Villains

My first NaNoWriMo isn't going well exactly, but my story is absolutely progressing.

One of the most encouraging developments has been the fleshing-out of my villains. When I started I had some idea of what they wanted, but very little of the why, and even less of what they looked like. As my eventual plan is probably to draw this story up into a graphic novel, the visual vagueness of these two very important characters was a serious problem. 

Interestingly, I found that as I gave these characters a history and a setting their appearance developed quite naturally. (This is a bit of an inversion for me- historically I'd come up with a cool looking character, and then have to make up reasons that they looked that way. Which maybe had something to do with why, historically, my plots were underdeveloped.)

Her name (at least until I decide to change it) is Ethelinda. He is Ofure. This is a picture of them in younger, happier days. At this point they are the heroes of their own story, not the villains in someone else's.

 

Photoshop Painting Catchup #7

The seed for this post was actually a direct request- someone saw my work, and was hoping that if they asked nicely, I might do something for them.

So, of course, I did. (I'm a sucker for good manners on the internet.) This character's name is Settaja, and he has a fairly serious case of orc-related PTSD.

As you can see, something important has happened between the last painting and this. I did two things differently.

First, I allowed myself to have lines this time, but I did them in a very specific way. Using the darkest and lightest colors from the immediate area, I outlined the bright and shadowed sides of forms I wanted to pop out. For the arms, this means a pale pink is on the most brightly lit side, and a dark brown is on the shaded side. I like this technique a lot, and I suspect you will see it again.

Second, I've actually figured out what 'contrast' means in practice. I think somehow trying to make him obviously mentally unbalanced made it easier to have a major range from light to dark.

Other aspects of this painting I want to make note of:

Composition. Again, because of the unbalanced and dangerous nature of the character, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to take a low viewing angle. This also allowed me to have an easy background, and I am pretty much ecstatic that my experimental tree technique turned out so well.

Scars: There are scars all over his forearms from self-harm. Scars are hard– these are too subtle, but they don't look fake or drawn-on, which is a victory.

Border: Technically, this picture didn't need a border. But somehow it looks a lot better with one. I'm going to have to ruminate a while on why that is. 

Photoshop Painting Catchup #6

Inattentive-Drow.jpg

The title for the request which sparked this piece was 'An Inattentive Drow Factotum', which caught my eye. Mostly because I had no idea what that was supposed to mean.

Turns out, a factotum is basically a geek. As for inattentive, the poster intended his character to be naive, wildly intellectually curious, and completely unfamiliar with the above-ground world. 

Regarding painting technique, for once my blank-box background is fairly character-appropriate. I assume that for this guy, the rest of the world greys-out when something grabs his attention.

The pose is acceptable, but only just that. I'm still pleased though because I chose a pose that made sense rather than one that was easy. And doing 'okay' on a difficult pose is still something to be happy about.

The colors in general are a bit too fuzzy and non-specific. It does have enough of a range from light to dark, but the transition is too smooth. It could really use more hard edges, more like the hair and face. Although I rather do like the effect on the sleeve, it doesn't quite come across as maille, which was the intent.

Photoshop Painting Catchup #4

Larger version.

Okay, so before we talk painting technique, clearly I need to give you some context for this... silliness.

A pack of Orcs were captured by the fallen angel Bwana, the one responsible for minotaurs and owlbears. Using the corpse of a captured rabbit, he twisted the orcs, making them somehow more grotesque than they were previously. They thanked their maker, and dubbed themselves "rabi-tork".

That, plus a few details from the poster about weaponry and faces, and this is what happens. It's not my fault. 

Now then, on to business: If you go back and look, something changed since my last painting.

It doesn't have much to do with the nitty gritty of painting. My brushwork is basically unchanged. (Although I did do a little texture experiment with the fur on the legs, it wasn't really worth the amount of effort it took for how it turned out.) I think the real difference is composition. This is a full, of-a-whole piece: Not a figure by itself, and not a subject on a consistent but essentially irrelevant background. Here, things flow together, so the eye makes the rounds of the whole thing.

Part of that is the placement of the components– the mountains and the Rabi-tork themselves. But this is the first time I've really done anything resembling lighting. I try from time to time, but rarely do I actually make myself to a full range from almost white to almost black... While I'm working in color, at least. (Looking back on it now, I do wish I'd been more bold with the highlights on the bodies, but it's not bad.) When working in black and white I have no problem, which is possibly why I haven't been paying enough attention to it in color. 

Dance Party

dance-party1 An update of some really old linework. In the linework I was trying to recapture a bit of the attitude of a certain series of drawings I made in highschool, but add some definition. Turns out that was a bit paralyzing when it came to coloring it, so it sat in the figurative drawer.

