Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tales from the Wilder Forest Kickstarter

By Justin Gerard

Friend and fellow MuddyColors contributor Cory Godbey is running a wonderful little Kickstarter for a project that I am very jealous of.  It is called Tales from the Wilder Forest. A Collection of fantastic little bonfire short stories by Cael Jacobs which Cory is currently illustrating.

The Kickstarter has already hit (and more than doubled) its original goal and is now taking the last of the orders for the project. You should check it out.  It may be the only way to get a hold of the books. And it ends April 15.  THAT IS TODAY. TODAY IS LITERALLY THE LAST DAY.  Leave now and check it out on the Kickstarter page.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Comic Book Coloring — Part 1 of 3

Ink on bristol board with digital color, 11 × 17″.

For my next 3 posts, I'm going to focus on the art of digital comic book coloring. Although a rather narrow subject, I hope to address some broader concepts that apply to color in general. Today's post, however, will be a bit of a primer since many of the topics will be on the technical side.

I almost always color myself, but that's not the case with most comics, especially those produced by the major publishers. More often than not, the tight deadlines necessitate a division of labor in which the colorist and letterer are the last people on the assembly line. For our purposes, we'll begin with an inked page.

The process starts with a good scan. The typical comic book page is drawn on 11 × 17″ bristol board, on which a template has been printed. I scan pages at 400 pixels per inch (ppi). Since my inks usually have blue-line pencils underneath, I scan in full color, which means they can easily be filtered out. (I have a Photoshop action to automate this process, which I hope to make available soon.)

Daredevil #10, Page 15. 2012.
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Cropping, although fairly simple in concept, can streamline the overall process if done consistently. I have a crop tool set to the desired dimensions, 4125 x 6262 pixels, with the "Perspective" option checked. Since this allows the corners to be dragged independently, I can match them precisely to the corners of the printed border. Aside from keeping all your page files consistent, it keeps everything perfectly aligned — this is especially helpful when matching up digital elements with analog artwork, i.e. panel borders, logos, or 3D models. You can read more about the cropping process here.

raw scan vs. bitmap TIFF, 200% zoom

Although our original scan is 4125 x 6262 px, the final color output will eventually be 2/3 that. That's because inks are saved in a different file format, a bitmap TIFF, which reduces the colors in the image to just 2, black and white. (You can control the specifics of this transformation under Image > Adjustments >Threshold.) While this saves a ton of memory (a typical page is under 500 KB) it requires a higher resolution to avoid a pixelated look.

Flats without inks

I then send the file to my assistant, Orpheus Collar, who colors the image on a separate layer. This process is called flatting, its purpose being to break up the the image into shapes, rather than to produce a finalized color scheme. Flatting makes it easy to select and alter patches of color. What he returns to me is an RGB file with at least 2 layers, more if there are "special effects," pictured below.

Elements that will "glow" can be isolated on a separate layer.

There are plenty of tutorials on-line, and even some automated plug-ins, but I'd like to go over the basic concepts. The inked page goes on the top layer, the mode set to "Multiply," which makes all the white pixels transparent. The "flats" layer goes below that. The key to easy selection is making sure the flats aren't anti-aliased, meaning that no 2 colors are blended at the edges.

Brush vs. Pencil

In order to preserve those hard edges, I use the Pencil tool when editing the flats (as opposed to the Brush tool). If I use the Magic Wand to select pixels or the Bucket to fill them, the tolerance must be set to "0" to avoid blending colors.

Ink on bristol board with digital color, 11 × 17″.

Lastly, I color every page at full resolution, just in case I ever need a bigger version. It's also to avoid a mistake I sometimes see colorists make. If you downsize your inks in their native, 2-color format, the inks will look pixelated when printed. Also, if you downsize your flats before coloring, it may not preserve the hard edges you worked so hard to create. While there are a few ways to avoid those issues, saving reduction until the last step makes everything easier.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Observations from the Old School

-By Tim Bruckner

If you want to be a commercial sculptor, you’ll need to know Zbrush. That, as far as can see, is the current reality. More and more companies require it. And more and more of my colleagues are using it or are learning how to use it. Zbrush has changed the way product is created, which in turn, has changed the way it looks. But at what cost?

Traditional sculpture is very inefficient. It takes way too long, requires way too much effort and can be frustrating for an Art Director or Product Manager in that changes to a piece require the services of a hands-on sculptor. You can mouse click on a traditional sculptor all day long and nothing happens. You can mouse click a function in Zbrush and you’re done.

Just to be clear. I am old school. Any more old school and I’d be churning my own butter and waiting for Edgar Burgen and Charlie McCarthy to come on the radio. I’d be buying war bonds and reading Photoplay.

