Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

The Anatomy of a Piece of Art

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On Wednesday, I finished my first large digital art project, using Gimp. For those who don’t know, Gimp is a free open-source Photoshop-like application. I’ve used Gimp in the past for photo manipulation and creating web art for my previous website. It’s got a steep learning curve, but there are tons of videos out on YouTube that can help the beginning user get comfortable with it. Up until now though, I’d never used it for art (though I also wasn’t doing any art until recently), and seeing some videos on how to draw and paint with it got me motivated to give it a try.

I did some messing around with custom brushes to create some starry backgrounds, with plans of eventually doing an illustration of my short story “Night Bird Soaring”, but without a graphic tablet, I felt good quality work was out of my reach. So I bought a graphic tablet, and while I was waiting for it to arrive, I decided to do some just straight-up painting, to get a feel for using the brushes and stuff.

I took a photograph of my dog Lily and decided I wanted to make a painting out of it. She’s got a diverse coloration, and I love this particular photo of her and had been making drawings off of it.

Lily

I didn’t like any of my drawings of it though, so I decided to scrap those and work directly off the photograph. It was large and of good enough quality to do so. I cropped it down so then did some photo manipulation on it; basically I followed the instructions on a video I found about how to make a photo look like a drawing, and I ended up with this:

Manipulated Photo

As part of the process, I made it transparent as well, so I could put whatever color background I wanted behind it (a necessity given that I was going to be working on large portions of white.). After that I started adding layers to it, one for each major body color then ones for the different facial features; eyes, mouth, tongue, nose, and the collar. I later also added an extra layer for the white shading part, since it became clear right after starting on the white portions that it would be easier to have a base white layer and a separate shading layer.

To get proper coloration, I used the color dropper feature, to let Gimp pick the closest approximation of the actual colors of the photograph. I started off using the blending tool, to get a fading into other color, but scrapped that idea after doing the tongue in a purely block-color fashion; I liked the look that the hard edges between the colors gave, sort of like paint by numbers. So I went back and deleted the bit of work I’d done using the blending tool and started over again, keeping to the block style this time.

I started the project back on September 30th and I spent a couple hours each night working on it, one layer at a time. I finally finished it this last Wednesday, October 12th, after spending about 6 hours that day to get it wrapped up. I opted not to do a painted background on it because I thought it would be too busy if I did it, and so decided to do a transparent gradient background with the light coming from the same direction as the light in the photo was coming from. Below you can see the various layers I used to create the finished product:

The different layers

Click for better detail

And here is the completed project:

Portrait of Lily

I do want to note that I did all this with the mouse, none with the tablet. After experimenting with the tablet, I found it would be difficult to get the colors consistent due to the pressure sensativity, so I opted for finishing it up with the mouse even though the mouse is less precise. The tablet pen will be good for doing a different kind of painting than what I was doing here. I’m looking forward to see what I can do with it.

The Wild Hair Striketh

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I’ve had a Deviant Art account for over a year now, so I can see the full range of art over there rather than being limited to general content only. I use it mainly to seek out cool Aztec and Mayan art to use as wallpapers on my computer (I am so in love with this particular one. I’m not big on cute, but this…just warms my heart:-D). For the longest time I just lurked, going over there once a week to download new pictures that I liked.

But then I decided to start favoriting things, to make them easier to find again should I need to. And of course that resulted in people actually visiting my profile (a lot more than I would have thought) and people were leaving messages on my wall. I got to thinking yesterday about all the art I used to do when I was younger, and in steps the wild hair.

When I was in middle school, I used to love drawing cartoons, particularly Disney cartoons; I dreamed of one day being an animator for Disney (I still think that Disney does some of the best cartoons around today. There’s some really nice stuff coming out of indie studios, particularly outside the US, but watching cartoon network these days is an exercise in annoyance. Anime is really the only stuff now that gives proper attention to character creation and lush backdrops. I guess I’m an old-schooler and don’t really like the minimalist and “doodle” feel of a lot of modern American cartoons, but I digress.). In high school, I branched out into more realistic forms and really took a liking to pastel painting, and of course being into Star Trek at the time, I did a lot of fan art. I have a trunk in the basement filled with all the old drawings I did when I was kid, and my daughter loves to drag it out and look through it.

