Digital; cover of the book Dereliction by Ray Garton, Cemetery Dance (2012)
Life has ups and downs of course, and I’ve said plenty of times that art is a great catharsis. I used that catharsis this very morning, for a new digital piece.
I like digital art, in this case more photomanipulation than full, line by line sort of art. My style(s) of art usually has a lot of brush strokes, an illustrative reality so to speak. But sometimes I like to explore the chaos of my mind, and often I choose to combine photographs with brushstrokes, textures, pretty much wherever the art leads.
When I’m working on a piece of art that’s more catharsis than anything, I try to let go and just do art. Let the demons out, so to speak. Being a sufferer of quite violent headaches often (no, not migraines per se, and no, no one can help me; thanks anyway), there are days when I just don’t have the spark to create. I just want to go find a hidey hole somewhere and get away from the pain.
But, that simply can’t happen. I have family life to attend to. I have freelance clients for both art and web development that need their stuff. I occasionally have to run errands, fix things around the house, and so on. So down time doesn’t exist. Which, quite honestly, often makes things worse.
So, I try to do art. It works out great if I can work on an ink, or a traditional painting, even something that needs published. But those activities take concentration, and a focus that I simply don’t have when the old noggin is in peril.
So, two choices: I can give up and go hide in the hole. Or I can fight.
The trick is just letting the brain do art all on its own. No ideas of where it’s going, and no forcing it into some direction. It is time to do pure, unadulterated art for art’s sake, to shake off those demons in my head and get a move on with the things that need to be done.
Sometimes, I end up with a fat lot of mud onscreen. Those are the ones you never get to see.
Sometimes though, it works out quite nicely. Pieces like Winter Holiday and A Violent Reaction, pieces that I’m quite proud of, came out of doing art as catharsis. Today’s piece seems to have worked out nicely as well, so I’m happy to show it to you.
I call it, The Darkness Never Comes, though the story I see for the image is quite different than the title. But that idea is for me, it’s up to you to come up with your own interpretation.
Here’s the new art, and click on it for a larger version.
I’ve been a big fan of the film Dark City since I saw in the theater back in the 90′s. For awhile now, I’ve been considering doing some ink art of one of the creatures from the film. They are known as “the strangers’, and our hero (played by Rufus Sewell) has to go up against them.
They fit pretty well with the Alphabeasts idea, being aliens (or something) as they are, and so I went for it. Here is the ink version, 5″ x 7″ on 140 lb. Cold Press (click on the image for a larger version). I decided to go with their “human” version, since the other version is seen only slightly in the film:
I wasn’t shooting for a particular actor’s look either, though I had considered it. In the end though, I wanted it to stand on its own, which I think it does. The ink wash helped round things out quite a bit, and soften what otherwise might have been a bit too stark.
While I was in there, I decided to toy around with digitally coloring it as well. I experimented with a few textures, and some color gradients and combinations, and ended up with the color version you’ll see below.
The color versions are fun, and I think they add something different to the work. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not. In this case, I left the gradients quite harsh, like he’s much closer to the light than even the grayscale version.
I’m curious, as always, to hear what you think of it. Let me know (again, click on it for a larger version):
Whenever I’m on Twitter (and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and Google +), there always seems to be these great discussions about the type of materials and tools that artists use in their art. Often there are similarities, and quite often too there are new and cool things that I hadn’t heard of before.
I thought it would be a good idea to share what I use to create art, at least traditional art. My digital art is easy enough to explain, it’s Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. But with traditional media, there are so many different combinations and so many different things to try that it’s great to experiment with them all.
So here we go, on to the materials. I took some photos, that way if you’re in the art store the visual of one of the materials might jog your memory. If anything, now I can carry around a couple of pics so that I remember what to buy.
Paper and such
The paper I use (often called “stock” by artists) is fairly consistent, I don’t stray too much normally:
We’ll come back to “Krystal Seal” in “part 2″.
For ink work, I use the two on the right. They are both Strathmore Watercolor stock, 140 lb. Cold Press. The larger one is 400 series, the smaller, pre-cut package is 500 series. I’ve only done one ink on the new smaller ones (Cthulhucraft), but the differences so far between 400 and 500 weren’t much. Still, more experimentation is needed before I can really call that one.
I use the cold press for a few reasons. One, I tend to use a lot of ink, both with large dark areas and with ink washes, and the cold press has no trouble dealing with that. I rarely get warping or the texture of the stock pulling up as I ink, something I’ve had trouble with using other types of paper.
