Mystics and Misfits, what is it? Well, beyond a dream, it is a collection of short stories spanning the gamut of science fiction to fantasy, satire to philosophy, and past to future. All of the stories are fiction but rooted deep within the bones of reality and humanity. But my true desire was to create a book that I would have devoured in my youth when my ideas of what made a book great were still being shaped.
Back then I was just being introduced to all the amazing possibilities that the genre could engender. The worlds contained within presented through maps made in detail or stylistically, appendices of characters or short historical stories, and prologues foreshadowing events or showing their results. One of the things I enjoyed the most were drawing slipped into the story at unexpected places.
Michael Whelan’s inner illustration to Melanie Rawn’s “Dragon Prince was one such lucky find. When I first started thinking about putting Mystics and Misfits together one of the ideas I had been to create an image for each story and place them at the beginning or end of each story. Because some of the stories seemed hard to create an image for, I kind of shelved the idea, especially when I thought I would not even be able to create a cover. Well, I did manage to create a cover and some other artwork I would not have thought it possible for me to do since then. All I can say is that the itch to illustrate this book is starting to come back. Given what you have seen of my work and what you have seen as readers of science fiction and fantasy, what do you think about a book that is illustrated?
I am a sucker for a beautiful sunset. The amazing colors nature produces at these times are almost drinkable they are so intense. Yes, I realize sunrises have the same effect, but I so rarely get to see those. Several years ago I spent a lot of time taking photos of sunsets around my home so I would have references for painting whenever I needed. I have hundreds of sunsets stored in boxes.
Watching the transition of colors from warm yellow to earthy red to cool purple and finally steely blue is very satisfying. Not just the sky itself, but the clouds as well. Many times they act as counterpoint to the sky’s color, picking up a rosy red even after the sky has begun to turn dark blue. Clouds will be bright blasts throughout the display of raw color spread upon the bowl of heaven. So take time and enjoy a sunset or two in your life; you will be glad you did.
I actually have been as intimidated about trying to do Carrie Fisher’s “Leia Organa” hair as much as trying to capture the smooth skin tone transitions on her face. For one, the image I am working from is a black and white photo where her hair comes out almost one tone. So I pulled down a color photo to get better references for highlights and color but the pose and lighting are completely different. The challenge is to envision the hair I am referencing with the lighting in the image I am working from and also to give it a sense of shape/dimension.
Shape can be given by drawing lines that follow the shape of the head; however, when you are using dark shades with not much difference in tones, how do you get the lines to show enough to depict the lay of the hair. I may have actually have lucked out by using a base color that is lighter than the color I plan to use for the darkest shade. The highlighting is more of a challenge because the color photo has so much more than the black and white, which means I will have to wing it a bit. In addition, in the color photo, Carrie’s hair is not as groomed as it is in the black and white. I assume it was taken later in the day after several takes.
All in all, I am pleased with the start I’ve made. I just thought you might enjoy hearing the thought processes that go into completing an image I am working on. Remember, I am still fairly new to this digital stuff.
Well, we are now in the home stretch if I can keep my moral up. I am doing my taxes now so that remains to be seen. Anyway, I have been playing with where and how I want to place the individual elements and working on finishing the Carrie Fisher portrait. I have been tweaking some areas of Carrie’s face given some ideas I had on improving the transitions. The results were good but now I need to get to work on the hair to pull it all together. From there it is a matter of adding her to the background and playing with some ideas I have for effects. All in all, some of the hardest parts are done.
This week’s $5 reward is a copy of the digital painting I did after finishing “Leviathan Wakes” by James S. A. Correy. The painting depicts the climatic scene of the asteroid Eros breaking apart and falling into the planet Venus where it will be a source of dread for stories to come. The ending was so epic that I had to bring it to life, which pushed me to learn more about Gimp 2.8 and tricks to achieve better images. I had a lot of fun coming up with this image because the book was so great. I highly recommend the series.
I don’t remember if I mentioned this before but there are some interesting dynamics occurring in my writing. Being a fan of authors like Tad Williams, Stephen R. Donaldson, and C.J. Cherryh, I like to write very descriptively. This is also the result of being an artist, too. So, my sentences can become long and involved with a lot of adjectives.
On the other side, I have an associates degree in business management. One of the earlier class in the course was business writing. The objectives in business writing are completely at odds with my creative style. In business writing you are trained to be concise and simple; you are told to refrain from using lesser known wording or sentence structures. You need to make the assumption that people of varying levels of education will be reading you papers and all should be able to make sense of them. This does not mean that you cannot challenge them but you must be very clear and concise when you do.
With these two styles at play in my writing, there is a constant tension when I sit down to type a story on my laptop. Halfway through some sentences I have to stop and rethink them because my business side is saying “Whoa, Whoa, hold on there big fella.” I look at the line seeing too many descriptions and too many ideas for one sentence. Of course, business me is right.
I have come to a moderate balancing act between the two styles by allowing my creative side free rein initially. Then when I need a break, I go back to what was written and let my business side rip it to shreds and tighten it up. Unfortunately, the two sides don’t always play well with each other so, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that tension spills out into the story.
I was talking to someone about art recently after I showing them my newer digital work and they mentioned they felt digital painting was to paraphrase “cheating”. They felt it was too easy. To be fair, I have felt this way myself at times and think a lot about it with the projects I am working on. My main qualm I guess is with photo-manipulation and the use of skin textures over actual painting of the textures.
I have seen some very well done photo-manipulations but I still do not feel they are artwork. They are more of a craft. Yes, there are artistic skills and sensibilities required to make a good manipulation; however, they are not as in-depth as someone who creates the image from scratch not using other people’s work. The skill level is not as high. In my own work, I have used many of the skills of photo-manipulation to arrange and join various elements of my final images, but each of those elements was hand created by me from the initial drawing to the digital painting. The digital paintings I do also do not use any kind of pre-made texture like fur or rock to fill in parts of the image. Each element is handled like a physical painting.
Where I struggle a little with my own work is that there are some techniques I use that could not be done easily in the real world but are very simple in the digital domain. For instance, keeping a foreground element separate from the background so that you can paint the background freely is not so easy in the real world and has damaged the quality of some of my physical artwork. However, in the digital domain it is as simple as two separate layers. Then there is the issue of brushes. Some brushes are actually like stamps such as leaves or plants that can be used to fill in landscapes. For the most part I avoid these brushes but I do make use of another ability of brushes, which is that they can be animated. Yes, this is something you can’t do with a real brush, but I have found it necessary to achieve softer effects because the digital brushes are basically stamps and have no real world shape or characteristics. A digital brush is nothing more than the tip of a real brush as a stamp, even the more complex ones. There is no fulcrum between the fingers and the tip as with a real paint brush so they tend to be more rigid and need animation to add some randomness to their use at times. I liken digital painting to working with color pencils where there is more control as opposed to a paint brush, which takes more technique to manipulate. Not that pencil work does’t have its own challenges but the placement of pigment is much more direct and controlled with a pencil compared to a brush.
So, as you can see, I enjoy the work I have been able to produce using a digital format, but I do question some of my assumptions while creating them. My take; however, is to create and paint as much as I can as if I was painting in the real world. I use stamping style brushes as little as possible or not at all. For the most part I use the round or soft round brush to paint with but lately have been using a pencil-shaded animated sponge brush to achieve some of the effects of a real airbrush since the brush alone would be a stamp. Let me know your thoughts on the subject.