Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday (?) to Me

Today, I turn 10,000 days old. I never thought I would've made it, yet here I am. And yes, I counted leap years... and you can too. I'm celebrating by sharing this pin-up I did for a friend of mine in my "new" style. I used watercolors to paint it, which worked surprisingly well over inks.

While we're celebrating in general, we should also wish my parents happy birthdays, both of whom turned 20,000 days old earlier this year. If you've ever been curious about my Mom (and I know I have) then you should check out her blog, COLOR informal. And if you're feeling particularly voyeuristic today, then you should take a photo tour of the Florida house I grew up in. My Mom took some great photos that reveal what a freakishly crafty family I come from.

Upon looking up the exact meaning of "rend" I decided to change it to "bend" which makes much more sense. I love white out.

Have a great weekend everyone! I'm going rafting!

Mythos: Cap, Step by Step, Part 3

More painting! I'm in the thick of it here, just going from panel to panel and covering up the white of the paper.

The last two panels are more complicated and thus require an extra step: underpainting. This is done in a dark grey gouache (Holbein's Grey No. 3 to be exact) and is treated like watercolor, meaning a range of values is achieved through the modulation of water content. This stage will act as the infrastructure onto which I will add color later on.

You can also see some of the reference that goes into a panel like this. If I can't draw something convincingly, then I usually find reference for it.

Here I am neglecting the venetian blinds in the fifth panel. Moving right along...

This is my big secret from the last panel. Since the next scene takes place over 4 pages, I went ahead and constructed the setting in Sketchup. This made staging and composition much easier, not to mention perspective. It's made out of very basic shapes, then populated with imported objects from Sketchup's 3D warehouse.

This is an amazing resource, but please, please, please, use it with care. Without a solid foundation in good ol' pencil and ruler perspective, 3D programs can lead to unnatural distortions that look out of place in a drawing.

Next week: Finishing up.

Update: Part 4

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 16

Joe Quinones told me that I need to take Wacky Reference Wednesdays to the next level. He says that I've been holding back to preserve my own sense of dignity... that I'm not willing to risk it all for a cheap laugh. Well, no longer.

Yes, I am wearing pants.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Exclusive, Again

Happy Monday! I'm running a little behind, so no step-by-step today, but I've got other news. This past weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con, it was officially announced that I have re-upped (is that a word?) with Marvel Comics. My 3-year contract ended earlier this year, but we both agreed that I've got plenty more to do. I started freelancing for them back in 2002, just before my senior year at RISD, and have been happy since.

But that's not all. As I've been hinting at the past few weeks, I will no longer be painting sequential art. I'll still be painting covers, but my comic work will be black and white with digital color. The hope is that I will be able to produce pages on a more regular basis, thus allowing me to work on bigger stories.

Pictured above is my first cover in the "new" style. I will also be doing the interiors, though I'll leave the coloring up to others for the time being. Have you guys heard of The Amazing Spider-Man?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mythos: Cap, Step by Step, Part 2

At the end of the last post, we were left with a fully executed penciled page, but with no color. Today we will look at the process of painting that page, panel by panel. In this case, I decided to start with panel 2. Who doesn't like airplanes?

Surrounding the panel, you can see the pertinent reference as well as a paper scrap covered in paint. The scrap is used to gauge the feel of the paint on my brush and is more important than most might guess. It acts as a testing ground that allows for more predictable results on the actual painting. This is where I decide whether I need more water, if I'm using the right color, or even if the brush is in good form. Below that is a printout of my digital color study. I often use this in the same way, painting right on the print to ascertain color relationships.

Because the scene is not complicated, I dive right into painting in full color. As you will see next week in the last two panels, I sometimes wait until I've completed a monochromatic underpainting.

I don't really have a strict method of attack. I just paint whatever grabs me at the moment. However, the main reason I can do this is because the creative color work has already been done in the color study. I'm simply filling in shapes at this point.