The only thing that I run into is with scanning in the cold press into Photoshop. The scanner will pick up that great texture of the stock, and you have to spend a little more time editing it than you would a Bristol or hot press illustration board. But the trade off for me is just in working with the stock while I’m inking, and I’ve used Photoshop for so many years that it’s second nature now to quickly fix anything.
The two on the lower left are my sketchpads. The smaller black one is a Moleskine, with the storyboard marks inside. Those storyboard areas are great for me when I’m doing layouts and plans for things like comics, but light enough that they don’t interfere when I just want to sketch something. I tend to only use the Moleskine away from home, and I’ve noticed since I’ve been home (unemployed… woo hoo.) more that the larger sketchpad is just there anyway.
The larger, green sketchpad is a Strathmore Premium Recycled 400 series sketch pad, 9″ x 12″, 60 lb. stock. The paper has always been consistent for me, and I like it. You don’t often need really heavy stock for just sketching (unless it ends up another piece, of course), and 60 lb. is a decent thickness. I have several of these pads now, they seem to scan in well and they don’t really push through to the other side of the paper too often (even as hard as I draw). They are easy to find and often on sale inexpensively, which doesn’t hurt either.
Pencils and the gray lines
Here are some of the pencils I use:
Now, to be fair, the one I use the most is my mechanical pencil, a Pentel “Client” pencil. You can see it stuck in the rings of the sketchpad in the photo in the previous section, and it really is my “go to” pencil. But I started out many years ago as a civil engineer and drafter, and those always-sharp lines stuck with me.
I do use other, traditional pencils too, usually when I’m home and not on the road. I like the Prismacolor Turquoise pencils best, even though I’ve tried several others (like Kimberly/General). The Turquoise just seem to hold up better, last longer, and give me better lines. Other pencils seem to break a lot too at the tip, even when I’m just sharpening them.
The other two there are Prang charcoal pencils, which I use from time to time. I normally just experiment with charcoal, it’s not something I do all the time, but I do like how the Prang charcoals hold up. Not just that the pencils themselves seem to work well, but that the charcoal spreads evenly and is easy to deal with.
Erasers are always important of course, especially when I run my mechanical’s down to the nub. I use two types, more or less evenly. The first is a kneaded eraser, which is great to have. For one, it doesn’t leave any marks on the page when you’re done erasing, which isn’t necessarily true of other types. Being kneaded, I can also twist and pull it to get the right erasing size, which is very handy. It also doesn’t seem to leave as many particles behind, which is great for not being out of breath at the end of your erasing moment.
I also have a click-pen style eraser, something you can easily pick up here at the beginning of the school year. It’s great for travel, and also works great for more accuracy. The kneaded eraser can be twisted into a small shape, sure. But that doesn’t mean it will still erase in that small shape, as it deforms. The stiffness of the pen style eraser can come in very handy for that, and still doesn’t leave behind much residue. It is a little easier to break off pieces of the eraser, which can be a little annoying, but they still work well.
Ink and ink Pens
Since I started doing inks again last year, I started relearning all that I love about doing ink work. While sometimes I use nibs and brushes, I often use pens as well:
I use a fishing tackle tray/box to hold them (when I don’t have too many in there), which is a cheap idea for all art materials. The two black ones at the top are Faber-Castell “PITT” Artist Big Brush pens. Like it sounds, instead of the standard ink pen tip they are a small brush head. That works great, especially on the road, to be able to brush in large areas of black. They seem to be rated more lightfast than markers do, and they give a pretty deep black even on the cold press stock (though I often go over it twice).
The other pens are Pigma Micron pens, which I’ve always liked. They give a nice, consistent line, and work great whether I’m on the road or at home. Though I have a number of different sizes, I’ve always liked smaller lines in my art. So the ones that I use the most are the .005, .01, .02, and .03. I also use the .05 and .08 for larger lines, and after that I get into the brushes (brushed on ink or brush pen, either way).
The Micron pens have a very subtle sepia-colored line to them, something that’s not very easy to notice unless you put another color next to it. Most of the inks that I’ve dealt with, be it brushes and nibs dipped in ink or pens, have that subtle sepia effect, and it’s usually not a big deal. The PITT brush and the Microns do, as does the brush ink I use (we’re getting to that), but I have a set of Prismacolor ink pens that actually have a slightly bluish hue to them instead of the sepia.
