Category Archives: Art

May through mid-July 2020

Yep, like I said, twice a month should be manageable. Okay, what have I actually been up to?

Well, let’s see. I did another study from an old issue of Afar magazine. I’ve had some rough artist’s block the last couple of days. Maybe another one of these would be in order.

After that, my timeline gets a little hazy— Point two in favor of not making a blog post cover several months of work, especially at a time where no longer having any remotely identifiable schedule is a pretty popular meme— but I’m pretty sure the next big project that I started was the Siren, one of the two main monsters from a Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve been jotting down ideas for with no concrete plans to ever actually run. These vaguely mermaid-esque creatures dwell on a massive living island that retreated beneath the sea and was probably the inspiration for stories like that of Atlantis. They have powerful psychic abilities, and a cult has gotten a hold of the mummified remains of one and are using it to try and summon the Island so that they can become gods.

I think next came the skull-deer thingy. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with this guy, but “a hooved animal like a deer or a horse, but with a human-like skull floating where its head should be” popped into my head one night, and I started exploring to see where the idea went from there. Eventually, it settled out into something with a strong arcane vibe, and now I’m picturing lore like… did anyone else read the Shades of Magic trilogy by V. E. Schwab? So, in the later books in the series, they introduce the concept of a magic spell that somehow outgrew its caster’s control and gained sentience and massive power. I kinda started to picture this guy as that concept, but applied to a spell like Find Familiar.

Once the Skull Deer Thingy was finished, I started sketching out what I thought was going to be another NPC for that Edge of the Empire campaign, but then a funny thing happened, and our previous campaign ended, and I decided that I really wanted to play this merchant-turned-Jedi in the new campaign that we were starting up. Much of this design pays homage to K’kruhk, a Jedi from the old canon who showed up in the Republic and Dark Times comics and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars animated shorts (I think they somehow managed to make both of the times that General Grievous killed him and it didn’t stick canon) and then stuck around for another century to teach Jedi in my favorite series, Legacy. There are thumbnails for his master’s ghost, but she didn’t make the final cut.

Also, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without a Droid, and since no one was playing one (and we started with bonus money so I could actually afford one), I decided to provide the droid action. I figured he’d provide me with some bonuses to my skill checks, but I didn’t realize he would become the star of the campaign and spend more time whistling and beeping at my fellow players than I would talking to them in character.

Once these were done and we started up the new campaign, a couple of the other players approached me about illustrating their characters. Working on both together over the next couple weeks, I illustrated Jedha, the lightsaber-and-shield-wielding, Gila Monster-patterned Trandoshan, and Vellit Bo, the Togruta duelist. Vellit’s player suggested there would be some feedback and changes to be made to the art, but hasn’t supplied that so she’s temporarily finished until further notice.

April 5th through 15th, 2020

So, I think bi-monthly sounds like a good schedule for right now. It’s a massive step up from maybe once every three or four years, but still seems manageable.

I spent a lot of the time since my last post metaphorically banging my head against a wall (and honestly, some of the time before I just forced myself to make that post. I think I had called it quits on the most recent of those images while it was still March). I’d open up Sketchbook Pro, scratch out a handful of thumbnails for random things— usually spaceships because #StayHomeAndDrawSpaceships was trending on Twitter, and I was still in the Star Wars mood— and just get frustrated and call it quits.

Meanwhile, I was watching the political mess developing and trying to formulate some of my political thoughts into something that could fit in a tweet (because every so often I somehow get it into my head that I can write something on social media like the woman form that Onion article and get everyone to think like me and thus solve all our problems) when it hit me that I could make my overwhelming verbosity into a single Tweet if it was just a picture of my words, made more appealing by being spoken by a funny little creature.

