Thursday, August 27, 2015

Value Control

by Donato

The control of value is one of the most basic elements in organizing a visual composition, from the simple abstract sketches through to the final rendering.  Many artists, myself included, tend to only design with value in the early phases of image development, pushing around shapes, lines, and edges in pencil and chalk either on white or toned papers, happy to leave color options off the table as we seek some sense of where we want an image to go.

Not to state that color is not important, but value is one of the strongest cuing anchors in our visual understanding of the world.  How we read a shape and its apparent relationship to surrounding objects is mainly determined by value (with exceptions given to high chromatic color contrasts). It is likely for this reason that most artists are comfortable and intuitively prefer to create initial designs with limited color.  As many of us may feel, it is hard enough to organize and conceive an image without having to introduce color into the game!

That said, I wanted to share a few images where color is certainly a huge factor in the overall mood and feel to the work, but also call out how value is playing a deep harmonizing bass line to color's flamboyant show within the composition.  I do not believe in following rules when it comes to compositional design, but enjoy analyzing successful pieces to understand and consider the knowledge they reveal for possible manipulation and use in future works of my own.

Below we have a cityscape by Edward Cortez, with a brilliant use of orange in the sky, cafe lights, and reflections from the wet landscape.  A large mass of complimentary purple holds our interest in the center. 

Edward Cortez     A Paris Street  

Taking the work into black and white, what I want to point out here is how Cortez withheld deep darks for only the mid-ground figures and objects.  Allowing them to float in a field of gray values and creating a band of darkness moving horizontally through the composition - a way to create a horizon line without having to link it to deep objects in the distance.  Also by locating a large white figure with a likewise dark one in the center, the two masses play off each other and draw our eye into them as a point of interest, further centering our focus.

Looking at the image with a value bar inserted, we can see how Cortez also held off from using bright whites in his light sources, providing the feeling of under illumination you may perceive at dusk, and graying out his shadows rather than going too quickly to black. This graying out adds an atmosphering effect and increases the dropoff of the buildings on the right, making them appear more distant in the landscape, an effect further carried out into the deep space of the street to such an extent that the furthest point is almost the same value of the sky.  Cortez then uses color here to distinguish the shapes of the buildings against the sky to great effect.  A wonderful play of value and color together!

As a second example I turn to Alphonse Mucha.  I have never seen the original piece, thus cannot speak to the color accuracy of this image, but the values tell us so much!  A brilliant display of control over the entire surface of the work.

Alphonse Mucha   Spring Night    1910
Mucha used a subtle play of warmth in the this work to pull out the skin tones of the two figures from the background.  His combination of those color harmonies with a narrow range of values on the figures results in the reading of this image as if under starlight or through a magical hazy fog. Look again at the lower portion of the image where the figures bodies trail off into a near unified mass of gray value!

The value bar shows us just how narrow a range Mucha worked within, taking great care to manipulate the greatest sense of form and volume from as little contrast as he could manage. 

Lastly a strong graphic image by Fernand Pelez de Cordova.  I'll let you analyze the work and come to your own conclusions.

Fernand Pelez de Cordova   Homeless   1884

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Prints Available

-By Dan dos Santos

I've finally gotten around to making prints of two of my favorite covers for Patricia Briggs' best selling novels, 'Dead Heat' and 'Shifting Shadows'.

These oversized prints are 18x24 inches, and printed on a super heavy weight stock. The prints are just $35 each, and include FREE SHIPPING anywhere in the US.

Plus, for the next 24 hours I'm offering a special promotion, and will be including a FREE 'Blood Divided' poster with every order.

You can order your copies here:

Master of Ceremonies

-By Jesper Ejsing

This Monday the new Hearthstone cards for The Grand Tournament were released. I have couple of cards featuring in that expansion, but the one I would like to share is the Blood Elf Commentator.

I submitted 3 sketches, with very different moods. The first one is super happy playful and reminds you of a cheerleader.

The second is menacing and mysterious as if she is revealing a nasty contender.

For the last one I thought of medeval heralds blowing horns and made a sketch somewhere in between playful and announcing.

Jeremy Cranford, my Art Director at Blizzard liked that she had the horn/megaphone, so I turned it into a final sketch. I tried to make a beautifully twirled hair shape that kind of encircles the top and used the banners from the horn to frame the bottom. Ever since I was in Prague, and was exposed to Alphonso Mucha's Slav Epic paintings, I have had a fetish for billowing hair strands and banners. I have found almost no image that wouldn't benefit from a little added cloth blowing in the wind. it creates a movement that lends life to the picture. Same reason I added some rose petals and some larger banners to the background.

