Skanky Nerd Land

Sex, Science and Concept Art

Category: Learning Concept Art (Page 1 of 4)

Using Line Weights Effectively – Illustrated Map

I illustrated a map for the Dragon of the Month club book series.

The series follows the adventures of Ayana Fall and Tyler Travers two friends who stumble across an extraordinarily magical book and soon find themselves enrolled as members of a very special and exclusive club – The Dragon of the Month Club. On the thirteenth of every month a new dragon conjuring spell is revealed and the two friends attempt to summon the latest Dragon of the Month. But one day when a conjuring spell somehow goes wrong Ayana and Tyler find themselves unexpectedly drawn into a fantastical world of adventure based on the various books scattered all across Tyler’s messy bedroom. 

You can find out more about the book and the story here: http://amzn.to/1B8mt1G

So, the map is basically super-imposed onto the layout of the bedroom. See if you can make out the bed and the study desk…

Brief note on the technique:

For a while, I was puzzling over how to make my line drawings stand out, or look a little more interesting than your standard line drawing. You basically have to use line weights effectively. The concept is simple but effective. Basically, you figure out where your light is coming from, and on the shadow side of all the buildings and forms, you use a thicker line weight.

Imagine also, that you are an ant crawling on the surface of the items in the drawing. Now, whenever the ant crawls over an edge and can’t be seen, you have to draw that edge thicker. Edges that divide faces that face the viewer have thinner lines that edges that divide faces where one faces the viewer and one is hidden from the viewer.

Perspective Exercise – Victorian House

I’d say I have a good, general intuitive grasp of perspective from having done a lot of life and urban sketching. But honestly when I started this exercise… man, it’s not easy. Painting is a lot easier, and much less tedious. But I learned a lot. 

One thing I learned, which is so very important, is to draw through the form. If you didn’t, you would get into a lot of trouble later. 

Hierarchy of Edges

Designing with Light and Colour with Nathan Fowkes has started. Yay! I love it. I’m also glad I did Sam’s Advance Lighting class beforehand too. I would have been jumping into the deep end without it – I find myself having to reference the notes from Sam’s class because I was really bad and didn’t do much painting in the interim to cement what I’d learnt *sigh*.

The first assignment was to do copies/studies of paintings. Justin Sweet is always a favourite. His paintings nail it for me – the mood, the style, the emotion. The artwork he did for the Narnia Chronicles… he painted them better than I could imagine them. The other artists were also great discoveries – I picked the pieces for the lushness and vibrancy of the colours and also the ease of which I could replicate them (i.e. not too impossible, not too easy). I tried my best to think through how the artist would have approached the piece – which values and colours first, how they are grouped, bands of saturated colours beside bands of less saturated colours.

One thing that was pointed out during the feedback, that I didn’t know before, was that edges was also in the box with value and colour when it comes to creating a believable, emotive, atmospheric, painting. I think this may have been taught in my visual design class 101 at uni, but unlike the other two, it is often glossed over. It’s definitely been a long time since I thought about it. And I think it shows in my art – my paintings tend to have a rather ‘soft’ look about them. At times I’ve tried to remedy this, and than parts end up looking too ‘hard’ for no reason, while too much of the background is just a soft, out of focus mess.

There is a whole discussion on Conceptart.org forums on the use of edges. Very fascinating.

Other posts on edges:

Transitioning Edges
Depth and Edges

Advance Lighting Final Assignment

Right, I’ve been very bad and away for a very, very long time. Here’s my final piece for the Schoolism class.

I’m quite pleased with the way the lighting and colour has turned out. The rendering of some forms are somewhat questionable – the mountains and the grass in particular – but I guess I can only improve that with more experimentation. I am a lot more comfortable working with light and colour now, and much more competent with being able to read the values of different colours, which has made my life a lot easier.

The class is very good, and it was a well worth the investment of time and money. Having to go through all the rigorous basic exercises was both a real slog and a great learning experience. Ultimately, the hard way is always easier. In the first few assignments, I wasn’t sure if I could even make them. But somehow I did. Then it got more advanced fairly fast, but something in my brain clicked – it’s can’t be explained, because its the kind of thing that comes with practice.

I was forced to play the piano as a kid. I hated it most of the time. But sometimes I would practice really hard if it was a piece I liked, and for the most part, as most badly played music is wont to be, the playing would be perfectly horrid. But then suddenly, both hands would come together, and my brain would stop thinking about the piece in bars and lines but as a whole melody, and it would happen.

So it’s something like that. There’s ‘a click’, and an epiphany, and what was once fucking hard becomes somewhat manageable, and the practice is no longer painful and disappointing, but fun and challenging.

