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Friday, November 22, 2013

Has It Really Been That Long?

Whoa! Last blog was nearly a month ago?! What have I been doing this whole time? ...lots!

Some really exciting stuff happening with the Monsters and Hamsters book, been getting a fair amount of freelance work coming in and was just asked to design my first book cover!  Oh and painting and filling up my sketchbook with ideas and pages for these projects.

I attended the SCBWI Art Director's Day in San Gabriel a couple weekends ago and met some fantastic artists as well as made a few new contacts. It really was a great event, I'm glad I went. As part of the event artists got to show off their portfolios and possibly be chosen by an art director for a one-on-one portfolio review. I was fortunate to be one of the 6 selected... it was quite a treat and an invaluable experience. I got quite a lot of great feedback and it gave me a chance to practice my pitch/explanation of just what the hell is going on with these monsters and hamsters.

It was a weird thing to be on the opposite side of the portfolio review and offering up my work for scrutiny as a, sort of, newby to the industry. I've spent so many years with a strong portfolio in the video game world and always felt confident. Between the Art Director's Day and SCBWI summer conference I gotta say, it's made me very aware of the contents and subject matter of my portfolio. It's all monsters and hamsters! But in my defense - it's all I have been working on. It's all I've wanted to work on. This is why I left Blizzard, this is why Dina and I took the leap of faith - so I could make this book! So, for now, my portfolio will remain filled with these characters along with a smattering of miscellaneous illustrations - a desperate attempt to demonstrate that I can indeed do a variety of work.

This is a dual pronged effort... one is to work on my book while getting it in front of the right people. The second is to get work to help pay the bills. But taking on too much freelance pulls me away from my original endeavor... but to get more work you've gotta have the portfolio. Well, I will take what I've garnered from these conferences to expand my portfolio, adding new pieces whenever possible. I'm new to this industry and essentially have to start from square one. The portfolio will come in time... I just wasn't aware of how my video game portfolio was growing because it happened over a course of 11 years. Guess I forgot what it was like at the beginning of that career path... it's all starting to come back to me now. :)

To help jazz up my portfolio for the Art Director's Day I spent a few days working on a new painting. It's always nice to have something new to show and hopefully rally support to my cause. So, I selected a sketchbook painting I titled "Gone Fishing" to do as a full painting.

This time I wanted to take progress photos through various stages... or at least try to. There was a period during the beginning when I was on top of it but, toward the end of the painting I was in a groove and wasn't taking as many pics. I will try to fill in the details wherever I can...

Bear with me on this... I tend to over explain stuff. :P
First off was the sketchbook painting. I did this on only one page of my sketchbook but I envisioned it as a more expansive final painting - something I worked out when I projected this image onto my 16x20 Arches Watercolor Board.

I project these images with my Tracer opaque projector and mask off the borders. I just use 1" masking tape.

Using Winsor & Newton Water Colour Art Masking Fluid I mask out the monster and hamster. The liquid mask is tinted yellow which allows you to see what you have and have not masked. This tint doesn't affect the paper at all. I brush it on with several sizes of brushes - cleaning them frequently as I go. This stuff will surely ruin your brushes if you don't take the time to clean them throughout this process. I've lost many brushes just masking my paintings. Make sure your drawing is done with an H pencil and is relatively dark, the removing of the mask will lift pencil lines. So if it's not dark enough you will lose some of your work.

With the characters masked out I am free to drop in the sky, water and background. I do the sky first using watercolor tube paint (Winsor & Newton). I wet it with a spray bottle and pat it down so it's just slightly damp - this allows the paint to move over the surface and I can use a paper towel to blot out areas that may be too opaque. It also gives you more time to correct mistakes. I work relatively transparently and layer as it dries. The water is done with my Caran D'Ache watercolor pencils - layering light to dark.
The masking material is also removed with a rubber cement pickup after the painting has dried. I will take some extra time to go back in and draw over the pencil lines that have been lightened. Depending on how opaque or transparent you work you can probably get away with lighter pencil lines. Since I work pretty opaquely for the main characters I need darker lines. The masking tape is also removed.

