Thursday, September 18, 2014

Character a Day: Pa Rugg

Anyone remember Hillbilly Bears?  I sure don't but I recently discovered them and they seem like a lot of fun.  So....

Paint, paint, paint...
...scan, pull into Photoshop, mask, isolate, pull into SketchBook Pro, and...

...Fix, fix, fix:

This time the medium was gouache on a paper with a high cotton content.  Friendliest environment in the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Character a Day...

... keeps the !@#$% doctor away.  Or brings him because, frankly, today's exercise was making me a little crazy.

I know I need to get lots of experience in character painting.  So I decided today I would start with a fairly - or so I thought - easy one: Magilla Gorilla.  I found a good picture on the web and traced it and made my worksheet complete with color markings:
Seems simple enough, although I gotta tell you there's something about that left hand I'm not too crazy about.

Anyway, I broke out the Cel-Vinyl in the belief that I can apply big, flat, matte surfaces and tried my hand at painting Magilla.  I used gouache for the line work and some of the details.

I'm gonna be honest with you, I really don't like that left hand.  It looks like Magilla is flashing some sort of gang sign or something.  Also, if you look close you'll see that the Cel-Vinyl doesn't come out near as flat and matte-like as I had hoped.  I don't blame that on the Cel-Vinyl, I blame that on my own basic incompetence with paint and a brush.

I do appreciate the fact, though, that once you have your flat surfaces down you've lost your guide lines.  You can check your worksheet for reference but basically you're working blind.  That means you have to draw in your lines with your brush... and that encourages some pretty bold lines.  Wimpy little lines just don't cut it, so you have to make decisions... and they come hard and fast.

Normally I don't want to make my decisions while I'm wielding the brush; I like to have more control over the process.  Maybe it's better though, that loss of control.  It forces you to draw.  It forces you to really look at your character and decide how he/she is going to look.  Maybe it's the kick in the rear we all need to experiment a bit, to be bold, to try things we're not entirely comfortable with.  Maybe.

I was so unhappy, initially, that I was going to stop.  But that won't work... you have to trudge on.  Even if all you have to show for your day is some crappy painting that doesn't look like anything.  So onward I trudged.

Now begins the laborious process of removing the white paper.  There was so much bric-a-brac left behind by SketchBook Pro's "magic wand" that I wound up importing to Photoshop and creating a mask.
I set the background to blue so it would show through the layer; thus you can see that all the surrounding paper is gone.
Photoshop's mask is the best way to isolate an object.  I really wish SketchBook Pro had such a tool - they try to let on their new and improved selection tool-set acts as a mask - but it doesn't.

Now my image is thoroughly digitized.  I did a few things.
  • First I used Photoshop's level control to maximize the colors and the contrast.
  • I wish I didn't have to but I used a blender brush in SketchBook Pro to smooth out the paint.  Geez, I'm such a poor artist....
  • I decided to fix the fingers a bit on that left hand... and I still don't like it.
  • I fixed up the left eye a little bit.
  • I applied a shading layer and set a gradient over Magilla, dark to light from top to bottom.
  • I added a little vanilla yellow to that exposed banana.  Banana "meat" is not white, it's a very nice vanilla color... IMHO.
  • Finally, I imported to Photoshop and set a drop shadow.  Also, I set the background to white.
Now Magilla is looking pretty swank.  Hell, it even looks like I know what I'm doing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nap Time with Yogi and Boo Boo

So the sponging thing intrigued me and I wanted to try more of it.  If you have a caddy of Cel-Vinyl - which I do, in 8 ounce bottles - you can pick the color you have the most of (or conversely, the most unused) and use that for sponging.  You can then digitally adjust the color with your software.

Note: Photoshop will jump on any color... including black... and change the hue like a trooper.  SketchBook Pro, on the other hand, only recognizes color.  You can't change black to something else... but that's fine.  I was sponging with orange paint - a color I don't use often enough - and SBP adjusted it nicely to the blue that you see.

