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Posted: Jan 18 2038, 09:14 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Okay, guys. It’s come to this. You brought this on yourselves. It’s time for:
*enter Sergeant Professional Merekat*
The GREAT and POWERFUL PROCESS LESSON of MUCH RANTING and FINGER POINTING
*ahem* If you are easily offended by blunt statements, feel free to avoid this thread. I am using my old technique dialog that I used way back when in the beginnings of this forum and still use in my tutorials. For those of you who remember my ‘Professional Merekat’ critiques, this is right up your alley. For those of you who remember my ‘Sergeant Merekat’ bluntness with sarcastic rants and heavy-arm opinionated techniques I usually reserved for trolls, welcome home. This thread is a boot camp-style presentation of my professional guidance. Read at your own risk.*/ahem*
WARNING: this thread will contain the photo and painting of one very stoic and classically beautiful nude lady. Go away if you don’t want to see her. /WARNING
And just to be official: All illustrations and written content of this tutorial are copyright 2004 Kristen Perry. No reproduction, distribution or further public display allowed without written consent by Kristen Perry.
Okay, look. I’ve been around here for quite a number of years and from post to post, it’s very blatantly difficult to ignore that there are a lot of repeating mistakes. I’ve tried to comment on posts individually, I’ve tried to make general statements, but it’s just no use. Sure, here and there I can come up with new things because people do, in fact, need various critiquing, but overall there are some fundamental issues that no one was taught.
Yes, I’m well aware no one taught you. No one taught me. I didn’t ‘get it’ until after college, so I understand it takes time and sometimes it takes a certain mindset in order to fully apply the concepts. And even now, I'm still learning, will always be learning like everyone else and am darn well happy with that. However, I’d like to think that I can help out and guide people giving a head start in the way I was not aided way back when. But before I get to the point of this thread, I simply must point out why it was needed:
Typical thread posted:
Artist draws an anime pose because they a) want to draw something cool, be) want to express some emotion in a socially supported way, c) want to express unaccepted emotions in a socially (un)supported way, d) want attention, e) want to improve themselves artistically, f) are bored, g) like being part of a community, h) all of the above, i) none of the above, j) some of the above. Whatever. Pick one. Lets say they’re posting because they really do want to improve their art and find better ways to express their vision. We’ve all been there. It’s what artists do. However, at this point, they typically start drawing something (usually head first, then eyes, then try to apply some misshapen body below it) and midway through said drawing they decide they want it to express, say, sadness.
Great. Sure. Fine. Sadness. Right. So they spend all this time drawing this character’s details and all this time making eyes look sad and a little frown and when it’s all said and mostly done, they post it and ask for critique, usually saying something’s off but they can’t figure out just what (which is why it isn’t ‘done’). Then all sorts of good-intentioned people try to tell them a leg is a little too long or an eye seems out of sorts or the breasts are too small or the hips are too big or it’s obviously because a finger is pointing at a right angle instead of straight. And the artist goes off, blissfully happy in the knowledge that what obviously was wrong was such a small fix, they then tweak some line to the left or right, call the picture done and go onto the next drawing that just won’t look like what they want it to look like. Rinse and repeat.
What went wrong? Simple. No research. No thinking. No planning. The reason why your pictures aren’t coming out the way you want them to is because you didn’t apply a process in its creation. Yes, I’m talking reference.
*and a great cry of ‘but we used reference!! See?!!! (links reference)’ erupts from the back of the forum…*
Uh-hunh. I know. And somehow the reference is usually a) only looked at for a particular part of the body (like a leg, and the rest of the body was made up… ‘but I used reference!!’ yeah, right.), be) looks vaguely or nothing like the picture, and/or c) had nothing to do with the original intention of the artwork. All three of these answers are incredibly important.
be) Right. So you found a cool picture. And you say you used it. And your figure looks vaguely like the picture. This does not count. Again, unless you understand the intricacies of clothing folds, muscle contraction, weight shift and etc, you need to look at the ref closely. You are studying every single time you reference. It is just that much more experience your brain has to pull from. Now this doesn’t mean you have to copy exactly what you see on the picture. There is room for improvisation. It means if you want a good picture, you’re probably better off finding a photo of it. The more you study, the more you can sketch something quickly.
c) This one is probably the most important and will be the main focus of this thread set. If you want to draw something sad, you need to find a pose communicating this in body language. It doesn’t help you if you found this really really cool photo of this person in a neat pose if the pose has NOTHING to do with your initial concept. Drop the photo or keep it for the future, and keep searching. You have to find something at least in the same neighborhood of your concept in order to help you. If you don’t, no manner of frowns or tears will communicate the emotion. Details don’t matter so much as overall information and first impressions. Details only matter as accents or exaggerations of said concept once the foundations of the concept are strongly put in place.
Oh, but lemme guess. You guys are drawing anime! Whell, that certainly negates anything I’m trying to teach you. Wrong. Most of you know this, but every single really great anime artist out there has incredibly strong foundations in fine art and anatomy. They draw anime out of choice, not out of necessity. They can draw anything they want, any style they want. And they pull from all of those lessons, those tidbits of information, those rules and tips and tricks to create a simplified and exaggerated presentation of reality: I.E. anime. The same holds true for every other major form of art… they all have foundations in reality. You want a great looking dragon? You need reptile and bat or bird anatomy. You want that elf to look fabulous with the bow and leather ranger gear? You research archery and anything from medieval to military gear. Sure, you can always augment anything to any new style you want, but the point is find out where you’re getting it from and find a real-life example. It will make anything you’re working on look better.
Okay, okay. So what’s my point? Why this longass thread o’rantic? Simple. You guys need process. I’m here to teach you my version of it. This by no means is the only way, but everyone has to start somewhere. Take what knowledge you can and run with it. This thread will be about how I approach a project in the real world. It is specifically about my most recent painting which I will not show you until the very end of the lesson. Why?
Because you’re going to live this process as I did. ;} Every freakin’ step. This is going to take a few weeks ;} *evil bwahahaha inserted here*
I’m going to keep one thread (this one) as a sticky and locked at the top of the forum so as I add this schload of posts, it keeps it all in one place. This is for two reasons: one, this keeps the overall long lesson clean of comments and questions because it’s going to be bad enough trying to get through all I’m going to write without trying to track down the next step in the lesson…
Two, because I am a mod, dammit, and it’s about time I abused my power.
I am going to create another thread for all the questions and comments that might be generated by this thread. Out of pure moderator kindness and generosity, I’ll not make it sticky. ;} But if you want to comment etc or anything during the duration of this sticky, that’s where you’ll have to do it.
So sit down. Take notes. This will be on the test.
This post has been edited by Merekat on Jan 28 2004, 08:17 PM
Posted: Dec 6 2003, 02:36 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Okay, so out of the blue I get this email from a new editor/writer/artist guy in the UK who is publishing a book under the same publisher with which I’ve worked before. It’s a step-by-step tutorial book with a gallery and primarily he’s hoping to be as easy on the artists as possible and utilize some old project we already have created. This would be a great thing, had I any projects that fit that bill. As it was, I have already published all my other decent works in those previous books from the publisher and anything I had left over was so old, I was embarrassed to claim it was still mine.
Then he tells me who I’m going to be sharing pages with. See, this isn’t some new small book. He’s got friends in high places. People from ILM, designers of Star Wars 2&3, artists of just about every big name film, comic and game I could mention. What does all this mean?
I damn well better look good.
Okay. So there’s my assignment. Create a tutorial, about 8-12 steps. And since I don’t have a tutorial, let alone a painting I could just redo a part of, this means I have to come up with a completely new painting and organize it so I have saved parts for the tutorial I need to make for my writer. No pressure. *gulp*
Coming up with the IdeaTM
So where do you go from there? There’s your starting point. Before every white piece of paper, this is your dilemma. This is your question: just what do you want to draw?
Okay, so my thought process went like this. I knew I wanted something quietly spectacular. Something epic. Something invoking a beautiful mood or presenting clearly a situation that draws the viewer in to explore and question. The key to any great painting is if it can communicate to the viewer. If you do not have this communication in your work, more than likely, you won’t have the viewer’s attention, either.
But epic doesn’t have to mean larger than life. In fact, some of the most quiet and serene scenes can speak volumes. So what I wanted was basically what I like drawing most: a moment. A very specific moment. The moment before action. The moment of instinct and decision, where you can see the lightning thoughts of a character. For example, Flikk the Egg Thief is such a moment. He is at the nest, at the point of startlejump for the vast shadow of whatever creature came back to their eggs. We’ve all experienced this. You’re caught. You’re startled and surprised. What do you do? Do you drop the egg and run? Do you grab the egg and run? Do you throw the egg to divert the creature and run? Do you pretend to be a hatched creature? Do you blissfully close your eyes and cast disbelief in vain hopes it’s not really happening?
