Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Let the Wizard do the Talking"

By Justin Gerard

In my last post I gave a preview of this month's painting describing a situation we've all been in before: You're making your way down to the grocery store for pop tarts and there's a some dragon blocking the pass.  
Today I will be going through a few of the development stages for this painting so you will hopefully get a feel for how you might get around something like that.

Line Drawing

The 16" x 20" drawing was done on reliable Strathmore 500 vellum bristol. Still one of my very favorite papers to watercolor on. It's only flaws:  it is too nice to people, and works too hard while on the job. 

Digital Color Comp 

My color comp is fairly saturated here, and laughably ambitious for a watercolor on bristol. I may want to get this saturated in watercolor, but I'm not an actual wizard. I'm just an average guy who won a wand and pointy hat in a game of No Limit Texas Hold 'Em once while running guns in Peru. I know good and well that when it comes to it I likely won't hit this kind of saturation in watercolor, so here I am mainly planning around my final digital image.  
While I am working in watercolor I will print out a black and white version of this color comp to use as a general value guide. I will revisit this color comp when I scan the final image in. 


Finished Watercolor detailed in Acryla-Gouache

After finishing the watercolor itself I lay in opaque passages and highlights using Holbien Acryla-Gouache, which blends really well with watercolor. It offers the smoothness of gouache, but the permanence of acrylic. You can see in the images above how much of the detail and dimensionality the Acryla-gouache pass brings to the image. 
I will say that this product is noticeably less smooth than gouache and watercolor alone, but I find that I have an easier time controlling it than I do gouache. It works well for what I need it to do.  

The image below shows the stages of the painting: 

  1. The order of events: 
  2. Drawing in Caran D''Ache Pablo Pencils
  3. Watercolor and Acryla-gouache
  4. (Photoshop) Multiply and Soft Light Layers
  5. (Photoshop) Color Dodge layers 
  6. (Photoshop) Screen layers with saturated colors
  7. (Photoshop) Opaque Normal layers

There isn't a great deal that changes from the watercolor to the digital final. It is mostly that the values and colors are punched up and sharp details refined.  (However, this last part is hard for me to overstate. I have the approximate vision of a mole rat or a very deep sea-dwelling creature. Being able to zoom in close to the image means that I can finally give these details the treatment they deserve.) 
The bulk of the time is spent working on highly transparent layers to bring more vitality and dimensional heft to the image.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions! 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Highlights From Annie's Demo

Aside from a few initial technical difficulties, last Saturday's demo went exceedingly well. In just 2 short hours, Annie Stegg Gerard did an amazing amount of work. She showed us her sketches, demonstrated how she seals and tones her underdrawing, and then nearly completed a full Brunaille underpainting.

The downloadable version should be available within the next 24 hours for those who subscribed to our $10 Patreon tier.

If you would like a copy as well, it's not too late. Just sign up before the month's end.

***Come March, new sign-ups will be receiving March's download, NOT this one... so don't delay!***

The Road to Lucca

-By Jesper Ejsing

1 year ago I was in Lucca for the Comics and games Con. By far the best comic convention I have attended. I got to meet Claire Wendling again, I painted next to Kim Jung Gi, ( a very stressful experience ) and I hung out with the fabulous Karl Kopinski for a whole week eating fine Italian cooking and met the absolutely fantastic crew that host and arrange the festival every year.

If you are living outside of Europe you should try to go to Lucca for the Convention, even if it is a bit expensive to travel...but wait! You could also just participate in the brand new Award called Overluk Award and win! and you will be invited to Lucca as a special guest. I know I will participate.
The judges are a cool bunch of people.

The deadline is March 31 - 2017

Now, back to the hotel minibar. I am traveling this week, getting ready for the Emerald City Comic Con and Schoolism Workshop, so forgive me for this very short update...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Sfumato Piambura Break with An Add-Shot of Espresso

-By Ron Lemen

Hello all, still going on those color theory portraits, I have a few more portraits to finish for the series of skin tones and then I will publish it, I expect it to be a few more weeks before all the portraits are completed.  I was looking through the reference for the white skin and I thought about a technique I learned from an amazing portrait artist Adrian Gottlieb many years ago, and how appropriate it is for this kind of flesh painting.  The technique is called Verdaccio, but the layer I am interested in painting here is the Piambura layer.  It is a wonderful way to build up form and the buildup is done in nothing but white paint. 

So, I am taking a quick break to reflect on this technique and share it with you using an exercise I made for someone I am mentoring online on techniques in painting and the various color theories corresponding to them.  I also need a short break from all the direct painting that I am doing, and this technique is an extremely refreshing way to do just that.

Verdaccio is a layer in the underpainting of a canvas.  The verdaccio stage is also called the “Dead Color” layer as it replicates the flesh of a cadaver in its yellow/greens and green whites, blues and purples through a blending process called “turbid mixing”.  There are many different approaches to doing verdaccio painting, as it was a favored technique all throughout Europe during the Renaissance and beyond, each country and its art culture applying their own take on the approach.  Verdaccio painting originated from Italian fresco painting in the early Renaissance.  It is said that this dead color layer started as a way of cutting back the intense orange and red hues used in flesh, but parallel to that concept I also believe that the Italians understood their own skin by coloration well enough to see the green undertones in it and using this cold temperature under painting was a correct representation of turning the form and giving it these additional cool hues balanced the look of Realism.

I am painting with the Piambura stage in mind.  Adrian Gottlieb invented the term and here is a link to the piambura story and its origin.  This is my favorite stage of this painting process, it is beautiful if done with control and if applied with just the right amount of transparency it also produces an amazing array of cool temperature “turbid” hues, ranging from blues and purples all the way over to the green family.  Turbid means cloudy and the turbid hues are a result of the white cloudy film enhancing the dark hues and bringing out their “hidden” characteristics and exploiting them, like burnt umber having a blue to blue purple property in its composition.

