Tuesday, June 28, 2011


No scene painting yesterday (Saturday) because I went to the pride parade and that took up a chunk of my morning. Pretty intense, I haven't seen that much man junk since I took life drawing. Then today, I wanted to take some time and finish one of my personal assignments for my portfolio. It's not done in that I haven't done the male version in polish yet, but I thought I'd post what I have for the time being.

One of the things on my list that I'm working on this summer for my portfolio is to design a humanoid alien race. I've been working on it all last week and I narrowed in on what I wanted until I was pretty happy with the concept. Where I started was that I wanted a race that would be suitable for a game and would be something that players would find attractive, so it needed to have humanoid characteristics while still being alien. This was the rough framework. From there I started looking at pictures of different animals. I ended up with a lionfish and a mudskipper and thought it would be a fun idea to have an aquatic species that appeared to be in the process of evolving from water to land. I threw in a little octopus to keep it aquatic and push the alien side. Here are some of my concept sketches:

Lots of suction cups, camouflage markings, webbed digits etc. I threw in a tail because I thought it pushed the whole evolution-in-process idea. At the same time I kept the silhouettes very idealized human. As I worked I developed a concept for the race as a whole:

These people were exposed to space flight by other alien cultures, they didn't invent the means to travel off world themselves. Their society is tribal and it was determined that no male of the species would lower himself to leave the world to parlay with the interlopers, so the females became delegates for the species. This has become extremely attractive to the females of the species, who enjoy a sort of empowerment off world. Many do not return. Males generally only leave if exiled.

While the species can exist for short periods outside of water, for prolonged periods of time they need to either undergo surgery to adapt their lungs to oxygen or wear head pieces. These head pieces serve two purposes: they recycle and filter water to allow their gills to breathe and they also provide an environment for their kelp-like hair. If the hair fully dries, the follicles will seal and the hair will never grow again, so the head piece is necessary if they wish to retain their hair. Because it is taboo, if a male leaves he shaves his head and adapts his lungs as a rite immediately, knowing he can never return. For females to cut one's hair is unthinkable, it would be like going native in the worst way. Women of the species are usually very proud and outgoing off world, probably as a counter to their oppressive culture.


Once I decided on the general look, I went through several types of eye shapes and head pieces. I worked on the coloring, I wanted something aquatic, but not too stereotypically aquatic, so I went more for green than blue. I ended up with a look that is somewhat salamander-esque. The body is covered in markings and suction cups. For the eyes I wanted something large like a fish, but still not creepy looking. Despite trying a number of shapes I went for something pretty human, just because straying too far made her look odd and unattractive.

Finally I played with different costumes and color schemes for clothing. Because of how proud they are, I thought bright colors would be best. These are not intended to be clothing for the culture, but rather off world clothing shared by a mix of alien societies. The center is my favorite. I wanted a look that was sexy but also strong and proud.

They are still a work in progress, but they are coming along.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Drawing for 6/25

Staying away from leaves again today... decided to do a city skyline.  I'm still in a sci-fi mood, but there isn't anything exactly overtly sci-fi about the finished piece.

I started with this image:

"Skylines" by sanchom

...And my finished drawing:

Night time.

It took about... 2 1/2 hours I think. The photo was really just a jumping off point. In retrospect I could have probably lowered the whole thing a bit to show less water and more sky. I also used a lot of different colors... I went back and forth about maybe making the colors a little more within the same scheme, but in the end I thought the variety of colors gave it less of a polished futuristic "star trek" look and more of a realistic bladerunner type look. As Tim Gunn would say, it's a lotta look.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Must... keep... drawing (Drawing for 6/24)

Something a little different today... I decided to do a drawing from a thumbnail I sketched last night. I always keep paper on my desk, so when I'm doing stuff on the computer I can doodle, like while mail loads or during a game cutscene. I did a little sketch of a corridor and thought it would be a fun thing to try for my drawing today. Also it put composition totally in my hands, which was good for a change.

The sketch:

Simple, but it has potential.

I liked the angled windows, I thought it looked sort of futuristic. I didn't use any real references, just some different concept art pieces to look at how people applied brush strokes, nothing huge. I did start differently though - given how geometric it was I decided to do some hard lines in black down first.

No, it's not vector. Don't insult me.
Then I just sort of went for it from imagination. I've played a lot of sci-fi games so I just drew off my impressions of what I thought an observatory type deck could look like.

