Television and the End of the World

I don’t know what you were doing on December 24th, 2012, but I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop with my favorite friend doodling. As far as I can tell the world didn’t really end, but I think if it had that was be a pretty good place to be.

One of the things I drew was the little black and white TV they have attached to the cereal bar that shows a continuous loop of old cartoons. It’s not a particularly interesting TV so I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a few days later I was flipping through my sketches and it struck me how TV’s used to be really beautifully designed pieces of furniture  and how, over about 70 years, they’ve steadily reduced and streamlined and simplified until today they are hyperminimalist flat panels with no outward features other than the screen.

I won’t rant, I have no problem with this turn of events in industrial design. But it struck me as an interesting exercise to think about how the look of an everyday item says so much about when it was sold and the kind of people it was sold to. Here are a few things I came up with:

  • Original sketch from Java Break
  • The earliest TV’s were designed to look like the radio’s they replaced, which in the 40’s and 50’s meant large wooden cabinets to hold the vacuum tubes inside. I threw in some Victorian elements for kicks. Everything is better with claw feet.
  • I was not alive in the 70’s, but for some reason when I think 70’s I think TV’s with big twisty knobs.
  • I went on a lot of picknicks in the 80’s. I miss that.
  • Official Soviet painting wasn’t quite as inspiring as party officials probably hoped it was, but one thing totalitarian regiems do well is grand architecture. If you ever need to design somewhere for a super villain to live, Soviet Constructivist Architecture is a good place to start.
  • I’m not completely sure what a humidor is, but I imagine if you look like the monopoly man you would have one, and this TV would be near it.
  • Avocado is the best color of plastic ever. EVER!

The Caretaker’s Village

Along with my digital painting class I also took a class called Environment Sketching with the super friendly and talented Phillip Dimitriadis. I’ve had a few classes in perspective drawing before (you may remember my gothic church art studio), but it was an eye opening experience to try applying those mechanical drawing principles to skills like gesture and composition. I learned a lot!

This was my final assignment, based on a sketch of a big headed statue from a few years back. First some ground work:

I’m so used to my perpective drawings looking mechanical and regimented so I wanted to stretch myself as much as possible and do something that looked irregular and full of character. My good friend and super talented illustrator Leah has been hiking her way through Central America, and posted some very beautiful photos of the makeshift dwellings in some of the villages. I was particularly taken with this first photo looking down a long hill in Quito Ecuador. I wish I was this good of a photographer.

Here’s my finalized version. We learned about a layout drawing technique using col-erase pencils on tracing paper that makes playing with the lights and shadows fast and easy. I went back over my major lines here with a micron pen to give things some definition.

 

 

Femme Fatal

Another piece of classwork from my digital painting class. This assignment was to paint a character in an environment.

I had film noir on the brain and wanted the challenge of making a “beautiful” character so I decided to try for a femme fatal.

To start I did a little googling to find some relevant movie examples. A femme fatal has to be beautiful, but there is a certain look to that era of film, the costumes, the hairstyles, so it’s helpful to have something to look at. If you know your cinema you may recognize Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) from Sunset Boulevard in blue there in the middle. In this and the next few sketches I loosely based things on cameos from The Postman Always Rings Twice (avoid the remakes), Double Indemnity, Carole Lombard, Betty Garble, Frances Farmer, Gene Tierney, Jeanne Moreau, Joan Crawford, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, and some Audrey Hepburn for good measure.

There are also a few artist that were helpful to look at. Cindy Sherman is one of my favorites. If you don’t now her work as a photographer you should look her up. She has a series of self portraits from the mid 60’s that look like stills from an Alfred Hitchcock film. There are also a few modern photographers who will do film noir portraits. Jim Ferreira has a particularly good gallery.

Anyway, after the sketches I tried a few full figure poses to look for something interesting.

You can see I’m starting to make the drawings more caricatures.

Here are some more face centered caricatures. That’s Cindy Sherman there in the middle on the top row.

Through all of that research I started thinking about the film noir movies I really like. There are a lot of good ones but its hard to beat Casablanca. The problem with Casablanca is that it doesn’t really have any femme fatal characters. Ingrid Bergman is hardly a villain. What it does have is the fabulously contemptible Sydney Greenstreet as the Signor Ferrari who runs Casablanca’s black market from his bar, the Blue Parrot.

Ferrari makes a particularly good reference because his character is so visually memorable. White suit, fez, corpulent and always mopping his brow in the North African heat. He has all the hallmarks of a good character design in shape and silhouette. I thought it might be fun to try switching up his gender, so I put together the following sketch.

I tried to keep the background elements subtle and just hint at a few references from the movie and the character. I knew I wanted to make a big deal out of the shadows. Film noir draws a lot on German Expressionism and its high contrast, angular shadows.

I was pretty happy with this sketch but I got a few notes from my classmates that her pose and expression were leading them out of the picture. After some revisions and a bit of color here was my first pass at the painting.

 As you can see I made her a bit more full figured and changed the pose slightly. I was happy with the composition but the colors left a lot to be desired. After a lot of color fiddling in PS I finally decided that no color scheme was going to feel right. Film noir just feels black-and-white to me. That being said, simply turning the saturation down in PS made things look disappointingly flat so I opted for a hybrid approach. Here’s the final in a page from my portfolio, along with a few character study sketches.

The image is basically black-and-white, but if you look carefully you can see that I’ve painted most of the background in cool grays and then hit the shaft of light with warms. I also continued the warms into her exposed fleshy bits. I think it gives the image a kind of undercover vitality that fits nicely with the ambiguous overtones of the subject.

I’m probably thinking too much.

Cloud Fields

While modern industrial cloud manufacture takes place around the world, the Flint Hill region of the state of Kansas is synonymous with its centuries-old traditions of artisanal cumulo-culture, or cloud farming.  Many connoisseur insist that clouds from the fields of Kansas, with their natural nacreous layers and hand hewn silver linings, are the finest in the world.

One of the benefits of living in Kansas is the opportunity to sample each season’s crop fresh from the fields. I must admit that I am a bit of a cloud snob. Kansas farmers produce dozens of varieties including some species found no where else in the world. While grows can occasionally spawn tornados and other severe weather events, such is the life in the Flint Hills.

This is a collection of plein air sketches and watercolors from around my home in Eastern Kansas.

From a few of the roads near my house, some (slightly) embellished to make the hills more hilly.

Playing with some different cloud shapes.

Watercolors from K-10. I have a habit of pulling my car off to the side of the highway to paint. I’ve met quite a few friendly Kansas Highway Patrolmen and wormen.

A few of the smaller grows in Desoto, between Kansas City and Lawrence on K-10.

A few larger studies. I really wanted to play with some of the colors. When you think of the Great Plains you often get this sort of drab golden Little House on the Praire look, but its actually very colorful here.

I must admit that the aerial views are more or less invented. I don’t have access to a helicopter or artist’s zeppelin (yet).

A few more views from nearer my house. That bottom one is actually a commercial farm, but it’s still pretty.

Last few, anti-clockwise from the top left that College boulevard, K-10 in Desoto, and College blvd. again across from the local elementary school.

Soviet-Era Vending Machine

From venerated laboratories of glorious Soviet worker’s paradise, we are presenting now newest in modern convenience. Never again are brave citizens to be having to stand in line for to buy essential needs.
Features of model is including:
– 5 mm armor exterior for to repel minor damage.
– state of art 6 1/2 bits computing control systems with Rotary User Interface (RUI).
– new streamline design, is weighing only 1800 kilograms.
– 10,000 year power supply Cobalt-60 gamma reactor core.

I’ve been taking a fantastic digital painting class with Eric D. Martin over at CGMW. This was for a prop design assignment. Can you tell I had fun?