This is one of my examples of a figure painting using the technique.  The camera has a very difficult time picking up the subtle changes of hue in the piambura stage because of the laying effect and its optical mixture that this illusion is best and sometimes the only way to see the turbid hues.  Forgive me if I amp up the images a little in Levels and Curves to enhance the hues that are there.  Also, one must come from the school of color theory that suggests there are no true grays in nature, that all colors as dull as they may be come from a root hue of some sort. 

These are the paints I used.  I have titanium white and Lead White no 2 by Rublev.  The lead white is transparent and the Titanium white is opaque so most the painting is done in lead white with only the brightest and lightest areas mixed with titanium to flatten and brighten the space quicker than the many layers it would take with the lead white alone.
I also have this Walnut Oil Gel by Rublev and use it as my medium, brush cleaner and sharpener, as well as my paint eraser when the white gets out of control.

The brushes I am using are of three different grades of hair, a sable on the left, a badger hair in the middle and a bristle on the right.  Each is used for its characteristic of handling paint, the sable is for fine and soft blends, the badger hair is in between with a soft firm feel that pushes paint around better than a sable but does not have coarse hairs so it does not chew up the clean gradations I am attempting, and is the brush I do most of the painting with.  The bristle brush is the pick and shovel of the three and can pile on the paint or scrape it off with ease.

Before I start the white layer, the canvas needs to be keyed.  This is called the imprimatura stage and is done with a combination of burnt umber and burnt sienna to balance the temperatures between them, one being cooler and the other warmer.  If I want to see more blues in the turbid mixture I will use more umber and if I want to cancel out the temperature shift in the blending of light to shadow I will use more sienna in the imprimatura layer.

Next comes the drawing which is done in one color and is done in one pass with all the shadows filled and gradated out past their actual terminator so that when the white is painted over it there is much greater chance of a cleaner gradation between the lights and shadows.  The drawing is done in a burnt umber and thinly applied.  If the drawing stage is applied to thickly the drawing will catch light on its recorded edges as well as throw cast shadows into the mix.  Because of this the darks become a distraction which can be difficult to look at.

The drawing stage is thoroughly dried before the Piambura is applied.  This stage is an “all white” painting stage.  It is a strange feeling to build up form only using one color.  I am used to turning form through various recognizably mixed values and using just one to do the same thing was a bit baffling to my senses, but the more I worked with it the more enjoyable it became.  Most of the painting process is done with a Pouncing application, or Sfumato by its Italian name.  It is a very relaxing way of painting compared to direct approaches and feels very Zen to me at times.

The paint is applied starting where the light is the brightest and is softly blended out from that point.
By applying the paint in this manner the paint remains extremely thin, as well, porous, or broken up into scattered dots of paint, not evenly brush stroked on and the light is correctly balanced by building out from the highest lightest point first.  The paint is extremely dry which also makes it much easier to apply the paint this way.  Because of the delicate nature of the turbid blending this stage is built up in layers, several, maybe up to half a dozen if necessary to achieve a precision gradation between the lights and the shadows.  And if this process is done with only lead white then many additional layers are necessary to achieve a pure white quality at the highest points of light.

Since this is an underpainting technique that will have glazes and scumbles built up over it to complete the form and color, the underpainting needs to exceed the light that on the model perceived by eye.  Glazes have value to them and when painted over the underpainting will darken it by nature, which is also why the scumbles are equally important balance to the process of turning the form with color and achieving the correct brilliance of lit flesh.

This example of the eye is on its second layer of paint and I have one more to apply on Tuesday after this layer has set and dried.  I am fairly certain that 3 layers is all it will need to exceed the brilliance necessary for the glazes to work, IF I were going to glaze it.

Here are two videos showing the application of paint and a different view of the brush as it strikes the canvas while I am pouncing(sfumato) with it.

Okay, heading back to the easel now to complete that series of portraits.  Take care and happy arting.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

COVERING A BOOK: Avi's City of Orphans

-By Greg Ruth

One of the most sought after, misunderstood, and rarely easy jobs in illustration is getting a book cover gig. They are despite the art-friendly bent of most publishing houses, really a tool of the publicity and marketing departments rather than a high end art exercise. You are as a cover illustrator, there to do one job: sell the book you're covering. Anything else will subtract from your success at doing this. I'll take an example of what I'd call a fairly average case in book covering and walk through it here, step by step until it's final end. We'll focus today on the first novel I covered for Avi, CITY OF ORPHANS. (This post was also inspired by a call out and answered by a pair of requests from both Jeffery Paul Hebert and Tony Guaraldi Brown).

Before we begin, a note on how vastly different these gigs can be. The process is often different each time you do it- which I entirely love- and the manner at which these things happen depends largely on the culture of the publisher for whom you are working. A big house like Penguin/Random House will have a heavy-handed committee aspect to the process which will mean a lot more work for you, a slower process, and sometimes a lot of frustration depending on how powerful/persuasive your AD/Editor may be in the room. A place like Tor, for example, will be more dependent upon your ability to do most of the work, deliver and be responsive to notes from your AD in a much more free and personal way. Both will end up having to go through and manage the final judgement of the marketing department, and their power will depend on their overall stature in the publishing house, (more and more in these times than ever before), and the scale/profile of the project. You do a Stephen King cover, bet on heavy fealty to the author's input and the juggernaut of the marketing department to reall drive the train, and perhaps early. Do a new author's first novel... well it's like independepent film making: the less money and prestige inherent to the project, the less hassle from above. These early projects are the ones you're likely to get early on- almost no one throws a newbie into a pool of giants for a cover image, so use these early days to exploit the freedoms as much as you can before you have to start wrestling with the big dogs.

