Thursday, November 24, 2005

Progress From The Front Lines 11/24/2005

Well, I'm glad to say that the Black Sabbath Album cover reproduction painting is finished and shipped out to it's new home. The feeling of being done with it is great, but I have to admit that it sucks not to have it nearby anymore, just to have a look at it for a bit longer. I got so used to constantly stopping and looking over the painting, even just in passing, that now that there is just an empty space on my easel, it seems like I need to fill it back up again with something.

With this final post for the painting I wanted to highlight the layering approach I mentioned in earlier "Front Lines" postings with two examples that hopefully show what I mean.


With the right angel's wing, I was basing my drawing on the plan that I created at the very beginning of this commission, and basing my colors off of the cd cover directly. You hopefully get a general idea of the color in this photo, but I have to warn you that the photograph isn't a precise representation due to the color of the lights I used to photograph it. I suppose I'll have to work harder on making the color in my photos appear more "true" in the future, but for now I'm sort of shooting from the hip.

But this is a general fill in, so to speak. I'm not too concerned with details, other than making sure that the outside contour of the wing is as close as I can get it so I don't ignore the actual plan underneath the paint. Inside the wing I'm less concerned with getting everything accurate, although I do try to still follow the plan in order to block in color and shapes.


The finished wing involved a lot of layering in the end. To be honest, I think I touched it up even more after this photo was taken. Yet you can see that the focusing of the color and details lays on top of the generalized version. Details like the lighter blue tips of the feathers actually wasn't saved until very last (which would make my old professors shudder, I'm sure) because I didn't want to avoid them in the same process of "general" to "focused". My reasoning is simply that this is a reproduction, and so I'm not developing the image as much as following the plan already laid out, therefore the common rules don't necessarily apply in the same way.

If you think back to the drawing tips I gave in earlier posts, the same could apply here. The highlights pose as critical landmarks on the image which I can measure by to ensure I'm painting the right color in the right spots. What's more, the color relationships need to match the original, and I can only correctly gauge those relationships with all colors present.


This photo shows the middle angel's hand, and pretty much the same concept as the photo before. Blocking in the colors is important, but not painting them so closely that I actually finish this section of the painting. If you look closely you can see that between the fingers, the drawing is actually showing through. I worry about filling that in after everything is blocked in, but I also advise you to make sure you don't leave any of these gaps unattended to. It would be very embarrassing to call the painting "finished" only to one day see a small gap you overlooked.

But again you can see that the ultra small details are acknowledged, not left until the very end. Normally if I were painting this as an original creation, I wouldn't bother with details at all until the end, but I'm creating an exact replica, and need to be mindful that I don't unintentionally drift from the drawing underneath in any aspect, which includes those pesky details.


The black between the fingers has been filled in, and the tones and values of the fingers and hand smoothed out to fit the original. This process is repeated for every single square inch of the painting, and I am constantly referring back to the original. It's almost like a tennis game, going back and forth between the painting and the original image.

Of course, I'm not a copy machine, and relying completely on my own eyes is very foolish. One of the cardinal rules I think any artist should follow is to never assume you've done things right the first time. It's probably what makes most artists such a pain in the ass to please, but it results in near perfection if heeded to. What I'm getting at is that my eyes can easily deceive me, even on something only inches from my face. In fact, that close relationship with my work actually is to my disadvantage, because I might work on something for hours only to realize afterward that it doesn't work with the rest of the painting, which I somehow ignored during that time.

The best cure for this is to continuously step away from the image you work on and look at it from a distance. Putting a fresh perspective on it resets your eyes to see things as others will see it, and often reveals obvious errors that until then you never even noticed. I also use a mirror a lot to get the same effect, and some also do things like stand the images upside down, or try to surprise themselves with the image during the middle of the day in order to catch their mind unaware. If you ever looked at photos of yourself, and were shocked to notice things like the part in your hair is actually on the other side of your head, you can start to understand how this works; looking at yourself in the mirror is different from how others actually see you.

If all else fails, nothing works like an extra set of eyes, and that's what my brother provided at this stage.

The photo doesn't show it very well, but the sock on the right leg of the rightmost angel isn't completely smooth and gradual in the application of the white paint. Collin also noticed that the shadows on the center angel's gown were darker than the original image from the cd sleeve, particularly the one just above her knees. I missed those areas, and was surprised that Collin didn't find even more. The five minutes he spent going over my painting and scanning the colors easily could be worth half an hour of me looking. I had spent well over forty hours looking at this thing by then, and was too used to seeing it to see the problems that remained.

Nitpicking done, peer reviewed and personally "acceptable", I took this out to the owner for their critique. In the end, no matter how many people tell you it's ok, the person who commissioned it is the final word. I had actually planned on laying down a coat of acrylic gloss medium over the finished painting, but before doing that I wanted to make sure no drop of paint on this thing was misplaced, so I let the commissioner have the painting with the understanding that it wasn't officially "done", and I wanted to make sure they thought it was ok. They ended up liking it exactly as it was, without the gloss coat, so I said goodbye to the painting a little prematurely, but happy none the less.

Here is the final painting. I hope someone out there finds this worth the read, but otherwise, I hope you all enjoy the images!

Click the image above for the larger size!


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Progress From the Front Lines 11/01/05


Well, I somehow let a month go by without the almighty update from the front lines. Trust me when I say that I have worked on this painting, I just have neglected to update the blog about it.

So here we go...

Up above you see the gray color that I mixed specifically for use on the angel's gowns. I ended up doing this with just two colors, the gray and the tanish pink of the angels' skin. Now, although I say that these colors were specific to those areas, that doesn't mean I just slap it on to have a finished painting. I consider these base hues (hue basically is another name for color) that I can modify to become darker or lighter in value. Usually this is done by simply adding white or black, but I noticed during painting that some areas were actually leaning toward different hues. If you look closely at this angel close-up, you can see that there are areas of the gown that seem blueish in comparison to the base color, as well as parts of the skin (look at the arm) which are much redder than the skin hue.

If you have ever painted, you might have come across a lot of color theory which explains why this is. So forgive me if I try to sum it up quickly.

Basically, light comes in color. Indoor lights tend to be very warm, leaning toward the orange spectrum, while day light is very cool, leaning towards blue. What this means is that shadows also have color to them, and those colors are often the compliment of the light's color. Warm light results in cool shadows, and vice versa.

So with our angel here, we see that the warm light hitting the skin has resulted in a much cooler red being seen on the shadow side. The same with the shadows on the gown...more bluer than the original gray.

"But," you may ask, "what does that have to do with adding black and white, like you mentioned earlier?" Well, the way I paint usually involves a bit of both. Therefore, you accommodate the darkness/lightness of the hue, and also accommodate the "temperature" (warm/cool) of that hue to achieve the optimal color. Too often artist will not see the temperature of the shadows they wish to depict, so if anyone can take a lesson from today's posting, it's to pay attention to the color of your light!

Of course, in addition to being extra mindful of color when painting, a reproduction like this demands exacting precision and minute attention to detail. Pretty much what I have to do is look back and forth between my original album art and my painting to make sure each drop of paint is exactly where it should be. You may think that this is essentially filling in the number painting, but in my case that's not it at all. Granted, if you were a machine and could meticulously paint each color exactly as it should be from the start, that's a way to do it; but I can't do it that way.

What I do is layer the painting. Think of this as focusing the lens on your camera; essentially every shape and form is there from the beginning, when it's blurry, but as you sharpen the image everything finally goes into focus. That's how this painting is coming along - a slow focusing of elements from "general" to "exact".

The first thing to do is lay down the base color, making sure if falls exactly where is should go. Now this is trickier than it sounds because in this case I'm still making sure I don't obscure the drawing underneath. Therefore, I apply paint to only areas that closely match the base color, and avoid other areas, like shadows. But I only do this to the extent that I can make sure my shadows look exactly the same as the original, and I only do it with the larger areas. Smaller areas I just lay down the color, and go over it with refining paint layers later, since I don't have to worry too much that my marks will stray too far from the original.

It's a very, very time consuming and meticulous process, but it's a great experience for someone like me, since I feel it helping me develop my sense of color and form even more. By training your eye to recognize something exactly as it is, your drawings and paintings in turn become that much better.

You can also see that I'm working from left to right. The reason for this is very simple...I'm right handed. This way, my work isn't obscured by my hand, and I can easily see how the work I am doing right now matches up with the work I've done.

See you next post!


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Progress From the Front Lines 9/16/05

Well, I tried to get this up by today, but technically I'm typing this sucker in the wee early hours of Saturday, the seventeenth. So sue me.

Like I had mentioned in the earlier post, a lot of the original printed image was lost in the process of mounting the drawing paper. So, this is where my drawing skills come into play. For drawing onto my mounted drawing paper, I use Winsor Newton soft vine charcoal. I prefer the Winsor Newton brand because it's better quality, and usually very consistent throughout. I use vine charcoal simply because it's great for drafting and easy to correct; usually you just brush it off. Since it is so easy to remove, be careful not to lean against it and make care to not rub against is with your hands or arms.

Now, using a second enlarged copy I had from Kinkos, I referenced key points to rebuild the lost portions of the drawing. This technique is really the foundation of all realistic drawing. Before knowing this stuff I was alright on my own, but after learning how to measure stuff up, I think my drawing abilities have become much, much better.

The key to it is referenced distances. You may see the often mimicked look of an artist holding up his thumb to the subject he is drawing; but do you know what is actually taking place? In short, the artist is using that thumb as a ruler, and making note of the distance between key points on the subject. Any point will do as long as it distinguishable in both the subject and the drawing. These distances must also be vertical or horizontal in nature. Diagonals are too tricky to judge, but you can easily make sure something is level vertical or horizontal by using a level or even something like a plumber's line.

I really should have drawn up a quick diagram for this, but I'll just stick to explaining it for now. If you have questions or too many people tell me this doesn't make sense, I'll edit this posting with some visual aids.

If you take a look at the photo, you can see that I have some vertical and horizontal lines running on my drawing. These are to line up the distances of the wings. I looked on the reference copy and saw that the tip of one wing was directly below the left side of the "h" in Sabbath, so I drew a line straight down on my copy and knew that would be the same distance for the tip of the wing on my angel.

Next, I need to know how far the top of the farthest feather and how far the bottom of that same feather will be. Using a straight-edge (in my case a painter's stick that's been painted white) I measure from a distinguishable point on my reference to those two points. I mark this distance on the painter's stick with a tick mark of vine charcoal and then look to see if that distance is similar to any other on the reference. I'm not sure exactly what I used when doing this, but we can say for sake of argument that the middle angel's left arm, from the tip of the shoulder to the base of the pinky finger, is the same as the distance from the top of the wing to the top of the right angel's leg.

Once I know this, I simply mark out that same arm distance on my drawing, and I now have the new tick mark on my stick to measure out from the top of the drawing's right angel's leg.

You always should reset the distance after you know what it is from the reference. Never use your markings from the reference to draw on your drawing, because there will be a proportional difference. This is especially true in this case, since my mounted drawing stretched about 4 to 5% larger.

Doing this by eye can be less tedious, but inevitably less exact. The same method still applies though. You just need to speak to yourself the measurements; ie - "It looks like the distance of that feather's tip from the head is about the same distance as the length of her forearm, so on my drawing I need to make sure it looks about the same as my drawing's forearm."

I do hope this all makes sense for any of you interested. When I eventually get my website redesign finished, I'll make a point of putting clearer explanations of this technique down. So when pigs start flying, be sure to check that out.

This is pretty much the final stage of my redrawing.

Here you can also see that I filled in areas with black to better define them. Lines can be good at describing form, but broad areas of value change are better. Don't be afraid about laying down big areas of that vine charcoal either; it's either going to be brushed off or painted over. If you decide that you want to use it to fill in an area not completely black, but slightly gradated in tone, go over the vine charcoal with the side of your finger to lighten it, or use a tissue lightly.

And that is pretty much the redrawing stage of this project. Like I said earlier, if I did the mounting correctly, none of this would be necessary. But that is why being able to draw well is so key to any form of art, even if you decide to use a copy as a guide like I'm doing here. You never know when you'll have to fix mistakes or improve the copy itself.

Next time I'll start explaining the painting process. See you then.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Progress from the Front Lines

Technical jargon Warning!!! Ian is about to lay down the "art talk", which many may find completely uninteresting and otherwise not entertaining!"

Alright, so for those of you playing along at home, I just finished the mounting of the image to a piece of masonite, which I pretty much followed step by step from Donato Giancoloa's technique, as described in his website, which I highly recommend checking out.

I took my digital file of the modified Black Sabbath cover to the closest FedEx-Kinko's with a large scale engineer printer. With me I took a precut piece of drawing paper, cut to the size of the final format. Now, Donato uses Strathmore 500 series drawing paper, but I couldn't find the larger size he mentions. So I went with the 400 series paper, which has a slight manilla color to it, and is of a bit lesser quality all things considered. Yet I can get the 400 series in a roll, and so I have plenty to work with size wise, and it's not too expensive either. The paper ran through the printer just fine; The main problems were working with the Kinko's guys to get it done, since they never did anything like it before, and the fact that the drawing paper doesn't hold the toner as well as normal printer paper does. I'll explain how to fix that problem later on.

There are a few things that Donato brings up which I think are important for anyone trying this thing at home to keep in mind. Mainly, when mounting a drawing onto masonite, the process involves stretching the paper by getting it really wet. This is so the paper doesn't buckle and wrinkle when we adhere it to the surface using Acrylic Medium. But stretching the paper causes about a 4-5% increase in size, and it is NOT proportional due to the way the paper is made; ie- you'll see a longer stretch length-wise than width-wise.

This is especially important for someone trying to print out a digital file onto the drawing paper for this technique. First, if you have exact size requirements, you'll have to account for the increase in size when the drawing paper is stretched. What I did was simply minimize the output size when it is printed onto the paper by four percent. However, remember that since it stretches more length-wise, you are best off positioning human figures along the length and not perpendicular to it. This is because human faces appear alright if stretching taller, but look odd if stretched wider.

For the record I actually printed my image out the wrong direction, but I was lucky to not have any distortion to worry about after the streching.

And don't confuse the image size with the paper size. The size increase due to stretching is still fairly unpredictable, so just make your image size 4-5% smaller, and keep the paper the exact size of the final layout. You can trim the paper later, but you can't increase it to fit your masonite piece.

Once home, I had to worry about mounting the drawing paper onto the masonite. Remember that the paper is going to get really wet during this process, and going over it with a brayer to remove air bubbles is also going to disturb the printout. So, when the toner isn't adhering to the drawing paper, you're going to eradicate the image during the process unless you protect it with spray fixative.

I was hesitant to use the fixative though, since I figured that by spraying the stuff on the paper, I would affect the absorption of the water and cause it not to stretch as evenly as it would without it.

But as you can see, I probably should have just gone crazy with the stuff. The lower half came out fairly well because it received the most fixative from the position I sprayed from. The angel wings got wiped almost completely away, but everything else is still there, though very faded.

So, for those of you doing this at home, USE A LOT OF SPRAY FIXATIVE!

All is not lost though, and I'm just lucky that I had decided to keep a test printout from Kinko's. Although it isn't stretched like the final image, the size proportions are close enough to my final image that I can use it for reference to reconstruct the wings and other faded areas fairly quickly. I'll use the next post to briefly explain how I get that done.

As for this part, the finishing up comes with two additional coats of acrylic matte medium and sanding in between each application. These layers are to protect what's left of the drawing underneath. After everything is dry, I trimmed the excess paper off the sides and sanded the sides down as well to make sure everything is trimmed for framing later on, in case the buyer decides to do so.

After this point, I'm still pretty happy with what I have. The damage to the image could have been a lot worse, but I have more than enough to work with, and I'm still saving time by doing things this way, instead of drawing directly on to my support.

I'd reiterate that fixative is your friend on this one. But also, consider lightening up your image when it is sent to the printer because the printer lost a lot of contrast, so some of the darker areas didn't come out with the detail they actually contain. If at all possible, it's best to simply not have huge areas of black because that toner isn't going to stick. Keep it line art, and worry about values when you paint.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Redesigning Heaven and Hell

I know a lot of people out there have been belly aching about the lack of images on the enblog. Well, here's something to tide you over until I can get more comic pages done.

I've been commissioned to work on reproducing a Black Sabbath album cover, but in poster size format. I imagine the original was done in watercolor, but I'm not good enough at watercolor to pull off the flat areas of color created in the original. Maybe someday, but not today.

So this will be an acrylic painting, done on masonite. I'm hoping to put up progress images to show everyone how something like this is done (at least by me). Right now I'm in the preliminary approval stages, so I basically did the job in Photoshop so that I can show the buyer what they'll be looking at if I do the job, give or take some brushstrokes here or there.

This is the original album art, scanned from the CD sleeve.

You'll notice that the right angel is missing a lot of her wing and there is a tip of the left angel's shoe cropped off. So, in Photoshop, I recreated those missing parts into the format the buyer is looking for.

We'll see how things go from here. Post you later!