This is a pretty good way to ensure you'll use your colors consistently and you won't have one bottle of mauve-green that stubbornly insists on not going away (mauve-green, now that I think about it, would be some sort of brown... which would probably get used.)

I'm cutting my friskets out of copy paper which I suspect is how a lot of people did it because it works so well... even with the sponge slightly damp it works perfectly.

Here Art Lozzi advised a gentleman to cut his friskets from acetone sheets:
I think the advice that is missing here is, "Use punched acetone cells and an inking board or some system that holds the cell in place."

Because when I try cutting friskets from acetone 2 things happen: (1) I find the stuff hard to cut, although Mr. Lozzi does address that here: "Score the shape you want without cutting through, then push the shape.  It will fall out."  And (2) it's hard to hold the cell exactly in place while sponging and I always wind up with a mess.  I don't have that problem with copy paper.  And, incidentally, copy paper is a lot cheaper then acetone cells and you can always replenish your supply at your closest WalMart.

I'm sure with a little practice I'd get a lot better at cutting friskets from acetone but, still, the punched cells held in place by a post system would eliminate placement problems.

Anyway, using my klunky system I came up with a Yogi and Boo Boo composition:
I'm especially happy with the wood textures where I used the "whole sponge" approach.

The figures of Yogi and Boo Boo are illustrative of why Cel-Vinyl is the preferred medium for covering large, flat areas.

Cel-Vinyl, when you get good at applying it (I'm still no good at applying it), lays flat.  With some careful repainting you can pretty much eliminate brush marks.  This of course was its original use: to paint cells evenly and consistently. 

That said, I'm having a few issues with my bottle of brown Cel-Vinyl where it wants to separate from the binder and lay unevenly.  I addressed that with some repainting... and adding a little white helps a lot... but it shouldn't be happening.  Still, after scanning in Yogi I found a lot of anomalies and I had to use a digital "blender" to smooth out the paint.

I really shouldn't have to do that.  Boo Boo, on the other hand, because he was a combination of brown and yellow (the binder in the yellow helped solidify the brown paint) laid out flat and even and no touch up was required.  So I guess it's a little hit and miss.

Details were painted in gouache which is a medium that allows for correction of mistakes.  Trust me, I make mistakes.

I see that my challenge now is to paint figures as flat and evenly as I can against abbreviated, highly sponged backgrounds.  That's the look I'm aiming for and I'm hot on the trail.

Stay tuned.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sponge Test

The backgrounders at Hanna Barbera understood one thing very well: you draw with shapes.  They don't have to be fancy, they don't even have to be accurate.  They do, though, have to be assertive.  Declarative shapes.  Shapes that say: this is something!

So a-learning I must go, meaning I looked for the simplest most Art Lozzi (or Art Lozzi-like) background I could find... and I think I found it here:
First of all, Yogi and Cindy Bear are sitting on a blue log.  A blue log!  What's with the blue log?  Because here's the point: it doesn't matter what color it is, it doesn't matter that logs are normally brown (or grayish brown)... what matters is that this simple shape leaves no doubt in your mind.  It's a log!!

That's the lesson... and the genius... of early 60's era HB.  Simple, declarative shapes that backgrounders could paint all day but leaving no doubt in your mind, no confusion, as to what they were trying to convey.  It's might be a blue log but what we see is "log."  Period.

Second, notice that most the background detail isn't painted but sponged.  Now, that's a tricky one for me and it took me awhile to understand how to do it (I never claimed to be the smartest guy on the planet).

Again, because the shapes are simple and declarative, the sponging technique suits them well.  It adds texture; it makes things interesting.  So I tried it - but removing Yogi and Cindy Bear; and I didn't bother with the foreground flowers - and by relocating that log I came up with this:
Not exact but pretty similar to the original.  Doesn't that just scream Hanna Barbera?