When I started painting I had in my mind a picture that was very bright and happy in colour choice, so I made up my mind to try to avoids darks altogether. I have had difficulty to reach the same level of full on colour in my digital work as I have in acrylics. When painting traditional I have always forced myself to add colours to all areas and leave nothing black ( thanks to a 15 year old advice from Donato ) I have accustomed myself to use colours in all shadows and have fun making up bouncing light everywhere. But in my digital illustrations I start out from solid grey tones. the image seem very strong in values but I have not the same boldness and bravura that I don brush and paint. I seem to make everything too dark and black and leave the shadow areas dead and lifeless. I blame it all on changing media and hope to work my way out of that problem. So when I started this I knew I had to anticipate and deal with dark colours and started out way way lighter than I used to. I scribbled in the pure white rim light and let it go all the way down to enhance the shape of her breasts. I try to use rim light more freely than just on the rim or edge.

As a bouncing environment light I went with a turquoise green that looks almost sick compared to all the orange and yellow. But it really does wonders when you use a cold colour as highlight on top of warm areas like especially the shadow areas in the hair or face. The temperature shift in the skin tones makes it look more 3d than only a warm skin tone would. Remember that skin are moist and reflect easier than cloth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Odds and Ends: Personal Work Again...

-By John Jude Palencar

"Mason's Island", Acrylic on maple panel, 15"x 15"

I have always felt that there would be a conflict between my illustration and painting. Actually, they have both been made stronger. Each approach lends itself to discovery, simple experimentation (in my case) and using parts of your brain that you typically don’t often get to use. But they work for each other, instead of against each other in a positive way - at least in my case. Sure - you’ll screw up every so often but working on your own work will create an interior freedom and conceptual dialogue that’s hard to come by any other way. Those of you that have more free time than established busy professionals… take heart. Now is the time to develop and give yourself challenges to accomplish before you get established in the industry. If you fall flat on your face, no one will hear your head hit the pavement. Pick yourself up , dust off your clothes and move on. Do what you want to do - it’s all at your whim. This can be a rare and wonderful time in you career. As we know that goes for established professionals too ( See Donato’s and David Palumbo’s previous posts on personal work).

Often I describe illustration as having everything, all elements, visually turned up to eleven on the art amplifier. That being said, there are many illustrators that have a very subtle technique and conceptual approaches. Now that I have that covered…. When creating personal work, you have a chance to fool around will the EQ, amplitude or even the pitch of an image. Doing personal work will give you that opportunity to listen and develop your own internal voice. In essence you are the art director. I’m not saying - do an illustration. Do a piece of art with no thought of type placement or where does the authors name go… just paint. Creating personal work can be a monastic and almost spiritual in nature. Finding new creative layers within yourself can be surprising and liberating. How you choose to develop and at what pace will only get better and increase when the effort comes from your heart with sincerity and authentic inspiration.

“Discipline breeds freedom”.

My examples shown here are not earthshaking or groundbreaking in any way. The drawings and paintings are just another foray into the dark. These are quiet attempts. In fact I don’t see them as complete visual statements. They are somewhat malformed but they are a way of keeping my hands busy. These are artistic wanderings… they do however serve to gestate concepts and explore new avenues. They may and have led to new ventures and artistic opportunities.

I can’t stress the importance of keeping a sketchbook. I have noticed that when I don’t sketch or develop personal concepts my work and attitude are lessened. I am guilty of not drawing enough in my sketchbooks. So I yell at myself internally, and yes, sometimes even out loud. Pardon my noise.

Below are a few things I’ve been working on.

Dress Form Study #1 Pencil

Dress Form Study #2, Pencil

Dress Form Study #3, Pencil

Dress Form, Acrylic on birch panel, 31.27" x 24"

"Sharon's Bell"  (detail), Acrylic on board, 30" x 33"

Easel Line

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Chesleys +

by Arnie Fenner

The Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists presented the annual Chesley Awards August 20th during Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, WA. Without further ado, this year's honorees are:

Best Cover Illustration / Hardcover
Julie Dillon, Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology edited by Brandon Sanderson; Dragonsteel Entertainment, June 2014

Best Cover Illustration – Paperback
Raoul Vitale, Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 edited by Kij Johnson; Prometheus/Pyr

Best Cover Illustration – Magazine
Julie Dillon, Analog, April 2014

Best Interior Illustration
Anna Balbusso and Elena Balbusso, “Ekaterina and the Firebird” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe;, January 2014

Best Color Work – Unpublished
Michael C. Hayes, "Alegretto" [oils]

Best Monochrome Work – Unpublished
Allen Williams, “Sphynx” [graphite]

Best Three-Dimensional Art
Dan Chudzinski, "The Mudpuppy" [resin & mixed media]

Best Gaming Related Illustration
Peter Mohrbacher, "Pharika, God of Affliction" Magic card, Journey into Nyx; WotC, May 2014

Best Product Illustration
Donato Giancola, George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire 2015 calendar Bantam, 2014

Best Art Director
Irene Gallo, Tor &

Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award
John Harris

And then there were the Hugo Awards presented by the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention.

Yesh. What a mess leading up to the ceremony May 22.

I'm not going to link to any of the numerous stories that have appeared over the months everywhere from NPR to the Huffington Post to The Atlantic to i09 and beyond; if you're curious just Google "Hugo Award Controversy" and prepare for a whole lotta...sadness. The innocent parties are not those on either side of the fisticuffs—regardless of whether their points were good or bad—who deliberately engaged in internet/social media name-calling, character assassinations, threatening and otherwise hurtful behavior. Rather, those deserving of sympathy are some of the nominees who were inadvertently caught in the middle of a (let's be honest) silly tug-of-war over SF's oldest award. What should have been a happy circumstance (a nomination) and a happy night (the Hugo ceremony) will now always have a negative asterisk in the listings.

Anyway, as a response to the controversy, "No Award" was presented in multiple categories—but not for the artists. The winner of the "Best Artist" Hugo this year was Julie Dillon (below left); the "Best Fan Artist" rocket went to Elizabeth Leggett (below right). You can find a complete list of this year's Hugo results here.

Will the Hugo fighting continue next year? I hope not. Maybe if everyone will take a step back and consider...

But tomorrow is another day so let's simply say to the Chesley and the Hugo honorees: Congratulations one & all!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons: Arzak Rhapsody

In 2002, Moebius directed a series of 14 short animations based on his huge popular comic 'Arzach'. 'Arzak Rhapsody' is a compilation of all these episodes, which follow the adventures of a silent warrior who rides a pterodactyl-like creature through strange, desolate landscapes.

Although the animation was not done by Moebius himself, and definitely lacks his level finesse, it does do a great job of emulating his style and bringing his world to life.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guilty Pixels

-By Howard Lyon

When I was a kid, my dad bought a copy of Deluxe Paint.  It was a DOS based program, but it was an amazing leap forward for the home computer.  Somewhat tedious, but it didn't matter.  256 glorious colors!  The only limitation seemed to be the amount of time you were willing to spend clicking around with the mouse.  You could even cycle the palettes! *head spins*

Pixel art worm done for Eidos Games Revenant
A few years later, we had an Atari 1040 ST and we bought an updated copy of Deluxe Paint.  The new version had a similar interface, but you could use 4096 colors!  Mind blowing.  I spent many hours creating animations and paintings, one pixel at a time.  Little did I know it would prepare me for a future job.

While studying illustration at BYU I was hired at the video game company, Saffire.  To my surprise 10 years after first using the program, I was now getting paid to use Deluxe Paint to create art for Game Boy, Virtual Boy, Saturn, NES and PC games.  We also used Photoshop and Fractal Painter 3, but the DP was still the workhorse.  It created a real love for painting at the pixel level that continues today.  I don't do a lot, but I like to have a little taste here and there.

These days, most the pixel art I do is for the occasional video game in the form of icons.  Here is some work from a few of the games I have worked on:

Tabula Rasa - I had the chance to do nearly all of the icons for NCSoft's game Tabula Rasa.  It was a great project to do contract work for.  I did literally thousands of icons for the project.  Here is a sampling:

Stargate Worlds - I was the Art Director on Stargate Worlds and when it came time to get the icons done, I couldn't bring myself to outsource them.  I did about 1500 icons for the game, many of them at home to wind down for the day.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Most recently I have been working on icons for Electronic Arts/Bioware's game.  I have done more than 2000 icons for the game.  I haven't done all the icons for the game, but I think over 90% judging by the icons I have seen in game.  It is a wonderful project to be part of, even if just for the icons.  Here is a tiny sample of the work I have done for SWTOR.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these little paintings.  I don't use Deluxe Paint anymore, but I learned a lot from those days.  I find Corel Painter is great for pixel art, and Photoshop has some great tools too (like creating a new window so you can see it at multiple zoom levels at the same time).

I spend most of my days with a brush in hand, and oil paint on canvas, but the occasional dip back in the pixel pot is refreshing.

Thank you,

Howard Lyon