Friday, January 13, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

A couple of random silly photos from daily life soas this post isn't completely nekkid. 

Anyhow! Lately I've been getting a number of emails and messages from folks asking how I've gotten where I am art-wise, what resources I use to create my artwork, how I do what I do, and a number of variations thereof.

The short answer to all of these is, of course - I surround myself with artwork, other artists, and I practice, practice, practice.  However, I know how annoyingly vague and unhelpful short answers can be at times, and frankly, you guys deserve better then a pithy one-liner. So!

Since I both an more then happy to answer questions the best I can, yet have an absolutely terrible attention span with non-work-related emails, I thought I would share some of that correspondence here, with the gracious permission of one of the fellows doing the asking - a fellow artist named William. Hopefully this is informative in some manner, and answers some of the questions folks have been asking as of late.

From William:

I found you on FA and love your artwork and style.

I practice hours every day trying to get better, I don't really have the resources to go to school so its just me and I am really looking for any great artist like you to give some advice.  Its a very slow climb sometimes.

If you have any time I would really like to ask you a few things, like where you got inspiration form, and references or resources that you found especially helpful in your climb to where you are. When you are practicing or where practicing to get where you are did you copy other's stuff and try to learn from it?  What did you do to learn photoshop painting?  How about expressions, what did you do to learn them and be able to apply them to any character?

I appreciate anything that you could give as it would be a great help to me, hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you!

My response:

Pleased to meet you! Thank you for the kind words - It's always great to hear that other folks enjoy my work :) Also, I apologize for not getting back to you sooner on this - I seem to recall seeing this message on DA, but I think it accidentally got lost in a busy day.

I honestly always find it a little tricky to give a solid account as to how I've gotten to where I am artistically. The short answer, really, is that I've worked my butt off for a very long time. And, I know I have a whole lot to learn still, so I continue to do so every day. I definitely understand not having the resources for school, too - I didn't either (I was actually homeless for about 6 months of my time in college, flopping at a very generous set of friends' apartment) and am up to my butt in loan debt. It's a very hard thing to make work for folks who aren't of means, that's for sure!

As to answer your questions, I'll do my best :)

Most of my inspiration comes from four main places:
  • North American comic book style art, often surrounding artists who have an eastern-inspired flair, like Joe Madureira, Chris Bachalo, and Humberto Ramos, or others with their own unique flair who simply have more talent in their left pinkie then I have in my whole body, like a long-time favorite, Greg Capullo.
  • Feature Film Animation, most of which, as a kid, consisted of various movies from Disney Feature animation and Don Bluth. In college, my horizons spanned drastically from there, finding a huge assortment of inspiration from the short film circuit, cinematic game development artwork, as well as pretty much anything Hayao Miyazaki has ever put out of Studio Ghibli.
  • Being surrounded by other artists as much as possible. There is an absolutely massive amount of learning and inspiration that comes from simply putting yourself in a room with other artists. A tremendous amount of my friends are all creatives, my fiance is an artist, and I try to stay as active as I can in both online art communities and "IRL" art projects, such as The ARMSmasters Project. The people involved in all of these are among the kindest, most generous folks I know, and we frequently talk shop, trying to learn from one another and improve wherever we can.
  • Spending a great deal of time in my own head. I can be a pretty distracted person sometimes - I'm constantly mulling over characters, ideas, stories, and imagined places and cultures. I'm also always looking for new visuals to help culture those ideas. Creative image hubs like Tumblr, in recent years, have been pretty amazing for that.
I haven't tried to copy another artists' work since I was about twelve years old. I think most people start out trying to emulate the work of artists they admire, it's part of the process, but I do encourage folks to draw the line between being influenced by an artist and outright trying to reproduce their work as early on as possible, and there is a point when copying becomes a crutch - a hindrance to learning and developing more.

In terms of reference - I've personally made a habit to reference photographs for anatomy, form, poses, etc, as opposed to other artists' work. I try to adhere to this as much as possible - I figure, hey, nature got it right first, I might as well check with the source ;) Photo reference sources come from me in very random and varied places - online searches, books, Tumblr. Wherever may be of service.

Where did I learn photoshop painting? Blood, sweat, tears, a great deal of time and practice, and literally years of really bad attempts before I even started to get the hang of it. My fledgling attempts at digital coloring started back in 2000 or so, using a super limited photoshop knock-off whose name I unfortunately can no longer remember. And when I cay these early attempts were bad, I mean, a vexing, unholy sort of awful. (Granted I was only 17 at the time, but that stuff is embarrassing! lol.) I don't feel like I really started to grasp color properly until around 2006, and allot of that had to do with determination to really get better, as I had finally gotten my self in gear enough to start college classes soon. I didn't start producing colors I was actually happy with until the past couple of years - 2007 through 2008 or so starting the trend, and it culminating to pretty solid pieces from the past year.

A couple of things I've done that have really helped in pushing me more towards results that I like?
  • Finding photographs of textures and surfaces and trying to reproduce them through paint. Lately, I try to tackle at least one new type of texture or surface in every image I do. I also try to study light, how colors interact with one another, and appealing color combinations through both photos and artwork by others.
  • Finding examples of images whose coloring really appeals to me, and trying to dissect how the artist may have produced that look. I don't try to reproduce these things, but I do try to understand how they work, and apply that methodology to my own pieces.
  • Micromanaging the hell out of my PSD files. Up until the very last few completing stages of an image, I literally have a layer for just about everything - shading lighting, each and every object, so that I can go in and adjust everything individually whenever needed. While my old jalopy of a computer frequently weeps at the file size this habit creates, having this much control to tweak an image has helped me learn allot just through the ability to experiment.
And, expressions! I adore expressions, and letting them bring a character to life. Allot of learning here, again, is from studying. Watching people, how the human face works, what expressions bring across an emotion clearly. There are entire books dedicated to the range of expressions of the human face - this one for example is a great addition to any collection. Spending allot of time studying animation is helpful as well. Frame through any piece of Disney feature animation, for example, and you're going to see a whole host of gorgeous expression work. Glen Keane is godlike in his ability to produce wonderful expressions, for example.

Anyhow! Sorry for the length of this email, but I hope my rambling is helpful to you in some way :)

If anyone has further questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments section below!


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