In the old days, before a piece was started, a traditional sculptor (TS) would have a conversation with their AD (art director) or PM (product manager). A conversation over the phone. In real time. Over the phone. Both the TS and the AD or PM would review the art/design for the sculpture. They’d discuss interpretation and engineering. How to make the piece factory friendly. Separate at the shoulder? Are the hands part of the arms or do they plug in. What about capes? You ask any TS what their least favorite thing to sculpt is and capes will be near the top of the list. They are a pain in the ass. Aside from trying to make the thing look as if it’s in motion (which is often what its supposed to look like it’s doing.) there’s the issue of tolerances. A cape for a cast resin piece will need to be made differently than a cape produced for PVC. There’s weight, support and factory production issues to consider.

Then, there’s reference. Before the proliferation of image hosting sites, the TS, with their AD’s help, would compile as much reference as possible. This ref would come from books, magazines or comic books. Typically, a TS would have a cork board or some such thing, covered with reference.

Sometimes, an ambitious TS would scan images to create image sheets. The down side to this method of reference accumulation was the time and effort it took. The up side of this method was the time and effort it took. The TS was forced to spend a lot of time with an array of images. And the more time they spent with them, the better they understood what they were looking at and the relevance of some of the design preferences of the artist. Every artist has a bias. A stylistic imperative. It’s up to the TS to recognize it and incorporate it if they can.

So, armed with a game plan, work can begin.

A TS starts a piece considering the practical. First step, an armature needs to be built. No two TS’s build an armature the same way. The only consistent factor is, it will need to be rock solid and contend with a fair amount of abuse. A TS will only build a weak, unstable armature once. There are few things more frustrating that laying up clay on an armature that wiggles or wobbles or worse, starts to fall apart. The key to building a good armature is for it to be solid enough to support the clay and be flexible enough to be easily repositioned.

Ok. Armature built. Now, its clay time. These days, there’s such a variety of clays available, it’s a little intimidating. In the old days, the rotary dial days, there were maybe three or four. Once a TS found their clay, They were reluctant to switch. Why? Because they’d developed and intimacy with it and switching would be akin to breaking up with a lover or abandoning a loyal pet. And am not kidding. Its not that a TS won’t switch. But it ain’t easy. Often, they’ll consider changing clays because their needs have changed. The way they work will have changed and they’ll need a material to respond to that change. A TS may find a brand they like but may use different firmnesses based on the job. A softer clay for larger pieces and a more firm clay for smaller pieces. So far, I’ve been talking about traditional oil based clays. But many TS’s use a polymer clay, like Sculpey or Fimo and will mix them for a specific density. And then there are specialty clays and water based clays. A TS working today has more choices for sculpting material than any other time in history.

Regardless of the clay a TS uses, the relationship between artist and material is unique and personal. It’s a collaboration. I’m not the first one to admit that there have been times when the clay is smarter about the job I’m working on than I am. As a TS develops a piece, they’re responding to the way light plays over the forms, how shapes relate to shapes. As a TS draws their thumb through clay, something happens. In that draw, a flow of motion is created, a character is indicated. Something so subtle can change the course of the way the piece develops. I’ve worked on pieces absolutely determined to sculpt hair a certain way. And then that unexpected shape presents itself and I’ve had to rethink the entire design. Is the clay actually smarter than I am? Probably not. Probably not. But there’s been times when a piece will want something different from what I intended and I’d have to pretty damn dim, not to pay attention to it.

And then there’s the TS’s relationship with light. Real, coming through the windows, shinning through the skylights, sunlight. Or, an array of studio lights. Either way, its real. The ability to see the piece in its natural environment is invaluable to the TS. No art is more affected by the fluctuation of light and shadow than 3D. With 2D, every element is controlled by the artist. With 3D, unless a TS comes to your house, with a flashlight and a reflector, the way their piece is lit is entirely up to the collector. Low angle light changes the look and character of a piece as does over head light or side sourced light. As the TS works a piece, they reference it under a variety of lighting conditions and those variables inform the piece.

Working with clay invites the TS to explore the vagaries of the human condition. The tilt of the head, the poise of a hand, the turn of a foot and the importance and necessity of aysetmery. And why is that? Because, often a TS will work through the action physically. The character in the sculpt is supposed to be wielding a sword. Want to know what the arms do in relation to the hips? Get up, grab a broom handle and wave it around and you’ll know. What if your character is supposed to be standing heroically. Hands on hips perhaps? Cape blowing in the wind of resoluteness? No better way to know what that looks like then to do it. Physically becoming the character helps inform it. And having the clay, right in front of you to work those issues out, grounds it in what we identify as a living gesture. As a TS, I can tell you, when you do act out your character, its best if you do it alone. It is rife with potential humiliation for a senior TS to be caught twirling around his backyard trying to get a sense of how it would look for Supergirl to experience flight for the first time.