Skeleton Analysis

One of the courses I took this last fall was Anatomy for Artists, taught as a companion course to figure drawing. I’ve been dyeing to learn more about anatomy, I’ve got quite a few books, but in the past it always seemed like an insurmountable task. So many bones and muscles, so many crags and knots and little doodads, and all that Greek and Latin!

Well this is where great teachers come in.  The reason you take a class instead of learning something on your own is that (hopefully) the instructor’s experience tells him or her what’s important to learn and what’s pedantic detail.

We spent most of the class on the skeleton and the first thing we learned was SIMPLIFY. All those little boney protuberances and ossuary processes and subtle sloping curves of form basically disappear once you wrap everything in guts and skin and whatnot. Instead, visualize the bones as simple geometric shapes and focus on understanding their positions and relations in space (which is quite hard enough on it’s own, thank you).

I’m proud to say that we did study the medical names however, which is kind of fun.

Here is a set from early on in the semester to give you an idea of what I mean. At this point we’d covered the head, torso, and legs but not the arms. These are all drawn from reference photos (I left the clothed ones in, but I cropped out the nude ones, sorry ^_^).

 

 

 

So you can see how all that boney detail turns into boxy shapes, but the drawings still capture the figure pretty well. Even the complex joints can be turned into things like spools and cylinders. The joints on the knees are called condyles by the way, which is my new favorite anatomy word. Also, don’t look at that ankle just above, I put the spool in backwards and it’s wrong wrong wrong x_x.

Some things are easier to simplify than others. The pelvis for example is very complex in real life, but because it’s mostly buried in fleshy bits you really don’t need much more than a wedge shape to get the idea. Scapulae (that’s shoulder blades to you non-doctor types) on the other hand rest right under the skin of the back so they take a bit more work. Heres me trying to sort them out:

 

Going through the process I learned some things that surprised me. For example, did you know that the two bones in your forearm ( the ulna and the radius ) actually cross and uncross as you rotate your wrist! It kind of gives me the chills if I think about it too hard.

 

 

Near the end of the semester we just started talking about the muscles, but unfortunately we ran out of time to get very far with them. For the final project I did these two complete skeletons:

The fellow on the left is Fred Astaire, the one on the right was a female model. I drew her once before in one of the drawings above. Comparing the two you can see how much more fluid and weighty this one looks.

Professional Hands

Working on hands this time. In this case I did master copies.

This first set is from Alphonse Mucha. Mucha’s work is what we all think of when we think Art Nouveau. It’s all about the play between flat graphic shapes and subtle rounded forms and lots of organic curly cues. These were done in photoshop:

And these were pencil on paper:

This third set are based on J. C. Leyendecker. Leyendecker was a rough contemporary of Mucha’s, but he worked in a very different style as one of the golden age American illustrators along with people like Norman Rockwell. Leyendecker did a lot of magazine covers and so had to work quickly. His style is all about getting the point across with a few strokes. He’s one of my favorite artists. These were done in photoshop:

This set is based on sketches by James Jean, a contemporary illustrator. His does these sketches with single lines in pen, so they’re basically impossible to copy. It was fun to try though. Mine also pen on paper:

I’m not sure who this last set are from, the file wasn’t properly labeled. I believe it’s someone contemporary. If anyone recognizes them (as if my copies were good enough) let me know. Mine are pencil on paper.

UPDATE: turn out these were from Jerome Witkin. He’s a contemporary figurative artist.

 

 

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly: Renovated Gothic Church Art Studio

Our big project in perspective class this semester was to design an ideal art studio for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. That will buy a lot of chocolates and enormous chairs, but I wanted to make something pretty cool to put them in as well.

I’ve always had a thing for houses made out of converted buildings. I heard once about this decommissioned nuclear missile silo that someone converted into a house, the star feature being the 20 ton silo cover door which could be opened in less than 10 seconds with the aid of several rockets.

Missile silos are pretty cool, but an art studio needs light and silos a more of a subterranean affair. When you need windows there’s only one way to go. Gothic churches.

I’ve seen a few churches converted into houses as well, but most are smaller country churches and I wanted something big and stony like churches are meant to be. Here’s the basic layout I came up with:

The section to the far left, what the cathedral folks would call the narthex, is 2 stories with an entrance hall and some small rooms on the bottom, and then a large open office on top with 20 foot celling. The middle section, the nave, is large and open with a split level staircase to the 1st and 2nd floors. On the far end where the apse and alter would have been is closed off to form a library and reading room. Pretty swanky huh?

Here’s a measured floorplan I drew up in sketchup. You’ll see by the measurements that this is pretty small for a gothic church. We call that Bijou in the real estate biz.

Drawing this thing in perspective was a bit of a challenge. I did quite a few studies. Here was a first attempt based on the sketches above:

And here is a study of the staircase:

One of the techniques we studied in class is called a plan projection. It’s a process where by you can plot out your perspective drawing from a measured floorplan and elevation so that you know everything is precisely the correct size and location in perspective. It’s a time consuming process but it works like a charm. In order to do the projection I needed an elevation to go with my floor plan above, so I made this rough model in sketchup:

Once you get these two as guides, you line everything up on a drawing table along with your drawing paper. My setup looked like this:

And here’s my first attempt at the drawing:

Not too shabby, but I decided I wasn’t completely happy with the angle on things, so I started over. Here was the final result:

 

I decided to try coloring it a bit in photoshop as well. If you look carefully, there are 3 cats hidden in the picture. You can see 2 of them in the detail above.

Along with the overall view I also did a shot from the interior. This time I decided to forego the plan projection and just do the drawing on my own measurement. I settled on a shot looking at my work desk up there on the second floor in the extreme left of the drawing above.

This drawing had a lot of overlapping elements so I actually used 4 sheets of paper overlaid on one another to keep all the parts separated. Here’s what that mess looked like:

You can see all the construction lines I used to plot everything out. A good example is that circle floating in the middle of the page. That’s how I mapped out where each of the 5 legs of the chair base should go.

Here’s how it looks all cleaned up:

I got a little carried away in this one and added some subtle shadows.

20 Impeccable Cubes

Our first assignment in perspective class this year was 100 impeccable cubes, freehand. You don’t usually think of perspective class as a place for freehand drawing, but it really should be. Being able to work out a complex perspective problem with a ruler is important but let’s face it, most of the time drawing with a ruler is a drag. Rulers are a tool for finished drawings, not for sketching. But sketching is where all the design happens. I can only speak for myself, but I want to have the sort of draftsmanship skills that I can draw what I want to long before I have to get the ruler out.

As with any hand skills, the only way to build them is muscle memory inducing repetition. So I started drawing cubes. 100 isn’t that many, right?

The first hurdle to get over is to realize that what you think is a cube in your head isn’t. It took me about 45 cubes to realize this. When I started drawing my cubes I did them out of my imagination. They were awful. To help things along we were encourage to build a model to draw from. Here’s mine:

It’s made from foam core board, 4 inches on a side, with some geometric printouts pasted on each face. Drawing from the model was a big help. I also taped a knitting needle to the end of my pencil to use as a measuring guide while I worked. I did the next 90 or so cubes this way.

It get’s a little monotonous. Especially when you realize that there are really only 9 views of a cube (think about it). Everything else is just some slight variation of one of those nine.

One drawback to the cube model is that you’re always about the same distance away from it, so the amount of foreshortening and wideangleness is always the same. A good alternative I found was to draw up a cube in a 3D program on my computer and then move the camera around at different focal lengths for variety. This is also nice because you can set it to wireframe and see where the back faces are too. It’s super important to draw the cubes through to the back side to make sure you understand the structure.

