digital

Thieves Guild Show at the Phoenix Gallery

finished_on_car  

Come and see some of my art in person!

I have two pieces that will be part of an art show at the Phoenix Gallery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. The exhibit is a showcase of work from the Thieves Guild, who run themed figure drawing nights each month here in Lawrence. There will be drawings and finished pieces by over a dozen of the regulars including a lot of my very talented friends.  The work is all based on art created or inspired by our drawing sessions over the last year and a half.

There will be an opening as part of the Final Fridays Art Walk this Friday, the 27th of June, starting at 6pm at the Phoenix Gallery on Massachusetts Street. If you can't make it to opening night, no worries, the show will be on display through the month of July.

While you are there, keep an eye out for my pirate lady sculpture and this portrait of our model from 80's night. I will post a bit more about the process of making these, but don't miss out on seeing them in person.

matthewcook_80sGirl

Painterly Hand

test hand_web  

This is a hand study I painted in Photoshop. I was experimenting with brushing, looking for a way to make things painterly but not have that overworked digital look. I've been following Carol Marine's painting a day blog for some time now and I love the way she can render things in oil with such big chunky brush strokes. This study didn't really achieve that but I like the way it looks anyway. If you're curious to try it yourself, this is just one of the default photoshop chalk brushes after playing with the brush settings a bit.

Painterly Object Studies

painterly color and material studes_web  

A few more attempts at painterly digital studies, still looking at Carol Marine's blog. I thought trying some things with different textures would be interesting. These are embellished from photos of an old brass stein and a plant in a porcelain goblet vase that I found on the web. I wish I could link you to the original pictures but they have sadly passed into the Internet's back catalogue.

Bristle Brush Portrait

Dad in Mono_web  

I look through a lot of portrait photography on the web (usually Pinterest now) for things to draw and over the past few years I've come across a lot of black and white portraits in this sort of "show every wrinkle" sort of super-sharp, high contrast closeup. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know where the trend comes from. If you do leave me a comment.

In any case, I wanted to try rendering one and I thought it might be a good match to use a very scratchy looking bristle brush. I turned the opacity all the way up and laid out a set of color steps to sample from as a way to force myself not to keep overworking things. I think the study still looks a bit overworked. Next time I'll force myself to use a larger brush as well. But I do like the scratchy texture. It gives things a bit of energy.

Color Studies Out My Window

These are a few color and shape studies I painted looking out the window of my apartment building. I'm on the 9th floor of a renovated hotel that was built around 1929 and have a steller view looking south and west. I did these pieces for my Oatley Academy work, so I'm still experimenting with lasso and gradient tool painting technique. window_web

This first view is looking south out of my studio window at the street below. This was in the evening so the sun is slowly setting off to the right.

West Window_web

These views are looking out of my west window. The other structures you see are other historic buildings turned into apartments that line the street I'm on. In the distance you can see the big broadcast tower of the local PBS station. I did these over the course of a few hours as the sun when down so I could study how the colors changed. The first is purely observational but for the latter two I made a conscious effort to set a color palette and work from that.

Painting with the Lasso Tool

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I've started working through a digital paining course over at Oatley Academy. In the first lesson we're focusing on shape and form so we're working on painting using only the lasso tool and the gradient tool in Photoshop. This was my first attempt, painted from a photo of Salvador Dalí. Making things so angular was not the goal but I was enjoying the look of it so much I tried to strengthen the facets rather than smooth them over. More to come!

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!

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.

Quetzalcoatl: The Feathered Serpent

This piece was another assignment from my CGMA digital painting class. The goal for this week was to make a creature design and have some fun playing with found textures. Seeing as doomsday is fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to try something a little Mayan. The first thing to get straight is that the Maya actually called their feathered serpent deity Kukulkan (for the Yucatec Maya), and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil (for the K'iche' Maya). Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec deity, but it's also the name that's the most fun to say.

First here's my sketch:

 

And the final painting:

I started out trying to use cut-up photos for the plants but the lighting and textures of the different photos wasn't blending well, and I'm sure you can imagine how much of a nightmare it is trying to cut leafy things out of their background. Eventually I came across the idea of blowing out the contrast on a few good plant images and then turning them into brushes. That worked really well.

The feathers and scales on the snake are all "based" on photos, but there was quite a bit of painting on top of them to blend things together.

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.

Film Studies

I'm taking an online painting class for the next few weeks over at CGMW. As a warmup this week we did some digital studies of screen grabs from our favorite films. I used this as an opertunity to try a few different approaches. Here are are few of mine:

True Grit (2010) : Cinematographer Roger Deakins

I started this one with the lasso tool and just made big flat shapes. Then I came in with an opaque brush. I was trying to avoid any transparent rendering.

