14 January 2018

How Many Values?

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Matthieu asks: "I know that value grouping is a technique you often use when sketching. How many values do you usually prefer? I have been experimenting with four values lately (white, black, bright and dark). But that is so few it is a challenge in itself..."

Matthieu, for this exercise to be useful, the fewer values the better. As Howard Pyle said, "The fewer tones the simpler and better your pictures." As an exercise, try limiting it to two or three tones. You can do that by using markers or gouache, or by premixing pools of color in oil.

Dean Cornwell
Sometimes it helps to think of families of values: a light family (with some variation in the tones) and a dark family (very much darker than any in the light family, but still distinguishable from each other). 

Those big families of tone don't have to be close to white or black, by the way. The poetry of the Cornwell moonlight scene comes from handling those "whites" as a family of mid-range cool tones and saving the highest values for those sparkling windows.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it's not just how many values you have in your design, but how they're arranged. 
Travels of the Soul by Howard Pyle
In the painting above, Pyle has basically set up a light family and a dark family and has gradated between them.  The impact of the design comes from that powerful grouping of the lights together into a single mass and the grouping of darks into a mysterious shadow.

Pyle told his students: "Put your white against white, middle tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want the center of interest. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to do."

John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, 1912Cincinnati Art Museum
These ideas were in the air when Pyle and Cornwell were working. Many other leading artists, such as John Singer Sargent were always grouping tones in arresting and memorable ways. If you check out any of the posts linked below, you can see more examples.
Previous related posts:

12 January 2018


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 Story Illustration - c.1920

With or Without Background?

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Cover for "Spidey".Marvel Comics 2016.
Could this cover have improved with a background or did it really have everything it needs to portray the idea?

I have to admit that I was never a fan of drawing backgrounds. I've work hard to learn the rules of perspective and everything involved in the process of creating a believable environment for my characters, but I was always more interested in the figure drawing.

It's not out of laziness, I swear. I love drawing and painting and I've never shied away from hard work (At least when it comes to art; If you need help moving furniture, I may show up late) but It's hard for me to get eager about drawing a background.

If I feel like the image needs it, that the background tells an important aspect of the story I’m illustrating and helps the narrative, I do it without a blink but, luckily for me, comic book covers, and specially Superheroes comic book covers, are very character driven and, most of the times, a background won't add much to the cover.

On top of that, there needs to be room for a code bar, title, credits, and sometimes a tagline so, most of the times, it's better to leave the image as light as you can so it can read well once the trade dress is added.

But what about those times when you do need a background? Well, as anything you do on the page, you better find a way to make it amusing for you. It doesn't mean skipping work, it means working differently. You'll still have to put up time and effort to think about a way to portray the story you want, the way you want.

Cover for "Hawkeye" #12. Marvel Comics 2017.

One of my ways of making it fun is to, whenever I can, working the background as an element of design. This Spider-Men cover is a good example:

Cover for "Spider-Men". Marvel Comics 2017.

Heavily inspired, you may have noticed, in Coles Phillips' work:

Take a look at how much information he's giving us, with so very little drawing. He might not have spent time drawing details, but he sure spent a lot of time designing.

The lack of a full background was very common in the covers of the old paperbacks. I assume this was because of, as previously mentioned, the need for space for the trade dress, but I I'm pretty sure that it was also a clever way to meet the deadlines.

Robert McGinnis

This (above) is a beautiful example. It didn't need more than a silhouette and some circles to convey the idea of a behind the scenes of a TV studio or a movie set.

Mitchell Hooks was a master at this.

Take a look at the cover of "My Man Godfrey" (Above). While the only background is a stair (A banister, actually; he didn't even draw any steps) and a chandelier, he made sure to made it in a way where you can immediately tell it's a mansion. You don’t need more than that. Which reminds me of a saying from the old master Alex Toth that could apply here. You probably heard this one before: "Strip it all down to essentials and draw the hell out of what's left.".

Robert McGinnis
Robert McGinnis

If you enjoy drawing backgrounds, and have the time to do it, then draw the hell out of it and knock it out of the park. But if you don't enjoy it much, or the deadline is too tight, you can always come up with clever and interesting ways of providing your characters of an environment and give the reader the info they need. As I’ve said before: It’s not about skipping work, it’s about working differently.

I might not be big on drawing backgrounds, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy seeing other people do it (I'm not a monster!), so let's end this post with a few samples of wonderful, crowded, beautifully rendered backgrounds.

PS. I'm not lazy!

Bernie Fuchs

Bernie Fuchs

Paolo Rivera

Brian Sanders

John Henry, Ezra Jack Keats

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Today's vintage children's book is John Henry, An American Legend, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. This great American folk tale has been illustrated by many different artists over the years, but Keats does it justice with his use of color, texture and distinctive style.

John Henry
An American Legend
Story and Pictures by Ezra Jack Keats
Scholastic Book Services, 1970
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Basil of Baker Street, Paul Galdone

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Today's vintage children's book is Basil of Baker Street, written by Eve Titus and  illustrated by Paul Galdone. Galdone was a prolific illustrator who collaborated with Titus on several books. Two of their books, Anatole and Anatole and the Cat won Caldecott awards. This book has sentimental value for me as well. My son who is grown, adored the Basil books as a child, reading and re-reading them.

To view a past post of another book illustrated by Paul Galdone, click here.

Basil of Baker Street
By Eve Titus
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
McGraw Hill Co., 1958
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29 December 2017

Proposed Rockwell Sale Under Investigation

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(Stephan Schuetze/Bild Zeitung via Getty Images, link)
Secret documents reveal that the Berkshire Museum was pressured to sell off their Norman Rockwell originals by a Boston consulting firm. 

For now, the planned liquidation of their most valuable and beloved artwork has been been halted by the Massachusetts Attorney General as the investigation continues.  

Let us hope that Sotheby's will release the Museum from their fees if the Museum decides to call off the sale and raise money the old fashioned way—by showing great art to the community and asking for their support.

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