concept art

etsy object adventure: Faux Bamboo Nightstand

Looking for something to practice painting I came across this hansom faux-bamboo nightstand on etsy. It looks like something out of one of those 60's James Bond movies that  haven't actually seen. Here's my straight up study in digital:

I decided to try panting the same subject in the style of a few of my favorite artists. First up is Anneka Tran. I started by looking through her blog and making notes on the way she builds her images. Anneka doesn't use many lines, most of her forms are built from large patches of color. To give them depth and interest she uses subtle gradients, especially in the shadows and background so you get this sort of dynamic counterchange of hues. I also noticed she uses a particular brush with a sort of rough garbled edge to it that makes all of her images look a little fuzzy like plush toys.


Next up I tried for one of my favorite shows: Gravity Falls. If you are into Gravity fall artwork you're in luck because a lot of the artists who work on the show also have active sketchblogs. I spent a lot of time looking through background art from the show. You can find a bunch of great examples from Sean Jimenez. Gravity Falls relies heavily on line work with a sort of oval shaped brush. Character lines are mostly black but the backgrounds and props sometimes use colored lines so that things will set back. For the fills they use subtle textures and a lot of light spills and glows around lit areas. I think my line work got a little too heavy but otherwise I'm pretty happy with this one.

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!

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?

Memory Lane

I recently read Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine. Although it was the subject of some recent unpleasantness for Mr. Lehrer, I liked the book a lot. One item he discusses is the way mixed neighborhood of houses, shops, and varying income levels like New York's Greenwich Village foster creativity. I've always wanted to live in a city where I could walk everywhere and see new buildings stuck right next to historic old ones.

This is what I came up with, painted mostly with the lasso tool and a hard square brush. The idea is that the middle section of the image dips into a vintage photograph of the street as it was, and then dips back out again. First a sketch or two:

I knew early on that I wanted the whole image to be a flat on POV, but I couldn't help trying out a few perspective sketches. Originally the style of the building and the colors were going to signal the transition, but I was worried it would be a little to subtle. I got the idea of having something in the image that overlapped the transition and I really like drawing Volkswagon Beetles.

I hope you like the layout of the sketches. My portfolio has so many sketches in it I'm looking for ways to clean them up a bit without taking away the sketchiness. I based the formatting on a number of ArtCenter student's work I've seen.

Here's a version with some of my reference overlaid. I wanted the colors to be really vibrant and eclectic. I found a ton of great storefront images, both historic and modern. I also tried to add a lot of little goodies for people who go hunting for them. For example, all the shops have names relating to birds. I think Emperor Chicken on the end is my favorite.

Ghost Light

Here is a piece I made to play with color and light a little. I did this sketch almost a year ago for a halloween thing that never happened. I thought it would make a good candidate for some experimentation. But first of all, here are some of the preliminary sketches:

I had this tiny sketch in my sketchbook of a lamp with water pouring out from under the lampshade that seemed interesting. Its the ketch in the upper left-hand corner. From there I started to think about ghosts and how you use lights to ward them off. Doing some research I happened onto this wikipedia page about the theatrical tradition of a ghost light. Theater owners would leave a light illuminated on stage to either ward off malevolent spirits that haunt the theater, or to provide light for the theater ghosts to perform on the stage when it was not in use, thus appeasing them.

Lights are supposed to ward off the goulies, but what if the light is the thing you need to be worried about?

I played with the idea of water or ectoplasm filling a child's room from the lamp.  I also kind of like the way the fluid pouring out of the lamp looked like a whirl of a dancers dress so I experimented with having the poor haunted child dort of waltzing with the ghost as it filled the room. I liked the dancing but it don't quite have the mood I was going for.

Here's what I ended up with:

And here are my value and color studies:

I wanted to have a few different sources of light to work with, so I added large windows which could produce a cool light to counterbalance the warm lights of the ectoplasm.

