Props designed for the Waystone Inn from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Value and color comps for an alley in Tarbean from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Color variations for Kvothe’s design from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Treasure Island | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Lehua | Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine [Lehua, The story of a Woman]: A Hawaiian Noblewoman Comes of Age at a “Changing of the Gods.” and Awesome Stories
This week in Noah Bradley’s Art Camp we’re studying figures, gestures, and flesh tones, and one of the assignments is a long digitally painted color study of a full figure. I highly recommend this class to anyone who wants to level up their digital painting skills, especially for professional illustration or concept art.
I chose to reference Jenni, from Art Models 7: Dynamic Figures for the Visual Arts. This book is full of amazing model reference photos in dynamic poses and comes with a CD in which every gesture is photographed from 360 degree angles. She posed with another model, Misha, as if slain by her, but I concentrated on just Jenni and painted Misha out. I included the reference photo below so that you can see not only how closely I matched it, but also the quality of the photographs on the CD. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
Tracing is not allowed in Noah’s class, and we’re only allowed to use photographs later in the program after practicing drawing from life. In this I referenced a photo, while I studied the relationships between the different shapes. It was fun to try drawing Jenni with her face upside-down – and this time I didn’t flip the canvas vertically to check my work – I wanted to practice painting people from different angles.
Sometimes I practice figure drawing and painting when the models are clothed so that I can study how they drape on the model and the different materials and textures people weare. But nude figure studies are also helpful for studying all of the musculature and what’s going on underneath the layers of cloth. So it’s a trade-off. This particular study is also preparation for an personal project I’ll be making later, based on a nightmare I had recently, for which I’ll need a nude reference.
Happy New Year!
Today I conducted my first annual review on 2013 and made plans for 2014, as suggested by blogger Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Noncomformity in his essay How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. A personal Annual Review an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason, only 8% of people keep their resolutions.
The truth is that New Year’s resolutions like “Lose weight.”, “Save more money.”, and “Get better at drawing people.” don’t work because they are vague and not measurable. There’s no benchmark to measure “enough” by, nor is there a deadline or reward. Resolutions have no objective goals and deadlines, systems to make the changes happen, or consequences that lead to results. They are merely the resolve to change. Even setting more specific objectives like “Lose 20 lbs.” or “Revise my portfolio” aren’t enough because ultimately we can’t completely control the outcomes of our long-term efforts; we can only control only our actions that lead to those outcomes.
The process of a review takes time, and for good reason. A full review guides you to go deeper and deeper, defining the theme for the year; your priorities by category; goals for those priorities; and finally to the next actions to take, due dates for those steps, and metrics to gauge success. And it’s flexible enough to adjust for how you work best and adapt when your goals change throughout the year.
It took me about two weeks to do mine while juggling other projects, and I plan to start it in mid-December next time, but I think it will save me much more time in the long run because it forced me to focus my efforts and get real. It helped me see where I wouldn’t have enough time to fill lower priorities, and where I was neglecting other higher priorities. For a freelance artist who need to manage their own time between deadlines and find that elusive work-life-balance, I’m finding it an extremely useful tool.
My Annual Review also inspired me to pay it forward with the lessons that I’ve learned through earning my B.A. in Psychology, working in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry, earning my M.F.A. in Illustration, and finally working in the illustration and concept art industry. One of my “reach goals” for this year is to help others by writing a series of essays on time management for creatives, including not only prioritization systems like this one, but also how to ignore distraction, change habits, and work more efficiently. After-all, we learn best by teaching.
The Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau is a first step in that process. So check it out and plan to spend some time on it. I’ll share my review of 2013 and some of the goals I have for 2014 as an example:
What went well this year?
While I don’t have specific benchmarks to compare to, I know my artistic skills developed considerably in many areas thanks to both my formal schooling and Noah Bradley’s Art Camp, in environmental and prop design, learning ZBrush, and the workflow for developing production art for games. I produced good artwork this year! I also took control of my relationship to food and exercise and live a much more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, I lost weight, but more importantly, I am stronger, have more endurance, sleep better, and feel good. Best of all, my focus has shifted dramatically from fixating on weight to other benchmarks and I’m finding that taking the time to care of my body sustains my artwork rather than takes away from it. Lastly, I set money aside to go to out-of-state art conferences this year.
