Tuesday, 27 November 2012

007 To Reference Or Not To Reference

Sometimes the question arises, if you should use reference or completely draw everything from your mind. Some people see using reference as something weakening or not art-like, because you are essentially copying things.
While it might be true, if you are doing a 1:1 study from a photo, it might be nothing more than copying, it is essential for any progress. How can you paint from your mind, if you don´t really know how something looks?
You have to have a huge visual library in your head to create something completely without reference.
And to build that library, you have to observe how things look. The best way is making studies like this:

Color study

In studies like this, you observe the form, lighting and colors of the reference image (without using the color picker in Photoshop...).

You can also incorporate studies into your finished images, if you come to a subject, you are not really familiar with:

1:1 reference

In my recent painting, I came across the problem, that I haven´t painted a sheep before. So I used reference and combine this study with the final image. Next time I have to paint a sheep again, it should be less of a problem.

The best way to use reference in my opinion is not copying it 1:1, but changing it. In another painting I ran across another problem: painting children. I have been studying anatomy for quite some time now, but a child´s anatomy follows totally different proportions. So I used a reference image, but changed it slightly and added missing parts on my own, not relying 100% on the reference image:

Slightly altered reference
I changed the left arms position, the right hands fingers, the hair style slightly and I show more of the face at a slightly different angle. Legs and feet were added without reference using my humble knowledge of anatomy and balance in figures.

Reference is especially important in learning about the human figure, whether it´s from a photo, a drawing or from life. It took me a long time to be able to draw the human form from my mind now, and I´m still only at the start of grasping it fully.

Here are some sketchbook examples of drawing with reference:

Referenced sketchbook images

And here are some examples of drawing completely from my mind:

Sketchbook examples from imagination

As you can see, my faces and head drawings from imagination are starting to get better. As for the full human figure it mostly still lacks that flow and rhythm a figure needs, to be dynamic and alive and not too stiff. I know how the anatomy should look like and how the proportions are suposed to be, but I still have trouble to capture a natural, dynamic pose

My goal is to be able to draw anything from my mind, especially the human figure, but it still takes a lot of time and foremost studies! So go out and study and observe everyone!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

006 Status Now, Goals and Tips for Beginning Artists

I learned a lot about drawing and painting in the past two years, even more than in the rest of my life before. But it wasn´t easy and I had to discover lots by myself.
I can´t possibly squeeze all the tiny bits I acquired into a few blog posts, but as this blog is supposed to track my progress, I can sometimes give tips and share my experiences in future posts. These will always be biased as they are, well, MY experiences, taylored to my learning process.
Everybody learns stuff differently and I don´t have the overruling word when it comes to learning how to paint/draw. There are just too many methods, systems and whatever out there and everybody has to find out for him/herself what suits him/her best.  I´ll also try to answer questions, if someone wants to know something about specific topics.

So for starters, here are some source materials (mainly on figure drawing as I focused a lot on that subject), that I found very helpful in learning to paint/draw:

Books about figure drawing:
  • Andrew Loomis, Drawing the Head and Hands
  • Andrew Loomis, Figure Drawing For All It´s Worth
  • Bridgman´s Complete Guide to Drawing From Life
  • Burne Hogarth, Dynamic Figure Drawing
  • Michael Hampton, Figure Drawing - Design and Invention
Books related to figure drawing:

  • Burne Hogarth, Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery
  • Gary Faigin, The Artist´s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions
Books on painting: 

  • James Gurney, Color & Light
Video tutorials on figure drawing:

  • David Finch, Dynamic Figure Drawing Series at Gnomon Workshop here
  •  Glenn Vilppu, Figure Drawing here
General video tutorials on painting/drawing:

These are just a few sources you can get your knowledge from. There are lots more out there, some free, some not, but these mentioned sources helped me a lot.

 For beginners, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Get yourself a sketchbook and keep it with you every day
  • Draw as much as possible each day, but don´t see it as work. Keep the fun in it!
  • Use spare time to draw everywhere. On travels, waiting for the bus, ....
  • Start to really observe the world and your environment. Study all the forms you can see, how color and light behave in certain situations, where do shadows fall and what colors do they create (shadows are not entirely black...), why does a person look like he does (placement of facial features, hairstyles,...), etc.
  • No matter how bad you think your drawings are, you always learn something from them just by drawing
  • Build up a visual library in your mind of objects, faces, environments, lighting conditions, etc. It really helps when drawing from imagination.
  • Draw from reference (photos, from life,...) and after finishing, put away the reference (or walk away from it) and draw it again from your mind.

Here are some of my more recent paintings and drawings, so you can compare the progress with my earlier posts:

The paintings where done fully digital with some reference (like parts of the child in the last painting and some landscape photos on the first one).  All drawings are from my recent sketchbook with no reference, just from my mind.

