Thursday, March 28, 2013

Landscape Color Picking Exercises: Part 2 - My How You've Grown

March 2013

Similar to the previous posts, here are some more landscape thumbnails, this time focusing on a desert biome. I ended up spending more time on these than I planned, and so I only managed to kick out three before bed last night.

In doing the Google search for "desert landscapes", one of the first ones to show up was the photo that I referenced for the left-most painting... and it was familiar to me, because I realized that I tried painting it before!

Here is (gasp!) a piece I did from last September that uses the same image as inspiration... the original reference image is on the top left, my attempt is right next to it, and then the remaining four are invented. My goal with this was to look at the general color palette of a scene, and then try to invent geology with the same sort of mood. As you can see, color picking was not very good back then...

September 2012

As much as I hate to talk about this sort of thing, one can see a bit of improvement since last September. I still didn't pick the colors perfectly right last night, but I did way better, and all without the Eyedropper.

One of the major differences is that my current painting is less "muddy"... the sketches from September of 2012 show this perfectly, and coincidentally, the color palette suits that "muddy" description. What I mean by that is that the range of values isn't broad enough, and so all the colors sort of float around the midtones, which isn't very good for the illusion of depth. If you look at my painting from the other night, you can see how much I've used value to my advantage, from using near blacks in the shadows, and some very bright highlights elsewhere.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy!

Now that I'm caught up on the blog, it's back to the digital canvas... some more landscape thumbs tonight!

Ah, More Landscape Thumbnail Paintings... Biomes!

Landscape thumbnails, it's been a while, hasn't it?

I reignited my interest in these fun but sometimes tedious thumbnail sketches recently, by deciding to do little sets of paintings, all based off a certain biome.

In these two sets, I first focused on capturing the colors, lighting, mood, and composition of an African savannah-type landscape. In the second set, I think it's pretty obvious that I was focusing on an arctic biome...

Some of these I'm very pleased with, others I can see where I need some work. Overall, these colors were all chosen just my observing the source photos. Compared to my first landscape thumbs, I feel as though I'm slowly improving.

How YOU Doin'?

Taking a break from the landscape pieces, as well as the observational studies, I took this opportunity to do a wholly imaginary concept piece. Admittedly, it's not wildly alien in its form, but it's definitely not a species that exists in reality.

I started out with a quick line sketch, and then began coloring in passes, using layers for different parts of the anatomy.

It still looks a bit muddy to me, and the colors still don't pop enough for me, nor is the composition very exciting. Anyhow, it was a fun departure from real life studies!

A Quick Pre-Work Landscape Sketch

This is from last Saturday afternoon, before heading off to work... I had been considering this painting for a bit, and Saturday I was in a bit of a rush and knew I'd be exhausted after work, and so I did this quick paint in about 10-15 minutes.

Very fast and loose with this... as with many of my landscapes these days, the goal is trying to choose my colors strictly from observation. For the first two or so months of my 365 Create project, I used the color picker, and it began to feel like a crutch. I saw a post on Facebook of some quick landscape thumbnails by Ron Lemen, talking about how it was a color picking exercise he liked to do. I tried it myself, loved it, and have been doing them off an on every since.

This particular piece isn't a one-to-one copy of the source material... in my rush to get done, I focused on the colors and mood more than accurately copying the landforms. The original picture is much cooler looking I think... even still, I like to get imaginative with the landscapes I do, at least in my head. I can picture some sort of cool stronghold or lighthouse carved into these rock outcroppings, with wood and rope bridges connecting them. Maybe I ought to start throwing in those little imaginative flourishes to my landscape studies?

Some Quick Insects/Arachnids and Fish

For practicing gesture sketches, there are two great sites out there that have libraries of photos to use as references. They even have some animals to practice drawing... unfortunately, the libraries of insects/arachnids and fish is preeeeeetty small, and so after I completed these, I just stopped, rather than scouring Google for more similar images.

Lagging Behind On Here! And Now, An Imaginary Landscape

I've been lagging in my posts on here, but I'm still posting them regularly to my Facebook page 365 Create. Anyhow, time to get up to speed, folks...

This was just a quick little practice piece I was doing... I'm very compelled by the idea of a vast "ocean" of clouds, with islands of lands poking up here and there. In this quick little piece, I tried playing around with that concept, with limited success.

