Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

THE NUTCRACKER. 1991. Pen on paper, ~17 × 11″.

Greetings, readers! I'm going to take the rest of the week off to spend time with family. I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving! I'll leave you with some holiday-themed early work — a cover for the 1991 production of The Nutcracker in Daytona Beach, FL. They were kind enough to provide a fairly weighty bio for my 10 years of life experience. (It may have helped that just below was a half-page ad from my parents' art supply store.) Aside from being among my earliest published work, it was also my first encounter with editorial oversight — I had to change the position of the ballerinas' feet so that they pointed out the right way. If only I had Google image search back then...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Inking — Part 1 of 3

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #5 Cover. 2013.
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board with digital color, 11 × 17″.

Part 2, Part 3

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how to ink a page, I want to cover a bit of the why. I'm hardly qualified to give a history lesson on the practice, but I can say with (moderate) confidence that it was always a necessary part of comic book publication. Early printing methods simply weren't capable of reproducing the subtle grays of pencil — but even though technology has improved, the practice remains solidly in place.

inks by Joe Rivera over cyan print

If we think back even further, it becomes apparent that "inking" has existed since the first printed art objects. From woodcuts to engraving, printmaking is a relatively new technology that has only flourished over the last 600 years. The techniques originally created to cope with the limitations of the medium eventually grew into a style unto themselves.

my Dad's inks at full resolution (with George for relative size)

cyan print of my digital "pencils"

So what is that style? It's any distillation of the experience of seeing, rather than a rote copy of nature. It's an approach that isolates what's important about a scene by exploiting the differences between objects. There's a reason that we can watch an animated film — 2D or 3D — and still get caught up in the story. What matters to us is the characters, not their visual proximity to nature. Even the most fully-rendered print by Durer, with it's many subtle values, is a kind of hyper-reality — it's a cartoon in the sense of being a type of exaggeration. That's what inking's all about: selecting what's most important about an illustration and leaving out everything else.

my digital "pencils" at full resolution

The time lapse video at the end of the post is more about the thought process behind inking, rather than the physical act. (I'll cover more of that next time.) In it, I'm digitally inking over a fairly refined sketch (with a Cintiq 13HD in Photoshop). While it won't show you which brush to use on what paper, I hope it can reveal some of the decisions I make when going from a sketch to a finished piece. In most cases, it's all about clarity — making sure that what the viewer sees is what I want them too. You could, of course, be as loose or rough as you like with your inks, but having only two value options can really focus the mind on composition.

digital sketch, color-coded by layer

I made the transition from rendered paintings to line work in 2008, but I like to think that the switch reaped unexpected rewards when I eventually returned to painting. Having fewer value options has a way of imposing good composition practices. You can almost always save a bad composition with fancy lighting (this was actually a game students played at the Brandywine School) but any sketch with a strong start has a much better chance of a strong finish.

digital layouts for editor approval

Just a quick note about this cover: I don't normally pencil digitally, but I was between studios at the time and this method was easier. To be completely honest, we could've used my "pencils" for the final art, but I had my Dad go ahead and ink it because it's a cleaner style (and we like having original art to sell). My total time for the piece was 18 hours (not counting my Dad's inks). Here's the hourly breakdown.

layout: 2.5
digital sketch: 6.5
digital pencils: 6.5
digital colors: 2.5

I plan on writing 2 more posts on the subject, so if you have any questions or topics that you'd like covered for next time, don't hesitate to ask.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Everything's Just Fine

Ink on bristol board with digital color, 13 × 19″.

Today at random o'clock, Mondo will release my Weird Science tribute as a 17 × 24″ screen print (details here). They'll be $45 each and limited to an edition of 225, hand numbered. I'd suggest following them on Twitter if you're interested in purchasing one (they usually sell out quickly). For those still wondering where my Lord of the Rings print is, I hope to have them up for sale before the end of the year. I just bought a ton of shipping supplies, which makes me feel very official.

