Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sketchbook - The Reckoning

I started a new sketchbook this year - I am going with the smaller "moleskine" sketchbook with the thick paper.

I had a bunch of these lying around from back when I worked at Big Huge Games/38 Studios. To commemorate the launch of "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" they had moleskines printed up for with the Reckoning "swirl" pattern on it that I designed.... everyone at 38 Studios / Big Huge Games got one but they had a bunch of extras so when the company went belly-up I grabbed a few more.

Thing was, I really didn't like working on the moleskine back then, I was still into my larger, 9x12, ring-bound Canson sketchbooks. My hesitation was the smaller surface area, but I decided to force myself to try it for more than one page because the issue with the larger sketchbook is the portability and awkwardness of it. I want to be able to have my sketchbook with me ALWAYS (A.B.Y.S.S. - "Always Bring Your Sketchbook, Stupid").

Another thing I did to realize this goal was I used velcro to be able to attach my pencil, my erasers, and my iPhone. I can even stick a kneaded eraser onto the velcro.

Anyways, I think it's working out - I find myself sketching in my sketchbook way more than I used to and I really like the sketches I have been doing.

Doing this also made me realize that we can be stubborn sometimes as artists. We get used to working a certain way, with certain materials, but the truth is if you just give something a chance, let it run it's course instead of instantly saying: "I don't like this, it doesn't feel like I expect it to", you may find that you can adapt to a new way of working and solve other issues that the old way was holding you back from. 

Eventually, these sketches will be included in my second volume of a published collection of sketches. In the meantime, you can purchase my FIRST collection of sketches here, on my Etsy site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/seanandrewmurray


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wisdom of the Journey

In addition to writing about my own Artist’s Journey, I read about others. I think most artists know about The Art OrderGurney Journey, and Muddy Colors. Two blogs I check just as often that you might not know about are the blogs of Randy Gallegos andSteven Belledin. I enjoy Randy and Steven’s blogs for their practical advice, and to read the exploits of working illustrators. If you don’t already, take a few minutes and check them out.
In one of Randy’s posts he talked about the value of wisdom and strategy as compared to his earlier post on tips and techniques. He brought up the excellent point that illustrators very freely discuss the techniques they use to make art, but do not as often discuss the wisdom of how to handle the business side of being an illustrator.
His post got me thinking about both the technical advice and tidbits of wisdom I’ve received in various portfolio reviews throughout the past three years. As you can see by my numerous posts on technique, I’ve shared quite a bit about what I’ve learned on that front, but just as Randy expressed I’ve talked less about the sage advice I’ve received.
I’ve decided to rectify that, starting now…
Back at Gen Con 2009 I was at a pivotal moment in my art development. My portfolio was completely digital, the majority of the work I had done up to that point was digital, but ever since the first IlluXCon in 2008 I had a strong interest in going traditional. While getting a portfolio review from Randy Gallegos, I explained that I had started doing all my preliminary drawings traditionally, but did the color digitally. I also expressed that I was struggling with digital art, but that since “everyone” else was doing digital, I felt I needed to as well.
Randy then dispensed a little bit of wisdom that changed how I viewed my career and how I viewed art in general. He said, “There is no retirement pension in the illustration field. Do what you love, or do something else. The only reason to put up with all the other hassles of being an illustrator is to get to do exactly what you enjoy most. If you enjoy working on the computer go digital; if you enjoy traditional techniques get out the brushes.”
At first I didn’t realize the value of what Randy had just laid out for me, but as time went on, I kept coming back to his comment again and again. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I liked digital art OK, but I really loved to make physical art. I’ve been drawing my whole life, and by working in the computer I was going against a lifetime of training.
When I started looking around at my favorite artists I realized that they were mostly traditional artists. In my attempt to become what I thought I was “supposed” to be I failed to see that my heroes worked in paint not pixel. I slowly began to work less and less digitally, and more and more traditionally, and my work has been all the better for it.
Randy’s lesson falls right in line with my slogan, “Strange Like Sam Flegal.” Throughout my life I have tried at various times to be “normal,” or follow what others were doing. This has always led me down an unhappy or unproductive road. On the other hand when I followed my core self, and did things my own way, even if that way seemed a little strange, I have always met with happiness and success.
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal

Vended Fine Art

Artists, stop painting! All your art needs can now be handled by a vending machine.
That’s right, artists are now obsolete!
While touring Rock City with my family I came across this gem and had to share. My wife and I laughed for a long time about the Art-o-Mat. I hope you like it, too.
Remember, the sale of art to minors is NOT forbidden by law!
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal

The Most Important Question an Artist Can Ask

Recently fellow illustrator Beth Sobel posted a question to an illustration group I’m a part of (more on that in a later post) that got me thinking. Her question was simple: “What are your goals with illustration?”
At a glance this may seem like an easy question, but in my opinion the question and its answer is the MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION AN ARTIST CAN ASK!!!
In a broader sense this is true for everyone. The basic question is “What are your goals?” I’ve been reading a lot of books written about and by successful people. The one trend that connects them all is that successful people have goals and they take efforts to complete them. Similarly, to be a successful artist you need goals.
Here are some goal-based examples from my own life:
When I changed my life back in 2008 and decided I wanted to be an illustrator, I set the goal that “I wanted to contribute to the financial gain of my family with art and illustration.” By the end of 2009 I had reached this goal. I then set a goal to “make art and illustration my full time job.” In March 2010 I switched to doing art and conventions full time.
I even went the extra mile and made a poster with my goals on it. I posted it next to the mirror in my bathroom, above my dresser and in my studio. I got so used to seeing it and reading it every day that it just became a part of my life. One day I was reading it and realized I had met the goal 6 months earlier!
My goal now is to craft each painting to a level of finish beyond what I am currently capable (pushing a little further with each piece), to expand my business by adding more clients (both companies and private collectors) and retaining the current clients that I have, and to be a major name in illustration within the next 5-10 years. As a secondary goal along the way I want to teach and inspire others that are below the level of skill I am at currently.
So…What are your goals?
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal

Painting Process – Odin’s Secrets

The process for Odin’s Secrets was a long one. This was a personal project, so I didn’t have any deadlines. On one hand, this is great because you can constantly refine, but on the other, sometimes the only way you know you’re done with a painting is because you have to meet a deadline. Regardless, I am happy with the result so all’s well that ends well.
It all started with a scribble in my sketchbook. I’d been wanting to do an Odin piece for a while, and I was searching for what to do. As I read the Prose Edda I came across a line about Odin consulting Mimir’s head for knowledge. This got the creative wheels turning, and I started to doodle.
I refined my doodle digitally using Photoshop. Another aspect of Odin is that he is the Hangmen’s God or God of the Gallows. I had the idea of a tree with lots of hanged men in the background.
I showed the sketch to some friends and I was reminded that if a piece is going to be a portrait and focus on a single figure, then I should crop in closer on the figure. For this reason I dropped the hangmen tree in favor of a single large tree.
From there I shot reference and did a more refined sketch.
I then printed the sketch out lightly on tan paper and did a tonal drawing.
At this point I sent the sketch off to my friends for critique. The comments I got were telling. Why do both Odin and Mimir have their mouths open? Makes them seem like they are singing. With everyone looking off the page in the same direction it makes the viewer wonder what the heck is happening over there? I was then given some good suggestions on how to fix the piece.
Ultimately as I thought about the changes, I kept coming back to another nagging feeling. I was not happy with Odin’s face and Mimir’s head looked too alive. I did a quick digital sketch over, but it still wasn’t quite working.
So I decided to start over with a doodle in my sketchbook.
Immediately I was MUCH happier. Odin’s face had life and Mimir looked dead. And so the process started again.
I refined the sketch.
I re-shot reference and did a tonal drawing. In the background I nixed the big tree all together in favor of a winter forest scene.
I then printed the tonal drawing out on large 18″ x 24″ paper, mounted the paper on hardboard, and started to paint.
I don’t often take progress shots, but this time I did. You can see the gray areas where the drawing still shows through without paint.
At this time something GREAT happened—I got a lot of work. So I set Odin aside and started working on paying projects. I had quite a few lined up…
…but then I had a dream. In my dream Odin appeared to me and told me that I should set aside my other projects and finish his commission; that his painting was more important than the others, and I needed to get back to work.
As I had several deadlines I couldn’t immediately obey Old One Eye, but I did find a way to insert Odin’s painting in the mix and managed to finish it in between several deadlines.
Odin's Secrets © Sam Flegal 2013
The final is an oil painting measuring 18″ x 24″. After finishing it I got a big response from fans and art lovers that the painting was well liked. So I did a Kickstarter and it was very successful! I guess Odin knew what he was talking about after all. ;)
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal

Going from Drawing to Painting

I often tell aspiring artists, “If you can draw you can paint.” I’ve also shown numerous drawings and how they turn into paintings. (Most recently HERE and HERE.) That said, many artists still feel a great deal of fear when moving from black and white into color. This post is an attempt to help relieve that fear.
Tip # 1 – Make Awesome Drawings
The first thing I cannot stress enough is make sure your drawing is awesome. The better your drawing, the easier it will be to paint. For most artists this means doing lots of thumbnails, sketching, and using reference to get everything just right.
Tip #2 – Transfer the Drawing
I learned this the hard way. Save your original drawings! Scan them in and then have them printed out to transfer onto your board. If you feel you need a more detailed demonstration of transferring the drawing then check out the tips and techniques section of Donato Giancola’s website.
Additionally I HIGHLY recommend Donato’s DVD The Mechanic. It explains this whole process in great detail.
Tip #3 – Start Thin
If you work in Acrylic, use lots of water. If you work in Oil, use lots of OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits). Keep the paint thin, and start blocking in the basic color structure. If you’re really nervous then do a color study either digitally or on a small print out of your drawing. I personally don’t do this. I establish my values in the drawing, and have a general idea of my color and just go for it, but there is no harm in being a little cautious as you build color confidence.
Once you’ve established your color structure you should be able to step back and see the finished painting. Upon close inspection it won’t look done, but from way back you should be able to imagine its finish.
Tip #4 – Get To Work
At this point there’s not a lot more tips; you can keep working thin or start establishing opaques. The main thing is that because there is a base color on everything, you now have something to react to. It’s all about pushing and pulling and reacting warm to cool colors. Mix paint, try it out, and then put it on the painting. If it doesn’t look right, wipe it out, mix again, etc…
Tip #5 – The Best Way to Learn is to Do!
I got this tip from Steven Belledin back when I was first transitioning into oil painting. The best way to learn how to paint is to paint. Your first paintings are probably going to suck. Mine did, so do most artists. Because you’re not painting over the top over your drawings you’ve got nothing to lose. At least you’ll have some sweet drawings!
…And in time some sweet paintings, too. So much of art is learning what you like and what works for you. So get to work!
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal
Odin's Secrets © Sam Flegal 2013

Mixing it Up

While at the Illustration Master Class I had numerous people stop by and comment on how cool my pallet was. A lot of the artists worked digitally so the mystique of paint appealed to them. I look at my pallet almost every day, so I never gave it much thought, but now I will.
Also while at IMC I got a great tip on two new colors from Donato Giancola: Davy’s Gray (Old Holland) and Mars Violet (Holbine). It’s important to get the right brand because each company makes their colors in a different way. In the past I’d tried an off-brand Davy’s Gray and I hated it. Yesterday I picked up Old Holland’s Davy’s Gray and loved it. Thanks Donato!
So what makes these colors neat? Let’s start with Davy’s Gray. Davy’s Gray is a greenish gray so it reacts strongly to blue and yellow. In the picture below I mixed in Yellow Ochre to shift the color to green, and Titanium white to lighten the color. I love the murky greenish blue grey that happens when you mix in the titanium white.
As for Mars Violet it is a lovely warm red that’s not too strong in chroma, but the really neat thing is that when you add Titanium White the color shift to a cool red gray! It’s almost like getting to colors for the price of one! Because of this if you mix warm colors with Mars Violet it stays warm, but when you add cool colors it shifts quickly to cool. Normally getting reds to shift to cool requires a lot of mixing. You can see below where I added Yellow Orche and Cerulean Blue.
The pallet above was used in my Freyr's Last Stand painting.
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal