Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ugly monster

Our studio art director really, really hated this character, but I still don't know why.  He's kind of fun in an ugly sort of way, right?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Some life drawings

Some of my favorite results from previous months of Friday drawing sessions.  I've gone to many sessions in that time, but most turn out terrible.  I'm usually showing up late so these are all between 15-60 minutes.

We didn't actually use a red light (that would have been interesting), I just wanted to paint values but didn't want to go monochromatic.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Style and Priorities of Emotion

In a previous post, I mentioned a hierarchy of effectiveness:

(Most effective)
1. Style
2. Subject matter/content (I might include shape language here)
3. Lighting scheme
4. Value/color composition
5. Surfaces/Textures
6. Color scheme
(Least effective)

Specifically, I see this as a general priority list when determining which things to use when trying to evoke an emotional reaction to an image.  I showed how even a playful color scheme was ineffective when the other elements were stacked against it:

Note that I used the value and color composition to undermine the softening effects the color scheme might have---red tucked into every corner, dead colors in the flesh surrounding the mouth, light/color lifting the eyes out from the masses of the face, etc.
 A few people asked for more about this subject, so this time let's contrast the power of style in this hierarchy vs. the other elements:
See how easily a change of style makes "terrifying" become "spooky lite"?  Style fundamentally changes the equation so that compensating for it with the other factors becomes difficult.
"But Sam," some might say, "these textures are different than the original. Isn't that cheating since you're changing two things and not one?"  That's one of the reasons why style is at the top of the list.  Style can dictate what choices are possible with all the other elements.  If this character was placed in a world with smooth-textured, cute characters with giant eyes, the proportions and surfaces of this guy would appear pretty extreme and dark in comparison.  So by that measurement, these are the textures of the original as interpreted through this style.

In this way, each item in this list can set the context for the thing after it.  If I used a gritty style, but then the subject was a happy puppy, then every choice I made with lighting, value composition, and even surfaces or color would be seen through the lens of that subject matter.  The subject matter also dictates what range of surfaces can be used---I can't change the fur of a puppy to something else or it won't be a puppy anymore.  And because it's a happy puppy, covering the fur with slime merely makes the puppy look a little naughty.

I use the word "can" because sometimes design decisions themselves are neutral or weak, like with lighting, which can be easily used in a way that doesn't modify the rest of the list.  Sometimes keeping one element neutral so another element can show through more strongly is the way to go.  Likewise, some subjects are just neutral by nature and we have to push on other factors to say something about them.
Shifting every element (including style) to communicate a clear message
Because of the context-setting ability of these priorities, while I sometimes use each element in concert to reinforce a message, I will more often use contrasts within each element on this list to add nuance and interest to the message of an image.  Putting a scary character in a scary style with scary surfaces and scary lighting is definitely a clear message, if a bit predictable.  However, a lovable character in a harsh style with lighting that makes us uneasy but surfaces that lull us into sense of comfort, becomes a really interesting image that can be scary in a different way. So long as each thing really sets the context for the next and there's some internal consistency within any single element, you can create enough cognitive dissonance to engage people's brains without confusing them.  Just changing one thing is often enough to add this kind of interest, which is probably a safer way to go if you're still trying to figure this whole thing out.
Mixed messages---appropriate for a more nuanced character
This is all just my opinion and experience though, and I'd love to hear your arguments if you have a different line of reasoning!

Friday, September 28, 2012


I forgot to post this poem that my wife wrote which inspired me as I was working on the last painting.  I think it speaks to what it means to be an artist, and why I see the work we do as valuable even when we're not what academia might consider a "fine artist."  I hope some of you can read it and feel similarly inspired about your own work as artists.

(Physics) An instrument formed by combining prisms so as to correct the chromatic aberration of the light while linear dimensions of objects seen through the prisms are increased or diminished; - called also prism telescope.

I have seen you standing still beneath
rapid clouds at dusk, collecting the light,
drawing the gathered radiance in like breath.

You store it everywhere—as lines, faces,
in crowded notebooks—till it spills out, bright,
new-made. Is this creation, these mixed pieces,

When patched-together, conglomerate, they
emerge like sparks from your hands, lightened
and whole?
       Some men stockpile days

Like weapons, against the cataclysm.
From you, the stored scraps of collected light
leak like constant suns. And what wrought prisms

allow these sudden visions: myself, made
larger and more beautiful, all the bright
fragments ripened and mingled, naked, laid

like webs of stars together? Those saved skies
reflected back to me, mirrors on mirrors,
A tiny universe within your eyes?


