Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done? Probably

Last year I participated in the Ragnar Adirondacks - a 200 mile relay race between 12 people. I went with what were originally strangers from my company and finished, having bonded with them and realizing that it had been one of my best weekends ever. Despite running over 20 miles in a van through 36 hours, the combined experience of effort, poor sleep, and the gorgeous sights of Saratoga Springs en route to Lake Placid made for a time so wonderful, yet inexpressibly so. 

I've thought about why it was such a great time and I still can't pinpoint why. One of the mysteries of emotion I guess. 

This fall, I couldn't wait to go back. Soon after we had finished our Ragnar run last year, we joked about running an "Ultra" which was essentially the same race but with 6 people instead of 12 people, doubling up our miles and halving our rest time (an unintuitive reality). 

Last year, there were 2 vans holding 6 people each. After 6 runners finished their 'legs' (3 total), the van went to the exchange point 6 runners ahead while the second van ran their part. It allowed for a nice 6-8 hour break between vans.

This year, the Ultra became more and more real. While I couldn't say no, I doubted whether I could actually do an Ultra run.

This year was spent running much less than the previous year. I joined a gym so much of my exercising was used up weight training. I had also injured my leg in the middle of summer running up and down the hills of San Francisco. Summer was usually the season I ran the most but it wasn't until around early August that I recovered and was able to run regularly.

Even worse, I got sick the Friday before but I thought I would recover by the coming Thursday, when we would leave the city for the run. Unfortunately, my cold turned into a strep throat diagnosis on Monday which meant I would be running on antibiotics and a less than stellar body.

This Ultra run would mean that myself, along with my other 5 team members would run over 30 miles each and run 6 legs instead of 3. There would be no break, and barely any time to sleep. 

Below are my diary logs - one before we started running, and the others written after each leg finished.


Ragnar log #1 

After bestowing ourselves the name "Ultradogs", we feasted on a NON Olive Garden Italian spread. We slept soundly for four hours and awoke at 3:45am. The sky was black, we were cold and tired but we were able to send off our first runner without problems.

Oh wait, she forgot her headlamp.

Sorry, Katie.

We met her down the road quickly, handed off a headlamp and enjoyed the rising sun. A few runners later and the sun is shining brightly with rising temperatures. As the last runner of our ultra team, I'm nervous (naturally) but optimistic. The energy is high and the camaraderie, jovial.

Raglog #2 

With my run over, we're a sixth of the way done. It sounds so much worse put that way (it is...)
My distance: 6.49 miles
My time: 58:56
My average: 9:05/mile

It's a little faster than I should be. While last year, I focused on speed and a prideful finish time, this year it's about efficiency, keeping your body running well in between legs (hard with no sleep), and controlling your runs.

My mind is at 98%, but my lungs are at 75. Damn you strep. I hope by leg three my congestion gets down and I can breathe easy.

Van 1 and 2 are doing great and have been running really well. Props to Jasmine Cortez for setting up our GroupMe chat. It helps us feel connected.

No pictures this time. I need some rest (and water)

Ultra log #3 

Leg 2
Distance: 5.21 miles
Time: 44.35
Average pace: 8.33/mile
Total miles

Times are tough. I can talk about how I went too fast (I did) or how these new trails are beautiful and ease the pain of logging miles after miles.

But at exchange 12, we lost track of time and took too long to meet our runner at the exchange.

Sorry Katie. We really are.

Powered by frustration and impatience, she has decided to take the next leg, a 7.9 monster. We're hoping to convince her otherwise, stopping every few miles but she won't make the switch.

Morale is low and we're not halfway through but I'm hoping we can catch a second wind as a team, when we'll need it most.

Update before sending this out: Katie came back halfway in! Running on mental fortitude, longer in one go than ever before, she's in better spirits and back on track.

Josuelog #4

Alone. Dark. With only a headlamp to mark my way forward.

A year ago today, I was in the same place, running this same route. A few things were different. A year ago I was scared. I was scared of the pitch-black sky, my surroundings that were only silhouettes, and the fact that if I was too slow, I'd be left by myself.

