Inspiration: Mucha

mucha-spoof At the head of the list of awkward questions to ask creative people:  'where do you get your ideas?'

If you've ever asked a creative person this and gotten a exasperated glare in response, try not to take it personally. You're just the eleventy-seventh person to ask that question, and about 85% of the time, the artist you're questioning has no idea where their inspiration came from. I'll save my Freudian speculations on why that might be for another time, because right now I'm introducing an irregular feature on Spiral-Bound Sketches.  Basically, when I title something 'Inspiration', that post will be one of  the 15% of the time when I do know where my inspiration is coming from, and I'll try to explain it. Either you will find this enlightening, or it will convince you that all artists are crazy, to varying degrees.

So, on to today's post. Recently, I had an excuse to send one of my friends a letter. Normally, I'm not one to send letters. The only time in my life where I sent regular letters was from the age six to twelve, where I was required to send my Great Grandmother a letter once a week. As you might imagine, a six year old isn't going to be much for sentence structure, so I started out sending mostly pictures, with a few words. Eventually the words got to take up more of the content of the mailing, but the picture part was always there too. So now, when I do send a letter, it feels a little odd if I don't include some sort of drawing in it.

This friend of mine has a favorite artist, by the name of Alphose Mucha.  I've learned that I can influence my sketching style (as many authors can influence their writing style) by consuming an awful lot of one unique artist. So I looked at a lot of Mucha. (I did a similar thing with Mike Mignola in March.) This is a fast process (about an hour) when I share major stylistic qualities with the artist I'm trying to ape.  In this case, both Mucha and I love to do clearly outlined forms, and we like to draw ladies who sit around looking pretty.

So that's how this came about. As to the exact subject, I couldn't come up with a single thing to write. So this lady with a blank piece of paper in front of her was going to be sort of an apology for being really bad at writing letters, but then the drawing itself took too long to finish, so I didn't wind up sending the letter.

Fail.

But hey, blog post.

Tricks: no juggling, balancing, or sleight of hand required

neutrals It's that time of year: I was booked through most evenings this week. As I find it's usually a waste of time to attempt to wake up early in order to do art before the other stuff I have to do that day, I haven't been drawing much lately.

In honor of having nothing new for you this week,  I'm sharing a trick. If you talk to creative professionals for long enough, you'll find they all have tricks: tricks for getting around writer's block,  for breaking out of a rut, for doing decent work when you don't want to do any work, for concentrating, for getting more done in less time, and for getting back into it (whatever it is) after an absence.

Today's trick is for changing your medium. The key elements of this trick are learning to see again, and using your hands differently. Both of these activities dust off rarely used neurons, which can be vital for triggering muscle memory related to a long disused medium, and for kicking your thought processes out of familiar patterns. If you are a digital artist trying to do some physical painting, this cuts down on the amount of time you spend saying:  'Cntrl Z. Cntrl Z! Why isn't it working?! Noooooo!'

Liz's New Medium Trick

ingredients:

- One small simple landscape picture. Preferably this is a pencil or charcoal sketch you did yourself, but any picture will work. If you find it on the internet print it out, you'll want to be getting away from your computer.

- 3 -4 'neutral' colors of paper. Lots of it. A newspaper often works, using white paper as your first tone, blank newsprint as your next lightest, dense paragraph text as your medium dark, and black or grey paper as your darkest. As you can see in the picture above, I used white paper, a light grey paper, (here appearing pinkish due to increased contrast) maroon paper and black paper.

-scissors

-glue, gluestick preferably.

-sketchpad and pencil. (optional)

Find yourself a nice flat working surface. If you're messy with glue, put down newspaper on the tabletop.

Prop your picture up where you can look at it. Mentally begin blocking the picture into the simple hues you have available. If you find this difficult to keep straight, use the sketchpad to block out the lightest, second lightest, second darkest and darkest spaces. Don't go into great detail. Focus on where shades change, i.e. where the edges are.

Choose a 'working' piece of paper. This is the page that you will glue things on to. If your picture is mostly light, I recommend starting with a light piece of paper and then beginning to glue on shapes from the second lightest shade, working your way down. For example in the picture above, I thought the grass was one of the lighter things in my source picture so I glued that onto my white 'sky' as my first move.

Do not be tempted to use fancy tricks to create more than four shades! Part of the exercise is figuring out how to create a sensible picture with a limited palette. Also, no tracing. Resist the urge to draw the desired shape and then cut it out. ( I know, this hurts. If it didn't hurt, you wouldn't be growing new braincells.)

If you make a mistake, feel free to peel it off or glue something on top. This is in fact recommended for getting the right shape.