But recently I've been really working on this 'colors' thing (you may have noticed) and have managed to uncramp my hand a bit when it comes to getting things just right. I still sort of want to make a background for it, but it's really time to just get this one out of the 'waiting' drawer.

 

Sketchdaily Roundup 3

Prompt: A Trip to the Playground. All that sprang to mind was this.

Prompt: Deities.

I was late to the party on this one, so first thoughts like Artemis and Thoth had already been done. So I went with Miyazaki style Kodama.

Prompt: Personification of Subatomic Particles.

Quarks. All I have to say is that particle physicists must have very interesting dinner parties.

I would have liked to develop this in a watercolor style, but I just didn't have time this week.

Prompt: Goats.

Since I did quite a workup on goats not too long ago, I kept it simple this time.

Sketch Daily Roundup 2

Prompt: Gunfight. Having just done a western sketch last week, I wanted to take this a totally different direction. Since I find buckles, snaps, guns, and anything mechanical to be very difficult I decided to push in that direction, but promised myself I'd stop while it could still reasonably be called a sketch.

Prompt: Pareidolia. Shortly, it's the human tendency to perceive randomness as significant. Things like seeing a simplified face in a light socket, or hearing words in Beatles songs played in reverse.

Prompt: Freeday. And also this song on youtube, and the sad fact that I did absolutely nothing for Halloween. This is Baron Samedi, a loa of Haitian Vodou.

Working Title: Snowball

Sketches (in no particular order) from a sci-fi story I'm working on. Like many of my best ideas, this one came from three unrelated ideas that turned out to have quite a bit in common. First was the realization that what a galactic surveyor would consider to be 'earth like' might not look much like our current, temperate world. At one point in earth's history ice sheets covered most of the planet (this is hyperbolically referred to as 'snowball earth') and so a planet identical to ours in all the major quantities could, in fact, be a snowball. With proper 'marketing' I'd bet dollars to donuts they could get colonists out there.

Second was the impact that living in a colony has on an emotional and economic level. Our modern world doesn't have colonies in the old sense- it may be expensive to quickly get to or communicate instantly with Timbuktu, but if you've got the money, it can be done. Formerly, people living in colonies were truly cut off- it wasn't a matter of money. The supply ship came once a year, and sometimes if the storms were bad, or if it wouldn't be profitable, they didn't come at all.

Third was a definition that I'd never heard before. (I like words, so it's unusual for me to run across one in my daily life where I can't even hazard an educated guess at the meaning.) The word was subnivean: a zone that is in or under the snow layer. I was familiar with the concept from watching videos of foxes hunting mice in winter, but the word itself was new.

This is the first time where the environment that my story took place in came to me before the characters or plot. Here, the world defines everything. So welcome to Snowball.

 

InDesign Practice: Flyer redo

I've been doing some reading on basic graphic design principles lately, so I thought a re-vamp might be a good excuse to practice a them a bit in InDesign. Here is my spectacularly unsuccessful flyer from two years ago.

In order to make the redo, I needed to make two short lists based on the original poster: one of the necessary elements, and one of what's wrong with the original poster.

Requirements: Header/Teaser, three informational statements, tear-off contact info, and what is hopefully a good graphic.

Fixes: Too low contrast. Everything has approximately the same visual emphasis, which defeats the whole 'eyecatching' requirement. In an effort to show as many drawings as possible, I've pretty much eliminated true white space, which doesn't help with the contrast issue. Also, alignment? What alignment?

Much better. Still, there are a few things I think I could improve if I wanted to spend more time on it. The graphic is not my best work, I'd prefer to replace it with something a little more recent. And I'm not sure how to resolve the header. The zapfino font 'd' makes horizontally centering the header problematic. Also I'm pretty sure the alignment between the header and the three statements should be consistent, but that leaves the header looking like I meant it to be properly centered and didn't succeed. Foo.

The original flyer is old, but the special is current! Valentine's day is approaching rapidly, and now would be a good time to begin to panic... that is if someone weren't to hypothetically offer you a totally affordable and unique gift option. Just sayin'.

 

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: exercise 3

The premise of this week's exercise is going to seem a bit like some kind of artist hazing ritual, but I promise there will be no incriminating photographs. This is a copying exercise, which is a long standing and honorable learning technique that makes everyone a little nervous in the day and age of twitchily litigious copyright law. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain gives the classic 'copy this great work in order to learn how it was done' assignment a little... twist.