I should also mention what I'm using. The palette in the first photo is the Sta-Wet Pallete, which I have posted about previously. My main brushes are the Winsor and Newton Series 7 watercolor brushes, sizes 2 and 6. I sometimes use a bristle filbert brush for larger areas. I have many different sizes and brands for this, so I just go for whatever feels right. The only way to get that feeling is to experiment.

I get almost all of my reference from the internet. A quick Google image search finds most of what I need, but sometimes I check various stock photo sites if I need something specific. One of the "photos" among the group is actually a screen shot from Google Earth, which I often use to compose relatively accurate portrayals of geography. I wanted to show the Washington Monument in the background, since I thought it would be the only recognizable architecture from the air (in a panel with limited space). I happened upon one photo of a dirigible in that area which revealed that one of the bridges I was about to paint didn't exist in 1940.

Most often, reference is used to ascertain the structure of specific objects or settings. For most of my figures, I tend to use myself, my friends, and my (trained) imagination. Everyone is too well connected these days to try and swipe a pose from an existing photograph. That being said, People have been drawing people for thousands of years, so I'm not too critical if I see similar takes.

Here, I had my girlfriend pose for me. She looks nothing like the character I ended up with, which was based on the Jack Kirby art from the origin. The point is to glean. When I look at reference, I don't blindly copy it. Rather, I use it to more fully understand the subject of my drawing or painting. In this case, I took the lighting information and the general gesture, while ignoring facial features. I wasn't completely happy with the way the character turned out, but I'll show you a post-production trick that solved it at the end of this feature.

The young man, Steve Rogers, was based on the maquette I had sculpted earlier. I eventually took his hand out of the composition because I decided to get rid of the bag he was carrying in the third panel.

Finally, a note about the paint. By this time (January) I was slowly adding more and more gouache to my Holbein Acryla Gouache, which is simply acrylic paint that dries to a matte finish. The transition allowed for effects closer to oil paint since straight gouache never really dries. This is great for painting flesh and skies, which require more subtle shifts in color to simulate our perceptions. My current method revolves around gouache for my most common colors: black, white, sepia, and grey. I then mix in the Acryla Gouache for my saturated hues which are most often used in low concentrations. The end result is a painting with very low amounts of acrylic.

We'll continue this next week with the remaining panels, but let me know if you have any questions in the meantime. Have a great weekend!

Update: Part 3

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 15

We've got another winner here, folks. Here I am baring a little midriff for the camera as I pose for this Sabretooth cover. You'll probably notice that I had to tone down my physique in the final painting. We can't have Sabes looking too fearsome.

I'm sorry, did I hear someone ask where I got a shirt like that? Well that just happens to be part of the Wolverine costume I made back in college, which you may have seen here. I should've just asked my friend Joe to pose for me.

In other news, I saw The Dark Knight this evening. It was... um... really dark.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mythos: Cap, Step by Step, Part 1

This is the script. This is where it all begins.

Paul Jenkins, the writer of the Mythos series, usually e-mails me in the dead of night with an attached Word document that enthusiastically frames out my life for the next 4 months (if not longer). I'm usually pestering Paul for the script for many weeks beforehand, so he always delivers with a sigh and a familiar phrase, "This is the most difficult script I have ever written," all in a British accent. Yes, he writes in a British accent.

I print it out and sit down for a good read, although not before I shrink the type so that each comic script page fits on one printed page. This makes it easier when organizing my visual thoughts in the thumbnail stage. As can be seen above, I draw directly on the script in a manner that is really only legible to myself. You may also notice that Paul curses freely throughout, something you wouldn't know by reading our book. Sometimes, he even writes it into the dialogue, only to change it later. After all, that's how many people actually talk.

Once I have a pretty solid idea of how I'm going to stage things, I'll do a layout at 4" x 6" in pencil. By this point, I've already done some preliminary research to find out, for instance, what an aircraft of that period would be and, hence, what it would look like. In this case, it's a DC-3 for which I found several different references including a Sketchup model from their 3D warehouse. This is an invaluable resource which I have mentioned in previous posts, and will discuss further as part of this step-by-step feature.

The other element that must be mentioned at this stage is text. If you don't draw captions and word balloons into your layouts, then you not only run the risk of leaving insufficient room in the panels, but also the chance that the progression of your reader's focus will not follow a logical path. This is supremely important when it comes to dialogue since the order in which your characters speak cannot be altered. While not an issue on this particular page, it would play a significant role on the following two pages, which also take place in this secret laboratory.

Finally, I might as well say it: if you know text is going to go there, then you don't have to paint much in that area.

Color is a monster all its own; that's why I divide and conquer. By the time I get to the color study, I've already figured out how to tell the story, where to put the text, the overall page structure, and the individual compositions. Now I'm ready to go in and create a sense of illumination and mood using hue, value, and saturation. I could do an entire blog about color, so I'll try and keep this focused as just another step in the process.

First of all, I'll cover the simple nuts and bolts. I use Photoshop (for which I assume my readers have a basic knowledge) to digitally color my pencil layout. I create a "Levels" adjustment layer to increase the contrast so that the drawing remains visible under color. Above that, I create another layer and set it to "Multiply" mode. I will be coloring on this layer and this allows the dark lines to show through. After that, I create at least 2 more layers, one for text and one for borders. This could all be done on a single layer, but it makes editing easier in the future.

In general, I try to block in the color as quickly as possible. Colorists refer to this stage as "flats." You are basically delineating all the major forms within the composition. Just go with your gut instinct; you can always adjust the relationships later. Once that is complete, then I use "Levels," "Curves," "Hue/Saturation," and "Photo Filter" to play with the colors until it looks "right." Now, to be honest, getting things to look "right" is a subject deserving it's own post, so I'll leave it there so we can move on.

Also, although I didn't do it here, I now create grayscale studies before attempting color. Again it's about "divide and conquer." You can see an example of this here.

Okay. We're not even halfway through yet and I'm already tired of typing.

We're to the penciling stage now. I take the color study and print it out at full size: 10.5 x 15.9375 inches. Actually, that's not entirely true. I often print it out slightly smaller so that I have a bit of wiggle room to play with. Since I create my panel borders digitally, I need to leave room along the perimeter of each panel that I can afford to lose. I trace the printout, using a lightbox, onto Strathmore Series 500 Bristol Board, 3 ply, vellum surface. It's a mouthful, but it's important. The 3-ply is thick enough to take paint, but thin enough to allow tracing. It's 100% cotton, so it won't buckle too much when wet and will age well. The vellum surface provides a nice "tooth" against which your brush can work.

Other than that, I'm basically just cleaning up my lines. I tighten things where I need to and redraw if necessary, incorporating the telling details from my mountains of reference. That DC-3 needs to look right, as well as the mens' coats and car. I even sculpted a miniature fedora because I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around that beautifully complex, curved form.

The only photo reference that I took was for panel 5... but I doubt my girlfriend would want to be a part of Wacky Reference Wednesdays, so I'll spare her.

I should also note that I'm drawing for myself here, meaning that I'm leaving certain parts open to interpretation because I know there are some decisions I can't make until I'm in the thick of painting. As a result, I'll draw hands, but not fingers, a horizon, but no clouds. The important things are perspective and gesture. What else is there, really?

There is also something I'm not telling you about the last panel. Some of you may already know, so feel free to speak up, but I will tell all before this feature is through.

Once the pencils are complete, I tape the paper down to masonite (although I now use my magnet board). I use 1/8" tape to keep my panel borders masked and thicker tape along the edges. My digital borders will be roughly twice as thick, allowing for the overlap that I mentioned above.

We will continue this Friday with the painting process. I'm thinking this will take about 4 posts in total and I encourage you to ask questions if you have any along the way. Thanks.

Update: Part 2

Friday, July 18, 2008

Force Beams and Playing Cards

This is a commission from Heroes Con that I just finished up. I've changed my official commissions policy by accepting work from home. I have been taking names, but I won't get to anything for months while I work on my new project. I'm not sure if I can say what it is yet, but I can say that it's not painted.

From now on, I'll only be doing inked comic art, reserving paints for covers and other smaller projects. The painted artwork is too precious and time intensive for what I want to do, which is to tell stories. I hope to color (digitally) my own inked work, but I won't have enough time with this first project. I should have some examples to show in a couple weeks.

Also, this is a head-sketch from the New York Comic Con that I never got around to posting. Now I have.

Next Week: I'm planning on taking an exhaustive look at my (now-obsolete) painting technique. In the midst of creating page 6 of Mythos: Captain America, I took extensive photos to document the entire process. I hope you will enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 14

Sometimes I have to improvise a situation when the only model around is myself. In this panel from Mythos: Captain America, Cap's long time bully, now fellow soldier, is giving Bucky a "noogie." This gave me the perfect excuse to take these photos.

Also, might I direct your attention to the pineapple mint plant, nestled on the ledge next to me. This photo was obviously taken when the plant that my girlfriend gave to me to take care of while she was in Puerto Rico... was still alive. Sorry, babe.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Change Is Coming

I should get my new assignment today, if all goes according to plan. As soon as everything is official, I'll make an announcement, but this sketch should be enough for now.


Here's the underlying pencil sketch.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Stand

This is another one of my favorite purchases. It's not my most glamorous tool, but it gets used every single day. This acts as a second set of hands, enabling my first set to do more engaging things (like paint). It can hold a book of almost any size open to the right page with minimal adjustment. However, I most often use it in conjunction with my spare magnet board which holds all of my reference in place.

Here's the stand in "action" next to my easel. You can also see page 13 of Mythos: Captain America in it's unfinished stage.

In addition, the stand folds flat and can be transported in a 3-ring binder. Because of this feature, I now bring it to all of my conventions to hold my portfolio.

Link: Book Stand

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 13

This is a sequence from page 11 of Mythos: Captain America. It's a good example of the freedom I get from Paul Jenkins, the writer of the Mythos series, to expand upon his script. Originally, this was one panel in which a drill sergeant chews out Private Steve Rogers for his bumbling antics. I thought it would be interesting to time his push-ups with the insults, which slowed down the pacing before a big reveal in the next panel.

And this is little ol' me fighting gravity on my rooftop in Brooklyn. In the distant background, you can see the "Verizon Fortress," a giant cubic building across from mine with virtually no windows, 8' thick walls, and security cameras all along the perimeter. They're probably watching me blog right now.

In other news, today is my 100th post! In other, other news, the Leyendecker show at the Society of Illustrators is incredible. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Manhattan, please find the time. You will not be disappointed... unless you have a personal grudge against Leyendecker.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chip Kidd

Have you ever wondered where all the great comic art goes? It turns out that most of it is owned by Chip Kidd.

Thanks to SCAD's John Lowe, I was part of a small group invited to Chip Kidd's apartment a few weeks ago. The place turned out to be a gallery dedicated to some of my favorite artists. Mr. Kidd was kind enough to let us take photos... and my girlfriend was kind enough to take those photos for me. Here are just a few of the amazing works we saw while there.

That's John Lowe (I call him J-Lo) in the main hallway doing some kind of gang sign. The display case on the right is a basically a Chris Ware shrine, housing everything from paper dolls to sculptures.

This is the rejected cover to Bizarro Comics by Daniel Clowes. This is the first thing that caught my eye upon entering. Why didn't DC go with it? It was probably too good... they had to hold back.

A couple of Alex Ross classics...

A Chris Ware personal commission featuring a Batman "non-posable character toy." Above that is a set design from the 60's Batman TV show.

Finally, I had to end with this Alex Ross cover to Kingdom Come #3. I bought this issue before I could drive, let alone paint, so please forgive me if I got a little nostalgic staring at it.

A huge thanks goes out to Mr. Kidd for being such a great host, not to mention getting us out of the rain.