Here are some of the other assignments:

Water
Atmosphere
Skin
Reflections/Subsurface scattering

Deliberate Practice

There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life and those who suffer from an overabundance of life.The gap between Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human. The realm of the real spirit, the true artist, the saint, the philosopher, is rarely achieved.

Why so few? What are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question, and that’s this: Which is the most universal human characteristic – fear or laziness? – From Richard Linklater’s Waking Life

1000 portraits by Andrew Jones, deliberate practice

1000 portraits by Andrew Jones

I’ve just completed “Talent is Overrated”, by Geoffrey Colvin, recommended by the Learning to See blog. It’s not in my usual diet of books – unsurprisingly, I’m partial to the SFF genre – but it was a welcomed reminder for why I do this. That is, spending my free time going through the arduous and painful process of getting better when I could be, instead, drinking cups of mead watching Game of Thrones.The book raises many pertinent points. The most important of which is the concept of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is hard. It is about learning to do the things we don’t know how to do, which is never enjoyable. Research has been done with thousands of top performers in all fields, and not one has reported the process of learning as intrinsically enjoyable. What is enjoyable is the sense of fulfillment at being good at whatever it is we want to do, which is one of the most satisfying things the human spirit can experience.

Deliberate practice is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual such as chess or business related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun. – Talent is Overrated

The quote above pretty much sums up the essential lessons of the book for solo artists in fields like visual art and music. Three more practical lessons with direct application are these: That the best artists spend most of their time practicing alone, that they do it in the morning or early afternoon, and they sleep more. These findings were found through research with thousands of musicians from the best conservatories in the world.For more on deliberate practice:
Draw 100 by Ctrl+Paint
100 Material Studies

A Different Way of Thinking

I’m into week 3 now, and I am doing things I didn’t think I could do. We’re still lighting basic shapes, which I’m thankful for, because lighting something properly is very difficult when you’re just starting out. I’ve found that it requires a different way seeing, one that allows what is seen to be translated accurately enough to give the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

The first attempt is on the bottom – the top with corrections: Stronger highlights,  rounder shadow, and more saturated colour reflections.
Most of sight is an illusion we don’t notice. We have a basic, universal, understanding of how things look, that’s why we can identify different shaped doors, or houses, or whatever under very different lighting conditions as what they are – doors, or houses, or whatever. We don’t notice just how different they are. So when we first begin to draw them – we draw, and colour, our general understanding of this thing, void of perspective and light. But perspective and light is what gives the illusion of reality and life. 
And that is what it is, an illusion. Learning how to light something correctly is about learning a few physical rules and beginning to think about how they apply to the things around you. And I’m beginning to find how just a little bit of light and shadow can make a world of difference.

Schoolism: Advanced Lighting

I’ve started Sam Nielson’s Advanced Lighting Class at Schoolism. We’re only into lesson 2, and its already getting difficult, fast. Some of his students are already very advanced, which freaks me out somewhat. I keep having to tell myself whatever happens, whatever level I’m at by the end of the class, I’m going to be better at it then when I started, and that’s all that matters. You can read Sam’s post about this class.
Art by various students

Row 1, right to left
1) http://danemadgwick.blogspot.nl/
2) http://francoisbelair.blogspot.com/2012/05/schoolism-advanced-lighting.html
3) http://www.facebook.com/Jacob.Johnson.art
Row 2, right to left
4) http://shoomlah.tumblr.com/
5) http://www.coroflot.com/stijnvandoorselaere/Illustrations
6) http://www.libzed.com/
7) http://feedchicken.blogspot.nl/2012_01_01_archive.html
8) http://veronicaalvarezblog.blogspot.nl/2011/06/schoolism-final-assigment.html

All the artists listed above started from very different levels, but all their pieces after the class showed a significant improvement. There is definitely something to be said for getting down and dirty into the technical details.

I was struggling with the perspective, composition, content and lighting in my previous classes, all at once. Now I’m focusing on just light and colour, and I’m starting to get a better, more intuitive, understanding of it. That we are beginning from the very basic -rendering spheres and other blobby shapes- and that I’m finding it difficult reveals what little thought I had previously put into the importance of this subject.

Self Assessment

Jon Schindehette from The Art Order has started his Portfolio Building Class on his blog. In the second class “The Self-Assestment” he asks a number of questions that helped me figure out what I want to do.

