Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back to School

Mythos: X-Men, page 5, panel 5 (detail). 2005.
Oil on masonite, 16 x 24".
I spent the better part of last week in Providence, lecturing at New Urban Arts and RISD, both of which were great experiences. The students and teachers were more than accommodating, and I will be sure to visit again in the future. As usual, it was also a trip down memory lane, giving me the chance to catch up with friends and explore some old haunts. One completely unexpected highlight was running into Brian Stelfreeze, who was in town doing basically the same thing that I was. While I didn't get to see his lecture, we did get to talk for a bit thanks to Shanth Enjeti and Nick Jainschigg (I took Nick's Sci-Fi/Fantasy Illustration Class when I was just a freshman, setting me on the path that would eventually lead me here).

I also have to say thanks to Ann Smith and Evan Larson, two talented friends from school who were kind enough to give me shelter, not to mention cart me around.

Today's detail from Mythos: X-Men features a peak into the locker room as the guys get ready for a Danger Room training session. What I probably should have clarified is that Cyclops' eyelids are glowing as he squeezes them shut to safely switch from glasses to visor. While the typical X-fan could deduce this, I think a close-up was in order. In the background, Beast helps zip up Angel, whose wings are a tad unwieldy. Now that's what I call teamwork.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sandman Sketches—Work in Progress

Sandman Character Studies (unfinished). 2009. Pencil,
ink, and watercolor on bristol board, 11 x 17".

I had wanted to wait to post this until it was finished, but I saw it on-line somewhere, so I figured I might as well. I started this last year... who knows when I'll finish it. There's plenty to do in the meantime. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 91

Mythos: Captain America, page 9 (panel 4 detail). 2008.
Acrylic and gouache on bristol board, 11 x 17".
In this scene from the origin of Captain America, the Nazi spy who shot Dr. Erskine (creator of the Super Soldier Serum) is about to get fried. I shifted the perspective a bit, but used the reference to get the general gesture and lighting for the pose.

I'm currently in Providence (if all has gone according to plan), so the blog is on auto-pilot for the moment. Same goes for Friday, but I'll be back next week, perhaps with some commentary from my two lectures.

RISD Lecture 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #577, page 14 (panel 1 detail).
2008. Ink on bristol board, 11 x 17".

Just a quick note to any RISD students who may be reading: I'll be giving my lecture this Thursday, January 28, from 2-3 PM. I'm not sure of the location yet (most likely the ISB), but there should be posters around campus that will have the appropriate info. I hope to see you there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Daredevil #506 Cover Process

Daredevil #506 Cover. 2009. Acrylic, gouache,
watercolor, and Photoshop on bristol board, 11 x 17".
I'm heading into a busy week, so I probably won't get to part three of my contrast posts, but I should be able to finish up next month. I'm going up to Providence to give two talks, one as a guest critic and lecturer for my colleague, R. Kikuo Johnson, who is teaching a wintersession comics class at RISD. The other will be at New Urban Arts, a program that promotes creative discipline for high school students and emerging artists.

As promised, here is the step-by-step breakdown for the Daredevil #506 Cover. The painting portion went fairly quickly (as compared to my typical painted covers) but I spent a lot of time in the research and compositional phases.

Digital Color Study. Photoshop, 822 x 1247 px.
Like most of my covers, I began in Photoshop. I find it's the fastest way to record compositional ideas, despite its not being conducive to draftsmanship (which can always be honed in the next phase when I lightbox it onto bristol board). As you can see, I use a template that keeps the bleed, trim, and copysafe boundaries clearly defined. This was scanned from official Marvel board, which I keep as a separate file from which all my comps begin.

Preliminary Drawing. Pencil on bristol board, 11 x 17".
This is where I work out all the details, making sure that everything will run smoothly once I put paint to paper.

Process Photo. First Pass.
I began with a red watercolor/gouache blend. Since the hue I wanted required a touch of transparency, I knew it would be easier to paint over pristine white than over any other color. Some colors, reds in particular, have significant shifts between their mass tone and under tone. By saving the darkest and most opaque colors until the end, I avoided many complications.