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)

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)


I just discovered this new computer drawing application called Alchemy. Alchemy is design to help you generate ideas visually. As you draw either lines or filled shapes, the program takes your drawing input and distorts and transforms it based one one or more modules you activate so that what comes out the other end is a pseudo-randomized jumble.

The idea is that you can generate these distorted images and then, like finding figures in clouds or in the burn patterns in your toast, you see new ideas in the randomness. You can then export your jumble into another art program like photoshop or skechbook and refine the image into what your brain comes up with.

There are all sorts of distortion modules and generators to help you make images. It can even listen through your microphone as input. I've only played with it a little bit, but I can already say I'm going to be using Alchemy a lot in the future. It feels like a great way to generate shapes for things like character or vehicle/architecture design.

Here are a few things I made yesterday in about an hour. Sort of Fishy/Space Shippy/Something or Others:

Cotton Wool Maquette Sculpture

Back at the end of September I read an interesting blog post by Dragan Bibin about his maquette making technique. Rather than clay Bibin uses cotton wool soaked in acrylic gesso to make a sort of cotton-mache sculpture. You can see examples of his models and the resulting illustrations in his original post. I've been dying to try this ever since. I decided to give it a try with my little snooty slug, one of the orphan characters from this week's photoshop painting experiment (bottom row, third from the left) . Here's how things went:

Bibin says that he starts with a aluminum wire armature. I generally use steal wire for my armatures because it tends to be much cheaper. I've got a few spools of it in my maquette kit at different strengths. This base is made from 16 gauge wire, about the thickness of a wire coat hanger. This stuff is pretty stiff so it makes a good base but I generally have to bend it with pliers.

Just like a clay maquette Bibin uses foil to bulk up the model before any real material is added, so I did the same. I do the same thing for my clay maquettes. I've also wrapped things in a bit of 24 gauge wire to hold the foil and base armature together.

Alright, here's where things start to diverge from what I usually do with clay. Bibin explains that the cotton and gesso need something other than metal to adhere to, so he wraps his armature in masking tape. I used drafting tape, same difference.

So I don't know about you, but I'd never heard the term "cotton wool" before I came across Bibin's post. From what I can tell it's just the British name for what cotton balls and loose medical cotton dressings are made of, which I kind of like because I don't seem to have a good word for it other than "cotton". The important thing I think is that you're using cotton that hasn't been woven or spun into anything yet.

To begin the sculpture I painted a bit of gesso I'd watered down to about white-glue consistency onto the armature, then painted a bit onto a strip of the cotton, then stuck one on the other, and then painted more gesso on until everything was soaked. Then repeat.

Incidentally, if you're following along at home might I make 3 suggestions. First, disposable gloves make this much easier and more fun. Second, have a jar of water handy to put your brush down in. If you let the gesso dry in the bristles of the brush its ruined. Third, spread a sheet of foil down on your work surface. This will keep gesso off your "clean" art table, and it won't stick to the model while it's drying.  After about 30 min here's what I had:

At first the process was a bit slow. Looking back I should have added quite a bit more foil to bulk things up before I started. Having a thick layer of the cotton wasn't a big problem, but it took a while to build it up.

After the first layer I left the model out to dry over night. The next morning the surface was generally dry but I could still feel some moisture from the inside from all that building up. It's probably trapped in there forever now but I'm not worried. Up until this point I'd only been adding layers to the surface but now it was time to start adding features. I started with my slug's posh lower lip.

The features that don't have some sort of structure under them are a bit fragile when things are still wet, just like clay would be, but once things dry the model seems very durable. After adding the lip I took a break to let things dry but I really think I could have continued working just fine as long as I was careful.

On the next round I added a chin fold under the lip, and then in one last round I added eye lids and protuberances.

Bibin says in his blog post that once dry you can sand the surface. I gave this a try with a small rasp. The sanding is good for removing some of the larger bumps and uneven areas on the surface but unless you're working with some sort of power tool I wouldn't expect to use sanding to make a lot of detail. I did quite a bit of sanding on the model in the image just above but I doubt you can really tell the difference in the surface compared to the image before. You're better of smoothing things out with your fingers and extra gesso while the model is still wet.

