Hey look! I remembered how to be an artist!

It’s been awhile since I drew on a daily basis, but I’ve been attempting to make it a regular thing again. Thanks to my awesomesauce friend Meg Smitherman, I’ve been at least doing it weekly. We’ve been doing an accountability sketch thing where we give ourselves one weekly topic and then draw it or sketch it however we see fit. Figured I’d do an art dumb of some of the sketches I’ve been working on for the challenges.

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Topic: Star Wars | Sketch: Asyr Sei’lar, Rogue Squadron

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Topic: Mass Effect | Sketch: EDI

luna

Topic: Harry Potter | Sketch: Luna Lovegood

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Tiefling Barbarians FTW!

That last one isn’t for the sketch thing – I just wanted to draw up an avatar for my Tiefling Barbarian that my play in our D&D campaign. Her name is Orianna and she’s loud and brash and likes shining things. She’s also very sarcastic and smooth with the ladies. I love her.

I’ve also been doing a little post-it note doodle challenge with myself to try and get the creative juices going in the morning. Usually I do these while I’m on client calls when I’m not taking notes (having my hands moving keeps my mind focused on what I’m listening to – I was a notorious doodler in classes too but it really does help) so they’re pretty small and silly. You can find these over on my twitter account. I try to post them pretty regularly. When I’m not sick. Fighting off a bad cough and cold right now so I’m a little slow.

Will post more art later! Working on finishing that Asyr sketch and the Luna one. Wish me luck!

fuel-jg04-150x150Of all the illustrators alive today, there has been one man whose work has been a constant fixture throughout my life. I was one of those strange girls that would rather be outside excavating dinosaur bones in my backyard, getting my hands and knees dirty, than inside with a dollhouse. I spent countless hours pretending to be a world-famous archeologist, discovering hidden temples and pretending I had stumbled upon portals to other worlds. My favorite book reflected this: Dinotopia by James Gurney. I poured over those books, taped print-outs of his paintings on my wall, and I still have my first copy of The World Beneath on the bookshelf – now with the spine taped together because of the many times that book accompanied me into the woods. When I graduated high school, as my gift, my parents drove me hours away to a tiny museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where James Gurney’s Dinotopia paintings were on display. They are even more incredible in person. My favorite painting? The Black Fish Tavern from The World Beneath. The use of light and detail in that painting is incredible and I remember walking around the last corner of that gallery and there it was, sitting on an easel as you walked out the door.

For those who don’t know him, James Gurney is a writer and illustrator, best known for Dinotopia and his work for National Geographic Magazine. “He specializes in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilizations.” In fact, one of my favorite art guide books is Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist, an excellent book for anyone interested in fantasy illustration. You can learn much more about James Gurney and his work by visiting his website, which was recently redesigned by his talented son, Dan. Check it out and take a look at his gallery. Thank you again to James for this fantastic interview. Enjoy!

On with the Dinosaurs! …I mean Interview!

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As a kid, dinosaurs played a huge role in my everyday imaginary adventures. How were you first introduced to dinosaurs and the different civilizations that make appearances in Dinotopia and when did they begin to appear in your sketchbooks?

I was bitten by the dinosaur bug as a kid, thanks to the Zdenek Burian illustrations in the Time/Life book on evolution and a few trips to natural history museums. I was also fascinated by lost civilizations. I grew up with a bound set of old National Geographics outside my bedroom door. I’d tiptoe out in the hall at night to read about great explorers like Hiram Bingham discovering Machu Picchu. My ambition in third grade was to find a dinosaur or a lost city. I started excavations in my backyard and had my friends helping me until their mothers told them they couldn’t come over anymore because they always came home with their pockets full of dirt.

I majored in archaeology at UC Berkeley, and then worked for many years as an illustrator for National Geographic. They put me in an early grave, you might say, by sending me on assignment to Etruscan Italy to poke around some recently discovered tombs in Tarquinia. They also sent me to Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, and I worked with a lot of archaeologists and paleontologists. Around 1988 in my spare time I started doing big paintings of lost empires and I came up with the idea of drawing a map of an island and telling about it through the journal of a Victorian explorer named Arthur Denison.