Something I did as a tutorial on clouds for my Schoolism class.  I've spent a bit of time on it since then.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mariachi Dachi

I just wanted to draw your attention to an awesome comic done by my friend Kevin Merriman.  He gave us an early preview of it and the story and art are both chock full of entertainment.
You can check it out here.
Sorry, you can't click to look inside here.  Follow the link above to do that.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Squirrel Process

I had a couple people ask about my process recently, so here's a breakdown of how I paint (sometimes).  My process is usually a lot messier than this, but these are the steps I jump around between:
I often start with a rough sketch.  Adding color usually changes my feelings about the design so I like to keep things loose and change them as I go.  I put the sketch on a multiply layer at low opacity before I start painting.
I'll start most paintings with big flat colors.  I usually start by filling in the background with a color that I wouldn't mind peeking out between the strokes (because that's what it's going to do).
I usually paint in the background in that same step, but if I were more disciplined I'd paint it first behind the character.   Here I used a Darken layer on top of the squirrel layer.
At this point if I'm doing a tricky surface type like fur, I'll lay in where the major  areas of texture and value will be.  Here I also roughed in the acorn texture.
Now is my first detail pass.  Fingers, feet, and face get the most part of my attention.  I'm careful to look for things like where the skin will show, around the eyes and in the nostrils (and in a small patch in the front of the muzzle).
Now's my first pass for the lighting.  Sometimes I'll block in lighting in the first stage, but like I said, fur is a tricky thing to paint and has to be built up in layers.  I make sure that all planes facing toward the light are lit so the smaller forms don't get too broken up.
I noticed that squirrel fur is dark at the tips, so I added a soft fringe on the forms that are turning away from us.  For most of this painting I used one of two brushes---the Captured Bristle Acrylic from Painter and a modified version of that brush where I put some spacing between the bristles and turned down the "Spacing" attribute on the brush dabs so it gives a more continuous stroke.  This second one I used for most of the fur.
I wanted the eyes to look very glossy, so I put in an imaginary environment for the reflections.  Sometimes reflections have colors that aren't elsewhere in the image so I took the chance to put in a little blue to make the eyes pop.  I'm pretty sure the key light reflection is in the wrong spot, though most people won't notice.
I still felt like the fur was too flat, so I put in a 50% layer of a dark black-red.
At this point I put in the final touches: refining edges, catching textural details where important, etc.
If I have a big area that I don't want to detail out, I'll use an overlay texture to break up the area and paint in a few details to maintain consistency.  This can be hard to keep from looking cheap, but it's often worth the effort because it can save so much time.
I have a habit of painting with less saturation and contrast than I really want, so I'll make a few adjustments before I call an image done. That's it; hope it's helpful to someone!

Monday, September 10, 2012


I've had a few people ask for a high-res version of this image and I don't have a reason not to post it, so here it is.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Friend Cover for August

The Christmas lights floating in the air are supposed to drape from the title.  Now that I look back on this I wish I'd made the table and chair a lot lighter to reduce the clutter in that area.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Class on sale

For those people who have asked me when the next sale for my class is coming, the answer is, apparently, now.
Thanks to Kei Acedera for the beautiful promo image!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Color Schemes

Though the accomplished author who made fun of me in the comments for using a real word was joking, I thought I ought to do a post on triadic color schemes.
Since James Gurney has already covered this subject in great detail, rather than cover the basics again, I'll just add a few thoughts to the discussion.
Many color schemes work just as well whether you are using the traditional color wheel (ROYGBIV) or the color wheel of light (RBG).  While the ROYGBIV wheel stretches the warm end of the spectrum, making the wheel a little more polar in its temperature, red and cyan resonate against each other as complements just as well as, and possibly more strongly than, red and green.  Same is true for magenta and green, yellow and blue (which is closer to indigo on most monitors), and so forth.
However, triadic color schemes---images using three equidistant colors from the color wheel---don't act  the same in both wheels.  This is probably because of the stretching I talked about above.
The advantage to a traditional triadic color scheme is that its even nature comes across in images using it.  It's not an exciting color combination, but the even and predictable nature of it makes it comfortable, almost friendly.
A triadic scheme from the RGB spectrum still works fine if you are just looking for interesting color combinations.  But for some reason it doesn't achieve the same effect as the ROYGBIV version.

This may not be a surprising discovery to some, but I've noticed that the farther you push a color scheme away from peak saturation and value, the more you lose the strengths of that color scheme.  However, the colors still retain a shadow of what they used to be, so even at its extremes a color scheme has a hint of the message that goes along with it.

While a triadic color scheme can feel balanced, safe, and even child-like, which triad you pick for your subject matter can still strongly affect the mood of your image.  Look at the difference that happens by shifting just a little in one direction:
See how much more off-putting and aggressive the character appears in the second one?