Time to start laying in the groundwork for these characters. The monsters are always the biggest elements in these paintings and require the most time. The hamsters take like 10 minutes and 3-4 colors so I save them 'til last. I had worked out the colors in my sketchbook painting and was happy with it so I was able to just start right in on her (the monster). The only thing to do before touching any watercolor pencil to the board was test the colors on a separate scrap piece. I tried several reds and greens before I found colors that matched the sketch.

Starting with the red. I also had to mask the hamster out since I didn't want any green bleeding into his body. I also masked out the sharp highlights on the mosnter's body.


Next the green. I used 3 different greens for this part. A lime green, a cooler richer green, and a blue green for the shadows. As these colors are laid in I am also working on the water, bumping up the contrast. and moving the greens into the water. Also visible is my scratch palette that I use for testing colors as well as using it as a palette for washing in other colors that I don't want to be too bold.

Laying in the purples now. I am holding off on the tail and the rest of the body for a couple of reasons. I hadn't worked out the colors for that part on paper but I had it in my head. I am also waiting to see how the head part turns out before I commit to the rest. And still working on the water. The highlights masking is lifted out to reveal sharp highlights.

I start getting impatient and excited at this point and am eager to see him really come closer to completion... to see her come to life. So, I start the next biggest section - the mouth. Initially it started to look a little too fleshy, detailed and dark. I worked to simplify it while making sure it still had the right value... Richer purples are added to the jaw as well. The hamster's mask is removed one I am comfortable that area is pretty well done.

The mouth interior is more where I want it and it's on to the blue tongue. I will jump around a lot, too. Something will catch my eye and I'll stop one part to work on another, then jump back over to what I was working on before. I was coming back to on the wrinkles under his jaw throughout the entire process. Also colored in the eyes... really eager to see her come to life. Added some green reflection to the water to better tie her into the environment.

She's done enough for me to add the pupils of her eyes - where she comes to life. Adding that highlight to the eyes is always so much fun. Satisfied with her colors I finish out the rest of the body, color in the fins and droplets of water. I use an deep indigo blue for the water at the base of each element, grounding them and framing the hamster. I use the same greens on the rest of the body but, more transparently and with more emphasis on blues and blue-greens to push them into the background. Added a few details while I jump around almost frantically as I zero in on the finish line.

The hamster and boat are quickly finished, darker shadowing is added along her left side, along with various refinements to the water and body. I finish it off with the semi-transparent colored outlines - nothing too dark. I use the regular watercolors for this part. If they come out too dark I can run a wet brush over them and blot them to lift some of the color. I like the subtle outlines, it adds a level of finish and detail to them while maintaining the cartoony quality I used for the others.

I was able to get this scanned, in full, at a nearby FedEx Kinkos. I was elated when I discovered they have a large format scanner that can scan up to 36" in width. I think it's $6 a square foot. A small price to pay to not have to try to scan these in 6 sections on a small scanner and piece them back together in Photoshop. It just saved so much time, the scan is top quality... it was scanned at 400dpi which is more than enough. It was $8 to scan this one image. I will be getting all my large paintings scanned there from now on.

Lastly, the materials I use. This is a question I get asked a lot. It's a process of trial and error and experimentation. Back when I started doing these paintings I used Derwent watercolor pencils. I had a set of 72 and loved them. But, after using a couple Caran D'Ache pencils I made the switch, dove in head first and bought the set of 120 Caran D'Ache watercolor pencils. I love them. These bad boys just melt away leaving vibrant colors. It was almost a little shocking how rich the colors were. It scared me. It didn't take long to get cozy with them.

So here's the list!
- Set of 120 Caran D'Ache Professional Water Soluble Pencils
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor tubes
- 16"x20" Arches Watercolor Board
- Princeton watercolor brushes (Various sizes - mostly rounds)
- Faber Castell H pencil
- Winsor & Newton Water Colour Masking Fluid (for some reason not pictured)
- Artists tape
- kneaded rubber eraser, white eraser (for those tougher jobs) and a rubber cement pickup
- little metal pencil sharpener (for the colored pencils - gives the best tip without stripping away too much of the pencil)
- blue masking tape
- a scrap piece of board (using the same type of board to ensure the colors' accuracy)
- some blood
- some sweat
- some tears
- and a lot of love.

Well, there you have it! My fingers are tired and I'm hungry. I hope this was helpful and, in some way, enjoyable!

At some point I promise to start selling prints and to do a video of me painting one of these! So much to do!

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!