Monday's post will focus on inking, and may include a time lapse (if I get my act together). In the meantime, I'll leave you with yet another portrait. Have a great weekend!

HAWKMAN. 2013. Watercolor and ink on paper, 9 × 12″.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 244

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #6 Cover. 2013.
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Issue 6 of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up hits shelves today, so be sure and pick up a copy (preview here). Doc Ock, having taken over Peter Parker's mind, has overhauled the former Sinister Six into a Superior team. Hilarity ensues.

And in case you want to listen to me talk for an hour, check out the Afterschool podcast with Don Lehman. I had a great time conversing with Don about inspiration, process, and breaking into the industry.

based on this lovely Ditko cover

inks by my Pops
blue-line print of pencils

pencils over digital sketch
digital sketch

digital layout

a mysterious detail

Monday, November 18, 2013

Marvel Knights: X-Men #1

Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

This book debuted last Wednesday, but I took no reference for it and, hence, couldn't feature it for WRW. (I did, however, look up images of coffins on-line, further confusing Google's user profile of me.) You can see a preview of the book, written and drawn by Brahm Revel, at CBR. The story centers around a trio of X-Men investigating mutant murders in a small town.

inks by my Paw
blue-line print of pencils

pencils over digital sketch
digital sketch

digital layouts

Friday, November 15, 2013

Black Cat

BLACK CAT. 2012. Watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 243

Unity #1 Variant Cover. 2013. 
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Today marks the release of Valiant's Unity #1, their first line-wide crossover since the publisher's renaissance. I was asked to provide a variant cover for the event — and that gave me the chance to hold a piece of paper as if it were a sword. You'd think I'd know how to draw a hand by now, but I still need help.

... also a billy club

In the digital sketch stage, you'll notice that I establish a vanishing point even though there's not architecture or similar structures. It's always good to know where your horizon line is as that affects the angle at which you view any figure, even if they're flying (or in any sort of vague space... ahem).

inks by my Pops
blue-line print of pencils

digital sketch

digital layouts

Unity #1 Variant Cover (detail). 2013. Pencils over digital print.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Cover and 3 Questions

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective

Out of Nowhere (Blackout #1 Variant Cover). 2013.

Here's a new cover for the Dark Horse series Blackout, written by Frank Barbiere with art by Micah Kaneshiro (check out his concept work). The story follows the adventures of a superhero who can access another dimension with a special suit. I was asked to provide a variant cover for the first issue, the last in a series of vintage-poster-style illustrations that included text of my own choosing. (You can see my other covers here and here.)

Since the digital canvas is as big as I'd like, I use it as an inspiration board of sorts, pasting in costume reference as well as poster examples from the wonderful blog, 50 Watts. From there, it's merely a matter of hitting my head against the wall until I find a solution that I don't hate.

inspiration, reference, and early attempts

On to the questions:

In your experience what is the best paper to work on. I've read/heard some artists say that good quality is sometimes hard to find. 

For typical comic book pages, I use Strathmore 500 Series Sequential Art Bristol, 2-ply with a semi-smooth finish. This works well for penciling, inking, and even limited watercolor and gouache. The board is 100% cotton, which means it's archival and can withstand a deluge of water.

For fully-painted work, I use the same material, but in 3-ply thickness. I have to cut this down from larger sheets, but it's still thin enough (barely) to run through my printer for digital sketches and perspective guides. Occasionally, I'll upgrade to Strathmore's illustration board for larger paintings.

Daredevil #2 Pages 2-3. 2011. Pencil on bristol board, 22 × 17″.

My second question is about pricing. As an artist starting out, I've had people ask me to produce work but want to pay little to nothing for it. I know that you've worked professionally since college but in your opinion is there a base rate for comic art even if non established/professional.

