Friday, February 26, 2010

Bag of Oranges

   Just after the new year began, the fetching Mrs. Slemons and I took a trip to LA. One day we were down along the theatre district and wandered into an indoor food market. This place carries baked goods as well fresh fruit and veggies. And there was a lot of foot traffic which can offer up some pretty good photo ops. At one point while I was waiting around I noticed a gentlemen who was picking out some fruit. Quick as I could I got some shots. The vender came out to talk to him and it seemed as if he was a regular. The two of them together made for a great scene but due to passerby's the camera never got a decent opportunity to capitalize. So this was all could get. But I really liked it and I had a good feeling about at the time. There was something to say here. Was this his weekly visit to get his allotted amount of oranges? Was he having seconds thoughts and wanted apples instead, maybe? Did he live alone or was there someone to share this bounty with? I will never know, but it is my job to communicate clearly what I do want to say about him and his purchase. A writer friend of mine strongly adheres to his belief that great art has to emote clearly a distinct emotion. To a point I believe that, but part of me still feels that the viewer will still interpret what he sees in his own fashion. How he extrapolates what I put on the canvas, at some point, is no longer in my control. I may be wrong with this particular stance but that's where I am currently. With more paintings under my belt in the future perhaps I will have a stronger grasp on this particular aspect of picture making. Anyway, I did a nice 9x12 of this image and I thought I would attempt to do a larger canvas of the same. So let's see how that turned out.

The Painting Process

  I usually paint on linen that is glued to gatorboard. Linen comes in a variety of textures. The weave is fairly tight on what use here. It's not as rough as say a duck canvas. Rather than paint on the harsh white of the linen I put down a wash of Red Iron Oxide to soften it up. Plus it will pick up a bit when you begin applying the paint which yields some nice results. It also looks nicer when the paint breaks in areas and parts of the  naked canvas remains exposed. Usually in my case that isn't an issue because by the end I've painted so thick that there's not much area left that hasn't been covered. 
  Anyway, the focal point of the painting is going to be the man so I loosely paint a shape representing him. I'm not concerned with all the miscellaneous details that surround him. As long as I have a good idea where he is going to be on the canvas and the general placement of the cabinet in front of him, I'm good. Everything else will just fall into place in their own time. It's important to note something about painting from a photo. First off, it lies. It's just a reference tool and not to be taken literally. The color and temperatures are off and it's easy to get into the bad habit of trying to get in every inch of detail. I've give my self a time frame to adhere to and try to just capture the important stuff and dismiss the rest. I haven't mastered this. Painting from life is the best way to go. Obviously there are situations where that can't be done. Like a fella shopping in a market, for instance.
  After I paint in some of the other shapes around the figure I concentrate on getting the man's face put in. I try to see the face and any other object as a shape. I paint in the shape of the ear. I paint the shape that will be the nose. So on and so forth. When the ear shape, for example, is correct I will paint the smaller that are there and when completed, we have an ear. Once the head is cut out as accurately as I can get it I will use it as a way to measure accurately  the proportions for the rest of the figure.

  Unfortunately, I just noticed I didn't shoot those stages, so there isn't thing to show of the hands and oranges being put in. I'm gonna have to do better the next time I put up a oil painting post. Here I have blocked in more of the background. With the focal point put in, it is pretty much downhill at this point. 

  Here I have put in the foreground and a good portion of the background shapes. There are a lot of fluorescent lighting as well as the green neon lighting. It all makes for an interesting atmosphere. I see lots of green and blues reflected in the metals
and other surfaces.  

  The fruit piles and some of the shapes in the background I want to use to emphasize the man. The bunches of fruit I will try to simplify. They are basically reds and yellows. Now that I'm looking at it I probably should have made it one or two shapes. That's one of the problems with going of a photo. One can spend too much time noodling over this type thing. In the field that wouldn't happen. You would put it down and move on.

  The background shapes and the rest have pretty much been put in place. Best to leave things alone now, unless there is a glaring problem that needs to be taken care of. Like a piece of color that is the wrong temperature for instance. You will notice in the final that the lamps above are not the same color or temperature. The light above the man is rendered the brightest. In life, if you were watching him and only him, nothing else would be in focus in the same fashion as the model. Therefore the lights are rendered in cooler colors and temperatures because the man is the focal point. Make sense?