Unedited Scan. 11 x 17 @ 400 ppi
Finally, this is the raw scan of the finished painting. I colored the border digitally in order to match the faux paper tone I used in the background. I also did some minor hue shifts—nothing too drastic—and moved the billy club design, which I had noticed was slightly off-center.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Contrast, Part 2 of 3

The following is an expanded excerpt from my February 4, 2009 lecture at the Brooklyn Public Library. You can find additional excerpts under the theory label.

Getting back to our relativistic thermometer from Part 1, an analogous situation occurs with our vision. Let’s take a look at some carefully controlled situations below. When presented with a graduated gray scale, the mind receives the available information, organizing it according to the extremes. The brightest field is interpreted as white, while the darkest—the background—looks black.

However, this proves false when seen in a wider context. In the next image, I've added a "true" white square to the top of the scale, shifting our former brightest value down a notch. But had I not done this, our previous set of values would have been just fine for a fully-rendered painting. This is one of the main reasons why it's a good idea to begin with the middle tones. By saving your most extreme "notes" until the end, your decisions will be all the more apt because they were made in context. Alternatively, you can do a preliminary color study so that you can paint more directly on the final work. The example that I most often use is with portraiture: if you want the highlight on your subject's nose or eye to really gleam, every other color must be lower in value, even if it's not pure white (again, your brightest option).

I should note that this demonstration is really only effective in slide form, where the environment is dark, as opposed to here, where the blog background is white.

This principle has serious ramifications when it comes to color (although we are still mostly concerned with value at this point). It means that any and all color is subject to environment: an orange dot on a gray background is construed differently depending on the surroundings. In the context of an illustration, the same color stimuli (physically identical light waves) are interpreted as both an orange painted dot on a black square, as well as a glowing orange dot on a white square—same colors, opposite interpretations.

I apologize for not having the credit information for the image on the left—I found it on-line some time ago. The image on the right was created by extending the gray squares to encompass the entire background, thus revealing the dots' true relationship. Update: here's the original source of the image.

This is a well-established phenomenon, but what does it mean for representational artists? First of all, it means that we have jobs. If this were not true, then paintings would be a very poor description of the surrounding world because the artist’s palette is so small a portion of the physical light gamut. We can’t even look at the sun without damaging our eyes, yet a daub of lead white can faithfully represent it (if placed in the right context). Second of all, we (artists) shouldn’t think of colors the way they are generally taught to us. The names we assign to them can actually be a burden because it associates those colors with certain phenomena, implying an absolutism that prevents us from seeing the reality and, therefore, reproducing it. However, paint is more or less absolute, so the trick lies in your orchestration of the available options. By formulating—and sticking to—a heirarchy of value, the mud you slap on a flat surface can create the illusion of space.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 90

Mythos: Fantastic Four Cover. 2007. Acrylic on
masonite, 16 x 24". Original art.

This was one of 3 covers that I painted in Acryla Gouache on specially prepared masonite (Spidey and Ghost Rider rounded out the group). The panels, which I had custom-made at, were great for oils, but were not particularly well-suited for acrylic gouache. I could still achieve most of the effects that I wanted, it just took more time to mix and paint because the finish was not as absorbent as bristol board, my current surface of choice.

The reference for Reed Richards was a combination of of my own face and my still-in-progress Richards maquette, which would be finished over the course of the project. The cover is usually (but not always) the first artwork that Marvel requests, so I often have to paint it before I've gotten completely comfortable with my representation of the character. You can see the finished maquette here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Daredevil #506

Daredevil #506 Cover. 2009. Acrylic and
gouache on bristol board, 11 x 17".