Looking back now almost 20 years later, I’m surprised by how good I was back then, and sometimes wonder how good I could have gotten had I stuck with it after high school. By the time college came around, I’d been writing for a couple years and was just starting to break free from fan fiction and moving into creating my own stuff, and I think the excitement of discovering writing again really dampened my enthusiasm for art. And while I knew there was little money to be made in writing, everyone told me there was even less money to be made in art, and my chances of landing my dream art job was slim to none. How much of that is true, I have no idea, but needless to say I followed my new muse and pretty much stopped drawing and painting when I started college and focused all my energies on writing. If I had it all to do over again, I would have continued doing both through college; I regret having abandoned one for the other.

So I was looking through the trunk again yesterday, feeling regretful, and the wild hair struck: I decided to post some of my middle school and high school art work on my Deviant Art account. And amazingly, a few people have added some of them to their favorites. You can see it here. I do sometimes feel the sketching bug, but I’ve been too afraid to actually sit down and doodle because it’s been so many years since I’ve done any substantial drawing and I’m sure I’m absolutely no good at it anymore.

Yesterday though, I took a sketch pad to my son’s baseball practice with me and decided I’d just sit and draw some stuff. And low and behold, I’m rusty, but I haven’t completely lost it.

Baseball Bag

Click for full size


When we got home, I cracked open the trusty-old Art of Disney Animation book (the one I wore the covers off of when I was kid) and did some sketching out of there. My Fantasia mushrooms turned out horrible (who would have thought mushrooms could be so difficult), but the snake turned out all right. I need to practice my lighter hand.
Fantasia mushrooms and a boa constrictor

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And some kittens doing cute kitten things.

Sketches of kittens doing cute kitten things

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It was fun just sitting around drawing again. I’d love to be able to get back to doing the pastel painting, because I used to enjoy it alot, though digital art interests me now too. I know a lot of artist use Photoshop now, and though I can’t justify spending that kind of money, I can get Gimp for free and might mess around with it. I wonder if there are mouse pens out there, since holding a pencil is so much more intuitive for me than drawing with a regular mouse. I shall be doing some googling and investigation into how to get stuff drawn in Photoshop/Gimp. Doing this kind of stuff instead of video games when I’m struggling with writing projects or between projects (or even at times when it’s impractical to write, like at the kids’ practices and games) would be a better investment of my time.

Now I wish I hadn’t given away my drafting table when I moved out of my mom’s house….

Working with Artists

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I recently read an interesting blog post by Jim Hines talking about the process of the cover art design for his novel Snow Queen, and I was struck by how similar it seemed to be to the process I went through to get my website art, so I thought a post about that might be of interest to readers.

I started thinking about trying to get some cool website art when I saw the art my friend Juliette Wade got for her site. Since I’d started having a website, I’d relied mostly on creative commons artwork and photography to decorate it and make it look pretty, but I was never quite satisfied with it. After asking Juliette how much she’s spent for her artwork, I spent some time browsing artist over at Deviant Art (which was where she’d found her artist). I did find quite a few artists that I thought probably could have produced beautiful artwork, but I was stymied by the fact that many of them were overseas and some of them had no English on their DA pages. Some of the artists I seriously considered though were Mauricio Herrera, Carolina Eade, Terese Nielsen, and Rudolph Herczog.

But what I was really looking for though was artwork that reminded me of the illustration that Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon had done for my Realms of Fantasy story. Eventually I got the crazy idea that maybe they would be interested in doing it, so I sent Zelda an email. I didn’t think they’d actually have the time to take on the project, for they looked very busy with client work on their website, posting up new illustrations almost every other day, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. Besides, I’d exchanged some emails with Zelda a year earlier when I was getting a print of my story’s illustration and so knew I’d at least get a polite note back.

