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.
Title: My Zombie Husband
Medium: Graphite & Colored Pencil
Size: 8.5″ x 14″
Notes: This was originally a character design with a focus on rendering realistic folds from a collection of reference photos. In cases like this, I applied my understanding of fabric and folds in this to make an unnatural body with broken limbs look realistic – this character was based on four distinct poses to give the impression that the zombie had suffered several broken bones. I also took the opportunity to tell a story with this design. I then scanned the pencil drawing and digitally painted it, which adds additional elements such as the time of day and mood of the scene.
If you look for the clues, you can learn more about this particular zombie. Even though his ring finger is half-bitten off, he still wears his wedding ring. He’s missing a shoe, perhaps he was turned when he was getting ready for work one morning. Most people wonder what the role of the raven is. Is it and its flock assisting the zombies by circling above human prey? Did the flesh in its beak come from the Zombie Husband’s cheek, implying that the zombies will eventually be consumed by the ravens? One viewer wondered if the ravens were created by the remains of the US government to combat the zombie threat. But is the red glint in the raven’s eye suggesting that it too is a zombie, or is it merely a reflection of the gore around it?
This character was based on my husband (who was a fantastic sport modling those awkward poses and giving me great zombie faces). If there’s any special meaning in that, I suppose it’s that I don’t want him to ever die…and I do mean ever. : P
Title: Aphrodite: The Ultimate Bombshell in Green!
Medium: Original in Colored Pencil, inked and colored in Photoshop
Size: 11″ x 17″
Notes: I designed Aphrodite in Bruce Timm’s style after being inspired by his sensual pinups. Notice the curves, her posture and gestures, the translucent gown, and the emphasis on her eyes. Side note: I designed the Athena and Aphrodite characters at the same time and included subtle but clear differences between them that makes one voluptuous and the other a warrior.
I decided to try a different color scheme and this is the result. I created this turquoise-blue color scheme based on the triad rule. It brings out her eyes more and makes me think of life and her vibrancy.
A 4-point turnaround of my Aphrodite character in Bruce Timm’s style. A turnaround is a series of front, 3/4, side, and rear view illustrations of a character designed so that all members of a production team will know what a character looks like from all points of view. Sometimes a 3/4 rear view is included as well. A turnaround is part of the model sheet package along with an expression sheet and “gestures” or poses. For more information, check out this more detailed explanation by Mike Milo.
Even though I completed this turnaround early on in the character design process, and so it isn’t as sleek as the newer gesture designs, the practice of developing Aphrodite into a 3D form led to the final, more sophisticated, look for her poses here and here. This exercise helped me become more familiar with her as a character and made it easier to discover the shapes that describe her form in more evocative ways.
It usually isn’t necessary to color turnaround illustrations, but I decided to do so with this early design. In the process, I learned a few finer points about outlining contour lines, coloring, and shading. For example, the form of her breasts and the gold bands that wrap around her gown are described better with this shading than in her gesture poses. This was a great opportunity to practice lighting a character consistently when viewed from different orientations.
Follow this link to see three videos of Matt Rhodes, Associate Art Director for the Mass Effect games, as he discusses the creation of the Asari, Krogan, and Salarian races respectively. I find his discussion of how he and his artists used model and animal references as launching points for their designs particularly interesting.
Designing Asari, Krogans, Salarians, and Batarians: Mass Effect: The Origin of Species – Features – www.GameInformer.com
Designing Turians: Mass Effect 3: Creating Garrus
What makes an alien race sexy and approachable to humans? What animal features make a race look predatory? Scientific and enlightened? How can designers differentiate members of these species? How would they look in different points across their lifespan? All of this must be considered when designing an alien character in addition to the practical elements of movement, weight, balance, and constructing armor and clothing.
- A-level work can be published in industry; so if you are consistently getting A’s then should be out working instead of taking out loans for school. Most students get C’s at AAU, with a few stars getting the infrequent A-. So feel good about getting high C’s and low B’s, especially before midterm. Grades are no more or less than feedback on your work. No one will care what your GPA was in school, they will care about your portfolio. However, aim for A-level work so that you will have a professional portfolio.
