Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mighty Men & Monster Maker

-By Dan dos Santos


I take a real enjoyment in going back to the things that inspired me as a kid, and got me into art in the first place. Lately I've been on a kick of re-watching old television shows I enjoyed as a kid (introducing them to my children now), and re-readng the comic books that later inspired me as a teenager.

There's no real "reason" for doing this. I'm not trying to bone up on basics, or re-evalute why I do what I do... it's just FUN.

Sadly, a lot of these old things don't hold up as well as I remember, especially in a technical sense. But sometimes I get lucky and they're even better than I remember.

Recently, I purchased a vintage "Mighty Men & Monster Maker" plate rubbing set off Ebay. They aren't super hard to come by, but it is hard to find a complete set at a reasonable price.


I didn't own my own as a kid, but a friend had one, and I always coveted it. The set comes with 10 different heads, 10 torsos, and 8 legs, which you can mix and match to your heart's content. Place a sheet of paper over the plates, rub a crayon over the surface, and you just made your own super hero or monster!

Now that I have one of my own (which I begrudgingly have share with my two boys), it's just as much fun as it was back then. It really is a fantastic toy, and my boys enjoy it so much, that I can't understand why they don't still make 'fashion plate' sets like these now.


Part of what makes this toy so successful is that the art on the plates is really good. Surprisingly good for a children's toy. Why is that? Well, it turns out an artist named Dave Stevens drew the plates. Yeah, THAT Dave Stevens!

As a child, it was the seemingly limitless possibilities that intrigued me about this toy. As an adult, I can see the limited options. Now, the fun for me lies not in the options, but instead in the restrictions. There is something inspiring about working within a confine, and trying to create something fresh out it. Mixing plates in ways they shouldn't be mixed, or embellishing them with your own elements.

Needless to say, my kids and I have gone through a LOT of paper in the past 2 days.



What were some of your favorite "art toys" as a kid? Was there a particular cartoon, or action figure that inspired you to draw? Share your favorites with us in the comments section.

Monday, January 26, 2015

For the Bookshelf



by Arnie Fenner

I love books. Not as a collector, really, though I (purely by accident) own some relatively rare titles and a few limited editions. No, my books are meant to be read, to be enjoyed—and they are. They're my well-thumbed, occasionally scuffed and foxed friends, ready to be pulled off the shelf and enjoyed without having to upgrade an OS or make sure a battery is fully charged. Though you can find all manner of good stuff on the internet it is simply not the same—it doesn't have the same resonance—as encountering similar content in a nicely designed book. In an age when people happily watch Lawrence of Arabia on their tablets or present their portfolios via smartphones, I guess my preference for good old fashioned ink on paper makes me a dinosaur. That's okay by me.

So naturally there were some wonderful art books published in 2014 and, just as naturally, a batch of them found their way to my bookshelf. Here are a few.


The Collector's Book of Virgil Finlay was a Kickstarter-funded book celebrating the art of one of SF's most important artists. Compiled by Robert Weinberg, Doug Ellis, and Robert Garcia this limited edition is a fitting tribute to Finlay, whose influence on the field is felt to this day. Published in a tiny edition of 400 copies this undoubtedly won't be in print for long.


I had posted my introduction for The Art of Greg Spalenka: Visions From the Mind's Eye on Muddy Colors some months back so you knew it would wind up on this list. Greg, of course, is a pioneer in the illustration world: whether working in paint or pixels you can see his influence on any number of artists working today. This sumptuous collection charts his career and serves as a beautiful forum for him to share his philosophy on self-empowerment and what it takes to make a living as an artist today. 


I had never heard of William Mortensen before American Grotesque came out, but it turns out that many artists (unbeknownst to me) had been using his photos as reference for decades, the sneaky devils. Offbeat, dramatic, and occasionally disturbing (in that back streets of Hollywood seaminess sort of way) it's obvious why Ansel Adams raised an eyebrow at his photos and Anton LeVey dedicated The Satanic Bible to him. Before Photoshop there was Mortensen and this book is an interesting look back.


I've always enjoyed Fred Gambino's art and was happy to finally snag a book of his work. Primarily a digital creator, Fred makes the software do his bidding rather than the other way around. 


Bob Chapman's Graphitti Designs is one of the true groundbreakers in our field. They were producing statues (starting with Randy Bowen's "Doc Savage" bust), action figures, T-shirts, signed ltd. prints, and artist editions (gotta love Elektra Lives Again) literally before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Their Gallery Edition of Batman: Kelley Jones is big (12"x17"/248 pages) and beautiful. Jones is one of the most interesting artists DC used on the character and this beautifully printed collection showcases his intricate, Goth-flavored line work.


I'm a sucker for Steranko and have been since I first encountered his art in Spyman #1 in 1966. When IDW came out with the Artist Edition of his Nick Fury/Strange Tales art, a purchase was a foregone conclusion. If you don't know why Steranko is important…shame on you. What might seem like a standard today was an innovation in the 1960s—brought about by Jim Steranko. Like most of my comics-related books, I picked up this literally coffee table-sized baby at Clint's in KC, probably the first comics shop in the U.S. Historians, pay attention.


Another Artist Edition from IDW that I had to have was their Hellboy collection by Mike Mignola. Putting it simply, Mignola is one of the best writers/artists the comics industry has ever seen. Impressive and expressive, his art is an inspiration of directness and simplicity not seen since Alex Toth was at his peak. If you're one of the few who doesn't think what Mike has accomplished is genius…go away and don't bother me. Philistine. 


Frank Cho, in his own unique way, is as brilliant as Mignola and has a deft touch with a brush that is second to none. Frazetta had it. Dave Stevens had it. Mark Schultz has it. And so does Frank. His Drawing Beautiful Women book is a nice primer for budding artists, made accessible through Frank's straight-on approach and playful sense of humor (see the "contents page" for an example). He's unapologetic about his delight in drawing bodacious females and that honesty (combined with the fact that his women are all strong and in charge of their environments) is a part of both his charm and appeal. An extra attraction for this book is the sequential chapter which includes a previously unpublished "Jungle Queen" comic: it's a winner.


Name a film and John Alvin probably did a poster for it. Which is a quick way to say, yes, I liked this collection and so will you.


Brian Kesinger is a Disney artist with a side fascination with Steampunk and octopi. His latest book featuring his characters Victoria Psismall & Otto is a coloring book (and coloring seems to be "the thing" for adults now for some reason) that I wouldn't dream of defacing with my Crayolas. Beautiful line art combined with charm and humor makes Coloring With Your Octopus a keeper.


If you like space art…shoot, just go buy John Harris' book. You'll be glad you did.


Bob McGinnis' new art book is a welcome companion to his first collection, Tapestry, that Cathy and I edited for Underwood Books 15 years ago (good God, how time flies). There's a little overlap, true, but there's art in one that isn't in the other (and vice versa) as well as different treatments—so if you have Tapestry, you'll be happy to have a copy of The Art of Robert McGinnis. And if you want more after picking up the new book, you'll be well-rewarded in tracking down a copy of Tapestry from your favorite antiquarian bookseller. 


This is a stunning book, beautiful from the first page to the last with tip-top production values. Marina's 3D art is expressive and emotive: describing what she creates as "art dolls" is both accurate and deceptive. Marina is a storyteller and her work is both unbelievably wondrous and ultimately unforgettable. Trust me: to see this book is to want it.


Since today is the deadline for entries to Spectrum 22, I of course have to end this post with a mention of Spectrum 21, the first volume produced and edited by John Fleskes. For his first time at bat I think John knocked it out of the part. With a fresh outlook and the introduction of new features (and revisioning of originals), John has started to put his stamp on the annual as editor—which is precisely what Cathy and I wanted—all while showcasing some of the most exciting art of the previous year. And there will be more changes, more refinements, more tweaks and additions in future volumes—which is as it should be. Spectrum has always respected the past, celebrated the present, and embraced the future: I can't wait to see how Spectrum 22 turns out! 



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Taking a big bite - part 1

I think there is great value in taking on projects that are ambitious.  You don't have to look beyond Muddy Colors to see some great examples.  Donato's incredible large scale Tolkien paintings, Justin Gerard's massive battle scenes filled with hundreds of characters, Arnie and Cathy Fenner starting Spectrum (remember to enter!) and building it into the institution it is today and many other works and projects come to mind.  Dan Dos Santos is working on a killer large painting right now as well, I can't wait to see it when it is done!

It is inspiring to see people reach high and then keep climbing.  I have found that I go through phases where I take on fairly safe work and then I build up a little ambition and bite off something a little harder to chew.  When I do that, I really grow.  Those pieces mark periods of greater change and progress... and stress.  The stress goes away though and the progress stays with you!  I highly recommend it.

I recently started a large painting (large for me).  It is 60"x60" and has 30 figures in it, just under life sized.  It is going to be similar in presentation to Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule.


My wife has been helping me with this project by finding models and costumes of kids from many different countries and ethnicities.  I have had a photoshoots in two different states, coordinating with models, wrangling costumes and working out the composition as I go.

I have been doing studies of each of the faces as well as a full sized drawing.  Here are some of the studies done so far along with :

Lola, 11"x14"


And a quick time lapse of the study:


Silje, 8"x10"


Time-lapse:


Isla, 8"x10"


Time-lapse:


Starting the painting.  Canvas is toned, drawing is transferred, first pass on face begun.


Below is the underpainting pass for one of the faces.  I will do a second pass to refine the painting, add more texture, color and detail.


A few more faces with the underpainting complete.  The face on the right has a quick flat wash that I will paint into to finish the underpainting.  I can do the underpainting for two faces a day and will spend another day to do the refining pass.


That is it so far.  I will update more in the future.  I have learned a lot on this piece so far and I am just getting started!

Now my question for you.  Do you have any projects that have been too big or overwhelming at first, but have been instrumental in your growth?  Share links and experiences in the comments!

Thanks,

Howard Lyon





Friday, January 23, 2015

Journeys Begun

A Look Back at Two Years of SmART School

-By Todd Lockwood

With classes filling up for the coming semester at SmART School, I wanted to give a shout out to some of my past students and show you what they’ve been up to. But first let me tell you how much I enjoy teaching. One of the wonderful things about this school is the small scale of the classes and the closeness of the interaction. It’s a full-on mentorship, with typical class sizes ranging from five to eight people. We all share each other’s critiques and learn from each other as well. Using GoToMeeting, we meet online every Tuesday. The platform allows me to do paintovers and live demonstrations, which is invaluable to everybody. I’ve learned more from teaching than I ever thought possible.

Towards the end of each term, a guest Art Director or professional will visit the class to review special assignments they chose for our students—a sample of working as a professional with real deadlines, and an opportunity to apply what they've learned. In the last few semesters I’ve been proud to have Matthew Kalamidas from Bookspan, Jeremy Cranford from Blizzard Entertainment, and Dawn Murin from Wizards of the Coast. This coming semester I’ve invited Jon Schindehette to join us. He was formerly the Creative Director at Wizards; now he's the Creative Director for ThinkGeek Solutions and founder of ArtOrder.

It’s a wonderful model, and I’m tickled to be a part of it.

I asked my past students to send me their thoughts, along with an image from before they attended SmART School (if they were so brave!) and a picture of something done either in class or since class. I think you’ll be as impressed as I was… and still am.



Catherine Gibson, like many starting artists, was drawing out of her head instead of using reference, and like so many went straight into a drawing with little planning. Her talent is obvious, but her composition is spotty and unfocused.



But look at this astounding (and as yet unfinished) painting from her final assignment:



It’s emotional and subtle. Note the ghostly wolves in the negative space between the angel's wings.




I love this “Before” and “After” from Jennifer Beasley because it appears to show the same character:



She says, “I absolutely loved learning from Todd at SmArt School. The small group of students, and one-on-one mentoring was perfect for sharpening my abilities and cultivating new ones. Attending SmArt School has been the best decision I've made for my career thus far. Take the plunge, make the commitment, and join the SmArt School family, it's exhilarating what you'll be able to accomplish!




Andrew Cefalu came into the first class I taught in the spring of 2013 with high ambitions and lots of energy. He says, “My work has grown a lot since I took my first Smart School Mentorships, and I owe a lot of my personal growth as an illustrator to this program. Todd's class, specifically was great because it taught me how to focus my compositions, by using visual elements and value. If you want to improve as an artist I would strongly urge you to take a Smart School Class!

This is the painting he did for the final assignment, entitled “Orc Warg Rider.”



We worked hard on Focal Points and composition. Andrew went on to study another semester, with Rebecca Guay, who honed his sensibilities further—and differently. Here’s his “Treetop Sniper.”






Look at how similar the values and the sizes of shapes are in this “Before” image from Kirsten Harper:



Again, though her talent is obvious, the eye struggles to find a point of entry into the story. But look at the subtlety and energy in this piece, done after class ended:


This is a creature concept done after the semester ended:






Marko Radulovic brought energy and enthusiasm to every project. His ambition is evident in this image from before his first class, even if the values are muddied and the narrative hard to read:


But look what he did in class. Marko really stepped out of his comfort zone to take on an action scene:



He said, “The class fosters a sort of closeness that is hard to otherwise fathom over digital media with an instructor half a continent away. SmArt School has a good thing going.

Marko will be back this coming semester with some very specific personal goals in mind.




Eva Toker came to class with smarts and skills, but her growth inspired envy in her classmates. This was her in-class assignment, on which we talked about the power of values and movement:



Here's her final assignment, for guest Art Director Matthew Kalamidas’ assignment: a cover for Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”



Astoundingly good stuff, right?