Does your artistic process differ when you’re working on paintings for your fictional books in comparison with work for instructional art books or commissioned pieces?

Not really. Both my Dinotopia paintings and my scientific illustrations are imaginative work, meaning there’s no photo to copy. The idea is to do a realistic painting of something that isn’t visible in front of me. For both science and fantasy paintings, I have to do lots of sketches, and maybe pose models or build maquettes. If it’s a commissioned illustration, I might have to resolve the sketches a bit more than I would if I was doing a Dinotopia painting. The artistic process does differ of course for my plein air work, where I work on oil primed panels, drawing the subject directly with a brush.
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In your experience, what was more beneficial in helping you grow as an artist: formal art education or your personal travels and learning on your own?

For me the most beneficial thing was learning on my own and traveling, simply because most art schools weren’t teaching the good stuff 30 years ago. You had to dig it out from the old art instruction books that were 50 or 100 years old. Doing that felt like having Norman Rockwell or Harold Speed or Andrew Loomis as your teacher. Many art schools are better now, and are offering a good skill-based foundation. Still, I’m a real believer in learning through direct observation of nature, which means carrying a sketchbook around constantly, and painting outdoors.

Imaginative Realism is a fantastic book, but for those who haven’t read it – how do you go about creating your paintings of creatures that no longer exist? What steps must you take for the creatures to look as real as they do?

I work completely in pencil and oil. My studio is upstairs in my house, and it’s crammed full of art books, maquettes of architecture, old theater costumes, and sculptures of dinosaurs. My method is based on the nineteenth century academic approach: thumbnail sketches in black and white and color, studies or photos from costumed models, plein air sketches, and lots of reference photos filed away in a set of filing cabinets. The really elaborate paintings can take as long as six weeks, but an average painting goes together in about six days. During my lecture tour this fall I’ll be doing presentations at several different art schools and studios in LA and Ohio. People can find out the list on my blog under ‘Upcoming Appearances.’
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Your blog is an amazing resource for all sorts of traditional artists. What is the biggest piece of advice you could give to a blossoming illustrator?

Thanks for the compliment. As far as advice, I’d start by saying: don’t worry! Professionals in the business often complain about the headaches of stock art, photo-illustration, lousy contracts, and disappearing clients. There’s no doubt: it’s a tough time right now to make a living as an illustrator. But it has always been a changing business, whether you were working in 1905, 1925, or 1955. In many ways, this is the best time ever to enter the field. We live in a more visual culture than ever, and never before has fantasy and science fiction been so central to our culture.

I’d also recommend balancing imaginative and observational work. Sketch from life and sketch from your head. And don’t worry about developing a style. Just observe nature faithfully when you’re young. The style will come naturally.

We have more resources at our fingertips – tools, references, printing technology – than any of our artistic ancestors ever dreamed of, and there are unlimited opportunities if we can just try to rise to the high ideals and standards that they stood for. Illustration is a proud calling. We should never forget how lucky we are to be able to conjure dreams out of thin air.

And finally… in one word, what “fuels” your illustration?

Probably the same thing that has fueled artists all along – the desire to tell a story, to bring a character to life, to create a doorway into a world that no one had ever imagined before. I’m constantly reminded of the impact that still pictures can have over us. I got a letter last week from a young woman who is an art student in Germany. She said she found her old copy of Dinotopia after it had been misplaced for many years, and she remembered something her father said about it. He told her that it was a magical book, and that every time she opened it up, there would be a new picture hidden somewhere in its pages that she had never seen before.
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You can learn more about James Gurney here:

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I would like to introduce you all to one of my new favorite blogs: Creature Spot. It’s basically a blog for a bunch of different concept artists to come together and share their sketches and creations and I am in LOVE with it. Amazing work and extremely inspiring to someone who once dreamed of joining Weta Workshop as a concept artist (I have no given up on that dream – someday it will happen!).

