Wowphabet: A

Wowphabet: A As some of you may know, I play World of Warcraft.

I have also read the works of Edward Gorey.

Somewhere in my brain, these two neuron communities bumped in to each other, and thought that a joint venture would be fun.

Beginning today, I'm posting one page per week day.  I have a nice healthy buffer, but I'll be continuing to work as I go, so this is a learning exercise. (By 'learning exercise' I of course mean 'motivation by threat of public ridicule and failure.' ) I'm trying to learn to work consistently over time. It's not that I haven't done so before, but I've been more sporatic in my working habits than I'd like.

Today, we have a foolhardy undead warrior. I'm guessing he got bored looking for minerals in Tanaris, and decided to pick a fight with Anachronos and the Bronze Dragonflight outside the Caverns of Time. As one might guess from the fact that he's guarding the frickin' Caverns of Time, Anachronos is about to have a late lunch.

Please note that the image above and all subsequent images in this series depict characters and other stuff that doesn't belong to me. Legal-ise version will be posted at the bottom of every entry in this series, so I don't get my pants sued off.

World of Warcraft™ World of Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment are trademarks or registered trademarks of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries. 


bunnies1.jpgbunnies2.jpgbunnies3.jpgbunnies4.jpgbunnies5.jpgbunnies6.jpgbunnies7.jpg This is why I hardly ever scan raw sketches and post them. In order to see pencil sketches, the contrast and darkness have to be messed with, which makes the scan look kind of like crap. However, I did it in this case because I thought you might like to see what my sketches look like right before I'd go ahead and ink them. Also, to give you some idea of how damn much I draw something when I'm learning it. I haven't tried to draw a realistic bunny in years, which means my ability to draw them trails far behind my ability to draw my 'steady diet' subjects (Y'know. Ladies. Dragons. Swords.) so I have to sit down over the course of a day or two and play catch-up. What's extra-cool about putting all these drawings in order is you can actually see me getting better in strangely abrupt steps. Somewhere on page two I figure out the ears, and a few bunnies later I nail the paws, but it doesn't happen in any sort of balanced or logical way.

And yes, the text on the first page is a list of the main characters from Watership Down, with some physical description pulled from the text.

Watership Down is one of the first books I can remember my Dad reading out loud to me (His memory focuses mostly on keeping all those different voices straight. To paraphrase: 'Damn it, you died fifteen chapters ago! I don't remember what kind of voice you had, but I bet my kid does!') and I think it strongly influences my concepts of epic and hero.

Thlayli is still my definition of Hardcore.

Cariama Cristata Titanus

big-bird-final.jpg The title, and indeed the whole existence of this image can be blamed on Wikipedia.

Once upon a time, I was trying to remember the proper species name for terror birds, the ostrich-sized carnivorous birds that lived in the Americas and probably shared territory and prey with Smilodon. (Smilodon is totally cool enough to deserve its own illustration, and will no doubt receive one at a later date.) By searching for 'terror bird', I found the genus Phorusrhacos. While reading about this group of what I presumed were extinct birds, I found out that there is in fact a living modern relative.

Don't get too excited. They're less than a meter tall.

Seriemas are stalking grassland predators of snakes, frogs, small birds and rodents. They've also been known to eat corn, if they're hungry enough. They are tameable, (Raise it to think it's a chicken, and it'll defend your chickens from snakes) but not domesticated. Also, to quothe Wikipedia, Seriema have an "extensible second claw that is raised from the ground. Although this resembles the "sickle claw" of Velociraptor and its relatives, it is probably not used in the same way."

Probably not? Hot damn!

So I found some pictures of Serimas, some pictures of ostriches, some pictures of people riding horses, and some pictures of Centurian-style armor. The result is entirely the responsibility of Google, Wikipedia, and the internet at large.

Laaady in the Win-dow...

windowseat_sized.jpg Not too much to say about this Lady.

I like the folds in her dress, no matter how unrealistic they may be.

I'm slowly reaching an uneasy truce with feet. I sort of like the one with her shoe dangling off. The other one is a wash.

