Thursday, 4 September 2014

Smart School Week One

So I've just finished with my first weekly class with the exceptionally bubbly Iain McCaig, whose personal manner is as lovely as people told me it would be! My brain is buzzing, between this and the Rebecca Guay session I sat in on the day before, I am very fired up to embrace what is a fairly new concept for me. To follow my real love in art. To. Just. Be. Me. 

The two classes were handled very differently, but the end message was almost the same. Find what you love doing, look at your influences and learn from them. USE REFERENCE. Keep  thumbnails loose!

There's so much I could write up, but I'll try to keep it to short, salient points for the TLDR crowd!


Recurring theme of this class was that there's no one who can do you, like you. You are unique. If you want to work in the entertainment industry, then entertain. Tell stories. Even if you think you're  the most boring artist in the world, then at least that's something special and something you can embrace.

Stop guessing what people want from you, especially when it comes to your portfolio and the jobs it may or may not get you. Don't think in terms of jobs or what will sell. Create what you love and  people will respond to it. 

I was inspired watching Iain doing a study but turning the study into a character even as he sketched -  even in the simplest of gestural lines, there was something to be told about the character of a  face by the way you add lines, or creases, or arch an eyebrow. What was interesting was when it came to looking at our pre-course homework, he was much more focused on our personal stories  we'd told in words and looking at the art almost as a secondary backup to that. He was focused on finding the narrative in our lives and how we can pull from that. For me, it's about embracing the  magpie I've become, that I can pull from all these amazing sources I've been inspired by and worked on and create stuff that's just *me*. I don't have to choose between styles, because I can use  my love to both to create something that's unique. 

If you're not sure who you are, then take an hour each day to sketch. Only sketch things that you love, that you would - and I quote - 'run naked in the snow to see'. 

The other awesome quote I took away from the session was "Perfection is counter-intuitive to creating things that communicate." I've worried over perfectionism for a long long time. It's a chain I'm  more than happy to break. 


Rebecca was just like her art. Soft, demure, elegant and deep. It came across that she really loves teaching and I'm already sold on her class if I sign up for another one in the future. She was  invested in finding out what it was that really inspired her students, probing things like what mediums they enjoyed/were fluent with and what inspiration made their hearts stop. What do you respond  to and who works in the medium you want to work in? 

She was very into the art and giving personal feedback on the pre-course assignments, helping students see where their strengths lay and how to add elements to make that image even stronger. I  really love the fact she didn't alter drawings all that much, just pushed things around and added visual interest to the pieces. I swear every single work went from a cool drawing to an awesome  conceptual art piece, or, if the student was pretty competent (Kim Kincaid!) she helped push good pieces into extraordinary pieces. 

Reference was stressed as being important, including the use of lightboxing. If it makes the piece better, then no method should be out of bounds and that you should always try to learn from the  methods you employ. I also loved the fact she was a great believer in the strength of simplicity, citing the Spectrum covers as great examples of works of art that don't need a lot going on in order to  be emotionally impactful. 

I'm only one week in, but I think I'd already highly recommend SmART School. It's clear these guys are super focused on the students and the work they produce and I'd imagine that each tutor brings his or her own special touch to proceedings. I loved Iain's bubbly, excitable nature, like that of some kooky old wizard who just loves telling you every story he found in his day. I found I resonated with much of what Rebecca told her students and *every* influence and inspiration she mentioned, I found myself going 'wow' at. The price is much higher than a lot of online courses,  but it's SO worth it for the sheer enthusiasm and excitement it's generated in me for art, even just one week in, and even taking out the sheer caliber of the people who teach there. 

Conclusion thus far? AWESOME!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Smarter Art School

So I've been a bit lax with posts for a good chunk of the year, mostly coinciding with getting my current concept job with Playground Games, and taking on a good chunk of freelance alongside it, none of which I can really show yet. But I'm going to get back into the habit of posting again, now that my schedule is no longer manic with crunch time and crazy weekends of working.