There are a lot of ways to imagine what he did next, but the point is, I specifically made it that precise and that vague at the same time. I put in some vital elements for exploring and then let the viewer take over and continue the story. That’s the key. That’s the feeling and atmosphere I wanted for my new painting. And once I knew the mood and the ‘taste’ of it (sometimes visuals can only be communicated in terms other than visual… it’s just a matter of keeping it true to the alternative term) then I could research things that might satisfy this mood.
So now I have a mood. But what’s the subject? Well, at this point, sometimes intuition and whimsy can take over your decision making process. After all, art is about inspiration… it’s the perspiration part that needs the researching and planning. So for time, I decided I needed to do a leather tutorial. This was partly because I had already created such a tutorial on my oldest Photoshop piece (Mynx) and I was pretty good at the handiwork. It was also in part because I felt the old technique was a little subpar at this point and I’d like to update it. Mostly it was due to time, as since I had a good grasp on the technique, I’d be able to recreate it quickly. Mind you, I do have an over full-time job working on a game in crunchmode, so anything I do for books comes out of my free time and a meerkat only has so many hours to spare after getting off work late.
Right. Leather tutorial. Epic. What has a ton of leather? At this point I thought a space cowgirl would be dandy. I could see it clearly in my head: sitting at a bar in a sleazy side of the system, reaching for a shot glass while sitting on the stool, boots cocked to the brass foot bar, chaps and leather duster worn and beautiful, long curly hair, mood lighting and a mist of smoke hazing a layer of fog above the tables. Yes, it would be perfect.
Perfectly unable to find a single damn pose in all my scores of pose and dance books that either wasn’t cliché to the point of nausea or inappropriate to the mood like a pink tutu on the bulldog farting rhubarb sitting on the stool next to her. It just didn’t matter. I couldn’t find a single reference for pose or folding leather that inspired the scene. And in order to look my best when drawing something realistic, one really REALLY needs good reference. This is just the point I made paragraphs ago about finding something that fits the concept. And if you can’t find anything to fit the concept, what do you do?
You change the concept.
And don’t think that wasn’t hard as heck. So I’m back to square 1.5 and days are flying past. No time to get too cerebral about this, I need to do something I’ve wanted to do for a bit now. So here comes another whim: a geisha. I painted my first geisha months ago as a quickie illustration and not only is it in my opinion the most graceful thing I’ve ever done, but it was pretty darn well received from a LOT of my viewers. That particular piece was created out of inspiration and a particularly intriguing photo reference. Once it was done, I thought a series of geisha would be a marvelous calendar in the future and left it at that. But I’ve always loved Asian themes and here I was able to touch upon it again.
So back to my books. Back to looking for inspiration. And somewhere hidden in a corner of a pose book, this naked figure of a lady caught my attention in a profound sort of way. It wasn’t like every other pose I was looking at… you’ve seen photos… people just posing for the camera, no purpose, no emotion, just position. What caught me about this particular photo was the character of expression in her face. She had this strength of determination. That was a face you didn’t mess with. She had chutzpah. And furthermore, she was in a very interesting pose… hm… almost looked like she was reaching for a sword.
AHA!!! Instantly the entire piece fell into place for me. Yes, inspiration happens to artists. You all know the moment. The moment when the blurry comes into sharp focus. Finally I knew everything I needed too. And it surrounded itself with a noise…
Picture this. A lone Japanese woman in traditional clothing… she’s from the country, not some froufrou royalty that has been catered to all her life… this lady’s been around the block. She’s lived through things… hard times, had to take care of herself and that includes learning how to defend herself… probably by watching masters teach from the sidelines, maybe from watching one too many rogue fight between samurai. And she’s alone in the forest. It’s dead winter, the snow crusted on the ground, the trees like skeletons in the overcast morning, bare and black. She’s been walking for some time, unusually, because she’s not wearing a coat… What could have drawn her out there? Is she fleeing from something? Is she searching for something unexpectedly? Is she just that trained that she doesn’t feel the cold save for the reddening of her cheeks and the slight bluing of her lips? It doesn’t matter. It’s just her and the quiet crunch of her feet in a barren bedded land… and then a *snap* breaks the silence of the wood, sending a flutter of birds up to right… she reaches for her katana…
Sure. It’s simple. Maybe too simple. But does it tell a story? Does it communicate an emotion and atmosphere? It doesn’t have to be the next Marvel cover or Hollywood poster. Sometimes old-fashioned drama is just as poignant. Sometimes quiet can be loud.
So okay. I have an idea. I have a figure pose. What do I do? I search for ALL of the other elements I’ll need. I’ve no time to waste trying to imagine things from scratch. Now, this doesn’t mean I find exactly what I want. This means I find something close enough so that I can easily do what I want. It’s very rare you’ll find the perfect photo. But the key is finding something usefully close.
Perfect Girl. Check. Snow covered forest with lighting in relative same direction as lighting on girl. (*IMPORTANT*) Check. Bird flock flying. Check. Atmosphere with trees and light same as other lighting. Check. Color inspiration through natural photo that compliments lighting theme. Check. Katana and reference wearing katana. Check. Clothing folds… hm. I’ll find that later… Trees in appropriate lighting. Check.
So here are my reference pictures. In this particular case, aside from tweaking the expression on her face, the photo pose I used for the woman is pretty much verbatim. It’s from a pose book, that’s its reason d’etre. I’m going to be covering her up darn near completely with a kimono and draped cloth, but the pose is perfect. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you have to beg your friends to stand still for an hour. Sometimes you have to piece together five pictures to get all your positioning. And sometimes you find the perfect pose to clothe. It’s all in the cards, kids… all in the cards…
Planning the Composition
I know by my vertical elements of the dark trees that I’d like to heighten this and make it a vertical painting. I have an idea in my head for layout, but at this point, always always make little thumbnail postage stamp-sized drawings of nothing but abstract lines and shapes. Something like this:
Once you find a layout you like, you’ll know it. It just feels right. I did have an idea, though, so I started creating my pieces individually. When you’re starting out at this, however, it’s best to work out the broad shapes all at once. If it doesn’t work at the size of a postage stamp, it won’t work at any size.
That’s an important one, lemme repeat: Rule #1: If it doesn’t work at the size of a postage stamp, it won’t work at any size. Sure, sometimes you stray, but if you keep diligent to the mood, it’ll come together. Sometimes you have to augment slightly from the initial plan along the way. So long as it meets the mood, it doesn’t matter if it’s positioned a bit different or whatever.
Okay, so now I’m ready to start working on my steps. First thing I do is paint a full nude based off my reference. I’m getting blatant here for a few reasons. One, I know I’m going to change the expression to be a bit more readable and slightly worried. She’s not some hyper noob, but a snap in the silence isn’t necessarily a good thing, either. She’s concerned. Why? Well, that’s part of the story, isn’t it? :} Fill it in yourself. Two, I know I’m going to hide most all of the body with clothing. But I haven’t found good clothing reference yet, so I’m going to have to improvise, something I’d rather not do, but I don’t have much of a choice. It’s easier to improvise (once you have enough experience to draw upon) clothing on a nude figure than just trying to draw the clothing without the figure at all. To preserve the form and flow, I want to know exactly where all her parts are. And that means drawing the parts you’re going to cover up. No, it’s not wasting time. Wasting time would be omitting this step. I ALWAYS draw the nude figure first with any sketch. It’s the same as drawing the skeleton or the geometric shapes. Don’t skip it.
Nude figure done to a suitable stopping point. I must get other parts to a good point before continuing work on her. End of Step One.
Next post will show Step Two of the thinking process behind creating a piece from scratch. I’ll be updating this lesson every 1-3 days, depending on my real life schedule. This is how it happened for me, this is how it’ll happen for you. ;} I’ve got over a dozen steps. Hope you enjoy them.
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:39 AM
Posted: Dec 9 2003, 02:35 AM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
At this point, and for the next few steps, I’m going to go through some philosophical prattle rather than just talking about the few trees I’ve put in. After all, you can’t enjoy a meal at least until some meat and a couple veggies are on the plate. So this is just a long read about why I’m doing things. We’re not cooking yet, we’re just gathering ingredients. ;}
It is important, however, for you guys to understand about this boot camp: I’m not teaching you how to draw a figure. I’m not teaching you how to draw trees. I’m not even teaching you how to draw snow. This entire lesson is about why there is a tree. Why there is snow. And why they are in their precise positions. It’s about the thought process surrounding the understanding of purpose and discerning detail to create mood to achieve your concept. So when you see items just appear, don’t think I’ve skipped a step. This isn’t a painting lesson, it’s a process lesson. And sometimes it takes a while to develop the eye needed to move everything around.
