Aug 2009

Ready at the Trigger

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Albert Einstein

Ready at the Trigger- Acrylic on gessoed hardboard

Ready at the Trigger, is the latest in a continuing series of figurative, personal paintings I’ve been working on in between illustration projects. It was painted with acrylics on a 36”x20” piece of hardboard that I had prepped with three coats of toned gesso.

On viewing this painting, and other recent personal works, I was asked if I find it confusing to move back and forth from digital to traditional media. My answer is no, not at all. In fact, I it very easy moving from what is now commonly referred to as traditional media, to the electronic side of things. In many ways the traditional experience serves to reinforce the digital one. Maybe this is due to the fact that I learned how to sling paint before pixels. Of course the foundations of good painting are the same no matter what media is used; solid drawing, composition, design, value, color. These elements will all make or break a piece of art no matter what materials are used to create it.

We all know the obvious differences, like no “Undo” command when working with traditional media. This means you have to think a little more, do a bit more planning. No easily created layers of experimentation, no “Copy” or “Paste” options either. For the most part what you see is what you get. Lay down the stroke with a loaded brush and you either live with the result, (or wipe it off quickly, wet rag- hurry!), or work much harder to make any needed correction to your misguided attempts later on. Traditional painting therefore raises the stakes considerably. Hey, that’s one of the main reasons to work digitally as an illustrator since we are constantly subject to, “the whims of change.”

One difference that I rarely hear mentioned though, is the knowledge required when working traditionally, to mix various hues, in order to achieve a desired new color. I’m not talking about color theory. Color theory itself is media independent, and not what I refer to. What I’m talking about is the selecting and blending of paint on the pallet. Knowing which combination of hues mixed together, (or overlaid to some extent), will create a desired new shade. Most digital artists seem to select their colors “pre-mixed” from either an unlimited range via a color wheel, or from within a color set. Painter (and there may be other programs as well), has tried to fill the gap, by including the ability to color blend with its “Mixer” feature. It’s a good attempt at replicating the real world experience of mixing your own color, but still can’t compare with the idiosyncrasies of physical media.

Overall, however, digital painting for me is very similar to the real thing. My approach is much the same in terms of the steps involved and even the way I apply color. You can compare the creation of a digital work with a traditionally painted one, by viewing the demo movie below and the demo of this digitally painted piece, Nativity.

Ready at the Trigger- detail.

New Time Scavenger Painting

The wisest keeps something of the vision of a child. Though he may understand a thousand things that a child could not understand, he is always a beginner, close to the original meaning of life.
John Macy

Cruft’s Shop- Digital

This is a new painting from the Time Scavenger project that I’ve been working on, unfortunately in an all too occasional manner. It’s an illustration of the curiosity shop owned by the strange and mysterious Mr Cruft. The hero of the story, Artemis, has just gathered up enough courage to enter through the doorway, when...

He stumbled over his own feet and fell back against the door shutting it tight. The latch clicked. He slid down the wall to the floor his eyes glued on the figure of a man who loomed over him his hand reaching out to grab hold. It was an embalmed corpse, wrapped in natron scented linen. He recognized it immediately. Standing over Artemis, ready to pounce, was a six foot tall Egyptian mummy.

Links to text from the first two installments of the story are posted in the sidebar. Reader’s will notice that there are some minor differences in the details of the painting. Obviously, this is not an accurate rendition of an Egyptian mummy, for example. The reason is, that as a collaborative work in progress, some minor details are changing even although those changes have not been updated in the posted version of the text.

I started the piece, by combining some rough sketch ideas, with notations done in the small sketchbook I keep to log ideas in. Those sketches were scanned in, but instead of working up a tight pencil, as I usually do, it was straight to full color, quarter size, concept roughs. I wanted to keep a spontaneity that can sometimes be lost in a tight pencil stage. besides, I had a good idea of where I wanted to take this painting. The best of the painted concepts was then res’ed up, and used as a base for development of the final image.

Nearly all of the work was done using Corel Painter, with only minor tweaks handled in Photoshop, like the type on the window and the ceiling detail. The time traveler’s map applied to Cruft’s ceiling, was made up as a separate piece of art. That was then collapsed to a single layer and dropped into the main image. With the layer mode set to Soft Light, I then adjusted the opacity appropriately, to blend it into the scene.

New Sketch Using Painter

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Jack London

Painter Sketch

The piece above was created in Corel’s Painter from the sketch I used in my previous blog post. I’ve also posted a scan of the original sketchbook page that I worked from. As you can see I ran out of room on the first page and had to tape another sheet of paper on the side.

When it came to painting the sketch, I decided that I wanted this to be a “light” piece. Rather than a fully rendered background, I wanted lots of white space, the type of painting that might be designed for text to wrap around. The characters would be supported by an indication of the background rather than a fully realized setting. I wanted the floor to be an indication with just enough weight to ground the figures and provide an area for the shadows to play up the light source. I think it wound up working pretty well.

Sketchbook Original

I’ve been asked recently, by other illustrators, what it’s like to work with Painter, a program that specializes in simulating a natural, or traditional, media experience. The answer, I have to confess, is that I found it a slightly intimidating program at first. It’s a media application that comes preloaded with a mind bending array of features and material. Photoshop, is of course the default graphics program, but Painter delivers a rich media experience that Photoshop doesn’t easily provide. It creates a virtual art studio in your computer, and a very well equipped one at that. The depth of the program is impressive, to the point where it can be overwhelming at times, something that can put off a casual user. In fact, if you want to go behind the curtain, and explore all the options Corel provides, you better pack a lunch. Then again, the quality and presentation, of the natural media the program is based on, is so well done, and has such a realistic feel, that most artists, even those with a traditional media background, should be fairly comfortable right out of the gate by just sticking to the “off the rack” supplies and not fooling with all the optional settings. In the mood to use pastel? Hey, there it is, grab it and go. Fat bristle brush, loaded with oil paint? No problem, here’s one ready to hit the canvas. The array of prebuilt media sets is great, even if you never do decide to tinker much with settings. My opinion, if you’re looking for a graphics app that conjures up a traditional media look and feel, I think it’s hard to beat, for both the Sunday painter and the serious pro user.

When Smaller is Better

I took a speed reading course and finished War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
Woody Allen

Sketchbook piece

It’s no news flash that the number of smartphones, and other small screened mobile devices, is skyrocketing. For the most part, the experience of watching video, or web browsing on the iphone or its ilk, is a good one. It’s no mystery why, the ability to access all of the web from nearly anywhere you go is fantastic. One bit of sand in the vaseline, however, is when a website fails to deliver the goods asap. Overstuffed websites with long load times can be extremely frustrating. What’s even worse though, are those times when clicking on a link leaves you in what seems a perpetual wait for content, only to have something show up cut-off or otherwise unusable.

It’s unfair to blame a, poorly functioning via mobile device browser’s site owner, though. And I say that mainly because I am one. This very site, I must admit, could be a better experience when using a mobile browser.

With that in mind, I have created a version of my website that’s optimized for mobile devices, The site is designed to load fast and present a portfolio of my work that is easy and simple to access using a mobile web browser. There are trade offs naturally, and in this case, not all the content and features found on this site are available on the mobile version. My new work will still be posted to this page, for example, although some blog pieces may find their way over to the News page. Demos and side projects will still be hosted on the main site, as well as the new downloadable portfolio samplers.

Downloadable Portfolio Samplers

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
Steven Wright

Ah, “If you have the time.” That’s just it, who does? Whatever happened to that vision of a 21st century where all our time was spare time, where legions of robots toiled away, humming gently in chrome plated servitude, as we laid back in jet powered lounge chairs, under pre-scheduled, sunny skies, and signaled for, just one more, umbrella topped drink? Hey, I’ve seen the Popular Scientifics magazine covers, I know what the future was supposed to look like, and this ain’t it. In fact, I’d argue the opposite has come to pass. Spare time has become the Holy Grail of the digital age. Like government intelligence and aerosol lunchmeat, computer derived spare time exists only as theory, blue sky breeze shooting, a promise unfulfilled.

Well, while unlimited free time may never be more than a glorious dream, the whizz-bang geniuses at are doing their part to bring a little slice of the care free world of tomorrow, to your desktop today. Available now for download or online viewing on the Downloads/Links page, are a series of pre-selected, image themed, pdf files. There are three sample categories posted as of today, characters, religious and pre-historic. Others will be added soon. You can simply view the page in your favorite browser or, with a George Jetson-ish right click your mouse, download a print ready page of samples for your next client presentation. Time saved.

Will we ever reach the android piloted, while fez wearing passengers play mahjong in the back seat, flying-car world of tomorrow? Who can say? But rest assured that our team of jim-crack engineers are working non-stop to wrangle every last time saving innovation, from today’s digital meringue of zeros and ones, so that we can all keep heading toward a more leisurely tomorrow.

As for me, with all this time on my hands, I’m off to grab one of those umbrella topped drinks.