Yes. You are supposed to look at the image upside down, and copy it as-is. No turning it over before you're done.

That tiny screaming sound in your head? That's your left brain going 'Nooooooooo!' Which is the point. You want your left brain to get so frustrated with the task that it fucks off to go get coffee and lets your right brain do the job.

Edwards suggests that you make a conscious effort not to recognize any parts of the drawing as you are copying them. (No 'okay, finished the collar, time for the head'. Just adjacent lines.) She also recommends that you begin at one edge and work your way across, rather than outlining and filling in.

Here's my attempt.

 

 

Though I tried, I did not entirely succeed in telling my left brain to sit down and shut up. Occasionally I could not help but know the parts as I was drawing them. (Part of the skill I have developed as an artist is to recognize familiar shapes regardless of their orientation, so a noob would probably find this exercise easier than I did.)

Interestingly, when I did flip both pictures over, the best parts were the ones that I copied 'on faith', with no idea of what I was describing. Which I suppose proves Edward's point.

Just for comparison, here's the original and mine in a more easily analyzed orientation.

 

 

The art is A Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, by Pablo Picasso. But really any reasonably complex line drawing will work if you'd like to try the exercise with something different.

Say Hello Jack

That's not his full name of course. That's a long embarrassing story for another time.Paul-bodies

Paul-faces

Jack is one of three main characters for a little comic I'm working on. More on that later, as I want to spend this post primarily talking about character design.

I'm trying something new with this comic. It's called *designing* my characters, instead of just making them look like the first thing that falls into my head and looks mostly okay.1

To that end, I've been doing research. Internet research! (Don't worry, all links in this post are SFW) Here's a little list of things I've been reading to flood my brain with quality, with notations on what I'm trying to learn from them.

- Family Man: I'm showing you the introduction rather than the homepage/current page because A) I don't want to spoil things for you and B) later in the plot there's some blood and boobies, and the current page has boobies. But what initially drew me to Dylan Meconis's work was a talent for suspending disbelief of a visual exaggeration. Her main character has a physically impossible nose in an otherwise realistic setting, and you (the reader) accept it. This talent is fairly common among what is euphemistically termed speculative fiction (We called is science fiction in my day. Damnkidsgettoffmylawn.) But you don't see it done visually very often. Additionally she does drool-worthy backgrounds. I'm still negotiating with myself the level of detail I'm willing to commit to replicating throughout a comic, and Dylan sets a pretty damn high bar. Annoyingly she is *also* a good writer, and knows how to balance textual versus visual information in a scene.

- Hanna is Not a Boy's Name: I'm continually re-reading this one as an example of economy. (Also, I like the story.) Tessa makes lush settings with what appears to be a damn good grasp of color and the texture possibilities of digital media. Her pattern seems to be to give you a fairly detailed drawing of a setting, and then just echo the color palette after that unless some physical detail is relevant to the story. Sneaky, smooth, and temptingly less time drawing backgrounds.

Also the face practice block is modeled directly after some face practice for one of her own characters she posted to her gallery. These 'mixed' expressions are much more useful than the 'primary' facial expression charts I'd seen elsewhere. At the moment Jack's body shape owes too much to reading through the entire archive of Hanna Is Not A Boy's Name, I expect it to come back a bit toward my natural style with a little more practice.

- Gunnerkrig Court: This one starts off cute and a little clunky, but rapidly improves both in artistic merits and writing. It's an old favorite to read, but what I'd really like to pick up from Tom is his use of selective detail. Objects that are  further away are simplified in a way that strongly mimics how humans actually use their eyes to focus. It has an effect similar to watching a 3-D movie: he can make sure your attention to what is in focus even in a visually complicated scene, and when everything is out of focus the words take precedence.

- Indistinguishable from Magic: If you don't know Dresden Codak and are reading this, stop reading this and go read Dresden Codak.

Indistinguishable from Magic is Aaron Diaz's blog, and honestly I read it because he's so very much better at this than I am. And he clearly loves it. It's out of my league to try to emulate him, but trying is a good way to learn. I actually decided to try and build my characters this time instead of the haphazard technique based on one of his posts about character design. So, um, thanks Aaron. This promises to be interesting.

1Although if I'm to be fully honest, that is how this story got it's start. I think it's okay to let your subconscious chime in from time to time or give you a jumping off point, but I'm trying not to rely on it. See, the subconscious isn't terribly original. There's a lot of overlap for people that grow up in the same culture and even if you do have a few original ideas you'll find them continually coming to the surface. It happens with all sorts of creative people: When it's an actor people will sometimes say that they play the same character regardless of what movie they're in. If it's a writer, they seem to be telling the same story in every book even if the names and places change.

Relying on your subconscious (or you can say relying on your subliminal cultural assumptions, if you're anti-Freudian) shouldn't be confused with being *bad* at something. People who are just not so good tend to improve with practice, people who rely on their subconscious get less interesting the more of their work you see.

TLDR: Holy God, I did not sit down meaning to write that much. Feel free to just click the pretty links and figure it out for yourselves.

Sporeling

Welcome to the final Other Guy! (Other Guys? Others? Hell with it.) I was really, really looking forward to this one, and not just because it's the last. A color palette I like, a species I like (with spots!) and I get to play with glow-y effects? Oh hell yeah. sporeling

The water doesn't so much look like water, but there's a limit to what you can do when it's supposed to look flat, muddy, and purple. The little green mushrooms could use more definition (aka darker shadows... again. I swear, I'll learn one of these days.) and the balloon-tree thingies in the far background have neither treelike or ballonlike qualities. I am however happy with the misty effect. Given that the balloon-trees came out a bit weak, I sort of wish I'd made the mist more impenetrable.

But this is one of those times where the figure came out much better than the background. I gave him deep enough shadows, the skin color variation all makes sense, and his little whiskers are pretty freaking adorable. I had to re-do his toes and hands about three times. They aren't great, but they don't stand out as bad anymore, which I'll take.

And I'm happy to report that on the very last illustration in this series I grokked a new technique. I can reliably make things glow. Now all I have to do is resist the urge to come up with excuses to use my new skill for no reason.

...

Radioactive special! All commissions with a glowing element 10% off!

Tuskar

Remember what I said about WoW giving lots of screentime to unusual human/animal fusions? May I present: Walrus people. tuskarr

Apparently, fishing is a sort of moral barometer in their society. If a stranger shows up with a big fish, the assumption is that he's a good guy. I can think of worse systems...

I was looking forward to doing the Tuskar drawing, and though there are things about it I like, overall I think I'm disappointed. It turned out to be one of those uneven drawings: parts are very good, but other bits don't have nearly the same level of quality. It winds up looking unfinished, even though I've done everything I know how to do.

And... well... he kind of looks like a muppet. And I just don't like muppets.

Children of Cenarius

Cenarians The colors are kinda gnarly in this one... like the Cenarians were egged with radioactive easter eggs. Cenarians do come in other colorschemes, but I liked the naturally colored fur in this palette so I was willing to put up with the pink and green.

Harder to deal with than the colors is that these forms are partially human. (Humans being really good at seeing the slightest mistake in the depiction of other humans.) Given these issues I'm really quite pleased that this came out as well as it did.

Favorite part: The female's legs. The hooves look dainty and pointy while still being weight-bearing, and the leg bracer-thingies have nice definition without looking pasted on.

Worst part: Ladies' torso. Ick. I'm really quite good at lady torsos in silhouette, but I clearly haven't figured out how light falls on them. It has to hit the ribcage and the curve of the tummy under the bellybutton, but knowing that and making it look right are apparently different things.

Ogres

One of the great things (and painful things) about having a slight backlog is that when you go to post something, you immediately see everything that is horribly wrong with it. While this is good for learning purposes, it isn't terribly comfortable if you're slightly insecure. Which all artists are, trust me. ogres

I've clearly improved in some ways, but I'm also making some of the same mistakes. I'm happy with my color choices and shading, but it just isn't vibrant enough. In trying to make the skintones natural-ish, I undersaturated them. The contrast is fine, but the lighter skin and the metal bits are washed out and anemic. Annnd the overly precious monster is back. The ogre's faces are actually really cool... but you can't see them, because all that neat detail is on a tiny part of the picture. Oops.

From the WoWiki: Ogres are large, brutish humanoids originally from Draenor. They were one of the last races of Draenor's giants.

Ogre culture, such as it is, tend to revolve a great deal around warfare, violence, and acts of strength. Elimination of competitors is an accepted (in fact, it is the only) way to move up in the ogre ranks. The ogres have great admiration to those that can best them in strength or in combat, an admiration that far transcends anything else, including their hatred for other mortal races, specifically orcs and humans. There are rare but known cases of ogres bowing to the Horde when those have defeated them (such as the Stonemaul tribes) and even rarely the Alliance.

Regular ogres and two-headed ogres are not spellcasters; the ogre magi make up the smarter, spellcasting versions of ogres.