In order to start this explanation, it would be best for me to run through the mood I wish for the scene, abstractly and realistically.
In the abstract…
Abstractly, I am ‘seeing’ a vertical composition. This is no arbitrary decision, though a horizontal composition did cross my mind. But what are my main elements to this piece? If I squint my ‘minds eye,’ what shapes do I see? This is why it is very necessary to understand your thumbnail and why the thumbnail stage is so vital. To reiterate, if the thumbnail is not successful, it does not matter how good the painting is, it will be less than it can be. Knowing the meaning behind the painting, what are my main elements? Basically, there are snow, trees, lady and birds. The snow and the birds are slightly incidental, however, as the snow itself, being white, becomes mostly negative space. The birds, being small and dark, become almost a texture and should be treated as an area of dotted pattern. So in essence, I have black, barren trees and a lady.
Understanding this, the most basic shapes and form of my composition, I can then decide how best to handle the orientation of my piece. Why all this fuss? Why not just start painting? Because without a clear mental goal, much time will be wasted trying to make elements work half-way through their creation. Again, I’m under a deadline, so I can’t dawdle. Besides, why would I want to fuss more than I have to?
So I have trees and a lady. Both are vertical elements. If I chose a horizontal layout, the image would be cropped to an uncomfortable height considering its subject. It would be like putting a tall person in a short room. Sure, they might have headspace clear above them for a foot, but wouldn’t it feel claustrophobic? And the last thing I want is a claustrophobic space to represent a barren, empty wood. Vertical elements need height to best show off their features. The optimal display for these elements would be to make the piece very vertical. I can have very tall, thin, black elements abstractly dividing up the space with a smaller, dark rectangle-ish shape in the lower middle corner. The height is important. In this case, it also gives me a chance to show off more of the sky, which is key to the realistic side of the mood I wish to achieve.
This painting is all about space and sound. I want it to feel through color and texture and position — that it is a largely deserted woods — asleep under winter snow, cold and crisp. Just by looking at the snow, I want viewers to hear the crunch of footsteps and feel the bite of ice-crust on the drifts. It shall be morning light… or even slightly dusk. The golden glow of cold winter sunlight will reflect off the snow. The stark contrast of vertical trees like sentinels will show the depth of atmosphere as she walks and has walked alone on an untrodden path. Nothing but a gilding of sun and the teal blue of snow against the near black streaks of trees…
…well how the heck am I suppose to paint all that?
I know, I know. It seems daunting ;} But it is at this point, knowing your goals, where you break down the elements into their most basic representations. So what does that all mean? Well, take for example the depth of trees. Due to the essence of atmosphere getting in the way of the viewer, elements which recede from view seem to fade in not only value but contrast and sharpness. So this means, in this particular case, that the trees closest to me will be the darkest and have the most contrast. The trees in the middle ground will be less so and the trees in the background and continuing will darn near turn into mid-grayish blurry silhouettes.
To most easily illustrate this, when you create your elements, try doing so in mostly a grayscale value system. Here I cheated a bit out of aesthetics and used a sepia system, but the theory is the same. Notice I drew most of the elements as flat silhouettes. I’ll add detail later. Right now it’s more important to treat them like graphic elements than think of them as trees or trunks or snow. Keep this in mind, but save the blurring until last. We’re drawing abstractly to adhere to a realistic mood and atmosphere. It will be abstract for some time until my thumbnail is achieved.
This is the second most important drawing step next to the thumbnail stage: always paint in values. If your values do not work, the piece will fall short of its potential. So here’s Rule #2: If it doesn’t work in value, it won’t work in color. How do you know when it works in value? I’d like to say ‘simple, it’ll just feel right’… but that stage usually happens after a long road of observation, so it’s like the proverbial overnight success after years of hard work. The only real clue I can give you to learning this step and training your eye is to go fetch some of your most favorite works of art. And I’m talking from the masters, not your best friend’s doodle from second period. Go get that beloved dragon or the spaceship or that kickass Egyptian feast scene and take it into Photoshop. Turn it to grayscale. Suddenly all the rules of saturation and color are thrown out the window and you get to your basic meat and potatoes. Now look at the elements of the foreground, middle ground and background and notice their levels of sharpness, contrast and value. The artist would have put the highest contrast and sharpness at the focal point of the piece, drawing your eye right to where they want you to look first. Then look at the elements in terms of value and see how they utilized value to represent depth and recession of edge elements… parts they didn’t want you to focus on they probably made in tones very similar to each other and blurred the edge between them a bit. Parts that are unimportant they probably faded back completely.
By studying art in such a manner, you can start piecing together the whys and hows of composition, direction and movement. It is for this very reason that you should always start your paintings with a value study. You can always add color later with various overlays and hues and all other sorts of things I’ll explain at their appropriate steps. For you pencil lovers, you’re already a little ahead of the game. Now it’s time for you to remember that the white of the paper is not a tone. It is a highlight. White skin is not paper colored. ;}
Anyway, it is at this point I just start painting. And there you see the trees in various levels of value and as nothing but flat silhouettes against a loosely brushed background meant only for impression. Just painting. ;} But painting with a purpose. And each element (or like groups of elements) are on their own layer so I can move them around. How I separate them is largely correlated to their level of position (middle ground, middle-background, etc.) and proximity to one another. Since I’m not 100% sure where all these trees are precisely going to end up, I want to make sure I have the ability to move them around and tone them darker or lighter depending on my needs. I’ll be moving them around as I get more elements to play with. You have to create them in order to position them. And it’s not in a vertical composition yet, either. I realize that. Again, I’m just making soup.
So that’s all that’s basically going on here in the first step. It might not seem like much, but knowing where you’re going with elements makes their creation much more streamlined. Thinking out such questions in your head as you paint will help you aim towards your goals subconsciously, as your brain always is working on more than just what is on the forefront of the mind. Most of my painting work is in my head. If I can’t answer questions there, my painting becomes labored and unsuccessful. It starts taking thrice as long and infinitely more painful.
This is one of the reasons why I trashed my last three paintings. Yes, there was a reason you guys haven’t seen me post lately. It was for the very fact I’m trying to impress upon you now: have a clear vision or it’ll take abnormally long and will turn out phenomenally bad. Or at least it has an infinitely bigger chance to. You see, I wanted so much to paint the next ‘great thingTM’ that I completely threw inspiration and planning out the window. Sometimes that works for people. For me, it absolutely does not. (…I shoulda known it was a failure when I couldn’t come up with a title before painting. It always ends up badly if I can’t name it. Pretty much boils down to: if it doesn’t have a name, it hasn’t a soul, if it hasn’t a soul, it hasn’t a heart, if it hasn’t a heart, it hasn’t any business being painted to begin with.)
Sometimes the biggest hurdle in learning a process is learning how best process works for you. Knowing your tendencies is just as important as learning new information. For example, I have a tendency to draw hands too large. Why? I find hands very important. They are incredibly expressive, sometimes more so than a face. I also happen to like my hands. They’re useful and long and what I consider one of my favorite features. It doesn’t matter if that’s egotistical or not, it’s part of who I am. And because of this subconscious preference, I tend to place more importance on them than other features; hence, they get bigger proportionally. *shrugs* it’s not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware of your habits. Some are good, some aren’t so good. Some you need to keep in check.
Okay, that’s enough rambling for now. Step Three will start getting into more meaty aspects of the layout. But expect a good helping of philosophical prattle too.
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:39 AM
Posted: Jan 2 2004, 11:50 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Continuing along with the fodder for elemental fidgeting, it is now time to start in on creating some of the large, vertical, black elements of the layout. As you can see, I’ve drawn in the foreground trees. Currently, they’re rather abstract and simplified, but this is all the easier for a few reasons: by creating the elements as strictly flat shapes, I’ve 1) saved a lot of time away from illustrating details that may or may not go with the final mood of the painting, 2) I have basic value system objects with which I can easily manipulate in tone and rearrange to my liking, and 3) finding lazy ways to make sure you have to do as little as possible is the pure delight of any overstressed artist.
Really, if you think about it, that’s what this entire process thread is about: finding the simplest and easiest solution to answer the questions of the artwork. If using the abstract shape for arrangement saves time, why not? In this manner, I have achieved a variety of quick and flexible uses for the trees… I can easily add and subtract limbs without the pain of touching up the leftover details… I can enlarge and reproportion (to a flexible extent… there is a limit) without worrying about losing valuable pixels and clarity… I can cut and past with a marquee tool from tree to tree to get whatever shape I desire and sill maintain the crisp value of the original.