Don't expect too much from a color scheme, though, because the color scheme is often one of the weakest factors in communicating the emotional tone of an image.  If I were to assign a priority to the effectiveness of a design element in establishing the theme, emotion, or message of an image, I'd place the priorities something like this:

(Most effective)
1. Style
2. Subject matter/content (I would include shape language here)
3. Lighting scheme
4. Value/color composition
5. Surfaces/Textures
6. Color scheme
(Least effective)

These all might switch places depending on the image, but the point is, don't count on a color scheme to solve your problems if your drawing, lighting, etc. aren't saying what they're supposed to.
If anything, the primary colors make him seem even more freaky
So think of color schemes as modifiers:  A friendly color scheme won't fundamentally change how you feel about an image, but it might layer in subtext or cast something unexpected into the tone of an image.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Trying out a triadic color scheme.  Not sure I'm 100% there with the color balance.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Uncanny Valley

Most people have heard of "The Uncanny Valley" by now.  I've heard people refer to it in two contexts in the animation industry: characters that are almost lifelike but are just enough off to be creepy, and stylized/cartoon characters who have an off-putting amount of realistic detail.  I want to talk a little about the second one because I've run into it more often recently when artists have asked me for critiques.

I don't think there is a hard and fast rule for this type of uncanny valley.  When I watched The Adventures of Tintin, at first I was really bothered by the cartoon characters with realistic eyes and hands.  But by the end of the film I was engaged enough in the story that I didn't notice so much anymore.  I suspect that a lot of our reaction to the uncanny valley is a bias that can be broken down with repeated exposure.
These guys' eyes still freak me out
However, until the kids who prefer a Robert Zemeckis zombie-fest become the norm, artists who want to add realism into the animation industry are going to have to be sensitive to the issue.  Most audiences like detail and realism, so there's nothing wrong with trying to push things that way.  But how far can you go before you start alienating people?
Safely abstracted
Uncanny Valley
For a character with cartoon proportions, the complexity of the forms and surface details are both factors.

In my experience, the most important form details for navigating the the uncanny valley seem to be the eyes and the nose. Make the eyelids too defined, and the character will fall apart.  Visible skeletal structure on the hands and feet are a good target for abstraction as well.  Realistic forms on the ears and lips might be distracting, but don't seem to "break" the character in the same way as the other features.

Does this mean you can never define the forms around the nose?  Not necessarily.  A good rule of thumb is to ask, "Do I want people to stare at this feature?" Because people's eyes will be drawn to any unusually detailed part of a stylized character.  If the part they are staring at informs them about the character, then that can be a good thing. But if the nostrils aren't particularly important, then your design might be better off without them or at least without some of the structures surrounding them.

Even if you keep the forms simple, the texture on those forms can make a character disturbing.  Skin pores, tissue striations, and loose hairs can be particularly offensive (in this case intended for humor):  Finding a more abstract version of these textures can still give you high detail without sacrificing appeal:

Of course, some of you might look at my three examples above and think that the third version is just fine, while others might feel that the middle version is already descending into the uncanny valley. What is okay depends on your audience and what you're trying to say with the style (grotesque is sometimes good).

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Comic-Con Demo

I did a demo at the LAAFA booth a couple years ago and then forgot completely about it.  I think I might finish it off but there's a lot of work outside this crop area.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Influence map

I've seen these around before but never tried it because I didn't realize how useful and interesting an exercise it would be.
I agonized over who to leave out, and I still wonder if I should have included artists such as Dave McClellan, Joe Olson, Erwin Madrid, Marcelo Vignali, Paul Lasaine, and Paul Felix.  Those artists deserve credit in my development but I just ran out of space.

I just have to add that Alan Tew basically taught me how to draw and I owe him more than I have room on this sheet for.  Whether he takes that as a compliment will depend on how he feels about my drawing ability now. :)

The most interesting part of doing this was realizing how many good artists I'm NOT influenced by.  There are mobs of artists who I've thought for a long time are amazing, yet they have not in any way changed the way that I work or think.  This is a really strange thing that I don't understand.

And yeah, I know Bengus isn't an artist but a group of artists.  More than one of them influenced me, so I'm including them as a group.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Time Repairman, Progress

I'm working on a whole bunch of images but they're taking a lot longer than I'd like.  So maybe I'll just post up work-in-progress previews for now.
This one is a mash-up of a couple of inspiration images.  Can anyone guess what I was being inspired by?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Actual stealing *UPDATED*

A while back I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post defending the practice (but not necessarily the publication) of artists imitating and leapfrogging off each other, after someone did a lousy hack-job of my art.  But I'm not going to defend this at all:
Look familiar?
I don't care whether your app is free.  Don't use someone's art without permission.

*UPDATE*:  I got a kind e-mail from the developer saying they will take care of the problem and they have already taken the app down.  I'm going to leave this post up because I was unclear in the past about how I feel about plagiarism, and I really want to stop this sort of thing from happening for artists everywhere.

Thanks to everyone for the support!