So. What is a cover? Silly question, on its surface, but looking past the obvious answer that it's a picture covering a book, there's a lot to consider. First of all, and especially for you as an artist, a cover requires you to do a number of things at once:

 1.) Be true to your subject matter, and express what your covering succinctly and purely from a place
of authenticity. A good sign you've done this right, the best sign, really, is when the author exclaims that you've somehow reached inside their mind and drawn exactly what and how they saw their own story. That really is the highest possible mark of success in any cover to be honest. Aim for this at all times.

2.) Find no more than THREE elements to include in the cover image. Big decoupage crazy calamity images pushing every possible button is not and never is the way to go. Keep it simple and avoid a bed of nails problem, (wherein a single nail can punch through, but a bed of them flattens out to feel impenetrable and ineffective). If you can do ONE, then do one. But just avoid more than three. A cover should be of all things, immediate, eye catching and concise in its message.

3.) Think graphically, even if you don't paint that way. I don't possess the minimalist jedi powers of a Jeffery Alan Love or a Mike Mignola, or even a Saul Bass, but I strive for them as a goal anyway. Covers have to be graphic to succeed- they need to grab a passerby in a store or on an online shop, and encourage a closer look. That's just stage one. When you get their attention, you need to reel them in by rewarding them with more to see. If that means the giant face you saw from a distance is really a cloud of flying car parts in a crash scene, I guarentee they'll pick up and hold the book. If it's something that seems simple from a distance, and is simple at a close resolve, but attentatively so, then that can work equally as well. Some covers will not rely upon the art as the main draw in- and may need you to essentially be the hook the title and type treatment baits the reader towards. I've done covers that are almost entirely about submitting to a huge bold title logo, and my work is at that point essentially window dressing. Both can be made to work, so know which horse you're riding early and don't fight agains the tide. Again, this isn't about you or about your work except to say that it matters as it sells the book your covering.

4.) BE ON TIME. This goes without saying of course, but I'll say it anyway. If you've not worked in periodical mediums like comics, magazines or editorial news jobs, you may not full grasp the essential realities of being on time with your work. Book covers almost always occur after the novel is completed- sometimes you get in on early drafts and changes come- and sometimes you become part of the environment that makes those changes happen- but typically speaking, when it comes time to cover a book, it's just about time to market that thing. So your bosses will be under the gun to keep things on track. Even if the book isn't due out for 9 months, they may still need the cover yesterday. Book publishing is a yearly business, but it als markets its wares sometimes a year in advance. INDEH's cover was completed and sorted out well before the book's principle work was finished. Same for THE LOST BOY and there were even times in comics where the cover was the first piece of real art to happen for a project.

Essentially, if you manage to stick the landing on all of these above, you've done your job and have set yourself up for the next one. And that's a key here, to understand: Every piece you make as a career artist is about the next piece and never the one in front of you. Don't take that to mean dismissing the piece in front of you at all- quite the opposite. You need to do well and good on your present work in order to get a second chance at bat, and a third and a fourth, etc... Everything you do should be the best thing you have ever done until you get the chance to do it again. Keep that in the forefront at all times.

So here we are. When Michael McCarthy first got in touch to do this, while I had previously done some work for Simon & Schuster, I had not worked with either him nor Avi before, so this was essentially a fresh start with a whole new team. The first thing that usually happens is I'll get a manuscript to read. YES, doing a book cover is best served if you actually take time to READ THE BOOK. Essentially this is true of all the work you'll do going forward. If you're planning for a career in books, be ready to read a lot of books. I know this seems obvious but even a well read artist will find their reading level quadrupling once you're rolling along.

More often than not, you'll get a digital copy- a pdf or some such thing. In the not so long ago times they'd fedex you a printed out manuscript like the ones the editor is working with. And while that still happens, most times now you'll get a pdf to print yourself, or transfer to your iPad/e=reader thing to read from. I like printing them out not just for the catharsis of page turning, but also as a ready made place to jot down notes. If you have an iPad Pro- you can split screen your manuscript and note app and that can work too- I do this often and more and more these last few months. Anyways... do your read through, and do it running. Just plow through the material stopping only to make a note or jot down an inspiration as you go. Typically you'll have the cover image in mind before you get halfway through, and you might even be able to stop there depending on how much time you have. Sometimes you have mere days to do this, other times weeks or months. So budget your time well for this part. The reason you can grab a cover concept early on, and likely should is to avoid spoiling the story with a cover image of something best left to the prose. If you were drawing a cover to Empire Strikes Back, you would not want to show the "I am your father" moment, even though it's THE moment from the story, for example. You are there to pave a compelling entrance to a story, not to tell the story. So unless there's some detail to allude to later, some little sneaky easter egg or concept that will only make sense when read, try to keep things closer to the first and second act of the story as far as cover images go. If you are lucky enough as I was in this case, to get to do a series of chapter illos along with the cover,  then you'll have a wider playground to scratch that itch later.

So, you've read the manuscript and now it's thumbnail time. More and more I tend to find the cover image I want pretty early on, but you never know. I'll first write down a few single lines like... "boy in an alley hiding", or "boy picking a pocket"... if you get a job like this set in an actual historical time, you'll have an extra wrinkle to sort out- research. Can't have the kid checking his snapchat if the story is set in 1900's NYC like this tory is, so even in this early stage start utilizing research not just to get the story details right, but to find visual information to perhaps inspire an image. In this case, old tenements, clothing wagon wheels, hats, horses even can be a source of an image, so be sure to get on this early.

Another thing you want to keep in mind even at this early stage is title and author treatments. You will likely not have one to work from at this stage, but one is coming so make sure to keep room for them. Generally speaking the upper half- or third of the page will be title with the lower fifth or so for author credit. Sometimes  you get a gig with an author as the HUGE draw, but most times the title is. Now this is not to say that you can do all sorts of things, work with a title on the side, at bottom across the middle... and yes you can make a case to steer towards a design of your liking. This is a power you have being early to the game like this. Use it. But remember to be able to make a case for your choices. "it looks rad like this" is not what I mean.