- Related to No. 1: If you are offered a job while in school, take it! The goal is to get work, not necessarily to get your degree. The timing might not be right when you graduate; in fact, it probably won’t because you’ll be competing with other graduates at the same time. You can always return to school and finish your degree if you so wish, or even receive educational reimbursements from your employer if you want to continue studying while working.
- Almost everyone in school is great at something and weak in other things. I’ve realize that compared to other beginning students I have more experience rendering texture and painting digitally; I also have an intuitive knack for picking colors. But while I can copy a figure given enough time, I have trouble imagining the human body in other positions or from different points of view, or capturing gestures quickly, or simplifying and stylizing it for animation, or foreshortening it. Once I have that down, I won’t need to learn much about how to “wrap it” in shade or color. If you’ve been admitted into an MFA program, you have something to offer and something to gain from school.
- Attitude is critical. Remember the tortoise and the hare parable, “slow and steady wins the race”. There are a number of experienced students, but some of them are complacent and others are resistant to trying out new things. However, with an excellent attitude towards learning, you can rise head and shoulders above other students with time, dedication, and practice. That’s the same attitude needed to get work in industry and to be the very best at the tasks you’re assigned. The artists with that attitude are the ones who are promoted, not the ones who are envious of senior artists on the team.
- A lot of students resist learning certain techniques, styles, or subjects because they think they won’t use them later on. In my character design class we’re learning to become “style chameleons” during the first half of the semester and “building our design vocabulary”. Many students want to stay in their comfort zones and draw in their own style, but that will kill the career of a new artist in industry. Learning to draw in different styles is a survival skill. If hired by a company (say, Disney or Lucas Arts) you would have to draw in the style of the particular project you’re assigned. Everything you learn adds to you “Batman’s belt” – your set of tools available for every occasion. Never stop learning. Keep your tools sharp. For more on this, read Dresden Codak’s article on Draftsmanship: Increasing Your Visual Vocabulary.
- Is it better to generalize and be able to do many different things, or to specialize and rock at one thing? In other words: “is it better to become a swiss army knife or a scalpel?” The answer: ideally you should become a swiss army knife with a scalpel attached. Be a rock star at one task and then be able to do many different tasks for a project as well. That is the best way to get yourself established in the industry and to keep yourself employed.
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011: New Graduate Student Orientation
Orientation was a required event for all of the new graduate students. We were there to meet the president and vice president of the Academy of Art University, our admissions representatives, and heads of our respective schools. I’ve quickly learned that AAU is very focused on creating professionals ready to enter the industry by graduation. And an event like this was a perfect opportunity to network and meet any and all of the new graduate students in one place. I approached it like a trade conference.
At Reed College, I quickly realized that the most interesting kids in school went there and places like it. I could spend hours talking excitedly (or ‘geeking out’ if you prefer) with any student there. At AAU, I have the impression that the most creative and driven aspiring artists go there. Same dedication, same ambition, same intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Just my kind of people, but with a different focus.
I’m not the type to briefly exchange names and cards with as many people as I can in the time allotted. That may work for some people, and I’ll grant, it generates a lot of contacts. But I’m more comfortable with meeting 3-4 people at an event like this, talking in depth for about 20 minutes each if I can (or in a group if they know each other), and try to form lasting connections with them. These could be my collaborators or colleagues in the future, perhaps near-future if we combine forces in school. Hopefully we’d be ambitious enough to publish our own books or found our own companies. Such things have happened in AAU and schools like it.
I don’t know why people get nervous about meeting each other at an event like this. Ok, well, maybe I do because I used to be painfully shy too. I had a very negative inner monologue right up until I was settled at Reed. And maybe it does echo into my consciousness from time to time, particularly when I’m out of my element. But in reality, people want to meet each other. They are silently screaming, ‘Talk to me, please! I don’t know anyone!’ I know because that’s what I’ve thought. So I just dive in. Ask questions. Be like a reporter and interview people. People love to talk about themselves, so I give them the excuse, and my card. I love listening to them, especially when I find we’re obsessed about the same things.
After the meet & greet, I went with two new friends up to the welcome lecture. The highlight there was the spring show reel of the work that previous Masters in Fine Art (MFA) students have created. Some of their work was quite impressive. The video ended with the promise that we would create art like that. Many of us swore we would create art at that caliber. Yet some of us feared, deep inside, that there had been a mistake. We feared we weren’t qualified and didn’t have the talent.