My model is still drying but once it has I'm planning to add a bit of paint to finish things off.

Compared to modeling in clay this method does not offer nearly as much chance for detail, but because you can do it with gesso and cotton balls I think it's probably a bit more economical. I don't really think things went any faster than they might have with clay, but if I were building a large roughed in model for reference photos or the like I would certainly choose this over the clay, and I wouldn't feel bad about tossing it afterwords. Both this technique and clay are about equal when it comes to mess and cleanup.

Drawing My Studio

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you lived, say, a few hundred years ago? I think it's kind of romantic to imagine myself living in a victorian manor house or as a medieval artisan but the longer I dwell on it the more I realize that, 200 years ago I would probably be considered blind. Now, today, in 2010, I'm not blind. I have big thick glasses. Without them anything more than an inch or two from the tip of my nose is a blurry blob, but when I have them on I can see just fine. I pass my driver's test, I catch things people toss to me, I do carom off furniture but that's just because I'm clumsy. Vision wise I'm just fine.

The one caveat is that, to correct for my astigmatism, my lenses have a pronounced cylinder rating. This means that when I look directly on at a straight line like the corner of a room or the edge of a table it looks as it should, but as I turn my head and look at the line askance it begins to curve away from me as if the wall bowed outward.

When I first get an updated prescription the difference can be pronounced and things can look a little strange. For example with my glasses on it looks to me like I'm at least 4 inches further from the ground than without. But, after an hour or so my brain adjusted and everything looks ok again. After that I don't notice the effect unless I consciously look for it. It's not that I get used to things being curved but that my brain tells itself that the curved things are straight, which is pretty amazing.

I often wonder how this distortion effects the way I draw what I see. I don't seem to have any trouble drawing things in perspective and as far as I can tell the straight lines I draw are actually straight. Still, it's hard to say what the effect might be

It also makes me wonder what other optical effects my brain is screening out of what I think is the real world.

Consider this:

The lens in your eye focuses light on the back of the inside of your eye in an area called the fovea where the majority of your optical receptor cells are. However stuck in amongst those receptors in your optic nerve, which has no receptors on it. This causes a blind spot in your vision, an area where you see nothing. Everyone has this spot, but you don't perceive it because your brain edits it out.

Or this:

When you fix your vision on something your eyes don't stay still. Instead they're continually making tiny jerking movements called saccades. This is because your brain will begin to ignore signals coming from your optical receptors that don't change. If your eyes didn't move then you would swiftly find yourself unable to see what you're looking at.

Makes you wonder what you're really seeing, doesn't it?

Well this all brings me to what I've been drawing. I've been working on some backgrounds and interiors for my animation project and since it's been a little while since I last did some real perspective work I was feeling a bit rusty. To sharpen things up a bit I parked myself on the floor in my studio on Sunday night and took a stab at drawing the room.

I have to admit I goofed off a bit, but after about 2 hours here's what I came up with:

I'm pretty happy with it.

Part of that goofing off I mentioned was listening to things on my phone. When I was all done it occurred to me that the phone has a camera too and that got me wondering how my drawing and reality compare.

To draw the section of the room I did, I had to turn my head a bit. To cover the same area with the camera I had to take a few shots and stitch them together in the computer. Here's what I ended up with:

I should say a few things about this image to begin with. First, it's awful. The light in my room at night is not very good. Sorry. Second, in camera terms your field of view is determined by the focal length of the lens. For a 35mm camera normal human vision is in the neighborhood of 50mm. Lenses around 35mm or below would be considered wide angle (think fish eye) and higher around 100mm would be telephoto. My phone's camera is equivalent to a 30mm lens. This means that there's a degree of spherical distortion in the image. This is intensified by the fact that this image is stitched together from 6 pictures moving across the room.

So here's the moment of truth. I've superimposed my sketch over the photo (deep breath):

It's interesting to see what I got right and what I didn't.

  • The general perspective lines (angles of the walls and ceiling) are pretty darn good.
  • I started the drawing in the back corner where the two walls meet, and based measurements of features near that location. As you move away from that center you can see that the differences increase.
  • Most of the things I measured carefully were rendered pretty well (windows, desk, back table with radio, computer monitors). Things I drew free hand did not fair so well (notice how big the lamp is compared to it's photo).
  • Some things (the stuff pinned to the wall for example) I drew without regard to reality, so they can be ignored.

Keep in mind that there are three distorting factors here:

  • The distortion of the camera.
  • The fact that the drawing is in 2 point perspective, but reality (camera reality anyway) is in spherical perspective. This causes a lot of distortion towards the far right edge for example.
  • General "mistakes" in my drawing.

I put "mistakes" in quotes because I still think the drawing is pretty successful as a drawing. I also think it's interesting to consider how my subconscious may be responsible for exaggerating the size of some objects like my lamp and radio while others nearby were basically the right size. I do interact with the radio and lamp a lot, and if I were doing an imagined drawing and wanted to emphasize certain elements in a room I might exaggerate their size. More food for thought.

To round things out I colored the drawing. I always wanted a green room. Here's the final piece:

Painting Test Creatures

I drew these characters for a project at work that ended up going in a different direction. The originals were simply sketches and they were begging to be colored so I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment a bit more with photoshop painting.

Each of the character I painted using a different approach. I still haven't found a technique I really like, but I did realize that I have way too many photoshop brushes I never use, and probably never will again.

That's a Negative on the Arms

Continuing to add details. Check out those handsome pockets. Very posh. As I alluded to in the last post, the arms were not quite right. I spent a little time thinning them down, but I began to run into the armature wire, so some drastic action was required to reposition her "arm bones".

I'm also starting to smooth down the surface and get it as even as possible. You'll notice too that, now that I have the pigtails at a size and shape I like I've clipped the loose ends of the hair wires away and covered up the ends.  I'll be doing the same thing with the arms when I have them right and proper.

Because I'm also trying to learn some computer-based 3D modeling, I will be starting in on a 3D model Ada in Maya in a little while. (Ada and Maya, it makes them sounds like little friends ^_^) I'll try and post some of my progress on that front as well in the near future.

Until then, intrepid Internet reader. Up next, arms of course.

Sartorial and Coiffeurial Progression

With the major body shapes in place I've begun adding some details. This includes the beginning of her lab coat, and of course her glorious pigtails. Have a look:

Incidentally, there were a few steps in here that I left out (sorry). After working up the initial body shapes I found that I had bulked up the armature a little too much. The foil and wires were right up the the surface of of the layer of clay, so some surgery was required. I stripped away most of the clay from the body and head and then with a pair of pliers I crushed the foil and wire of the armature so it was about 10% smaller. Then built the clay layers back up.

Sometimes it's a little disheartening to take such drastic measure. At first I kept sculpting hoping I could make things work, but I think I lost a lot of time doing this. No worries it was worth it. Everything is dandy-swell and peachy-fine now.

The other bit I should probably mention is the wire I added to the back of Ada's giant mellon to give some structure to the pigtails. You can just barely see the ends of the wire peeking out from the ends of each lock. Just as before I used a section of of heavy gage wire wrapped with thinner wire, but this time the wire isn't really attached to the head armature at all. It's just held in place by the thick clay at the back of her head.

Coming up, a face.

Ada, Modern Pretentious Minimalist Sculpture Edition

Starting to add some clay now. I'm using Super Sculpey to make this model. However, the Sculpey that comes out of the box is a sickly semi-transparent flesh tone that I am particularly averse to, so I mixed the straight stuff with 1 white and 1 black square package of colored Sculpey III to get this neutral opaque grey color ( or is it gray colour? ). If you're planning on trying this, get yourself one of those little pasta machines to help you mix the clay. Otherwise it will likely take you an entire day of kneading and rolling to get them mixed (that was my experience anyway).