I'm especially proud of her knees, and the way the legs fold over each other. I can't get my legs to do that in real life...

And I like the framing. Often, I feel that my attempts at framing within the page come across as a bit hamhanded, but this is contextually consistent, and also not annoying.

One of my earliest memories of art criticism is my mother, holding a piece of my so called 'early works'. ( It had an Apatosaurous sized horse, and a couple tiny stick figures. One of them was meant to represent a mom, as she was yelling 'Come down from there right now' and the kid who was riding the horse was yelling back 'No way!' The spelling was somewhat approximate.) My mom was thrilled that the figure projected off the limits of the page, which apparently represented a marker of artistic development. For some reason this resonated with me, and I am still fascinated by methods of framing.

Pretty Colors

piccasine.jpg The base sketch for this image is at least three years old, but I just finished the color yesterday. It wasn't that I forgot about it. The drawing was in my 'to be finished' pile, (which is usually only about ten deep) I just kept choosing other things to finish and put that one back to stew for longer. There are two strange and mostly subconscious processes going on when I treat an in-progress image like that, neither of which I've ever tried to articulate. So here goes:

Aging: It's completely mysterious to me how some drawings age well, and others don't. I can usually tell at the time which ones I will still be proud of (or at least not embarrassed by) in six months or a year, but I have know idea why. I keep them because I still want to finish them. So why don't I go on and just finish them already? See below.

Holding Off: When I hold off on finishing an in-progress that I know is good, it's usually because I think I'll mess it up. Either I was in the zone when I started and now I'm not, or I don't know exactly how it's supposed to go from here. That second is particularly frustrating, because drawing to me feels like a subtractive process, mentally. ( Brief tutorial on art terminology: Additive processes are like acrylic painting or pen drawing. You keep putting indelible things on, and not taking anything off. You may be able to cover mistakes, but you can't erase them. Subtractive processes are like sculpture. When you want to carve an elephant, you get a block of stone and chip away everything that isn't the elephant.) When I draw, the point of greatest potential is after the second stroke of the pencil. The drawing is now something, but the exact nature is still entirely up for grabs. As I proceed, the possibilities narrow. Sometimes, I reach a point of crucial choice, and the available paths are either obscured, or look so good that I can't decide. So I wait. I wait until I either forget the original paths I saw (and then see new ones when I sit down to work on it) or until I learn enough that I can see a substantive difference between my options.

This piece was always going to have bright colors. I knew that before I'd even finished inking it. What I didn't know was the medium. I wasn't confident enough with any colorful medium, and I didn't want to mess it up. So I waited. Eventually I got good enough with Photoshop that I could see that path clearly, and liked the end result my mind suggested. Now, I knew how it was supposed to go. So I went.

Moonlight On My Shoulder Makes Me Happy

asymetrical-dress_sized.jpg It's been awhile since I've done a good ol-fashioned sexy black and white lady. I'll admit, they are a food group to my sketching diet.

This lady didn't 'settle' for a long time. She languished in my sketchbook, penciled lightly. I'd return to it from time to time, tinker, and not make up my mind. Or rather, she didn't make up her mind.

I don't know if any discipline other than writers and visual artists talk that way about their work, like the work itself has an opinion about its final form. I catch myself doing that occasionally, and usually the listener nods and smiles like they understand. So how about it listeners? Do you actually understand, or are you humoring the fruitbasket artiste?

War Photo

sepiatone_sized.jpg sepiatone_lines.jpg

I suggest clicking on the pretty picture. It's even prettier when it's all big.

This is an Experiment. It warrants a capital letter because of the number of new things I actually pulled off.

1: Machinery. I've been trying to gradually increase my tolerance for machinery. Generally, I have no intuitive feel for it. This has something to do with being unable to draw a straight line. In any case, I have stretched my boundaries to give you an Aliens 2 style boomstick.

2: Armor. Not only detailed, semi-realistic armor (god bless Google) but it's clearly, worn, scuffed, well-loved armor. Although I suppose well-hated might be more accurate.

3: Honest to God Texture: Not all photoshop pre-sets this time. The leather textures on the gloves, belt, and boots I put there myself. I learned to manipulate the texture so that the shading is entirely a separate function, and so that the texture bends with the form it's covering.