A Few Favorites:

Emily Fiegenschuh

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LD Austin

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Christopher Burdett

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Ryan Firchau

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Go check them out and much more over at Creature Spot!

Art History Lesson! Ukiyo-e: The Floating World

I’m going to start out by saying I have never been to Japan. In fact, I’ve never been to any part of Asia. IN FACT, I have never been outside of the United States. Yes, I know, it’s tragic. Thankfully, I have the internet (and awesome worldly friends), and I’ve been introduced to some really fantastic cultures, and in that turn, some really remarkable art techniques.

Ukiyo-e: The Floating World

One of these is Ukiyo-e, which, roughly translated, means “pictures of the floating world.” It was an art form in Japan in which artists printed amazingly detailed pictures on blocks of wood. The subjects of the paintings ranged from city life to mountain landscapes to ocean scenes. They were meant to show the beauty of the world around us. This technique was developed in the 17th century and became popular with townspeople who were not rich enough to own original paintings. Woodprints were easy and fast to make, taking one painting and making hundreds of prints. Because of this, they were mass-produced, so much so that soon there were far too many of them and their popularity waned. They were considered so worthless, in fact, that the Japanese began to use them as packing materials on ships. It wasn’t long before prints found their way outside the country and the rest of the world became aware of their existence.

European artists were in awe of the paintings. Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet were greatly inspired by the artwork, and the influence of the Ukiyo-e art form was given a name: Japonisme. Though the rest of the world had embraced it, traditional Ukiyo-e died out in the early 1900s, and despite attempts to resurrect it, it has never hit the popularity it had once enjoyed.

I own several different paper prints of traditional Ukiyo-e images, but have never had the opporunity to see an actual woodprint of one. Are there any art forms that you admire but are no longer around? I’d love to hear about them! Feel free to share. For now, enjoy some of my favorite Ukiyo-e prints. For more information about Ukiyo-e, please visit The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and the very informative Ukiyo-e wiki page.

ukiyoe-sharaku ukiyoe-ogata ukiyoe-kiyonaga

ukiyoe-greatwave ukiyoe-tokaido

ukiyoe-suzuki ukiyoe-edo ukiyoe-kitagawa

ukiyoe-kunisada ukiyoe-kuniyoshi

ukiyoe-yoshu ukiyoe-fuji ukiyoe-hatsuhana

Clicking on any image will bring you to the Wiki page for the artist. Enjoy!

Or just monsters. And girls. Whatevs. Two of my favorite topics in one Webcomic Wednesday. Because this is what Wednesdays were made for, right? Right. Any excuse to stop what you’re doing and read some webcomics. We need more days that start with W.

Monster Pulse

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Monster Pulse, Magnolia Porter
Updated: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
Monster Pulse is an all-ages adventure story about kids whose body parts transform into fighting monsters.

Morning to Moon

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Morning to Moon, Meghan Penton
Updated: Usually Tuesdays
Samaire is an ex-body guard whose existence is turned upside-down by an accident. She finds soon that rebuilding her life is a lot more interesting than she thought it would be — and a lot more dangerous.

Amya Chronicles

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Amya Chronicles, Savannah Houston-McIntyre, Andrew Hewitt, & Rebecca Gunter
Updated: Normally Wednesday (Right now sporadically)
Amya is a high-fantasy graphic novel following the travels of a mute spell-touched and her unlikely companions as they are dragged into an adventure that is a little beyond them. Ultimately Amya is a story about self sacrifice for the greater good. It is also a story of how far one will go to obtain unearthly power; even if it includes throwing the world into a mythical war between fate and chaos.

Enjoy!

Missed other #WW? Find them here:
Webcomic Wednesday Numero 25: Everblue, Machine Flower, The Intrepid Girlbot
Webcomic Wednesday Hourly Comic Special: Emily Carroll, Dani Jones, Jess Fink
Webcomic Wednesday 24: Wondermark, Stuff No One Told Me, A Softer World
Webcomic Wednesday 23: One Swoop Fell, Savage Chickens, Sinfest
Webcomic Wednesday #22: Housepets!, Gronk, Copper
Check out the Archives for more comics!