Well anyway, 5 or so hours later, this is the end result. There were some quick tweaks I did here and there after the fact. Things like the softening of edges or scumbling some color which is easier to do once the paint has dried for a few hours. I think I like the smaller version better. There's more of a sense of immediacy about it. That's the way it goes. Every painting is a new set of problems that have to be solved. The second time around with this image and at a bigger size created different issues to be grappled with. The trick is to figure how to solve them at the time of executing the piece. Sometimes that seems easier to do after the fact. At any rate, it's done and that's a wrap, kids.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wrap Around Book Cover Illustration for "Cryptozoica" by Mark Ellis

 I've loved to draw dinosaurs for as long as I can remember. Up until the 6th grade I aspired to be a paleontologist. Mr. Ravenelli's art class changed all that. It was there that I decided I wanted to be an illustrator instead. Getting paid to draw dinosaurs rather than digging them up in a dusty desert sounded pretty good. Plus, I could avoid any risk of heat stroke. So, about three decades or so later I get the opportunity to do the interior pages and cover to Mark Ellis' new novel. Maybe for a future post I can put something up concerning the interior pen and ink pieces. The creation of the cover though, will be the topic of conversation for my first post. I will show my method of working and how I went about getting this assignment completed.

Initially, when all this started, a full color cover wasn't even discussed. While doing the interior pages I started kicking around ideas that would possibly make for an interesting cover. Now I'm a real sucker for a good cover. I've bought bunches and bunches of comics just for the cover art alone, done by the likes of Alex Ross and Marko Djurdjevic, to name a couple. There's just something magical about a well done cover. Case in point would be the illustrations that graced the Conan paperbacks by Frazetta. Those stories were all the more alive to me due to Frank's art being stuck in my head. Gregory Manchess did a beauty of a cover for the latest printings of REH's sword swinging barbarian. James Bama's, "Doc Savage" covers are another fine example of work that just brings life to the printed pages between the covers. This type of work is a bygone era, I think, due to the digital age and all the change it has  brought. Robert McGinnis and John Berkey are couple more greats from a list of many who's work I find engaging and really well done. With all that said I aspired to create a cover that would live up to the merits these guys executed so well. I'm not sure I did that in the end exactly but I did have a lot of fun with this piece. And why shouldn't I? I was getting to draw dinosaurs.

Step 1 - Thumbnails

As is usually the case when I get an assignment or have something I want to do just for the fun of it, I start doing thumbnails in a sketchbook. This is a necessary step that helps the artist figure out what can work and what will not. Also, it helps the intuition kick in and you can end up doing some really nice line work that captures the feeling or mood that you were going for. The trick will be to later recapture that when you start to build up that particular thumbnail into a bigger and more evolved layout. Very soon after I started doodling out ideas for the cover layout I started thinking it would be cool to do a wrap around cover. With this kind of layout I could showcase all the characters in the story and get a few more dinos in to boot. Also, if the interest was there after the book came out, it could also be a nice poster or print. I wanted a T-Rex to be the predominate figure on the front cover. He had to be in some sort of action pose that would hopefully get potential buyer's attention. He would be a real ramrod smashing through anything that would get in his way. His quarry would also have to be in some interesting pose to convey the urgency of his or her situation. On top of all that I would also have to come up with a way to show the rest of the cast in a way that would be visually clean and not hinder the viewer's eye in moving around the entire composition.

I went through about four pages in the sketchbook until I got something I thought I could work with and build up into something. The two images in the lower half are what I ended up with. At this time I thought I would have some extra bleed on the right that the viewer would never see in the printed cover form. Once it became a poster then that extra stuff would be seen. I had designed it to be in a widescreen format, which for whatever reason appeals to me. Jack (the lead character) and one of the ladies would be on the cover attempting to keep their cold blooded hunters at bay. What would be the back cover also shows the rest of the cast doing their best to keep alive as well. Well, this was a start anyway, so now it was time to move on to the next stage.

Step 2 - Pencil Roughs

  At this point I did an accurate layout of the cover's dimensions and made several copies of it. One of which I sketched out loose concept on based on the final sketchbook thumbnails I did. I sent it to Mark to give him an idea of what I was thinking of. Nothing in this was set in stone. There was much more work still needed in getting to a good, workable composition. After sending him the above sketch I began to work all that out.

Rough #1. It's a start. The first of many. 
Same thing basically here in #2, just moving the people around a bit.

By #6 I'm getting closer to something I think that may work.