I'm still at a point where I can't quite fully express the ideas in my head, but I do feel I'm getting better at other things, namely choosing my colors without any aids like the Eyedropper tool.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Glimpse Into Workflow - Today's Creation In 10 Steps

This is my piece from last night, although I am counting it as several days... it took me awhile to do because I had to often stop, save a copy of the painting as I was working, and then go back and work some more.

My goal is to give an idea of the workflow that goes into some of my paintings. By no means is this a tutorial... there are a lot of steps left out, and I want to emphasize that everybody works in their own way. Even for me, I don't always do a sketch of my subject before painting it. However, with humans and animals, I usually do a rough sketch first. In this exercise, my reference image was that of a tiny African mammal called a dik dik, which is loosely related to the many antelope-creatures on the continent.

1.) Basic Form - Spinal Curve/Gesture

When it comes to drawing figures, there is a practice exercise known as gesture drawing. In it, you limit yourself to 1-2 minutes (or less, once you get better), and you try to capture the overall shape, movement, and energy of the subject; detail is not necessarily the goal of gesture sketches, especially for beginners. Before adding the torso, head, and limbs, you would usually start with a single gesture line that represents the overall position of the figure in space.

Normally, it's good to keep that defining line as straight and simple as possible. However, I've found that when drawing animals--particularly quadrupeds--it's a different game. I often find myself using a curved gesture line to start off, and I base that curve off the curve of the animal's spine. Human spines also have a noticeable curve to them, but it's not always as pronounced as those of four-legged creatures.

In step one, which literally takes two seconds, I simply draw a curve to represent the general curvature of the dik dik's spine...

2.) Basic Form - Large Body Masses

In this phase, I move onto the building blocks of basic anatomy... the body. Before the limbs are even a consideration, one has to get a general idea of the main body mass:  the torso, the pelvis and the skull. The idea is to sort of see through the reference image and imagine where the ribcage, pelvis and skull would be, and then from there, to move onto sketching in the limbs. At this point, it's still a very rough sketch, with the goal of focusing on proportions... how do the pelvis, ribcage, and head relate to the curve of the spine?

3.) Basic Form - Limb Configuration

Now that I've got the basic proportions of the body and head sketched out, it's time to go about filling in the proper location of the limbs. It's important to realize that this sort of thing is not intuitive; anyone who works as an artist has spent time studying anatomy. I am a novice compared to a great many artists, but I have taken the time to understand the way that, say, a quadrupedal mammal like the dik dik is built. In this part, my goal was to sketch in the general shape and location of the forelimbs and hind limbs. I started by drawing a rough approximation of the shoulder blades, and then from there, I finished the fore limbs, and then went and sketched in the hind limbs as well.

I don't always take this much time with my paintings (that is, spending time sketching out the underlying structure of the subject), but when it comes to drawing humans/animals, it's helpful for me to break down some of the anatomy.

4.) Basic Anatomy - Quadruped Limbs VS Biped Limbs

This is somewhat of an extraneous step meant to illustrate the structure of a quadruped's limbs. There are, of course, many variations in body structures across the animal kingdom, but I think it's interesting to compare four-legged animals to humans.

In this picture, I've colored in the various segments of the limbs to illustrate just how similar our bone structures really are. At first glance, not at all, but upon further inspection, very similar. Notice the way that the thighs and calves of the dik dik bend, an imagine that they are your limbs. Although they have evolved for a different form of movement, you can see that the joints and bones line up in almost the exact same way as they do in humans; the primary difference in the limbs begins at the ankles/wrists.

Humans, for example, stand with their whole foot planted on the ground, both the balls and the heels. When we walk, we alternate between the balls of the feet and the heels. Quadrupeds, in contrast, almost always walk on their toes and the balls of their feet. Their feet, in fact, are often quite long, and as with the dik dik, appear to be longer than any other bones in the legs. At first glance, their feet also seem to be the calves. However, as you can see with this comparison, it's actually not the case. It's just that much of their upper limb structure is hidden beneath folds of skin and fur.

Take a moment to look at the limb configuration and compare it to the way your arms and legs are built and how they move. Bonus points if you get on all fours and try to observe the way your limbs change orientation... you'll then see why it is that the dik dik's "hands" and "fingers" are positioned the way that they are (down and forward, respectively).

5.) Basic Silhouette/Linework

This is pretty straightforward, and it's a step that I wouldn't usually include when drawing an animal. I basically erased away some of the lines that defined the body masses and limbs, and ended up with a very loose bit of linework. The goal of this is to create a lines to paint inside of, much like the way you were encouraged to "draw within the lines" when using crayons and a coloring book. This gives a sort of template for where to fill in by first pass of color. Once again, this isn't always a step that I include in my sketching/painting, but I show it here to illustrate how I might see things in my mind before moving onto actual painting.

