Monday, March 8, 2010

The Safari Inn

  I want to stay one night at the Safari Inn. Maybe I will the next time I'm out in LA. Just look at that marvelous sign. It seems to declare "Adventure waits herein, weary traveler!" Looking at it, I have to wonder if marauding natives and wild animals of all sorts are lurking nearby. I can imagine the pounding giant kettle drums down in the courtyard under a moonlit sky while I lay on my tiger skin rug watching some TV. Yessiree, that sign paints some pretty vivid imagery in my mind. No doubt, if I really did check in, I'd probably just hear police sirens and runs to the ice machine all night long while I lay pondering the strange funk that permeates the room and why the bed sheets are itchy and look suspiciously unwashed in the glow of a worn, flickering TV screen. Well, cynicism aside, that beautiful, kitschy sign bathed in golden light fired me up. It's the light itself that I wanted to capture some how. I had been kicking it around for a couple months now. I just didn't know how I would go about it. I still didn't at the time of getting this going. I chose to paint this right after completing the painting of Kuma the dog, the subject of my last post. Kuma took about 4 hours or so to paint. An hour after completion I began to work on the Safari Inn. I mention this because at this point something interesting happens. I had gotten one painting done that I felt pretty good about. I had a little brain fatigue but I thought I would plow ahead and see what could be done with a whole new set of visual problems to solve. The canvas measures 9x14 in size so I knew it wouldn't take long to complete.  So, the tiredness aside, because I was already "warmed up" with the previous hours of work it didn't take long at all to get back into the zone and have some fun. This time around I was going to just shoot from the hip and see what happens. The sign is what I wanted to be the focal point and I wanted to get the overall painting down in a high key approach. That didn't quite happen in the end, but that is how I started out.

  I wanted to get down many different colors all through the piece. It is a warm light in the photo and I remember seeing a bunch of colors all over the place that day. In the air, the mountains, and everything else I see color and more color. Okay, that said, how do I get that down on the canvas in some way that makes sense? I wasn't sure. So, I just began to paint and solve that problem as I went. First off I put down a wash of Aureolin to get rid of the hard white of the linen. It is a yellowish type of color that is really wonderful. In what way? I dunno. It just has some aspects about it that really appeal to me. Not only will knock out the hard white but will also mix in with the color I put down thus "connecting" them. By that I mean, there is a little Aureolin getting mixed in with the other colors, thus connecting them. To be honest though, in the end I have put the paint down so thick that this may no longer be applicable as it would be if the color application stayed thin. Next, I put down the basic shape of the sign itself and the trees. The plan was that as I eventually got down to the lower portions I would break them down to simple shapes so the shape of the sign would remain dominate.

  Once the darker shapes, the trees, sign and building, were placed I began to build up the color in the sky and hills. The hills I purposefully knocked down in value so that the building would stand out more. Because of the orange roof I have orange at random places in the sky and hills also. The blues and greens of the sky are also in the building shapes. Here we have some connection of color going on. This is a unifying tactic. It is a way to portray that all objects are bathed in the same light. Cadmium & Lemon Yellow as well as Aureolin have been used in the sky and other areas.

  Here I have knocked back the trees and sign a little. As you can see the focal point has now changed. It's going to be the dark shape of the building. I didn't plan it that way but I didn't care either. I chose to continue in this direction and see how it all played out. Warmer colors have been added to the sky. Pinks and soft oranges, which are also picked up in the hill. I have used the palette knife quite a bit at this stage. The knife is a fantastic tool that can pull off effects the brush can't. The upper left and and far right are the results of the knife. As are the wall and driveway down below. Colors blend beautifully with the knife. It is also a lot of fun to use and experiment with. I'm pretty happy with how the overall piece has come together. At first I didn't quite know how to wrap things to together. As I put down more color it started to click and I found a rhythm I was comfortable working with.

  I made a few adjustments with the knife in the sky and proceeded to put in the sign's letters. The roof on the left I blended into the hill shape behind it. I softened some other edges here and there and that was about it. It has a spontaneous feel about it that I like. It isn't a high key painting that I had started out with to paint. This makes me admire those, like Monet, who make that type of painting look real easy. I would like to see if I can do a larger version of the Safari Inn and cut it out in the same manner. At any rate, two and a half hours later, a crazy looking sign has been put down on canvas in a suitably, wild manner that I hope captures the feeling I wanted to convey about it. A wild manner that still has some logic and thought put into it. I do think that jumping into this piece right after the Kuma painting did have some positives to it. I didn't try to over think any thing. Afterwards I was definitely spent and would not have been able to do a competent third installment. So all in all, it was a good and productive day behind the easel.
Which is much more satisfying, I'm sure, than a night at the Safari Inn.