The above images are all scrappy little craptastic thumbnails to denote basic concepts. Some of these are what was suggested, some are dummy offerings meant to fill out the illusion of choice, and one of these was the one I felt needed doing. But I would be perfectly happy tackling any of these. never submit a concept, even one meant to act as a red herring or a dummy piece that you aren't prepared to take to final. I've done this and lo and behold they picked the shitty one I never intended and that was a pickle. So while you don't need to show your best work at this stage, you should always only show your desired ideas at their best. Right now you just need to pick a horse, and do a broad design in broad shapes. The characters, details and impact lighting comes later. You are also going to be typically working alone with an editor or more likely an AD at this stage, so no need to impress. If you are so unfortunate as to be in the Sarlac Pit of committee heavy jobs, then well.. it will indeed feel like you are being digested over a thousand years. In these instances, sketches will create room for more input than you'd want, and more questions than answers. Limit then the amount of the offering. usually the AD will be your agent to bridge the worlds of the committee he or she has to please and you with whom she/he is working with. The really good ones will never let you know how much crazy they have to deal with, others will let you feel the fire hose of insane ideas from people who lack a basic ability to see and conceive things visually. Be ready for "isn't this supposed to be yellow?" or "I think the boy looks to Irish" or my all time favorite "that rope is too... ropey". Just roll with it and keep moving. Save your fire for the real battles to come.

In this case the committee was never really a big part of this experience, and that largely had to do with the fact that Avi is a big hitter and once he liked something, that something was locked. Michael knew this and relayed ideas when ready to and through him and it kept the experience smooth as silk despite tweaks and revisions later. The concept I liked best was a scene early on where the lead boy is trapped in an old crappy alley having to defend himself a homeless street urchin girl against a gang of older boy-thugs... with the caveat that the girl was much more capable to this fight than the boy is. There's our three concepts right there, and the sketch just above shows what I had in mind. Even though this is an action cover for a YA novel, I don't typically like to deliver an active moment for a cover. I prefer to take on the moment just before a punch is thrown or directly after rather than the punch itself. It's an old action cinematography thing that I have always found works best, so what you see here is the final deep breath before the plunge of the coming brawl.

 Next up was the more fleshed out drawing. This is not a stage I usually do to be perfectly honest. I tend to like to get right into the final drawing once the thumbnail is approved. I am told this is an insane way to operate and maybe it is, but I find it helpful for me to get the characters down early, and really show where I'm headed. Especially in a committee situation. Less questions to have to field from folks and marketing people who may not be able to fill int he visual blanks a rough sketch can provide. Anyways, in this case a middle stage was a necessary thing to do, and so I did. I reversed the image to suit the picture better and laid out the space and some of the intended lighting I had in mind. The reversal was a big deal because of how we read images in the West: there is a natural current moving from left to right, and even left corner down to right corner you always want to keep in mind when making a cover. Especially an action shot like this. If the wind and natural power moves left to right, having the boy and girl facing left gives more power to the bullies. Reversing it gives them more natural power. That's where I wanted it: it affords me the opportunity to make the bullies huge faceless goliaths about to crush a tiny pair of ants... but it feels like, because of this composition, that the ants are where the power is. That's a nice tension to play with and certainly far more interesting to the reader than the other way. So just because the flow is left to right doesn't mean you HAVE to go with that flow, but you need to work with it for your image to work. It's basic opposition/Flow stuff and something you always want to keep in mind. The way this composition was formed, you can it acts as a kind of sunburst of angles all emanating from the boy and the girl behind him. This keeps the focal point clear and set, and makes early on what will need to be maintained as the central attention of the rest that's to come as the paint begins to fall on the paper.

 Next up is a hard jump to the final. I don't have process shots of this, and probably wouldn't have taken any as I worked anyway, so sorry for their absence. I don't like the inherent self-awareness that doing that brings into this stage of the process and I find stopping to take a pic of a stage of work be bad for the flow needed to do what I do. Not all things are meant for the world and I must carve out some square inch of privacy for the art. Disclaimer aside... What next was a bunch of considerations- namely and firstly focusing upon our two main protagonists. I was also in the midst of this working on the interior drawings as well, and used them as a backdoor training ground to get a grip on these characters as you can see below. Once I knew them, it is with them that I began.

 And so the final was attacked and readied. This was what Michael saw next from me after the sketch. Again I try to limit how much in terms of stages to show both because Michael is working on a number of projects simultaneously as all ADs are, and need to be brought in when need is there. Also It's my job to answer as many questions as I can myself, so deciding on a brown minimal color to let the logo pop more visibly, to get their emotional content, their faces and expressions to be real and true to their characters as I saw them, their physical stances and the overall lighting and composition... these are all things that are my job to answer and stand behind. So i doing them I commit to their veracity, but also in doing so expect and prepare for calls for change. And change always comes. Since I work right into final like this there is a fair amount of neutering that comes from it vis a vis the AD or editor or even the committee that they must answer to. At least to some it comes off that way. The benefit is that it makes solid things which people might be apt to fiddle with that will merely take up time ending with the same result, and it also fully clarifies what my intention is as evidenced by what's there rather than via some promise not yet kept. But in doing this I always try to assure everyone that none of it means its' unfixable changes. This isn't an oil painting I have to redo to do well and add changes. Even if it was I make sure to scan it in and work on the final digitally by dropping in scanned changes and tweaks so that what sees print meets with everyone's desires and needs. it's more about avoiding offense than it is about making everyone happy. And not everyone will necessarily be happy, at least not right away. the more folk that come in on a job the more likely you're going to see some diffidence or differing ideas in play. That's okay and normal. This isn't personal, this isn't pure art, this is work and I am at their service. I do and will fight back if there's crazy suggestions or ones that require massive changes just so someone can see if an alley cat would be cool to see, or if the light should be pink or whatever. But really these folk are professionals and tend not to go there. And again, with a good AD you'll likely never hear of the back court battles they fight for you. As much as you are often working solely and directly with an AD, know that they are your friend, and they are fighting for you even though they may not tell you the shape of their battles. Often you don't really want to know. It's a partnership- a kind of temporary marriage in which the making of this baby is the real goal and purpose, and even if you come back together again to work on another, it's a different thing always. But the way in which you previously worked together will determine a lot of how round two goes, or depending on how you behaved, whether a round two ever comes. Remember, publishing is a small world where more or less the only way to advance within a company is to leave it and return. So people get around know a lot of the same folk and will carry the word of your quality, or lack, to their peers in the business. A rep formed at S&S will be heard at Scholastic or Harper Collins. Do what you can to make sure that conversation is positive and affirmative as possible- this isn't to say avoid trouble, just manage it well and professionally. The rest then will take care of itself.