This year, these things did not scare me. Upon my first five minutes, I was left alone. The last blinking light of the runner in front of me turned the corner and I never saw him so close again. All I had was my music, my headlamp, and the intermittent hum of engines that grew louder as they crossed me.

Sometimes they honked in support and all I could do was raise my arm in gratitude. The bob of the headlamp proved a rhythmic play I could expect and rely on. But just beyond it there was a faint figure. An ephemeral wispy presence.

Was I hallucinating? I couldn't be, I wasn't even a quarter of the way through. It took a few moments later to realize that it was me. My shadow, cast from the moon.

I looked up.

The moon was large and bright. Offering a tiny respite to the looming darkness of the road. I looked to the right of me. The moon bounced it's light of a shimmering lake. A year ago I would've never taken more than a moment to look. And appreciate. Today, I was calm. For this was my moment and my moment alone.

Time passed and my muscles, initially numb from the colder-than-before weather we were experiencing, had not changed in feeling. They were still numb. Numb in the way that a tool is numb. And that's what my body was. Merely a means to finish my run. I wasn't tired. No. I know tired and that wasn't what I was feeling. My muscles no longer worked as an integrated whole of my being. I had to will them to action. I had to make them move. I had to complete the one objective I had in life for the next seventy-odd minutes.


This was why I was no longer scared of nature. Of the dark. Of the unfamiliar. Of being alone. Because I was alone and I was running alone and only I alone could do this.

That means I had to run right and run smart.

I kept my elbows tight and my forearms  high to conserve energy. I kept a slower pace at a mid to forefoot strike to optimize energy transfer and I kept my breathing steady.

But my congestion kept kicking in and I had to switch breathing patterns in order to blow my nose. Still, over halfway there and my lungs never felt stronger. The strep was slowly melting away and I imagine my lungs as a sponge, with its porous body freeing itself from the unrepentant sickness that had been plaguing me. The war was being won on one front. But could I win my second war?

That is yet to be seen. By mile five, I had lost my ace in the hole. Downhill running, which would often be a rest period for me, was no longer serving it's purpose. Neither my heart nor lungs were exhausted so the energy conservation part was less useful. But my muscles were too tired to be able to take the stress of my light 135 pound frame hitting the pavement at speeds past seven minute miles. Downhills were quickly becoming as difficult as regular running. And with such a varying terrain, the uphills stopped having a strong counterweight.

By mile seven, with 1.7 left, I knew I was in trouble. But I couldn't stop. This would be a moment of personal glory. Personal achievement. Personal punishment.

By the time it was over, I could barely walk. The worst of it being, I'm only done with 3/6 runs.

Distance: 8.68 miles
Total time: 1:23:22
Pace: 9:37/permile

Total: 21.38 miles

Log #5

My running has become hobbled to that of a seventy year old on his last mile. Tiny arm movements and small short steps. My legs ache and are working at what seems to be 40% percent capacity. It was only 2.7 miles but it was the hardest 2.7 miles I've ever ran.

I have two runs left. A 4.4 and the closer of the ultra, a 7.8. I fear I cannot finish this run without a collapse. I've also noticed a massive hunger welling up with every run, which might be a sign of malnourishment. I plan to load up on food as much as I can a good time before runs.

Also worth noting, we've passed the 24 hour mark.

Leg 4
Distance: 2.6
Time: 26:50
Pace: 10:19

Total miles: 23.98 (beating last year's total)

Log #6

My legs are no longer mine. They are independent beings I have compromise with in order to squeeze effort beyond the forward stumble that can be called "running".

It has worked so far. Downhills have been easier, quicker, and require less effort.

But uphills are slow and inefficient.

Alas, we must pick our battles to win.

With one leg left, I don't know what will happen.

Time will tell.

Leg #5
Distance: 4.37miles
Time: 41:49
Pace: 9:34/mile

Total miles: 28.35 miles

Log #7

I am finished.

Leg #6
Distance: 7.95 miles
Time: 1:24:11
Pace: 10:35

Total distance: 36:30 miles
Time: 5:39:43
Average pace: 9:21


Before I started the Ultra Ragnar run, I set two personal goals for myself. To finish under 10 minutes/mile and to never stop running. I am foolishly proud to announce that I accomplished both goals. Thinking back at what we accomplished together, it still amazes me.  
The run was finished over September 25th and 26th and as of the time of this writing, October 3rd, I am still walking slowly and hobbling up stairs.