So regarding my immediate future goals, here they are:

  • Study anatomy till I drop dead or finally get it into my head completely
  • Create more dynamic, lively figures and faces that could jump right off the screen
  • Study facial expressions till I´ve had enough of smiling, crying and angry  people
  • Draw hands, hands, hands and some more hands
  • Drapery and clothes are not my enemy....I just have to study them more
  • More realistic color palettes and lighting
  • Moodier atmospheres in paintings
  • A more realistic look and feel to my paintings
  • Going right to ludicrous speed when painting. I am like a snail now (can´t really train that. It´ll come with time and practice)
So, there is a lot to do. Let´s make it happen! 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

005 To the Future and Beyond

For the next months I was constantly learning and painting and also decided to enter some contests at deviantART, which are very fun. No matter how good or bad your skill level is, I can recommend to everyone to enter in contests. It´s not necessarily about winning, but more about learning. You have your deadline to enter your work and a theme not chosen by yourself. To me they are like homework assignments and great to keep you motivated when studying by yourself. The different themes also kind of force you to paint things you are not familiar with.
My first contest entry had a vehicle theme and I had never even really thought about painting vehicles. So I was "forced" to think about how to solve that problem. This was the result:

Some people also started to ask me about commissions and I even was invited to contribute some of my work to an artbook, which can be found  here.

My confidence level started to rise and that led me to lesson nr. 3:

Confidence is your ally!

This might sound stale and blunt, but there really is a connection to quality work and confidence. If you´re confident, your work will be better. With better work, your confidence rises. The problem with confidence is, it can be shattered easily, if you don´t take care, which might result in demotivation and bad work.
Sometimes I produce stuff I am really not happy about. If that happens, I just get rid of it. Don´t try to fix a mostly complete painting you are not happy with! You´ll learn something, even from bad paintings, but there is no reason to but in extra effort and time to fix something that will most likely be mediocre at best.

But don´t give up too soon on a painting either! When I start painting, I´m mostly never pleased with what I produce up until I spend about an hour or so on it. It took me a while to find out that paintings need to grow from a general blob of colors to the detailed nice look you want to reach. At least for me, they never really feel right at the beginning. But you have to have patience and believe in your abilities.
Here´s an example of what I mean:

This is a WIP file for a recent Halloween painting. It shows the various stages of the painting. Stage 1 is almost always the stage I have to overcome to be satisfied with the image. As I learned, it is also one of the most vital steps of a painting, as it determines color, composition and overall mood right at the beginning. Once I´m at least quite happy with this step, then I can proceed.

004 Perfectionism Isn´t Always A Good Thing

I am sort of a perfectionist, especially in things that require creativity. And while this is sometimes a good trait that leads to satisfying results, guess what: in painting it can stand in your way!

I soon discovered, that I started my paintings with the premise that it had to be flawless. Everything should be supercool, equally lit and equally detailed. The result of that premise was that I started to tighten up even in the beginning phase of a painting. It took forever to make and I always jumped into the details as soon as possible. It was also acompanied by a kind of fear of making mistakes. Considering the possibilities of digital painting, this was of course stupid. And even if you make mistakes, there is no such thing, only happy accidents :)

One day, I sat down and had an idea for a painting. A group of minotaur heroes, entering a dungeon (this was a joke from one of my D&D sessions). I decided to make the background first and try consciously not to cramp while painting. I listened to some music and made some sketches to warmup and then I just painted, not caring about "mistakes" or flawlessness. The result was this:

The only reference used was photos of me in various poses and some photos of cows from the net. This was another milestone for me, as the result was better than anything before. Just by loosening up and not really caring about the perfect result. There was kind of a flow or vibe while painting, something that is always present when I work nowadays. It´s an indicator for me to tell, if I´m on the right way. When this vibe is not there, I know, I have to stop painting immediately and do something else to loosen up again. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

003 So how DO you actually start being an artist?

So after all my ups and downs so far with my drawing skills, about 2 1/2 years ago in summer 2010, I decided that this was it. After thoroughly asking myself, what I wanted most in life, one sentence always popped up in my mind: I want to be an honest-to-god artist.

But how on earth do you become an artist? What is an actual artist? Looking at the works of Boris Vallejo, Ralph McQuarrie or Frank Frazetta, it was obvious to me, that I had a loooong way to go....

Which leads me to lesson nr. 1 in becoming an artist:

Never doubt yourself, especially when looking at the work of others!

This is not easy, but I maintained it ever since I decided to get serious with my work. There is always someone out there who is better than you. The trick is not to despair, but to let these brilliant paintings motivate you in becoming better. Analyze and study them instead of just envying them!

As I really had no clue of where to begin my life as an artist, I just jumped in at the deep end, sat down with my trusty Intuos 3, grabbed an image from the web, gathered together all my knowledge of drawing, painting and Photoshop in my mind and started to paint. The result was this:

My first finished digital painting

It´s not really good or pretty, at least for my eyes now, but back then it was a real milestone for me. Another levelup so to speak. I realized that it wasn´t perfect and it had lots of flaws, but I was really proud of it somehow. I was at least so proud, that it kept me motivated.

I jumped right into the next paintings and tried to make a portrait study and a study of one of Vallejos artworks (seems like a little overconfident to me today :) )

To my surprise, especially the study of Vallejos Red Sonja went really smoothly. It was fun to paint and I started to learn at least a little bit about painting. It took forever to paint, but the result was ok.
Motivation was at a high point.

