Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - the year in sketches

Well here we are at the end of the year. It's been quite a ride. I've done a sketch every day, which have ranged from atrocious to pretty good.

The full year's sketches - even the bad ones - are posted on deviantArt in my Daily Sketches gallery.

And for those of you who really want to check out my personal hall of shame, there's the Blooper Reel gallery. Because I'm secure enough to laugh at my own mistakes.

Here are my favourites by month, and a little bit about why I like them.

Immortus - I llike how the hands turned out.

Static - Dwayne McDuffie tribute sketch

Dr. Seuss - World Literacy Day sketch

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen tribute sketch

Daredevil - I just like the energy of it 

Concrete - Liked the mood of it. I was also satisfied with the texture.

Man-Thing - This one's all about the textures.

Nightwing - I like the energy, and had enough fun with it to come back later and drop in a bit of colour.

Black Panther - I picked a really hard pose, and like the way it turned out.

Giant Monster - another one that is all about the textures

Black Cat - Swishy hair and relatively correct proportions

Samwise Gamgee
This is not only my favourite from December, but also my favourite for the whole year. Everything just clicked for me that day.

That's it for 2011. Happy New Year, everyone, and hope 2012 treats you well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Learning by example

As an artist, sometimes it's OK to copy someone else's work.


No, seriously.

Let me explain.

Copying is part of the learning process.

All artists are, at some level, still art students. And everyone can learn something from someone.

Copying saves you repeating mistakes, or reinventing the wheel.

Anything you're struggling with, someone out there has already solved the problem.

When you're stuck on something and can't figure out why your drawings aren't working, or even if there is just something you want to improve, find examples of how it has been done well, and copy them. I wanted to improve my figure work, and the use of hatch lines to indicate dimensionality and light direction. So I copied this drawing by Jacopo Chimenti.

A few points about copying as learning: 

1. Credit your source. 
Even if it's just notes in your sketchbook and you never intend to show it to anyone else, make a note of where you found the original, in case you want to refer back to it later. But absolutely, remember that you're not making your own art, you're studying someone else's to learn how to apply a technique or solve a visual problem. Because that is where the line is between copying and plagarism, and they are not (as far as I'm concerned) the same thing.

2. Analyse and understand what it is you're copying. 
Break a good composition or narrative down to its elemental parts to figure out why it works, and how you can use that information to make your own work better. Make notes. Pay attention. Don't just be a human photocopier.

If I am a good visual storyteller (which, no false modesty, I know I am) it is because I have studied good visual storytellers. I have studied the best that I found, and and applied the principles I learned to my own work.

3. What the analysis means to you, is what it means.

I know that I have had people analyse my writing or art and interpret it in ways I never intended, or even imagined it could be interpreted. And yes, when you're analyzing someone else's artwork you might be putting words in their mouth. For the purposes of this learning experience, don't worry about whether you're "right" or "wrong" compared with the original creator's intent. Don't let that hang you up, because it's what you learned, not what they said, that you'll be bringing to your own art. You'll be using the things you learned to make your own statement, and you'll have a whole new set of tools to do it.

And that's when it moves from copying to creating.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's a date!

 Just a quick update...

Grawlix Anthology #3, in which my story "Undone" appears, is launching at the November 29, 2011 session of the Toronto Comic Jam at Sonic at 60 Cecil St at College & Spadina.

If you missed my earlier posts about working on the story, I did one on character development one on set design and page layout and just a quick one with preview art and the wrong launch date. Oh yeah. Also, the wrong edition number.

But now it's real, it's official, and Grawlix #3 will be live and in person.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Doing things the hard way

Like I mentioned in my blog post a few weeks ago, if you want to get better at something, repetition is important. But if you really want to get better, what you're repeating and how you're repeating it is even more important. If you want to get better, you can't just repeat easy stuff that you're good at and call it a day.
I moved TO this spot from an easier one.

Making a leap

I've been doing things that are hard or that I'm not very good at, in order to get better at them. 

