid to call a lawyer of their own. Admittedly such a claim is much, much easier if the work in question is registered with the copyright office, and so if you've ever wondered why anyone bothers doing that sort of thing, you now have an answer. Suffice it to say that no matter how you look at it, the law is stacked against anyone who goes about taking art that doesn't belong to them.

Look, as I've said many times already, you will get caught if you take someone else's work and pretend that it is your own. Your reputation will be damaged and that damage will be catastrophic and long-lasting. Every piece of art you've ever done will be called into question, as will every piece of art you will ever do. Your entire career and status will be called into question, and you will be plagued by people who doubt you.

Of course, all this being said, I suspect that logic, guilt, or the promise of dire consequences won't sway the mind of someone who is dishonest enough to do this kind of thing. That's why it's up to the rest of us to be vigilant and make sure none of these folks get away with it. But if by chance I actually have moved anyone to any extent, I'll leave you with a few more thoughts.

All things considered, it's a lot cheaper and easier to be honest with yourself. Maybe your skills aren't what they need to be just yet. Maybe your portfolio is lacking. But most artists I know would rather see you put your fledgling work out there and ask us for help than watch you take a stupid shortcut. Hard work will certainly be required in order to overcome your inadequacies, and it will definitely be frustrating at times, but the community will take you in and support you along the way. And if you go down the honest path and persevere, you will find that your work will no longer be limited to what you can find on the internet.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Night Prelude, Part 2

Art-wise, I have not had a productive couple weeks. I've been dealing with tax stuff and life stuff, yard stuff and house stuff. There's been some Spectrum Live planning in there too, not to mention time spent fretting and thinking about all manner of things. The last couple of days, though, I've finally started getting things together on this piece.

While I already admitted that I've not gotten as much painting time in as I'd like, I wasn't entirely slacking. There were a lot of logistical decisions that needed to be made for this new painting. The most important of these decisions was how large I was going to paint it. I settled on (for some reason), a twenty-inch square. This size ended up being rather convenient as it allowed me to try out a new surface which happened to be available at the correct dimensions: Dick Blick's Studio Birch Wood Panel.

Truth be told, working on a wood panel would be pretty much identical to working on hardboard. The only real difference would be the preparation of the surface. Typically, my surface preparation is fairly limited. I tend to usually work either on board that already has gesso on it, or I paste a piece of watercolor paper to the board's surface and seal the whole thing off with matte acrylic medium. This go around, however, would require the same steps I'd normally have to take were I working on canvas. First, I'd need to use some sort of sizing (in my case PVA sizing), then follow that up with the usual three or four coats of gesso.

Applying the sizing is a pretty straightforward process. It's got the consistency of watered-down Elmer's white glue and is easy to smear around the surface. The gesso, on the other hand, was a little more difficult for me. When gessoing a canvas, there's a texture to work into. It's relatively easy to see whether or not the coats are reasonably even by how visible that canvas texture is. On smoother surfaces, however, I've found it harder to see where the gesso is building up. To combat this, I usually have a lamp pointed directly at the side of the board so that the light rakes across the surface and reveals the contours of any lumps.

In between each coat of gesso, I did the usual light sanding to knock down brush marks and to further combat any gesso lumps. Still, despite my best efforts, the gesso did not go on as evenly as I'd hoped. My solution? I set my brush aside and bought a four-inch painting roller. The roller did a much better job of keeping the gesso coats evenly spread, plus it added a very fine texture that I quite like. I like it so much, in fact, that provided the texture doesn't create too many problems in the digitizing process, I'll likely be using the roller from now on.*

The process of sizing and priming the wood panel took a few days and required a couple additional days of drying time. When it was finally ready, I did a simple graphite transfer of my sketch onto the surface and sealed that under a simple underpainting of dioxazine violet.

You're aura — it's purple!
I let that dry and then did a first pass over most of the surface.

The photos all were a little blown out. In fact, a lot blown out. Which is why I took an additional shot.

I guess it's fair to say that I'm a little inconsistent when it comes to starting paintings. Sometimes I build the whole thing up to a certain level and then start systematically finishing things. Other times, I'll just start finishing things straight off the bat. In this case, I kind of got lost in the face. I knew that a lot depended on getting the face to feel right, and so that's where I initially concentrated my efforts.

At this point, I'll probably leave the face alone for a little while and attempt to bring the rest of the figure up to that level of completion before really giving it (and the rest of her) any real polish. Plus, you know, there's the rest of the painting that needs some attention. I mean, she's got an environment around her, and all. I should probably look into working on that, as well.

In order to get all that done, I should probably get to painting. So... yeah. Off I go...

* Notes: In art school, I was taught that the proper way to apply gesso was either with a brush or a large palette knife. Rollers were strictly verboten. While I see why you wouldn't want to use a roller on stretched canvas, I honestly don't see why you should be able to use one on a board. I say, use whatever it takes to get the job done and gives you results that make you happy.

Secondly, the use of a roller has been a stock joke used by my father-in-law for as long as I've known him. He continues to be endlessly entertained by the notion that I, as a painter, should use one. I have to confess that I felt a little irritated that the years of joking ended up being prophetic in any way as I walked out of my local hardware store with roller in hand. I'm sure his response to hearing that I have finally caught on to the roller's qualities will be something like this: link.