Working in gradually. The scariest stage for me.
Details are where the fun starts.
It's sci-fi, so we'll shine it up a bit.
It was a nice break not trying to copy anything. I think the fun I had came through in the end result. And there wasn't any freaking leaves! Sometimes children, we just need to put the leaves away. For a little while.

The concept was an observation corridor on a space station or ship. I thought using the windows to project information would be fun, so if you were looking out the window it would help you observe star data or orbital information or what have you. Maybe you could just browse youtube. I don't know. :) I think it came out reasonably well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drawing for 6/22-6/23

Summer class has completely destroyed my schedule. I need to figure out a new system to arrange my time... the modules for my class are periods of three days, so each three days I have to write a lot and do a painting with oil paint, plus find time to work on a long term assignment. Combine that with my desire to do a digital painting each morning and my weekly personal projects and it's been easy to feel overwhelmed. Still, I think all of it is important, so I don't want to remove anything, I think I just need to find a new way to distribute my time. I'm testing out a new schedule right now.

In the meantime, here is a three-ish hour drawing I did over the last two days. I... don't like it much. I over complicate things color-wise and composition-wise. Maybe it's because I'm so busy and am having trouble focusing. It disappoints me when I finish a drawing that I don't feel worked out so well. Anyway, it was based off this photo:

"Ruins at Angkor" by kangotravelor

And the drawing looks like this:

It just feels... I don't know. I feel like I'm overworking, doing way too many strokes and getting a messy result. I also think I need to invest more time in the planning stage to make sure my foundation is correct on a perspective basis. I think I'm cutting corners in the wrong way and getting stoppy. Also the  colors aren't my favorite. There is a fine line between making fast strokes and making sloppy strokes. Also there IS such a thing as good contrast and bad contrast. Here's an example for nice contrast in a concept piece:

Art by Levi Hopkins
See that? That's nice. The strokes are simple and there isn't a lot of specific defining brush work, but the whole thing just feels clear. The contrast between warms and cools is really good, striking but not jarring. This is something I'm trying to improve on, but it's so daunting.

I was talking to a friend last night and when I was thinking about it I couldn't think of any prominent concept artists who are women. I wonder why that is. Also, when you find prominent women in design fields it feels like their work tends to be cute or charming in the style. It's something to think about... it annoys me and makes me want to work harder.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drawing for 6/21

Well, summer class has started. As expected it's going to be sort of rough and require a lot of time management to do it AND my summer goals. But I'm still going to do my best. Maybe if I can establish some efficient work ethic I can carry it into the fall semester and keep improving in the areas I care about outside of my classwork. I'd hoped in grad school that I would get more opportunities to focus in specific areas I want to improve in... while there are more opportunities than when I was an undergrad, there aren't as many as I'd hoped. I'm going to just work really hard to learn what I need myself and try not worry about my grades; as long as I'm getting benefit out of the courses that's what matters.

I am going to need to be really insane with the time management though. I'm going to try to bring the daily drawings down to 2 hours or so instead of 3. Today's was a 2 hour drawing inspired by this image:

"Peace Park Cliff Bottom" by chrissam42

I didn't do my drawing based off the whole image, just a portion of it:

Finished 2 hour drawing

It came out ok... I think I've been staring at it for a solid 2 hours so I don't like it as much right now. The rocks in the water turned out reasonably well. I feel like in drawings with lots of vegetation things can start feeling a little muddled, but when I look at it close up it seems pretty clear. There is a lot of blue in it though.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Some sketches

I've been working on some things, but not a lot is coming out well today. That shouldn't matter but it's been a weird couple of days and I've been having trouble being motivated. Even when I do stuff it's all been a little discouraging. Ah well, will try to get back on the horse.

I did some sketches of some wood... which sounds weird. But they are sort of interesting I guess.

Tree house!
Also I colored the guns from the other day:

With grit. And racing stripes.

The... stripes make them shoot faster...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Painting for 6/19

Yesterday I took a trip to Half Moon Bay with some friends, so I didn't do my 3 hour painting. I did take a lot of nice pictures, so I thought I'd choose one to use for my painting today.

I'm getting up on my flickr quota and really I don't see the need to post so many in progress shots, the ones I've already posted do a good job of outlining my process. So here was the under layer:

And here was the finished 3 hour drawing:

I am still struggling between getting the foreground and background to look like they belong in the same place while keeping the colors bright. I find I feel like I need to sacrifice one or the other. Here it looks a little drab to me color-wise. Still, it don't come out too terribly. The trip was really fun and I got a lot of good photos.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Guns. Lots of guns.

I've been working on some guns today. I operate a separate blog devoted to my 5 props a week challenge, which is just a way to coerce myself into drawing things I don't normally spend time thinking about. The link's at the top of this page if you're interested.

For this week though I didn't want to stop at five... Like it or not guns are a huge part of prop design I'm while I have yet to work in an industry setting I'd be willing to bet good money that no project is going to have anyone just design 5 guns. More like 500 if you're working on a game. (I kid, but... not really)

The first thing I think about when designing a prop is who I'm designing it for. What is the setting, what sort of person is using the item, what is it's purpose, what would I want the viewer or player to feel when he/she interests with the object? All of these things are important. Since I'm into design and I'm not an officianado on guns in any practical sense I try to design something that looks plausibly functional, but most of my energy goes into shape and silhouette.  If you want something to be cute, the shapes you use have to be cute. If you want something to be cool, the shapes have to reflect that too.

For the guns I drew today, I wanted to design something futuristic and cool. When I think about guns, I think about them from the standpoint of a player of video games. When I pick up a gun in a game I want it to have that awesome factor. If you use a gun in a game you're usually unleashing some serious righteous (or sometimes senseless) fury down on someone, and the gun should reflect that whether it is a pistol or a shoulder-mounted nuke launcher. Guns should have some menace to them, they're tools for killing. The setting in my mind was future, but nearish future. I figured the sort of person who might use these guns could be military or possibly a freelance professional.

As I've mentioned before, I use a lot of references. For these guns, I used photos of real guns. Then, since I knew the feel of the setting I wanted, I pulled some elements from District 9, Mass Effect and Halo, as well as from some other sources. I feel a little guilty using other concept art as a reference, it's something I try to avoid. For guns though it's a little difficult and I'm still trying to understand shapes and function so the additional references really help. I work hard to interpret what I see not just copy shapes, but there are times where I feel like I'm cheating a little too much. I suppose I'm just self conscious.

I tried to design a range of weapons including hand guns, SMGs, sniper rifles, assault rifles and even a shotgun and a shoulder-mounted canon. These are the rough sketches, so I'm hoping to apply some photoshop magic to them tomorrow or Sunday to  get them looking polished and colored.

Castles, Trees... things (3 hour painting)

I accidentally closed the tab I had my primary reference in and I couldn't find it again. So no reference photo today, sadly. I'm not super pleased with this, but I feel like the more elements are in the image the harder it is to be happy. Simple compositions are easiest, when there is a lot of stuff there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes.

Not exactly the under layer, but this was an early stage, around the 45 minute mark:
I was nervous about adding in the foreground bushes/ trees, intimidating.
I honestly think the nature elements of the painting maybe look their best here, around the 2.5 hour mark:
Green and pretty. But the castle feels sort of odd next to them. Also it's boring.

Gradients and lighting is added, but it's really desaturating things:

Like a sea of grey mediocrity.

I've been into Assassin's Creed lately, so I added a little Ezio. Not sure the environment really suits him, it's too serene:

I also boosted the saturation on the midground trees to try and combat the washed out look. I'm not sure I was entirely successful. Issues I ran into were that it was hard to get the castle and the background looking like they were in the same place. I think this was an issue with lighting, maybe contrast as well. I know they go together, since it was from a photo, so the failure was in the execution. In the end, lowering the contrast on the background was the only thing I could think of to do that brought them together, but it really washed things out.

If I'm proud of anything, it's the execution of the foreground trees. I feel like they actually came out looking painterly. Considering I have next to no formal painting training that makes me happy.

Adding the figure was for fun, I only spent about 15 minutes on him... but he's just another element in the piece that sort of adds discordance. Part of me thinks it looks fine, part of me thinks it's way too busy and part of me thinks I'm being overly critical. Ha.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Evening Fields

I had fun doing the painting today. There were no 1.5 hour mark frustrations which was nice. It's getting better. I worked hard to keep the colors vibrant this time - actually I started doing this post and then went back and played with the hue intensity a little bit.

Here is the reference image:

"Mist over moorland near Grossweil Germany" by miquitos
The ugly under-layer:
Mmm. Burgundy.
Foreground FIRST. I can be trained.