Lastly: chill. This works best as a low-pressure exercise. Have a glass of wine if you're into that sort of thing. Don't stress about your technique, or if the final will be frame-able. By all means, take the exercise seriously. But don't take yourself too seriously. You know what I mean?

Underlit

Another step on my quest to make women sexy.

I suppose I should explain that... American media is saturated with images of women, particularly sexy women.  So much so that I'm pretty sure most of us see more media women during the course of a given day than we do real women. Even if it's just 20 percent of the women we see that are 'media-fied', a significant portion of our brain's statistical data is not coming from real life women.

Unless you live under a rock, you're probably aware that media women go through quite the process to look the way they do. Not to mention that the refined process of dieting, (and I use the term loosely, a diet contains food) exercise, makeup, expert photography/lighting, and digital post processing work is usually  applied to a person who is already at the top of the charts of human attractiveness.

So. Our idea of sexy is unrealistic, because most of the sexy we see is media sexy. This leaves real live people a bit out in the cold, because no one looks that way. (Angelina Jolie doesn't look like 'Angelina Jolie' before the processing squad gets to her. Still gorgeous no doubt, but not media sexy.) Not only does this media-sexy saturation re-calibrate the brains of potential sex partners, it messes with our own brains as well. Yes, I mean you. If half of the sexy people you have ever seen are media people, then you are half as likely to have ever seen a person who looks like you shown as an object of desire.

As you might have heard, everyone need role models.

The way I draw, my ladies tend to be more the idea of a person rather than an actual woman. But for my purposes, that's just fine. Usually, an idea (ideal) of a person shaves off all the rough edges and uncomfortable truths. In my drawings, I try to show real women's 'flaws' and bodily truths not as uncomfortable or as something to be shaved off and airbrushed out, but as part of what makes her sexy.

Influences

So I'm working on a project at the moment (for pay, no less) and I'm a bit busy. I don't want you to feel neglected though, so I thought I'd tell you about some of my influences, which is really just art that makes me want to make art. First, there's Calvin and Hobbes. Dismissing it as a newspaper comic strip is a huge mistake, and if you weren't a reader as a kid, I encourage you to go out and pick up a collection from the library for lazy Sunday reading. (Hell, one of the collections is even called The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book, for you incorrigible literalists out there.) Watterson has an exquisite sense of using panel shape (or lack of it) to convey mood, he has fun with the medium, and often he actually has something to say.

Other early influences include The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, and Picture This, by Molly Bang.

Then there's Brom. He became a major influence when I was fourteen or so, mostly because while I couldn't do what he was doing, I could see how to get there...mostly. He does things that stick in my brain, get churned around by my gears and pop out later looking like I drew them, but really it was him.

There were also lots of Magic: The Gathering cards around the house about that time (my brother played) and I would often paw through them to look at the pictures. Sometimes, I'd find one that I thought I could have done better, and that gave me ideas. Around then I also read most of the 20+ years of backissues of F&SF magazine my father has in the basement, and I can't pretend that the cover illustrations didn't lodge in my brain.

More recently, Scott McCloud has helped me organize my thoughts about sequential art. Also comics such as Lone Wolf and Cub, Batman: The Long Halloween, and 100 Bullets.

I'm still picking up influences, although it tends to be more a stand alone piece like this that catches my eye these days.

Tilt

Another re-vamp. It's strange, when pawing through my old work ( as I do occasionally when applying for things. It's like when you wrote your first resume, and went scrabbling through boxes looking for that scholastic award you got that one time ) to find something that resonates with an almost David Brin-ian 'potential', that I either didn't see or couldn't realize at the time. Re-vamps feel a bit exploitative, in that way. But who am I exploiting? My past? Is it reasonable to feel protective of an artifact of a personal stage of development long gone, when that artifact can be made to serve the present?

Yeah... did I mention I have a problem throwing anything out, um, ever?

What's extra strange, given that I can't throw anything out, is that I'm perfectly happy re-purposing something. There's a very early example of this, before I was even fully formed as a person.

