Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Q&A: More illustration questions and answers

Here are some more:

1. What tools do you use the most when producing your art?

2. I hear you about life drawing. Are there also any books or videos/dvds you might recommend to starters? *I'm going through "Keys to Drawing" by Dodson, and "Manga Pro" by Colleen Doreen right now.

3. What do you consider one of your most valuable experience/s?

4. What are things beginners should avoid (either in practice of the art, or on the business end)?

Thanks again,



For regular pen and ink stuff:
I tend to use Prismacolor non-photo blue pencils for loose sketches and fiddle with it till it looks like something I want to go forward with. Paper is usually regular printer paper. Cheap. Takes maybe 10-15 min. Sometimes longer if it's not clear in my head. Send that off for approval.

Next...Over that I'll use a mechanical pencil (regular ol mechanical pencil, HB lead) and pencil in the image. Lightly at first then heavier as I get it down pat. 1-4 hours. Send it off for approval.

Next I take what I've got and in Photoshop make it really dark by adjusting the levels. Then I adjust the hue & saturation. Hue =215, Saturation =100, lightness = 90 (which turns the lines I penciled non-photo blue). I print that off on a sheet of heavy index card paper. http://www.wausaupaper.com/Printing_and_Imaging/Brands/3102.aspx
Super smooth bristol board paper. No bleeding of ink.

For inks I'm using a copic marker #100 Copic Ciao. http://copicmarker.com/products/markers/ciao/ It has a brush end with a nice fine tip and a broad end for filling black areas. I've used india ink and dip pens and brushes, but I'm loving the copic markers right now. For finer work I have Micron Tech pens. http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival I usually use a 1 or 2 mm for fine work and an 8mm for outlining. Ink right over the printed page where your "pencils" are. By this point your hand should be really used to where the lines go, so inking should be fairly easy.

One note, I tend to work on images at 2x magnification. So if I'm turning in a half page illustration, I produce a full page illustration and reduce it down for submission.

I have a number of templates, rulers, compass and protractor etc. Of course my most important tool is a Wacom Intuous 2 9x12 tablet. That way I have a large surface to draw on digitally and use a stylus pen instead of a mouse. Best $500 I've ever spent (like seven years ago).

For some digital work I cut out a lot of steps and go straight to Photoshop. I'm using CS3 now. Another expensive tool.

The book I almost always recommend is How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. That's what got me started. It has a lot of the basics of how a body is put together drawing-wise: a frame, breaking the body in to basic shapes (boxes, tubes, etc.) and defining from there. The basics I learned in there I still use and I got the book in the early 90's.

I think my other "must have" book is Anatomy for the Artist by Jeno Barcsay, an oversized Barnes and Noble book. It looks at human anatomy from every angle. From the bones to the muscles to the whole fleshy thing. I reference it all the time.

For using PS for digital coloring I started out using Adi Granov's tutorial on combining digital and traditional art styles. http://www.imaginefx.com/-2287754330544769555/Combining_traditional_and_digital.html It's a really good start.

After that I admit I'm a big proponent of using photo references. I can't speak for everyone, but almost every big "name" I know, if you look at their work, they use references. A LOT. Whether you sketch while looking at a ref or use photo manipulation to combine photography and drawings...references are a HUGE resource. Take advantage of it. (Note, photo refs are fine, but I have to recommend against riffing off anyone's drawings. Get permission, use stock photos or Public Domain photos, but leave drawings well enough alone.)

Valuable Experiences-
Being pushed. If left alone a person rarely pushes outside their boundaries. They take jobs they know they can do and stay in their nice neat little worlds. I've learned more, faster and better by getting in to work that was /slightly/ out of my pay-grade and growing in to it through stress, long hours and being forced to work harder and smarter to get the job done.

NOTE! I'm not saying write checks your body has no way of cashing. I'm saying write the check and go $20 over. Overdraft a little. Only once have I fallen flat and in that case I did the very best i could and communicated that with the Art Director. AD's don't expect miracles but they do want to know if you aren't going to make the mark; and know ASAP.

Things to Avoid-
Ego is a double edged sword. What I do isn't art. Not really. I think Picasso is art. The Sistine Chapel is art. Todd Lockwood does art. I do illustration for a buck. I do what I'm told and draw what is expected of me. Ego is checked at the door. My art directors usually know what they want and give me the lee way to to do it, but I avoid pushing that boundary too much.

A lot of guys doing this have these massive egos. They think they are good, and want to do what they want to do. They do it their way. They give Art Directors ulcers.

The Art Director can make or break you. If you become a primma-donna "Artiste" you become a headache and there is a line of guys just as good if not better lined up and hungry for the work. Remember that! (There's lots of ADs out there, but it's a small world, and people talk. Your Rep is everything.