The main thing in my life right now is that I'm about to start a 12 week course with Smart School (online learning resource set up by the creator of the Illustration Master Class, Rebecca Guay). The course is taught by none other than Iain McCaig and has a focus on world building and story telling. I cannot tell you how excited I am for this course. Yes, they're pricey but the class size is small and we get 3 hours of  Iain's time live every week along with personal feedback. I've always been self taught; it's going to be awesome to actually have one of my art idols looking over my virtual shoulder for almost 3 months.

So my first pre-class assignment was to create a self portrait, based around the questions of what we wanted out of the course and what had stopped us doing it already ourselves. I wrote a small novel (me? really?) but the tldr version boiled down to me being very torn between two styles of working and basically being at a bit of  a standstill because of it. Chains of my own doing, that are really becoming a burden that I need to let go of and focus on one thing for a while to get that elusive consistency in my work.  The self portrait is a somewhat metaphorical representation of that. It's also not an easy painting for me to share -  it feels intensely private letting others see my struggle, even in a still image.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Three Dragons

I started this piece not long after season 3 of Game of Thrones aired, meant as some portrait practice with more muted colours, and was enjoying it so it ended up turning into something a little more. Often time I get far into a piece, in this case it was about 80% done and I left it for months (case of the ooh shiny effect of new ideas) and then picked it up after finally getting some free time over the Easter break. I think thus far I still prefer old Daario as he is here, but he seems to polarise opinion with people either liking him or loathing him.

So fellow Daenerys fans enjoy! The image is 1900px across for those who'd like desktop wallpaper, and I've also uploaded an animated gif of the steps as I often enjoy seeing others progress shots like that.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Whaler Women and why I can't escape saturation

I've recently been spending more of my free time creating work for a world that's been rattling around in my head, that I've finally started fleshing out thanks to my Audacious Accomplishment task from Chris Oatley's painting drama, outlined in this post from 2013.   It's a sort of sprawling collection of characters and stories that I'm starting to click together into a cohesive whole and as such am trying to take a game development approach towards the visualisation of it. 

This piece started (as a lot of my pieces do) as a lunchtime quickie, just throwing some stuff around, intended to be a short exercise to be stuffed into the annals of my many un-shown folders of crap art.  But as I worked with it more, it took on a different tack, it started gaining narrative. I had originally intended to do a very desaturated piece, as I often admire artists who can do that greatly. But inevitably, colour *always* sneaks in, no matter what I try to do with it. I guess I'm just a paint magpie, always drawn to the shiny colours!

Here's the steps I remembered to save. Early versions of the sky were done with a bit of photo mashing, until I got to the point where I realised my planning (and lack thereof) had undone me again, so I repainted the whole background. 

Half way through I also discovered THIS AMAZING BRUSHSET from Jonas De Ro, which has now become, along with my tool presets, my defacto brush set. That had a big impact on the style of the piece, along with looking at the works of guys like Homer Winslow (whose works have already nailed the look and feel I'm trying to get!) and a few Russian and Polish painters, such as Jozef Chelmonski, whose bleak subjects always seem to be captured with a delicate sense of emotion. 

Still very much finding my feet here, but I've always wanted to give my work a looser feel, and this feels like a step in the right direction. Now if someone would kindly tell the colour fairy to sod off for a bit, I'd be happy!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Photos in art: Cheating?

For a long time, I've considered using photos in art something of a cheat, but anyone who's watching the games industry will know that realistic cinematic imagery is often the way a lot of concept art gets done, which inevitably means using photos in your work. So, in my pursuit to get into the kind of high end companies I want to, I've recently been trying to get my head around more realistic environment art. I was lucky enough to get an interview at a next gen games company and as a result had to do a bit of photobashing of environments. 

Here's two of the images I've done in the last couple of weeks. The Colorado Plains image took more time, oddly, without verticality in a landscape, it's down to how cool you can make the clouds and light look. The Rainy Afternoon image only took me 5 hours. Far from bragging (I think speed can sometimes be a double edged sword) I'm actually still baffled by how I managed to turn something like that image out an afternoon - though having a solid deadline helps as I got the plate images at 2pm on the afternoon before the interview! 

The thing with photo bashing is I'm still in control of the composition of most of the elements, and in a way, it forces me to be a little more creative as I have to work with whatever the photo elements give me. I still have to find ways to make fairly boring images look epic and exciting, I still have to add mood with light and shadow and colour. All the things I do with hand painted stuff. I have to say I think with photo bashing that Value is king. If your values aren't right and you don't blend the layers of stuff properly it'll stop looking like a coherent image and looks like you just pasted a bunch of photos on top of one another. 

A lot of it is knowing how to adjust colours, levels and add lighting where you need to, but working with photos takes a little of the control of the design away from you. For me, that's a good thing, because I can easily spend ages noodling over the design of something, believing I have to make it my own -  something no one's ever seen before! Using photos actually makes me think of the bigger shapes and forms in an image, not how cool a grate on the pavement is. Definitely a good thing.  I don't have any plans to abandon my desire to paint everything - I do still think you learn more if you have to hand paint everything, but the sheer speed of using photos is pretty mental. 

And to finish up, I want to say Titus, who's little tips, tricks, input and amazing portfolio has kept me on my toes for these kind of images. Go check out his stuff! TITUS LUNTER ARTWORK.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Charlie Bowater Skillshare

A lot of you might have seen Charlie Bowater's Skillshare class for the amazing price of just $10 (with a referral which you can get here: CLICK HERE! )

I signed up myself and I've been massively happy with the work I've done as a part of it! I've worked like this a little in the past but seeing how someone else does it helps immensely and it's helped me loosen up a lot with the early parts of my work -  learning that loose is good for a more inspirational design process. 

Here's where I've got to thus far -  I still have to get to the final detailing render pass (usually my least favourite part because it takes SO long!)

I also managed to do a 3 hours or so self portrait from a mirror back on November 1st. Weird, cause I almost don't look like me pulling that face. It was a great painting exercise though - so much colour variation on the face!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Artistic Struggle of Inspiration

I think any artist working today will tell you they struggle from time to time. Struggle with what they do creatively, with how they feel about their art, how others see it, whether it's what they want to be doing. I've heard some say if you're struggling it's because your art is taking that next step and you're becoming aware of what's wrong with it more and are striving to make it better. I kind of feel like I'm hitting that step a lot lately. I've learned so much over the past year, mostly thanks to my involvement with the Oatley Academy - the ideas that Painting Drama has implanted in my head has kind of opened this pandora's box of learning for me, and I'm aware of *so* many new concepts.

The downside to that, is that you also become aware of all these things in your work, and how... lacking they are. And I'm prone to thinking my work is lacking at the best of times, let alone when I suddenly have this knowledge. So I draw tonnes, and I get super down when I realise that *everything* I'm doing is terrible. There is a fine balance between trying to shove everything you know into a piece and making it horribly stuffy and losing the idea that you fell in love with, and going with the pure idea, but making it technically sound so that others can respond without immediately seeing the flaws.  I sometimes think I swing too much to the former, especially when I look back at my older works. Back when I didn't know so much about everything all I cared about was the idea. Once you gain that awareness it starts feeling like a long slog back to the point where you can just care about ideas again. Summitless mountain, to be fair.

So when the Inspiration contest swung by from The Art Order, with a couple of timely posts from Jon Schindehette and others, I decided I would take part. I'd been struck by an idea a week or two earlier about ideas being lanterns and how they kind of float past you and you grab the ones that take your fancy. Having doodled a few super quick thumbnails in a tiny sketchbook, I took the 4 I liked most and drew them up properly, digitally. The results to that are here: 

So having decided on number 4 for it's old world illustration kind of feel, I set about being dramatic! I've wanted to get back to traditional for a while, so I went out and bought  a 20 x 30" illustration board. Only trouble is once I'd transferred the image I realised I loved how it was looking and there was *no* way I was going to get it done in a month. Plus I needed new, expensive paints. Not gonna happen! So I went back to the drawing board. I needed a smaller more manageable piece that still had the vibe of inspiration for me.