It was a baby sweatshirt, with my parent's college mascot on the chest, and sporting the school colors. (Actually, one of the only items of college paraphenalia in the house.) One day my mom explained to me that I'd outgrown the sweatshirt, because really little kids don't quite realize these things sometimes. When I really understood that I couldn't wear my favorite sweatshirt any more, I burst into tears. I don't remember the expression on my mom's face, but I can imagine. When I'd calmed down enough to listen, she asked if it would help if we turned it into a pillow that I could keep forever. I didn't really understand what she meant, but I understood she was going to try to make things better, so I nodded. A few days later (I can't imagine when she found time to sew, she was working full-time+ as a plastic surgeon and had a four and an eight year old) she presented me with the pillow, the mascot's face on the front and the corners made from the colored sleeves, and I remember being so surprised, and so happy. I didn't know you could do that, and I understood that it had been a difficult/magic thing to do, and time consuming thing (even that young, I understood my parents' time was precious) and that she had done it to make me happy. I couldn't articulate it at the time, but I suddenly understood something. My mother didn't just take care of me and feed me and cuddle me because she was my mother, she did it because she loved me.

I didn't realize when I started writing it what that story was going to actually be about. But I guess that's why I keep writing in this blog, really. It helps me find things I didn't know were there.

If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go call my mom.

Nereid

Another old drawing. Not too old this time, just from late my junior year of college. I went through a strange period of being able to draw amazing hair. Then it went away. (cries)

This drawing didn't get too much updating, actually. I made things in the face more bilaterally symmetric, and filled in a few places in the hair that were a bit less amazing than the rest. I thinned down the lips a bit (they had been a bit redonk in the original drawing) and gave it a fancy border, but that was it. And actually, the idea for the border had been there. Here, see for yourself:

PS: Bilateral Symmetry is when you can draw a line down the center of a creature (for instance: Arthropods yes, coral polyps no.) and it will be the same, although mirrored, on both sides. The degree of bilateral symmetry has all sorts of fun implications for how humans react to other humans. Essentially, high levels of symmetry are hard-wired to be perceived as good, pretty, healthy, and trustworthy. Low levels, well... Igor. Quasimodo. All the bad movies you've ever seen where the guy with a limp or scar was menacing, and the scary lady you knew as a kid who you were afraid of because she had a port-wine stain or a large mole. (Yes, the one your mom insisted you be nice to.)

All of which is to say that symmetry is a very powerful tool to be aware of if you're drawing people. At stages during my process, I usually flip the image (either just using the horizontal flip command, or by holding the sheet up to a window so I can see through it) just to check for asymmetry that's too mild for me to conciously see.

Harem Guard

Whenever I read a speculative fiction or sci-fi story that includes a 'harem', I'm inevitably confused. Why are harem guards almost invariably male? (Okay, we can argue about whether or not eunuchs are male, but you see what I'm getting at.) Part of the point of the books I like to read is to present a new perspective on what it means to be human, and this is weakened if the author isn't conscious of his or her own cultural assumptions.

In this case, I think what's bothering me is the prevailing assumption that women cannot protect women. (Caveat: I'm only talking about my own culture here: American, middle class, post high-school, between the ages of 18 and 45, 1996-2008 edition. This is the only culture I've ever lived in, so I'm really not qualified to make sweeping statements that include more than that narrow range.)

When I think of what isn't shown in popular media when it comes to protection or guardianship, a woman effectively protecting another woman is at the top of the list. The only thing I can think of are movies like 'Panic Room', where one 'woman' is a child. We see men protecting other men all the time, although less often than we see men protecting women. In the latter case, we can usually count on some romantic tension, which helps sell movies/magazines/whatever.

What's going on here? Is this a lingering perception of inequality? Or is it just less sexy, and therefore harder to sell? Of course, saying we don't see it because it's 'harder to sell' isn't really an answer. If it sold, we'd see it. The question is why don't people want to see a kickass woman (plenty of those around, clearly we like those) protecting another full-grown, mostly competent woman?

PS: if you want to have your socio-cultural assumptions fucked with, go read some Octavia Butler.

Dragon: Classic Green

First attempt at scales. Well, I should amend that: First attempt at scales in which I did not individually draw every scale by hand. Clearly I don't have a total grip on this technique yet, but I think it has potential to reduce cramping in my facia over adductor pollicis.

I think of this body type as a 'regular' dragon. Nothing fancy, but with all the necessary boxes checked: membranous wings, the previously mentioned scales, and it's green. Very few animals in the world are quite that green, (the color reference for this was a green tree python) and none of them are quite that large. Therefore, large+green+scales+bat wings = dragon.

Everyone's brain does math that way, right?

Dragon: Barney

To my relief, a quick google search informs me that the well known grinning nimrod has a green belly, and therefore I did not accidentally draw a little winged Barney.

Forgive me for my Barney directed bile. There are certainly far worse children's shows out there, it's just that Barney was the first childrens show I ever watched as an adolescent (while babysitting, I missed watching Barney myself by a few years) and I was mildly revolted by the experience.