4: Facial Shading and Skin in General: Gotcha. Ha!

5: Reworking on the Fly: When I started shading, I realized the hand holding the helmet was wrong. I thought it was just a little wrong, so I kept going. By the time I was entirely done with the gloves, it was so wrong it hurt. At this point, I was stuck with re-drawing the glove in Photoshop, and then duplicating the textures and effects I had already used on the other hand. The surprise was that the result didn't suck. It was, in fact, an improvement.

6: Background. So I've been trying out the pastiche approach, and I think I've got it now. For your edification, about four (five? ah, who cares) reference photos were combined, altered, adjusted, re-worked and painted over to make that background. Looks reasonably contiguous, donnit?

7: Sepiatone. I'm still not entirely pleased with the brown that I chose, but all and all not a bad first stab at sepiatone. What I'm proud of in this case is that I didn't reinvent the wheel. Before I painted myself into a corner (somewhat literally) I asked the internet what it had to say about Photoshop and sepiatone. Low and behold, it can be accomplished by applying a few functions to a grayscale image.

8: Glow: I put a slight from-behind glow on the head and shoulders of the figure, fading out as it goes down. Bet you didn't even notice until now, huh? But it helps the figure stand out from the background quite a bit, and it is consistent with the lighting.

And now for the negatives:

I still hate boots. The little note on the bottom of the sketch? That says 'stoopid boots'. And the hand holding the gun isn't very natural. I still can't make 'holding' hands that actually look right. Finally, the helmet was supposed to have an antenna on it. See it there, in the sketch? Yeah, somehow that got lost in translation, and I've had too much booze to consider changing it now. Keep checking back, maybe I'll feel ambitious later this week and fix it.

Ruminations on Cover Art


Cover illustration is probably why I got into drawing. That and a being the jewish kid that went to Catholic school, but I digress.

Twenty years of back issues of Fantasy and Science fiction magazine that my father stored in the basement gave me a good introduction to cover art. My natural predisposition to Fantasy, Sci-fi, and History meant that I got exposed to different styles and levels of quality as well, although I do remember a brief period of where I thought that embossed lettering on the cover denoted a 'grown-up' book. (Dad was reading Elric, Mom was reading a long forgotten romance novel, it was a logical conclusion at the time.)

Good cover art is hard as hell, which is perhaps why I've shyed away from attempting it myself. Bad cover art is much easier. Bad cover art is usually bad because it is either too specific, or too general. The generic romance novel is a good example of both overly specific and overly general Badness. Specific Bad is often either a romantically entwined pair (perhaps a swatch of tartan if the story is scottishly inclined) or a moodily framed main character. Covers that focus on the main character(s) hamper the reader's ability to imagine the characters, making it more difficult to identify with them. Additionally, character focused art is often very static, with no movement or hint as to the plot. There is also a second variety of too specific; the dreaded scene-based cover art. Illustrating a specific scene blindsides the reader with imagery when they come across the illustrated scene, while the rest of the story is only loosely visually defined. Illustrating a moment of plot has the effect of cranking up the volume to painful levels for a count of three, and then turning it back down. This kind of art is particularly popular however, because it is easy to do, and otherwise often meets the requirements of good cover art. On the other end of the scale, there are the covers with text, a rumpled sheet, and a rose, or some approximation thereof. These are Bad through being overly general, although I find them more palatable than the overly specific variety of Bad.

Good cover art is not Bad, while also being artistically sound, possessing an interesting visual layout, and not being derivative. Anybody can do that, right?

The art for this week is, as you may have guessed, meant to be cover art. Due to it's specificity and layout, this art is much better suited to a short story than a novel. There's not a lot of room in this image for anything to move, which in a way means that not much can happen. In art, space is equated not only with motion, but with time. (If you really want an explanation of why this is, ask Scott McCloud.) Additionally, the figure is very specific, with details that might get in a reader's way. She does at least have some degree of character, however, which puts this illustration a step above the Bad where characters on the cover are little better than vehicles for primary emotions. (Fear, lust, surprise, ect.) Were I to make a second draft, I would turn the figure, and make her more of a silhouette to cut down on the details. Also, I would move the houses back a bit and space them out more, to allow for more time to pass. All and all however, I am rather pleased, and not only because I seem to have figured out how to do faces in Photoshop.