So The lighting was a lot more vivid and the shapes more defined and the popping yellow sky and all was fine on its own, but now we were getting into title treatment time, which can happen at this stage, and there needed to be changes. Where her raised board once was needed some space, and the defined forms needed to blend a bit so it didn't play havoc with the title. I never want to see a haloed title treatment if I can simple because it means I've failed to make the space for it to contrasty or variant to read without such a cheat. So I needed to darken things up, brings things down and make things now dance more fully with the text that was coming. As you see here to the right- I can't recall the exact reason for lowering the raised board... I think it might have been a request from marketing for some reason that made no sense to me. I recall not at all agreeing with the choice compositionally, but I had other battles I wanted to win more with regards to her face, and the boy's and sometimes you are bets served by compromise and horse trading. Choosing your battles makes a big difference in this process and it's a skill I encourage everyone to hone and perfect. You won't always win, and sometimes winning in certain areas means sacrificing ground elsewhere. All I remember is that the change was grudging to me, but in the end not nearly as important as the other things I wanted to fight for. Some tweaking of the boy's fists happening, some facial changes and tightening... all pretty standard stuff, really.

 Once we both got the title we wanted in place, which I simply loved by the way, it was time to layer it and go back and forth with tweaking tones and shapes to better fit things. At this stage Avi has seen and loved the image so far, and that means every other opinion went silent save for what Michael and I had to do to tweak. A lot of these changes would be invisible to anyone else save for those of us who've been staring at this thing for all these days and weeks- a cover can usually take about a month start to finish to process approve and finalize. I made sure again to even limit further some of the variant color tones so the kids' faces popped, and made some other compositional changes so the type would hit the forms in just the right way. I always recommend you getting a chance to do this before it goes to press. There are things you will see that they may not and finding that out when you open your box of comps is not the place to do it. Silly stuff like the way the "r" hits her in the head gave her a weird face, or just barely bumped up against her eye... that kind of thing. So be sure to really study it in detail for the final pass because that is exactly the kind of stuff that will make you want to chew your leg off later when it's too late to make it right. For the second printing, they went with red text to differentiate it from the first edition hardcover and it still worked really well. In the end of it all it became a cover I still quite like, which is a small miracle in and of itself. And it made for a handsome book to hold and read. The book was a hit too and Avi declared it as his favorite of any he had seen of his numerous novels which for me was the whole game right there. Again, a book cover is a marketing tool at its core and as such needs to hit certain notes to pass through the gate. The interior drawings for the book were easy and we were largely left alone, mainly because anyone who got to those images were already ours and the book was sold.

Covers are candy. No working artist can make a living just from book or album covers without a nice trust fund keeping their feet dry. They come when they come and sometimes they come rarely and others too often, if that's even a thing. If you do well you'll get another crack. The average time between gigs with the same AD at the same house can be a year at least to three, so the idea is to spend yourself around as much as possible- widen your scope, genre and qualities and work for as many different folk as you can so those staggered times for cover work end up adding up to consistent monthly income that keeps the night screaming away. As much as it is upon you to be as artistic as you can, and expressive and unique and potent as you can make them, allow for your lightening to be contained where it's needed. And don't forget who you're really working for if you want to get to do them again. Covers are a kind of holy grail for illustrators and can be humongous boosters to one's presence and career. Just ask James Jean how those fables covers helped him out, or Dave McKean about his early Sandman and Hellblazer work. They are hard to get and should be thanked overtime they come around- covers are a chance to really shine and be seen by more than just the kids at Magic the Gathering, or the YA readers at Scholastic. A book is reviewed, it's your cover that will be the face of it. If you're into art awards, then it's cover work that will get you some. You may see giant building sized murals of your work, or posters on a the side of a bus, or big screens of them up at a convention. Enjoy those moments and soak it up because they are truly awesome. If you're lucky enough to stumble into a series enjoy the opportunity to outline some themes and carry throughs for the series that will reward you and the reader who follows it through.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lady Godiva : Process Video

-By Scott Fischer

I've been itching to do a Godiva painting for a while, so when www.havenartgallery.com/ invited me to be a part of a group show called 'History of Art', (opening this weekend) it was impetus to get my Godiva on. And we aren't talking about the chocolate.

In my last Muddy post I talked about why I paint on copper. In this post I will show and tell you how I paint on copper. But beyond the copper aspect, I will talk about processes I do for every painting- from abstract thumbnailing in Alchemy through the Photoshop  design stage, to doing it for real.

Here are 17 minutes of Lady Godiva, narrated by me, from thumbnail to final art. Hope y'all dig.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The REAL Cost of Running a Kickstarter

-By Guest Blogger: Sam Flegal

In March of 2016 I ran a successful Kickstarter to fund my book “The Illustrated Havamal.” With the help of 472 backers,  I raised $35,108 for the project.