Perhaps it's just my memory, but the shows I remember watching as a kid had charm, plot, and dialogue that was deliberately a bit over the kids' heads.  I'm a particular fan of that last one. It gave the kid's brains something to work on (as in real overheard conversation) and it let the adults watch as well without sucumming to brainrot.

In my fantasy of how I will parent (I realize that I cannot really have any concept of what's involved in being a parent, having never had any kids, but that doesn't prevent me from planning for the possibility) I'll have stacks of DVDs of Fraggle Rock, vintage Sesame Street, and the Muppets. There will be a monitor and a DVD player, but- and this is hard for some Americans to concieve of- no cable connection.

That's right. No TV.

Dragon: Li-zard

My usual dragon tendency is to draw elegant, flowing forms that are clearly physically coordinated and adept, more cat than alligator. For this one I wanted something a little more like an 70's style dinosaur reconstruction. A bit more lizard-y, a bit less pretty.

I really like things that are cute for reasons other than Cardinal Cuteness. (Cardinal Cuteness is defined by large eyes, small ineffectual limbs, a large head to body ratio, smallness in general, ect. Basically everything that is hard-wired into humans so that we'll find our own babies cute enough to want to keep them.) I can just imagine this guy very deliberately stomping his way across a sandy basin, with dignified solemnity and a serious frown. Of course he wouldn't notice that his butt waggles as he walks and his tail drags from side to side behind him, leaving an amusing wavy groove in his wake.

Lesser Hippogryph

More fun with learning how to paint. Fun. Wheeeeeeeee. (strangles self)

I didn't like learning how to paint the first time. It's just not really my thing. I learned some watercolor and some acrylic so that I could paint a picture if that particular idea demanded to be painted (I've mentioned that visual ideas have a mind of their own) but only rarely did I have a meditative 'flow' moment when painting.

And now, I am besieged by ideas that demand to be painted. And they want to be painted digitally. They're very specific about this.

*Sigh*

So, I'm trying to keep myself amused while I bang my head against learning to paint. Today's image is thanks to WoW, Google image search, and as always, Wikipedia. In WoW, there are hippogryphs. Traditionally, a hippogryph is a bird/horse hybrid, just as a gryphon is a eagle/lion hybrid. The in-game hippogryphs always looked a bit more like deer or antelope to me though.

So I got to thinking: Regular hippogryphs look like the bird portion came from a really big bird. However, birds are known for their variation and world-wide presence. They aren't like equines, which have horses, donkeys, zebras, (and Onagers, but that's a bit obscure) and that's about it. Now, antelope are also a very successful group, if you loosely define group. Antelope is sort of a catch-all category for stuff that isn't goats, sheep, cows, or horses. Antelope are all over Africa, have a presence in Asia, and were well-represented in the Americas before almost all of North America's megafauna died out about a million years ago. (Just coincidentally when humans were migrating throughout the Americas...*cough*)

So, if hippogryphs can look like bird/antelople as well as bird/horses... wouldn't there be a lot of different kinds of hippogryph?

Enter one of my all time favorite animals: The dik dik.

I suggest you try to get all of your giggling done in one go.

I made a dik dik the donor for the antelope portion of the hippogryph image above. I chose a sparrow for the bird portion for familiarity sake,  because the colors were compatible, and because the beaks are interestingly hard to get right.

And now, a sad rant:

Originally, I wanted to include a picture of a dik dik with some sort of scale element in this post.  Dik dik are tiny, tiny animals, and therefore funny. I wanted to visually share that with you, but I'm afraid I'm not up to it. Every image I find of a dik dik next to anything recognizable is a picture of a dead dik dik. Not just a dead one, one that has been shot as part of an African Safari, and is now being displayed for the camera.

I've always had a problem with stuffed trophy heads and the like, but this is just the sickening extreme of that behavior. You shot something completely harmless that is the size of a large hare, and you're just so proud of yourself that you have your buddies take a picture to document your skill and bravery?

Wowphabet: V

Surprise is part of why I keep drawing. If ever I could accurately predict the outcome of any drawing at the sketch stage, I think I'd give up at that point. But I've been drawing with a semi-professional attitude for about fifteen years now, and it hasn't happened yet.

Case in point: I expected the Voidwalker to suck. I have my list, and I'd been dreading the V near the bottom because while I wanted to do a Voidwalker, I thought the drawing would be both hard in execution and dissapointing in presentation.  Instead, I had the sort of lovely drawing experience that I've called 'being on', or 'flow' but can really best describe as something like lucid dreaming. I sat down, I put my audio on, and got to work. When I took my headphones off, it was done.

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.

Lepus!

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.