So far I'm just generally building up the mass of the major shapes.

If you compare this version with the armature in the last post you'll also notice that there is an extra support coming from Ada's back. I was hoping to get away with only the 2 leg wires running through the base but after a little work with the clay that proved to be unstable. With Ada's new appendage things are much easier.

More to come, including pig-tails!

Ada's Wiry Bones

I've started a new sculpture project and I've committed this time to try and take some exciting in-progress pictures. One of the last things I made before leaving school was a maquette of an animal character I created as part of my final semester project. I had no idea what I was doing at the time so inevitably the whole process was loads of fun. And you know what? It turned out brilliantly.

This time around I decided to make something a little more ambitious, a standing figure model of Ada, the little pig-tailed scientist girl from my animation project.

I've started with an armature, basically a loose skeleton of wire that can be affixed to a base and will give the model a bit of support. Here's my initial armature.

The base is made from a blank wood round I bought at the craft store. I simply drilled 2 small holes and ran my leg wires through them. On the bottom I took a chisel and made some channels for the loose ends of wire to sit in so that the base could sit flat.

I used 2 sizes of wire. One heavier gauge for the main shapes and one much lighter to tie things together. If you look close you can see that in places like the arms and legs I've wrapped bits of the smaller wire around the larger structural wire. Becuase the large wire is smooth it can be hard for the clay to stick to it in places like this. Wrapping the bare wire like this gives the clay something to hold on to.

You'll also notice that I've added in some balls of aluminum foil to form the major masses. By using the foil I don't have to use so much clay, so the final model is lighter and less expensive. I use foil because it can be baked in the oven right along with the clay.

More progress shots to come so stay tuned.

Artemisia and Désign

I go to college at a large midwestern university. Our campus has maybe 2 dozen major buildings — a charming if a bit eclectic mixture of styles from gothic, classical, and art deco to modern and, well, just plain ugly — and like most universities these buildings are named for various historical benefactors. Ideally these names are intended to honor those who made great contributions to the university or to the world in general, and a number of them are. Many are also named for those lucky people with the ability to write lots of zero on a check (it's harder than you might think). When I was an engineering student for example the department was in the process of constructing of a new facility to house labs and offices. The building was almost but not quite finished, and as of yet unnamed. I can remember one day at a meeting the dean of the school in a speech to the students and their parents joking that, should anyone like to write a 6 million dollar check for the naming rights, their son or daughter could start the next semester with their very own building.

The point of all of this is that most buildings on campus have such a name, but not all of them. One such case in fact is the building in which I spending most of my time these days, what we call the "Art and Design" building. The name leaves a bit to be desired, but I think I prefer this to having a building named for a mid-level GM executive or the like.

We students of the Art and Design building are lately thinking a lot about our futures, and our graduation, and our impending careers of fame and fortune that will no doubt give us the kind of walking around money to have whole institutes named in our honors. But before all of that can get started we have a senior show to plan, and like the Titanic themed prom I once lived through and the Victorian Murder Mystery Wedding I will one day live through, this thing needs a theme, and that my friends had me thinking: what if I've got this whole "Art and Design" thing wrong?

It turns out (in the completely fictitious world in my head, stay with me here) that our building was named in honor of someone, or two someones to be exact.  Meet the titular Art and Design: Zelma Artemisia and Pavel Désign.

Artemisia and Désign

Artemisia was named for Artemisia Gentileschi, one of my friend's favorite artists, an Italian Baroque painter in the early 15th century. Désign got his name mostly because I like characters with diacritical marks. The two were students at the University around the end of the 19th century, and went on to found one of the most influential secret societies of artists and designers, which most certainly never existed and does not even now control the seemingly capricious course of art and culture.