6.) Basic H/V/C

Now, I don't want to get too deep into the concept of H/V/C, which stand for hue, value, and chroma/saturation, respectively. However, they are the three components that make up the way an artist observes and uses color. Indeed, they are the way that our eyes interpret the world around us.

This step of painting is where I paint in a basic, universal color to get the ball rolling, simple to complex. You'll see that at first, I use a light brown-grey color, and then move onto darker brown-grey, with a bit of variation to subtly indicate the physical structure of the body. The idea is to look at the subject and see the overall, underlying colors, and to use that as a sort of backdrop. All the colors that show detail will be painted "on top" of that.

Hue, simply put, is the color of something: ROYGBIV essentially. Think of the color wheel.

Value, on the other hand, is a measure of brightness. It's a scale of light and dark, highlight and shadow... something with high value is bright, and something with low value is dark. Pure white is the highest value, and pure black is the lowest value possible.

Chroma/saturation is a bit more tricky to the novice. Chroma is a measure of the strength of a hue, or rather, how much hue there is. The lower the saturation, the less colorful something is... zero saturation is the same as a greyscale image. The less saturation, the less vivid the hue.

In the first picture of the dik dik above, the hue is somewhat orange, the value is high, and the chroma is low. In other words, because the value is high/bright, and the chroma is low/less colorful, it's basically impossible to see that the hue is orange. If I made the value higher and the chroma lower, it wouldn't show any hue at all, and it would simply become greyish.

The second image illustrates a more accurate first pass for the overall colors of the dik dik, and it is ultimately the start of my painting.

7.) Defining Volume Through H/V/C Variation

Basically, this part of the painting is where I start to refine the colors more, and when I finally get rid of the original linework. Unless you're doing an illustration, then you ought to get rid of your basic linework, or else you might end up with sloppy edges, sloppy colors, or both. By removing the linework, I can start to focus on depicting the subject's volume in a more "painterly" style.

One major difference you'll see is that I've begun adding highlights to the edges of the body that face the right... that is the direction of the light source, and so those parts of the body that face that direction are brighter. However, you'll also notice parts of the body that are bright, and yet they aren't facing the light source... why is that? Well, there are two reasons...

First, regardless of the light source, some colors are just brighter than others. Even shadows have varying levels of brightness, and it's something you can easily notice by looking at the world around you. You can take a black plastic bag and lay it next to a white plastic bag, and then cast a shadow across both... you'll notice that the shadows and highlights appear quite different on each bag because of their base colors, and the same applies to any other surface.

Second, light isn't just one-dimensional and static. It bounces around and reflects back at objects, even in the shade. Mirrors aren't the only things that reflect light... they just reflect light more than other surfaces. This is the reason why, say, during the day time you will never ever really see a shadow that is 100% dark and black... because light is everywhere, but just to varying degrees.

You'll also notice that in addition to these very basic H/V/C variations, I added in some shadows that are cast by the dik dik's legs. Now the painting is starting to take on more shape, starting to pop more, but alas, there is much left...

8.) More Definition and the Randomness of Creation

Now I'm getting closer to my goal... I've decided to change the background a bit to give it more variation/contrast, so that some of the colors on the dik dik pop out more. It's not enough to show H/V/C differences in the dik dik, but also in the surrounding environment. By darkening the background, it makes the highlights and the shadows of the dik dik more pronounced. Using contrast in your art is essential to giving a sense of three dimensions for the viewer.

I've gone in and added additional details and variations in color, to indicate the randomness of the fur color. At this point, I've also done some minor changes to the overall shape of the body, refining the edges of the form and thinning out or thickening certain areas.

By the way, the little "white" splotch floating in the air (it's actually yellowish-white) is simply there for my convenience. Once I figured out the color of the highlights on the dik dik's body, I made a small splotch of that color so I could go back and sample it. However, this ended up inspiring the next phase of the painting in quite a random way... I kept looking at that whitish splotch and the surrounding colors, and decided it looked a lot like a snowflake.

9.) More Detail and A More Defined Environment

Now that I've gotten closer to capturing the dik dik in all its tiny glory, I decided to go with the concept of the snowflake as mentioned above, and to give the sense that this is a wintery scene. Forget the fact that the dik dik is native to Sub-Saharan Africa, and has probably never encountered snow in its life... that's the magic of painting. If I want a dik dik to be caught in a snowstorm, well, goddamnit, I'll make it so!