Road to Perdition (2002) : Cinematographer Conrad Hall but with a lot of direction from Max Allan Collins' comic.

This one I started with soft brushes and then came back in with sharper brushes to find the details. I'm not a fan of this technique.

Tron Legacy (2010) : Cinematographer Claudio Miranda

I did this one in layers, working up the background in soft brushes, and the foreground figures in harder brushes on a separate layer. I got to try my hand at making a pattern brush for the dots too. I think I really got the feeling of the two figures, that Jeff Bridges on the right and Garrett Hedlund on the left, even though theres very little detail there.

Amalie (2001) : Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel

I was trying to stick to just one or two basic brushes on the others, but for this one I decided to play with a set of texture brushes the instructor gave us.

Missouri River Digital Color Study

I'm thinking a lot about color lately, trying to train my eye to decompose what I'm looking at into a pattern of palette colors. One thing that's really helped is looking at the way other artists handle their colors. This week I've been studying pictures by John Singer Sargent, Nathan Fowkes, and Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi. Well, ok, lets be honest, I was procrastinating by looking at pictures on the internet instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing. But its for a good cause! I swear. Here are a few things I noticed: Big Shapes and Big Brushes First, Little Shapes and Little Brushes Sparingly : I think this is one of those things that everyone knows but forgets when they sit down in front of the computer. At least I know I do. It really struck me, however, when I saw some of Dice's work. Take a look at some of the color keys and environments he did for Pixar and Blue Sky. They're all painted in a big scratchy brush. There's no detail to speak of. There're can't be. There's so much noise from that brush that anything small would just be drowned out. But they certainly get the point across. No fidgety details needed. The hairy brush look is pretty unique to Dice if you look for the underlying concept you can see it at work in a lot of artists old and new. Have a look at Mike Yamada and Kevin Dart for example. They do the same thing, just with simple sharp-edged shapes.

Color Counterchange (low frequency, high amplitude) : I've talked about the importance of counterchange before so I won't get into it here. I bring it up mainly as an example of large, slow change to contrast it with the next point, which is:

Color Vibration (high frequency, low amplitude): This, I think, is one of the things that gives natural media such an advantage over digital because traditional painters get a lot of vibration and local variance in their colors for free. In digital its so easy to make large fields of pristine color or smooth gradations but natural looking noise is a challenge. This is what all those fancy texture brushes and scanned textures are making for you, but if you don't realize it and just use them haphazardly then you won't have control over the situation.

As an example take a look at some of Nathan Fowkes' work, especially his watercolor flowers. When there's something in the image he wants to really pop he'll throw down a brilliantly saturated base layer, and then brush his darker final colors over the top, letting the bright under and the dull over fight with each other.

This is a quick study from a photograph of the Missouri River that I used to play with some of these ideas.

Apocalyptic Legless Warrior Sings

A few of my fellow TAD students and I found some time in our busy schedules this spring to have a few weekend photoshop speed-painting sessions. We would come up with a simple theme and then spend an hour sketching something out. Here's one of my more successful attempts from back in March. The prompt was: "apocalyptic legless warrior sings".

 

I was playing with a few composition ideas about shape welding and massing that I got from James Gurney. It's got kind of a "Godfather goes to Rio" look to it that makes me laugh.

iPad Painting my Juice

One of the reasons I got an iPad was to use it for painting practice. The iPad isn't a cintiq. In fact it's kind of difficult to paint on. But I see so many people making beautiful things with it that I have no excuse for not trying. After all, constraints make you more creative. Right?

 

This is a painting of my half empty glass of cranberry juice. I LOVE cranberry juice. The glass is sitting on a little coaster that looks like a Persian rug, which is itself sitting on my wooden coffee table. I used an app called Procreate, which I like quite a bit.

 

Dreamtellers

For composition class this last fall one of our assignments was an image about "dreamtellers", which it was our task to define and then depict. I decided that a dreamteller must be like a bank teller at an institution that issues dreams, so I set about working out what that would look like.

I started out making thumbnails, of which I must have made over 60. I started to coalesce around the idea of a teller window inside a huge statue of an owl decorated with clocks and star charts and other items related to telling time. Here is a progression of thumbs from early stuff to what became the basis for the final illustration:

And some thumbs from near the end:

 

I wanted to give acrylics a try so I took some reference shots and started in on an underpainting:

Unfortunately the painting started to get overworked and the others suggested I try something different. I ended up working digitally using my thumbnail as an underpainting and layering in a bunch of textures and the photoshop brushes I'd been working on in painting class. Here's how things turned out:

The figures are not my favorite, but I had a ton of fun working out all the carvings and architecture.