As I was running the campaign, I spoke to Dan Dos Santos about the idea of writing an article on running a Kickstarter and submitting it to Muddy Colors. Dan's response was that everyone wants to do an article about running a Kickstarter, and there are tons of them online already (go ahead, do an internet search, he’s not wrong), but there are very few articles about what a Kickstarter looks like on the back end. Dan said "I’m way more interested in the real cost of running a Kickstarter."

I imagine if you’re still reading this, like Dan, you're interested too. So here it goes…


For starters, Kickstarter takes a cut and the credit card processing company takes a cut. For simple math, it’s about 10% total. That means out of the $35,108 funds raised, I'm only actually getting 90% of that.

New Profit Total is: $35,100 -$3500 = $31,600.


After that you need to get moving on production. I’m lucky because my wife is an amazing graphic designer, that means my time and her time weren’t hard costs. But believe me, we put in a lot of time! I spent 6 weeks working on the illustrations for the book. My wife spent a month on design and layout. I spent a month prior to the Kickstarter planning it and a month promoting it during the life of the campaign. You will pay in time.

Total time expended so far: 600 hours


Once the layout was done, and the Editors gave it their approval, it was time to print.

I sold about 500 books via Kickstarter, but I wanted extra to sell online and at conventions, so I ordered 2000 books. Because we were printing using offset printing it wasn’t much more expensive to add the extra books. If I’m remembering correctly it was the difference of about $2,000 to $3,000. The per unit cost changed dramatically though. For 500 books it was around $9-10 per book. At 2000 books it’s about $4-$5 per book. I also had to pay to ship those books from China to the USA, all said and done, the total cost for printing and shipping was around $12,000.

New Profit Total is: $31,600 - $12,000 = $19,600.

At this point I entered printing limbo. You start to deal with printing problems, and proofs. You have to wait for the proofs to arrive from China. You have to send them back a signed note with any changes. If there are problems (and there were), you have to repeat all this until your project is right.

Remember you don’t want to rush all this stuff. You want a kick ass book that delights people when they see it. It’s the same idea as when you’re working on a painting, “Delight your viewer.” All this took months. From May until October I worked on all this stuff. Back and forth with the printer. I’m VERY happy with the book and the printer I used, On the Mark. They are great, but things crop up. During this phase of the process you are essentially a Project Manager. People get paid good money all throughout the world to do all this stuff for major and minor brands alike. You will be doing it too, but you're not getting paid for it. That said, it’s not constant. Every week you will spend a couple hours keeping up with your project's production.

Total time expended so far: 625 hours


Another part of Project Management was the extra stuff offered via Kickstarter rewards...

 -I offered 2 small prints to go with the book. Those prints cost me $150 to have printed.

 -I did a small sketchbook as a companion book. Those cost another $250.

 -The Collectors Edition needed bookplates, and I did a sketch on each bookplate, that was $150.

 -We made T-Shirts, that was $835.
(By the way don’t do T-shirts on Kickstarter, keeping up with sizes is a nightmare! I’m serious, DO NOT DO IT!)

 -I had silk screen limited edition prints made for another $800.

 -We also had custom hand carved drinking horns, that was $900!
(Those drinking horns are sweet though. Zero regrets on those.)

If you can create a unique item that fits your project as a custom thing without adding a ton of cost, go for it!

Total extra item costs $3,085.

New Profit Total is: $19,600 - $3,085 = $16,515


Finally I received word in November that the books would be shipping. They arrived in California and made it through customs by the first week of December. A truck drove them from California to my home town of Nashville, TN by the 18th of December. Another truck delivered the books from the Nashville warehouse to my house on December 23rd. Two freakin’ days before Christmas!

Now let’s be clear about what this means. I am about to spend another big chunk of money on shipping and supplies. I want all those expenses to go on my taxes for the year so I don’t get taxed on money I never really had. That means we have until December 31st to ship 500 orders. Also in that time we have holiday travel and time with family, and the post office will be closed for several holidays in that week as well. All this considered we had about 5 days. That means we had to ship 100 orders a day. My wife and I did it, but we pulled 12 hour days, turned our house into a shipping center, and I signed about 300 books. My mom helped by watching our kid, thanks Mom!

Total time expended so far: 745 hours

When I say that I turned my house into a shipping center I also feel the need to clarify what exactly had been shipped to my house. Of course it was 2000 books plus 100 Collectors Editions, but what does that look like exactly? Well I’ll tell you, it looks like 5 pallets each stacked full of boxes of books, wrapped in plastic wrap, with wooden reinforcements to protect the corners. Each pallet weighed around 1000 lbs, or 1/2 a ton. We had to clear out our garage in order to hold the pallets, and depending on where you live and the time of year that might be a bad option due to humidity, weather, etc… Food for thought!


Onto the money! You need good boxes that fit your project. We order ours from Uline. We needed 500 boxes, with delivery, those cost about $500, or $1 per book shipped.

You're going to need tape to close up those boxes. We actually spent $120 in tape. Didn’t expect that!

If you’re going to ship a lot of stuff you will need help and a way to ship orders in batches. What you want is a service that lets you select 20-50 orders that are all the same. Enter their info at once, and print labels. I used www.stamps.com. It worked pretty well once I figured out the kinks. Stamps.com has a free trial, but you’ll spend $10 shipping to get your starter pack, and then $16 for the first month.

You’ll note I mentioned printing labels earlier, you will need a way to do that. Some experienced friends recommended a hot label printer, which saves time and money in the long run. But this was my first rodeo so I went old fashioned and used my ink jet printer. I have an Epson Work Force 7620. I used up 2 ink cartridges for $100.

You will also need label paper to print the postages labels on, that cost $140.

