Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On-Model, a philosophy of line

I had a good start for this post but, well… Anyway there are few challenges more exacting for a cartoonist than staying on-model. Sure it's one thing to draw your own character consistently. That's more like getting your own signature right. But staying on-model, whole different thing. It's more than just imitating a style. Often you are tasked with creating art with the character in a new pose or setting, that doesn't yet exist.

I've had the great fortune to work on at least there cool on-model projects.  (These illustrations being one.) Cartoony characters are the toughest. You can't hide differences in a field of lines (or "hay" as the old times used to call "hatching".) like you can with comic book characters like Batman, Superman or Hay-Bale Man. There are fewer lines so each misstep is apparently out of line.

There is lots of information on breaking down characters to their basic shapes so you can get a better understanding of them and how they work in 3 dimensional space. But, I think it also helps to understand where the character comes from, it's ancestors, what the original cartoonists were trying to do, and how they worked.

Some things that help keep you on-model are mistakes made early on, short-cuts taken by previous cartoonists and just plain effects from they way they are drawn. Like the character said, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."

For me staying on model is more about getting into the head of who (years of other cartoonists,  a current cartoonist, or a model sheet) and trying to let it flow from there. Like a cartoonist profiler! This goes beyond shapes and form because you want the art to have some life.

When the drawing is done, it's fun to look at and see a favorite cartoon character, in a new pose or setting that you created and realize you made it from scratch. And it looks like the real thing. At least that's my philosophy.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Illustration Robot

Illustration Robot's Arron Petz asked me to do a little show and tell. Sometimes talking about my illustration work is like living a re-run. I like it, remember I liked it the first time around, and so this time I might seem a bit bored, but I'm actually thinking about other things that might be out of the obvious in regards to the illustration. Like a robot with two heads.
Here are seven illustrations I think will show an arc from conventional airbrush to digital airbrush. No matter what I do or what application I work in (Painter, Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator, or Sketchbook Pro) I try to make the concept/idea most important and not the technique.

 Nora Jones: This was for No Depression magazine. A lot of my editorial work was black and white airbrush, which I really love doing. Well, monochromatic to be really honest. So this is typical of that. I work at a low pressure setting on cold pressed board so there is a nice organic texture to the work in the sprayed areas and in the line work. While working for The Villiage Voice (printed on not that great newsprint) I learned to keep the work to three values, basically. This prevented the image from becoming muddy when printed. I love the graphic nature of working this way.

Holiday Art: Full page newspaper illustration for a Holiday Arts section. This was sprayed as black and white, then I added the colors digitally in Photoshop. Just basic layers set to multiply, nothing fancy, yet. Still playing with how hue affected values, shifting the compositional focus.

Brandy (w/ Timbaland): Florian Bachleda at Vibe gave me a pretty nice playground for doing my conventional airbrush stuff in color. Interesting subject matter and he gave me a lot of freedom, but also pushed a bit to make sure the concept and execution were spot on. I have a so-so color sense. Airbrush required a lot of planning and sometimes working almost blind because of the frisket. But it was like Christmas when it came time to remove all the frisket and see what I got. This is one of my better color airbrush illustrations. Again, mostly one color and the value/shape range is low. I always set it up by shape/areas. Like, "skin", "dress" and background". Each area basically one value with slight variation within. Timbo's face was sprayed in originally, but Florian and I thought he looked to fat. So I sprayed another face and added it digitally, along with the color.

Beth Orton: Grant Alden at No Depression is another wonderful art director. Plenty of great assignments and room to experiment under a helpful/watchful eye. I'm really pleased with the concept on this, which extends into the execution. Her transparent fingers sort of shy and not quite covering her mouth, suggesting how she veils her meanings in her song lyrics. Again this was sprayed with black ink and colored digitally. I made a few adjustments to the values after scanning so the color would show in the darker areas.

India Arie: Vibe magazine. This is again, sprayed conventionally, but there is an equal amount of digital work done. Tweaking the value areas, adjustments to the face and line work. And a lot of layer manipulation to get the color right and allow the texture to show through. Actually did this illustration over from scratch! Got very comfortable manipulating the texture in photoshop.

Ray LaMontagne: So I loved the Beth Orton piece so much I copied myself for another No Depression illustration. If you look you can tell. The difference is that this one is all digital. If you look close you can see tell tale signs, but this is a big leap for where I was heading!

Tracy Morgan: And we arrive back at the start, sort of. Some of my first black and white editorial airbrush pieces were for The Village Voice, and here is a recent one, but this time digital. I created my own texture, and worked in Illustrator, Photoshop and Painter. My goal was to provide my client with art in the style they wanted, but with the speed that a digital work-flow allowed. Ta-da! Some of my oldest art director friends couldn't tell the difference. "The android had successfully replaced the human!"

On editorial work like this, I try to come up with a strong concept, that doesn't rely on style, but takes advantage of it. Like Norah Jones's body being a piano shape. That concept could work in another style, but I like to think that is shows up well in the style I used. Same goes for the depiction of Brandy as a sort of Egyptian Queen/diva, or the happy, glowy, pop feel to the way India Arie is rendered. Even the Renaissance approach to a simple portrait of Ray LaMontagne. Style is subservient to the concept. Or at least that's what I'm aiming for. I welcome any and all comments from blog readers and other Illustration Robots!