Archive for October, 2011

Secondary lessons.

Recently, the DrawingForce site started putting out tutorials on drawing the figure without a reference and tackling the problems it poses for students using a variety of methods.  One of those methods involved increasing the brush size if you’re working in a drawing program and to use that size to experiment with poses while leaving plenty of room for refinement later on.  In general, it’s a great, worry-free way of finding a pose and planning your work.

example 1

Look ma! No reference!

Now, nowhere in the tutorial did it mention using this technique for drawing with a reference, and if you’re not told you can’t do something you can do it, right?  At least in art you can, anyway.  The thought of actually trying this didn’t strike me until about a month after using the technique on the above imaginative drawing, but after doing it, it turns out that starting with your brush over-sized has it’s advantages whether drawing with or without a ref.

As mentioned in earlier entries, it’s sometimes difficult for the aspiring artist to not get caught up in the details too soon, and losing focus.  In this case however, one potential remedy may be found for a reason that is similar to the one which explains its usefulness in imaginative drawing: the lack of specificity.

Let’s look at how this works with a reference photo taken from AilinStock on Deviantart and the quick, broad-brushed technique applied to it:

First pass

The broader stroke literally forced me to stay at large shapes and only the largest of features.  Had I tried diving into detail, it would reveal itself with indistinguishable, unidentifiable smudges that would throw up warning signs as I was observing the reference with the wrong scale in mind.  Thus, once we obtain all the necessary general information about the pose, we move on to pass #2:

Second Pass

…where I use the first pass as a map, ensuring that I can focus on the extra detail without getting off-track.  And of course, once this far along I could keep refining and refining, for this drawing I stopped at adding a little color…

Final Pass

As it turns out, asking “What if I…” can be one of the most useful questions in the long run, not just for the piece you’re working on in the moment, but for advancing much of your present and future work.


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Lines, ideas and connectedness.

So here’s a couple of examples of some honest-to-goodness hand rendered material I’ve done this past year done about seven months apart.

The first image was arrived at in the span of about half an hour, the second in about one third of that time.  Yet in spite of that, it’s the second one that communicates its ideas more distinctly, with clarity, focus and most of all, economy.  There are few if any unnecessary lines.  Whatever it was that I was thinking during the first drawing, in hindsight it seems that I wanted to keep the pen moving and working, especially on the wrinkles in the clothing, as if  movement itself would produce better work.  I had the overall rhythms of the figures established, and it still works on that level, but breaking it down and honing the ideas once started proved to be an exercise in muddled thoughts.

What appears to be over-thinking in the first drawing is actually not thinking enough about the important ideas in the pose, letting the mind to wander into details that don’t end up contributing very much to the end result.  If each line is an idea, then these ideas weren’t connecting.  Michael Mattesi’s “Force” books and his Drawing Force website go into great detail about how to overcome theses kinds of obstacles.  Even after having gone through those texts, it wasn’t until one of the accompanying videos described the process in slightly different terms that the light was finally shed on what I was doing wrong.  Working smarter in this case, meant treating each change in direction a line took, each alteration in curvature  as a separate line and a separate idea formed as an extension of the previous one.

Look at the line of the outside right leg of the figure on the right in the first drawing.  You can see how it was drawn all at once due to the lack of thought given to the placement of any one curve.  While it ends up being a nice bit of descriptive texture, it remains somewhat disconnected because I wasn’t thinking about each curve as its own idea connecting to the next.  Compare that with the following example,  also created at about the same time as the second drawing above:


Notice the back of the right leg again, still dealing with cloth, but the change in direction the line takes between the hip and thigh and again between the thigh and the backside of the knee are all handled as separate lines each given attention on their own as extensions of the previous one.   Ironically, breaking down the lines in this fashion ends up showing more unity than the first drawing above, helping focus the overall image.

I highly recommend that aspiring artists wanting to hone their craft when drawing the human figure check out and the books of Michael Mattesi.  I expect several future posts may incorporate more of the discoveries I’ve made since reading and watching those references as it relates to hand-drawn work.

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The realism trap, and keeping your vision.

This week, I have a subject that I have to constantly challenge myself with because it is so easy for me to slip back into the bad habit of becoming a slave to realism.

I needed a good logo for this blog, and I had a good concept sketched out on digital paper for just that purpose.  I decided I’d use Maya to realize the end result, and so I went about the task of creating the model.  Visually, anything called the Inkwell Distillery should have some element of fire involved, and so I modeled stylized ‘flames’ to fill that void, but the test renders just weren’t showing potential.

Opting to experiment with Maya fluids to generate fire (more realistically) I started getting some fantastic looking flames, but for some odd reason this caused the rendering process to shut down when all the other visual elements were brought online.  This is immensely frustrating, but this is also where I started to lose focus on the end goal because…

I insisted that it should work and that I needed to find a solution to make it render because now the fire had to be realistic!  Had to!  I mean, look how cool that looks, right?