What did not go well this year?
I’ve been spending almost all of my time working on my art and learning; so much so that I haven’t kept this blog or my Facebook account very well updated. I have a very long backlog of work to share. And the backlog has prevented me from reaching out as I would have liked because it was fixed in time and I am not. This is one thing I’ve identified that needs to change this year. I also haven’t taken a true vacation with my husband in years, or gone to many cultural events, and that is something else I want to change.
In 2014 I Will Focus On Building My Career
The main theme of 2014 for me will be emerging into the industry as a full-time illustrator and concept artist, though I will also be balancing other priorities such as sustaining a healthy lifestyle, friends and family, etc.
My main goals will be revising my body of work with a total of 22 finished pieces to revise my portfolio with and share the development process for my concept art. 15 of these are for my graduate thesis, 7 are for the months following leading up to December 2014. At the same time, I’ll be cultivating my professional reputation by posting here and to my social networks regularly and attending industry conferences. These, and my other objective-goals, have specific benchmarks such as revising my previous thesis work by particular dates, and a week-by-week workflow for completing new paintings.
To balance this, I’ve set my absolute minimums for fitness time (20 min/day, 6 days/wk) to stick to even under tight deadlines, and made it easier to eat healthfully this upcoming year by overhauling my kitchen and learning one new healthful recipe a month. I’ve also set dates for attending a few plays, going on day trips, and a week-long vacation this summer. The steps that feel like “work” have set rewards for completing them. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process.
Finally, I’ve arranged to continue my growth after graduation. I’m completing Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and eLearning with ZBrush now and will continue on with Chris Oatley’s Magic Box. Later on, I’ll take classes at CGMA, Gnomon, and SmArtSchool. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process. The best way to learn is by teaching.
2013 was a good year for me, but I plan to make 2014 even better, and one way I can do that is by helping you. That’s an important goal to me, and this article is a step towards that goal (not just a resolution).
Did you achieve everything you set out to in 2013? What went well? What didn’t? What are your goals for 2014 and what are the first actions you can take this week towards meeting them?
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I’ve been developing the design of Kvothe, the main character in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle, for my thesis project dedicated to visually developing the story for game pre-production. Above are my color experiments for Kvothe as an adult. It’s helpful to make quick study of color combinations in the process of visual development before creating the final character painting. I chose these color combinations to compliment his hair, which is described as flame red. Some of the combinations are simple monochrome or complimentary, others schemes include more colors. Sometimes the simplest combinations are the most striking.
If you’d like to check out this wonderful series, start with The Name of the Wind here:
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
…then proceed directly to book 2:
The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2)
The overall shape, the silhouette, is the primary and most powerful way to identify an object, type of person, or creature. The ability to quickly pick out meaning from silhouettes, such as whether the thing we saw would help, nourish, or hurt us. Shapes are a kind of language that we learned first to identify, and eventually to communicate with. As artists, we need to learn this language and, how to manipulate it, to design effectively. Likewise, one helpful tip for testing if your design is clear is to look only at its silhouette and see if you (or better yet, if someone nearby) can tell what it is.
Silhouettes are created not only by strong, clear, shapes, but also contrast between those shapes and their background. That’s where negative space comes in – the shape that is not the subject itself, but what surrounds and contrasts with it.
Above are examples of strong silhouettes created by masters from the Golden Age of Illustration. From left to right are examples from JC Leyendecker, NC Wyeth, and Mead Schaeffer. At that time, artists were creating art for periodicals which needed to be quick reads (as opposed to paintings that would hang on a wall and be admired for a length of time). That meant that the artist would need to create silhouette shapes that viewers/readers could recognize very rapidly. They are great to study from.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about creating strong silhouettes (and therefore strong paintings) is to put dark things against light things and light things against dark things. That’s why Leyendecker tended to use white backgrounds, many artists like NC Wyeth choose to shape clouds around key subjects, or shine light behind them as Mead Schaeffer did here. And where shapes overlap, such as in Leyendecker’s painting, there is clear contrast – the lady’s pale skin against the gentleman’s coat. Leyendecker also made sure there were holes in the silhouette shapes, such as the crook of the gentleman’s arm and gaps between him and the lady and the lady and the flowers. NC Wyeth and Mead Shaeffer in these examples also placed different colors against each other to create clear silhouette shapes. Shapes, and character gestures, can be pushed and pulled to character traits as well – the lady in Leyendecker’s painting on the left has a larger head than is realistic, but it emphasizes her sweet child or doll-like traits.