Unfortunately, this is a question that can only be answered by the individual artist. We've all heard horror stories about artists "dying of exposure" — there's even a Twitter account that collects such examples — but whether or not artists accept said gigs is their prerogative. I've seen many attempts at guilds and unions to help combat the practice, but (in my opinion) the nature of our industry won't allow that kind of collective action. We are paid to be different, and the level of pay is proportional to our popularity. Our only true power is to say "no," and that ability varies from person to person.

All that being said, what can you do? Ask yourself how much money you need, how much time you have, and how much you want the job. I was extremely lucky to break into the comics industry when I did — I received a phenomenal rate for a 21-year-old rookie — but that rate stayed the same for the next 11 years (with no sign of changing) so I stopped accepting those gigs and pursued other opportunities. Eventually, I was able to quadruple my 2002 income just by getting faster and cultivating a market for my personal commissions and original artwork (a consistent 30-50% of my income).

My point is that every situation is different and only individual artists can decide what works for them. When I was 19, I took on several gigs from one of my favorite writers (whom I met at a comic convention). While low-paying, those gigs became the portfolio I used when the writer introduced me to Marvel. That teenaged decision would become the turning point in my young career.

I recently went to Comic-con in London and had a quick conversation about exploitation of artists being paid for their skill with David Lloyd. I would like to charge by the hour especially as I've been asked to put a lot of detail/work into the finished pieces and I don't work particularly fast. However I also have to eat and can't afford to do spec work that will build my portfolio but may/may not lead to a residual income. 

This brings me to my last question. How do you find the balance between meeting deadlines and completing a piece of art that you've put your all into that you are happy with?

I've never charged by the hour, not because I didn't want to, but because most clients (all right, all clients) aren't willing to write a blank check for anything. That's only fair — like us, they have limited budgets that allocate set amounts to certain aspects of a project.

That means it's up to the individual artist to keep track of their hours — not so they can charge for those hours, but so they can predict how long a potential project would take... and reject it if the budget isn't up to snuff. My 2 best-paying gigs this year took a combined 322.5 hours. Broken down hourly, they were my worst-paying gigs. But you know what? They were awesome gigs and I loved (almost) every minute of them. How did I get those gigs? I did art on spec — the difference being that it was unsolicited. It was my choice.

In closing, meeting deadlines is just part of being a professional. It takes years to get a sense of how long projects are going to take. I still get it wrong sometimes, but when I do, I simply take note and try not to make the same mistake again. Still trying...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Supercon 2013 — Ant-Man

ANT-MAN. 2013. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

Here's an Ant-Man portrait from Supercon earlier this year. For some reason, I got a lot of requests for the character. Perhaps his many guest appearances in Daredevil? Not sure, but always happy to draw him. Can't wait for the movie, either. Speaking of which, I hope you all heard about the DD TV news?! My Mom even saw my DD #1 cover on CNN!

And if that weren't enough fun news, I'm currently working on 2 (!) DD covers, one of which is very special (i.e. it's taking me forever to finish). I also just bought a couple tool chests as part of a studio upgrade. I'll give another video tour as soon as I'm happy with the set-up.

Monday's post will feature a new all-digital cover, as well as some answers to questions I've been getting via email. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 242

Green Hornet #7 Cover. 2013.
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Hi there...

Green Hornet #7 hit shelves today! (Preview here). I did this during the summer while I was in temporary housing. Since I couldn't find my bristol board, I just did the penciling stage digitally. My Dad still did the inks the old fashioned way.

inks by my Pops
blue-line print of "pencils"

digital "pencils"
digital sketch

digital layouts

digital "pencils" detail

Monday, November 4, 2013

Green Hornet #10 Cover

Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

I feel like 2013 is darn near over! I just booked my last gig of the year and can't accept any more work until 2014. In other news, tomorrow is the last day to bid on my Cap portrait (or many others) to benefit Hero Initiative. They also just released The Walking Dead 100 Project collection, which you can pick up at your local comic shop in trade paperback or hardcover. I've got one piece of art among 99 others.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Kato — Supercon 2013

KATO. 2013. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.