The fact that we can make stuff like this in seconds on our home PC's these days means we have to use it the way people use lens flares in Photoshop, right?

Forgetting that design isn’t about realism, but on sending a clear visual message  is a big stumbling block for a lot of illustrators and artists starting out.  Even knowing this myself for quite some time I still need to be reminded constantly of my goals.  If I don’t, I’ll get lost in a detail, never to find my way out, like I was starting to do here.

So what ended up happening?  Putting coolness (and realism) aside, I went back to the stylized version where I should have continued experimenting  in the first place.  And so I did end up finding a great solution involving a more complex shading network for the fire, but one that ended up rendering just fine and actually looking more like it belonged with all the other elements.

Like this...

But the end message to take out of this experience is that while experimentation is excellent,  you still have to keep it on the reservation, so to speak.  Getting lost in the details, and especially getting lost in the pursuit of realism over design, is a good way to never produce a finished work.  Or to produce something that looks like it came from two different universes.

This time I managed to shake myself out of it before getting discouraged of the project.  Next time I’ll think better of it before digging that hole in the first place.  Hopefully…


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Maintaining open horizons: The key to finding answers isn’t to always look in the box marked “answers”.

I’ve been working in CGI rendering methods for approximately two years, creating a handful of characters and each time the approach in modeling has been slightly different, but almost all of them started out similarly.  I’ve come to accept this as part of the territory when learning anything new and potentially complicated.  Textbook examples for modeling something like say, a face or a head will only usually take you far enough just to get your feet wet, unless you only find yourself creating the same kind of character each and every time.

My ‘book of choice’ at the time illustrated a method for creating a face by creating the mouth, nose, ears and eyes as separate entities and connecting them afterwards.  This works fine as long as you want to model a realistic human face.  But what if you wanted to create faces like these?

head comparison

Well, suddenly that method doesn’t seem so sufficient.  How do I attach the mouth structure to the nose structure when they’re integrated by design?   The book illustrated how to go about the business of crafting each one separately, not together.  Having nothing else to go on at the time, I muddled through by pushing and pulling the mesh into the ‘right’ shape and produced faces much like you see in the top image.  And while there’s nothing obviously wrong at a first glance, when it comes time to move the mouth, the deformations become… difficult to manage.  I don’t want to get bogged down in the details here but essentially it has to do with the flow of edges and polygons as they wrap around the model’s surface.  Another problem was that the character I was modeling was based on my comic strip character which in turn had been composed mainly of soft shapes that lacked a certain amount of defined structure in the face and head.
Time travel to this past July when I started thinking about creating a new character (bottom image).  In the period of time between the two, I ended up viewing some particularly helpful tutorials.  Hand-drawn art tutorials.  There was one in particular that addressed ways to stay on model by clearly envisioning the planes of the face and consequently adding the structure that my previous work had so sorely lacked.  It wasn’t until I started applying that knowledge in the hand-drawn design of the character that the thought occurred that perhaps one could model the head and face as a series of very low-res planes (basically one polygon per plane), merging them and then going into the requisite detail.  You can see the effect most clearly in the mesh between the bridge of the nose and the corner of the mouth.  As it turns out, using planes rather than parts provided a level of control over that tricky area of the face that develops in these kinds of muzzled characters, as it ends up dictating how well the face will wrinkle, fold and deform when it comes time to animate.

There are broader implications here which will become a recurring theme on this blog:  Finding solutions is not unlike good design.  The answers do not necessarily come from looking in the obvious places.

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The purpose.

First, a little bit of back-story:  I”m a former civil engineer turned draftsman turned artist.  Though I’m no longer as involved in the hard sciences as I was once, I retain much of my analytical mindset, and have found it surprisingly useful when looking at art, not in a cold way, but as a tool for better understanding the development of artistic ideas and how they go from conception to completion.

This blog is being created with the intention to have a place to disclose and share several of the discoveries that have been part of my artistic journey in a variety of mediums ranging from drawing in real media, to photography, to the digital realm and as far as CGI.   But more than that,  it’s also about comparing notes.  What works for me now isn’t necessarily the only or even the best way to achieve creative ends, and there is no finality to the learning process.  To that end, I am hoping to generate some truly informative comments from those similarly inclined to learn and share experiences.  Occasionally, I’ll be posting images of some of the work I’ve done, but also perhaps links to videos that may have bearing on these subjects.  Other subjects won’t just be limited to the particular mediums I’ve messed about with personally, but also discussions regarding major collaborative artistic endeavors like animation.

Lastly, and perhaps also stemming from my engineering days, I feel there is more to be experimented upon in the artistic fields, now more than ever given the networking and communication technology which exists today.  If  I can, I intend to take a stab at examining ways to experiment using these advancements as well, but that’s for later.  For now, there’s more than enough I’ve already described for a decent beginning.
So with that in mind, cheers to all newcomers and welcome.

J. Miller