Monday, March 31, 2008

It looks better with that thing around it.

I must admit, it's pretty cool to have fans, especially when they decide to buy your artwork and display it on a wall like it was "real" art. At home, I keep most of my art under wraps — except for what I'm currently working on (and the occasional piece that's just too big to hide).

These are some pics from a trip to the home of James Santangelo, whom I came to know over the last few years through the Big Apple Con. I knew he was a serious fan when his girlfriend, Kate, made him a T-Shirt featuring a Spider-Man painting on it that he had commissioned from me... and then he wore it to the con to see me.

Said commission is the framed piece to the left of the pages from Mythos: Spider-Man. Such things will you find in "Paolo's Corner" of the Spider-Man room.

As you can see, he's a pretty dedicated collector... and my art seems to be in good company.

Wednesday: More Wackiness

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reinstein Head Studies

I like to make maquettes for all the major characters that I need to paint for my comics. But what if a character only shows up on a few pages? I don't really have time to sculpt a head for everyone, but I still want to make sure they look consistent for the few pages on which they appear.

In the olden days, I used to try and get models (usually friends and family) to pose for me, but this has its obvious limits. Now, I like to "design" faces to my exact specifications and work out all the proportions on a character sheet. I've only started doing this fairly recently, but I find it to be a great help. I begin with a pencil sketch of all the angles and expressions I want, then paint it at my leisure. It's a great way to warm up for a day of painting since it helps me focus, motivates me, and is something that will benefit the larger project at hand.

With Mythos, the series of Marvel Comics origin stories, one of the recurring challenges is bringing well-known comic book characters into the world of reflected light. I often have a pretty solid idea of what these characters should look like in my mind's eye, but that doesn't always translate easily into paint.

Pictured above is Jack Kirby's drawing of Dr. Reinstein (also known as Erskine), the scientist responsible for creating Captain America. I gleaned what I could from his drawings, trying to capture the essence of the character's manner and expression. Because of the difference in visual language, it's a translation that can never be exact.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 3

Oh man, we've got a real winner this week.

So what happens if you're a mom whose grown son is a total nerd who couldn't get a date to save his second life? Why, you indulge his every whim and sew a shiny, vaguely sexual face-mask because he needs it "for reference!" Thanks again, Mom!

And what better backdrop than my Brooklyn kitchen? If you look very closely, you can even see a 3D Space Shuttle Discovery in the Magic Eye Poster on my refrigerator. And as if all that wasn't enough, just look at my Wolverine T-shirt. And wait... are those... yes, they are: socks with flip-flops. Man, oh man. I'm so sorry, Mom.

I really did have a good reason for these photos... I shall post them tomorrow.

Also, everyone should check out Joe Quinones' first published story for DC, Teen Titans #53, which comes out today. Joe and I have known each other since RISD and it's about time they started publishing his work!


Friday: I don't know yet.

Monday, March 24, 2008


The rage of Achilles is one of the major themes for the Iliad, so I figured it should probably be the subject for at least one of the covers. I chose the scene in which Hephaestus burns the river god Scamander into submission so that Achilles may continue his rampage. It was basically an excuse to paint Achilles engulfed in flames, but at least there's an attempt at storytelling. I just finished the eighth and final cover to the series which I shall post in about a month.

I began the cover, as usual, with a digital color study. In this case, I didn't have the final design for Achilles' new armor, so I just used a generic one. However, once I got the design and began to paint, I received a revised design that was completely different. I was almost done by this point and convinced them to just go with it. Thank goodness.

Also, I had originally intended his crest to be limp with water, implying that he had just been soaked by an angry river god, but my editors said it probably wouldn't have fallen over so easily.

On my drawing board right now is the cover to The Twelve #7. I can't show that yet, so here is #6 in the meantime... yet another excuse to draw an angry man with crazy lighting. And for those of you who were paying attention, this is the result of last week's Wacky Reference Wednesday.

Same story as above... just a digital color study for the benefit of me and my editors. One item of note is the fact that I removed the wooden slats from the composition. When I researched images of mines on-line, it looked as though the cart tracks didn't have the same construction as their larger counterparts, the railroads. I kind of liked the wood... oh well.

Wednesday: More Wacky Reference

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Johnny Blaze

This is the alter ego (and less incendiary half) of Ghost Rider. I sculpted this maquette during the summer of 2006, in preparation for Mythos: Ghost Rider. I wanted to faithfully reproduce the look of the original 70's comic, so much of my inspiration, including Johnny's likeness, came from Mike Ploog's drawings. There was a heroic male archetype of that period that I wanted to capture — more gaunt than current tastes (of course, this will all cycle around again). Also, I really wanted to sculpt a face whose underlying structure was just "burning" to get out. I can't believe I'm writing like this.

Anywho, the head is less than an inch high and is fairly roughly hewn. I have since painted it a flat gray (Acryla Gouache Neutral Gray No. 3.), but it was originally bare Super Sculpey.

From this angle, it looks to me a bit like Owen Wilson. I had no intention of this at the time. In fact, if I was looking at anyone, it was Michael Beck from The Warriors.

Monday: New Covers

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 2

Here's a more recent reference photo for today's edition. What could this possibly be used for?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mythos: Ghost Rider, the Maquettes

I'm running a little behind this week, so better photos will have to wait until Friday. Here are some old photos from around the time that I made these maquettes in 2006. First up is the Ghost Rider skull, which has a fully-articulated jaw. I don't normally incorporate moving parts into my sculpture, but I just couldn't help myself for this one. This shot was taken before I had sculpted the mandible, so the galvanized steel wire armature can still be seen. The entire head is less than an inch high.

And you may recognize this attractive mechanic from last week. The maquette would be roughly the same size as the skull if it weren't for her voluminous hair. Both were sculpted in Super Sculpey, an uncomfortable, peachy-flesh hue, around a wire armature. While I still have lots of Super Sculpey, I have since switched to Super Sculpey Firm, a tougher compound that accepts more detail and is flat gray. In addition, I've gone back to my older maquettes and painted them a similar gray, which makes them easier to see and photograph.

Wednesday: Wacky Reference

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Move Back to Color, part 3

This is page 5 from Mythos: Ghost Rider, featuring the lovely and loyal Roxanne Simpson. Would you stick by your man even after he's made a deal with the devil? Don't answer that. Anyway, by this point in the series I had a pretty good grasp of using all the colors available to me through Acryla Gouache and was happy with the results. Again, this book was painted on bristol board at 8.5" X 12" and was to be the last one at that size.

Here's a progress pic showing most of the page finished. It looks like I wasn't into doing underpaintings at that time, but I remember starting to towards the end of the series. It may seem like a superfluous step, but it often saves me time in the long run because it's much easier to correct monochromatic mistakes.

This is a 4" x 6" color study on a print of the finished pencils. It's printed on a 5" x 7" piece of watercolor paper which was fed, sometimes with difficulty, through my printer. This stage eventually got cut out because of time constraints, but it was fun while it lasted.

The finished pencils. I like her face a whole lot better at this stage, but I the final was acceptable and I went with it.

The digital color study. You can see that I shrunk most of the figures in the second panel. I always plan for the word balloons, but I rarely leave enough space initially. Other than that, it's pretty close to the final piece.

And the initial layout sketch. If you've been reading my other posts, then you'll see that I've been working this way for quite some time — almost since the beginning of working for Marvel. For me, it's nice to have a fixed set of steps on the way to a final piece. It gives me a tiny sense of accomplishment after each completion, which gives me momentum for the next stage. It's also a matter of "divide and conquer," which keeps me from being overwhelmed at the outset.

Monday: Ghost Rider Maquettes

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 1

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Wacky Reference Wednesdays, a weekly feature in which I will display some of the awesome photos taken in the name of painted comic books. I will not immediately divulge the purpose of the photo, but may reveal more in the comments section. Enjoy (if you can)...


And here's the ultimate result of the above reference... the last panel of page 2 from Mythos: X-Men, in which Magneto has just removed all the iron from this poor man's blood.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Move Back to Color, part 2

This is the cover to Mythos: Ghost Rider that actually saw print. It's painted in Acryla Gouache on 16" x 24" masonite. The first one that I painted got solicited, but I just wasn't happy with it... so I painted a new one. What follows is all the steps I went through to paint the one that I eventually canned.

This was the original cover and is painted (like the rest of the book) on 8.5" x 12" bristol board. It was going to be my first finished piece in full-color Acryla Gouache. I donated the original artwork to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, which has displayed it on several occasions. While it's passable as a cover, I wasn't happy with the color of the piece or the gesture of the figure.

In order to get a better handle on my new medium, I did a small color study over a 4" x 6" print of the finished pencils. I continued to do this for a few more pages, but each became less finished until I stopped doing them altogether. While a great help in honing in on the the right color, the studies simply took too long and I began painting right on top of my digital color studies to match the color.

This is the finished pencil drawing. I think it's where I killed the gesture I had previously achieved in my layout sketch, pictured below. This is often a problem for me as I try to "correct" a loose sketch by tightening up perspective, proportion, and stray marks.

The aforementioned digital color study...

... and the layout sketch. In the second version of the painting, I tried to capture this gesture again with a small degree of success. By that time, I had finished the entire book and had enough experience to handle the paint in a confident manner. The differences between the covers are not great, but subtlety is not subtle at all when dealing with human perception. The smallest physical change can make a huge psychological impact. Of course, I probably spend too much time and brian power worrying about this kind of thing.

Before I go, here's a bonus image from a very long time ago... back when I was dreaming of the series as a whole and charting out the overall look. It was a very quick sketch done entirely in Photoshop.

This Wednesday: the first ever Wacky Reference Wednesday

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Sta-Wet Palette

So this is the Sta-Wet Palette — the "Handy Palette" to be exact, which is the smallest of the series (at 8.5" x 7"). I actually own the larger 12" x 16" model, but it's just too big for what I do. I like to hold the palette in my hand while I paint and most of my desk real estate is overwhelmed with reference. Also, in order to save time, I try to do as little color mixing as possible and the palette's size physically restricts the amount of mixtures I can produce. I often work semi-transparently and don't need to pre-mix every value since a lighter one can be achieved through the addition of water.

The palette consists of a flat box with a lid that forms a seal. It's by no means airtight, but it does the trick (most of the day the lid is off anyway). There is a sponge saturated with water that rests underneath a semi-permeable sheet of paper. I usually employ 2 sheets at a time with a third kept wet underneath the sponge for future use. The paper must be "prepared" by soaking in hot water for at least 15 minutes. It's easy to tell when it's ready because it becomes translucent. This is one of the reasons for using 2 sheets at a time. The sponge underneath is bright yellow and will alter your color perception if you can see it. The other reason for using 2 sheets is simply for durability. I spend all day scraping at it with a small, steel palette knife and it's nice to have something a little more substantial to work against.

At the beginning of each day, I attach a small container of water to the tab on the right with a bit of kneaded eraser (in this case a pump spray cap). I thoroughly soak the sponge, then pour out all the excess water. This usually provides enough moisture for a full day of painting. At the end of the day, I rinse the sponge and squeeze it dry, then seal it in the box with the paper on top. It can keep the paints fresh for days.

You may notice small triangles in the picture above. These are cut pieces of bristol board that act as a buffer for certain paints that have a tendency to absorb water too quickly, leaving you with a diluted wash that flows around your palette. I tend to have this problem with the grays, the browns, and the light colors including white. The paints that look the driest above are actually regular gouache, which will solidify on the palette, but can always be reactivated with additional water.

That pretty much covers the basic workings. I'll write more about my approach to color and its arrangement in a future post.

Monday: The Move Back to Color, Part 2

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Captain America, The Last Mythos

I have some bittersweet news to report today: I am currently working on the last Mythos book.

I have been working on this series for over 3 years now, so I am happy to see the finish line up ahead, but I am also a little disappointed about not having a crack at Iron Man and Daredevil. Overall, I'm happy about it and extremely excited to look towards the next stage in my career. I've even spoken to Marvel about trying my hand at penciling, inking, and coloring.

The reasons behind this essentially boil down to my speed. Marvel would like to see more work from me on a regular basis (and I sure wouldn't argue with getting paid more often). Beyond that, Mythos hasn't been the blockbuster they were hoping for and they would like to see me on "higher profile projects."

As for Cap, the book was solicited for this month, but I am only at the halfway point. Once my exclusive contract ended back in January and I learned of the cancellation of the series, then I asked for more time to do it right (and took on some cover work as well). The last book, Fantastic Four, was a little rushed and I wanted to make sure Cap got his due. The release date has been moved to June.

I apologize to any fans who had their heart set on seeing Iron Man and Daredevil. Maybe some day. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has supported the book. You guys are the ones who allow me to do what I love for a living.

Friday: The Sta-Wet Palette

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Move Back to Color, part 1

For the next few posts, I'm going to focus on my move back to full color paint after the experiment that was Mythos: Hulk. I finished that book in June of 2006 and took somewhat of a break as I waited for the next script. I had grown fairly comfortable with Acryla Gouache, my new medium, but was yearning to return to color work, even if it slowed me down again. What always took the most time for me was color mixing, so I needed a more efficient way to do that with acrylics.

One day in the NOHO Dick Blick store, I came across the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette. I had seen these for years, never had a use for it, but always thought it was a good idea. I was wrong — it was a brilliant idea. I bought the 8.5" x 7" Handy Palette and got to work (by that time, I had also purchased a full color set of Acyrla Gouache). The first thing I painted was the character page for Ghost Rider, the next subject in the Mythos series, pictured at top.

And just for good measure, here's the character page before paints. I stuck with the same size and surface as with the Hulk, 8.5" x 12" Strathmore Series 500 Bristol Board, 3 or 4 ply, vellum finish. I cut these pages down from the larger sheets, a sometimes trying process, as my former intern will tell you.

Next Post: More on the Palette and how I use it