For this exercise I didn't knock myself out trying to duplicate the color of the background objects.  Instead I sponged them with black Cel-Vinyl and then re-adjusted the color in Photoshop.  I would have done that in SketchBook Pro but the hue adjuster in that program is pretty wimpy in comparison to Photoshop's.

The sky was painted in gouache but I wonder if that was worth the effort (not to mention the paint and the paper?)  I could have easily simply filled a layer with that background color.

There's something strangely satisfying about putting shapes to paper and watching them become a composition.  I intend to do some more of that.

Mmm.  Good.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's All in Your Perspective...

In theory you can make a picture more interesting by capturing a dramatic perspective.  But after I get my perspective I like to exaggerate it.  After all, I draw cartoons.

Using the perspective tool in SketchBook Pro 7 - and then tweaking it - I drew this...
... and was about to paint it when my wife mentioned she preferred a brick chimney to the art deco design here.  I didn't design it; this picture is based on a house located a few blocks from mine.  That's the chimney that came with it.

Anyway, after changing out chimneys I created this:
Nice picture book home but if I wasn't so damn literal I also would have changed out the front door bars for a period door... such as the one to my own 1920's era home.  A solidly built wooden door with loads of glass panels.  Ah well.

In my neighborhood security bars are the rule, not the exception.  And incidentally, the actual house on which this was modeled also has security bars over the windows.

I like the colors and I especially like how physically painting elements on paper rather than coloring them digitally imparts a somewhat cartoon look to the whole enterprise.  Which is what I was shooting for...

The paintings themselves are unimpressive because I do no shading with paint.  If you shade each element independently, I figured, you'll wind up with cross-signals as to where is the light source.  So I wait until I "composite" my elements before applying digital shading.  In spite of that there are still a few glaring cross-signals.  Mwah mwah.

Peace on the home front.  Imagine a retired couple sitting in their living room watching the T.V. or, better yet, reading their books as the sun goes down on yet another gorgeous, unclouded, dry California day. 

Finish a chapter.  Then dinner with a glass of Merlot.  Then to bed, up by 5:00 a.m.

SketchBook Pro 7... a mini review.

Got it a couple weeks ago.  Similar to Adobe, Autodesk (the software house that produces SBP 7) encourages the "subscription" purchase option.  A small amount per year and you get all upgrades and new versions as part of the deal.

The price to subscribe to SBP is more than reasonable... $25.00 per year.  At that price they're essentially giving it away.  If you prefer you can purchase the license outright: $65.00 for SBP 7.  Based on the new functionality being offered... and the promise of yet even more functionality... I highly recommend subscribing.

I won't belabor all the new features.  Their website does a much better job of explaining them than I ever could. 

I haven't even started to experiment with Flipbook.

Probably due to all the new features this version of SBP tends to be buggier than previous versions.  I've had several crashes... and SBP never used to crash before.  And I still can't use the dang canvas rotation feature.  I don't know what it is... I'm running Windows 7 on a fairly new machine.  In truth I have never been able to get that feature to work and I've been using SBP since 2009.

What's infuriating is the ulta-inexpensive ArtRage rotates the canvas effortlessly.  I think you can spin it round and round if you're so inclined.  Corel Painter rotates with no problem as does Photoshop.  So c'mon, Autodesk, what exactly is the problem?

My latest project (next post) was done with no importing to Photoshop.  All the transformation, selection, and gradient tools I needed are now in SBP.  I couldn't be happier. 

Eliminating the unused paper on scans is also pretty easy.   This is part of the work flow if you import paintings and place them into your digital compositions because you'll have to isolate the painted object from the surrounding paper.  Up to now I've used some form of selection tool in Photoshop, refined the selection, and then set a mask to eliminate the paper.