When I'm at a life-drawing session, I move to a spot where I'm looking at the model from a difficult angle. And I don't worry about what people will think of my drawings; I'm making studies, not art.

When I do my daily sketches, I try to find ways to challenge myself. At least once in a while, I try to draw a pose that involves a drawing problem that I'm still working on solving. And when I can't figure out why a drawing doesn't work (like this one of Lara Croft) I ask for someone to show me how I should have drawn it.
Twisting AND foreshortening. Yikes.

Learning from my mistakes
It's hard and it's scary and it's a little frustrating. I've ended up making a lot of not-very-successful drawings. But I've also learned a lot about what doesn't work. And along the way, I'm starting to learn what does.

Take risks
So, if you want to get better, sometimes you have to risk making drawings that really, really do not work. Go ahead and make mistakes. Make great, big mistakes. Make lots of them. Make bad, awkward, clumsy drawings, and figure out how to make them better. Be patient with yourself and with the lines that land on the page.

Never, never quit.
 Keep it up, and the things you're bad at will start to turn into things you're good at.
the red bits are where I corrected myself.
Starting to get the hang of it

Monday, October 31, 2011

A quickie for SpeakEasy 2011

Want to see what I've been up to lately, and check out some original artwork?

Come on out to SpeakEasy's Comic Book Art Show on November 3. I'll be on hand to have a chat and answer any questions about comics or art or life in general (accuracy of the answers not guaranteed.)

The Toronto Comic Jam will also be there with the latest edition of Grawlix, which includes the story that I've mentioned here in earlier blog posts.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sticking to it

It's been almost a year since I started doing the Daily Sketch Challenge over at Outcast Studios and about half that since I started "Rockie's All-Request Weekends" for my friends on Facebook to recommend weekend sketch topics. I've been at it nearly every day. (I missed one day while I was on vacation.)

There have been a few people who have told me that my dedication is admirable.

Mostly, my dedication is just well-developed. It's been hitting the gym. Hard.

Reach for the stars

Being dedicated is a choice.

Dedication, like anything else, is a skill that can be developed.

Your brain is physically affected by choices you make. Over time, neural patterns are reinforced. Every time you choose to stick to something, even if it's hard (maybe especially if it's hard) you're exercising your persistence patterns.  Every time you let yourself slack off or quit, you're exercising your slacker patterns.

It's a choice, every day, but every day it's easier to make the same choice as the day before.

The 20-minute workout
  1. Make a choice to be dedicated to improving your craft. Make this choice over again every day. Choose to make an investment in your muse, and in your own improvement. (You're already doing this, whether you're aware of it or not. Every day, you're either choosing to do your thing or to not do your thing.)
  2. Make a commitment. If you're a set scheudule person or not, make it the same time every day, and don't let anything steal that time away. I'm not a set schedule person myself, so it's not the same time every day for me, but there is always at least 15-30 minutes somewhere between the time I wake up and the time I go to sleep that "I'm an artist right now" takes over.
  3. Make yourself accountable. Even if it's just posting on Facebook or Twitter "I'm doing this new thing every day". When I started doing the daily sketches but before I was consistent with it, I did have friends call me on missing a day. If that's what it takes for you, then that's what you need to do.
Developing a routine

The more often you repeat steps 1 and 2, the stronger your tendency will be to continue doing it. Eventually, you'll get to the point were step 3 isn't needed much, because you start to be accountable to yourself and your muse, and that's enough.

Sure, there are days when I'm tired, or I have a headache, or I have to do the laundry. I just tell my tiredness, or headache, or laundry that it will have to wait a half hour until I'm done practicing.  Because I've got a consecutive days of sketching streak going.

Seeing the results

And, of course, persistence pays off. Drawing #1 is a sketch from November 2010, and drawing #2 is one from August 2011.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Keeping myself occupied

I've decided to get some practice on the whole writing, drawing, and meeting deadlines thing by starting a webcomic. We'll see how well that works out for me.  I picked a bad time to start, given that my day job tends to eat most of my life at this time of year, and I have a day-job-related study group that is eating the rest of my life right now.