As I had never been too good with drawing figures from my mind (complete or in parts), I started with a large project, where I wanted to paint all characters from a RPG group I was playing with (I still play in that group) Using some of my lesser 3D skills and Poser, I made some base models of the figures and used them as a starting point for the character painting. this was the result:

I also reactivated my old deviantart account and put my paintings online. Most comments where actually good, but some people commented that the characters looked too stiff and their faces where flat. I couldn´t really understand, because I didn´t actually see! I spent several weeks on this painting (not full work days, only a couple of hours per day) and to me it was flawless. Looking at this today I see so many errors and yes, the characters are stiff and their faces ARE flat!

Lesson nr. 2:

Always listen to critique, try to learn from it and do better next time!

By that, I don´t mean, one should take negative critiques to heart! Listen to it, but don´t let it sink into your mind and cause doubts. Always believe in yourself and have a good, healthy dose of self confidence, no matter how bad others react to your work. Rejection happens and you cannot satisfy everyone with what or how you paint. I also know artists who paint absolutely perfect, but I don´t like their style or their themes. It´s just a matter of taste.

By that time, I started to gather as much learning material, I could get my hands on. Books, video tutorials, step by step tutorials, anything! And I used them.

In the months that followed, I finished a personal mega-project in painting a mural in my kitchen, which is about 8x3 meters in size:

While doing that, I didn´t have time to paint digitally, but I managed to learn and watch tutorials while taking breaks from the mural.

Starting again with my digital paintings and full of new knowledge and ideas and motivation, I discovered something interesting....

002 A Glimpse of the Future

Starting to edit/retouch photos in Photoshop stalled my drawing skills a bit, but it also was the start of something new and wonderful.

I bought my first tablet (a no-name brand) and started to learn Photoshop. After a while, i knew it quite well. Unfortunately my tablet broke and I had to find a relacement. Having saved some money, I decided to go with a wacom Intuos 3.
It was really a lot of money for me to spend, but as I still use it  nowadays and  it never ever let me down once in years, it was the best investment of my life :)

Soon I discovered that you can not only comfortably retouch photos but you can  actually draw and paint with the tablet. After scribbles and awful doodles I painted my first strands of hair following a tutorial:
My first PS painting ever
This painting clicked something in me. Painting without the hassle of preparation, cleanup, lighting issues. That was absolutely my thing :) I started to deepen my knowledge of what was actually possible in digital painting and oh my.....anything is possible!

001 What is this about? - A history lesson

This blog is a companion on the neverending quest of becoming a better artist. It´s main goal for me is to track my progress, but at the same time, hopefully, someone might get inspired by it.

But first things first. Here are in a nutshell my beginnings as an artist:

Drawing has always been a passion for me, sometimes more, sometimes less. In kindergarten, I passionately drew lots of mountains and dinosaurs. Nothing was cooler back then.

Somehow I lost that passion in schooltime up until high school, where I started to pull the rusty magical pencil back out of the stone. And as nobody is born with the innate ability to accurately draw anything (except maybe Frank Frazetta) my drawings looked somewhat like this (these scans are one of the oldest drawings I could find. There where lots of even worse before that):

I have always had a thing for the fantasy genre, so most of my drawings contained that element. I used reference from which I could draw, so I naturally started to draw portraits someday. At least I tried....

Really not the best drawings and looking at these nowadays I start to smile and nit-pick my own mistakes. Especially the eyes and lips are really unbareable for me to look at :)

I also started to combine my fantasy drawings and portraits (mostly of friends):

I continued to draw from photos and other paintings/drawings until I bought some drawing books for beginners and art books from people like Tim Hildebrandt, Rodney Matthews, Chris Achileos and Boris Vallejo (I didn´t have internet back then....and even if I would have, there where no tutorials on drawing)

Something clicked in my head while reading these books. It was as if I had gained enough experience for another character level. A feeling that I would have more often later as I progressed. I started to make the first steps in drawing without reference:

Still nothing too great, but a step in the right direction. I did mostly landscapes without reference as they where really easy for me. I improved a bit and reached another level:

I did a lot of those landscapes, most of them for friends or relatives. Most of those drawings are lost and scattered across space and time.

My level of character art also improved:

But even with this improvement, I still couldn`t draw figures or faces from imagination. I always had to rely on reference. I knew almost nothing of composition, anatomy or perspective. Even with drawing books, the human form just wouldn´t stick in my mind.
No matter how hard I tried, figures from imagination always looked kind of like this:
But I wanted the freedom to choose, if I wanted reference for a drawing or not. That impatience, combined with life outside of art, let my passion fade away slightly. I still did occasional drawings and even tried to paint in color using first oil and soon switching to acrylics, but my learning curve stagnated.

Sometimes the passion for art would come back, but my learning curve didn´t improve much as I started to study at university and found some other things that caught my interest, like moviemaking, cutting movies and Photoshop retouching/photomanipulations.

But as the years went by, a thing was about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the artist in me was going to wake up and find that he is strong.....