By the end of the assignment I had drawn 227 cubes, but quite a few of them were less than impeccable. We were asked to submit 20 of our best. Here are mine (in no particular order):

You can see they’ve got a little of that hand drawn wobble to them, but that’s fine. It just gives them a little class. The point is that my hands have the experience of drawing 227 cubes (and about 20 good ones), and my eyes can recognize a good cube from a bad one.

Squished Parasite

Continuing on with the parasite job.

Another of the spots found the parasite trapped in a medieval torture cell with the cow as his tormenter. The script called for the parasite to be stretched out on the rack, so I did some sketches for the animators to help with the facial and body expressions:

After this, a door opens from above and a giant cow falls from the ceiling, crushing the parasite. Here was my treatment for that sequence:

You can see the final video on the company’s website. Click “Watch the Videos”. This is the first one called “Painful Deaths”.

jump to the video

(All images and video copyright © 2011 Bazillion Pictures)

Itchy Parasite

A little more about that parasite job.

One of the videos called for the parasite to find himself in hell with a terrible case of the itchies. I put together this action sheet to give the animators some ideas:

Here’s an animatic the guys put together using the sketches:

You can see the final spot on the company website. Click on “Watch the Videos”, this is the second one over called “Afterlife”.  I love the cow’s expression at the end:

jump to the video

(All images and video copyright © 2011 Bazillion Pictures)

Simple Form Analysis

These are some simple form analysis drawings I did for my class in linear perspective. I did these free hand from observation so they are a little rough. The idea was to take an every day object and deconstruct it into geometric forms.

This is my favorite chair. It’s a big cushy wingback number (it’s much rounder than this). I got it when a neighbor moved away and didn’t have room for it in the moving van. It’s upholstered in a sort of crime-against-nature blue/ocher plaid. I like it because it has a really big seat so I can sit in it cross legged with a drawing board and sketch while I watch TV:

The bottle of 409 that sits on my shelf. I feel like I should have some sort of heart-felt personal anecdote about it, but really it’s just 409.

This last one is “my” sewing machine. I say “my” because really it belongs to my mother but I’m “mostly” the one who uses it (“mostly” because it lives on my work table covered in the half-finished remains of whatever I’m “just about to get back to”). The bulbous dohicky behind the needle is a secondary set of footdogs that advances the top fabric at the same rate as the bottom. It helps to keep the two bits of fabric aligned when trying to sew something thick. I used a ruler for a bit of cleanup work on this one.

Parasite Character Sheets

You may remember from my previous post that I did some character designs of parasites for a client. I wanted to post some of the followup work.

The parasite design we finally settled on was a sort of bug-eyed worm with a big gaping mouth. Once the clients picked the sketch they liked I did a few more variations on the selected design acting out some of the actions from the proposed scripts:

There was a little bit of a debate as to whether he should have arms or not but eventually we decided they weren’t needed.

Here’s a rough turnaround of the final parasite design they selected:

The clients really liked this guy because the parasite would be doing a lot of screaming in the videos, and this guy is basically all screaming mouth.

In a number of spots the parasite is accompanied by a cow that does various nasty things to the parasite (all well deserved, I assure you). Here are a few quick designs I put together for the cow:

They ended up choosing the one in the top right hand corner.

(All images and video copyright © 2011 Bazillion Pictures)

Parasites Casting Call

This is a page of parasite character designs I created a few months back for an animated spot about an anti-parasite medication for the cattle industry. This particular medication “kills 39 species and stages of parasite” so the clients wanted a generic looking baddy for the spots. The scripts also called for this poor fellow to meet a number of untimely ends, so it was important that he not look likable or sympathetic in any way. Some of these drawings are more likable than others but I wanted to give them a spectrum to choose from.

Here’s what I came up with:

I’ll post some more drawings of the design they selected in a later entry, and I think I’ve got copies of the finished animations around here somewhere too. Stay tuned!

(All images and video copyright © 2011 Bazillion Pictures)