Ultimately, I never showed, or even inked his full speech bubble. Without some serious revisions to the text, I realized it could be misconstrued as making a case for violent vigilantism, which I really didn’t want. But, this random little doodle (who will someday get a catchier name that “Skull-faced Crow Demon Thing”) did remind me of how useful I sometimes find it in my own sketchbooks to write tough advice in speech bubbles coming from horrible little monsters. There’s a freeing detachment that comes from putting a horrid little face to these sorts of things. “Maybe,” I thought, that could be useful to other people.”

Cue my new pie-in-the-sky idea:

It would be a blank journal where each page has one or two weird little monsters with blank speech bubbles emerging from them. Maybe the floating sword is just going to tell you your grocery list for next week, but the giant worm with a mouth full of eyes may have some very salient points about your relationship troubles. I haven’t gone too far on this idea, just sketching out the first page of what will presumably be a lot of monster designs.

As an example, this demon-snake here is advising me to get a handle on painting techniques with copies (“studies” might have been a better word choice there. Oops…). I’ve been reading James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism* lately, and there’s a bit in the early sections about copying the masters, which seemed like a good idea, especially during the pandemic with little opportunity to go hang around in parks or cafes or find open figure drawing sessions for life drawing practice. At least I’ve got a bunch of artbooks and old magazines I can draw from (as well as the entire internet).

I spend this evening on a study of this young lady from the March/April 2016 issue of Afar, photographed by Landon Nordeman for the article “Pay Pal”. After struggling a lot the past couple days with a full-color study of a portrait from a different article, I opted for monochrome with this one and with less of a focus on blending, which has simply never made sense to me in digital painting no matter how many times I watch other people do it. Hard-edged segments of color (well, value) aren’t half-bad though.

I guess I can add “Figure out how colors display differently on different screens and whether I need to adjust settings to better accommodate that” to the list of things I need to learn in my attempts to get better at this whole digital painting thing. The light yellow background to that painting is basically indistinguishable from the white, and half the sketch is just gone. Yeesh.

* My reading list in terms of art re-education has so far included Austin Kleon’s trilogy: Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, and Keep Going as well as James Gurney’s instructional books: I started with Imaginative Realism and have Color and Light on deck.

Coronavirus

Somewhat ironic that one of my last posts was titled “I’m not dead”, and then I don’t post again until the midst of a global pandemic. I suppose I’ve said it often enough that no one believes it (Hell, I barely believe it at this point), but one of these days, I’m going to actually make some use of this website and blog I started a decade ago. Maybe I’ll really get lucky and figure out how to bury these sad sack posts under mountains of work. This time, though, I have a unique opportunity to actually get some momentum going (so, thanks, I guess, economy-destroying terrible response to a global catastrophe).

At least for the moment, while the restaurant industry has crumbled into basically nothing, and while I have the rare benefits of basically nonexistent cost of living an a little bit of savings, I can use a chunk of this time while we wait to see how or if our civilization emerges from this crisis to finally buckle down on some projects. I’ve got a better opportunity than I’ve had in quite some time to actually learn some of those things that I’ve been telling myself I was going to learn for years:

  • To learn to paint, both traditionally and digitally
  • To figure out what I want this site to look like now as I pursue concept art, illustration, and tabletop game design and make it look like that rather than what I thought looked good in 2011 as I floundered my way through a Computer Animation program.
  • To consistently do the work I keep saying that I want to be doing.
  • To turn my scattered notebooks and index cards full of disjointed ideas into something tangibly on the way to becoming tabletop role-playing games or their accessories.

Now, while it’s tempting to follow this up with a bunch of posts showing work I’ve done since my last post in… 2017?… and just bury this, that’s not going to fool anyone, least of all me. Instead, I’m just going to end this one briefly documenting what I’ve been doing on my Coronavirus Sabbatical and hopefully posting new stuff just as soon as I figure out my way over, around, or through the wall currently in front of me.

Thumbnails, April 2019
Pencil sketch, January 2020 to break in a sketchbook I got for Christmas
Inks, March 2020 after getting laid off in the Coronavirus panic

A Great Old One I’ve been using in various D&D campaigns (all of which seem to end prematurely right when I’m about to start dropping a lot of hints that it exists), the King in Crystal is very heavily inspired by the Shades of Magic trilogy of novels by V. E. Schwab, and in its appearance, I drew heavily from images of Hastur, especially its portrayal in Cthulhu: Death May Die. I wasn’t really sure about finishing this one up until the Coronavirus hit. The thumbnails and sketch happened way earlier, but with my newfound free time, inking just seemed like a good idea.

Gowrrhut, captain of the Golden Skull, and his First Mate and translator, Tras Boden
The leaders of the three New Republic Fighter Squadrons in the Sector

Some NPCs from a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaign I couldn’t help plotting after falling in love with Fantasy Flight’s narrative dice system (honestly, that game kind of revitalized my love of Star Wars in general, which had definitely been flagging with the Sequel Trilogy). This was where I decided to put my foot down and finally figure out this whole digital art thing, and, while I’ve got a long way to go, I hate these significantly less than every previous attempt I’ve made at digital painting. For now, I’m working in Sketchbook Pro on a Samsung Galaxy Tab A (the older version that came with an S-Pen). It’s got some hiccups that are definitely making me want to get my laptop running more smoothly and go back to using my old Wacom tablet (or replacing both of those), but it’s a step up over not even trying to learn, so there’s that.

(Okay, looking back at some previous stuff that never made it onto any of my blogs, I may have to share some of it, just because it’s cool. I’ll try to be tasteful about it and not look like I’m just trying to bury the years and years of inactivity, and maybe repost some old stuff from my Tumblr since that site appears to have become a ghost town)

Way Too Long (Yet Again…)

Yeesh. I look forward to the day when working and documenting said work is such an ingrained habit that it doesn’t take anonymous commenters to shock me into doing it. There’s a vicious cycle that forms when you’ve gotten into a bajillion unproductive habits and feeling like there’s not much point in making a post until you’ve made significant enough progress, progress that you’re not making because of all the little distractions out there.

Anyway. Yeah, after a few months of just about every day saying “I really ought to post what I’ve been working on,” I got an email notification that I had a comment waiting for me that sounded suspiciously unlike spam. “have you given up yet? no updates in a loooooong time.”

And it was an interesting question. Of course I haven’t given up. I just moved on because…

Wait. Why did I move on againg? Seriously, this made a lot of sense to me at the time. Oh that’s right. After sculpting for a bit on Libusa Mk II, I ran into a lot of ugly faceting around the sternocleidomastoids.

20140716_facetingHideous, I know. I thought I was done with that after the ugliness around her jaw in Mk I. God knows I didn’t want to go back and build the base mesh yet again to try and figure that out and go back to square 1 on the sculpt…

Except maybe I did just that. Because when I looked at the overall sculpt file rather than just that screenshot, I apparently wasn’t still having that problem. I distinctly remember not wanting to redo the model, but I remember going back in anyway and experimenting with redrawing those edges and seeing what I could do with various extrudes, but I don’t know anymore whether or not I figured out a way to prevent this. Regardless. Here’s what the sculpt looked like when I decided to move on, determined not to go back and redo everything a third time.

20140805_LibusaMk2SculptThat’s… not bad. Far from finished, and probably still in need of significant changes to the base (what was I thinking recessing the eyes so far?), but when I went back in today to screenshot this from a file that otherwise hasn’t been modified since August 5th, I can’t fathom why I initially threw down my Wacom stylus in frustration a month and a half ago.

This whole post so far has proven to be one long lesson in why it’s a good idea to document your work on a regular basis, not just the work, but what you’re feeling about it and theorizing about the solutions to problems you’re having.

Anyway throw it down I did, and I moved on to one of the other models from the 3d.sk freemium downloads. The filenames for this guy didn’t list his name, so I’ve just been calling him LJG, short for Letter Jacket Guy. I thought he looked more interesting than the other nude model I got in the pack, but I sacrificed having anything more than the head to work from (well, I’ve got a body covered in bulky, baggy clothes, which is far from ideal for learning anatomy).