In SBP 7 the process is similar.  Be sure to (1) set your background layer to transparent - another new feature of SBP 7 - and (2) copy the scan layer so you don't inadvertently destroy it and have to scan all over again.
  • Start with an overlarge selection using either the lasso or polygonal selection tool.  
  • Hit "edit/cut" and the bulk of your unused paper is now gone.
  • Now hit the remaining unwanted areas with the "magic wand" selection tool which does a very accurate job.  Again hit "edit/cut."  
  • It will probably take a few passes but the painted surface will be completely isolated on a transparent background.
Extremely useful.

The one critical tool you won't find in SBP is Photoshop's Level Control.  With the level control you can optimize each layer relatively easily and quickly.  The adjustment tools that come with SBP are a pretty abbreviated set: adjust Hue/Tone, Brightness/Contrast, Gray Scale, and Invert.  I suppose clever use of the hue adjustment in conjunction with the brightness adjustment can get you close... but it's nowhere near as convenient.

Overall Autodesk has hit another home run with SBP 7.   The new tools are - as we've come to expect - intuitive, easy to learn, and tutorials are available if you need them.  I was using the perspective tool almost immediately, just as if I'd been using it all my life, without any sort of tutorial reference.  It's virtually self-explanatory.

I can't recommend SBP7 highly enough.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Touche Turtle and Dumm Dumm

Much has happened over the past month... all of it "un-art related" ... but I'm back having just completed another piece.

This is based on the Mel Crawford illustration for the Touche Turtle Golden Book:
The large white area to the lower right, of course, is to allow for typeface.  I changed a few things.  The sharp foreground defining Touche and Dumm Dumm's area always looked like a quick cover up of a mistake.  I used a french curve to draw a more sedate forground eye path.

Also, that sickly yellow shading of the cement walkway always looked like the local bums urinate at that bush by the bus and it flows downhill.  Sick, yes.  So no yellow highlighting. 

I think the spaces remaining form a good composition leaving plenty of room for the text of the story.

All elements were painted on paper, then scanned and "composited" to a digital layout.  The pidgeons were the very last thing I painted and I have to say, I really enjoyed painting them.  Quick little paintings but they hold up.

Final shading and touch up was done in SketchBook Pro.  That took about 5 minutes.  Really, Crawford's painted object themselves form a pretty complete composition and there is very little need for finishing.  In fact, it would be easy to overdo it and destroy the quaint quality of the picture.

Now here's an interesting thing about combining physical and digital art in general... and about Photoshop in particular.  Please take a look at that "cloudy" sky.  In fact, the blue sky peeking through the clouds is what was painted; I painted the positive space and let the negative space imply clouds... or maybe it's the other way around, maybe the positive space is clouds.  I dunno.  I can't keep stuff like that straight.

But here's the point.  Rather than commit to a particular shade of blue and then find I have to paint it all over again, I painted that pointillist sky BLACK!  ... not blue, black!  Photoshop then allows you to go back and colorize that black area, and that's how I arrived on that particular shade of blue.  Slick, huh?

Here's another collision between the physical and digital realms.  In some areas such as the leaves of the tree to the left and the foliage adjacent to the building on the right, I superimposed leaves over the sky.  You feel you can see individual leaves.  Now how do you do that when those leaves have been painted... sponged, actually... on a piece of paper?  How do we make the paper "invisible" so we can see the sky through it?

We can do that by setting the blend mode of that leaf layer to multiply.  The multiply blend mode essentially melds to darker colors and absorbs them while the lighter areas are rendered invisible.  This way, the painted area is visible but the white paper on which it is painted disappears. 

But be aware that the multiply mode can create problems, particularly if you set a leafy area over a very colorful background.  For instance, if I set my leaves over a red building the white paper would disappear but the leaves themselves would adopt a red hue.  The "multiplied" layer will absorb the darker colors underneath it.

So in those areas where you want to superimpose leafy or fluffy or wispy textures over a background it can get tricky.  Proceed with caution.  Choose your background colors wisely.