The other edge of the sword is that you need to respect yourself and your work. Starting out is hard but be wary of people wanting freebies. Be careful in doing freebie work: make sure it is REALLY worth it. There ARE some instances where it is worth it (doing the Art Order competitions for Jon Schinderette at Wizards of the Coast may be one. I should do them but haven't had the time to mess with unpaid gigs.)

Thousands of talented, educated young men and women come out of school every year wanting to be an artist. Over half won't at all. Of the remaining half only a fraction survive the first few gigs because they give up. It's hard work. Ego often gets in the way.

I started out doing people's D&D characters. A thousand years later...I still do people's D&D characters. Never forget why you love this, why you do it and where you came from.

An artist is something you are, not something you become. You shouldn't really change...it's something you already ARE. Becoming an "artist" isn't some coming of age thing or something to attain. The pretentious guys forget that. Think they've "arrived". Stay who you are, be yourself and do your thing.

I love my job.

Editorial caviat: 100% of this is my opinion on the matter. There is no one true way to any of this. There are exceptions to every rule. I don't know everything. I'm no Jedi Master. Hell, I'm not even that good as far as all this goes. I do ok, and and keep busy year-round. But that doesn't make me an expert on anything. I'm glad to share what little experience I have with anyone wanting to do the same thing and I hope that you take all of this with a grain of salt, develop your own path once you get comfortable and share what you know for the next person. Pay it forward. Have fun. Love what you do.

Q&A: Starting out as an illustrator.

Every once in a while I get questions from folks regarding what I do and how I do it. I can't stand gatekeepers who try and horde knowledge so they can be somehow "better" than others; I share it out every chance I can. I figure the cool kids need to stick together. There's plenty of work out there for people willing to hustle. Besides, it's great to see people develop their talents. Everyone needs a hand once in a while.

"John" Hey! Hope all is well. I'm beginning in the arts and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions? Thank you, -J

Me. You bet, anytime.

The Questions:
Great, thanks again! I'll try not to send too many at once, I know you're working.

1. What kind of schooling (if any) would you recommend?

2. Can you name some skills potential employers look for, ie., computer graphics, mixed media, writing, etc.?

3. How regular are freelance assignments?

4. Is it better to grow as an artist within a single company, or keep it mixed up?

I may have more, but I appreciate any pointers or advice you might give. I'm an aspiring writer as well, but I'm also finally pursuing my love of art (sketching at this point). Thanks again, -John

The Answers:
Schooling? Honestly, I'm self taught and only took (and failed) one high school art class. That said my best friend has a BA in Fine Art. Life drawing classes are good anytime you can get em.

Employers largely want to see a portfolio online more than anything else. There is an assumption that you should be able to produce images in a variety of file formats: JPG, PSD, TIF, PNG mainly. They want to see a variety of things:
1.Good proportion of characters. legs and arms being proportionate to the rest. (Skill)
2. Good control of the medium. Pencils should look sharp and clean. Inks the same. Good control of negative space (light dark balance). (Skill)
3. Greyscale and color work. (Variety)
4. Pin up work is easy, they want you to be able to do multiple people in a shot if possible and/ or scenic shots. Something with a full background. (Variety)
5. They want to know you can deliver on time, that you are easy to work with (not a pain in the butt or a douche) and that you are quick with your communications. (Dependability and Professionalism)

Regular? It varies a great deal. At first it'll be hard scoring a gig. As an unknown factor a lot of folks will be hesitant. You have to have a portfolio that sells you, and you have to be persistent.
At one point I'd range from maybe 5 quarter page gigs a month to maybe 10. That's $250 MAX in a whole month. Now, years later I range between maybe 10-30 images a month (size varies).

It's important to network and canvas the industry and try and keep the schedule as full as possible. Take extra on nights and weekends. Only a portion of these will become regulars. I have 3-4 publishers that I do a ton of work for. They keep me busy full-time. That said, I keep adding bits from all over so I can vary my work.
Working for the same guys all the time means likely the same styles of work every time. That means your portfolio will be filled with more or less the same sort of style. It's easy to end up in a rut duping a Tim Bradstreet style every day for the next year...which gets old. You've GOTTA branch out.

Get good with Google. Search out the various publishers and get their email addresses, and look for submissions requirements/ directions: follow them to the very letter (that is a sort of test with them). Get on forums. Get on mailing lists. Open calls come up all the time. The first step though is assembling a portfolio.

Maybe 10-20 pics, all your very best stuff. A good average is a dozen images.

