14 August 2017

Castle Kidnapped

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I painted this bizarre scene in 1989 for the cover of "Castle Kidnapped" by John DeChancie. My friend James Warhola posed for the guy with the fizzy wine glass, and I posed as the jester with the levitating marotte

I enjoyed the creature design on this one, especially figuring out the walk cycle of a 6-legged blue ankylo-tortoise. I hope that little orange eyeball frog hops away before he gets stepped on.

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Previously on GJ: Gradations

Figure Drawing: Repeating What You Should Already Know

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-By Arnie Fenner

I think a simple truism about being an artist is that, regardless of stature or status, regardless of the number of years spent sitting at the table, easel, or monitor, regardless of degrees from universities or from the School of Hard Knocks...you're always something of a student. And always will be.

As an artist, you're never (or should never be) entirely satisfied with "where you're at" and, essentially, are always practicing—striving—to get better at the craft. Every doodle, every scribble or sketch is part of the process, part of being an artist. It doesn't stop: you're always experimenting and exploring and observing and thinking. You're always trying to learn or master techniques; you're always studying color and composition and light and gestures and character and, above all, anatomy. Regardless of personal style or career direction, the ability to draw a convincing human figure is truly the core of being an artist. Continuing to practice at it helps artists maintain their visual and spatial abilities: it's almost a form of calisthenics of skills. Every time the model moves their arm or tilts their head, every time they change their pose, there is something new to see, to understand, and to learn.

And, because drawing the figure is fundamental, successfully communicating with and connecting to an audience as a creator—whether the approach is realistic, distorted, cartoonish, or abstract, whether the subjects are people or animals or monsters or landscapes—rests firmly on that foundation. It is the beginning for anything you want to do artistically. As Donato said in his post last year on MC, "I find that life drawing is an important way to reconnect with the main subject in much of my work, that of the human figure. The varied forms of expression and the enlightened discovers which occur while drawing helps to fuel my imagination and inform my eye as to what is possible for shape design within characters."

Above: A figure drawing by Andrew Loomis.

Above left: A late-1950s drawing by Frank Frazetta. Above right: Drawing by Willy Pogany.

A highlight of Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has been the late-night figure drawing party (with several nude models) generously sponsored by Kansas City's The Illustration Academy. Even with pizza (graciously provided by the Aladdin Hotel) and a cash bar, it is a surprisingly serious party; there's relatively little chatter and what there is tends to be in whispers. The focus is on drawing, on getting the most out of the opportunity. I've heard that some have been somewhat intimidated by the intensity of the room, but I've also heard that others were absolutely giddy to be sitting and sketching next to—and getting feedback from—Justin Sweet or Donato or Iain McCaig or Android Jones or Mark English.

Above: John English conducting a figure drawing class during The
Illustration Academy's 2017 Summer Workshop. Photo by Timmy Trabon.

Starting clockwise above left: George Pratt, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark English, Jeffrey Alan Love.
Figure drawing classes, led and critiqued by the teachers, are an important part of
The Illustration Academy's annual workshops. At the conclusion, the instructors' originals
(like the samples shown above) are given to the students via a raffle. 

Drawing from life whenever possible should be high on any artist's list—and, of course, the knowledge obtained through the process is applicable to everything you do, whether you work digitally or in traditional media. I talk often about The Illustration Academy because I know them well (they're local, after all), respect the hell out of what they do, have had the opportunity to sit in on their workshops, and have spent time with their instructors over the years. They're devoted to not only helping artists improve their skills but also in helping them achieve their professional goals. Besides actively emphasizing figure drawing in their curriculum—and hosting drawing events as they have at SFAL as a part of their outreach mission—the Academy hires models and sponsors semi-regular sessions open to all artists at the Interurban Art House (in one of KC's suburbs) throughout the year. Watching IA's Facebook page is a good way for people to stay abreast of dates. Naturally, there are similar gatherings all over (like the Sketch Nights at the Society of Illustrators in New York every Tuesday and Thursday) and it shouldn't be a surprise that I encourage everyone to take advantage of these opportunities whenever and wherever they're offered. (The social and networking aspects of such gatherings are extremely important to career growth as well.)