How serene.
Getting more complex background elements figured out, changing the colors:

A wild house appears!
Then I added gradients, more details:

At this point I thought I was done. I uploaded everything to flickr and then was looking at it... and it felt so flat. And desaturated. Not bad, but there was no... awesome. (Is that a technical term? It needs more cowbell!) So I opened it back up and played with the intensity. I think I like it better this way:

It's a really subtle change, but I think it makes the image pop more. When you glance at each, the bottom one is more striking. At least that is what I think. Like I said in a recent post, I think the difference between a good drawing and a great drawing is really subtle. (Actually the easy way to make a good drawing a great drawing is to put an explosion in it, but don't tell anyone, it's a trade secret.)

So overall I'm happy with how it came out. I feel like I'm improving.

Not art related, but I can't stop listening to this song, I've been listening to it practically on loop for the last 4 hours or so. I originally heard it in the incredible Assassin's Creed Revelations trailer, but here is the official video for it. The music video is weird but the song is fantastic.

Painting people

Painting people... is hard. I had some down time (LIES I am supposed to do like 30 guns this week) so I decided to give it a shot. I expect to get a lot better at this soon since I'm taking a portrait painting summer class starting in a week. But who really wants to wait for instruction?? Let's dive in and get our hands dirty, shall we?

Reapers: make my day.
I picked Commander Shepard because 1) I am a Mass Effect fan and 2) when you're doing something hard you might as well be enthusiastic about the subject matter. And obviously I picked a female Shepard because if the galaxy was on the line it would have to be a woman to get the job done. Also Jennifer Hale.

Right, this was supposed to be about art. The drawing came out okay, it took about 4 hours. Actually to be honest it was better than I expected. I think my painting this week has contributed, the last time I tried to paint a human from scratch it was... less good. But it's been a while and I've been pounding out drawings like Bioware pounds out hit game franchises (ok, I'll stop, really) so I think there are a lot of contributing factors. The face was hardest and I haven't really nailed it. I need to practice faces... so portrait painting should be convenient. Of course there is the oil painting aspect to it. But I'll burn that bridge as I come to it.

Another thing is the finishing. I feel like I /almost/ have a good painting. But it lacks some crispness and definition. I lacks a certain... something. This happens to me constantly. I will think about it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Misty Mountains

Today I decided to do some texture work and try a rocky surface. After all, buildings and mountains have similar gritty surfaces, right? Ok, maybe that is a stretch.

As usual I suffered from my 1.5 hour mark slump. What is it about the base layer that frustrates me so much? I think I get too detailed too quickly and then have trouble working back in later. I ended up scrapping a few layers, going back with a completely flat non-opaque brush and laying out solid colors in shapes. To expedite things, I put the reference photo on a lower layer and got the gesture shape of the rocks. Is that cheating? It's probably cheating.

Here's the reference image:

"Ulsan Rock in Sorack Mountains" by miquitos
I didn't save the under-layer but it was essentially three tones (light, mid and dark) and very graphic looking, just to block out the shapes. After I did this I got rid of the reference image from the layers, there wasn't any more tracing. And when I say tracing, it's was really rough, not precise. Just to get a feel for the natural look of the rock. With only three hours for the painting, speed is important.

I learned my lesson from the painting a couple days ago and isolated foreground and background on separate layers. First I focused purely on the mountain:

There's a few layers in here and some texture from brushes and photographs.
Then on a separate layer with the mountain turned off I did the background. I didn't do anything where I knew the mountain would be because I didn't want to waste my time. Then I turned the foreground back on and started adding happy little trees. Eat your heart out, Bob Ross!!

More like gritty, gestury little trees.
I like adding plants to things. Maybe this is my weakness. Maybe I should come back to this same photograph and try hard to actually represent it as it is portrayed to push myself out of my comfort zone. But... given that I'm pretty new to digital painting I'm not sure I even have a comfort zone. So if adding plants makes me happy, for the moment I'll indulge that. So... more plants! Also mist:

Lookin' MOSSY.

Finally I went in with gradients and details to deal with the color and to up the contrast. I consider lighting the whole way through, not just at the end, but it's at the end that I really push the lighting to what I've been mentally picturing the whole way.

More blues, more clouds.
It looks all right to me. Not incredible, but decent. The photo has more subtlety. I feel like in my desire for contrast I tend to push things really far. It's not horrible, but I think it could use some refinement. Also the tree shapes feel sort of blocky and not as organic as I'd like. I'm nitpicking, but I think the subtle details is the difference between being good and being great so I'll keep trying.

One of the reasons I set a 3 hour deadline on my painting is actually stuff like this. There's always going to be something "wrong" with it, and if you don't cut yourself off and keep to a timeline ("Ok, running out of time, must move on now") I find I'll noodle something to death. The causes two problems: 1) it takes forever and 2) I usually end up hating the final product. Keeping things fast keeps me focused on the end result and prevents that crazy anal perfectionist I think every artist has inside of them from crippling me. Onwards!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Windmill 3 hour Painting

I was talking to a friend yesterday about digital painting and she found a flickr stream with some fantastic pictures. I decided to use one for my painting today:

"Windmill near Alkmaar" by miquitos
In the process of painting I screwed around with my base layers a lot today, so I can't really show the progression.

More daytime, springier colors. Fewer sheep.
Every time I chose to add the sheep in it just looked dumb. Maybe dumb isn't the right word, it was just too cute. Maybe it's too many FPS games, but a drawing that is too cute starts to get on my nerves. (Maybe this is evident on the fact that I even apply flowers like spatter? Perhaps I have a problem.)

I'm sort of happy with how it came out, but there are still issues. My trees feel too airbrushed and there look like there are some places that could be improved with the windmill blades too, they seem too outliney.

I also have fundamental trouble simply laying down a structure. What I mean is, a structure should be simple to draw, it's geometric so in theory you only need a couple of square strokes to gesture it, but I always go in and noodle around with it and make it look weird. This especially happened with the windmill. Maybe an example would help make my point:

Here is Shaddy Safadi's "Old Zoo" site painting:

 The structure is really nicely defined, but if you look closely you see that there is really very little to it. When I try to draw any sort of structure I go through tens of layers. That just seems silly, maybe I should sit down and crank out like 100 sheds. It's not a bad idea, really. I'd love to find a video of someone doing this.

Monday, June 13, 2011

You Win Some You Lose Some...

Man, I had some real trouble today. I was trying to figure out what I should work on and I found this image which I thought was cool and inspiring:

"Longsheng Mountain Village" by tuchodi from Flickr
So I thought "Yeah that could be awesome, it's already a really cool image to begin with!"

False. Either I got overly ambitious or I just wasn't in the right mood for it, but I couldn't get it working at all. I actually included the image above just to highlight how badly I didn't get it. Heh. Really it's ok, I'm trying to expand what I can do through practice so it's never really a failure, but it can be disappointing to fall short of what is in your head.

To be clear: I was not trying to copy the above image. I just was inspired by it in a lot of ways. There's a lot that is similar to it in my final piece, but I didn't go in with the attitude of trying to copy it. I like to keep an open mind about adding elements, etc. 

My under map of the image
I decided to turn it into a market, started adding color
Starting to run into some composition issues. Also... so much brown.
This is starting to remind me of that song "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. Except there was frowning by this point. Lots of frowning. The way that I placed the lamps was a) creating a crappy focal point and b) creating a crappier tangent with the bonsai trees. Also did I mention how much brown there is?

Come rescue me lighting effects!
Through gradients and lighting I mitigated some of the incredible amounts of brown. I tried playing with hue but frankly every other color was ridiculous looking. If I had more time (as it was I went about a half hour over my 3 hour goal) I might have played with some masks or something to adjust the colors.

Let's be honest. I don't like how this turned out. Lessons I learned: paint your background before your foreground elements in the planning stage. You'd think this would be obvious, but apparently I am a moron. Laying out the foreground elements and keeping them visible at the beginning really threw me off as I tried to work back into the image. Another thing is I'm thinking if I am going to lay the first layer out in monotone then I shouldn't use one of the core colors that will be in the finished piece. It just makes things confusing. Finally... it was a lot to bite off for three hours when I've been at this only a few days. Tents and carts and baskets... I salvaged some of it, but right now I'm too annoyed to look at it properly. Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New project

I've been working with a friend of a friend on a new project. I can't go into specifics, but he said it was all right for me to post some of the art I've been doing for it, so here are some of the designs I've been doing for the main character.

What I can probably safely say is she's strong, smart and works in space.

Hair concepts

Working on the armor silhouette
Different iterations for the arms of the armor