***NOTE, this isn't "done" per se. I'm still answering questions, and the answers given are just a start, not "everything". I'm sure I'll come up with more as I go. This is just off the top of my head.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden


Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Black Library Publishing

411 Pages

*This is an advance copy review.


The Night Lords are one of the most feared legions of Chaos Space Marines. Remorseless hunters and killers, they relentlessly battle the Imperium of Man to avenge the death of their Primarch Konrad Curze. Their dark crusade takes them to the valuable world of Crythe Primus, where they will fight Imperial forces to claim the planet. But will the allegiance with their cohorts in the Black Legion last long enough for them to be victorious?


Previously I mentioned that I generally don’t care for Chaos Space Marine novels (see my Dark Creed review). I think it’s because I have a difficult time seeing how I’ll be able to relate to the characters. How can I root for the bad guys? Dark Creed proved me wrong on that, and since Soul Hunter came in my monthly care package from BL, I was willing to give it a shot. This is the first Aaron Dembski-Bowden book for me as well, so I was anxious to get a taste of what he brings to the table. I wasn’t let down.

Let me say that the author does an excellent job in sucking you in to the whole vibe of, well…darkness. The Night Lords are like the Batman Chapter of Traitor Marines. Darkness and fear. That’s their shtick. They really have it down pat. From the very prologue I was hooked.

The author has a real wit to his dialogue. He wraps the characters in interesting quips that are entirely defining. I could go on and on about each character, but seriously, each one definitely has a specific “voice” which is awesome; very akin to Dan Abnett in that respect. The author is also quite a tease. We don’t even know the protagonist’s name for 43 pages.

The story is good. The plot is a bit slow: I think I spent the whole novel half-holding my breath. It is very cool to see some real meat on the Night Lords and get an insight in to how the former great legions (well…all the traitor legions) have decayed. The portrayal of the relationship with the Black Legion and the Warmaster is revealing.

It appears that “Chaos Space Marine” is a very broad term. Even “Traitor Marine” is a huge generalization. These guys are all unique, which makes for an interesting story. I’m very impressed that the author does a good job at making the reader feel so…betrayed. It makes it possible for the reader to sympathize, and it really worked.

There is definitely the feeling that this book is just a prelude to something much bigger. I am assuming that this is the beginning of a series (at this point I have only this novel to go by) Still…the story plays out nicely.

It has what I consider the appropriate amount of “Grim Dark Future” of the 41st millennium. I can’t say that of a lot of Warhammer 40k fiction. Even the top dogs of the Black Library bullpen often can’t really get that perfect balance. I mean, I believe the purpose of the grim, dark future-type stories is that in the midst of a really shitty universe, where mankind is either on the edge of extinction, or under the lash of one tyrannical regime or another, it is possible to see glimmers of hope, or in this case…at least revenge. Man is powerless, small, one among untold billions…meaningless. Even demigods die an ignoble death. Yet there is something cool about one person, astartes, slave, and navigator doing something unique.

That’s what it’s all about.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden captures this.

Actually, the author would be in my mind a kind of hybrid of writing styles: Like the dark love-child of Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett. Abnett I think writes great action and characterizations, dialog. McNeill can pull off more “thinker” novels and also is strong in characterization etc. Kind of a perfect storm in writing styles really.

My only complaints are as follows:

  1. A bit of slowness. Not bad. I just think some folks may notice it. I dig it, but I’m not your typical reader. It’s got a lot of action, don’t get me wrong…it just has some very contemplative bits that not everyone will fully appreciate.
  2. It feels like a prelude. Not really a complaint. When I got the book I started reading it with no foreknowledge. Is it a prequel? It may be. I don’t judge books by the series; I judge the book by the book. By the end you feel like “it’s about to go off.” Maybe it’s the finally finding out that it’s a series at the end instead of at the beginning. Anyhow, totally minor quibble that really means nothing.

  1. The writer is clever; maybe too clever for me. I think there were parts where something happened that I simply missed it. Like an inside joke where you’re not in the know. Still, it didn’t really detract from the story. I’m just not as versed on the Night Lords. I think that someone who is not versed in 40k lore may miss out on some of the fun.


That’s it. Seriously, those are some minor quibbles. For my first Aaron Dembski-Bowden novel, I was pleased with the story, the vibe, and the overall entertainment value. Totally good read.

4 of 5 Stars.

Deathwatch RPG from Fantasy Flight Games

"You will watch in the dark places where evil slumbers. You will hold back the night. You will bring justice and war to the malevolent Xenos. You will annihilate the alien and bring unto them the judgement of Mankind. You stand as the bulwark upon which the Imperium persists, from now until the end of time."

excerpt from the Deathwatch Apocryphon Oath


Coming This Summer from FFG!

Some bits for Hero Games upcoming release: