Sunday, December 09, 2007

Employees Only: Extra Security

Update 12/12/07 - Given that the current feedback so far is a unanimous "Huh?", I'm obliged to say that this particular comic is in response to the poll I had a few months back, asking if I should have more comics, rants, behind the front lines or something else I can't remember on the blog.

The overwhelming results were 5 out of 6 people wanted comics. The sixth wanted rants.

The sixth was me.

No one ever said that I was sane people. Now that you are going to see comics, you'll probably see how bat $%!& loco I really am.

Granted though, this comic really is for my dedicated readers - the five who voted; so I don't doubt that many of you continue to say, "Huh?"

Don't worry, my non-committal guarantee of "funny being attempted" shall prove fruitful in the end.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Behind the Front Lines II - Pastel Portrait - Laying in a Foundation

Hey remember that pastel drawing I was working on?

Yeah, yeah...I almost forgot about it too. What can I say? I've been busy with a lot lately.

So it's on to the next step in this Behind the Front Lines series. I should warn the casual reader that severe technical jargon is about to resume.

Planning the Foundation
I began working by selecting my support, which in this case is a half sheet of Rives BFK paper that I had left over from a pastel project. Why Rives BFK? Well, it's pretty much what my professors told me to get, so I haven't been able to compare other options. But, Rives BFK is acid free which is very important, and it's a nice thick weighted paper that has a decent tooth (texture) that can hold several layers of drawing and pastel.

I mount that to a piece of masonite which I bought at the hardware store. Masonite is usually what most drawing boards are made of, and depending on your needs, it's often cheaper to just grab a sheet from the Home Depot and have it cut to your specifications in-store. Grab some nice big bull dog clips and you have a drawing board. If you are just drawing on a single piece of paper, remember to secure all corners firmly, but not to the point that the paper will be creased or dented. You can use the bulldog clips to do this, but I went with Artist's tape; this seemed to be a better alternative to avoid damaging the paper. Just make sure you don't substitute it for regular masking tape! Artist's tape has a specific tackiness that prevents it from damaging the paper when removed - although this isn't a guarantee that you can't damage the drawing. Always be careful and patient removing tape.

Paper at the ready, I next ignore it completely and start warming up on my sketchpad. Why? Well, I never draw all that great from the starting line, and I have a feeling few artists out there do any better. It's ideal to loosen up and focus before you get serious with a drawing, and so I just take a regular HB (#2 softness) pencil to my sketchbook. This is what I ended up with:

I usually am not much of a sketcher - I do a single sketch and I'm ready to tackle a piece. For the most part, I see what I want to do in my head before pencil touches paper, so I get a bit antsy to get started. I know this isn't the norm though, and if I were suffering from any kind of artist block, I'd probably draw lots and lots of different sketches, showing different angles and framing until I got it just as I like.

In the sketch here, I just drew the photo, and then decided how I wanted to place the drawing on my support. Since this image is just as much about Gumby the Monk Parakeet as it is the model, I'm framing the drawing in a way that negative space around Gumby dominates a majority of the image. By setting it up this way, I draw a lot of attention to Gumby. You might ask if that detracts from the model, and it does; but one of the things about human beings is that when it comes to focal points, the human figure generally draws attention really quickly. So, what I'm hoping to do is balance the drawing's focus by giving more real estate to highlighting the bird.

Another thing to keep in mind is the story telling involved in this piece. When I speak about story telling in artwork, I'm focusing on the way my viewers' eyes move around the piece. Remember that in the last post I spoke about Gumby sharing a laugh with the model? Well, since that is what draws me to the image, I want to embellish that in a way that makes it more obvious that the bird laughing is what I'm going for. I could alter the image itself to make it seem like the bird is really indulging in a deep belly laugh, but simple things like arranging the focus points can make it so that your eye will follow from one smiling face to a smiling bird. Focal points can be enhanced not only through placement, but also through line work, repetition, value and color. I want to make sure that every aspect that can affect it is considered.

Beginning the Foundation
Once I decide on how I'm going to approach my drawing via my sketch, I begin the very controlled process of laying down my under drawing. With pastel works, I lay down a charcoal drawing first, and it's approached as if it will be a regular charcoal drawing. Once it is done, I tone the paper and then apply color pastel as the final phase.

When I begin drawing with charcoal, I start off with at least two 6B or extra soft charcoal pencils that are sharpened with a box cutter razor blade (two to avoid having to resharpen too often). I'm a big fan of General's Charcoal Pencils, which you can find in any art store I imagine, but if you plan on doing this a lot it never hurts to just buy a whole bunch at a time from a website like DickBlick.com. The sharpening is pretty straight forward, but since it involves a box cutter, I'd offer that you just stick to regular pencil sharpeners until you are comfortable with the process. The reason I sharpen with a box cutter is to get more surface area of the charcoal; my sharpened pencils usually have a sharpened end that tapers to a fine point, as long as about an inch from point to the sharpened base.

I keep a kneadable eraser and a chamois handy to make corrections. Being an art supply freak, I have a large variety of erasers that I make use of frequently, often depending on the circumstance. My favorite erasers are the Factis extra soft eraser, the Mars Plastic eraser, and my Sakura Electric eraser (it's expensive, but it erases like nothing else!).

I also have a painter's stirring stick, which is just as valuable as the pencils and paper when it comes to doing a job well. The stick, which I'm sure can be found anywhere they sell house paints, is a flat piece of wood that is beveled on one end to make a handle. I have mine painted white with gesso so it can be marked off with my pencils. It helps me keep all my proportions in line, and it's perfect for keeping my hands off the artwork while I'm working - functioning as a mahl stick.

Using my painter's stick, I mark off the size of the model's head on the photo reference, and using that measurement, also mark the halfway point. From there, I measure how tall and wide the image is going to be in terms of "head-length". Once I know the image is 2 heads high and 3 heads wide, for example, I can make sure my drawing follows suit.

So, I first determine what length on my drawing will match the proportions I'm looking for in my image. Sometimes I actually determine the ratio of the enlargement, and that ratio is used to upscale my drawing's head-length. Other times, I lightly sketch in what I think will fit - it often works for me, but I've been doing this for awhile, so it could take lots of practice to get it down just right.

Once I know the head-length for my drawing, the corresponding half-way mark and the corresponding measurements from my photo, I just start with the face and work my way out.

This can seem tedious, but this part is critical to the realistic depiction of your subject - reference every distance you can! If the length from the tip of the nose to the space directly above the bird's eyes is half a head in the photo, it better be half a head in the drawing! Doing this over and over again develops a series of points, that develops into line work.

Hopefully you can see the developing lines in the image here. I just took my time and this is important...I used a light touch with my charcoal pencil. It's fine to have every eraser under the sky at my command, but erasing damages the paper, and I have to erase harder if I draw harder with my charcoal pencil. By keeping a light touch, I draw faint, easy to correct lines.

Later, I'll fill in the image and go much darker. For right now though, I'm ending this portion of the process.

I hope you find it helpful!


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Behind the Front Lines II - Pastel Portrait - Reference Photography

Duuuuuh....daaaaaaahh....dAAAAAAAhh.......DAH DUH!
Not sure how you would type that out, but hopefully you get a little 2001 theme from that.

Holy Pencil Sharpener Artman! Could it be that I've actually spent over a year on projects and have not seen fit to designate one for Behind the Front Lines Status? Say it ain't so! Say it ain't so!

Uh...it is so. Apparently the only thing still over on the ol' sidebar is the Black Sabbath Painting, and I never got around to creating any new projects that I could post publicly. Of course, it isn't like I hung up my apron and started a career as a tax accountant; but I really have envisioned EnBlog as being more than just a place where you see finished project, and Behind the Lines is all about seeing ...well, behind the lines of a finished project!


Pastel Portraiture, ala En'

Any of you who have visited EnArt, have no doubt seen the pastel portraits residing over there. I've taken the liberty of placing the self portrait I did back in my days at Academy of Art U on the side for you to see where this new project should be heading.

It all started out with a simple MySpace request for a portrait including a pet Monk Parakeet named Gumby. I decided to tackle the assignment from scratch, using my own models and photograph as reference. That's what today's Behind the Lines is going to be about...getting the photo.

Before I continue on, let me remind casual readers that Behind the Front Lines posts are full of technical jargon. If you have questions about the processes involved, don't be afraid to email me (via the link on my profile page), or if you feel like it, drop a comment below.

Step One - Equipment & Set Up
When you take portrait photos, you need to control a few things.

The first is the background, which I get away with using a plain old king sized bed sheet because I just need a somewhat uniform background for my subject. Don't forget, I'm drawing this, so the finished project won't have the background I use. In this case, I'm using a tan-ish color bed sheet, and I've held it to the wall using 3M Command Adhesive Clip holds. Before I used to use plain old tape, but I find that having the sheet fall down during the middle of the shoot is a pain, so I just leave the Command clips up and keep my fingers crossed for more opportunities to shoot portraits.

The second is the lighting. You can spend a lot of money on this, but I somehow scrape by with studio lamps that I bought from Utrecht art supplies. If you have just one, that's fine. Be sure to buy a light bulb that is adjusted to give more natural light, as opposed to typical bulbs, which have a more yellow light, and florescent bulbs, which actually have a green color to their light. GE's line of Reveal Bulbs works fine, but if you want to spend money on the Chromalux bulbs, be sure that you plan on having more than one use out of it. I personally haven't found too much difference between just the regular Reveal Flood light bulbs and Chromalux, but if you decide to compare and see a difference, you let me know!

Now, when you light your subject, you ideally want to have them lit from a 45º degree angle, and from above. "What about Flash?" you ask; well, lighting from the front, like a camera's flash, flattens the image we have to work from, which is bad. Drawings come easier when you have broad defined areas of value to define form, so shadows are good! Therefore, turn off that flash, and light your subject from a 45º degree angle to get a nice balance of shadows without having your subject completely in shade. This is obviously easier done at night, without interference from sunlight. You can see the example's reference photo nearby, and hopefully it shows what is more of an ideal setup.

The next thing to control is the camera. Now, I'm not a trained photographer, so don't think I'm giving anything less than amateur advice here. What I use every time though is a good tripod (the bigger and heavier, the better), and my digital camera, which is an Olympus C5050-Z. Cameras now a days are probably cheaper and better, but so far the old C5050 has come through. I recommend using a quality digital camera though because it's perfect to instantly check your results and then decide if you need to re-shoot the model while they are still in the studio. Even if you aren't paying the model, you don't want to keep on calling back your friend just to get the photos right. And if possible, get the cameras that let you control Shutter and Aperture and all that crazy stuff. Experiment with the settings and get a feel for the options and capabilities. If you decide to go deeper into the rabbit hole, check out Shooting Digital which is a great book on the subject.

When we photograph the subject, it's usually best to go with the presets on the camera, like "portrait" or "action shot" depending on what you are doing. Obviously if you can figure out the shutter speeds and aperture settings on your own you'll be that much better off. I also like to use the multiple shot setting, so that I get a lot of candid shots to work from. I do end up with a few closed eyes and otherwise throw away shots, but that's what's great about digital - who cares? For me though, it's all about catching the perfect moment, and you can't set that up unless you have actors and pros in front of your lens.

You also want to consider the format of your shots - landscape or portrait? There is no rule of thumb on this, and it really takes a solid understanding of composition to make good decisions on it. My advice would be to sketch out a rough composition in both formats to see what seems to work best for you. When you realize what that is, set up your camera for that format.

Oh, and before I forget...don't forget the set up you have with color. Color relationships are another one of those things you need to study to get it down pat, but the simple way around it is to just pick what looks best! Usually, contrasting colors (red vs green, blue vs orange, yellow vs purple, etc.) create the most interesting color compositions. I tend to favor simple color combinations when it comes to portraiture, because I think it's important to focus mainly on the subject, and multiple colors create exciting and often distracting images. Therefore, photos with large fields of one color against another make for better choices (if I have anything to say about it). This is definitely not a rule though - be adventurous as you want with color.

With Gumby...well, he's green. My model, by contrast, has a complexion that subtly contrasts that with a pinkish orange tan. Her black hair also works well too, because it frames her face and contrasts with her white shirt. So I have a few relationships going on.

Step Two - Photograph!
Maybe if you are a pro with Photography you don't need to take two hundred shots, but I do. I do it not only because I can't set up single shots, but because I know my odds are better when I shoot a lot of photographs. There usually is going to be at least one good one. Don't forget...digital means you don't have to get 200 photos developed!

As far as setting up your model, it obviously depends on the circumstances and the theme you want to create. With Gumby, we mainly needed to make sure he didn't bite our model, and then I started having the model interact with him. As they interacted, I took photograph after photograph, and occasionally checked the viewfinder on the camera to review what we had so far, and to make adjustments if necessary.

Once I had a lot of photos to look over, it's simply a matter of taking a good look at them all, and deciding which one would make a good color pastel drawing.

How do you decide? Well, I use a few rules.

First - whatever the person commissioning the art wants is what you want. They are paying for this after all, so don't feel compelled to surprise them in the end with something they'll regret owning. By taking the client into the photo selection step, you avoid a big migraine of "Ohh...that's nice..." later on. Go over some of your favorites, and hopefully your client will agree with a few.

Second - tell a story. We can always pose for a photo, but those are boring, because they look like you posed for a photo. If you choose a candid shot that describes an event through the action of the characters within it, you have something besides a pretty picture, you have a story. I could talk forever about why this is important, especially for someone like me who considers themselves to be an illustrator as opposed to a fine artist, but we'll leave that for another day.

Third - don't forget that you have to draw it! Hopefully through setting up the shots to be based off the 45º degree angle lighting you've avoided poor photo references, but that doesn't mean they can't still be difficult to work from. Your shots need to be clearly focused (no blurring), and offer plenty of information to work from (less cropped, more subject).

So, having done all that, the model and I chose this photo below. I think that there were plenty of good photos, but it came down to the idea that this photo looks almost like Gumby is sharing a laugh with my model. What an awesome idea - and how fun would that be to draw?

I guess we'll find out!


No Gumbies were hurt during the photography of Gumby.