However, this isn't the end... no, not at all. There are just a few finishing touches left before I decide to put this one aside. Besides making a snowy environment for our fuzzy little friend, I also added a lot more highlights to the figure, to make it stand out more against the rest of the scene.

10.) The Dik Dik In All Its Glory

Although I would still like to refine this painting a bit more, this was the point where I decided to say, "Okay, okay... it's done. Go to bed, Adam".

For this last part, I first cropped the image down, so there was less useless canvas. I also brightened some of the "snow" on the right side of the painting, to emphasize the direction of the light. This was to make the dik dik more of a focal point, and to make him pop out more.

I also defined some of the colors on the head some more, brightening some parts while darkening others. I also added a bit more highlight to the fur around the butt/behind the hind limbs, and I tried to give the eyes more volume by adding some specular highlights.

And voila!

That is my relatively long and drawn-out explanation of how I paint.. hopefully it gives you a better idea of what goes into some of these creations.



A Bit of a Departure

I spent last weekend in Chicago, visiting friends and having some drinks, traveling around town. During my time there, I didn't get much of a chance to create. However, one of my favorite bars in the Wrigleyville area, Nisei Lounge, has two huge chalkboards near their dartboards. Granted, I don't have a lot of experience with chalk, and I was also limited to one color, but this was my St. Patrick's Day-themed chalk drawing for the weekend... a leprechaun vomiting gold coins into a pot, with the Chicago skyline in the background.

If you're ever in the Wrigleyville area, make your way from the stadium down, south down Sheffield Street, and have a drink at Nisei Lounge. It's a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and they have board games to play, as well as an awesome photo booth... and you can't forget about the awesome chalkboards either!

Quick Robot Sketch

One fun practice exercise is to take a real-life object--in this case something mechanical--and try to make it into something way different.

In this case, I was inspired by all the goddamn road construction around my workplace. Amongst all the heavy machinery, there were also several pieces of surveying equipment on tripods in and around the area, and I thought that, with their lenses, they looked vaguely robotic. Soooo... naturally I decided to try and invent a robot based off a piece of said equipment.

I Googled some images of surveying tools, and found one that I thought looked properly robotic. Then, I tweaked it a bit in this quick sketch, changed the colors around, and then added a "body" and some legs. As it is just a quick sketch, it is of course fairly quick and loose, and definitely not very detailed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Do...

... Okay, so technically this is an ape and not a monkey (yes, they are different!). In this piece, I took a break from digital and went back to analog, so I could do a little sketch of an ape with a cheesy grin.

A Bit of a Bacchanalia

Number two in the getting-things-up-to-date series... this is a "still life" of sorts, although the subject was a picture instead of an actual scene I set up in reality. However, in this picture, I still chose colors strictly from observation, rather than using the Eyedropper tool. In fact, all of the pieces since my landscape thumbnails are done this way.

I have forgone the Eyedropper tool in Photoshop, because it is definitely a crutch. If I had the financial resources and the time to paint with canvas, brush, and oils, I would have to choose my colors and mix them just using my eyes and my brain... and so that is my goal from now on. If it takes longer, so be it... it's a useful skill to develop for any artist.

Enjoy! And have a glass while you're at it! ;)

Back again!

Well, my friends, I admit that I've been slacking in posting here, but I've been posting on my Facebook page. Even still, I have been a bit behind, but I've had a lot going on. Here is the first of four posts just to get the blog up-to-date...

This is the last of the landscape thumbnail series (for now, that is)... I can't do this all the time or I'll go nuts with boredom.

More to come!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Daylight Losings Time

Well, tonight I did some more of the color picking exercises that I did the other day... it's a skill I have yet to hone, considering how long it takes me to paint these little thumbnail sketches. However, with time and practice, I am confident that I can get better at choosing colors, and thus producing many more of these little practice thumbnails than I can at the moment.

Gotta start somewhere right?

Anyhow, here are the four thumbnail landscapes I did today... as with the last exercise, I Googled "landscapes" and loaded up all the Image results, and then chose the ones that appealed to me the most. Then I opened Photoshop, closely observed each image, and tried to replicate the colors just by looking. The aim is accuracy in color, and composition falls a bit to the wayside. I still tried to replicate the images as closely as possible, but for the sake of speed and my sanity, my primary goal was just colors.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What Color Is It, Really?