The Golden Age of Illustration was the period between 1850-1925 in which illustrated magazines and books climbed to the height of popularity, containing a wealth of art that embellished both fiction and non-fiction subjects in mass-circulation books, magazines, and posters. Illustration had never before, and has never since, been such a popular or vital form of art in the US. Why did it end, you ask? In the beginning, photographic technology furnished artists with not only reference images, but also empowered them with techniques such as line-engraving and half-tone; though by the turn of the century photos began to take the place of illustrative art. Now they are the mainstream form of print art.
Key characteristics of this era were the strong values (contrast between light and dark) and clear silhouette shapes, and N.C. Wyeth’s works are among the best examples of those features. His subjects are also really interesting – he embraced both American themes, rich with cowboys and indians, but also themes like knights and pirates, in popular children’s books such as Robin Hood, Treasure Island, and Ton Sawyer – and established these characters visually in the minds of young readers for generations to come. You might even recognize some of them below!
My first assignment this year in Noah Bradley’s Art Camp is a series of master studies, both compositional (gray-scale) and color studies. For all these reasons, I began with studying the work of N.C. Wyeth and set out to learn about his arrangement of shapes, establishment of values, choice of color and subjects. It sounds kind of strange to those who haven’t tried their hand at copying a master, but I feel like when I’m doing it right, I ‘channel’ the artist and get into his head and understand his decision-making process. I take these lessons and then use them in my own work, like adding tools to my tool-belt. After-all, to understand something you have to ‘stand under’ it for a while, set your style aside, and make the subject of study more important than you. Part of the reason N.C. Wyeth was so successful was that he studied under the master Howard Pyle and took his edicts completely to heart. The practice of studying under masters has faded almost entirely from art school, but fortunately, we live in an era when the masters are at our fingertips and we can study under them in the comfort of our home studios.
When mimicking N.C. Wyeth, I noticed not only the strong dark shapes against light backgrounds that I’d read about from this age in art’s history, but also how masterfully he arranged the shapes to carry the eye through the composition. Composition is a balancing act – one element on the left balances one on the right, what’s below balances what’s above. I also noticed that Wyeth liked to pick only a few hues and then made the best use of them through their less saturated tones. To my eye, the ones with fewer hues seemed the most striking – hm, something to keep in mind…
- The Golden Age of Illustration: Popular Art in American Magazines, 1850-1925.
- N.C. Wyeth: American Imagist.
Somewhere along the way you came to believe that you can’t draw or design. Someone, maybe another kid, a parent, a teacher said something critical and you believed that your drawing was no good. Or maybe you sailed through those years confident in your abilities but ran into a wall when your work was reviewed by a professional, and then your were crestfallen. Whatever the source, you came to believe that you can’t draw or design.
Drawing is something technical, it’s a skill that can be developed over time; design is something more fundamental but also more abstract, it’s about communicating an idea and problem-solving visually. Unfortunately, the fear of failure with drawing or with design is like shooting yourself in the foot because it inhibits progress with both.
A lot of artists don’t like to talk about their fear of failure, and yet professionals have managed to learn from their failures and grow into success. I was one of those kids who drew in my comfort zone and was praised for it by everyone who saw my drawings. That’s kind of like professional success wherein you’re paid to do what people know you can do consistently and because they recognize your speciality. But I also didn’t challenge myself with different subjects or styles until entering art school. It’s hard no longer being a big fish in a small pond but I’m growing faster than I every have before since then.
These growing pains led me recently to examine my own fear of failure and I found advice of design mentors on my journey. I’m happy to share them with you here:
- The insightful and eloquent Milton Glaser on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo. He makes an excellent point about professional success being antithetical to personal progress. (Reload if you just see a blank space here).
- I also recommend printing and posting this on your wall: 106 Excuses that Prevent You from Ever Becoming Great, I’ll bet you’ve been making at least one of these excuses!