I've had the basic concept and premise kicking around the back of my head for a couple of years now. And now that I have some drawing skills developed, I guess I can start working on it.

So far, I've done some concept sketches for the characters. I'm still trying to figure out how to break down the story, and whether I'm going to do strips or pages. I'm leaning toward strips though, since it's for the web and with a strip I can deal with it panel by panel. I'll also want to set it up so it'll work as well on a netbook or smartphone.

A lot to think about for my first solo project, but I gotta start somewhere.

Anna Schoenberg, super genius

"Names are a human conceit. I know who I am" River Goddess

Anna's friend, Peter. They met when she was a kid genius in college.

He also used to babysit and walk her to the library, because Anna was smart enough to be an undergraduate, but too young to cross the street by herself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Preview art

A while back, I did a post about the story I was working on for Grawlix issue 2. It's all done now, and scheduled to launch Oct 23 at Canzine

In the meantime, here's a little preview.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Using photo reference

Sometimes I use photo reference when I work. I didn't for a long time, because using photo reference made my stuff look flat and lifeless. More like a chalk outline, really.

This week in particular, I've been using photo reference for my warmup sketches, to get some practice at using photo reference without losing vitality in the artwork.

I find the main thing about using photo reference and making it work is to not actually copy the photo. I use the photo to help figure out a pose, but I do the drawing as if there were a live model in front of me.

1. I do a light loose drawing of the line of action and the main body shapes. I'll spend maybe five minutes on this stage of the drawing. On this copy, I've highlighted the first line in yellow, this was to get the main direction of the pose. I indicated the center line for upper and lower body, and made a construction line to help get the position of the forward and back knees in the right spots.

2. Once the main shapes are blocked in, I spend some time refining the figure.This is where I start to show things like gender and a few expression lines. I also start to hint at the hair and the costume, but I don't go into detail at this point. I don't look at the details, or the edges of the photo image, just at the main thrust of the pose, and the positive and negative space involved.

Finally, I refine the drawing with the details. How much time I spend on that depends on what the drawing is. If I was planning to do a more polished piece of work, the same principles apply, I'd just be slower and more deliberate in my linework, and I'd add some information about shading and light direction. Because this one was just intended to be a warmup sketch and not a major masterpiece, I did as much as I could in fifteen minutes and put down the brush after that.

So there you have it. How to use photo reference without  it looking like a chalk outline.

I've linked here to the original photo reference I used. Just a heads-up, there's a little nudity in it.  I thought about doing a PG-13 edit to use here, but the original photographer is very anti-censorship so out of respect to him, if you want to see it you'll have to see it all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You CAN get there from here

Hands up if you’ve ever heard this one:  “You’re either born with artistic talent, or you’re not. It can't be taught.” Or the oh-so-encouraging followup "and you weren't born with it, so just give up now."

Yeah. Me too.

And they're wrong. It's not magic. Drawing can be taught, and learned.

I've had a lot of very kind comments lately about how much my drawing has improved over the last year and a bit. And you know why I've improved? I've learned.

That's right. I am LEARNING to DRAW.

I wasn't "born with it," so I guess they were right about that. I just didn't let that stop me. I went to school, and kept at it until I found someone who didn't buy into the whole "drawing can't be taught" nonsense.

I've had some lovely and well-intentioned comments from friends about how talented I am. Truth is, talent has nothing to do with it, other than the talent to be too stubborn to quit. Once in a while, someone says they wish they could draw like me. Tell you what, kids, I didn't get this way by wishing. Like the cliche says, it's 2% inspiration, and 98% perspiration.

You want to draw like me? Here's how.