So I was actually quite surprised when Zelda wrote back to tell me that they could take on the project. We exchanged a couple emails discussing pricing and what exactly I was looking for, and though I won’t go into detail about this part, I do want to give a suggestion to anyone looking to commission art, particularly from professional artists: ask them up front how much they would charge for what you have in mind. It’s embarrassing to drastically underbid something. Instead, tell them your idea and get their pricing, and if it’s too much, ask them what they can do for you in the price point you’re looking to spend. And be realistic about what an artist’s time and effort is worth. Also, avoid commissioning from artists that insist on paying the full amount upfront. You should get final say on the final product before you completely pay for it (I commissioned a sculpture from an artist that I paid in full upfront and I ended up not getting to see the final product before she shipped it to me. I was all right with what she’d done, but I could have been out of luck if the artwork hadn’t been up to my satisfaction. Paying half up front and the rest on delivery protects both artist and client.)

Once we’d settled on the scope of the project, Zelda then had me send her detailed descriptions of the characters and a few well-chosen paragraphs from the novel. For the character descriptions, I didn’t go very much into physical characteristics but rather talked about their personalities and background, but for a couple characters I did lay out some stuff that I didn’t want to see done with them; like with Topiltzin, I wanted him to have darker complexion, to avoid the whole Quetzalcoatl as bearded-white-guy interpretation of the myths. I also wanted go with strictly human portrayals of Mayahuel and Topiltzin while I wanted animal characteristics integrated into Smoking Mirror and Mextli. I also really wanted to avoid over-sexualizing Mayahuel, since every piece of art I’ve seen of her has her partially naked, if not fully. I wanted sensuality, not porn, and I passed over considering some really good artists I saw on Deviant Art because their women were ultra-sexualized. I also provided Zelda with some scans of Aztec clothing, which they made really good use of, and I specified that I’d really like a pyramid in the header. I had an image in my head of what I wanted all of this to look like, but decided not give too many specific directions to try to get it to match that. I have some art background, but I haven’t drawn or painted in 15 years now, so I didn’t want to get in their way very much. They’re professional artists and everything I’ve seen of their work shows that they know what they’re doing. And one of the reasons I chose them was that they seem to “get” my work.

sketch_123010With everything turned in, we settled on a deadline of December 31st for completion. (Make sure you do this. Don’t leave the completion date open-ended, for then you might be waiting way too long for your piece. I didn’t set a deadline for the sculpture and so the artist just forgot about it until I poked her about four months later to ask for a status report on it. Yeah, this is the same person who I’d already paid in full….) Kurt and Zelda started some sketching right away (I assume this was the very first sketch they made right after taking the job) but it wasn’t until a couple months later that I received the initial sketch for approval:

I loved it immediately and was really amazed by how well they captured all the characters. I’m not kidding when I say it looked to me like they’d plucked them directly from my brain and drew them on paper; they all look exactly how I picture them. I had some doubts about the lack of pupils in Mextli’s eyes, but decided at that point to let that slide, to see how they’d deal with that in the final painting.

About a week later, Zelda sent me the finish painting for my approval. There was a ton to love about it, but there was also a major color issue. I hemmed and hawed about this for a couple hours, wondering if I should mention it or just accept it as is, because it would be a significant change requiring repainting of three of the characters. And I’m naturally a non-confrontational person, so approaching people to talk about problems is sometimes difficult for me. I think too my previous experience with the sculptor made me hesitate. I’d asked for a change on the piece after seeing the initial pictures and though she agreed to do it, she didn’t send me any follow up pictures to make sure she’d done it right. There was a whole attitude of “I’m done with you now” to the whole thing. But eventually I put on my big-girl panties and decided I had to ask Kurt and Zelda for the change because I just couldn’t live with the flaw. I also took that opportunity to ask them to add pupils to Mextli’s eyes because he just looked vacant without them.

entire illustrationKurt and Zelda were very professional about doing the changes, asking for extra time to get them done and sending follow up scans once they’d finished, and this time everything was spot-on. The final piece has a bit more on it than what you see on the blog.

I put the seal of approval on this one without hesitation and I’m immensely happy with what I got.

And so that’s pretty much it. It was an interesting learning experience for me. If you’re looking to commission some artwork, some tips to consider:

  • Make sure you’re not paying in full upfront, and make sure you get to sign off on the final project before you pay the balance.
  • Set a deadline for delivery, but be reasonably flexible as it approaches.
  • Be specific about things you do and don’t want to see in the art, but also give the artists room to breathe.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for changes.
  • Professionals will keep you informed of progress and delays.