If you’re scanning things in, that’s no big deal. Just drop everything to gray and voila–no color to worry about. But I’ve been working on original inks to sell, and, even being subtle, you can see the shade differences in the ink lines. If the store you are picking up ink pens has one of those little testing pages on the shelf, it’s a good idea to run different pen lines together and see if there are any shade differences.
I do also use bottles of ink, for brushing on and for nibs (though I don’t use nibs as much any more). For deep blacks, I tend to use Higgins Calligraphy ink (no. 44314), which seems to hold color well. For washes, I usually use Higgins Black Magic ink, or one of the other Higgins color inks if that’s what the art calls for. I like Higgins ink, I rarely get particles in it and it seems to degrade well when you’re using water with it for washes.
I have heard that acrylic ink will give you better, deeper blacks, but I haven’t dealt with any yet. That’s for the next experiment, though certainly there’s a concern there that, if the acrylic ink doesn’t have that sepia tone, it might stand out like a sore thumb.
One of the great things that I like about digital art is the ability for programs (I use Photoshop) to let different layers of art interact. For example, I can have a painting of a character on one layer, with all the shadowing, anatomy, and so on, and on a different layer I can have a texture. By using different abilities in Photoshop (namely Layer Blending Modes), I can use the texture layer to give the character a different sense.
Now, that can mean a lot of things. The character might be dirty, or bloody, or dripping with water. It might even be a subtle texture of rough skin, that can barely be seen. Texture can get rid of the soft (or hard) look of digital art, and make it less “perfect”. Even when it’s subtle, it gives the eye something to grab onto, and since the art isn’t so smooth people accept it a little more (watch out, opinion given).
When I was doing my recent cover for Ray Garton’s book Vortex (Cemetery Dance), I needed to create one of the main characters for the cover, Pyk (see the full genesis of the entire cover here). I thought I had a decent layout idea, and a decent idea for the character, so I went to work painting him in.
I reached a point where his look and feel were complete, but I wanted to add some texture to him based on his description in the story. He’s a creature that’s been out in the woods, dirty, and very violent, and he has a blue tone to him. I debated manually creating the textures with the paintbrush in Photoshop (which I often do), but in the end decided to use manipulated photographic textures.
I have a lot of textures on my computer, some of which are even organized (in a half-ass way, believe me). I have a small digital camera that I take with me to many places, taking photos of trees, streams, buildings, goo, whatever might come in handy later. So, I started looking through my files for the right one.
Here’s what Pyk looks like without a texture:
Let me just say up front, I knew Pyk had to be blue, so I started with a blue texture (you’ll see it). It happened to work quite well, so it stayed. But, for the sake of this article, let’s just say I didn’t do that. In fact, most of the time I do drift between several textures, and even combine some together, for different effects.
It also should be said that many of the following textures aren’t blue. But if the look of the texture had worked, that’s an easy thing to change in Photoshop. On each texture as well, I spend a lot more time dodging, burning, heal-brushing, actual brushing, and in general manipulating the textures until I get what I want. I rarely just get to slap in on there and go with it.
On to the textures, the first one is actually stone, petrified as I recall:
To be honest, I don’t think that one is too bad at all. It gives a rough, dirty look, and adds interesting shades to the art. Even if I changed it towards a bluish color, that color shift would be interesting. It’s maybe a little too spotty though, almost more like he’s been rolling in mud.
So, we try another one. This is a closeup of some mossy rock, weather beaten as it is:
The problem with this one is what you often see with texture work. It’s a nice texture, sure. But it’s not one that can translate into anything other than stony rock. Pyk looks far more like a statue than a dirty creature.
So, we try the next one. It’s a closeup of mud near a vent in Yellowstone National Park:
If Pyk was only bloody, this might be something to work with. It also might be handy combined with another texture, say the first one, to give him a dirty, bloody look. But by itself it looks more like he butchered a herd of cattle than something that’s been living on the land for a long time, and isn’t quite it. Still, it’s an interesting texture.
Next, I tried something a bit different, chili pepper flakes. Before you laugh, there have been lots and lots of textures that I used in the past that started out odd, and still worked well. Case in point:
To me, that has a wicked look to it. It’s translucent, like you can see what’s going on inside him. It gives him a shininess too that wasn’t there before, and gives me lots of really wild ideas for things to try.
Sadly, in this case, it would not have worked. It’s not at all like the story, and I think it’s highly important to follow the story when you’re doing covers and illustration work.
