Thursday, August 31, 2006


Most, perhaps all, of the people who might visit have already seen this elsewhere.

Anyway, this picture was painted relatively quickly, about two hours, from a photo but not picking the colors off this time. I deliberately set out to not spend a lot of time fiddling with details and instead just keep it loose and simple. That strategy worked out pretty well, I think. There are some places that didn't come out quite right, and the color is quite different from the original, but overall I'm pretty happy with it.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I have to admit, I rather like that one. It only took an hour, for one thing. Now, I don't think it's great or anything, but it is what I wanted it to be. Maybe I just need to lower my standards, hmm?

Anyway, I didn't just start posting this to show off a picture I think turned out OK. I wanted to mention the reason, I think, this picture turned out better than usual. I had just read a tutorial on inking from Tom Richmond (via Drawn!). Fear of failure, ink mess and inherent laziness prevent me from actually drawing with ink on paper, but some of the comments in that tutorial about the state of mind required for good inking sounded interesting to me:

Watching several inkers at work demonstrated to me that a lot of what goes into good inking is confidence. You cannot be timid when inking, or you will lose any chance of spontaneity or energy in your final work. You have to have the confidence that your stroke is going where you want it to go. If you are too deliberate and slow, the final effect won't have the bounce and pop a confident ink job will have. It's a little like riding a bicycle... you can use training wheels (slow, timid ink lines) if you want to, and with them you'll get where you want to go but it won't be graceful or pretty. If you take off the training wheels you will fall down and skin your knees a few times, but eventually you'll get the hang of it and you'll be off! Don't rush your inks, but don't labor over them with slow, awkward strokes either.

If anything, I tend to rush too much, but I don't rush with confidence. I just sort of scribble around, trying to get the lines in the right place almost by trial and error. Not so good. So anyway, it struck me that this suggestion really applies to a lot of art. Confidence helps. You need to be confident and loose without being too sloppy.

I think having these thoughts in mind helped me use darker, more confident lines than usual in that picture (although there's still plenty of slop), which is what I like about it. I think I'll keep this in mind for later attempts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Simplify, Simplify

Another (relatively) quick sketch. Trying to simplify things, and trying to draw a good profile.


Again and Again

On the one hand, it's kind of encouraging that I can (sometimes) see a steady improvement in my work.

On the other hand, it's depressing that I never get any more satisfied with it.

Is it finished? Damned if I know.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Accidental Girl

Another loosening up sketch. Not very loose.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Here is a picture I painted, originally inspired by a story Tim Akers wrote. You can find the story at the Dead Channel. Don't blame him for this though. The fault is entirely mine.

In the end, I have to admit, it didn't come out as well as I wanted. I spent too much time on it and never really managed to capture the feeling that I had originally envisioned. The eyes, particularly, didn't work out well. I'd repaint it entirely from scratch, but I don't think I'd be able to do better a second time around at this point. Maybe in a few years.

This was my first attempt to do a painting without an exact reference. I've done lots of (mostly horrible) doodles in the past with no references at all, but recently I've been trying to do something more like traditional painting in Photoshop, using a limited set of hard brushes and mixing colors. My first two reasonably successful attempts were portraits of my daughters, done directly from photographs. Anyway, enough excuses.

So I had an idea for this character firing her gun, and the sunlight that it fires shining offstage, giving a little dramatic lighting. I went looking for references and found a picture of a blond with almost the right pose and lighting, but not quite the right face or hair. That gave me a basic plan for the face. I also found four or five pictures of people firing guns, which gave me some idea of how the hands and gun should look. I set out to get the colors down with a big, big brush.

So far, so good. I suspect that the composition is one problem. Too static. Too heavy. Too flat. Lessons to take to the next picture.

I didn't like the front hand. In fact, I'd be reworking that hand over and over until the end, as it turned out.

Well, now her lips and entire 'muzzle' make her look like a gorilla. Not good. I'm also unsure of where to take the eyes.

Well, I worked up the nose a bit, and redid the shotgun shell. The shell by itself worked out fairly well, but I'm not sure if it ever worked in the composition. It always seemed too distracting.

I kept trying to get those eyes and lips right. I convinced myself that the space between the bottom of her nose and her lips was too large. I ended up tweaking her nose larger and her lips up a bit. Again, the eyes: She looks crosseyed, probably because of the premature highlighting.

At this point I was almost satisfied with the face. Almost. The eyes were still bothering me, and her jaw seemed too high and long. So I pushed on trying to make it better.

At this point I had figured out that the hands were far too light, and started to add definition to them. I had, of course, broken the rule of working from dark to light, and eventually ended up resorting to Photoshop manipulation to help fix that, but not before trying to fix her weird cheek.

Fixed? Maybe, maybe not. Her eyes continued to bother me. I really think the only way I could have fixed those eyes now is to go back to the beginning and redo them. However, at this point I just wanted to finish the picture, so I pushed on. Another lesson, I guess, that you should be willing to start over (or give up entirely) if something isn't working right.

The hair was pretty much done at this point, too, although it the shading seemed a little off.

I finally gave up and used levels to darken the hands, because I did have basically the shapes I wanted but too light. Unfortunately they ended up too dark and too high constrast compared to the face. Too dark, I thought, was OK, since I would be lightening up the illuminated areas as I finished. The front hand still wasn't right, so I went back to the references and redid it pretty much entirely for what ended up being the final session.

Finally I darkened the gun too, painted her jacket (dark, to match everything else), moved that shell because she seemed to be staring at it instead of her target, and redid the eyes again. Added some floating debris to keep the background from being too boring.

It's weird. I like the picture in some ways, and in other ways not so much. Probably I just spent too much time with it. Anyway, hopefully I have learnt something. (For some wonderful examples of portraiture which is not crap, look at this recent post on the Illustration Art blog about Winold Reiss. That man could paint.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


A crappy loosening up sketch.

I take it back. I'm not getting better.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Art and Realism

OK, so I can post this here and be sure nobody will ever read it. Great.

First of all, you, my entirely imaginary reader, might ask yourself, "Why is Colin writing about art all of a sudden after abandoning the blog for the last six months?" Well, over the past year or so I've found myself interested in art again. I've been trying to first get back to the point I was in high-school, where I could draw a half-decent picture sometimes, or so I thought.

That's a sketch I did in March. Here's an image I did more recently:

I think I'm getting better.

Anyway, today on Boing Boing, there was a link to this post about the world's most photorealistic art.

It is amazing. However, the comments thread below that reveals two camps among the readers. First, there is the "OMG that's amazing!" camp, which is an understandable position. The second is the "this isn't art and it isn't impressive" camp. The second camp was shortly being criticized by the first as a bunch of jealous haters. Maybe some of them were, but they have a point.

The point is brought out by this comment. I quote:

Once you learn the technique of using gradient mesh, you find out how easy it is to do if you have great patience. Bert Monroy doesn't use gradient mesh so his works are raster rather than vector.

for those who can't believe these were done in a vector application, see what I did in less than an hour using Adobe Illustrator mesh.

The link goes to a pretty good initial rendering of a red pepper. Here's part of it:

Most of the images are basically traced from a photograph using the mesh tool in illustrator. It certainly takes skill, but not quite as much skill as you might think.

I worry that a lot of people, people who are amazed by those pictures, come away with the idea that the artists are superhuman, mad talents. They say to themselves, "I could never do something like that." This is a shame. The artists are talented, but most people have artistic talent if they can learn how to access it. Most people could do a pretty good job of "something like that," with the right tools and enough practice. Maybe not quite so good as the artists showcased in that post, but better than they might expect.

It seems to me that most people don't get into art because they are discouraged and frustrated by their initial attempts. We all want to draw something as real as a photograph, and we are disappointed when we can't. The same people will look at those pieces of photo-realistic "art" and not realize that the realism is the result of a normal, human skill level coupled with a good piece of software.

The other thing they might not realize is that achieving realism like that is impressive, but it's only the beginning for an artist.

Realistic drawing is a starting point, a basic skill (difficult, maybe, but still basic). The problem with most of these pictures is they don't go much beyond that. Some of the people are beginning to take it further, by simplifying and modifying as a traditional painter would do, but a lot of it is too slavish to the original material for my liking.

My painting, above (done in Photoshop, by the way, but painted on a blank canvas), was done while looking at a photo, but it differs from that photo in many ways. Some of those ways are limitations in my skill, but others are deliberate. I didn't want a picture that looked exactly the same as the photo. I wanted some of the things that paint can do, which includes a certain amount of randomness and near-randomness, as well as an interaction between the artist and the subject. The process itself is part of the picture. The process is part of the picture in the Illustrator mesh copies as well, but I think the process is cold. Too cold for me, anyway.

If I get to the point of being able to do pictures which look like photographs at some point, I like to think I will use that skill to make pictures which could never be photographs.

I'm not there yet. Obviously. But that's part of the process too, eh?