The cover for Daredevil #506 has finally been solicited, so I'm taking that as tacit permission to post it here. This piece was a joy to work on and I'm very thankful to my editor, Steve Wacker, for letting me go with the Japanese print theme. I took most of my inspiration from Hiroshige, whose work I have always admired, but never spent enough time perusing. Luckily, my roommate had a book of his work, so I had plenty of reference. I'm pressed for time at the moment, so the step-by-step will have to wait until Monday. Aside from my Spidey work, I've got one more Daredevil cover to do before the end of the month.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mythos: X-Men Detail

Mythos: X-Men page 5, panel 1 (detail of Jean Grey).
2005. Oil on masonite, 16 x 24".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Contrast, Part 1 of 3

The following is an expanded excerpt from my Brooklyn Public Library Lecture.

The heart of human perception is contrast. Through the comparison of various sets of information, our subconscious minds are able to construct a visceral model of the environment that enables us to navigate through it. But this benefit has its costs: because our sensations are based on relative comparisons, our subsequent interpretations are not absolute. One major consequence of this is that we are easily fooled by context.

My favorite example of this has nothing to do with vision, though the same principles apply. Let’s say you submerge one hand in cold water, and the other in hot, allowing time for each to adapt to the temperature. Upon touching the same object with each hand, you will feel opposing sensations: one warm, the other cool. This means you are the world’s worst thermometer—you have no independent scale for judging assorted values and are at the mercy of circumstantial evidence.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, page 17, panels 3, 4
acrylic and gouache on bristol board
11 x 17"

In this scene from Mythos: Fantastic Four, the Human Torch, flaming on for the first time asks, “Is it cold in here?” I’ve always liked that line from Paul Jenkins because it reveals the level at which he’s immersing himself in the situation. For someone who is burning (comfortably), the world must feel frigid, much like someone who is running a fever.

I bring up this image for another reason as well. I am often asked how I paint fire—how to make it glow. It’s all about context. By controlling the visual situation, I can let people know that white—the brightest option I have—means light. The surrounding gradient indicates the light’s color. Every other value in the composition is significantly darker. In my own nerdy mind, I call this the lightsaber effect. The light source (the blade) is the brightest value, surrounded by color, surrounded by dark of any kind. I've pixelated the following image in order to exaggerate and, hence, clarify the relationships among the color values.

The effect is further promoted through reflected light, as in the image of Yoda, below. This is why some of the human jedi in Star Wars movies might look a bit off: the glow is added in post-production, so no light is actually emitted from the blade; whereas the computer generated characters are appropriately lit (if poorly animated).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm With Coco

Mythos: Spider-Man page 11, panel 2 (detail). 2007.
Acrylic and gouache
, 11 x 17"

Best of luck, Conan! Thanks for hosting Spider-Man on Late Night (and for inviting us to the show back in 2007).

Mythos: Spider-Man page 11, panel 4

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 89

Marvel Illustrated: The Iliad #6 Cover
acrylic and gouache on bristol board
11 x 17"
(original art)
(hardcover collection)

Here I am posing as Patroclus... posing as Achilles. Is your mind blown?

This cover, the sixth in the series, was eventually used as the cover to the collection, both hardcover and trade paperback, including a quaint, digest-sized edition. The costumes and shields of the background soldiers were largely based on The Complete Costume History, a huge book that I've used only once, but is so cool to look through.

digital color study

preliminary drawing

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Apple Con 2009 Costumes

Occasionally, I put down my paint brush to capture a memorable character. Sometimes, they are kind enough to pose for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two Weeks Left!

Spectrum 17 Call For Entries Poster
ink on paper/Photoshop
16 x 20"

Fellow artists, you have less than two weeks to get your act together and submit to the Spectrum 17 competition. I was honored this year to provide the Call For Entries Poster, so if you read this blog, you have no excuse for a missed deadline (I've certainly mentioned it enough times). If you did not receive a poster in the mail, fear not: you can still download the appropriate forms from their web site. I also have a limited number of posters (unfolded) that I will be selling at conventions and, eventually, on-line.

Spectrum is a fantastic way to showcase your work to your peers around the world, not to mention potential clients. The only barrier to inclusion is the quality of your work, so do your best and submit. Best of luck to everyone!