- Lastly, an interviewer records his experience with Ian McCaig, designer for Star Wars and John Carter of Mars (among other projects) in Shadowline: The Art of Iain McCaig:
“Put it on!” McCaig said. “We’re all ten-year-olds when we’re drawing. It’s the rule.”
“Why?” I asked.
“‘Cause before you were ten, you probably never thought about whether you could draw or not. You simply did it. Drawing was as natural a way to express yourself as speaking. Then you hit ten and got stupid about it. Drawing was important, and if you couldn’t do it like Leonardo, you didn’t do it at all. So, I’m taking you back to ten, so I can un-stupify you.”
“Suppose I don’t want to learn to draw?”
“You don’t have to. You already know. You draw perfect people and creatures an worlds every night in your sleep. I’m merely going to show you how to do that while you’re awake.”
I must have looked skeptical, because he went on. “Dude, it’s your first language. You started scribbling pictures before you knew any words at all. Don’t you see? It’s not a magic trick, and it’s not a special ability. It’s a language, and you already know how to speak it.”
“Then why can’t I draw?”
“Because you think you can’t. It usually takes about six months, one hour a day, to change your mind.” He whooped again. “Go on. Put on the T-shirt.” …[snip]…
And yeah, I was shocked, because now I could draw. Maybe not like Leonardo, because even if you speak a language, that doesn’t make you Shakespeare. But it does mean you can communicate, which I think is his point. it’s not what the drawing looks like, but what it’s saying. If you focus on that, it’s amazing how the drawings seem to look better, too.
Ian McCaig’s point about drawing like a 10-year old moved me profoundly. It reminded me of how proud I was after successfully skiing down a difficult slope without falling once as a little girl. Yet my dad in a moment of wisdom told me “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.” When I get frustrated with my art, I think back to hitting the hard cold snow, picking myself up, dusting myself off, and trying again. I learned how to shift my weight, avoid and compensate for ice and bumps, and even jump. Every time I fell I learned something. It’s the same with drawing an with design.
No one can make your progress but you, but these words of encouragement have helped me along the way and I hope they help you too.
Title: Self Portrait
Size: 8.5″ x 14″
Notes: This piece was an exercise applying new techniques I recently learned for digital painting, in particular when applied to portraits. I thought it would be wise to try this out on a portrait of myself before applying it to a family member, friend, or client. In the end it was a wonderful opportunity to experiment with brushes I hadn’t used before and learn to create digital portraits more efficiently. I was also surprised by much of what I’ve learned from traditional oil painting worked for the digital medium – it really goes to show how interconnected the disciplines of art are!
I’ve also included the draft sketch as a before-and-after glimpse at my process. It also served as the first layer of the painting. Big thanks to my friends and fellow classmates, especially Ideation: AAU’s Production Art Community, for their excellent feedback to help kick this up a notch!
I’m pleased to present my Layout Design for Animation Portfolio.
This class focused on designing layouts (backgrounds) for animation and learning about the role of a layout designer within an art department. After the script for a movie, game, or animated TV show is interpreted and translated into a visual sequence by storyboard artists, the layout designers solve the problems inherent to developing story-telling elements, composition, leaving space for characters and props to move in, developing the background prior to painting, and infusing the style of the story into the illustrations. A layout artist must be able to research everything from period and culturally-appropriate architecture, furniture, fabrics, patterns, and other elements that will help tell the story.
The layouts below are all in 1.85 aspect ratio (standard widescreen format for the US) ranging from 8 Field to 12 Field. Some are contour line drawings, some are in wonky or warped styles, and others are value studies or on-location drawings. I used colored pencil, graphite pencil, and markers to create these pieces.
Below, is my process developing a layout designs for an oil portrait painter’s studio set in modern day in the spring. I began with a series of thumbnails drawn with a Tombow ink marker on tracing paper and worked through problems of composition and focal point on the easel and model’s chair as well as developed the story-telling elements – such as the makeup area. The makeup area indicates that this the busy artist who prepares for her interviews and presentations in her studio.
The final version is cleaned up with a graphite pencil. Notice the thicker contour lines around the main focal point and foreground elements. I was careful to develop the relationship between the easel and model’s chair with a directional line – the model and artist can see each other.
In the version below, I used color pencil to create a wonky version of one of the earlier thumbnails. Wonky style was developed in the 60’s and was used in TV shows like Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life. It makes use of a crooked architecture through a lack of parallel lines. This approach gives the layout a fun and playful style..