Fear is perfectly healthy at the beginning of a long transformation such as this. It prevents one from being arrogant, complacent, and closed to new ideas. After-all, to understand is to stand under a concept for a while. But that fear isn’t completely warranted. Yes, there are schools out there that just want funding and will take (and pass) anyone. I’ve heard the horror stories. A school like this one, however, has a good reputation for working its students hard, challenge them, and pushing them out of their comfort zones. And a school like AAU reviews admission application portfolios for a reason – to find the potential in them.
Next we split into our respective schools. Those like me in the Illustration School convened with Bill Maughan, the Director of Graduate Illustration. I was a little tongue-tied meeting him, and this is why:
A professional illustrator and fine artist, Mr. Maughan received a Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration from the Art Center College of Design. He has provided numerous illustrations for such companies as DreamWorks, Woman’s Day, TV Guide, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, CBS, Universal Studios, Wells Fargo Bank, Chevrolet, GMC, Franklin Library, New American Library, Avon Books, Pinnacle Books, Signet Books, Tor Books, Doubleday, Harcourt Brace, Knopf, Oxford University Press, Danbury Mint, Fenwick and others. Since the early ’80s Mr. Maughan’s work, both originals and prints, has been represented by major galleries and publishers, domestically and internationally. His works of art are included in private, commercial and museum collections. Mr. Maughan’s book, The Artist’s Complete Guide to Drawing the Head, was published in 2004 by Watson/Guptill.
When he’s not teaching Academy students the fundamentals — realism-based drawing, design concepts, value, form, color and composition — he paints in his studio in the mountains of Utah.
Bill (I feel a little irreverent using his first name, but that’s the convention at school), Bill has been illustrating long before I was born; to say that he knows what he’s talking about is a grand understatement.
Bill Maughan took the time to advise us at the beginning of our careers with AAU and after. He also reviewed what the midpoint reviews and final theses will entail for each focus (or track). Mine is the Concept Art track with a focus on games.
Midpoint review will involve a few of our best examples from each of the classes we’ll be taking (or new pieces in the subjects those classes covered, they don’t need to have been presented in class – I might be better at head drawing long after finishing that class for example). This is also when I’ll pitch my final thesis project in a written proposal.
The Final thesis for Concept Art will involve a entire ‘pitch’ for a film or game. Thumbnails, three character designs (only one can be human), a turnaround, a painted background environment, and the layout design of a room from several angles.
Yeah, kinda frightening! But this is also the master who saw our portfolios and essays in our applications and believes we have potential.
So while, even as I write, my stomach is twisted in knots at what is ahead, I have faith that the school knows what it’s doing and would have turned me down if I couldn’t succeed. I just have to apply myself and work very, very hard.
Q: So what are you offering today?
- Original Characters and creatures
- Landscapes and cityscapes both real from photo reference and imagined
- Book Covers
- Nudity you wouldn’t mind your mom seeing
- Your relatives and friends (not nude)
I work mainly in digital realistic and painterly styles, but upon request I can work in either comic book or animation styles.
Q: What’s that?
A: Full color head & shoulders of any character OR real life people if you have a good quality reference of front/side/3quarter.
Q: What do I need to provide?
A: Several good images of the character, plus a description of their personality, OR one good image of the real person and descriptions of their personality. If the subject is a real person, you’ll need the rights to the photo too (if you took the photo yourself, or have permission from the photographer).
Q: Then what happens?
A: I scurry away and sketch up an outline. I’ll show it to you and you can make your comments and I’ll tweak it. Once you’re happy with that, I’ll color and detail it in my painted style. I can’t accept revisions after it’s done, since portraits are quick and cheap. Unless, of course, it’s my own fault for getting something wrong that was clearly shown in the reference.
Q: What can I do with the image?
A: Print it, hang it up, stick it on your fridge, anything you like…just don’t make money off it or use it to create new artwork. If you post it online, I would also ask for credit when and where possible.
Q: What will you do with the image?
A: I’ll add it to my portfolio and use it for promoting my work.