Working a piece in clay gives the TS a greater opportunity for reflection and critical evaluation. At the end of the day, the TS will cover their piece and leave the work behind. Its not that they have stopped thinking about it. But they’re not looking at it. They come back, a gallon thermos of coffee and what could maybe pass for breakfast and see the piece with a different set of eyes under different light, at a different time of day. This reevaluation isn’t exclusive to TS’s. Every artist reflects on a piece in progress in their own way. The difference between a TS and a Digital Modeler, is that with the DM, the conditions under which they last saw the piece are exactly the same. The play of randomness is removed.

When it comes right down to it, Zbrush is a tool. Whether a sculptor uses a rake or a stylus, the quality of the art is the result of the skill and imagination of the artist who uses it. Good art is good art, it don’t get much more simple than that.

So, maybe the days of the TS working as a commercial sculptor are numbered. They probably are. Budgets are shrinking. Deadlines are being tightened. Many of the properties destined for product live as digital flies already. But there will always be place for traditional work. Maybe it will survive and thrive with smaller companies interested in exploring properties not tied to the pulse of now-media. Or, maybe traditional sculpture will find its renewed relevance in the exploration of characters alive in the pages of cloth bound books. It could happen…

In the late seventies, early eighties, acoustic music was considered on its way out. Why would you want to hire a musician to play something you could mimic on a synthesizer? Whole records were produced where the only living thing on them was the vocalist. But things settled out, as they always will. And this will too. We are too intimately tied to the human condition not to want to see it reflected back at us in our art. And somewhere that reflection will be created by a human with hands knuckle deep in clay.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my buggy awaits…

Friday, April 11, 2014


by Greg Ruth

Time and again I seem to be required to craft two fully fleshed out final paintings for every single cover, mostly for Tor.com’s short online fictions, and it’s not a bad thing at all. Sort of. To date I still can only speculate as to the cause for this recent phenomenon, but I think if not fully on target, this theory hits close enough to brave an article about it.  Not by request am I tasked to do this mind you, but by the process of making the pieces. Within this practice, at each turn are different causes for this seemingly time-wasting habit, which makes it hard to solve if solving it is even a good idea at all. So I’ll cleave out a few cases and hopefully you’ll see why.

To be fair to Irene Gallo, (my art director on these images), the initial issue is that I tend to make final pieces before showing them- note to you who are starting out in this business: DO NOT do this! Or at the very least try to avoid it. But if it's just the way you work, find enough luck or providence to locate an art director or editor who will allow for this insane practice. It does, by cutting out the sketch process also cut their input out, and this can be troublesome for all involved. So if you work this way, you have to also understand you must be ready to work a whole brand new piece if the one you chose doesn't fit the bill. It is the price of this freedom, but despite the excesses of work it creates, can be more than worth it. Sort of.

The practice of approaching a job like this will require of you two things- that A.) you complete the piece early enough to apply changes where needed to meet deadline, and B.) be prepared to do it all over again. This approach essentially cuts out the usual and essential preparatory process of thumbnails to sketches to painting that helps an AD or editor jump in and head off blind alleys or fuzzy themes, or any number of misfires an artist can do when crafting a cover. SO there’s that. And these days, most cover images are ultimately submitted through committees for approval. And this practice can foil the best intentions of that system. That said, personally I find after having done dozens of covers over the last twenty or so years, I can grok a cover fairly determinately through reading the story or full manuscript, (you should ALWAYS read the material if time allows- there is no better way to find the right image to pull from than doing that. Summaries and editorial suggestions never come close to the level of originative quality you achieve when the narrative speaks to your creative process directly). But in the case of Tor, Irene and I have a funny kind of simpatico with each other that allows for this to happen where in other cases it should not. She is a deft enough AD to know what appropriate assignments to throw my way, and I trust her enough to know that and her judgment when assessing my art for them. This kind of relationship is the golden ring of illustration- a practice best served by the alchemy of having one person wading deep out into the creative waters, and another on shore holding the tow-line to make sure the artist doesn’t get too far out or caught in the undertow.

First up as evidence of all that I warn you of, is SING by Karen Tidbeck. Unlike many of the harder assignments I’ve gotten from Irene and Tor, this one was filled to the brim with potential visual cues. That can sometimes be a burden, and was so in this case. The first image as you see here, while being interesting to various degrees is breaking one of the important Manchess rules of good cover work: it’s saying too much at once. So the response to this, after pondering it from both sides, was a simple reduction. The thing I adore about Irene in this process is that she guides me to this by a well worn practice of imponderable quiet, or simply by saying it may say too much, both leaving me to find out how to fix it. Which is fine because that’s my job.

So as is my usual I begin wracking my brain for a solution- usually involving trying to utterly rethink the entire premise of my approach, a period of panic that leads me to realize that the solution, in this case, was already there in the picture: Just focus in on the bird in the man’s mouth. When you’ve got a case of an overly baroque piece like this, it is often true that the best way out of the bramble patch is indeed simply zooming in on one of the myriad pieces and making that the image. It automatically simplifies and by expressing a smaller more singular aspect of the narrative, (without spoiling it mind you), it reads better visually.

This was largely the case for my effort towards Carrie Vaughn’s truly extraordinary short story, THE BEST WE CAN, except that the simplifying resulted in a total tear down and rebuild. What made this story different, and such a terrific challenge was its main themes were essential un-illustratable: The disagreement of politics, the imponderable vastness of space, and the passage of time. This first image below does technically achieve hitting those key points all at once, but maybe too well. Perhaps feeling an uncertainty about any one of them I sinned against the singular again and included them all in a single piece, which always and inevitably results in an image that is muddled, or at worst, pretentious.

So, because this piece followed too closely on the heels of Sing, zooming in on the astrophysicist reaching for the barely seen approaching object was out- it simply would have too closely cleaved to the earlier cover, and double dipping should always be avoided, or at least done so with great amounts of time between the two acts. So in this case I found the solution in closing in on the scientist thematically rather than literally from the existing image. She needed to have more of a presence if we were to focus on her, and that meant her character needed to be addressed more fully, and in this case, totally reinvented. Especially if she was going to break the fourth wall and look at us, the reader. The result was in many ways a portrait of the scientist, and the focus of her works being more broadly expressed than specific to the object from the interstellar story. Which in the latter’s case meant leaving that approaching mystery to the mind’s eye of the reader, always preferable to hitting them over the head with it in my opinion.

Ultimately, Irene stepped in unusual form and took the image a step further in cropping it as she did for the final- which I loved. Oftentimes you will find the need to paint portions of a piece that will get cropped out and never seen again. This is a necessary evil of the craft and a good thing in the end. It’s always better for the ultimate goal to prune back from too much than to have to try and build out from nothing. And oftentimes that extra stuff that’s never seen goes a long way to informing the final more cropped piece. Don’t be afraid to do this and be brave enough to let even the most precious little part of the overall piece go for the sake of the final effort.

Next up, in this farcical journey of overworking, we come to my favorite example, Lavie Tidhar’s really luminous DRAGONKIN. I’m not overly prone towards high fantasy, though I seem to have done a lot of it over the years now, but this was my first opportunity to draw a proper dragon and I was jazzed to try and tackle it. (Now for the record, this piece was created a good deal of time before the others above, but is I think the best and most extreme example of this madhouse practice, and as such, suitable for the end note). The theme of this tale that all three pieces share in common, is the notion of the story of a young girl who suddenly remembers she is in fact an ancient dragon hidden within human form. Great territory for drawing an image. My first go at it was to approach it as a portrait- which was predictable, pat, and ultimately terrible. But then, I went on to what turned out to be one of my most favorite efforts of that year... I was certain as anything it had hit it right on target. But it wasn't. Irene brought up that as much as she liked it, it was the wrong piece for this story, it felt too young, and so on... which was totally right. At the end of the day our job is to absolutely service the story, whether we write it or not. Nothing else matters if the mark is missed. It doesn't change how I felt about this drawing, but it did mean I had to do it again.

So nest up was to go for something older, more severe even if ultimately more on the nose. There's an invisible target in this kind of project that you only know you've hit, when you hit it. And for this it took two broad misses to find the target. The previous one, no matter how much I liked it,  didn't get coupled with the story in the end, but I still had it, and it still got seen, and we can think the internet for this: there is always a place to put these things now. Everything can have a second life.

I had a painting teacher at Pratt who warned us all that in the early-mid stages of the any painting: If you have a favorite part, erase it. Any portion that you covet, should be removed. Meaning, don't neglect the whole picture for the sake of one small portion of it. You could argue this all represents a lot of time wasted that could have been avoided by a sketch process or some more thought, and you'd probably be right. But you could equally contend that it took going through these previous pieces in order to find the final, and you'd be right also. Whichever is true I won't tell. You can figure it out for yourself and (you'd always be right). But whichever way you swing it, make sure you do it on-time and hit your deadlines. Because if you don't you might lose the chance to do this all over again.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Art of Fitness

Photo © Allan Amato

Leading a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but it's particularly important for illustrators who spend most of their time sitting around indoors. Once you spend a decade or two in this industry, you'll inevitably begin to feel the ill effects that a sedentary and computer-centric lifestyle can lead to. Because our occupation doesn't demand any physical exertion, it's really important that we offset the damage we do to ourselves every day. Who better to explain how to do that, than Illustrator, and fitness afficiando, Marc Scheff. Marc has graciously taken the time to write for Muddy Colors a concise, yet comprehensive, guide to fitness. Marc practices these guidelines himself, and has reaped tremendous benefit from it. We hope you will too. 

Exercise, and eating right, will boost your creativity

I firmly believe that a sound body begets a sound mind, so I have been a fitness hobbyist for most of my life. Now my beliefs are backed up by a lot of science showing that physical activity helps boost creativity, going for walks is better than “brainstorming”, and tweaking your lifestyle to be more healthy will improve focus and idea generation. A lot of my friends are tuned in to this idea, and some of the best artists out there are keeping healthy for the sake of improved focus on their work.

However, I see lots of “you should work out” and not as much on exactly how. My research takes me all over the internet and I’m excited to share a small portion of it here in a way that you can take home, and take action.

In this post, I address some general rules and for people who are like me and just want the details, I offer the specifics of my own program. Everyone’s goals are different, but I think there’s something here for everyone who shares the busybusybusy lifestyle.

Finally, please ask questions in the comments. There’s way too much out there to cover in just one post, and there are lots of people in the Muddy Colors community who have found great ways to stay fit and healthy.

Keeping fit should be easy, fun, and rewarding

This is the overarching principle I have when I approach fitness strategies. I get bored at the gym (so I quit), and I’m too busy to go to classes or spend hours on strict workout regimens. In my twenties, being a hobbyist was enough, my metabolism took care of the rest. But now that I’m in the back half of my thirties, I have been looking for sustainable food and exercise strategies that leave me feeling and looking good with as little work as possible. Most of my reference photos are of me anyway, so I need to keep trim

First, let me show you my own progress. The first pic is January 7, the second is about 5-6 weeks later. 6. Short. Weeks.

SPOILER: you have to move around a little and eat well.

If you want to feel better, exercise and a good diet are how you do it. Period. If you want a pill to burn your tummy fat, stop reading.

If you think exercise means hours of work every day or a gym membership, you’re wrong. Please keep reading.

If you only read one part of this article, read this.

Here’s the super duper cheat cheat for starting your day right.

  • Move around for 20 minutes right when you wake up. Walk, run, pushups, sit ups, whatever, just move. If you have it in you to do something harder like intervals, all the better.
  • When you do this you tell your body to expect that for the day and your metabolism starts moving faster in preparation.
  • Eat a small meal about 20 minutes after that, such as two eggs and spinach, something with protein and greens. This sates your hunger, tamps down your appetite for your next meal, and help prevent overeating. Tim Ferriss discusses this in his cheat meal interview.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day. The science is split on this, but if you’re like me and just looking to stay trim, not bulk up, eating small meals is the right way to keep your metabolism going and energy high.

Set a goal aligned with your constraints

The right routine is the one that you won’t flake out on. Depending on your age, fitness level, or schedule, when you decide to get back in shape I recommend starting small. That could look like a 20 minute walk when you wake up, or it could be joining a crossfit program. Whatever you decide to do, take a hard look at yourself and don’t take on too much. When you start small, that tends to lead to more, but starting too big usually leads to “screw it, forget it, it’s donut day every day!”

As for me, I don’t have a lot of spare time, and no room for a huge home gym setup. Combine that with an at-home work life, a child, two dogs, and 15,000 personal projects and counting, my go-to-the-gym routine just fell of the rails. I realized I needed a strategy and designed one to fit my time and space limitations.

NOTE: while I’m getting older, I believe that keeping fit in my twenties helped me achieve the goals I have made recently. So if you’re younger and saying “I don’t need that yet” I encourage you to set your good habits now, so you don’t have a tougher battle when you’re older.

My Constraints, or, Here’s how easy my workout has to be

  • MOBILE: I have to be able to do this anywhere. I can do my program at home or a hotel room if I’m traveling, all with no equipment. I hate needing a gym, it became more of an excuse than a motivation. The commute there, or prep time was all I needed to not go.
  • BRIEF: I have to be able to do this in a short amount of time, 20-30 minutes max. I take, and advocate, short breaks for most effective creative flow. I wanted something that I could do on these breaks, and not have to build in a 90+ minute window.
  • OPTIMIZED: It has to maximize fat loss and toning. I generally bulk up easily so I wanted something that kept me most trim and generally healthy feeling.
  • FLEXIBLE: Any fitness or food strategy I take on has to be something I can keep up when I travel or eat out. Anything else will be doomed to fail.

So let’s get to specifics. Keep in mind, these worked for me. There are many many options out there, and I’ll try to call out where you can mix and match.

Establish a daily routine for exercise

To get results whether fat loss or beach body, you have to make it a habit. If you just paint when you feel like it, how much painting do you get done? W. Somerset Maugham put it best, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

I decided to build in my exercise during times when I had natural breaks. I work from home, so I can literally get up from my desk and start my workout in seconds. You might have an office job and a gym, in which case you might see if you can fix your commute home to pass by the gym, or run there before work. Whatever works for you, make it something easy and sustainable. Don’t join a gym in midtown if you live and work in Brooklyn, you won’t go.

You don’t have to “work out”

Some people just hate exercise. But exercise doesn’t have to look like exercise. Lots of creatives advocate a “fake commute.” Get up, walk to a coffee shop a mile away, get your coffee, read your paper, walk back. Bam, you exercised, and if you’re work-at-home like me, you just mentally separated your home-life from your now-I’m-at-the-office life. So it’s wins all around.

But I actually do enjoy exercise.

Here’s my schedule:

  • 20 minute interval workout first thing when I wake up, 5 days a week. Up and at em, in my bedroom on a carpet, yoga mat, or just the floor. No equipment needed. By keeping it to 20 minutes, I can’t make the don’t have time excuse. By activating my body and metabolism first thing, my body basically starts burning fuel and fat for energy because it gets super worried I might work out again.
  • (optional) 20 minute workout in the afternoon. I’m going to take breaks anyway to clear my head. Now I use that 20 minutes to do a second short workout that is more focused on core strength. I shoot for 4-5 days a week, and I can do it in my not-giant home office. This also revs me up for the afternoon art push.

That’s it. As little as 20 minutes a day. The short workouts combined with a new eating strategy, it has given me the results I was looking for.

Change it up

Any trainer worth their salt will tell you to vary your routine, not your schedule, to keep from hitting a plateau with fitness or fat loss. In the most non-science way possible, if you do the same exercises every day then your body just gets used it it and stops working as hard. You risk hitting a wall with your goals, slowing down metabolic rate, or overbuilding muscles while neglecting others. Sure you could do more reps or more weight, and risk joint failure or injury.

By switching exercises, or even just how you do the same ones, you activate different muscles and keep your body on its metabolic toes.

For those who don’t “work out” work out, try varying your walk to the coffee shop with a speedwalk or jog, or try doing pushups every morning for a week instead to break things up.

(and thanks Ryan Lu for reminding me of this very key point!)

Food Strategy

I keep calling it a food strategy and not a diet, and I do that intentionally. While diet is the correct term for describing “food that goes into your face-hole” it has the negative connotation of limits, restrictions, and sacrifice.

Food strategy, on the contrary, says what I mean: it’s about food, food you want to eat, and it’s about deciding when and how much to eat these foods to meet your goals. I freaking love food, and I knew there had to be a way to eat it and not keep putting on daddy-fat (daddy-fat: noun, the fat you put on when you eat with your three-year-old who loves him some pizza, bagels, ice creams, and fruit smoothies).

The Basic Rules

Michael Pollan, author and food expert, said “Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.”

My guideline is: Eat whole food, nothing processed, not too much, and fairly often.

From Michael Pollan again:
  • Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
  • Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  • Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  • Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
  • It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.’”
  • Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
  • Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

This is my diet:
  • I eat about 5-7 times a day, and I enjoy small meals that leave me not hungry. “Not hungry” is my measuring stick, not fullnesss. I enjoy the heck out of food, and eat the best I can, I just don’t eat all of it just because it’s there. The first week of doing this, I felt a little hungry most of the time. Just days later I had adjusted, I found I couldn’t and didn’t need to finish the meal portions I was used to. I had more energy to boot.
  • I eat lots of protein and veggies, very little carbs, dairy, and sugar, and nothing processed. Most meals looks like a protein (chicken, steak, fish, even tofu but NOT the overprocessed fake meats), and a dark leafy green, like spinach or kale cooked with garlic and salt. Yum. This is actually easy to do if you approach from the shoppers perspective. It is just easier to remember fewer things. Like chicken, garlic, spinach, salt. Done. Get bored? Read more and add more good things, soon you’ll have a virtual library in your head of delicious nutritious stuff you can eat.

Eating Out

This is way easier than you think. Even TGI Fridays has a chicken salad, dressing on the side, and you can’t go wrong. Follow the rules above and stick to basic whole foods. Done.


Booze has lots of sugar, calories, and carbs. Bummer. The more you can cut this out, or stick to lower cal/carb/sugar drinks like Vodka, the better chance you will have at keeping trim and healthy.

This was not my favorite news, I’m a whiskey/bourbon kind of guy. However, when I tried cutting it down to a few on the weekend I had a much much easier time not only with exercise but also focusing on work. I’ve made this moderation an ongoing habit.

“Cheat” meals

I love good food and I love balance. So yes, I’ll have a burger or fish and chips, but I do keep that to once, maybe twice, a week. And I still don’t eat the whole thing if I hit the “not hungry” point.

Two reasons I think this is ok. One, once I had the exercise down as routine, my metabolism shifted up, and I was able to process these foods faster. Two, science backs me up again!

From The Science Behind Cheat Meals

“When dieting continues, the metabolism is still slightly elevated from the cheat meal, thus leading to an even greater energy expenditure and increased fat loss. Because metabolic rate is closely linked to thyroid output this is how the increased thyroid hormone is tied in to the cheat meal. Also, with an increased metabolic rate, thermogenesis increases as a result.”

Now that’s a mouthful, but it basically says by eating a cheat meal you trick your body into thinking you’re about to get a lot more calories and it starts to burn at a higher rate. So when you go back to normal foods, it gets to burning stored fat.

Tim Ferris wrote a whole book about this, and has a few things to say here on cheat meal/day strategies.

Specific Exercise Routines

If you just want to test the waters with exercise, and want to do it at home where nobody can see you, try checking out Mike Chang’s no-equipment exercise youtube channel. There are lots of options mostly in the 5-minute range. You have 5 minutes.

If you want to do what I do, here it is:

Interval training: I have been using Mike Chang’s Insane Home Fat Loss videos. I put them on my iPhone, and it’s ready as soon as I get out of bed. There are also the very popular Insanity Workouts, but at 45 minutes I knew I wouldn’t make it a habit. Even p90 has a 30 minute series called p90x3, but that failed my “no equipment” rule.

Core/Strength: I mix and match Mike Changs Six Pack Shortcuts, and the workouts that come with the Tower 200, a resistance band door-gym that I’ve loved for years. I haven’t tried p90x3, and at 30 minutes it’s a little long for my taste, but it gets great reviews.

Diet: Again, Mike Chang has a great in-depth post about this, and you can google thousands of other related articles, but here’s the cheat-sheet version:
  • At home: Pre-prep foods or whole meals so you don’t have to think when you’re ready to eat. I keep tupperware with cooked chicken, steak, or fish, and veggies that are easy to cook in just a few minutes, like spinach or kale. Stock up on nuts and easy to eat fruit, so you’re not reaching for cookies and cakes when cruising for a snack.
  • Eating out: Stick to delicious salads with lots of dark green veggies and protein, or simple meals with whole foods (meat and veggies, for the win). Avoid big pasta or creamy dishes.
  • Keep dairy, carbs, and sugar to a minimum. I don’t cut them out, I generally think that’s too extreme. I do try to stick to things like rice and quinoa over pasta, just a little cheese, and sugar from whole foods like fruit.
  • Don’t eat processed foods, especially meat alternatives as they are heavy with gluten/carbs and processed chemicals.
  • Give yourself a break occasionally. I still eat pizza occasionally, maybe once every two weeks. And I don’t freak out because my new baseline is very very healthy.
  • Drink in moderation, and stick to non-sweet vodka drinks to avoid the massive calorie/carb/sugar load of things like beer and whiskey.


I know I said no equipment, and for most of this you don’t need anything. But for my own constraint #4 (Flexibility) I wanted a few options that take up very little space.

A yoga mat:
Helps save your floor and feet if you’re doing the interval exercises. Lots of jumping around!

If you only get one piece of workout equipment, get the Tower 200 from Body by Jake:
This is a resistance-band gym that fits on your door. The only space you need is in front of the door to pull the bands. You can do some version of almost any resistance exercise on this machine, and it’s only $88 on Amazon.

If you want another thing, get the Bowflex adjustable weight dumb bells:
This is a whole rack of dumb-bells in just two dumb-bells. The dials on the sides lock in to the weights in the middle and only pull up the ones you selected. Great for things like drop-sets, or just switching between exercises quickly.

If you really feel like you need one more thing, get one of those ab roller core workout thingy’s. I have these, and they offer a lot of flexibility for core exercise options.

All of this equipement fits in a very very small space and gives me tons of options for workouts.

Get Started!

That’s a lot of info, but the basics are still the same: do some kind of exercise, and eat smart. Now all you have to do is start. So what are you waiting for?

Don’t believe me?

Then see what these other accomplished ADs and artists have to say about how they incorporate a healthy lifestyle into their process.

I asked each of them the following questions.
  • Why is physical fitness important to you? What does it do for you to be fit?
  • What do you do to stay fit? In as much or as little detail as you want!
  • What obstacles do you face, and how do you get past them?
  • [optional] Your favorite/funniest fitness “win” story”

Jon Schindehette

1. When I quit smoking almost 6 years ago, and rolled into my 50′s (with having a decreased metabolism and all), I packed on 60 pounds in no time at all. I didn’t like the way I looked, or felt. So I moderated my diet and started exercising.

2. Pretty simple routine. Bike or run for 60 minutes 3x week. Just a nice moderate pace to work endurance and burn fat. Very minimal workout routine 2-3x week (4 full body exercises, very low reps @ 80% of single max)

3. Time, schedule and commitment level. It’s tough to be committed enough to make the time for daily exercise. I just have to keep reminding myself that I am staying “committed to myself”, not to exercising. It’s easier to blow of exercise…it’s tough to blow off myself.

4. Running in my first Jingle Bell 5k Run. I had no idea that most folks ran in “costume”. Nothing is funnier than running in a pack of huffing and puffing santas, a couple of elves, and even a tiny reindeer.
…diet is also a big part of my life. I minimize meat, amp up fruits and veggies, and drink tons of water every day.

Donato Giancola

I never work out to stay fit. Can’t stand running in an artificial environment. But that doesn’t mean I do not care about my health. I find exercise (bike riding, long walks/excursions in New York City, hiking, playing pick-up soccer games) very meditative.

I enjoy the focus upon the immediate surroundings and your body while thinking about not where I was or where I am going, but where I am now and who I am with in that moment. There is a wonderful children’s book illustrated by Jon J. Muth which retells a Leo Tolstoy short called ‘Three Questions’. This captures my feelings wonderfully about both my awareness of staying healthy, but also approach to my art. I love to be in the moment in the studio with no distraction, blissfully painting away. The meditative trace I can shift into when engaged in a relationship with a physical object cannot, for me, be duplicated with a computer, screen and wacom tablet. It just does not feel real/physical enough for me. My art is about being connect to my world not just image making.

Thus this relates to how I take care of my body, I cannot find enjoyment working out in a gym, for the sake of staying healthy. I prefer to keep fit by living a life; walking everywhere I can while in New York; living in a five story home with stairs to scamper up and down every time the front doorbell rings and hauling art up and down from the studio; coaching and refereeing my child’s soccer games; and walking my children to school, one mile away – up hill both ways :)

Lastly I stay fit by very carefully watching what I eat. Treats and the desire to seek pleasure through food is a very slippery slope which I do divulge in on a rare occasion, otherwise I am more Spartan in eating habits, seeking to consume just what I need to get by…I save most of the pleasures in my life for my art and family and friends.

All this may change of course, but for now, it has kept me happy and healthy for decades.

Scott Brundage

Well, now that I’ve been shown shirtless on Muddy Colors, I figured it was just a matter of time before people asked me about this.

1- I’ve been blessed with a handful hereditary heart conditions that, while not life-threatening, have the potential to really screw up my day to day. I figured if I stay on top of all the other variables of fitness and nutrition, the lifestyle of an illustrator can remain. Meaning, in my head, as long as I at least look healthy, I can continue consuming too much caffeine, drinking alcohol, and missing sleep

2- Varying schedules of distance running, sprints, weight training, calisthenics, etc. Everything tends to be dictated by weather, injury, and interest. I’ll go nonstop with a hardcore 5k training program, then hurt myself. Then I’ll stay in a weight room for 4 months until I can’t stand it. The p90x series is great for giving a good variety of exercise and scheduling. Living next to prospect park is pretty great for running. Between the two, I tend to fill up my days. My current apartment has a small gym in the basement, otherwise I’m limited to a pull-up bar and whatever I can do on the floor.

3- I think any runner eventually gets injured. Before I started weight training, I didn’t really know what to do when I couldn’t run. Otherwise, the biggest obstacle is fitting in the time to work out, and balancing how much it might kill my energy for late night work. I love hearing about people who just started exercising exclaiming how much energy they have. Whenever I’m in good shape, I’m toasted after I work out. I only have excess energy when I take a day off.

Lauren Panepinto

When I took over as Creative Director at Orbit, my desk time really skyrocketed. I really found myself stuck sitting at my desk answering emails for hours at a stretch, not getting up except for meetings, and even ordering in lunches. As anyone else who works a 9-to-5 (or, more accurately, a 10-till-as-late-as-it-needs-to-be) I hit the 3pm slump and could only fight thru with caffeine and sugar. Not only did my weight start creeping up, but I just felt dreary and exhausted all the time. I was trying to fit in the gym after work, but the priority of finishing work kept getting in the way. Finally I sat down with my publisher and said I needed to prioritize my health, and we worked out a plan where I was able to be gone for a 60-90min lunch so I could get to the gym, but I always scheduled it in my Outlook calendar so no one was trying to set meetings with me during that time. Of course, he was well aware that I was always staying late, so “making up time” was never an issue.

I started working with a trainer who specialized in weight training (and was a girl so she understood not every lady wants to be on a treadmill for 3hrs a day), because I really wanted to feel stronger. Holly Goodwin at www.bluejayfitness.com has been working with me twice a week for 2 years now, and I have a completely stronger and healthier body because of it. In between I try to do kickboxing, or boxing, or some kind of cardio 3-4 times a week. I am horrible at running, it is boring as $%#& to me and my body isn’t built for it. But I will swim, or box, or do something more fun for hours before I drop. Yoga is a little too tame – it feels great, but it’s not the same stress relief of hitting something (or being hit BY something). Fitness is not about being skinny for me, I wanted strength and energy, and stress relief, and now I feel 500% more productive and awake thru my day.