20140828_LJG_baseBase mesh as of August 28th.

20140918_LJG_Front 20140918_LJG_Side20140918_LJG_RearLJG sculpt as of September 18. Still got a lot of work to do on him, but I figured my silence needed to be broken. Next time, there shouldn’t be such a long wait.

Libusa Mk II Progress

20140611_libusaBaseMeshWIP

Okay, I have been… intermittently… hard at work on Mk II of the model that I started… back in February? Holy cow, do my work habits need to improve.

So, I started with the head, as that was the part that was giving me the most trouble. I think I’ve managed to give her a decently shaped jaw this time around and get better topology in the region where the cheek connects to the nose. I’m expecting that will make sculpting a bit less painful when I get back to it.

Just started the body tonight. This time around I, eventually, had the brilliant idea to base the breasts on eight-sided polygonal spheres rather than six-sided so that I don’t have to cut them up with weird edge loops. Other than that, I haven’t departed too much from what I had done the first time around, but I haven’t gotten back to any of the major problem areas. When the time comes to make the hands and feet and connect the arms to the torso, then we’ll really see if I’ve learned anything yet!

Libusa: Ready To Restart

Alright, I’m sick of fighting with the geometry while trying to sculpt on Libusa. I managed to build in an awful lot of diamond quads and edge loops that spiral around limbs a bajillion times without going anywhere. Now I’m reaching a point where every stroke I make sculpting in these areas— the feet and hands, the jawline, the areas of detail on the face— just facets hideously and needs to be corrected with a dozen extra strokes. I think I need to go back and rebuild the base model without all the bad geometry before I’ll get any more useful sculpting practice out of it.

20140518_libusaMk1_final_fullBody20140518_libusaMk1_final_head

So, I figure for Mk. II, among other things, I’ll want to really define the edge of the jawline on the base model. I think I don’t want to separate the head and body the next time around. I’ll need to experiment and see if it’s better to fill in the eye sockets or not. Sculpting on the thin lids was a pain, but I don’t know if filling them in will be better. Other than that, I’ve got a lot of work to do the next time around to make sure that the topology sucks less in the extremities.

 

 

It’s Been Too Long…

Man, letting yourself fall behind is a thing that can really come back to bite you. One day you’re not where you think you should be, so you start putting off posting until you catch up, but you haven’t yet broken the bad habits that caused you to fall behind in the first place so you’re never going to “catch up”…

Or maybe that’s just me.

But, of course, I’m not operating on any sort of deadline. There’s no grade or job on the line if I don’t get this done by a set point. Have I made some poor decisions with how to spend my time? Definitely. Am I actually figuring out how to make organic models, not fear sculpting, and get into a personal working flow several effing years after finishing college? Yes, yes, and, I guess I’m kinda on my way to that last one.

So, when last we met, I had started modeling Libusa from 3D.sk, following the 3dTotal “Joan of Arc” tutorial, and I was freaking out about that tutorial’s apathy towards N-gons (or my own lack of experience with translating whatever Max tools make the N-gons that tutorial generates into a Maya environment, one of the two).

Not long after that post, I went back to square one and found a different tutorial, also from 3DTotal, this one by Jahirul Amin (Part 1 in a series). I don’t know that I can say, looking back through this tutorial, that it’s necessarily better than Joan, since I ended up taking it mostly as guidelines (the tutorial was modeling in individual muscle groups with no intent of sculpting and its associated image plane couldn’t possibly be much more different than the one I was using) so much as I just needed a clean start with Libusa.

20140331_libusaCombine

Finalized base mesh. I’m already seeing a lot of work that needs to be done for the next model. For every n-gon I avoided, I seem to have replaced it with an ugly diamond quad that’s making sculpting in certain spots a nightmare. I look forward to seeing what I manage to make out of the armpit by the time my Wacom pen punctures my monitor in frustration with the topology there…

20140421_libusaSculptFront

20140421_libusaSculptBack

Sculpting progress as of tonight. By no means close to done, but I was getting real annoyed with myself for not having posted in so long, so I remembered that a WIP is better than nothing.

Maybe someday soon I’ll stop being the boy who cried “I’m going to start posting on a regular schedule!”

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Alright, so the whole “One Post Per Week Minimum” thing kinda crapped out there for a few months. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back into the swing of that though. I actually had a productive night after one of my long work days, so that’s an improvement too.

And, as the title of this post implies, I’m trying something new. It’s no secret I’ve had a bit of a problem keeping myself interested in the last couple… everything… I’ve started lately. What may actually be a bit of a secret though, is what I’m thinking might be part of the cause for that:

The Game Art program at Ringling, at least when I was there, was heavily focused on creating Environment Artists as a complement to their character-focused animation major. Had I been more canny in college, I might have noticed this disparity, noticed the way my interests leaned more towards creatures and characters than towards environments. I might have noticed that, left to my own devices, environments are not the things that I wanted to fill my sketchbook with. Had I been more canny, I might have done something with this knowledge.

Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am if I were more canny in college, so I kept plodding along, trying to force myself to like environments enough put the time and effort into being able to create professional environments rather than figuring out how to add what I wanted to learn to what we were “supposed to be” learning. But now, going on three years out of college and without having added more than one new piece to my portfolio, I’m starting to think that “not working hard enough” isn’t the only thing I’ve been doing wrong.

To that end, I’m going to take a stab at changing paths, and if I’m wrong, well, hopefully the “At Least One Post a Week” thing will stick better this time so that all the business about probably not being destined to be an environment artist gets buried by the time I come crawling back to environment art.

I’ve started attending Open Figure studios at our local art college. This is something I’ve missed. Just drawing from observation feels so good, even when you’re insanely rusty because it’s been over 3 years since you’ve done it…

miad_20140114_01small miad_20140114_02small miad_20140121_small miad_20140211_small

And I recently found the needlessly well-hidden free membership option at 3d.sk (seriously, you have to be on the verge of trying to see if anyone’s uploaded their stuff to thepiratebay before they’re like “Wait! Wait! We’ve actually got a free account you can use!”) to start getting image planes and figuring out how to model and sculpt the human form.

20140214_libusaBaseMeshStart of a base mesh after a couple hours tonight. I was working from this tutorial to hopefully get something approximating good topology, though, I’m a little surprised at how many N-gons are just sort of left in a very highly regarded tutorial. Will have to figure out how to clean those up before moving on…

Chair Rematch

chair_bake_20131208_01 chair_bake_20131208_02

Okay, I really really do need to work on anything but this for a while. Two consecutive months on one prop is pushing it. Any more will almost certainly drive me crazy. But I couldn’t leave it at where I had left it with the Sick of Looking at it post. So, as a promise to redo it later, I went back and rebuilt parts of the Low-Poly and decided to be slightly less miserly with my tri-count. Before I was kind of wrecking the silhouette to shave out tris, which seems like a bad practice…

Chair Update: Sick of Looking at It

This is probably going to reflect poorly on me, but I’ve been on this for over 2 months; I’m sick of it. If I don’t work on anything else, I feel like I’m liable to stumble back into that terrible phase where I went a year between updates, and nearly as long without working on 3D. It may be a far cry from “hitting the visual target”, but it’s also a far cry from where I was back in September. I’ll mark it up as kinda a win that I’m no longer flailing about quite so hopelessly whenever I have to open a sculpting package or a texture file.

chair_tex_20131204_01 chair_tex_20131204_02 chair_textures_20131204

Alright, now. If all goes according to plan, this time next week will see my first progress from Polycount’s Monthly Community Noob Challenge for December (they’ve lengthened the titles since the last one of those I participated in. I’m out of breath just typing it…).

Maybe I’ll redo this in a few months to test how much more I’ve improved, but at this point, I know I’m not improving without restarting, and that’s the last thing I want to do right now.