What are you passionate about? 
World building – creating worlds that people would want to imagine themselves in.
What do you want to bring forth in the world?
Immersive stories and story worlds.
Who do you want to be in your life? 
An artist – able to paint realistically and design emotively. 
Where do you derive your inspiration?
Mostly books

Burning of Parliament, JWM Turner

What is your favorite content/subject?
Urban environments – slums, marketplaces, religious and historic monuments, period buildings. Personal interiors – workshops, courtyards, cafes. Gestures, personality and expressions of people and animals.

What is your favorite medium?
Pen and pencil.

Who is your favorite painter/illustrator:
JWM Turner, Iain McCraig, Glen Keane, Nathan Fowkes, Peter Popken, Ian McQue.

What is your favorite texture, piece of anatomy, basic shape, color to paint?
Adding highlights and cast shadows, the male torso, sunset colours. 

What do you get out of painting?
Satisfaction as I see the painting evolve and come alive with shades and colours from the original sketch.

Drawing by Glen Keane

What are your strengths/weaknesses in:

I have a decent grasp of the basics, and good intuition when it comes to story and design, but fall short when it comes to fleshing out the detail. 

Creative Thinking: I have awesome ideas from the stories that I write. Unfortunately these ideas are rarely fleshed out in visual detail.

Drawing: I’m good at capturing gestures and making quick sketches but need more experience rendering form.

Painting: I can paint with a fair amount of ease. But my paintings could definitely do with more texture.

Colour Theory: I know and can apply basic colour theory, but this could definitely be improved on so I’m not just putting pretty colours together, but that the colours express the mood of the scene.

Composition: I have composition skills when it comes to readability and designing a visually interesting image, but I don’t think enough about how a visual composition can be used to lead the eye through the narrative within a single image.

Perspective: I know the basics and can intuit just enough to draw freehand – but there’s so much I don’t know in terms of how it works, and need a lot more practice for it to come with ease.

Visual Narrative: I have story telling skills. My technical ability is limited though so, unfortunately, the images I see in my head don’t always translate properly. I don’t have a good understanding of camera angles.

Design: I can design at thumbnail stage, but when it comes to filling in the details, my visual vocabulary is sorely lacking.

Visual Library: From Observation

‘People often claim they lose their imagination as they get older as if it were a fact of life. It isn’t of course, they simply stop using it, alongside their ability to truly see the world around them. The visual library that can be drawn on from memory when creating artwork is probably the most important, and most overlooked, asset of a designer. The process of building one will help re-learning to see and invigorate the imagination.

Developing a visual library has to be an everyday exercise, the question is how to go about it in a structured and relevant way that is sustainable on a daily/weekly basis. The FZD channel has a great video on visual library development. He outlines 5 areas to begin working from to commit visual information about worlds, real and imagined, into memory. The areas are: books (imagination), nature (observation), travel (observation), museums (observation), film and games.

Art by Paul Madonna
Because its not possible to put everything about our world to memory, I’ve identified  a few topics under the ‘nature’, ‘travel’ and ‘museums’ umbrella that are useful to developing a concept design portfolio. Hopefully this post will become a working list of resources. But before jumping into the list, look at Matt Kohr’s suggestion for how to approach this task: Draw 100
1. Nature
Drawings of plants, insects and animals and their symbiotic relationship with one another.
BBC’s the Private Life of Plants

2. Natural History

Fossils, bones and different types of rock structure.
Natural History Museums
Geologica
Dinotopia

3. Anatomy: Human and Animal.
Vilppu Drawing Manual
Marshall Vandruff’s Introduction to Animal Anatomy

4. Architecture: Temples, Churches, Period Housing, Slums, Skyscrapers, Bridges.
The Art of Urban Sketching
Paris: Buildings and Monuments

5. Vehicles (Cars, military vehicles, planes)

Linework

Getting good line work is one of those things I’ve been puzzling about for awhile. How does one put the dynamism and looseness of a pencil sketch into a line drawing done digitally? In fact, how does one even begin to draw with the same precision and ease on a tablet after decades of drawing with a pencil and paper?
Art by Paul Felix
On Ctrl+Paint, Matt has some great answers on digital linework. He even answers how to use line-weight effectively by using thinner lines for areas under the influence of a light source and thicker lines for areas away from the light source, or in shadow. Watching that video has removed the guess work out of how exactly to vary line-weight.
I also thought of a way to practice drawing with a tablet – by copying the plates from the Brague Drawing Course. Academic purists might scorn the thought, but hey, while I love drawing in pencil, I really need to learn how to draw fluid, precise lines with my Wacom. I’ve already started doing a few, and to be honest, the seemingly boring task of exactly copying plates drawn from classical and renaissance sculpture is proving to be extremely challenging and rewarding. 

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