Above: George Pratt (on the right) oversees the give-away of the instructors'
figure drawings to students. As an aside, let me talk about George for a moment:
A renowned comics artist, illustrator, and Fine Artist, his graphic novel
Enemy Ace: War Idyl has been translated into nine languages and for a time was
required reading at West Point. Besides teaching at the Illustration Academy,
George has taught at Pratt and the SVA and is currently an instructor at the Ringling College
of Art and Design. The IA's Summer Workshop lasts five weeks (students can sign up for
one or all) and features a different group of instructors each week: George and John English
teach during all five. And, yes, there are on-line classes available, too. Anyway, readers
can learn a bit more about The Illustration Academy and other great workshop
opportunities in my "Summer School" post some weeks back.

Depending on location, finances, or other circumstances, I know it can be difficult-to-impossible for some to take part in a figure drawing get-together...but that doesn't mean you can't still practice. Use family members or friends as models and if even that doesn't work out, you might recall that I've previously pointed out various video resources via YouTube that you can use at your own time, pace, and convenience. Like this:

Jon Foster says, "Students will ask me, 'When do I know it all? When does it get easier?' And I tell them: Never. It never gets easier. You have to work to make a career and work to maintain it."

So the Word of the Day is...well, the same as it is everyday: Draw! Or better, the three Words of the Day are: Draw The Figure!

25 July 2017

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10 July 2017

10 Things About...Edges

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-Greg Manchess

Stages of Resolution 1, detail

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp about painting is the use of edges. Students often go immobile when I mention that they should vary their edges in a painting. It shuts them down. Most have no real idea what I'm talking about or even where to start.

It’s not surprising. Controlling edges is an advanced stage of painting that alludes most everyone, until it’s pointed out to them. I had trouble with edges, too, coming up through my skill challenges, but as I never had a teacher pointing these things out, I had to learn the hard way: from critique, and sometimes ridicule.

That meant I was learning on-the-fly, listening to what other artists and critics said about my work that complimented or tormented my efforts to communicate to a viewer; how I guided the viewer’s eye through a piece. I paid extreme attention to what was said about certain passages, certain spaces in my painting, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It hurt, but I learned.

I’m about to cut years of struggle off your painting skills. The items below will shake your understanding and increase your ability to lay down interesting paint by concentrating on edges and not only give your work beauty, but will give you a new awareness of control.

Contrast edges.
Edge control is built generally from pushing and pulling the eye through a painting. Pushing it back or pulling it forward. It is the contrast between all edges that allows you to make shapes important or subtle.

Notice the myriad of edges contrasting each other while defining the forms...

Sharp edges.
The easiest edges to identify. That’s why they pop forward. The brain zeroes in on them immediately, so use them to drive the viewer's eye to certain elements in the painting. The contrast is high with these edges. Set them against soft edges, and the sharp ones dominate.

Here, the edge of the shadow and light on the calf is the sharpest line in this detail...

Soft edges.
Use these edges to bolster the sharp-edged focus of a painting by pulling the eye away from elements with soft-focus. Sharp edges sit on top of soft elements that lay in the background. Yes, on top of. Background edges that are sharp tend to jump forward. Again, the eye whips past everything soft to focus on anything sharp edged.

The cloud edges serve as soft background for the sharper foreground figure edges...

Lost edges.
Some of the most beautiful areas of a painting are where the eye expects to see an edge, yet it’s not there. Arms that bleed into the background, a cheek that disappears, edges of hair that are lost. It stimulates interest. This takes lots of risk to learn where and when to use them to full advantage. The risk is ambiguity. The payoff is curiosity and engagement.

The brain wants to complete a lost edge, but it must become involved with the piece to accomplish it. This is how a painting lingers in a person’s mind. There’s just enough information to stay focused, but isn’t overwhelming to the eye.

How many lost edges can you find in this detail?