Tonight's exercise was something that I've never really done before... picking colors just from observation.

Now, if that doesn't make sense or doesn't conjure up an image, let me put it this way... Photoshop has a lot of convenient shortcuts for creation, but it still doesn't take anything away from actual talent or desire. The thing is, when it comes to colors, Photoshop offers a very convenient tool called the Color Picker/Eyedropper.

This tool lets you hover the cursor over a particular area of an image, and Photoshop immediately recognizes and samples the color. The problems with this are many, but the main issue is that by using that tool too much, you never actually train your eye to see real color. Therefore, you can't pick those colors from observation, and you become a slave to the Eyedropper.

Earlier Thursday, I saw a post on Facebook from the fantastic Ron Lemen, where he showed off some of his beautiful, tiny landscape paintings. He did them as an exercise in color picking, and he picked the colors wonderfully... it inspired me to do the same later that night.

So, even though Ron's wonderful sketches only took him a couple minutes, and mine easily took me 10-20 minutes each, here is the result of my first ever free color picking exercise... no shortcuts used.

The goal was to capture the overall mood of the images, especially the color palette, and to convey the same mood and/or time of day.

Hopefully these convey what I was trying to convey...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Quick Gestures from the Imagination

For Wednesday, I didn't have a whole lot of time, and so I decided to work on some human gesture/stick sketches for a sort of child-sized character... in the end, I took one pose, enlarged it, and embellished it a bit with some rough colors.

When it comes to doing gestures from the imagination, I find that it's still a lot more tedious than sketching from reference. I suppose that ought to be obvious, but it can be frustrating when a single gesture takes several, several minutes, whereas when I practice drawing from photo reference, I can crank out a gesture once per minute.

One thing I want to start doing to help improve my ability to imagine the body in different poses is to load up my favorite gesture sketching Website (it's like a slideshow of photos of the human figure) and then instead of repeatedly looking at a pose, I'll look at it for 5-10 seconds, and try to commit it to memory. Then I'll sketch it quickly and compare to the reference.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Feeling healthy again

Well, after several days of feeling sick in random ways and being likewise exhausted, here are some of my most recent creations. First up, we have a somewhat loose rendition of a screenshot from a TV show. In this case, it's from the very dry British comedy Look Around You, and this is from the episode about... calcium.


And also a quick 20 minute sketch of an iconic scene from Pulp Fiction...

In the Pulp Fiction sketch, my goal was to try and capture the energy and the essence of the scene, while not focusing on details. I also wanted to try and capture the values and tones of the composition, that is to say, the darks and lights, the sense of brightness in some areas, and shadow in others. Other than capturing the energy, values, and the overall composition, my goal was just to paint and fast and loose as possible.

The Look Around You painting ended up a lot different...

I planned to do the same thing--a quick sketch--but then it stretched out into an extended study. I may go back and polish it up, but I'm fairly happy with how far I got in the hour or two that I worked on it. I also aim to not spend as much time on these things as I sometimes do... it can really mess with my sleep, and well, that's probably part of the reason I was sick over the weekend and the start of the week. Since I'm feeling a lot better and much more rested now, I should be back to my regularly scheduled creation... stay tuned!

Friday, March 1, 2013

2 Months Down... 10 More To Go!

Well, it's been two months now since I started my 365 Create project, and I can't believe how the time is flying. I'm also looking forward to how far I've come at the end of the year, but in order to improve, well, you've got to practice. You have to branch out and try new things... hence this exercise. I am a big fan of Matt Kohr and his Website Ctrl+Paint. He would post a video every Tuesday and Thursday about art-related topics, and he explained the concepts very well, but in recent weeks I noticed there weren't any updates coming through on my phone's Google Reader app. Did he die? Did he get sick?

Nope, he just changed the format of the site. From now on, he's doing one blog post per week, and it seems he's trying to focus on engaging his fanbase with creation prompts.

This week, the goal was to take 1 object and render it in 3 different styles. After a bit of thinking, I chose a 2x2 Lego brick as my subject matter.

From left to right:

1.) Realistic style
2.) Cel-shaded style
3.) 8-Bit/pixelated style

Anyhow, this is what I created tonight... the realistic one took the most time, of course, but the pixelated version is a close second. It's my first time doing pixel art in Photoshop, and I actually painted that version first, before all the others. It's actually sort of fun, although a bit tedious at times. Enjoy!