Find a good school, with faculty whose work you respect. Pay attention to the instructors. When they point out an area where you maybe need to pay a little extra attention or put in a little extra work, don't get offended and pitch a fit. Put in the extra work. If they point out an area where you need to un-learn some bad old habits that are keeping your drawings from being as good as they could be, don't take it as a personal insult. Listen to them, and apply what they say to your next drawing.

I try to reinforce the new good stuff I've learned, and watch out for the old mistakes and bad habits. If a sketch doesn't turn out, I study what might have gone wrong with it, and draw corrections on it so I can do better next time. If I couldn't figure out what went wrong with it, I ask for help or advice or a critique from someone who I can trust to give honest and contstructive feedback. If a sketch does turn out, I don't take it as a sign that I can let my guard down.

Most of all, I park my butt in a chair and practice every day.

It's not magic, and it's not talent. It's work. At the end of the day, ANYONE can learn to draw at least as well as I do, if they want it enough to put in the hours.

So there you have it: If you wish you could draw, pick up a pencil, and just start drawing. And don't stop.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A new way of seeing the world

The other week, I took some vacation time from my day job at the bank to go to the Toronto School of Art for a three-day, full time intensive. This turned out to be a really, really good choice. Exhausting, but good. The workshop was Structural Bodies taught by Thomas Hendry, and it had the specific focus of giving depth and dimensionality to drawings.

Which is handy, since the lack of dimension has been consistently one of the biggest flaws in my drawings.

The first day, we had a model who wore black and white stripes pretty much from head to toe. Leggings, leotard, even stockings on her arms. This was super helpful. Instead of having to imagine the direction a cross-contour line would take, it was right there in, well, black and white. Seeing it, for the first time, I understood how to use cross-contours to indicate direction. I had managed this before in my drawings, but only inconsistently and by fluke. Now I know how to do it intentionally. So, if you're having a hard time figuring out which way to put a curved line, try wrapping some string around a drawing dummy, and posing it.  I know that's what I'll be doing the next time I get stumped.

 Having finally gotten a grasp on how lines convey direction, I worked really methodically for the rest of the intensive.  Because this was a new technique for me,  the process was more important than the end product. Slow, repetitive and intentional practice is the best way to reinforce something you're just learning to do. Worry about the process, not the performance. It's like practicing scales on the piano. Study them mechanically so that you can use what you learned to support something more expressive later on. But you need to have the technique down before you can use it.

Part of my approach was to actually draw the eye line on each piece, rather than assuming I'd remember or know where I meant for it to be.  This helped when I was trying to figure out if something was coming toward me or moving away. So I did a quick study of the main masses of the body, and then went back in and refined where there were smaller masses and forms of the individual muscle groups.

After spending a couple of days doing this, I got what was, for me, the real "eureka" moment: I was able to see the planes of the figure.  This was huge. I'd attempted planar studies before, but was never able to figure out what I was looking at, or how to express it on paper.  All of a sudden, I could see the block shapes and round shapes. I'd read Bridgman, of course, but had never understood what he was talking about. And then, I did. It was like a Matrix switch got flipped somewhere in my head, and I could see the edges of planes, and the block shapes. It's a little trippy, because I see them all the time now, little fractal lines on everything I look at. It's a pretty big shift in perception, and I'm still figuring out how to process it.

So, if you're anything like me, and you find the anatomy and figure drawing and life drawing reference books confusing and intimidating, don't let it stop you. Copy the drawings from the book by rote until you understand them. While you're doing that, draw from life every chance you get. And at least once in a while, don't be afraid to make a mechanical, methodical study instead of a work of art.

You never know what it can lead to.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Work in Progress

I'm making a bit of headway on my Grawlix #2 story. Which is good, what with the finished pages being due in about ten days' time.

I had originally planned to use photo reference of a real restaurant in Toronto for the location on page 2, but after taking the pictures I realized that the restaurant layout would screw up my storytelling, so I went with an imaginary restaurant that has small, round tables and I just made a script margin scribble so I could make sure that the characters stayed in the right seating arrangement and that the right background shows up depending on which way the camera is facing.