Those who've followed my work for a while might remember this piece: - a piece done in memory of a man who was and still is a huge inspiration to me. So as far as the contest theme goes, it doesn't get any bigger than that for me.  I wanted this piece to be quite specific in it's emotional feel. The Fae and the Dragon, on a more equal footing, but to still have a sense of mentorship or authority in the Dragon, and the Fae to have this 'set loose' kind of quality. On top of that I wanted to utilise a more unusual camera view, and have it have a sense of motion and still have this size disparity between the two to get a sense of narrative (that this tiny Fae could suddenly be flying around this huge Dragon fearlessly). Most of all I wanted it to feel upbeat or at least content -  no melancholy at the loss of this man in my life, but my joy at the flame he set ablaze in my for all things artistic.  All of these things were important to the feel of the piece and the sort of emotion I wanted to portray. No small order. And this piece has plagued me for the last couple of weeks. I'm sure I know the image I want is in me, but I've fought it every step of the way. Here's all the doodles and thumbnails I've done so far. Some are pretty decent, some are okay, but none of them capture what I'm *really* after, and I feel like that next step for me is to stop just accepting 'close enough' and fight for that extra push. 

The first 9 thumbs weren't bad but they didn't get that sense of awe, or any real feel of connection between the two characters. Not like how I wanted. I felt frustrated. These weren't bad thumbs, why was it so hard to get the actual feel I wanted? Posted them up on the PD group for feedback. Got mixed reviews, which made it even harder and people weren't seeing what I wanted to. Sometimes feedback with thumbs like this can be a double edged sword when you're not sure which you want. 

So not to be bested, I spent 40 mins at lunch the next day revisiting the ideas with a little of the feedback I'd gotten. After this I felt better. These felt more in line with what I wanted. They had that feeling I was after. 


However when I sat down to try and flesh out the thumbnails I'd grown to like I hit a major wall. HUGE wall. NOTHING came out right, my details were garbage, my colours were shit. I spent a whole day working on these only to come away from it feeling dejected and terrible about my own skills. It shouldn't *be* this hard, I should be *better* than this, shouldn't I? Cue the artistic spiral of doom. I'll NEVER be good enough. Though, to be honest, doing this hungover probably didn't help. 

 So slight silver lining time. After looking at my thumbs again I decided the bottom one wasn't too bad, if I did it in a more illustrative flattened style like the colours suggested. At this point I went back to looking at art. Anything I found inspiring. I trawled my pinterest boards and my faves. It's dangerous when you're in the wrong mind frame looking at art like this, it can drive you further down, but thankfully I've never been of the 'holy crap I'll never do that' crowd, I'm more of the 'it'll take me ages to get there' crowd. And it started to work a little. You wouldn't believe how long I worked on that left hand thumbnail. I gave up on working grey into colour using layers - it seems I work best in just black and white, or just colour. Combining the two is haaard. I worked for the most part of a day on that little thumbnail, moving things, overlapping stuff. I gave up by the end of the day as I was starting to get sick. But just there in that thumbnail was a glimmer of hope that I might be able to get the image I want. It's not there yet, not by a long shot. If there's anything this is teaching me it's that sometimes iteration just has to be done multiple times to get what you really want. And that if you're struggling, it's usually because the image has promise but you're not quite getting what it needs. And I lack a tutor or someone I could just ask to fix it for me. 

So the point of this huge long post, other than posting dragons, is to reach out to those who feel they struggle with their art. Those of you who've expressed a desire to be able to draw like I do, but don't think you'll ever be able to, or those who start a piece only to reach utter despair with it because it's not doing what you want. We all suffer with that, we all have our bad days. Perseverance is key. Sometimes you have to know when to let something go, but sometimes you have to know when *not* to let it go too. 

I felt it was worthy sharing my own struggles because I do tend to just post my good stuff and be like hey guys, like my stuff! Not to say this stuff here isn't good, but I think it's worth noting that I do struggle with it, and that art isn't a breeze for me. Sometimes it feels like I'm literally ripping these drawing out of my fingers, and sometimes I could bash my own brain in for not getting it. But when I get through that little shitstorm of emotions, it's totally worth it for a piece I can be proud of.