Before & After

skindragonlines.jpgskindragon.jpg Today, we have a lovely Before and After for you.

The first is the original scan, the second is post-Photoshop, with no background for simplicity.

I am pleased with the structure of the sketch overall. It flows naturally, even though much of the form overlaps itself. This is a fairly typical dragon for me, although the head is of a more rat-like and less horse-like then I tend to.

The color was done with a method I am still working on streamlining, which involves extensive use of the erase tool set to a low opacity. The shadowing will be move obvious when there's a background, or really a ground of any kind.

It's That Time Again

eyecandy.gif Okay, so there's a five week limit before I start drawing naked people. If you are offended by this, well, I have no control over what offends you. But you might want to go elsewhere, because this trend is only going to continue.

Previously, I've been disappointed and irritated by my attempts to draw men in the same way I draw women. There's no deep psychological block here, just the fact that exaggerating curves on women really works, but on men not so much. They tend to end up looking like they have a glandular disorder.

I'm rather pleased with this one. I used photographic reference to good effect, which is always a balance between what I want to do and what the picture gives me. In this case, I synthesised the elements necessary to comprehend the form without rigidly adhering to the exact representation of the photo. We at Inksplot Studios like to call that 'not tracing', while at the same time 'not sucking'.

Inversion Line and the Terrible Metaphor

sketchywoman.gif A meaningless little sketch of the type I tend to do during lecture classes. It warranted the effort to finish it because it is less polished and slick than those little sketches tend to be, and because I liked the line quality. Also, I'm a sucker for color inversion lines.

It is also one of those rare cases where I demonstrate different levels of competence within the same piece. The nose and eyes are handled in an entirely different manner than everything else, which wasn't even a little on purpose. When that happens, it's usually a clue to me that I'm getting on to a new stylistic phase.

Not phases like the moon. Nothing that graceful. More like the terrible twos. The beginning is usually awkward, hard, and frustrating, like watching a two year old try to explain what she wants. Eventually though, there comes out of the tiny mouth a witticism that surprises everyone, including the kid. Eventually, she's clever enough to be witty with some regularity.


Somewhat Indecisive

horsecycle.gif Work in progress. I have taken it this far to reach something of an impasse. I think that the reason it's been sitting in my 'in progress' folder for months is that I haven't decided on how realistic I want to be. I don't think I'm managing to maintain a consistent level of realism through the entire picture, and it's only going to get worse. The cycle itself is consistent, but I'm not sure how to make the background match, and I don't have a clear mental image of how the shadows are going to work.

Therefore, stuck.

I am very pleased with the horsecycle though. I usually shy away from machinery, but I had a neat idea and I executed it without too much hemming and hawing. Also, I planned through how the critter moves and functions well enough, instead of skimping and drawing something pretty but fundamentally 'locked in place'. I may never draw the horsecycle again. If I do though, it will be much easier to position it as I like, because I know how the limbs fall and the gears work.

Unambitious, but Maybe Possible

Torighost News from the real world:

A nine-to-five sucks all the vital juices from your body. I happen to work at a great place, and I am grateful, but that doesn't mitigate the tendency to frantically unwind as soon as I get home. Over the last few months, this has degenerated into little more than staring at the computer, eating, and buying things. On a fundamental level, I am not producing anything.

Is no good.

I think that a venue to display what I am working on currently, or what I have recently finished may help. I plan on posting here weekly, more if the mood strikes, but there will be something here on Wednesdays that wasn't here last Wednesday, come hell or high water. (or, y'know, a vacation that lasts more than a week.)

As to the above: I am returning to an old theme of negative space caused by overlap. In this case, playing with the solidity of the figure was the point. I'm slightly displeased with it, as she didn't come out as ethereal as I was imagining, and the whole image feels rather stark. I was planning on a more emotive image.