At this point our costs are $886, and we haven’t even paid for shipping yet! This might seem like a lot, but for 500 orders that’s roughly $1.80 per book shipped. Not the end of the world, but something you want to keep in mind.

New Profit Total is: $16,515 - $886 = $15,629


As for the actual postage costs, the average book could ship Media Mail within the US for about $5 per book. I factored this into my Kickstarter and charged $5 for shipping. Shipping to Canada was $21. Shipping to Europe was $32. The most I spent on international shipping was $80, the average was about $40. I screwed up estimating those fees and only charged $20 for international shipping, so I took a hit on those costs. All in all shipping was about $3,000.

New Profit Total is: $15,629 - $3000 = $12,629


At this point, that’s the profit... $12,629.

If you dived that by the roughly 745 work hours my wife and I put in, that comes to about $17 per hour. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the worst I’ve been paid by a long shot!

On top of all that, I have 1,500 extra books that I can now sell (retail price of $45), and 40 extra Collectors Editions (retail price of $150). I also have extra prints and sketchbooks (retail price of $20) and 40 Limited Edition silk screen prints (retail price of $60).

I was able to fund all of this extra merchandise through Kickstarter, so future sales are now pure profit, aside from shipping. That's upwards of $75,000 in potential revenue.


If you’re still reading along, all this must look pretty intense at this point. But it's worth mentioning a few things. First off this was my 6th successful Kickstarter. I also had 1 failed Kickstarter. That means I had some previous experience and already knew a lot of the potential pitfalls. This is why I recommend people start with small projects for your first Kickstarter. Jump in, but don’t drown!

Doing a Kickstarter and coming out profitable was amazing! It involved a little luck and a lot of support (It’s called crowdfunding for a reason). Even though my Wife and I spent hundreds of hours working on the project, we have very few regrets, and those are mostly just things I would do differently next time. I got to be my own boss, create a project I was passionate about, and connect with others passionate about the same thing. It helped grow my internet audience, the number of people following me, and my personal mailing list.

My experience with this Kickstarter was so good, I’m already working on another book. We worked a lot kinks out on the first book, and now have vendors already in place for a lot of different products. Keeping the momentum going is much easier than getting started

I’m very excited for the future, and I hope you’re excited to try crowdfunding for yourself now that you're a little better educated on the real cost of running a Kickstarter!

Thank you!

To see more of Sam's work, please visit: www.samflegal.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Live Demo This Weekend!

This weekend, Annie Stegg Gerard will be conducting the first part of a Special 2-part Online Demonstration for Muddy Colors.

On Saturday, February 25th, 3-5pm, Annie will be demonstrating her drawing and underpainting process. This demo will be followed up in a few weeks with a demonstration of her color and glazing process. Both of these demos will be streamed live on Youtube, so that you can watch from anywhere in the world.

Each of these demos will be great stand-alone demonstrations, still having merit even if you watch only one of them. But for those who are continued supporters, you will be able to watch a single painting develop over the course of several weeks. This will allow Annie to showcase a much lengthier process that is more conducive to creating a more polished illustration than you would normally be able to do in a shorter demo.

If you're already a Muddy Colors Patron of $5 or more, no need to do anything. You will recieve a link to the LIVE demo about 1 hour before the event starts. If you're not a Patron yet, but would like to watch this event live, simply make a donation of $5 or more, and select the reward tier you want.
$10 donations receive access to the event as well as a downloadable video of the event afterwards.

*Please note that these are two separate events, so donating for a single month does not grant access to both events. Each month's demo is it's own respective reward.*

For more info, or to sign up, just click here: 


If you make a $10 donation within the next 24 hours, you will also receive a copy of 'Painting a President, with Greg Manchess' ABSOLUTELY FREE! This is also the last chance to get a copy of this video, which will no longer be available for purchase after today.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Figure Drawing Resources Redux

-By Arnie Fenner

Back in 2014—and again in 2016—I did a post about a free resource for nude models on YouTube. As I said before, since there are always new visitors to MC and blogger doesn't make searching the archives the easiest, I thought it would be helpful to remind everyone again of these invaluable videos.

If you don't have access to live models or figure drawing classes (or the moola for one or the other) the Croquis Cafe: The Artist Model Resource is a lifesaver. There are several hundred videos with new additions posted fairly regularly. Poses are held from 1 to 5 minutes, you can fill your screen and freeze frames for as long as you might need, and the various videos feature men and women of all ethnicities and body types.

These videos are not remotely sexual but obviously are "not safe for work" or intended for the easily offended or for kids or for immature clowns looking for cheap thrills. Using models (nude and clothed), of course, is an incredibly important part of being an artist; anatomy is a life-long study and if the artist doesn't know what the body does—in action or repose—they can't understand why clothes hang or fly or drape or cling the way they do. If the artist understands the body—knows their anatomy as best they can—they can convincingly make their characters do anything.

Another regular YouTube resource for poses comes from the New Masters Academy (samples above). But if you'd rather not do a site-wide-hunt-and-search you can go to their website and find all manner of excellent video model resources for a reasonable subscription fee. 

And, shoot, while you're browsing, why not get some tips from Otis instructor Chris Warner about measuring the figure? Remember, drawing every day—and constantly trying to improve—is part of the game and, hopefully, these video resources will help.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Right, or Wrong?

-By Petar Meseldzija

Is there a wrong way to tackle a painting? Do all roads lead to Rome, as they say? Can we really reach the same destination by different roads? I think the ultimate answer to the first question is NO, and YES is the answer to the second one. In other words, to get to the level of NO, one must pass through the level(s) of YES.

Yes, I believe that all roads lead to Rome, but only our own path will eventually bring us there. In order to find our own path, we must first walk the roads paved by others that came before us.