A Dog Named Kuma

My dear sis in-law owns a beautiful beast who I thought would make a nice painting. She is a Bernese Mountain Dog and with patient coaxing I was able to get a decent shot of her. I wanted something that captured some aspect of her playfulness and also get a pose that would carry over to a piece of art. I had my trusty assistant, the ever capable Mrs. Slemons, grab the dog's attention in various ways enabling me to get the shot I was hoping for. This is the pic one that won out. She looks spunky and she's seems to be engaged with whatever it is outside of the framework of the photo that has roused her from napping. Yeah, WE know who did that, but once this scene is transfered over to being represented in a painting, I would like the viewer to fill in that part of the story themselves. Maybe it's a bird at the window, some sudden noise in the house, or the funky scent of a nearby mailman has been picked up. A playful spirit is indicated here, to me anyway, and it is my job to carry that over to the canvas. 
  A note or two on what motivates me as an artist to paint this or any other type of subject matter. For me, there has to be some sort of emotional charge that gets the creative juices percolating. It can be anything. The play of light on a subject, the colors at hand, a sense of solitude or loneliness perhaps with a snow covered tractor in a cornfield. Something has to click and it stays with me. Something wants to be said and I just know I gotta get it down. In this case, as a dog lover, a big beautiful hound lazing around the house grabbed me. There were a lot of blues in her coat and around the room in general due to the north light coming in from the window. Conversely, if I try to paint something and I'm a little flat about it or not really certain about what aspect it is I'm trying to capture, it comes out looking labored, or uninspired or it just gets wiped out. Looking labored can result from other issues, like trying to put down everything in a photo, but I'm just generalizing here.
So, let us move on and see how this experiment turned out.


I wanted to just concentrate mainly on Kuma with hint of her surroundings. Most of what is in the photo is not at all important. I have cropped in and eliminated the cabinet and  table legs. They are not important in any way. This is a 8x10 size canvas and I want to paint an image that is not bogged down with the incidentals. I also approach this with the intention that there is certain amount of time to use so I won't allow myself to get caught up trying to put down everything the photo capture. Again, the photo is a liar in virtually every aspect. Color, temperature, and etc. etc. I have to remind myself of that all the time. To have a sense of spontaneity I won't allow the photo to dictate to me anything really beyond the general layout of the model and the basic play of color.    

  I want the general focal point to be her head and that white patch below it. There is a lot of fun stuff going on in her muzzle and eyes. There is quite a bit of temperature change going on in the white patch and sheet she is laying on. You have to be consious of this. In consideration to the patch, a white in one area is NOT the same type of white in another section of the same shape. It will vary in temperature and perhaps even a bit in value. That is the case here anyway. I want to carve that patch out as accurately as I can to stay consistent with the atmospheric conditions that I interpret to exist here. There is a lot of interesting shifts in color and temperature going on around the head. The nose and mouth in particular offer fun challenges. As do the areas of fur with the light on it vs. the shadow sides of her coat.  

  Once her head is established as the focal point, it's pretty much downhill from here. The thinking behind a focal point is, that the viewer needs to know what it is they're supposed to be concentrating on in the picture. In life, whenever you are looking at an object, everything around it is subordinate. You can only look at ONE thing at a time. If you are starting at someone's nose, for exampe, you can not also see the person's eyes or mouth with the same clarity. I want Kuma's head to be what you as the viewer hone in on. Therefore, I will render those shapes around her head as secondary considerations. How far I want to exaggerate and push these areas is up to me. That's another fun part. I get to chose how to manipulate these areas in order to enhance the overall piece and direct you through it. The eye should be able to move around the composition with as little confusion as possible. If I cut out the whole dog and her surroundings all equally, it would be confusing to look at. What is it exactly, you would ask, am I talking about.