I've never done anything harder, physically or mentally and I think the same statement could be made of many of my other teammates. Upon finishing my last leg, I collapsed on the ground while my team members and the other company team cheered and congratulated me. I could not stand up and could barely make it to the area where the team took pictures.

I look back at the weekend and think of how grand it was while realizing that it felt completely different than the year before. The sense of accomplishment is much larger but the enjoyment comes from a different source. Cheerfulness and an upbeat spirit had left the van after the halfway point. Our bodies ached and we knew the game was mental more than physical at this point. Every minute I spent running that last leg I thought "stop" but knew I couldn't, because that would equal failure.

Now I know that I'm capable of it. The only thing I have to think about now is "what am I doing next year?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Thing About Discipline...

Before I begin, I'd like to note that yes, I am aware that I'm writing a blog post on discipline despite this being my 2nd post in about 4 months. Obviously, I have not kept the discipline to write a blog post once a month...

But, something I have heard quite often recently is that I have discipline. People are surprised at how much I work, how much I do, and they often ask or wonder what it is that pushes me or motivates me to keep working. Without patting myself on the back too much, I work a full time job, I draw almost every day, I take improv classes, scene study (if I'm not in a play), write, am editing a movie (let's not talk about that one yet...) all while trying to stay social, see my friends, and sleep 7-8 hours.

Is it discipline?

Yeah, maybe. I'd like to think so.

How do I do it? Let's see if I can put it in words.

Now, I know for my last blog post, I had a numbered article and while this follows a similar format - I'm not numbering my sections. Why?

Because these all build up on each other. This isn't an article on "the best x ways to build discipline" or anything of the sort. This is the hierarchy that creates the 'discipline' or 'work ethic' I believe I've built up over time for myself. You'll see later that it turns into an ideology of sorts and it's really my belief system that permeates my motivation.

Break up your goals into small tasks

I have a lot of goals. It's the only reason I do things. You do too. You may not notice it. For example, work can be a goal or a means to a goal. What goal? That depends. Right now, my job is a means to the goal of 'living in New York City' but also a means to 'advancing my career in ____' (my job allows for a flexible career path so the blank is a strange grey area). So in a weird way, work is both its own goal as well as means to other goals.

But that's not my only goal. Becoming a freelance illustrator. That's a goal that, if achieved, will be ongoing. Technically, I have achieved that goal, but to the point where I'm even remotely satisfied. How do I get there? Well, I need to be better at illustrating. So I draw every day. The same goes for writing, acting, whether the goal is 'finish a novel/short story/script' or 'land a role', or even 'audition.' Nothing happens overnight and little steps are the way to get...anywhere really.

So I break up those goals into small tasks. I try to draw every day, even if I'm not working on a painting. If I know I'll have an hour of free time post-drawing, I can whip out a writing draft. If I have class in a few days, I'll pull out a monologue or scene. Smaller tasks are much easier to do and they create habit. Which brings me to another point.

Have some structure

This tip is a bit misleading. Or, at least, it's not what you think it might be. Structure doesn't have to be rigid. It doesn't have to mean rules. I hate rules. So I don't like making rules for myself. However, I have thought about scheduling my days out in terms of X minutes for drawing, x minutes for writing, x minutes for etc. I know it'll work, but I don't feel like I need to apply so much structure to my life right now.

However, you may be much more comfortable with such a structure. At work, I adhere to a calendar and it can be very time-efficient to hold yourself to one in life. At home, I know that there are pending projects. When I'm in my room, I know that if I work on any one of them, even for at least 20 minutes, I'll end up working on them much longer than expected. On weekends, it's sometimes difficult, but I can often still get a good amount done.

That's why I like thinking of things in small tasks. Small tasks done every day create habit which have an inherent structure within them. Eventually, those small tasks become so normal to me that I feel strange having not done them. But what about if I'm too tired, or if I start getting burned out?