Last in this series is my value study of the oil painter’s studio. Adding value places the layout in a specific time of day and much attention is paid to where the light is coming from. I used lighter tones and clear shadows to suggest a late afternoon setting and kept the foreground elements dark so that they wouldn’t challenge the focal points for attention.
Below are my first and second live location drawings. These were opportunities to work with markers and capture story-telling elements and values in a limited amount of time. It was fun to work on location directly from life and rearrange objects to create better compositions right then and there. For example, I moved the tree in the Japanese restaurant drawing and drew the shadow as a directional line towards the restaurant, drawing attention back to it.
A formal french restaurant set in the turn of the 19th-to-20th century in Christmas time drawn with graphite pencil. The elements that suggest the era are the flame-lit chandelier, wall sconces, and gramophone. This was a great opportunity to combine both wonky and warped style together. An illustration in warped style is like looking through a fisheye lens. The lines converge at different points along the horizon line in convex and concave curves. The interesting thing about the warped style is that it stretches out architecture making it look longer and wider. So by combining the two styles here, it’s like looking at a wonky style through a fisheye lens.
Two of my earlier marker value studies of a cable car flower shop set in a San Francisco alleyway near Valintine’s Day. I didn’t change the organic shapes much, but the architecture and background props were wonkified to be playful and keep the charming elements of the cable car. I used light values in the first study to place the layout in day and darker values in the second layout to indicate night. In the nighttime value study I left the windows and light shining on the ground white to draw the eye back to the cable car store.
Now that I’ve completed my first semester, it’s my great pleasure to share my class portfolios!
Below, I’ve uploaded my portfolio of Character Design for Animation art. This class focused on designing line art (starting with sketches and finishing them as cleaned-up illustrations) all designed for use in animation. For animation, this requires simplifying the human figure (and animals) into the fewest lines required to capture the character. The more lines a character has, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to animate. Styles range from simplified realism to the more “pushed” comic styles. In this class we began by studying the design shorthand various master artists use in the industry, and in the end designed our own characters.
I plan to set time aside this summer to digitally color more of these, but for now, you’ll find an example of what I can do with colored pencil in the Aprhodite series.
Below is my series of Athena illustrations, also in Bruce Timm’s style. One of his famous projects was the Batman TV animated series and the Justice League. His Wonder Woman design inspired me to draw Athena – he struck the perfect balance between feminine and masculine qualities that make Wonder Woman a powerful woman to be reckoned with. Notice the subtle but effective differences between Aphrodite and Athena that makes one voluptuous and the other an Amazon warrior.
Below is my age study in Colin Jack’s style. He’s famous for more than his children’s books – he created a way to use angles and straight lines to describe children, who are traditionally drawn with curves. I used his style to draw the same character across his lifespan from toddler, to child, adult, and elderly man.
Below, a series of Siamese cats drawn in styles varying from feature film (lower left) to simplified realism (upper left) to cartoon (middle) and finally anthropomorphic. As the cat slid from less realistic to more stylized, I kept the elements that are essential to describing a siamese cat and the rest became more and more human. I was influenced by Disney and Warner Brothers when designing these characters.
A character designer must be able to illustrate a character using a variety of facial expressions. Below is a study of emotions and expressions in Bruce Timm’s style.
Full-figure characters in Colin Jack’s style. I had seen the 2010 Alice in Wonderland in which Alice returns to Wonderland as a young woman and thought this would be a great opportunity to exercise Colin Jack’s style.
The exercise was to design a character from a story that had never been animated or featured in a film before and create two 5-point turnarounds, one sans clothes and one costumed. It’s helpful to draw the character first nekid to develop the figure before “wrapping him” in clothing. But notice how the addition of clothing helps define the shape and form of the character (particularly his legs)? I decided to draw Bast from the Name of the Wind book by Patrick Rothfuss and was inspired by Sean “Cheeks” Galloway and his creative use of shapes. The gestures and movement he captures in his illustrations would be perfect for Bast.
And finally sketches a life model (posing for 2-5 minutes at a time) who I turned him into characters on the spot. Somehow it’s the shortest poses that have the most dynamic feel, maybe it’s the feeling of urgency!