All these options come very useful indeed at this point. Lets take a closer look at the current layout and see what choices need to be made…
Well, for one, blissfully ignoring the gaping hole on the left (for which I have yet to finish my last trees in the background), what is the current layout saying to the picture? We talked about a vertical piece during the last step and really that leaves me with only a couple options to carry that out… one, I could save myself a smidgen of time and just crop off that left side altogether. That would make the remainder of the piece vertical. But what about the proportions? Sure, she has some headroom, but the piece is very blah. Granted, the subject matter is serene and downplayed, as this isn’t the next John Woo film, but really, what the heck is the layout saying?
As a general rule of thumb, symmetrical layouts exude a sense of balance, peace and harmony. Asymmetrical pieces are much more dynamic and show rhythm, flow and in a lot of ways, movement. Just what do I mean by all that?
Take these photos for example: this fireplace with the dining room is incredibly symmetrical. It is nearly as if, with a line drawn straight down the middle of the room, either side of the room is a mirror image of the other. Aside from the one vase in the window, this room is near as symmetrical as it can get. And what does this kind of formal layout demonstrate? Well, aside what could possibly be done with lighting and color, there is an overwhelming sense of inexhaustible time… as if nothing ever changes in this place and what you found in the room today will still be there, just as it was, 50 years from now. This is hardly the place where ninjas would fly out threw the windows, although one seems to almost welcome such a thing if for no other reason than to break the monotony.
On the other hand, an asymmetrical layout, even of a rather formal subject matter, uses the position and movement of elements to direct the eye and produce a more dynamic experience. Most of everything you see in art is one form of asymmetry or another. Much like the photo below:
This could be considered a trick question, for the room is technically a very symmetrical layout by definition. The bed is equally tidied with the headboard displaying a pattern that could easily be folded in half and mirrored… it even has matching bedside tables placed uniformly next to the main furniture. The molding around the room is incredibly similar and even the objects on the tables are relatively similar in general size and height. Aside from the painting and chair, this room is symmetrical. And that is true. The room itself is very symmetrical; it is the presentation which is asymmetrical.
Here’s the important part of developing your layout that you should always keep in the back of your mind Rule #3: always try to avoid centering anything and avoid odd tangents. I’ll explain the latter in a while, but as for the centering… it’s a matter of orchestrating the movement of the eye through contrast and visual leading of elements. For example, notice the corner of the room where the molding of the wall meets the ceiling. Since the molding is a very dominant abstract line, that point is blatantly obvious. And what does it do? It points us directly down the line of the corner room to the bed. This points us to the warm light of the lamp (being a very bright and saturated yellow element and a focal point of the piece because it is contrasted by the dark verticals of the headboard). The very vertical black supports of the headboard draw us down to the bed towards the high contrast of the white sheets to the black bedposts and then to the large mass of pattern of the bedspread (another attention-getter due to size and visual complexity from the pattern). From there, the eye either circles to the left or right due to the heavy saturation of blue and red colors of the vase and painting and then back up to the ceiling molding lines.
Now I’m sure the original photographer didn’t necessarily choose these particular lines of reason when taking the shot; they probably just took the picture because it looked good and the lighting was nice. But it is for that very reason ‘that it looked good’ that lends to the unconscious interactivity with the scene which seemed to make a good photo.
Remember in the beginning where I said you had to communicate and interact with the viewer in order to keep them interested? Yes, story and details are a big part of it, but layout also is an involving element. If you don’t have movement of a piece, or even the wrong sort of movement (by arranging the elements so they lead the eye off the page) then you’ve failed to garner as much attention as you might have received from the viewer. Now what the heck does all this mean about my painting and how does it apply to the image at hand?
Good question. Lets go back to the painting. As is, there are several things wrong with this layout. Just by applying the rules of proportion and asymmetry, I can already see at least a half-dozen things that are bothering me.
First of all, see that clump of trees on the left? They may be three separate trees, but just like the vase and lamp of the asymmetrical painting, they’re roughly adding up to the same size and visual weight of m’lady. The two objects are competing, then, and that’s certainly not what I want. I want her to be the focus. Next, there’s the centering. Yes, she isn’t necessarily in the center of the page (perhaps she would be horizontally if I did crop off that left side, but let’s say I’m not quite that lazy yet) as the layout stands, but there isn’t as much freedom and air as I want for this scene. And this is not just the fault of one thing, oh no, I’ve found at least three ways to mess that up. For one, look at her vertically. Visually, where her head and neck rest (one of the main points of focus… the other being her hands at the katana) she is nearly centered in the painting from top to bottom. And as focus points go, this centering in the middle of the painting is very optically calming and therefore kills some of the tension I wanted for the piece. Not only that, but she’s darn near standing on the bottom edge of the artwork.
That point in particular is the odd tangents I mentioned. Never cut off a figure at a joint or place an element just touching an edge of anything. It is an attention-getter and rather ugly and all that turns it into a focal point you just don’t want. So for this, I really need to move her up away from the edge of the painting and try to figure out how to get a little more height out of the painting.
Not to mention, her, being at her current size, seems incredibly comfortable concerning her position and proportions to the trees around her. The trees don’t seem so much as towering sentinels, but as lady-sized walking companions. It’s as if she’s casually strolling with her pet pine tree gliding alongside her on a leash. Frickin’ boring. I hate it.
Oh, but we’re not done yet. What have we here? Where’s the horizon line? Straight in the middle of the painting, of course, right at her nipple line which is obviously exactly where I want to place it as nipples need all sorts of attention whether or not they’re going to be covered up by a kimono…
Get the picture? The only things I have going for me right now are the beginnings of an implied pathway from the contrasting white empty space trailing behind her and the down-turned limp penis of a twig on the large tree pointing to her. Sure, at least it’s trying to mimic her leg position and crosses nicely with her forward arm to a beautiful x-focusing shape with her hands (ergo pointing to the secondary focus of her reaching for the katana), but I mean, really. What was I thinking?
Well, simple. I just painted enough items to start working out layout to achieve my moody thumbnail and now am to a refining point. So it is at this time where I can add a little height and start working out these issues.
Okay, so here’s my refinement after having added a few more trees and copied/pasted tree extensions when I added another 4 inches to the top of my layout. As you can see, the extra height and additional fourth tree on the left now makes a visual area that is definitely a larger mass than our fair lady. I’ve raised her an inch or so off the ground, enough so that her feet are not too close to the edge of the painting; and physically, she is not horizontally in the center of the painting, but nicely offside to the right. She has been raised off the horizon of +2 nippelage and is visually resting happily in the vertical negative space created by the central area devoid of black trees.
The large tree in the front has been extended to the viewer’s personal space and has another friend next to it, adding to the visual weight and hierarchy of the layout. In other words, it’s now a bigger, heavier black area. This also is creating a sense of continuation of the scene and isolating our lady more off on her own, rather than perceptually into communication contact with the viewer. Now, it is as if she is alone and outside the influence of the audience, adding to the spatial void of silence surrounding her. Again, it’s all about wielding the elements to dictate the mood as you, the artist, wish. After all, you are the one that is holding the camera. You show what you want to show.
To further illustrate some of the visual lines, I’ve scribbled all over my painting for you:
As you can see, I have plans for the bases of the trees: as there will be snow drifts, I want to make sure the arcs of the snow will tie elements of the environment to elements of my lady. And just about every other line points to the two main foci: her head through chin and branch lines and to the action of her reaching for her katana… therefore, I want the lines pointing to her hand area. And it is no accident that the trees to the left are positioned to mimic the visual vertical curves of the branches on the right. I want all the elements complimenting the focus of the lady and that includes everything from the trees to the snow drifts to the horizon.
Right. Now that should be enough to digest at the moment. Next lesson, Step Four, will be in adding color and tone to accentuate the mood. We’re starting to add depth and atmosphere here and sooner or later, the poor dear should actually be clothed…
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:40 AM
Posted: Jan 2 2004, 11:53 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
The continuing saga... At this point we are finessing some seemingly simple yet complex balanced relationship of colors and tones to imply depth and atmosphere. Largely the rules affect three areas of the painting: background, trees and snow.
For the background, it must be remembered that simplicity is king. You can add a lot of character and depth to a painting without a ton of effort if what you put there is handled properly. In fact, though it may look like I added a lot of cover in addition to the details already there, I didn’t add another single tree. It’s just a combination of fuzzy blurry medium colors and some strategic highlights.
In order to make this a bit clearer, there are another few rules to add to the list: Rule #4: the farther from the focal point, the blurrier the details in an atmosphere. Rule #5: the stronger the contrast, the more the focus. And Rule #6: the stronger the saturation, the more the focus. Explaining these rules will help show why I did what I did to this painting so far.
Rule #4: This simple rule can add so much more life and depth to a piece, it’s unbelievable. This is where atmosphere can truly be your friend and not just that acquaintance down the street that waves at you sometimes. As the physics goes, the farther the object is from the focal point of view in an atmosphere, the more air particles get in the way and play hockey with light particles, bouncing them all around. Essentially, this manages to add up and refract light so efficiently that it optically blurs the object in the distance from the viewer. This is also why cloudy or otherwise overcast days everything is very blurred and ill-defined. The moisture in the atmosphere acts as a giant sieve and distorts the view even more. Same idea with fog.
So with this particular piece, I want the haze of an evening (or morning, I don’t mind the ambiguity) fogging through the trees with golden light. This means the light will illuminate the atmosphere more than usual due to the play of light through the moisture and dust particles. So what does this mean to the background? It means the farther the tree in the distance (the ones in the very back) will be very blurry, mere hazes of tree impressions. Then there will be a progression of detail level with some faint indications of light and shape to more elaborate nudges of tone to the trees I have already painted in the background from last step.
This is also the rule that lets me bend light around things, such as that hazy glow of light between the foreground trees and the light source.
Rule #5: Attention to contrast is one of those innate things hard wired into our brains. This is why most of the world of animal lives under the mantra of camouflage, for to stick out is to be noticed. So any time you have a high level of contrast (to its most basic: black and white), you have a focal point. Now keeping this all straight can sometimes be a chore. Fortunately, nature has come up with a solution for us poor artists and instilled a simple rule: the closer, the clearer the contrast. Basically, if you get an atmosphere to bully its way into things, it’ll gray out items the farther from the viewer.
Now what this means in relation to my painting is a bit of a delicate balance… I have very, very dark trees next to snow. That fact in itself makes things a little trickier than usual. But atmosphere will help out greatly, especially since it has that lovely part about graying out the background. I just have to keep in mind when shading an object, to use fewer darks than the object in its foreground. Sure, this means that the trees in the extreme foreground will technically have to be the blackest, but that’s okay… I can still take them out as a focal point by blurring the edges in the final and using color to my advantage. By keeping a balance on the contrast levels, I can keep the illusion of depth going in my painting. Mark my words, if I put some deep contrasts in my background trees, they would all of a sudden pop forward and break the intended depth of atmosphere.
Granted, this takes a bit of research and observation of photographs and real life in order to garner a realistic idea in proper balance. You can see this in anything… from the other side of the room, outside your window, down the highway to the cars furthest away… everything has it because we live in a world with an atmosphere. As a side note, the fun part about drawing things in outer space is they’re much more clear and crisp. You can see for miles and miles. The only time it seems to react like earth is if there’s a dust storm. Course that means there’s particles in the air and technically that’s a bit of an atmosphere. ;} See the coincidence? :}
Rule #6: If there’s one thing in particular that really kinda bothers the eyes about paintings is if everywhere you look is color. Sure, there are a lot of colorful subjects in the world, but even those have a certain interrelationship that must be attended to. In particular, whatever has the purest level of saturation, that will be the main draw of the eye for color.
Since I want m’lady to be the main focus, I’m keeping in mind that the purest and most saturated colors will be on her. But for now, I need at least medium and light saturation to some of the tones just for atmospheric purposes. :}
As always, one has to get the ingredients down before the cooking and taste-testing can begin. So just because I make something a certain hue to begin with doesn’t mean I won’t refine it as more elements are introduced. Remember, the creation is a PROCESS. That means it gets to change. :} Things evolve.
This also means now’s the point where I start to augment some of the tree trunks to marry into the environment. Specifically, this means the treetops where the haze of sun is bending past and edging their tops. The sun is filtering through the thickish atmosphere, so it reacts as if there’s a light fog. Notice the gradient of the trunks.
And another color I want to talk about before I show you the pic: white. In nature there is no true white and no true black. So don’t use them. Always use a version of it rather than the true real thing. For example, I always use a very dark slightly purpledullbrown for my blacks. Sometimes I hue it other colors to match the needs of the painting, but a good purpledullbrown works on many levels. First, it has SOME color to it (which all reality has because it is not pure black) and secondly, it is a very good counterpart to the yellows and warm orange tones usually used for the sunlight. Remember your color wheel. If the sunlight is warm, the shadows will be cool and vice versa. ;}
Big point on white tho, is that it is crack. The eye craves it and is immediately drawn to it wherever it is. This means, if you have a ton of white on the page, the eye will dart all around and have no place to rest. This is especially necessary in all those portrait pieces you guys like to draw. White is not a flesh tone. Don’t let the white of the paper pretend to be anything else but the negative hole you’re going to tone in. The only place you need to use white (or something just shy of white, if you’re paying attention. :} hehe) is for the brightest highlight.
Notice my sky. Though it is very bright, it technically is only a light gray. Same with the snow. The only place I will have bright whitish will be on m’lady and on some of the glittering of the snow crust at her feet. Everything else has a tone.
To get yourself in this habit, before you draw anything or color anything in the computer, fill the background with 50% gray. This will allow you to start highlighting and shadowing with proper values because you will easily be able to compare it with your mid-range values and be able to judge what you need to add or subtract.
Okay. Enough tips for this round. So here’s what I have so far:
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:41 AM
Posted: Jan 6 2004, 02:46 AM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Wow. This is getting long, isn’t it?
Right. Decent changes, but oddly enough, the snow didn’t take too long. Since I’ve got large spaces to cover here, I’m back to making soup. The only real difference is this time I’m taking a lot of the changes to a near-final state. I don’t usually recommend that large a step; only, well, what else do you do with snow? Either it’s blurry or it’s not. ;P ;}
This is one of the places where it’s good to take a lot of time constantly moving back and forth between references. Snow in particular has a lot of peculiar properties that add to its complexity. It is at this point where the study of material properties, not just textures, really helps a lot. It isn’t enough to get the surface properties translated to the painting. You have to take into account how the environment reacts with it as well as its composition physically. Basically, this is Rule #7: always be aware at how the element materials of your painting affect and are affected by the environment. Theorizing this, let’s take a few materials as examples:
Assuming it’s not quartz or other materials with an innate translucency, rock matter is utterly opaque if it is solid. Of course this changes whether it’s sandstone or pumice, shale or obsidian glass. Before you can answer the simple question of ‘how do I paint rock?’ you have to answer many other questions first. For example: How solid is it? How heavy? What color and value is it (this affects light reflection)? Does it absorb precipitation well (also affects reflection properties)? Is it easily eroded? How does it react to the environment? Will it be easily augmented through outside interference? How does light bounce off it? Is it innately smooth (more mirror finishes…water effects…) or rough (refracts the light so there is no reflection)? What is its chemical composition?
Yes, yes, maybe that last one was a bit extreme, but look at it this way… What if the rock reference you were drawing had an iron ore in it and you were drawing a non-arid environment? There would be signs of rust in the rock as the iron would erode from the moisture. (Which should also make you ask: what will ruddy orange do to the color balance of my painting?) Or what if it had a lot of salt in it or limestone which glistened or easily wore away and bleached from the sun and rain? (How will these highlights affect my painting?) Sure, this is a lot to remember, but it’s not so much in the knowing of the specifics, but in the remembering to ask the questions to find out. If you don’t ask these questions, you can have the simple problem of a material that won’t physically exist in the environment you are illustrating. Seems like a trivial thing, but as you improve, it may start to prove to be a problem. Who wants an artist that can’t get the facts straight? Sure, fantasy, you say, but that won’t fly with the editor of that book you’re trying to cover and it sure won’t fly with the writer who has done the research and knows exactly what materials should be there. I’m not saying everything in the world has to be real, but if you plan on making a career or simply make cohesive bodies of art, you need to be able to back up your decisions. ‘I like it that way’ won’t cut it unless you’re super famous. And even then you’ll get flak from critics calling you eccentric. ;}
No, you don’t have to change the freedoms of your imagination; you just have to learn to ask questions about your decisions. Don’t think of this research as confinement, think of it as support. This way, you truly understand every inch of your work. Don’t be fooled in thinking the person putting money in your pocket won’t expect that.
Yeah, this gets a lot trickier because not only does it involve studying the construction, but the thickness, weight, construction, value and environmental habits. Of course we all know satin is a lot different than wool, but how do you paint it? It is by knowing its properties and then breaking that down into methods that you can create realistic material. For example: the rougher the weave, the more diffuse the highlight; the thinner, the more translucent; the smoother, the shinier, the more reflective. And don’t forget, weight affects it in wind; sunlight will try to bounce through it and around it; water will change both of these properties. There are no quick answers to the questions of materials, but the trick is remembering to ask the questions.
So what does all this mean? Well, let’s dissect the main feature here: snow.
First thing’s first. What is snow? Little disks and sandy grains of congealed water. Water is transparent, save for the dust it might pick up in the air on the way down. So if we’re basically to treat this as a bunch of little ice cubes or one vast chandelier, what properties does that exhibit?
Primarily, this will make snow behave not like sand or dirt, but like many little prisms spreading sunlight and diffusing it at every angle through and around itself. It will have areas where it is translucent when the thickness is less and still have the ability to transmute light even through some thicker parts. Not to mention snow itself has many reflective elements which will bounce the light off its surface at various angles according to the individual snowflake as well as the snowdrift surfaces.
So let’s boil this down: We have a potentially semi-translucent material with random and vector-based reflection. Translation? Snow likes to slightly glow in the thinner areas, sparkle little reflections on the outskirts of the light source, bounce sunlight in line with the light source as well as sport a lovely array of reflective secondary lighting. This means I get to keep an eye out for a number of things: the crests of drifts, the sun’s main path to the viewer, the sunlight bouncing off the snow and onto other elements (even if just slightly) and the blue of the sky interacting with snow’s reflective surface. Remember, snow isn’t usually blue because snow is blue. Snow is blue because the sky is blue.
So here’s my next update of the image:
Yes, I know. The snow isn’t blueish. It looks like vanilla frosting. I’ll fix that. The point is I know about it because I recognized the properties of the materials. When you ask yourself the questions, you either know it’s something you’ll change or something you’ll live with. But at least you know about it. Even if your answer of ‘Yes, I know about that but I liked this way better’ isn’t the best answer to a client (which I still don’t recommend. I’d find some other rational explanation than emotional whim. It adds credibility.), it’s still certainly better than ‘Oh. Geez. Sorry. Didn’t see that.’
The other thing you may notice is she finally has hair and clothing, or at least the start of it. Since she has dark hair, other than highlights and reflective lighting, the hair doesn’t need much more work for the style of this painting (it is still slightly more abstract than I usually paint). I will be adding more details like the sun highlight on wispy strands blowing loose in the wind, but for now what I have is very close to finished.
As for the clothing, it may look reasonably complicated, but this is really a very abstract representation of the folds. Just like everything else, if it doesn’t work as abstract shapes, it won’t work with the final details. Those blasted abstract forms took me a lot of pain and frustration to create as here I am with a fairly realistic background drawn from a plethora of references, but not a single picture could be found in all my searching for the damn kimono.
Here’s where all those years of observation and study pay off. Here’s where all that time directly referencing photography and real life articles helps. Here’s where the countless hours of staring at stupid things like fortune cookies and Dixie cups saves my butt… Because here’s where I can look at a naked figure and drape fabric on her with some measure of reasonable belief.
Is it finished? No. Is it 100% accurate? No. Is it what I wanted for the piece? No. Is it all the glory that I saw in my head? No. But does it get the job done? Yes.
Much as it pains me, at this point I was already into day two of my deadline extension and didn’t have the luxury for finding and buying a kimono, setting up the lighting and begging a friend to pose for me. It had to get done and it had to get done NOW. Sometimes, yes, you will have to compromise in a painting. But you know what? I learned valuable lessons in painting that kimono from the skin of my teeth. I had to extrapolate the sunlight, mark the thickness and properties of the fabric, set up a uniform weight and opacity for light and movement, and take into account its fashioning and design. It may not have been the perfect vision I had in my head, but it was pretty darn good and definitely was something I could work with, pretty up and make look appropriate to the setting. I just hate that it took me so long. Without reference, things take usually two to three times as long to create because I was constantly revising, readjusting and reconsidering lines. I lost valuable time, but I had no choice.
Will it look better? Sure. This is just the rough. But like any good rough, what you start with lays the foundation for the details following. So I knew I had to get it to an acceptable place before I could work on the fine-tuning. Like always, rule #1 reared it’s ugly yet venerable head: if I couldn’t get it to work in an abstracted form, it won’t work as a realistic one. This clothing stage was just a thumbnail on the road to reality…
Think this is nearly done? Just another couple hours? Wrong. I still have another 10-15 hours at least to go on this.
But we’ll get to some of that in Step Six.
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:42 AM
Posted: Jan 18 2004, 08:49 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Now we start worrying about final step details right before finishing touches. We’re getting close to the finishing up stage, but there’s still a lot left to do. And by now, the pressure of the deadline is starting to get on my nerves because this may look close to done, and it certainly feels close to done, but my brain knows better.
At this point, it’s time to finish up the clothing as much as I can and start adding environmental details… basically all the little things to do that you didn’t know made a difference until they’re there. But regardless of how much I want to tidy up things, the clothing was glaringly unfinished and I really needed to get that in order first.
Believe it or not, but this particular step was relatively quick (aside from the reworking of some of the folds again) by the addition of two things: highlights and shadows. What I had laid out currently were essentially all mid-tones. Like in the lessons I mentioned before, make sure your values are resolved, starting from the middle out. To really get a handle on some of these illustrations, it’s best to start out with a 50% gray (or sepia, if you want) background and gradually add your highlights and shadows. That’s all I did here. The simplified kimono is my midtone stage as it does not have any strong highlights or shadows.
This next step included the additions of the gradient and interiors of the sleeves and the shadow across the leg. I added a shadow from her head and neck and the directional shadows created from the environmental back-lighting over her body, most notably the shoulders, forearms and knee. All that shadow work was created easily enough by the application of an overlay and multiply layer. I like to keep my shadows and highlights mostly separated from the main tones of a piece because of the increased flexibility to make changes that would otherwise require some repainting if it were part of the main layer.
Now the highlights come into play and this is the point where I start fleshing out the more translucent nature of the cottons and silks. Particularly, I want some backlighting and reflective light coming through her sleeves and in the crook of her elbow on her left arm. I’m not pushing the colors too much because I know in the end I do want her to have the most saturation and pure tones than the rest of the piece. However, I don’t want to get it so saturated I have to spend more time tweaking back.
Another thing I’d like to discuss here is what I refer to as ‘bleaching pixels.’ In fact, I really hate this state of ‘pixel being’ and try my best to avoid it at all possible. In short, it is the hyper-saturation and contrasting of photos/illustrations which results in the degradation of pixel information. In theory this is much like the continual copying of a xerox copy; after a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, you will have a very blown out and grainy resulting image of such poor quality that any continued copying of said image would probably render it completely impotent. In practice, this is what happens with you overuse such blend tools as overlay, color dodge and color burn. You are essentially ‘bleaching’ your pixels, hyper-saturating them and reducing their value range to the point where you literally erase information. This is why I keep most of this work on another layer; though some of my bases do indeed have overlay and multiply applied to them, the extremes are spared to another layer to preserve pixel information. For if you keep the strong highlights and shadows on an alternate layer, the two layers in combination form the image, and this does not delete your ‘neutral state.’
By ‘neutral state’ I mean the layer shown as if it is an overcast day devoid of direct lighting of any sort. This ambient lighting system can be taken and applied to any environment, bright or dull. This way, all you’d have to do is add any layer for lighting. I find overlay (which can both lighten and darken) and multiply (which merely deepens the tones, but darkens with slight saturation and a nice globalization of tone) for such a task and frequently use them in tandem. Imagine having spent many hours adding strong lighting to a character on only one layer and then realizing the entire piece would be better suited to a more subdued lighting. If you kept lighting on its own layer, you could easily change the opacity, the hues, the shape via masks and all sorts of properties. However, if you had augmented your neutral state directly, you’d be S.O.L. and more than likely forced to settle with a lesser piece or look forward to another night of repainting.
Most of my items consist of three layers: the neutral state, an overlay and a multiply. So for example, Snap would completely be on her own layer with two adjustment layers (ctrl+alt+click the line between layers. Ctrl+g I believe does the same thing via ‘grouping layers’). The foreground trees are on another layer, as are the middle ground trees. Finally there are the background trees and then the background haze and sky, etc.
Of course, this brings us to the snow. I was very unhappy with the snow and felt compelled to fix the sepia tones as quickly as possible. The vanilla frosting was just not cutting it. So here, so I didn’t lose any of my original happy golds which might be lovely as reflections here and there, I kept the snow as it was on its own layer. Here is where the blue of the sky bouncing onto the snow will be apparent. I take a nice gray-teal color, medium dark with probably about 50% saturation (judging by the placement of the color-picker) and create a new ‘color’ layer. Using a fuzzy brush, I whisk away at the shadow-sides of the drifts and leave a lot of the warm tones to stay for their reflective properties from the sunlight. Sometimes the ‘hue’ layer works better as color layers often have to be toned down through the opacity bar, but it really depends on the application and needs of the painting. I like to go full force on the layer and tone back the layer through the layer opacity rather than worry about brush opacity. It’s always easier to tone down more pixels that happen to be the right shape and position than to apply more and hope they line up as well as the previous strokes. There are always ways around that too, though.
Okay, now we come to another point of importance: overall tone. You’ve heard me talk about starting with a middle tone and adding highlights and shadows. We discussed that even the sky itself, though very bright, is not pure white because we know better than to use pure white. Well, the snow too is not pure white. It will have value. If you want it to sparkle and show form, then you have to make sure the main tone of the snow is not as bright as the pixels can get. Only the highlights will be bright. And even then, there’s a hierarchy…
There is always a progression of highlights. If there is only one light source, only the highlights nearest the light source will be the brightest. It fades off brightness like a gradient aura from the main point source. If there is more than one light source, the rule follows the same for them as well, but there will only be ONE major main light source. So all the secondary sources will not be as potent and they will fade off more quickly. Therefore, as you can see in the case of the snow, only the flecks of highlight near her feet and right behind her form are truly their brightest. I did this on purpose, of course, as I wanted her to be the main focal point. So just like rule #5 states, the more the contrast, the sharper the focus.
Letsee… ah, as you can see, I painted in the birds and positioned them so there were no strange tangents. I also put a color layer on her fleshtone areas and started working in some hues to put some cold life into her veins. This is by no means her full color as that would turn her into some badly colorized Technicolor old black and white film… but in order to start balancing some of the blues and golds of her clothing and the snow, I had to get some idea about the saturation and tones of her skin. You can also see the snow I caked on her skirt from tromping through the forest, and a shadow from herself and the trees.
So here’s the painting thusfar:
Next we’ll finally get to the leather part of this leather tutorial (which itself will be another thread, not this one. This is process, remember?) and onto finishing touches in Step Seven.
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:42 AM
Posted: Jan 28 2004, 02:22 AM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
We are finally onto the part I like best: final touches. It seemed like forever getting here, even in the original painting of it. You’ll get all that inside-info in my next post after this one. But meanwhile, on to the rant…
“The short and sweet” — or — “what I could fit into the crazy horrible tight schedule and still be proud of it”
So letsee here… I finished up the leather, made a katana, katana straps, blurred the birds, frosted the trees, accentuated the light wrapping around the trees, properly colored her skin, highlighted the sunlight on her clothes, blurred the clothes and backlit the fabric with sunlight gilding. Yeah. That’s it. The question you should be asking by now is ‘why.’
Well, I’ll tell you why.
Not much to say here. You guys got the rant about keeping pure white (even for snow) only to the lightmost highlights you wish to glisten upon the surface. You’ve heard that even snow has a base value that isn’t pure white. You know about reflective light of the sky bouncing into the shadowed area causing the phenomenon of cool-toned shadows coupled with warm-toned highlights. You know that snow affects the environment even in little ways and though you can indeed have mostly clean trees from old storms, it’s probably a good idea to brush on a little frosting on the lower trunks just for flavor. Everyone loves frosting.
You know to research how snow would adhere to various materials like clothing and bark because of the whole ‘reference, reference, reference’ mantra. And you know that the light shining on it will have a gradient effect spreading and fading from the initial light source like water ripples. Yes, we’ve discussed all this. You guys know a lot by now. ;}
Leather and Kimono.
Well, as for the leather itself, that tutorial will be posted separately in another thread. For it’s purposes in the process tutorial, it is more important to note the level of value and contrast it possesses next to the lighter areas of the snow, skin and kimono. This was no accident. Remember rule #2? It works very well with rule #5 in this case. :} To refresh your memory: the values achieved with the lighter features next to the darker leather will aid in bringing the eye to the area due to the contrast. Of course the saturation of the kimono plays a very important part in all this. You guys remember that other part of rule #2 as well as rule #6, right? ;} The greater the saturation, the more the focus? I wanted the most saturation of colors on Snap herself so as to draw the eye of the viewer where I want.
This of course leads us into discussing all the tricks I did for the lighting. Notably, I strengthened the background sunspot behind the trees by creating another layer set to ‘overlay’ and put a nice little gradient pale circle burst of a golden orangeyellow. On top of the trees nearest to this burst, I also added a bit of a lighter version of that bleed on the edges of the dark to blur out the silhouette.
From here I turned my attention mainly to the kimono. I gilded the sleeves with the same technique I did for the sunburst (overlays are great for sunlight in most cases) and poured on the love for the sunlight backlighting the sleeves and especially the nook of the elbow near her obi. Don’t forget, the sunlight not only shines through it, but around it and reflects back onto the area. ;}
For complexity like that it’s best to take lighting like you take shadows. Make a mental level list to run through. It’s easier to think of one layer of information rather than all the ideals at the same time. For example: Shadows: object shadows onto environment; environment shadow gradients; object self-shadowing (the neckline, the hand over the knee, etc.): lighting: primary lightsource gradient; secondary lightsource gradients; reflective light; translucent light.
If you systematically list through the effects, it’s a lot easier to keep them organized as well as apply them with as little pain as possible.
Okay, this is a bit of a trick for theatrics as well as aesthetics. I basically have two levels of blurring: environmental atmospheric perspective and motion blurs. As we discussed in rule #6, the closer the object to the point of focus, the sharper it will be. Ergo, the trees in the way back distance need to be blurrier than the trees in the foreground. But also note that I wanted Snap to be the focus, not the trees in the foreground. So the rule applies to them, too. Using Snap as the point of focus, I virtually judge from that point of origin the guestimated distance from her and blur to taste: the objects very far away from her will not be in focus, and the objects not so far away from her will have just a little blur. I judge all of the rest of it comparatively in between.
Then there’s the fun of the motion blur. I really wanted to emphasize the moment and lightning moves of the sound *snap* which startled the birds and had our heroine reach for her sword in mid-stride. For this, I copied the layer (for example, the birds) and threw a motion blur at an appropriate angle over the whole copied layer. Then on the original bird layer, I applied a mask and masked out the areas I wanted to show blurry. Then on the copied layer, I also applied a mask to mask areas I wanted to remain clear. Why all the masks? …I’m known to change my mind. This allows me the freedom to do so without having to redo steps. Be careful though, Photoshop puts a decent amount of memory into the masks. The more complex and the greater the quantity, the bigger the file. But since I didn’t use a lot of masks and had the spare memory to handle it (remember, I do all of these pieces at print resolution) I didn’t pay much mind.
and some close-ups:
So that’s it for this picture. I did want to add more and tweak, but at this point I ran out of time for my deadline and this is what I turned in to the very happy editor. He was very enthusiastic about it and loved the tutorial so overall it was a hit. However, there was much more I wanted to do to this painting. I doubt it will be done, given my disinclination to delve back into an old painting, but maybe someday.
For now, there ya go. I hoped you all enjoyed this process tutorial and I would like to hear your opinions on both the tutorial and the painting in the comments thread. Please leave your feedback. It reminds a meerkat that folks did actually read this past the first couple steps. :}
Oh, and this process thread isn’t quite finished. Next weekend I shall be posting my own feedback on the painting. It will be the follow-up discussion with my own critique. I will tell you what I wanted to do to the painting beyond what was here as well as give my professional opinion on the piece as it is in the industry. Yes, that’s right. I’m going to Professional Merekat my own work.
…and then I’ll give Sergeant Merekat a turn at it.
Should be interesting. Be sure to tune into the Sibyll action to come. But meanwhile go tell me what you think of the tutorial process thread and the painting. Go! Go! Go!
This post has been edited by Merekat on May 4 2006, 12:43 AM
Posted: Jan 31 2004, 08:08 PM
Senior l33t One
Group: Rogue Mods
Member No.: 55
Joined: 20-November 00
Every artist in the industry should have some measure of objectively defining their own work. This helps for many reasons, especially considering the vast amount of competition out there ready to take your job. If you cannot effectively measure yourself up against various levels of standards, someday someone will do it for you. And you probably will not enjoy the outcome.
To this end, I myself am going to judge this work I spent over a week solid of 3am nights before work to accomplish. Overall this project took about 35 hours of time, though relatively easy considering the planning had successfully organized me enough to avoid redoing much work. The one place I did spend too much time on is the clothing, but this was for reasons you read earlier… I just didn’t find reference. And not using reference for realism will just about guarantee doubling or tripling the time spent. Most parts I did in a day: the snow (1 day), the trees (1 day), the lady body (1 day), the background… etc… and these weren’t full days, either. Sure, a couple weekends of big work, but most of these ‘days’ were what I could do after coming home from the office. Maybe 4-5 hours a shot. But that damn kimono? Three days of continuous mind-changing, erasing, resmudging and reworking. Next time I’m definitely bribing a friend to model.
All artists are usually of at least two minds of their work. I am no exception, compounded by the fact I have a severe Gemini nature. ;} So just to stay true to form, I’m going to let both lobes talk to you. Professional Merekat gives her opinion as it would be given on a professional industry approach. She’s the one that goes to work and manages the website, speaks to clients and organizes print pieces. Sergeant Merekat is my own personal voice I hear in my head. And she’s not polite. Nor is she subtle. …she’ll make an appearance just to let you artists out there know these voices aren’t just talking to you. Let’s hear from the rational one first:
Professional Merekat’s assessment:
In this industry, it really doesn’t matter how much you yourself like the work once it leaves your desk, it matters what your employers, clients and peers think. Sure, this is a cruel fact of life, but it is true nonetheless, especially considering you’re making a living off of their acceptance. You may think this is the best painting in the world. But if someone else, or more appropriately a LOT of someone elses, do not agree with you, you’re down to ramen noodles and spam sandwiches for dinner again.
So, as a professional in the industry, I’m going to judge this as if it isn’t mine but a peer’s. However, even so, I realize that even my opinion may not matter unless 1) I’m a reviewer that commands attention or 2) I’m paying for it. Suffice to say, this is just comparison to others in the field creating such work.
On primary examination, this piece flows rather well. It has a lovely sense of weight and pleasing pallet of colors that both conveys the mood of the forest solitude in the dead winter morning and the general atmosphere of the materials presented: the snow is crisp and one may almost sense the cold tinge of the frosted trees.
Compositionally, it may be a little quiet. As it, by today’s standard is very subdued, the presentation and painting style heralds to an older time, adding more theatrics to the setting rather than graphical glitz. Therefore, when taken in such context, this is a decent example of a more psychological scene asking the viewer to become part of the environment to feel what the character is feeling rather than be wowed by the latest reiteration of a samurai-like fight scene.
However, on the surface, the subtlety may be too much for the general viewer to consider important. Visually, it is a very calm scene, broken by the quick movements of the arm and birds and coupled with the tension of the face turning to the source of the disturbance. If seen as a moment to experience, then this is a good example of a very clear moment most everyone can relate to. Unfortunately, outside of this reflection, this is not an attention-getting piece and would not do well in most advertising venues including cover pieces for art books or portfolio pieces which require rapid ‘wow-factor’ and lasting impressions upon fleeting glances. So though this has its charm, it is a limited piece concerning utility.
As a side note, though the snow and trees themselves seem to have a very natural lighting and creation of texture, the kimono itself seems illustrated on a different level than the rest of the piece. Some areas, particularly where the snow cakes on the bottom of the skirt, are more solid in their conveyance of information, yet the torso and sleeves seem to show uncertainty. It is obvious there was no reference concerning the folds, but overall they are inoffensive and blend relatively well to the presentation as a whole.
All in all, this is a lovely piece. This painting is technically sound and beautifully rendered: perhaps the artist’s best to date. The subtlety of the snow drifts and the chill of the morning air are especially nice. As previously stated, though there are some areas of lesser sophistication, it should prove an impressive piece and should serve the artist well.
And then there’s that voice. The other voice. You guys know which one I’m talking about… the one that tells you just what you really think about your work…
Sergeant Merekat’s Assessment:
Whell, whell, whell. It’s about bloody time you finished this. I know you’ve got work and all, and that usually paintings take you 40-60 hours, so technically 35 ahin’t bad, but really. Did you HAVE to make us stay up until 3am for nearly two weeks running? I mean you had this assignment for over a month! Couldn’t you have started it sooner? Sure, I know you were putting 70 hours a week the months previous working on CS Xbox and then CZ and not to mention trying to do that other painting (which, I might add, you dropped after 50 hours of work into it that could’ve been spent on this Snap painting of yours) for your other editor and his book deadline the same time you had for this one, but I mean, SERIOUSLY… you should really organize your time more so we don’t have to spend until 3am drawing after 10+ hours at the office.
And what do you have to show for it? A friggin’ sad girl in snow, that’s what!
Can you believe it? And what the hell do you mean by ‘older style drama’ anyway? What is that crap?? Just some chick in the snow freezing her ass off with some birds fluttering off in the background and blur marks. I mean, hell, I’ve farted bigger flocks than that! This painting is boring! That’s what it is! Booor-ooor-ring!
I mean, how the hell are you ever supposed to be some world-famous artist when you draw snoozeville shit like this? Where are the ninjas?? Where’s the blood? Where’s the monster about ready to devour her? Where’s the dramatic pose and big motions and severe perspectives like they put on all the new comics and book covers? You’re not going to be able to make a living off this. That early retirement you ordered? Eeeennnnh!!! Too bad, no vacay for you miss ‘it’s screaming through its artistic silence’ dillusionary. What good is a painting if you can’t use it for posters or book covers or all that other crap you seem to think will make you happy. You spend all this time complaining about how overworked you are and the first time you actually sit down an paint something, this is what you come up with??
And don’t even get me started on those SORRY ass folds you drew all over that naked woman. At least she looked good without the kimono, but lemme tell you, those are just pathetic threads, man. Why the hell didn’t you study clothing more? Why do you always study anatomy first?? Don’t you know about all the life studies you could be doing? Oh, but HELL no, you’re ‘tired’. You’re ‘burned out’. You’re ‘just wanting to relax after a hard day’s work because we’re in crunchmode at the office’ bullshit. Well, this is WHY you’re never going to be good at all those other fantasy artists you see in the books. How do you expect to retire off of children’s books or that newest stupid secret comic idea of yours if you don’t CONSTANTLY FRIGGIN’ WORK YOUR BUTT OFF!
*plops in the couch and a heavy sigh*
*puts face in hands and slowly spreads back hair with an breath of submission*
Sorry. I know you didn’t need to hear all that. I know I ride you too hard most of the time and all I do is get on your case about how you’re never living up to your own expectations. …it’s unfair. I know. …I know…
And I know I really get on your case after you finish a painting. Nothing is ever good enough for me, is it? I keep tearing up anything you ever do, telling you you’re better than this and never letting you enjoy finishing up anything, don’t I? Yeah… I know. I’m especially bad when it comes to not being able to produce paintings at a rate your peers seem to… completely disregarding the fact that their day job IS painting so obviously they have more time to spend on it. Really, you’re not slow. Probably average with these things. Hell, oil painters spend months on their painting. The fact you get them done in 35 hours isn’t that bad. You’re probably about average with your peers digitally, too, considering how much detail you put into stuff…
Alright. Fine. I’ll do this proper…
I do like the snow. I mean, I really like the snow. You actually impressed me there, girl. You never drew snow before and then just pulled that outta your hand and still made it feel cold and sound crunchy. You even have the little sparklies there down by her feet by the sunlight… that’s cool.
And them trees. They’re great. You usually bust your ass doing all that bark detail by hand and all them leaves… but you pulled all those trees off in a day and they turned out really well. Hell, you even figured out a way to do all those leaves in five minutes of scribbling. *chuckles* damn, if anyone found out how you figured out how easy to make them… you should patent it. Write up some smart-ass tutorial book and sell it in stores. …well, not that you should believe people’d buy it. They don’t buy your personal art posters, why should they buy a book…? but that’s a different matter. No need to get into it here.
Seriously, though, for trees, I’m impressed. You did some good figurin’ there. They actually work for being so simple too. And that light’s mighty nice. Kinda warm and cool at the same time. Really nailed a good winter morn there… or is it dusk? I can’t tell. Oh well, no matter.
That lady’s nice. I like how you did her. I mean, she was black and white and you tried that new technique for colorizing her and she actually turned out really well, which was surprising. Maybe a little plasticy, but you could fix that next time by just randomizing the colors a bit more for pores and stuff. Either way, it did turn out well, and it really was a good idea to get the values done first. Just like they’ve always told you… you just didn’t really believe it until now…
…but that kimono ahin’t your best, luv. You know it. I know it. Next time find ref, k? You got away with it this time, but it’s really the poorest part of the piece. I know you wanted to add a design to the kimono and I know you wanted to add all them ropes and metal carvings they have on the swords too like you see in all them pictures. S'okay. You were busy enough as it is and you couldn't delay your writer any longer. I know. Maybe you should do it later, but I understand if you don't want to get into the painting again. Sometimes things are best left as they are.
‘aight. Sorry for ruffin’ ya up earlier. I just have big plans for you, girl. Sometimes I get so set on gettin’ where we’re going that I don’t let you enjoy where ya are. S’okay. You’re young. You’re only 28. You’re not really far behind. I mean, you’re comparing yourself to 30 and 40 year olds. …it’s okay that you’re not on their level yet. Even if there is the occasional young upstart that makes you feel like you are twice the age at half the talent. Just keep learning, you’ll get there. Keep trying. Just don’t quit.
It ahin’t never too late to become the person you were meant to be. And regardless if I don’t tell you offen enough… I’m proud of ya. Now go take over the world.
This post has been edited by Merekat on Feb 1 2004, 04:58 AM