Q: What else should I know?
A: I retain ownership of the final artwork and reserve the right to display it on my website, portfolios, and submit it to magazines or artbooks. It will however never be sold, used for profit, or licenced to another without your approval. You may use the image for non-profit purposes only unless agreed otherwise. Full licence agreement is available on request.
Q: I am totally cool with all that. How much?
A: Portraits……$50 US
Waist Up…….$70-$80 (Depending on costume and pose complexity)
Full body……$90-$100 (Depending on costume and pose complexity)
Scenes………$160+ (Depends on background detail, number of characters, size)$40 via Paypal.
If you want two characters in an image, double the price and subtract $10. For scenes, it’s generally $50 per extra character (eg. a three character scene would be $260).
Portraits, full bodies, and waist-ups come with simple backgrounds (ie colour gradients, textures, blurry detail) only. Adding a full background counts as a scene.
Q. Ok great, how do I hire you for a commission?
Contact Me first describing what you would like for your commission. Please provide a detailed description of the character (pose, appearance, costume, personality) and any visual references or inspiration. For commissions of real-life people, provide either one photo (I will reference it directly, guarantees likeness) or many quality photos from multiple angles (I will use them to figure out face shapes, results in unique image but may not be perfect likeness). I can then price your commission and you can return here to purchase it.
Commissions are first come, first served. Most artworks are completed within two weeks
I accept payments through Paypal only. 50% of payment is due upon approval of sketch (except for portraits, full payment is due upon approval of the sketch). Remainder must be paid before full-resolution 300dpi image is provided. Due to the fluctuating exchange rate all values are in US dollars.
To purchase your commission:
A year ago today, I was the lone research coordinator/assistant for a psychiatrist at Stanford University facing impending lay-off. I had feared economic instability my entire adult life and had thought that full-time work in the sciences and research would keep me securely employed; and here I was facing exactly what I had planned to avoid. I’d received formal notice that by the end of March I’d be grouped with the 10% of unemployed Americans.
Today, I am a new MFA candidate at the Academy of Art University School of Illustration with a primary focus on Concept Art for games. I’m happy I was laid off from research coordination!
It turned out that my lay-off was the beginning of a clusterwin, a simultaneous chain of positive events. At around the time I was informed of the life-expectancy of my job, the special edition of Mass Effect 2 arrived in the mail, complete with the art-book for the game’s pre-production. I had seen concept art before, even created some, but the illustration of the Illusive Man that made a profound impression on me:
The original title in the Mass Effect trilogy set a new standard for emotionally engaging digital actors. To push the quality bar even higher, the art team painstakingly developed sophisticated concepts and new technologies for the characters of Mass Effect 2. Personalities and back stories were woven into every detail of the designs, and several characters were born out of production paintings like this one of the Illusive Man. Capturing more than just his appearance, the painting portrays a moment that defines the spirit of the character.
– Mass Effect 2 Collectors’ Edition
This is it! I thought. This is what I want to do.
I realized that Concept Art is the synergy of everything I had done before and everything I wanted to do. It is my calling. I conferred with family in the entertainment business who then referred me to friends at Alligator Planet LLC who in turn gave me an invaluable start. I enlisted in art classes at the local community college and applied myself – earning a 4.0 GPA and building a portfolio over the course of the year. I received feedback and encouragement from my peers and instructors in school to make the leap. Joe Ragey, who taught me about storyboards and using Corel Painter to create digital art, gave me particularly valuable information about which art schools to apply for.
I investigated the schools, compared my options, conferred with admissions representatives at different schools, debated between shooting for a second BA or an MFA, assembled my [download id=”3″], held my breath, and clicked the button. It was December, and I’d submitted my application to join the Illustration School Graduate Program at the Academy of Art University in Spring 2011. A week later I heard from my admissions representative that the Director of the program had not only accepted me as a student, despite how I didn’t come from a formal background in the arts, but he also waived one of my required classes!
I can’t fully express the feeling I had at that moment, let alone the feeling I continue to have. Needless to say, I am beside myself with excitement for this opportunity, to immerse in artwork, and work towards my calling. It’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, and that’s exactly what I need from school. Here’s to a new year, and a new career!