This is the background that I had originally wanted, but there was something about the blue that wasn't translating well into CMYK.

This is a screen capture of my Illustrator art board. When doing graphic design work, I like surrounding myself with as many options as possible, from typefaces to color swatches.

This was very early on in the process, hence the dummy content that was appropriated from a video game some of you may recognize. At this point, I was just trying to balance all of the information that needed to be included. Eventually, I axed the location options due to space restrictions.

I briefly toyed with the idea of simulating an 80s-era game via extreme pixelation, but the type suffered too much in the process.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"You Should've Been an Engineer!"

Captain Obvious #2 (unfinished)
oil on masonite
12 x 18"

I'm running out of content! Well, not really. I just can't show any of my new work... and won't be able to until the summer (with the exception of a few sneak peeks). So for the first half of this new year, I'll be showing a good deal of old work (maybe even student work) that will, hopefully, be new to you.

I'll begin with a step-by-step post detailing the early stages of an oil painting. I started this piece while spending a summer on Maui and, in true island spirit, never finished it. However, because of my intention to glaze, the underpainting is fairly refined, at least for me. As with most of my early oil paintings, I started out with burnt sienna (I eventually settled on burnt umber because of it's quicker drying time). I only had a very rough idea of what the finished piece would look like, so my thinking process is clearly evident with each stage, as opposed to my current habit of hammering out all draftsmanship issues as early as possible. The former is a much more fun process, but it's not always conducive to hitting a deadline.

If my memory serves me correctly, I only used burnt sienna, white, and black to get to the "final" product. Any apparent hue shifts were achieved through mixing and/or transparency.

As for the subject matter, I suppose it would qualify as a master copy. The original painting, by Bouguereau, features Orestes pursued by the Furies. At the time, I was getting a modicum of flak from my 'rents about getting a job lined up for my upcoming move to New York (I had just graduated from RISD). The "Furies" were going to be telling me that I should've been an engineer... and the dying woman was to have a RISD seal on her drapery... stabbed by a light saber. Perhaps now you can see why I didn't finish.

Also, for those who don't know, Captain Obvious is a "superhero" that I created in school. His "power" was to be able to point out the obvious to those who could not see it. Maybe I'll come back to him some day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 88

Mythos: X-Men page 6, panel 3
oil on masonite
16 x 24" (page dimensions)

A good model always remembers to stretch. Same thing goes for superheroes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Top 50!

Amazing Spider-Man #615 Cover
ink on bristol board/Photoshop
11 x 17"

I was happy to learn that my cover to Amazing Spider-Man 615 was selected for CBR's 50 Best Covers of 2009. I like their comment too — I'm going to take full credit for the metafiction. Thanks, CBR!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


New Mexican Dog

Digital photography is a large part of my creative process, so when I saw this story on NPR, I took notice. The "Frankencamera," as they have dubbed it, takes photos with a high dynamic range, essentially mimicking our own ability to adjust to a given light source and, therefore, see detail whether in light or shade. From what I can tell, it does this on the software end of things by combining a series of images into a composite that takes the best information from each.

What I thought I'd share, however, is that I used to own a Fuji camera that achieved the same result through hardware, interlacing the CCD with receptors of varied sensitivities, not unlike our own eyes. Unfortunately, the camera had other durability problems — both mine and my mom's had the same fatal flaw — so I eventually switched to Canon (SD1100 IS at the moment). I don't know whether or not Fuji has addressed the issue in subsequent models (they probably have since they offered free repairs), but I know I never got better color. I've posted some of those photos here, favoring ones that feature fine gradations of color. While not the original files from the camera, nothing was done to them in Photoshop besides resizing.

For more technical information on Fuji's latest model of the CCD, I found this article on their site. I haven't used this particular version, but it appears to operate under the same principles.

Temple of Dendur

The Lorimer Stop

Frozen Gates

Central Park Tangle

Mainland Homecoming