I found some photo reference for the kind of office environment that Jacob and Simon would be working in. I figured if they're at an inbound tech support call center, then they wouldn't need very big cubicles. And since the cubicle does have a bit of a hero shot on page 2, I wanted to know what it looks like. It's a shallow one, where the dividers are only as deep as the desks.

The page thumbnails are all done, and they seem to read OK to me. I like that so far a couple of people who have seen them picked up right away on the very structured grid giving the reader a sense of security and something to grab onto while the events in the story go from bad to worse.

The little circles in the notes are for word bubbles, and the numbers inside the circles are how many words they are, so how big the word bubble will need to be. Roughly.

Thumbnails, minus the ending

The page constructions for the first two pages have turned out OK, and I've got them transferred to comic art board. So, I've got most of my planning done and it seems to be working out OK for me so far.

Page constructions for pages 1-2

Now I just need to draw. A lot.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yeah. That just happened.

I wouldn't blame you for thinking that these credits are some kind of fangirl fantasy. But it's not. They're real, and they're in print.

Check out Ty Templeton's blog for more preview art and other awesomeness.

If you're in Toronto, and it's still before evening, you can come to the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop studio and check it out in person.

587A College Street (Upstairs unit, College and Clinton)

If not, you can watch the Holmes Inc Comic site for how to order a copy in print or online.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My next project

The Toronto Comic Jam is doing another issue of Grawlix, and I'm doing a story for it. 

I've got some basic character sketches down, not so detailed as my character reference for Holmes Inc, but this project has a much faster turnaround so I'm doing the best I can in the time I have. At least I have something I can pin up for continuity.

I used a brushpen on these. When I finish my pages for the book I'll probably use markers, what with my not having refined enough motor skills to use the brush. Yet. And it'll be a challenge enough trying to get the concept of inking down without having a tool I can't fully control.

I'm actually writing the story this issue, which is a new adventure for me. Sure, I've written stuff before. There's all these blog entries, of course, and I've written some short stories,  but this is my first comic script. Fortunately for me, I got some help from Holmes Incorporated writer Dino Caruso (you can check out his tutorial on short fiction on the Holmes Incorporated site.)

The subject matter of the story that I'm telling is a bit personal and uncomfortable (to the characters, not to me and hopefully not to the reader) so I'm keeping the pages on a tightly composed grid structure so there's something to provide a safety net. I'll be shooting it basically like a documentary, with predominantly mid- to close- shots to keep it intimate and personal.

I'm trying to keep all three characters sympathetic, just three people in a bad situation but nobody is "the villain" because it's an everyday story with ordinary people. Again, we'll see if that plays out. Obviously, anyone reading the story would relate to one character more than the others, and have a favourite by the end, but I've tried to give all three of them a reason why you'd like them and a reason why you wouldn't. After that, it's your call as to who is the most to blame for what happens.
At least that's the idea. We'll see if it plays out.

One thing about being the artist as well as the writer, I am putting less detail into my script than I probably would if I was handing it over for someone else to draw, because I already have the picture in my mind I don't have to write it down in the script. So my script is pretty sketchy, but I know what I mean by it.

And being the writer as well as the artist, if when I start drawing I decide to go another direction, I have the freedom to just run with the change because I know the writer won't object. (Or if she does, may need some professional help. But that's another topic for another day.)

So, there you have it. My next project, my next challenge. Now all I have to do is meet the deadline.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Almost there

After months of collaboration, and learning, and abject panic, Holmes Incorporated issue #2 is set to launch on Friday, July 22.

Working on this project has been terrifying and rewarding at the same time, and I can't wait to see the finished product.
If you happen to be in Toronto, please feel free to come by the school/studio space and say hi!

If not, you can check out the Holmes Inc Comic site or follow Holmes Incorporated on Twitter!/holmes_inc for announcements about getting the book online.