It’s not all in vain though. As with many of my experiments, that one gets logged in the old noggin for later. I have a feeling that effect will come in very handy.
When you’re working with digital art, and you have a little time, it’s good to experiment. Sometimes if you pick something very radical, you might find that it actually works. At the very least, even if it doesn’t work with one project, it might work great on the next one.
With the idea of radical in mind, here’s this one:
Now, of course it doesn’t work for the story, and in fact would need quite a bit of work to be good at all. But there’s something intriguing there, almost a golem or created creature feel. If you hide the bricks on the right and just look at it objectively, it’s quite curious.
At the end of the day (as can be seen of the cover of the book), I went with a blue marble texture:
I gives him the subtle blue feel I was going for (and is described in the story). The lines in the marble translate very well to a dirty pattern, almost a feel of veins running under his skin. The roughness of the stone gives him a good look of being dirty overall, and adds a nice inconsistency to his skin.
Also important, it doesn’t lighten or darken the anatomy much, or the shadowing I already had in there. That’s the undoing of many a cool texture, the fact that they can interact so harshly with the art that they can’t be used. No matter how cool the look is.
Overall, textures aren’t going to make you the artist, and they won’t cover up crappy art. Anatomy still has to be right, composition well done, colors chosen well, and so on. But textures can help give flat art life, and give them a little something else that by themselves they might not have.
I originally wrote this article for my Apex Magazine slot this month, but in the long run I decided to go a different way with it. I thought this one ended up a little more about creators than about the things the Apex might need, so I wrote a different one.
That said, I think this one says some good things as well, so I’m posting here on my own site for you fine folks to check out.
Also, just for the record, Apex is a wonderful publisher, and please go check out their books and other publications. Check them out at www.apexbookcompany.com.
I just spent two hours on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter arguing that using pens for ink art is the best approach.
Right before that, I spent two hours arguing that using a paint brush for ink art is the best approach.
That’s four hours of talking online. I was able to talk to new people, make good points about art and how important techniques are, and possibly gain a new follower. My expertise might have been evident, and I might have impressed any number of fans with my knowledge.
In that four hours, I also could have completed at least one small ink work, or one digital art piece, or even made pretty good headway on an acrylic painting. I could have written at least one short story, or maybe edited one of the several here on my computer.
To put it simply, I put my productivity aside, I put my dream of doing art aside (and getting paid for it), simply to have my say.
But that’s not exactly why creators are on the internet. Speaking from my perspective, I’ve had large gaps in my career due to real life pushing its way in, and being on the internet and being social has helped to keep me in the art world when I wasn’t able to work on anything. I stay on the web, on social networks, because to this day it still keeps interest in my work without me adding new work.
It certainly can be a marketing thing, we want to cultivate new fans, get new gigs, and be seen as a person that others want to be involved with. Really, it’s a very important marketing idea, one that can really lead into many other projects. It’s very easy to get noticed and to get talked about, and that can lead to someone requesting your work. More work, greater exposure, and hopefully living the dream of doing only art are the goals.
That’s not where the problem lies though. Once we’re online, it’s also very easy to get dragged into a conversation or to go off on a tangent. Especially since art can be a very lonely job, often you’re home alone and the internet is your only companion.
So, you put down the paintbrush for your morning break, open up Twitter, and see a discussion about problems with the industry. You add your own message on there, and wait for the next one to reply to. Suddenly, it’s 5 o’clock, and your family is starting to ask where their dinner is, since you’re an unemployed stay-at-home artist that should have dinner on the table.
You’ve just spent an entire day in front of your dream with nothing to show for it.
As someone who’s unemployed, struggling with the art career and family time, and not generally finding a way to do new works, that stings a lot. That can easily lead to depression, since you’re not getting anywhere in life, and then you start sulking and wasting even more time. The trick though is that, creators need the promotion that being regularly on a social networking gives, you can’t just abandon it either. Fans are fickle, and, especially if you’ve been a vocal person in the past, suddenly not being online can lose you the fan base you’ve fought so hard to get.
Creators need to find balance, with everything that they do, and social networking is no different. Some creators can set times during the day to do certain things, others are more organic, and stop when they feel it’s time to stop.
Creators just need to realize that when they stop, they need to limit their involvement during their work hours to just what needs to be said, and not be drawn into big discussions or to fly off to some cool website to spend even more time away from art.
As much as I love talking with creators online, I’d much rather see new works from them. New works that might inspire me to do better at my own work.