This is the quality of character concept work she’s doing currently for an employer:






This “Before” and “After” shows an incredible leap in confidence and courage, from Melissa Phifer:





She said, “Being in your class taught me that I have the ability to do realism and to digitally paint.” Melissa has gone on to art direct for a card company and lecture on art at Gen Con and other venues.




Finally, Chris Peuler is another artist whose talent was clear to see:



But Chris felt a bit overwhelmed by narrative illustration. With a new understanding of ways to build movement and focus, Chris created this painting in class:


I saved his comments for last, because they actually touched me. This is why I love teaching.

I was very seriously considering quitting my dream of making art as a profession before I started mentoring under Todd. SmArt School helped me realize my doubts are not the insurmountable walls I initially thought they were, and now I have a completely renewed sense of confidence and optimism in regards to what I am capable of doing as an artist.

“In a few months I went from being afraid of painting a simple story to making something that connects with me on a deep and personal level, as well as something that resonates with my peers. I suppose the greatest asset I attained from SAS is that now I look forward to painting every day... My sense of design, composition, and storytelling have never been better than what they are now, and I know I could not have gotten this far in this amount of time on my own.



Needless to say, I’m proud of all my students and I only want them to do well (I think of them as my “kids”). One of the perks of the small class size is my ability to offer continued advice and interaction beyond SmART School. It’s wonderful to keep up with everybody and see how well they’re doing. And, as you have just seen, they’re doing very well indeed.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Inspired Book (and Business Plan)

-By Lauren Panepinto

The illustration world is small, and the SFF art community tiny. Usually tiny scenes breed bad behavior. It has never ceased to amaze me that the smaller a scene or subculture—the less geography to fight over—the more people will fight over it. I've experienced this in scenes as small as steampunk and ska punk. I have seen the most ridiculous dramas unfold in small groups of competitive people. Our SFF illustration scene is different. Sure there's controversies and flare-ups, but the vibe here is overwhelmingly positive. I can't name another creative group that is so nurturing to newbies. Students and recent grads are patted on the head and pointed right at the pros, encouraged to ask for advice. In many other scenes, art directors are known for hiding in some indecipherable scavenger hunt of pieced-together email addresses. Here we are easily found, quick to give a portfolio review, and are constantly spinning off some project that will require great amounts of work for little to no personal financial reward.

Sure, I'm guilty as hell of that, with all the Drawn + Drafted projects and everything else, but I learned it from the masters of community-building that shepherded this scene way before I got here. The Fenners with Spectrum, the Wilshires with Illuxcon, Irene Gallo's original Art Department blog and all the Tor projects and events at the Society of Illustrators. Rebecca Guay's Illustration Master Class and smArt School. This very blog and Dan Dos Santos who never forgets to remind all of us to post and keeps this rowdy lot going. (I kid you not he just texted me to make sure I remember to schedule my post properly.) I hate listing things like this because I'm so paranoid about who I'm leaving out and it's a lot of people, so I'll just apologize for that now.

One person I can't leave out is Jon Schindehette, who creates a sense of community and pulls people together as easily as most people make their bed. Forget how many years of artists he's mentored and career's he's launched, he also writes pretty much all the content on the very personal and super valuable ArtOrder blog. On top of that he runs great art challenges that really give new artists the opportunity to push themselves and get their work looked at and critiqued by professionals. And if that's not enough, now there's a new level that you may or may not have noticed. ArtOrder is now also a brand new publishing model and business plan.



I am always excited to be a judge on any ArtOrder challenge, but I was honored to be part of the special panel of judges for the Inspired Challenge last year. Terryl Whitlatch, Julie Bell, Rebecca Guay, Terese Nielsen, and Irene Gallo are truly an inspiring group. Forget how impressive the work was—I loved also hearing the stories behind the entries. This is the first ArtOrder Challenge that has become a book, and the images and stories work together to give you a really uplifting experience.


However, that's not the full story. Unlike many books of art, the artists are not only contributors, but business partners. Everyone gets an equal share of the profits. So that means that if the book sells well, all the artists profit. If you purchase this book, the profit goes straight to the artists. That's a truly inspiring business model for a publisher. This isn't about just adding another group art book to your shelf, this is about forging a path to a new style of creator-owned publishing. Even if the book wasn't worth having on your shelf — and it is, I've seen it all — it would be worth supporting this project for the sheer potential of where the platform might evolve. Especially in the hands of someone who has proven over and over how dedicated he is to building communities of artists.




So go order the book, not only to put money directly in the hands of your fellow artists, but also because I am inspired by the future plans down the road from this project, and I want to see them come to life.