Another important question that addresses the same issue, only from another angle is – do we need to train our hand so that it can perform as we please; or, so to speak, do we have to learn to listen to that same hand and then act accordingly? This might sound like a silly, pretentious quasi-philosophical question, but it’s not. It refers to the following – at the beginning, one must learn in accordance to the existing set of rules and relevant insights, one must follow and obey them while passing through the various levels of skill and knowledge, and after having assimilated all that he requires, one begins to realize what it is that he needs to do in order to expresses himself genuinely, to live and work as one is destined to do, aligned with his innate character and sensibility.

In order to break the rules, or to let go of the guidelines that have helped and guided us on our developmental path and replace them with the new ones more true to our own character and our aspirations, we must get to know them first, we must live and work by them, at least for a certain period of time. Eventually it boils down to spending 20 years in hard work, learning and developing in accordance to the certain rules and criteria, just to find out that you must give up on them because you realize you don’t need them anymore, because they have become a restrictive burden, a stumbling block to your further growth. Of course, one can try to stick to the rules and guidelines, norms and values one grew up with, and live by them for the rest of one’s life in happiness and contentment - if one is lucky. But I am not talking to them, I am addressing those who are brave enough to walk “The road less traveled”.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović

Recently, I posted an image on Facebook of a painting in progress (The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović). Most of my Facebook friends, as it is called today, liked the presented image - some were intrigued, others puzzled by my way of working. A puzzled person asked why I paint like that? Another one was impressed by the “magic” of the process and suggested that I should go on television and present my skills to the kids to enjoy and be amazed by. There was a person who, quite genuinely and with best possible of intentions, advised me not to post such images online anymore because the “real” painters might think I am an amateur. A proper way of working on a painting, as he correctly pointed out, demands that the artist works simultaneously on different parts of the picture, gradually working his way toward the completion of the entire piece.

To make things clear, I did not feel insulted by any of these questions and comments, nor did I think they were silly, or mean. They were genuine and by the book…well, by a book. I perfectly understand that we, people, often have troubles understanding the dynamics and the logic of a level, or a stage, we are not familiar with, or the insights we are not yet up to.

What they did not know was that I spent decades working by the book, so to speak, following, as best as I could, clever and inspiring instructions and insights of those who preceded me on a similar kind of endeavor, and with which they paved and enlightened the path for me. Throughout my entire career, I spent countless hours preparing reference material, doing sketches and preliminaries, and making elaborate and complex underpaintings, some of which were in fact finished monochromatic pictures. But… but, about a year ago, I realized I did not need any of this anymore. And although I still spend much time on preparations, especially on creating a very detailed digital reference, I do not need the underpainting anymore. I might do a little bit of underpainting here and there when a specific under-color is needed, but generally I stopped working in this way – the thing that was previously very helpful, has become now restrictive and annoying. At the same time, the irresistible call of the virgin white painting surface and the freshness and vitality of the first, juicy brushstrokes became so attractive to me and delicious to work with, that some other aspects of my previous painting process did not matter anymore and were abandoned, or pushed to the background. The fear of paint, my faithful friend and companion, seems finally to have left me.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović, still in progress.

I realized that I have finally arrived - I finally “graduated” from my own school, my own art academy - I finally learned to paint (it’s funny to feel that way after more than 25 years of painting). Moreover, I understood what my hand - being a metaphor for the painter’s creative spirit – wants me to do, and how to do it. So, thus I entered a new level, a new stage of artistic development with new set of rules and challenges.

Nevertheless, I am not the first, nor the last one to have made this particular journey, this transition. Perhaps you are next…So, good luck!

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Portrait in Progress

by Howard Lyon

I thought I would share a work in progress today and then the final in two weeks for my next post.

I started the process by doing thumbnails and then a detailed sketch.  With that in hand I hired a model for a photoshoot and then did a couple color comps to nail things down.  I usually do my color work in Photoshop, but I have been falling deeper in love with oils and as much as I can these days they are my go to medium.

Here is the first color study I did:

The response to it was good, but I didn't think the color palette was quite right for the feel I wanted, so I did another study.  Both of these are 8"x10" oil on aluminum panels (OmegaBond is the brand).

Here is the second study with a different palette.

I felt that this more appropriate for the image.  It was a tough choice though.  If you happen to follow me on Instagram or Facebook, there was some strong opinion towards the purple palette and the blue palette.  I received some great input from friends too, thank you!  Ultimately, I had to go with my gut on it and went with the latter.

I shot a video of the study being painting.  It is 5 hours of painting time sped up to 30 minutes.

To get the reference for the fabric, I bought 5 yards of the lightest fabric I could find and set up a strong fan.  I set up my studio strobe and set my camera to take a photo every 5 seconds.  After some experimentation, I got a few shots that I think worked well.  Here are some outtakes. :)

Next up, I wanted to do a head study to workout the flesh tones and expression.  Even though I was painting from a photograph, doing the head study let me make changes to the face and experiment a little which helps me not be a slave to reference, but not experiment on the final paint surface.

With the color study, photography and head study finished, I was ready to move onto the final.

I transferred the drawing using a 2"x2" grid, and then inked the important lines.

Here is the color block-in, or ébauche stage:

This stage is done in a few hours and the goal isn't to do a lot of rendering, but to block in some of the key values and colors.  You can see things look a little strange and flat, but that is alright.  This stage just provides a foundation to paint into.  I find that I am more successful with a color block-in like this and it adds some depth to the final paint layer.  It also gives a good reference point for subsequent layers of the painting.  When you put a color down, onto something that is fairly close to the end result you immediately see if it is too warm or cool, too dark or light, and you can make simple adjustments.  So while this stage looks ugly, it is really useful.

I used a little drier for the ébauche (Galkyd Gel, I really don't like straight Galkyd, but the gel is quite nice), and by the next day it was dry enough to start the 1st pass of painting.

Check back in two weeks to see the final!