I wanted to put in just enough information into the background wall and blankets so that they would read at a glance. For the carpet and sheet in the foreground it was pretty much the same approach. The bed sheet is a white, but not the same kind like in the white patch of fur. It is distinctly different and should be done in a way not to detract from the dog. The value is lighter the closer it is to the light source. It gets cooler and a bit darker as it recedes to the right. I try to make the edges softer out here too. No doubt as this thing tacks up I'm see somethings that need to be tweaked or handled differently. That's the way it goes for me. For now though, it's pretty much done and I've captured some of what I had hoped to when I started. Perhaps I'll take another stab at with a different take on the color schematic. There's more than one way to skin a cat. Or paint a dog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Inking Up Some Comic Book Pages

I've always been amazed by great black and white ink work. Well executed pieces done in pen or brush, or both, can be grand stuff. There's a whole slew of embellishers in the comical book industry alone whose styles have fueled the fires of inspiration for me. Tony DeZungia's inking on John Buscema's pencils in Savage Sword, for example, seemed to make Conan even more of a force to be reckoned with. The dark shadows around the eyes always stood to me. Recently I've been flipping through my hard cover edition of "Earth X" which showcases the stunning work of John Paul Leon. It's printed in just black and white and really makes a statement in regards to the man's incredible draftsmanship. Solid blacks in the both the background and foreground fuse together creating beautiful effects of atmosphere. It is truly great work and worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with Leon's art chops. This is how I decided to do things a little different on some comic pages I had to work on. Rather than use the brush to lay in the line work and manipulate watered down ink in various places like I had been doing, I thought I would rely more on the usage of solid blacks and see what I could pull off. Okay, enough blah,blah,blahing. Let's see how things went these pages.


  Usually I have 3 types of ink out to be used. For the darks I use undiluted "Super Black India Ink" by Speedball. This is really good stuff. Once it's down and dried, the pencils can be erased and the inks sheen isn't really dulled down. I like this stuff better than "Black Magic", which I had been using for quite awhile.
  Next, is a watered down bottle Pelikan "Drawing Ink A". I have several bottles of this type that has lain around in a drawer for years. To the point that the pigment a globbed up a bit and had to be diluted to break it up. In general, this bottle is watered down so it isn't so dark. It's wonderful for toned effects.
  Lastly, I have a batch of super diluted stuff that put into a plastic lid. Because of the dried ink residue that is never washed out, particles come loose that have cool effects when put down in a wash. Even though this time around I'm pretty much gonna just use the "Super Black" and a little wash effect here and there, I thought you might like to see the whole ink arsenal.
  The brushes are Steve Quiller synthetics, sizes 2 and 5. The nibs are a 512, 513 and a fine tipped piece made by a Japenese maker. It's for Manga type work but I got a bunch of them because they are good tools. The 513 was nib of choice for this batch of pages.


  I pencilled out the pages on 15x20 pieces of Strathmore plate bristol board. I can see that I should have scanned these pages instead of just shooting them on the table. Next time I'll do that, so please bear with me. On this page and the other three, I have a general idea of what areas will be the darks. There are places that I'm not sure about, so I just work those out in the back of my head while I concentrate on the areas that I do have a solid direction on. As long as I have a overall idea of how the page will lay out I trust the smaller uncertainties will just work themselves out as I go.


  I used the 513 size nib to outline the shapes and their shadow areas. I'm not really doing any line work here such as crosshatching. I do this just to place the items in each panel and to start getting an idea of how I can pull the shapes in the back and front together. The 513, to me, has a nice feel to it. Because of it's size it is less likely to get stuck in the paper and spatter. They do tend to wear out fairly quick depending on how hard you press down. How you hold it can also make it not put the ink down. In the end, you just have to get a feel for it to maximize what it can do. It's like anything else I suppose.

  Next I just laid down the darks areas and put in bits of actual line work here and there to create a sense of depth and to add some texture. There are still some parts that I know need some sort of treatment but what exactly that may be, I'm still not sure. So I move on to the rest of the page and leave these "unknowns" to be dealt with later.

  Here's the lower portion of the page just in outline form. At this point I'm cruising along pretty good and I'm pretty confident in getting what I need to established. 

  This is the finished page. I added some thinned ink in the smoke rising from the wounded mechanical creature. 

Here's another page in outlined inks.

  Once everything was in place, I went in with some white Gouache to put in some more webbing and break up some of the line work on the downed spider's abdomen to accentuate the highlight.
On this page, my tendency to use line work came out a bit more than on the other pages.  Sometimes it's hard to turn off a certain way of working. That said, I still like the results. Hopefully the colorist can take these pages to the next level. For my part, I want to create a finished inked piece that can still stand alone by itself. Though far from perfect, I think these pages do that to some degree. If you would like to see them all, you can check them out at my Comicspace site with the link at the very bottom. The pages that I worked on for this post are pages 59-62. This particular comic will be an online item that will work in conjunction with a video game called "SCAPS Agent". It should be green lighted by September of this year.