I have been drawing since before I can remember, literally since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Growing up, it was my main recreation. I taught myself to draw by making my own comic books on typing paper; it was great practice, drawing the same characters, objects, and settings in sequential multiples. It honed my story telling skills at the same time; story telling was really what was on my mind. That evolved later into Dungeons and Dragons play: I loved DMing for my friends. The themes were almost always sci-fi or fantasy.
That’s not a question I ever asked myself. I always knew I was going to be an artist. But Michael Whelan studied medicine before realizing his true calling.
Art is a passion, or it will kill you. Your love of art will have to sustain you during the lean times. That said, once you have paid your dues and built a following, it can be very rewarding personally, and possibly financially.
Does the phrase “starving artist” ring a bell?
A career in art is, I suspect, much like a career in any of the other arts. A certain tiny number will achieve fame and fortune, another few will achieve fame, but little fortune, others will find good jobs, if only somewhat satisfying, and very many will toil in obscurity until they give up or find something better.
I don’t mean that to be discouraging, but if you’re lazy, don’t be an artist. If you want to spend your weekends lounging around the pool, doing nothing, don’t be an artist. if you expect to graduate from college, land a terrific job and start kicking asses, don’t be an artist.
However, if you love to create things, if your primary means of entertainment for yourself was drawing pictures and/or story telling (D&D, making your own comics, writing short stories… anything that fired your imagination) then you may have what it takes. In fact, if you have all those qualities and don’t pursue art, you may spend the rest of your life wondering whether you had the chops, if you had missed your calling.
Talent is only part of the equation. There are many artists more talented than I who have failed and disappeared. I work my ass off. I go to conventions, I network with other artists and enjoy the company of people around the industry. I spend a lot of time in research (which I find enjoyable), put a lot of thought into every painting, and am always seeking to improve my craft. It’s a matter of desire. After 15 years in advertising, I HAD TO DO THIS. I started attending conventions in hopes of landing more enjoyable work, or I was going to hang up my brushes and get a real estate license. Art was and is my lifeblood. Creating is what I do. If you are the same way, then challenge yourself and study art. If you are just a guy who draws occasionally and thinks that art might be a good way to make some money, you’re on the wrong track.
Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss, and doors will open where you did not know there were doors”. It’s true, it worked for me. You need to ask yourself what you enjoy most. What gives you the greatest pleasure? What do you do when you have leisure time and want to entertain yourself? That’s where your greatest level of satisfaction in a career will be found. You will excel when you love your work. If art fires your imagination and inspires you, then follow that bliss.
Start with the basics. Don’t be self-taught if you can possibly help it. I’m largely self-taught, which means my teacher was an idiot. Education is the first line of assault. People think that art is entirely instinctive; it is, but only after years of concentrated study and observation. Art is as much “left-brain” as it is “right-brain”. Go to an art school or at least attend some art classes somewhere (local community colleges will sometimes have “continuing education” classes that are worth looking into) and get the basics. Find books on these subjects at your local art supply store or on the Internet.
Painting follows drawing sort of naturally. Drawing should be your first focus: think black and white, and concentrate on light and shadow, perspective, action, anatomy, volumes of shapes, and composition. I had had fifteen some years of such practice growing up before I ever picked up a brush. That doesn’t mean that it will necessarily take you that long (because I was two when I started), but you cannot make a good painting from a weak drawing.
Anatomy is essential in this genre and most others as well. Find and attend life-drawing sessions, and draw from a model. I would highly recommend Peck’s Atlas of Anatomy for Artists. It was the text we were required to buy for my art school anatomy class twenty+ years ago, and I still refer to it sometimes for a muscle insertion point or landmark.
Light and shadow is the most important cornerstone of good illustration, period. Painters have made good careers working entirely in monochromes, or painting with minimal color over a muted base. Few have made good careers painting well over lousy drawings. Again, find and attend life-drawing classes, sooner rather than later. Do it weekly. Draw at home. Draw your cat, draw your dog, draw your friends, draw yourself in a mirror, draw your table. Draw your feet. Whatever. But don’t draw the outlines or details. Squint at things, put them out of focus, and draw the masses you see. Draw them upside down. Draw them backwards. Study light. Take a vase (or a favorite dragon statue or a sandwich or a duck or whatever) and put it under a lamp. Draw it. Now move the lamp and draw it again, under different lighting conditions. Then take it outside and draw it. Study the changes. Observe the locations of the highlights and figure out why they are where they are. Do the same with the shadows. Feel the masses and volumes of the shapes you are drawing. Think about the entire volume of the object, even the far side (what my daughter, at the age of three, called the “pretend side” of the object).
Perspective impacts everything you see. Most beginners and children draw two-dimensionally; the bottom of the paper is the floor, people are always seen straight-on or in perfect profile. Look around and realize that in reality you see absolutely nothing that way. You can look at a person’s face straight on, but even the tops of their heads and their chins are starting to slip into perspective. Their feet certainly are as you look down at them. If you stand on a train track and look down, the rails seem parallel (and logically we know that, in space they are). But if you look left and then right, they converge on two separate vanishing points; where did they bend? Lines that are straight in space are likely to be curved in your field of view. Lazy ellipses are one of my pet peeves. If a foreshortened circle is off, it can take the viewer out of the illusion.
Composition is the arrangement of forms and shapes in a structure that moves the eye around and creates the illusion of life. I highly recommend the Principles of Design by Wucious Wong. While it is itself not entirely about composition, every painting will use the concepts he talks about. They are essential. It will open your eyes. I haven’t read his other book on color, but it would probably be worth picking up as well. There are certainly other books on composition that are geared more toward illustration. Your first concern with ANY piece, regardless of the amount of detail, should be gesture and form, and composition. The image that you will see if you look at it with your eyes squinted to a blur. The simple masses. A drawing or painting reads in stages: the first is just that: the simple masses. If that doesn’t draw the viewer in, then the detail is lost. Details are really dead last. You should draw in that order as you build an image. Simple shapes, gesture and form first, thinking about composition all the time. Anatomy, perspective and volumes resolved next. Details last, with first attention to the places where they matter most. You may not need them at all in lesser places (look at Frazetta’s work to see good examples of what I mean). You will be balancing and considering all the elements from the beginning, but move from large to small, from simple to complex or detailed.
Color complicates the decisions making process on a piece a thousand fold. Solve the dynamics of the drawing underneath first. More than anywhere else, trying to be self-taught in Color Theory will hurt you. You will miss out on some painstaking, tedious, and miserable– but invaluable– exercises. I remember doing a color wheel and a set of color gradations in Color Theory class. It was awful, but it cemented some knowledge firmly in my head. When you’re ready to tackle color, start by studying the art you like, at the museum, in art books, and online. The museum is especially good; observe the color choices and the subtle shadings. Skin tones never reproduce in a book the way that they look first hand, less so online. Study flesh tones particularly closely. Paint from reference whenever possible, and make sure it is good reference. Television, believe it or not, because it is made up of the colors of light rather than from pigment, is a great place to observe the placement of cool and warm tones in skin. Older people and babies, too, have exaggerated skin tones that make the observation easier at first.
wo words: Get Started.
It’s not something you can be casual about. If you are not passionate about pursuing a career in art, I can guarantee you that your competition will be. Study, draw, network, draw, paint, study, draw, visit museums, get schooling, draw, paint, and go to art shows. And draw.
I learned to draw by drawing from my head, observing everything around me. My guess is that you did too. At some point you realize that what’s in your head isn’t sharp enough. I do the gesture sketches to get the action and movement that I want, then shoot photos of models as close to that as I can get (without forcing them to do something unnatural) to provide details and nuance of light and shadow. There are artists who do everything out of their heads; Jeff Easley for one, but you can tell. He gets away with it because he has a real sense of action and a distinctive style. I don’t think most artists should try. I do it from time to time when the characters aren’t really big and the lighting is fairly straight forward, but I wouldn’t advise it until you’ve had a few years of figure-painting under your belt. Rick Berry is another, whose figures are amazing. I swear I thought he had a model that he used regularly… the guy just has an incredible understanding of form and texture, and the dynamics of light. I hate him. :o)
I also have an extensive “scrap” or “swipe” file that I’ve built up over the years. I kept every magazine that ever came by me, and eventually cut all the pics out and organized them by category. I seldom find exactly what I need, but I can always find enough stuff close to what I need– a sky, a texture of tree-trunk, stone formations– to fake it believably. Also ordered the Wildlife Fact Files from International Masters Publishers a few years back: every month they sent eight or so “Fact File Cards” with several photos each of different animal species. Right now it comprises over a thousand file cards, and is something I go to all the time to find a wing from the right angle, or a cat’s leg that will help me see muscle forms beneath, etc. Fashion magazines can be a great place to go for clothing inspiration or a good photo of a woman when you need something basic in a pinch. Swimsuit magazines can be good too: the poses are frequently less weird than in some venues. Porn mags– even soft-core, like Playboy– are almost never useful. Occasionally you can catch me watching haute couture on the Style Channel, just to see some outlandish, sexy costumes and get some ideas.
I use the mirror, too, all the time. Especially to check my artwork. It’s a good trick for catching yourself before you commit to a big mistake. When you see it backwards, you bypass your preconceived notions of what you are doing and see it as it is. Very useful. Also look at it upside down and sideways; especially good for checking balance and composition. Another good trick, which I got from a book called “Drawing From the Right Side of Your Brain”: an exercise, really. You take a magazine photo, any photo will do, and tack it up upside down. Then draw it upside down. Or draw it upside down, but reversed. Also draw with your left hand from time to time. I do this when I am stuck on something, and it just won’t look right. Set it aside, do these exercises, and come back to it. Bang! Nail it every time. It awakens that part of your brain that sees forms as they are, not as you have taught yourself that they are.
Do you have an art education? If not, get one. It needn’t be fancy or expensive, but it needs to accomplish some important things. The most important thing for this genre, at least as you start your education, is to get some basics right up front. Know your anatomy, understand the color wheel, light and shadow, perspective, and composition. Basic design matters an awful lot (Look at Brom’s work). Don’t think you can fake a human body unless you understand it inside out- literally. Most artists shouldn’t try to fake it ever.
Pay attention to everything, and I mean everything. Biology, anatomy, engineering, math, astronomy, meteorology, physics, religion, myth… It all comes into play at one time or another. Computers are changing everything, so it wouldn’t hurt to learn computer skills. More and more artwork is being done for computer games, and the applications are starting to get truly awesome. I suspect that 3D computer art will be the best market for years to come. A good concept artist is hard to come by, though, and all the computer shops need ’em. That said, you have to know your art skills, and never assume that you have anything down “well enough”. I can’t stress this enough, even if you intend to work mostly on computers. You can’t depend on computer applications to do your lighting and effects for you; you can’t tell when the computer is getting it wrong if you are letting it think for you. Learn what things really look like by painting or drawing them. You have to know your anatomy, composition, color theory… all the art school basics. Learn to draw before you start to paint; you can’t make a good painting from a bad drawing. Find an art school that teaches the basics and is serious about it. I’m afraid I don’t know of any myself- it’s been too long, and I went to a design school… I am my own teacher, which means that my teacher had no idea what he was doing most of the time…
A friend of mine had this to say about Art Schools once, when asked a similar question:
“…I’m not a big fan of ‘pure art’ schools ( School of Visual Arts, FIT, RISD, Ringling School of Art….), after teaching at two of them and being a practicing professional, I wonder where all the THOUSANDS of art students go each year after graduation. I am not exaggerating about that number either. With each passing year I have begun to appreciate the ‘liberal arts’ education I had partaken before, and the few classes I had, during my art training at Syracuse. Technique helps a lot, but having a brain that works on new ideas can carry you further. I am more a fan of apprenticeship with an established pro.
With that all said, I … recommend schools that are not purely art schools, so that the curriculum is structured for a more rounded education.
Syracuse and RISD (with the option to take classes at Brown University next door) are the only ones I am familiar with first hand. It’s a tough balance to strike because most schools have horrible art programs. I spent 6.5 years getting my bachelors, those extra 2.5 years of classes made a HUGE difference. The biggest factor in picking a school for art is not about the school, but whether the person wants to be an artist.”
It’s true: attitude is far more important than anything else. You must be willing to learn, *and never stop learning*. I have seen a lot of artists with sterling educations, who could not ignite any passion in their viewers. And I’ve seen artists with no formal training that could blow your doors off.
Then, go where the artists doing the work you want to do go to hang out. For science fiction and fantasy, that would be science fiction and fantasy conventions. Almost all of them have art shows, but some of the better ones are World Con, Dragon Con, Gen Con, and Luna Con (Search the web for more info on these). Network, get critiques, observe and learn. Attend the Artist Guest of Honor’s slide presentations. Talk to them. It will energize you and inspire you.
Never stop learning
First of all, the paper needs to be a high rag-content, very smooth drawing paper like a Beinfang marker and comp paper. Look for something with a very dense weave, so that the graphite goes on evenly. The paper is mounted firmly onto a stiff, PH neutral backing with Twin-Tac, an adhesive product that is sandwiched in between two layers of peel-off film. My drawing tools are a .05 mechanical pencil with only HB leads, a paper stomp, a jar of graphite powder, facial tissue (no lotion!), and an electric eraser. I draw only with HB leads because different hardnesses don’t always combine well. A very dark lead just doesn’t create the same color black as a medium lead, for example, even though the medium lead will give you an equally dark black. It will just stand out from the rest of the piece and look awkward. The mechanical pencils are always sharp, important for all those little details. To create those dark blacks, you do have to go over and over them several times, which is why the firm backing board and Twin-Tac is important; without a firm base, the paper will stretch and distort under the pressure and looked “bubbled”. The paper stomp is used to smear the graphite out and create the middle tones. I generally have more than one stomp that I use, saturated with graphite to varying degrees, and some harder or more pointed than others. For large areas, I use a tiny amount of powdered graphite and a tissue to create tone. A fairly dark value can be achieved just that way alone, though the blackest blacks will still require some time-consuming pencil work. The electric eraser is a Koh-I-Nor 2850c, rechargeable, sharpened to a fine point on an emery board or sandpaper Twin-Tacked down to a card. Use only the white, for-pencil eraser strips, as the pink will leave color behind in the paper. I use the sharpened eraser tip to pick out small highlights and generally clean things up in tiny areas. I work back and forth, adding and subtracting color with pencil, stomp, graphite, and eraser. Only when an area is finished do I fix it with spray fixative, as an area that has been fixed is difficult to work over, especially if you want a dark tone there. Because of that, I frequently find myself working from upper left to lower right once I have some darks established here and there for reference, and always cover the areas that I am not working on with clean paper so that I don’t smear it with my hand or get skin oils In the paper. When the piece is completely done, I spray it with retouch varnish lightly to add depth to the dark areas and make it all permanent.
I like to have a palette on hand of opaque and transparent colors, in a range that gives me warm and cool variants of each primary, plus a couple of secondary and tertiary colors.
WN (Winsor Newton, which I prefer in most cases) Cadmium Scarlet. Essential, but expensive. The good news is that cad reds are colors that you SHOULD treat like gold. Use them in tiny amounts, and only to affect other colors. Remember that a thing only really reveals its true color at that place where the surface is about to turn from light to shadow. Highlights take on the color of the light source, and shadows take on an opposite or environmental cast.
Indian Red, Terra Rosa, and/or Burnt Sienna. An earthy, essential red.
All the above are warm reds, for warm areas.
Alizarin Crimson, a cool, transparent red. Essential.
Titanium White, of course.
Grumbacher Yellow Ochre. One of the few Grum. Colors I prefer. WN Yellow Ochre is too brown for flesh tones.
Cadmium Green Light (and Cad Green med., to a lesser degree) Another expensive color, but one that is used in limited amounts to cool lit areas.
Raw Umber, and Raw Umber mixed with white. I actually bought some empty paint tubes, mixed up huge quantities of this color in two shades, and use them all the time. It’s the only true brown that I use at all often. Skin is not brown.
Cad Orange and/or Cad Yellow. Again, tiny amounts in highlights to warm them up. The whitest white in your flesh should have at least an iota of one of these colors in it for normal light situations. You might want a
Hansa Yellow for a cooler yellow occasionally. Most Cad Yellows have a little bit of red in them, so they don’t always mix well with green or blue.
Viridian. A cool green, and not so overpowering as a Thalo or Winsor. Makes nice shadows and pale flesh.
Ultramarine Blue. I am told. I use it about once a year in a flesh tone. What can I say? When I want a blue, I often mix green and purple (see below)
Dioxazine Purple mixed with white. Daniel Smith’s, a local art store, makes a color they call Carbazole Violet. Mixed with white, it makes a marvelous purple that blends well with everything because it is a very pure pigment. I use it a lot to adjust other colors. It can be nice in shadows of pale flesh. Mixed with most greens it makes a really nice blue.
Cerulean Blue is very nice in flesh tones, but it does not photograph or reproduce at all well. I had to stop using it. I use Daniel Smith’s Mediterranean Blue, which is essentially Thalo Blue and white.
Two transparent colors that I keep on hand because they combine well to glaze (adjust) flesh tones are Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Manganese Blue.
I think that covers my flesh palette more or less.
Colors to have (transparent colors with a ‘T’):
Warm red: Cadmiums are good
Earthy red: Terra Rosa or Burnt Sienna
Cool red: Alizarin Crimson (T)
Warm yellow: Cadmium
Cool yellow: Hansa Light is good
Indian Yellow (T) Great for glazes, but be warned that it takes forever to dry!
Cool Blue: Ultramarine (T), Cobalt
Warm Blue: Thalo (Pthalocyanine) (T)
Manganese Blue (T)
Warm Green: Cadmium Green Light (Cadmium Green Medium is occasionally nice too)
Cool Greens: Winsor Green (T) is cooler than the Cads, but is still fairly “hot” The nicest cool green is Viridian
Carbazole Purple (Dioxazine Purple) (T)
Earth tones to have:
Burnt Umber Raw Sienna
No black. Use Payne’s gray or Indigo instead.
This is close to what I am currently using most often, but it is constantly changing. I find new colors that I like, and new uses for old colors that I didn’t know they had. Plus, I am told by my friends at Daniel Smith’s, that the auto industry pretty much ordains which colors will be available. When a particular automotive color goes out of style and the pigment is no longer needed in quantity, the artist’s colors that depend on it can become too expensive to produce. One of the reasons I wanted to get away from acrylics a few years back was that so many of the best colors were substituted with something similar but ultimately far inferior. I suspect that I can blame the auto industry for that.
Tempered masonite, smooth both sides. It’s great to paint on just gessoed and sanded, but I don’t do that any more. I like masonite just because it is stable and doesn’t warp. these days I do my drawings up to size on vellum, and work out as much light/dark compositional stuff as I feel I need to before painting, keeping it pretty clean. then I take that to Kinko’s and use the document copier to xerox my drawing onto a big sheet of watercolor paper: L’Aquarelle, 90lb hot press. That’s about as heavy a paper as will go through the machine, but it works well. Then I fix the toner (which is basically black plastic melted into the paper, so very archival) with fixative, because the paper is thick enough that the toner doesn’t always adhere completely straight out of the machine. Then I slather some matte medium on my masonite. You want to cover the surface completely, but bear in mind that much of it will be rolled out shortly. Toss the watercolor paper with the drawing on it in a tub of water just long enough to let it absorb a little moisture. No more than a minute. I literally submerge it entirely and then remove it; just that quickly. Any longer and the paper begins to expand more in one direction than the other, which can distort the drawing a bit. This is really the most essential step. You have to soak it first, or it will absorb water from the matte medium, expand, and wrinkle. That’s where most folks go wrong mounting anything on board. You must give it a drink first. Then lay the drawing on the masonite, roll it out from the center outward with a rubber brayer, and let it dry. Two or three thin coats of matte medium later(the first of which can be applied when the mounting takes place) you are ready to paint.
I picked this up from Donato. He uses Crescent 500 drawing paper (if I remember right) rather than watercolor paper, but it is very hard for me to find in Washington in a big enough size. So I use the WC paper. It tends to expand more in one direction than the other, so I only leave it in the water a minimum amount of time- as I said, in and quickly out again.
A friend of mine paints on a brand of masonite called (I think) Duron, because it is archival, and comes in sizes larger than 4×8. I have never used it, though- it’s expensive and hard to find. He tells me that ordinary masonite will, over time, release oils that cause anything adhering to it to let go… so paintings will generally fall off in a hundred years or so (don’t know how they determined that, since Masonite hasn’t been around that long…). But if my WC paper falls off… who cares? The paper itself is archival.
I like to work this way because I HATE transferring drawings, and I am not willing to draw right on the board- too many changes; I erase a lot when I draw… This let’s me develop my drawing as far as I want, without losing anything in the transfer. I am almost literally painting on my drawing. Plus I have a nice drawing left over… :o)
This could be one or both of two things.
The first is the varnish and medium you choose. I may not the best person to ask on this subject – I’m still learning a lot of that myself – but here’s what I can tell you.
Your medium is what you mix with your paint to aid you in applying it or getting the look that you want. Preferences are as varied as styles. Many artists use linseed oil, others use stand oil. Many add varnish to their media. Some use nothing but thinner. Some add dryers to their paints, some don’t. Most all use some combination of media.
Linseed oil is the raw stuff. It’s less expensive than Stand Oil, but may yellow with time. Stand Oil is linseed oil that’s been heat-treated to prevent it (somehow) from yellowing. It is very thick and must be thinned. Commercial media are various oils prethinned to a nice consistency with thinner, and may have other ingredients added as well. Varnish is generally tree resins that are dissolved in thinner to varying degrees. I know artists who make their own medium using pure resins, stand oil, and thinner whose paintings have a beautiful, luminous quality. They are literally applying paint into varnish. (Donato is one such, and I would recommend that you visit his web site at http://www.donatoart.com).
Most commercial oil painters use one kind of dryer or another. The two I have had experience with are Liquin (a brand name for an alkyd based dryer) and cobalt dryer. I am told that Liquin is an archival medium, meaning it won’t degrade the life-expectancy of your paints. Cobalt dryers will, however, especially if too much is used.. Cobalt dryer is a thin, purplish liquid that is added in tiny, tiny amounts to other media. It is extremely carcinogenic and must be handled with care, but the tiniest little bit of it will dry paints quickly. Too much can actually cause them to crackle. Liquin is a thickish (some say snot-like) liquid that can be used as a medium in it’s own right, which I have done. A little bit mixed into a color will thin it, and guarantee that it will be dry tomorrow as well. It is useful for glazing, too. Adding cobalt to Liquin would be silly, of course. :o)
You can paint just with thinner, but the stuff is hard on paint. It will destroy the binder– the oil– if the color is thinned a lot, and the painting will look dull, grey, and lifeless when it dries. It can be revived after it dries with a thin coat of Liquin or other media, or with a shot of Retouch Varnish.
Oil paints take a year or more to “cure” completely, and so it is generally advised that you NOT varnish them for a year. The exception is Retouch Varnish, which is formulated a little differently so as to allow the painting to breathe through the finish. It can bring the color in a dull area back up. It is nasty to paint over, however, and I don’t do it any more, even though the literature on the can suggests that that is what it is for. Liquin can be a good varnish, thinned, if you want a matte finish on your paintings. A matte finish is best for reproduction, though I have to admit that Donato’s shiny masterpieces have an amazing presence.
I have been using Grumbacher Painting Medium 1 lately, but only because I found it kicking about. I like it well enough. It’s convenient, which is the main advantage of commercial mediums. Making your own is certainly more work, but gives you more control in the end. I also use Liquin fairly regularly. The basic approach for me is to lay down an initial glaze of color in an area which contains liquin in it. Then I paint into the glaze. The colors will pick up enough of the Liquin as I blend and move them about to dry them by the next morning. I have watched Donato demo, and he does the same thing, but with his varnish medium. You can add the dryer directly to your colors on the palette, but it will cause them to dry out quickly, and can make for trouble when you discover that you forgot to add dryer to that important section that HAD to be dry today.
Even oil paints can start to “set” quickly on your pallet. Within a couple of days, they can become sticky and stiff, losing the buttery quality that make s them so nice. Earth tones and Titanium White contain mineral salts that make them particularly notorious for this. It can be a good thing when, for example, you are doing an Umber underpainting that needs to be dry tomorrow. But if you have a mixed color containing an earthtone that you may need for several days, it can be terribly inconvenient. A good trick is to add a very tiny amount of Clove Oil (available at your local Health Food Store) to the pigment on your pallet. I will put two or three drops down in a corner, then touch the back of a pallet knife to it to get less-than-a-drop to mix into each dollop of paint. It slows the oxidization of the paint and allows it to stay “open” much longer. Just be sure to add your driers when you paint!
Finally, if you absolutely have to have a painting dry fast, you can put it in your oven. If it will fit (I have had to pull all the racks out and fit the painting in on the diagonal), preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then TURN THE OVEN OFF and put the painting in for an hour (believe me, you do NOT want the oven on while your painting is in it. Don’t ask how I know). If you paint thinly, like I do, that is ample time. I wouldn’t try it with a thick impasto technique, however; it might cause the paint to shrink and crack. Be warned, too, that it will gray the binder in the paint, causing the painting to look dull when you pull it out. It will need a coat of Liquin glaze or a shot of retouch Varnish to revitalize it, so this is not a solution that will enable you to throw the piece in a crate and mail it immediately!
The second thing you may want to look at is your process of laying down color. Perhaps your colors look lifeless because you are painting directly onto a white canvas or ground. Don’t do that. Always put down an underpainting, so called because it is intended to be painted over. There are many ways to approach this – it fills volumes. But to put it most simply, paint over color, not over white. Try putting a brighter or richer version of the final color underneath, that will show through the thin layers of color on top and invigorate them. Try complimentary colors underneath – this works especially well in skies. If you look at Angel of Light or Not Quite Scaramouche, you can see pinks and yellows peeking through the blues. Many artists start with a neutral beige or tan color before they do the “cartoon” (the cartoon is the first simple drawing in paint that blocks in the masses and defines the forms. Back when funny papers were new, painters derided them as “mere cartoons”… and the name stuck!) You can often get the most brilliant greens by laying a glaze of a transparent yellow, like Indian Yellow, over a blue field. Removing color to reveal the color beneath can be more effective than painting in opaquely. Experiment!
I primarily use Corel Painter 9. I didn’t like Painter 7 or Painter 8; Painter 9 has addressed all my complaints with those. I use a little bit of Photoshop, mostly at the very beginning and at the very end of a painting. Photoshop was never meant to be a painting tool, and I don’t like it, though Sam and I did all our color work for the Monster Manual (pre-Painter) in Photoshop. Painter makes much better use of the Intuous brush’s capabilities than Photoshop does, for one thing, and Painter has a really wonderful palette system that makes it easy to customize the workspace. I wish Photoshop would adopt a color-picker like the one in Painter. I work on a Mac with dual 2.5Ghz processors, using a Wacom tablet and Intuous styluses.
To be honest, I don’t think I would do well in Painter if I hadn’t learned to paint traditionally first. Also, I believe there is a tendency for young artists to think that computer programs will solve their problems for them, but you still have to learn how to see, and you still have to know what makes a good painting. Texture is only the skin of the beast; you have to build the skeleton and the muscle, and supply the movement and life, from a base of knowledge. If you don’t have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of art, Painter won’t help you.
Poser is one program that drives me nuts. I can spot a Poser figure 99 times out of a hundred. The joints are wrong the skin tones artificial and the essence of life is usually absent. Some artists use Poser as a shortcut successfully, but most artists worth the title don’t need it because they start from a foundation of knowledge.
That said, there are 3D programs I would like to learn, to give me a starting point for complex landscapes, especially architectural scenes. And I’m always interested in learning new things.
The short answer: inasmuch as it is created by the artist as a means of fulfilling his personal vision, of course it is art. To the degree that it relies on pre-created routines or filters from the factory, however, it may also fail to fulfill artistic vision.
Art is the translation of an inner vision and understanding from the artist’s mind to yours. That’s why media are called media. Precisely, according to Webster’s dictionary, as derived from the word medium, media is “1: something in a middle position” and “2: a means of effecting or conveying something (3) : a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) GO-BETWEEN, INTERMEDIARY”
Art is not a product. Art is communication. Good art conveys many things – a picture is worth a thousand words, remember – it gives you a glimpse into the inner workings of the artist’s mind. In the past, great art also produced a product, a painting, that is true. But bad art also produced a product. What made the better art outstanding was not the board it was painted on or the type of paint that was used, but the message it conveyed.
The art happens between minds, the artists and yours. The mere existence of paint on canvas or pixel on monitor does not create art. It is the communication which makes it so. Is music not art? Could you hang Louis Armstrong’s trumpet on your wall and say that you owned “What a Wonderful World”? Of course not. Without Louis playing and you listening, there was no art. With music, the communication only happens for as long as sound waves move in the air. The air is the media. With a painting, there is still potential for communication even when the painting sits alone in a darkened room, but the essence is the same: without two minds, creator and audience, there is no art. A recorded song, a painting in a dark room, a file on a disc; all have the same potential to do their magic again and again and again.
The question has arisen with every new medium to come along. The artistic value of photography was questioned because, apart from the negative, there was no “original”. Time has demonstrated that photography is absolutely art, even though every viewing of every photo ever taken is a recreation, not an “original”. The airbrush was given a sneer when it was introduced, but there are many modern masters who use the airbrush to create amazing images – Michael Whelan, for one. When the medium is used well and the vision is successfully transferred, the tool used becomes unimportant – even invisible.
If you want to argue the relative value of an oil painting over a digital file, that is another question. An original oil painting, viewed in ideal circumstances, can say quite a bit more than a reproduction of it, because you can see the brushstrokes, examine the layers, and see even more deeply into the mind of the artist. But the same might be said of looking at one of my digital paintings on screen, at the over-large size that I painted it, as opposed to a reproduction of it as a print; you can see every digital brushstroke and examine my process. The only difference is that you cannot hang my file on your wall. But then, you couldn’t hang one of my oil paintings in your monitor, either, could you? :o)
It is image, not surface, that matter. The real danger in digital art is the proliferation of short-cuts available, a virtual library of “clip-art” resources that offer quick means to an end, but which stunt the growth of the artist’s vision. These resources are also a big part of the problem many people have with calling digital art Art – the recognition that too many are simply reproducing something that they bought in a box. Most Photoshop “collage” style paintings look like any other. The hand of the artist has been replaced by a computer filter which is identical from machine to machine. Some will rise above that challenge, like Rick Berry. But Rick Berry was an outstanding painter long before he put pixels to work.
I am on record as being opposed to Poser as a substitute for knowing your anatomy. I can spot a Poser figure instantly, because the application takes shortcuts of its own; the knuckles and arm joints are never quite right, the skin folds and stretches wrong, and facial expressions are difficult. Worse, every artist who uses Poser as a crutch will make all of Poser’s mistakes the same way. Granted, the same was once said of artists who used photography as reference material, rather than hiring and posing a model. And Poser improves constantly, so one day I may be forced to eat those words. But let me ask you this: without Poser, can you still draw a solid, human figure? I never trace a photo, but rather use photographic reference to flesh out a figure I’ve already posed, whose gesture I’ve already established. Poser is a shortcut, and a poor substitute for an internalized understanding, or gestalt, of the subject. For that reason, I encourage most aspiring artists to learn to paint traditionally before they try their hands at digital expression.
It has been said that an artist spends the first ten years of their career mastering their media, and the rest of their lives creating art. That may be true. But recognize that part of the media you are mastering is your understanding of the basics of art; the underlying principles of light and perspective, form and volume, composition and design. These have to be internalized. Over-reliance on prepared computer models can shortchange that very important part of your education, just as many artists who rely heavily on traced pictures cannot draw out of their heads, and it shows when they have to invent something that cannot be photographed.
Every outstanding computer artist I know, whether they are working in 2D or as part of a movie-special-effects team, know their stuff inside out. Literally. They are all artists in many other ways. It is their personal knowledge of their image that makes them artists. It is the communication of their knowledge that makes it art.
Your portfolio is your most important sales tool, but it is not the only one.
Attend sci-fi/fantasy/horror conventions! That is the most important step you can take. BE WHERE THE PROS ARE. The key here is inspiration and intimidation. Your stiffest competition will be at those shows displaying their work. If you are not committed to the idea of being better than they are, than bag it now. Perhaps you will never achieve that end, but you will improve in the effort a great deal. At the same time, you will be inspired, make friends in the industry, get critiques, make connections that may prove invaluable. I would not be in this business today if I had not attended a convention in Winnipeg, of all places, in the summer of ’94.Get critiques from the pros there. Many will be very helpful. Visit the booths of the d20 companies with your portfolio. Some of these smaller companies will be willing to try out a newcomer. They won’t pay as well, but it could be a good foot in the door, and the work will sharpen your skills. You can also find them at http://www.rpgnet.com/
A good portfolio should be a solid collection of your very best twelve-twenty pieces, showing some cover work, some interior-level black and white and color pieces, and some concept work. If your computer skills are good, show that too. It can’t hurt to burn CDs of your portfolio (as jpegs) to leave with art directors, but printouts are far better. Art buyers don’t have a lot of time to spare to look at portfolios; you have to make it easy for them. Put hardcopy in their hands, and they will be far more likely to look at it than if they have to load it into a computer and manipulate it. You can create pages of four to six of your images each to conserve paper. Make them clean and professional. Don’t try too hard to be clever or artsy with your presentation, because if the art isn’t up to snuff, it will just cheapen the presentation and turn art directors off. And don’t make them work to open it with fancy tied bindings or make it difficult to store by putting sculptures on the cover and such. It might get their attention, but in the end, the art inside is the only thing that matters.
Don’t think that breasts alone will sell your portfolio. Believe me, WotC gets dozens of portfolios every week from aspiring fantasy artists. It seems that the amount of cleavage is in reverse proportion to talent. The least talented will display the most nipples. The keys to success in fantasy gaming art are action– observe how things move and balance; story; and believability– know your anatomy inside out, use good reference, etc.. there’s more on that elsewhere in my FAQ. They want to see good art, not great bodies. Study the work of NC Wyeth if you want to see great storytelling in art. He was one of the very best.
The most important thing to do when you do find work in this field is MEET YOUR DEADLINES. This market is flooded with aspirants. And why not? This is the fun stuff. It is what everybody wants to do. You will need every edge you can deploy. While you are working on your skills in art, be sure to attend your skills as a businessman. Meet deadlines, don’t whine to your art director (however idiotic they might be), start every project early so that you can invest as much time in it as it needs. As your skills improve, things will move faster, but in the beginning, don’t ever think you can slide by. Actually, don’t EVER think that. :o) There are long-established, big name artists who have trouble getting cover work these days because they can’t seem to come within three months of a deadline. Send a professional looking invoice with the artwork, or as soon after as you can manage. Follow up in thirty days if you still haven’t been paid. Answer your phone cheerfully, all that mundane stuff. If you are having fun, of course, it will be easy.
If it looks like a deadline is getting or going to get away from you, call your art director immediately. They will appreciate fair warning much more than a late painting without explanation. Remember always: the art director is the guy who gives you the work. Make the art director happy. When even a good artist blows deadlines continually, making excuses, or calling consistently to beg for more time, they will burn out their welcome. Be professional! I have seen artists– really good artists– go down in flames for this reason above all others. There are some mediocre-to-middling artists who make fair livings because they are consistent.
Pitfalls? Never take work “on spec”. Some start-ups will ask you to do art for them for nothing, with a promise that you will be paid when the project pans out. They seldom do. Unless you have good reason to know that these people are sincere, assume that they are fly-by-night, half-assed wannabes who will disappear shortly. You will probably be right. That said, don’t be afraid to do a “test” piece for a reputable company if it will show them that you can take direction. Wizards’ Art Directors will occasional ask an untested newcomer to do just that, before they trust them with their own deadlines.
It’s fantasy and sci-fi, my two favorite things to visualize, besides myth, babes, skies… I have a lot of fun, because I am inventing things no one has ever seen before, things that can’t be photographed and then manipulated in Photoshop. I get to explore my own inner workings while I’m making a living. It’s very gratifying work. I played D&D for almost twenty years before coming to this job, so it is like play. Almost.
I do! Send them along with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope
If you want any modifications, please ask. I don’t really have time to do paintovers, however. I won’t charge you, but tips are welcomed!