Give yourself a cheat

Let me go off into a bit of a tangent here. I have a semi strict eating regiment. I eat almost no carbs outside of fruit. No rice, no bread, no crackers, chips, etc. What allows me to do that? 

Letting myself cheat every now and then. Are we getting free pizza at work? I'm gonna eat pizza. Weekends? I'll be out with friends so no need to stick to the 'no carbs' rule.

These little cheats and the knowledge that I'll have those cheats are what allow me to, for any non-cheat meal, stick with a no-carbs rule. Much in the same way, knowing that any given day I'll work on my various projects, I give myself a little bit of a cheat everyday. Some TV there, some gaming here. Nothing less than an hour or else I start feeling unproductive. 

It might sound like I'm working myself too hard. Just one hour of leisure time? That's so little! That might be true if it weren't for the next point.

Understand the value of hard work (enjoy it!)

When talking about goals, one of the large looming goals in my life is success. What does success look like exactly? There's no one way of putting it, but like I mentioned - it's getting work as an illustrator, it's being paid to act, being paid to write. With all of these goals in mind, the best way of achieving these goals is by being good at writing, painting, etc. How do you get good? 

Hard work.

There's no magic formula, no 'hack', tip, trick. I read and consume a lot of media regarding people whom I consider successful. Time and time again, what's consistent about their path to success is hard work. Hard work is hard (duh) but it's not impossible. I can work hard. We all can. And when hard work pays off, I love it. Even more importantly, I love working hard. I enjoy all the things I do - painting, acting, writing. If I didn't, I wouldn't do them. So if you find yourself unhappy with the work you're doing, even if an end result seems appealing to you, really ask yourself if that's something you want to be doing. Because if you don't enjoy the process, then why are you doing it?

But wait. Is hard work really all there is? What about luck, coincidence, who you know - all those other circumstances that come in play when we talk about success. They play a large part and shouldn't be ignored. You can work hard, but, some would argue, if you're unlucky, you're stuck. Yes but here's where my personal philosophy comes in.

Know that you're responsible for it all. In other words, be hard on yourself. 

There are very few things I believe in. God, luck, astrology, fate, ghosts - it's all the same to me. Nonexistent. For the majority of these things (ghosts being the odd one out), part of the belief in these things is a concession that what happens in one's life is out of one's control. Fate, luck, God's will - those are all explanations of why the world is the way it is. 

I don't see it that way. And without getting into any argument or discussion on the existence of such things, whether or not they do or don't exist, one's own will cannot exert influence on it, due to the very nature of those beliefs. Fate is fate, God is god, luck is luck. Even if I believed in them, how could I affect them?

So what do I believe in? Myself. Not in some kind of wispy fashion of 'if I just believe in myself, I can do anything!' but rather 'you have SO much control over your life, you better accept that control and affect that control.' I believe I can exert my will unto my life not through any kind of positive thinking or merely believing that everything happens for a reason. I actively reject that. Instead, I exert my will unto my life through my own actions. You can probably see where this is going. My actions of 'working hard' is an expression of my will that, I believe, will manifest into success and achievements of my goal.

So when I don't draw or work on any of the projects I'm on, I'm hard on myself. I get upset with myself and I really beat myself up about it. It can be argued that I put too much pressure on myself but honestly, there's no where else I place that pressure. I am responsible for how my life is and that's why I keep working. Because no one else is going to work for me.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, May 7, 2015

4 Lessons I Learned From My Most Recent Client Commission

You read correctly. This post is in listicle form. Maybe it's a concession to the new ways of writing, maybe my job is getting to me (where I read a VAST amount of listicles) or maybe, just maybe (probably not) this post deserves its numbered (bulleted) format.

Before I begin, I'd like to give a little background. Any associated art that goes here is not actually from the commissioned project itself. I can't actually show the art publicly yet until I get the OK to do so. This is okay and pretty standard for illustrators so no complaining from me allowed.

The fact that I can't merge the art and this article is actually a boon. Many of these lessons stem from unfortunate experiences that have turned into lessons because experience means nothing unless you learn from it. But I don't want the image or feeling to be that this was a terrible client or a terrible commission. It's very much the opposite. I had SO much fun working on this project and the lessons learned came from my own mistakes and shortfallings as well as a lack of discipline where I should really have known better.

Anyway, these lessons are in the order of which I remember them, so expect a jumble.
  • Use a contract
This was actually not a lesson I learned but a lesson I implemented (every small victory...) before I got started. While it has made the process take a couple of days longer due to more emails needing to be exchanged before any real work started, I expect that in the future the process will be streamlined.

A contract is important because it gives you a failsafe. You can set determinants such as pricing, timing of pricing, what is delivered, and most importantly, a kill fee and a revision fee.

A kill fee and revision fee gives you language that protects you from doing work without getting paid. If a project is cancelled, there should be language in the contract that still gets you paid, up to a certain percent, for the work that was already done. Even more importantly, a revision fee allows you to charge more money if your client is consistently asking for changes. Again you can charge for the extra work you're doing when it starts getting beyond what you scoped out.

Scoped out? What are these words, this biz-talk? I'm supposed to be making art here aren't I? Not necessarily and it's important to know how to work with others when people are paying you to make art. How is this all done?
  • Scope out your project
While it takes a bit of work upfront, it's very important to really understand what it is your client wants and then scope it out with them so both you and your client are in agreements in what is expected to be delivered.

I tried to do this but failed and mostly due to one big understanding. My client wanted to commission me for a series of posters featuring a few characters but wanted to start with one just to feel things out. I originally thought I would only be creating a character poster and all my communications were with that in mind, including my estimated time and my fee, among other things. When the contract was signed and I was to start, my client reiterated what was expected and it turned out to be a poster with ALL the characters in one poster.

I looked at my past emails and there was nothing I could specifically point at where I could defend what I thought the project would be so I just took it on the nose.

I recommend being absolutely clear on what the client wants before any contract is signed as then you know what they're expecting and you can deliver on good terms without any surprises
  • If you have stages in your project - have clear delineations
In reference to the revision fee I mentioned before, the way I work and communicate the fee to my clients is that I work in three stages. The rough sketch phase, the refined sketch phase, and the final sketch phase. During the rough and refining stages, I make sure to get feedback from the client to ensure I'm not only going in the right direction, but that all the required elements are there. After the refined sketch phase, I go to final and don't ask for any feedback. If the client does want me to change anything during this phase, the revision fee goes into place.

My problem was that I didn't clearly state when I was in what phase and also I asked for too much feedback. I kept going back and forth with the client, creating a precedence where the client would keep asking for small changes that didn't seem like much but overall, they amounted to a large amount of extra work. I partly went to a final phase and left some aspect of the painting still in the refining rough sketch, which made for an awkward timing in regards to when the revision fee would come in place.

This is part of a larger process in the way I work. If I work for myself, it's not really a problem, but when it comes to working for a client, it's much more important to work in phases. Before going to final, I should have a clear sketch where all the elements are accounted for and maybe have some color blocking in. Either way, it should be clear.
  • Know when to push back
Like I said, I was having a lot of fun with this project despite misquoting and working a little extra, due to my own fault. However, by the time I was around 70-80% done, my client was still asking for a couple of little things. After looking at all the revisions I had made, I decided to just tell the client that it was time to ask for a revision fee. There was a slight pushback but my client understood after I mentioned all the previous revisions I had made before. We settled on making very minimal changes with no fee, rather than larger sweeping changes the client originally wanted.

By the end of the project, I got paid what I asked for, and I spent a few extra hours on the project to the point where I started to feel a little bit of frustration. But like I said, I can't blame the client - if I was more specific in my process and clearly defined things even in a way as simple as saying "I'll be going to the final phase now, any revisions will incur a fee as the contract states" (or perhaps saying the same in a friendlier way) I could've saved me some time. I'm not bitter about anything that happened - I had a blast working on the project (which I'm dying to show everyone) and for the next project, I know what to do. Hopefully this will give you a few things to think about before starting your next commission.

Thanks for reading

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Master Studies – The Practice of Champions

One thing I consistently tell myself (wrongly, I might add) is that I didn’t go to art school.  I’d give myself the excuse that, no I didn’t have at least 4 structured years dedicated to becoming an artist, that no, I didn’t have any guidance from established and experienced artists and that, no doors were opened for me at the end of those four years and why didn’t I get any of the opportunities that they had?

Then I tell myself “shut up, stop complaining, keep moving forward.”

Even if those things were true, I could just as well craft a “curriculum” of sorts to mimic the education others received at an established art school.  Many other artists even downplay the importance of art school, calling it wildly expensive and offering other low-cost alternatives.  So while I still have to think about whether or not it’s worth paying for classes, tutorials, lesson plans, etc I can still do some learning on my own and, more importantly, not make any excuses for myself.


One of the educational tools available to me (and everyone) are master studies. Master studies are often touted as great ways to learn the skills of creating art.  Many established and great artists have pointed to this method as a way to improve one’s self on color, perspective, composition, among other things.  Noah Bradley has a great long video on the benefits of master studies (while doing master studies!).  David Rapoza and Chris Oatley have also a lot of good things to say about how master studies help develop a lot of the visual skills and techniques illustrators and artists need.  

But first, what is a master study? Essentially, it's the practice of copying an existing piece of art. This can be done in a variety of ways and to study a variety of things. You can do a black/white study or value study, where color is ignored and only light is reproduced. A color study takes much longer and is done for accuracy's sake. You can even simplify things and do shapes - quick studies where the composition of the piece is studied. One thing I have heard, is that tracing a master study is MUCH less helpful than if you're looking at it and working on your canvas.

So, I started doing them.  All of the ones I'm showing you today came from the book ‘The Art of the Old West’, a book I found from a street book vendor (one of the better things about New York City). The book was a mix of history and anthropology, mixed with various art and drawings of the North American West as colonial America expanded.  I picked a few interesting paintings and decided to do some master studies.  One thing I'd like to note is that I mainly used these studies for both compositional, landscape, and color learning. I used very little lines in these studies and mostly worked in large blocks of color, then small blocks of color to refine them. One thing I want to avoid in these master studies is working on the piece too much. Getting as close to the image from a medium distance away is my goal. I'm not looking to replicate every brushstroke, shadow, or highlight. It's almost an art in itself in realizing when you've gained enough from your study and when you're essentially just doing busy work. 

Before I show you my studies and try to express what I learned through them, there is something to be said about this process of learning is that it's somewhat muscular, intuitive, and thus, very hard to put into words. There are some paintings where I may not be able to specify exactly what I'm learning but I am learning, through experience. In some way. Theoretically. 


Study #1

Study #2

There's a slight difference between these two studies and the ones later one and it's a very technical difference. I used different brushes. At the same time I started these studies, I bought Kyle's brush set (which are GREAT). I used a specific oil brush which made for some really nice effects such as the clouds/sky in study #2 and the center of the waterfall in study #1.

Study #3

However by study #3, I wanted to use my own brush. I like Kyle's brushes and I 'll probably play around with them more but I love my brush's texture and I plan to develop my voice/style using my own brush. 

Quick aside: I've talked about brushes and some of the technical aspects of Photoshop before. I may write a blog post on it, but honestly, I don't think it's that interesting, important, and I know very little about it.

This was probably my favorite painting I studied from and I didn't do it justice. However, I was starting to understand the use of color in this painting, how the light (or lack of light) affected certain objects and overall I felt my brain evolving towards a more ingrained understanding of things. At least, that's what I think my brain was doing.

Study #4

It was at this point where I started to feel REALLY comfortable with things. When before I would be pretty proud of myself for making such great-looking clouds, it was quickly becoming second nature. The horses were a bit of an issue, but I thought it would've been much worse. To get to a point of satisfaction with study was a much quicker process and I felt more accurate with my color choices and relationships. Even looking at this now, it's good to see the painting look "right" from a far-away view.
Study #5

This was my favorite piece to do. While the amount of horses and people were both daunting and, to be honest, a little chore-like - the sky, the colors, and the center encampment were all a lot of fun to do. This wasn't perfect - I had issues with the floor and its shadows but it was very helpful getting into all the minute details of what horses looked like in shadow, in the light, far away, and close up.  

Study #6

At this point, I started playing around with my brush, my color and my choices. I stopped trying to directly recreate what I saw and in little places I just worked on what felt most fun to me. To me, that meant it was time to move on from master studies. I've heard that you're never really "done" doing master studies, but I do think it's important to note when you're not getting as much out of your studies as you were in the beginning. And that's probably a good thing. Because it means you're learning. After this study, I took a break and I will be starting studies from a specific artist (I have two done already). Plus, this is great practice, but I also need to just work on my own personal material.

I did learn a lot and paid attention to light and shadows in ways that seem obvious but are almost never things I think about (such as how figures cast a shadow directly under them). I'm also SUPER comfortable sketching out a horse outline now. Most importantly, landscapes and skies are now very familiar to me and I don't always have to go to reference or feel like I'm completely lost on how to start a landscape painting. 

Also, this was a lot of fun and I highly recommend master studies for anyone and everyone who wants to be a better artist. 

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Process Post: The Flying Tribe of Janaris

This is another short process post on my last piece which came to be by accident, a common occurrence in my art for some reason. I call it an accident because I had no intention of creating it but when the idea was first planted, I basically ran with it.  Also, I was able to incorporate some great advice from the hugely skilled illustrator/artist, David Rapoza. 

I first started by doodling on a newsprint sketchpad. I had been using this sketchpad to warm up with my figure drawing but decided it would make great scratch paper to just mess around on.  There was no rhyme or reason to the drawing. I, like many times, just made lines, shapes, and never really thought about anything.  After about 10-15 minutes of sketching, I had these bird-like shapes.  I thought they looked cool, so I kept making a few more, still not knowing where I'd go with them.  After some actual deliberate sketching, I had this quick impression.  (Apologies for the crappy phone picture)

I scanned the paper but it didn't make much difference as I recreated the figures from scratch, developing them a bit more. Then I started making a few structures. an image was starting to form. I made the people imitate birds in a way.  Having some kind of bird-inspired wear. I quickly realized that, if done right, this could fit into my Janaris project as another kind of people - a tribe perhaps. 

I quickly moved to color and made some interesting choices.  I was a bit back and forth on the color of the bird attire  and I was also unsure how much sun/light should be in the background but I had alternatives and knew I'd eventually make a decision.  Unfortunately, I'm showing you what ended up being the final colors of the rock constructs and the figures, but I originally had them much messier, and if you can tell, the figures have a yellow light descending on them, but there's no visible light source.  Originally, I had just a blue sky and nothing else.

I started painting but after laying down some of the general blocking I started getting a little disillusioned and I knew why.  I had drawn a couple of rock formations but they were stuck at the sketch stage ('drawn' is generous, look at the second B&W sketch.  I basically just made long lines). Why? I...didn't know how to draw them.

It was mostly a case of me procrastinating because rocks are always a challenge with me.  I decided to use reference but was unsure if I could get the exact images I wanted.  Then I remembered some advice I heard when I was listening to David Rapoza in his Bog Witch Part 1 video tutorial, which by the way, everyone should buy.  It's $5 and SO much more worth that price.  In a general sense, he basically advised against using reference in an exact duplicate manner as that's less useful for learning in the long run.  Reference shouldn't be used to solve a specific image's problem.  His advice was to instead look at whatever you need to reference and do a few studies to learn how it interacts with light, how the forms work, and what its textures are like (among other things).  This way, you learn how to draw the object, rather than learn how to place it in your specific image.  So that's what I did - I found a few pictures of rock formations and just sketched them on a separate paper.  I specifically did not want to incorporate the study in the image.  Here's what I ended up sketching.  You can see a big difference from the top sketches, where I didn't use reference, and the bottom ones, where I did.

It wasn't much but it was enough (and I'm impatient).  So then I used what I "learned" and finalized the rock formations.  There's still a difference between the reference sketch and the final image's rock formations since it wasn't a direct application.  And to be honest, I didn't expect to do so well, but I was very surprised at what ended up coming out.  I also made the decision to keep the sun.  While it didn't look very "real" I thought it looked pretty cool and made everything much more interesting which is really what matters.  I'm somewhat beyond recreating reality.

Like I mentioned before I was having some trouble with the bird costumes but then I started to think a little more about the tribe itself and made the central character a leader.  So, in a way often seen in the animal kingdom, the leader is often the loudest in appearance so he had the brightest colors.  A change I couldn't show you was the difference in the bird-wear.  Originally it was all orange/pink/brownish, which was very dull. 

The last step was incorporating some atmospheric depth in the painting.  What is that?  It's a term I learned from many good artists.  Basically it means that the farther away objects are, the closer they get to the background and the less detailed they are. I'm not going to pretend I mastered the technique or anything, but it helps ground a piece and make it feel less flat.  It's a subtle change but an important one and you can see how it brings the focus on the central character.  And, as always, I fiddled with lighting adjustments until I had the image just right. 

I really like how this ended up especially because it was slightly outside of my comfort zone.  I rarely use such bright colors but I was pretty happy with my choices.  The next piece I'll be writing about is more detailed non-accidental painting on the Flying Tribe of Janaris.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Process Post: Incoming (Monsters)

Nothing personal to talk about here - I'm in a terrible place so I'd rather be positive and talk about one of my favorite pieces of 2014.

I’m pretty excited to talk about this piece as its completion was a bit different than most in that there was a large time span between starting it and finishing it.

I originally concepted this piece as part of my ‘Janaris’ project. I know I wanted to meld these two pieces –


- and show the main character interacting with and/or in the same frame as the monsters in the above picture.  Here was an original sketch (overlaid with grey)

I left this piece alone for a while.  I forget the exact reason – it was probably during my time of self-criticism and lack of effort.  I also remember being unhappy with my rock formation depiction and I was wavering back and forth on how I should have the monsters look and if they should be there at all.  (I was also having a hard time finalizing the monsters’ design – the original piece came from accident).  Overall, while I had some color blocked in, nothing looked right to me.  

I tried to add in more characters, the monsters, and color Jannis, the main character, in an effort to motivate me but it wasn't working.  I somewhat liked the sky (only in colors, it overall needed a lot of work), I didn't like the rocks, or the second character. 

Then came a large gap in my work and I moved, self-reflected – basically did everything covered in my last two blog posts. If you recall, I also made a commitment to change my style and embrace this sketchy outlining.

So I went back to this sketch and redid nearly everything.  I drew with a heavy hand, I left lines, I sketched and I felt much better about everything.  I also made the decision not to feature any monsters – while it loses a sense of incoming danger, I mostly wanted to have a foreshadowing of something coming, enacted by my character.

I was also really happy with my character's posing. It was much more dynamic and his left arm, along with the little rock formations on the ground (another detail I enjoyed), your eye is (I hope) drawn towards the center. The cliff face had a face as well. My problems when drawing rocks, and landscapes in general is that I treat them very flatly when they should be much more interesting as a 3D object, catching light in a variety of ways (I hope this makes sense, because I'm not exactly sure what I'm talking about).

However, it wasn’t all nearly as easy.  In my original sketch, the sky was giving me problems.  The issue was the same here as well. 

I googled ‘skies’, ‘clouds’, and ‘red sky’ and found a few pictures that were very interesting.  I took a lot of reference from there and was able to reproduce the sky you see here.

One thing I’ll note is that during all this, my color choices came to me naturally.  When the sky became redder, I added a red tint to the rocks and the ground. However much redder it got, I was able to apply that in the rest of the elements in the piece.  It’s a somewhat big step in the right direction as I often treated objects and elements as standalone.  The fact that I’m now thinking of color in context with its surroundings naturally make a big difference in how integrated my paintings are, rather than just difference elements places together.  I also tried to add a little bit of shadow on the rockface from Jannis' body. I hope it translates well as it's something completely new to me.

After I got the pose and clouds done, I just made a few little textural changes and played with the outline. I considered leaving the black outline to the cloud but realized it clashed with the piece as a whole so I left a dark outline to the figure and a fainter outline to the rocks to accentuate edges.

This is one of my favorite pieces and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Thanks for reading.