Centaurs

This series is going to be fun, I can tell. I'm flailing around madly trying to figure out how to make it do. ( 'How does make do?' is a common refrain at my house while dealing with electronics, photography, and elementary plumbing repairs.) But I'm pleased by my spasmotic twitching, because it means I'm learning. As I've mentioned before, rapid and not necessarily linear changes in style are a strong indicator of learning. (Check out the difference over a period of months between a webcomic like Questionable Content, where the artist has only been drawing these characters for a few years, and Girl Genius, where the artist has been well established for a long time.)

To bring this back to specifics: I really didn't do a good job on the areas of high contrast here. (Oops.) The fur is full of abrupt changes that aren't particularly well mapped to the topography of the surface they're supposed to be describing, and the gauntlets of the male look absolutely plastic. However, the skin shading and arm wraps on the female (the parts I did last) actually look pretty good.

centaur

From the Wowiki:

Centaurs are a half-humanoid, half- horse, war-like tribal race. They abound in central and southern Kalimdor, primarily in Desolace and the Barrens, where they engage in constant war against other centaur and Tauren tribes.

Each tribe of centaurs is lead by khan, who is generally a leader of above-average strength and intelligence. Some of the clans, if not all, practice cannibalism and will eat the flesh of other sapient races as well, such as the Tauren.

Centaurs follow a shamanistic faith, but their brand of shamanism is far different from the more gentle practices of the Horde. Curiously, most centaur shamans are female.

Filthy creatures, centaurs are always followed by swarms of flies, which are attracted by the centaur's repellent odor. Centaurs have no qualms about leaving piles of dung strewn about their encampments, and no concept of privacy.

The Other Guys

You know who I mean. All those other non-playable, yet clearly intelligent species in World of Warcraft. That's right, it's series time.

Before we get started, let me define some terms: I'm not doing demons, elementals, or anything that could be described as a critter. I'm also limiting this to things that you can speak with in game, and which seem to have a distinct culture. Plus they have to amuse me. Most likely, this means I will not be doing Quillboar. (Frickkin Quillboar. With their stupid death squeal. And you never have to kill just a couple of them, oh no, you have to listen to that squeal eleventy-twelve times.) I have not however compiled my final list, so if there's any species you're dying to see me draw, just ask.

On the subject of artistic relevance, this series will serve as rapid-fire, low pressure sketching practice. See, I'm gradually transferring my years of hard-won pencil skills to my digital tablet. Unfortunately, that transfer is not automatic. Something about not being able to see the marks on the same surface as I'm making them, plus the different biofeedback from the digital pen is enough to impede my sketching ability. So I'll do no physical sketching in this series. Additionally, all these very similar pictures will help solidify my painting process, and the unreality of the subjects will help keep me from getting too precious and narfy about it.

First up: Naga

naga

From WoWwiki: The naga are former Highborne night elves who mutated into vengeful humanoid sea serpents....Naga culture is complex. A clear delineation exists between the sexes. Male naga are larger and more muscular, reminiscent of dragons. Naga men serve as soldiers and guardians. Female naga are more slender, with smaller scales and finer, more human-seeming faces. Naga women are natural spellcasters and rely on magic and poison to defeat their enemies. Naga men are more numerous, but as naga consider their women to be magically and intellectually superior, their society is matriarchal. Women occupy most positions of leadership, and all naga pay homage to their queen, Azshara.

Mignoloids

mignoloids_final Welp, I've gone and dug myself a hole again.

See, I have in mind to do a little project. I self-published *coughKINKOScough* two trades of a comic in college, but I haven't done much with the form since then. Of course now I've got a comic idea in my brain, and it's not letting go. Unfortunately, this idea is relatively specific about the drawing style it wants.  And it's not a style currently in my repertoire.  Dammit.

So I'm going to expand my repertoire. (And yes, that does hurt, even if you go slow.) I'm going to accomplish this by the time-honored tradition of copying until I understand how the hell the artist does whatever it is they do.

Today, I'm embarrassing both him and myself by attempting to learn the ways of Mike Mignola. Well,  Fritz Leiber as done by Mignola, anyway.

Rhya and Pavlov

Rhya-and-Pav Sometimes, my fiance and I WoW together. These are our mains, gettin' down with their funky selves.

I think I'm getting a closer handle on a consistent 'WoW' style, but this one is still a ranging shot. While I like it, particularly the poses, it's too busy. I expected the shading to help direct the viewer's eye more than it actually does. I was being too cautious about contrast...again. (Can I just hire someone to hit me with a wiffle bat inscribed with 'too subtle' when I do this? Please post resumes in the comments.)

This is also the capstone to my Valentine's Day self promotion week! So if anybody wants to commission an illustration or a piece of jewelry for their significant other, drop me a line.