Looking at this now with some distance from it there are a lot of little things where I don't know what I was thinking. Because we built up the compositions for this project over such a long time the work on this piece dragged out over several months, far longer than I've ever worked on a single piece before. I wonder now if this is a good lesson in objective distance. After you've been looking at something for ages it's hard to get a clear picture of what's really there. Stephen King in his On Writing book mentions that after he finishes the first draft of a story he put's it in a drawer for a while and doesn't look at it for a few weeks (or maybe it was even months). Only then does he take it back out and start editing. I can see where that is a useful practice.

Pareidolia for the Modern Painter

This is another cross post from our little collaborative project at Pixeldiggers. If you get a chance hop over there and see what everyone else is up to.

Pareidolia (that something like pear-e-DOLL-i-ya) is one of those big fancy doctor words that every artist should know. It refers to the phenomenon of seeing something meaningful in what is in reality completely random. Think: seeing a bunny in the clouds, or a man's face in the moon, or the disapproving face of the Viking God Woden in the scorch marks of your morning toast.

For most people pareidolia is little more than an interesting trick of the eye, but for an artist it's a fantastic way to generate ideas. If you've ever had the experience of sitting down to your instruments and thinking "I just don't know what to draw", pay close attention.

Pareidolia works because your brain is a pattern matching machine, especially for shapes that resemble faces. (If you're interested in how this works, I highly recommend Jeff Hawkins book On Intelligence)

It's so good in fact that when you give it something vague and formless to look at it can't help but interpret what you see as something it's not. This can happen by accident as in the examples above, but you can also provide your eyes with something random to look at on purpose and then coax an image out of the chaos.

As part of a digital painting assignment this last semester we tried this method out as an exercise. It was so much fun that I've used it a few times sense and I thought I would share a little about what I've learned so far.

Your first task is to make some kind of visual noise to work with. One approach, and the one we talked about in class, comes from Scott Robertson on his Gnomon Workshop DVD, Creating Unique Environments. Scott uses large greyscale markers to make interesting organic shapes on a dozen or so sheets of paper, then scans them into photoshop layers where he overlays and blends them with different blending modes until he sees something interesting.

Another approach, this one from Chris Oatley, is to take a random photo from the web and then zoom WAAAAAAY into small sections of it looking for something interesting.

For my first attempt I dug through my art drawer and pulled out every used up charcoal stump and mislaid tube of paint and spent about an hour randomly smearing things on different scraps of paper. Then I scanned them all into layers of a single photoshop file at very high resolution (600 dpi). Then I spent about an hour zooming in to different portions looking for interesting shapes. Here's one of about 6 sets I came up with:

The first thing I realized after doing this is that not all random stimulus is created equal. I had a lot of trouble finding interesting shapes, but on Scott's DVD he picks them out one after the other. The reason is that even though the shapes he was making were random they all had organic structural shapes, so when he went looking for landscapes and buildings the building blocks were there.

Still, I did find some fun things. I especially liked that one on the bottom left so I opened it in a new documents and started laying things over it, painting into it, running filters against it, and after about an hour came up with this:

And then this:

It's nowhere near finished, but it's certainly a good start on something.

That first session was so much fun I thought I I would give Chris's technique a try, so I zoomed way in on a section of that painting, then started layering, cropping, and painting again. Here's the result of that:

So you can see how things can change quite drastically.

One thing that was bugging me about this process was that the results were so random. I wanted to see if I could control things a little more. This next time before I started working I thought about the kind of image I wanted to create. I've been looking at a lot of ink work lately, people like Mike Mignola, Ale Carloni, Alex Toth, and Francis Vallejo so I thought this might be an interesting target to aim for. I also had just finished watching China Town, a really fantastic Film Noir, and I had the idea of those 1920's cars with the giant headlights in my mind.

I got out my bottle of ink, some bristol board scraps, and some masking tape. I put strips of tape down at random on the paper and then made a mess with the ink. Heres a scan of some of the results:

So just like before I scanned these into the computer at high rez, but this time instead of zooming and layering, I used the lasso tool to cut out random shapes which I pasted into a new file. Then I started moving the shapes around like puzzle pieces until something started to emerge.

After a few hours of moving and only a little bit of painting, here's what I got:

Other than some of the fine details like the face, the car's grill, and the skull emblem on the door, everything here was pieced together like a collage with only a minimum of straight painting. Here's the final version:

I'm still not confident that I have a good handle on steering this process where I want it to go, but I think that's probably part of how it works. It does seem that you can at least point things in a general direction by the sort of raw materials you put in at the beginning.

If nothing else, it's an interesting exercise in composition and visual metaphor and a good way to hone your skills in identifying both.