#8 has some things I like but, yet, it still isn't clicking and I'm getting a bit frustrated. Something is there in the back of my skull, but it hasn't appeared yet. What I do know is, is that there will be 3 figures on the front cover. Jack and two of the ladies. Just which ones is unclear at this point.

Step 3 - The Final Pencil

Now here is where I take an unconventional turn. In my mind's eye I have a semi good idea of what and where things are gonna go. So I decide to just start laying out the final pencil on some illustration board. The board is double thick cold press Crescent board measuring 40" across by 20" high. I wanted to do a big piece in hopes that eventually it could be a big poster or print some time in the future. Also, I was still intending to draw the extra goodies in the bleed area, never intending for it to be seen in the cover version. This would prove problematic in the end. Normally, one does not move onto creating the final pencil until a layout has been decided upon. I'm taking a chance here.

As I began to draw this out, everything started to click. The charging T-Rex is now coming in from a different direction. Just seemed right to do. I have also shot some photo reference to get an idea of how the poses will work with clothing and holding weaponry.   Then I figured out how I wanted Jack and the girl next to him to placed. He sees the trouble behind them, she sees what is coming at them from the other side. I place the other girl close to the camera with a pistol drawn. Seems to be balanced. At this time I know I want a real big close up of the character on the far left and that he will be a dark shape in the end. I then find a way to get the rest of the crew in there and still keep it open enough so the viewer doesn't get bogged down. On the far right I put in the charging raptors who basically are put into the area that is the bleed. I get it all drawn in and then make a copy to send to Mark to get final approval.

Now here is where things get interesting because of my decision to just cut to the final pencil without finalizing a set layout. Mark decides all of this should be on the cover. Which is fine. Because the layout is so wide, it creates spaces on the top and bottom that needs to be filled with new drawing. I transfer what I do have onto a new piece of illustration board. This time the size is 40" wide by 30" high. This going to be bigger piece than I intended. After transferring what I already had done I pencil in the new stuff. A little bit more along the top than the bottom to compensate for the title. The illustration is better off in the end, but all this time wasted redoing things would have been avoided had I stuck to the rules. Oh well.

Step 4 - Color Rough

Before moving onto the final painting I want to get a good idea of what the color scheme as a whole is gonna be. So I do color study on a watercolor block. It measures 15 by 20. I don't spend too much time on it because I still want to have "something" to pour into the final. I put the color down pretty loosely using gouache and watercolors. I solve various problems this way so I don't have to figure them out while working on the final. This way I will know what can work and what may not. With that out of the way it is time to get to the main event.

Step 5 - Under Painting

Sometimes I do an under painting. And sometimes not. In this case I wanted to do an under painting for the whole piece. After starting I realized that if I did I may not have enough energy to finish the thing. So rather than burn up valuable fuel I just painted in the focal point area and decided to just go directly to the painting. Time was also an issue. I wanted to get this thing done and move on to other work. For me it is best to get an assignment done as quickly as I can. If it sits around for one reason or another I can lose interest. Not so likely on dino art, but it can happen with other types of work.

Step 6 - Painting

Normally I paint in the focal point first. Then paint in the subordinate areas. I'm using gouache and in this case I opted to put in the background and work forward around the focal point. This way I could create the illusion of distance easier. By adjusting my values appropriately as objects get closer, depth is created. I put in a light wash of naples yellow in the rock area to give it a look of warm sunlight. This will be built up as I go.

Here the rocks are pretty much finished. There will be some alterations to them as I paint in the figures. An area or shape may be made darker or lighter depending on what is next to it. The is done to create contrast and make a shape pop out more. I want to get more of the environment around Mr. T first before I start to embellish him. I know he will be some sort of sienna brown but that will fall into place easier once the components around him are established.

At this point it is pretty much down hill. The Tyrannosaur is fully painted and there is no missing him. You may notice that red and black patterns on the raptors are different here than indicated in the color study. After the study was done I realized that I had my color patterns mixed up. Now they are consistent with the interior raptor illustration I did. There's always something. 

This is the final illustration with a bit of airbrush in certain areas to give it a bit more atmosphere. The little pterosaurs were the last items on the docket to get painted in. I'm not sure how much time this piece took from start to finish but I think it is safe to say it was around 40 to 60 hours. And that is mainly due to the size of the art. I don't normally work that large on commercial assignments. Anyway, the job got done and the client seemed to be happy with the final result. I can't ask for more than that.