Sustained edges.
These are edges that work between edge extremes. Neither too sharp nor too blurred, but with just enough roundness without dominating the overall focus in the work. They can be edges of figures, sleeves, folds, trees, mountains, architecture, etc.

The poles of the railroad crossing structure must not dominate the entire painting by being too sharp...

Repeating edges.
These are difficult edges to control because they draw attention to that repetition, and if they are integral to an element such as leaves or folds on a sleeve, they can overwhelm the eye. The first thing the viewer will want to do is rest. In other words, look away. This is not what you want from a viewer, just in case you hadn’t figured that out already.

You must find a way to vary these edges. Take their power to confuse away. You do this by using sharp and soft and blurred edges, no matter what your reference tells you is ‘right.’

The shirt had tons of folds in it...I knocked them back, and only picked a few to accent...

Shadow control is critical to a successful painting. And they are the greatest teachers for understanding depth, value control, and...oh yeah, edges. Now you get what I mean by soft and sharp edges, yes? What observer hasn’t noticed how shadows vary in such a short range of vision? Look at tree limb shadows on the ground, and the information slaps you upside the head. The limbs closest to the ground are sharpest, while the limbs up high cast very light, soft shadows. It’s their edges that communicate this the most.

How a shadow rolls over a surface is determined by several factors. The texture of the element, the shape of the element, the angle of the element. Study a car in different lighting conditions and you’ll find an amazing array of hard and soft edges, all based on how the individual shapes cast shadows. Control those edges and you’ll have a shiny car or a dull car.

Shadows determine depth in a painting, and that’s portrayed by how you control the shadow edges. 

Shadows on a rainy street in this detail...talk about a nightmare, but edge control can communicate wet concrete reflecting light....

You can control focus in a painting by using color. The edge between contrasting color can demand attention or allow one color to dominate another. The way those colors bleed into or over each other will draw attention, either away from or toward a subject.

Edges here vary back and forth, but the color pops the edges as well...

Ragged edges.
If all of the edges of paint application are the same, it communicates as pattern. And this leads to a flat, graphic quality. There is no edge control, other than to make it all the same. This is completely fine if that’s what you need in a piece. Making all the edges the same everywhere you look will demand that you control focus in another means, say through color or value.

Varying the edges between pattern and rendering can add much interest. It’s the contrast between the two that does it.

The raggedy flat edges of the hair contrast against the smoother strokes of the skin....

Light edges.
Try painting dappled sunlight without controlling edges. But through careful study of how light streams through leaves and strikes an object will reveal how edges vary between sharp, soft, blurry, lost, and blended. Light tends to flare through a short range of saturated color just on the edge between shadows and lit areas. Notice how the edge can lend interest and depth if captured in a painting. Flare the light with rich color invading the shadow and you gain depth. 

One thin edged calf and one thick...push the color on these edges....also study the light edges in #3 above...

Blending strokes.
Brush stroke edges can vary within the stroke itself. The front edge of a stroke can be sharp while the back slips into blurred nothing. Strokes can be short and sharp, or they can be fuzzy like an airbrush. A stroke can go down sharp and be blurred later with a different brush. The difference between a palette knife edge and a brushed edge is evident here.

Different tools give different edges....

Blending between colors or values gives you a smooth affect. Simple enough. But you do this at the risk of losing texture, and therefore, interest, if done too evenly. Certainly there are many great paintings that are slick-smooth, blended to perfection to give the idea of crisp, clean beauty. But using that same blend on leather, or fabric, or a wall can destroy the effect. The surface texture of an object reflects what the surface is made of. Yes, there are illusions to be aware of, i.e., that plastic resembles glass, etc.


The way paint is applied makes a huge difference in what’s projected to the viewer. Ever wonder how those artists of the 19th century got those velvet dress effects? Study the evidence in front of you: value and edge control. 

Your eye discerns visual contrast all day long: judging edges, surfaces, values, contrasts. The working brain takes about 30% of our energy each day, and most of that is dedicated to visual deciphering.

After a quick application of pigment with a palette knife, one brush did all of this work.

Updated from the original post, April 1, 2015.