Sometimes, I blog things for my own reference. Hopefully you will find these links useful as well:

Athletic Body Diversity
Blog post by Nina Matsumoto reminding us to make interesting body types.

Make Lots of Whatever
Teeshirt artist Jimiyo blogs some opinions on working. Advice: Work Hard.

Inking With Andrew Hussie
You may not have known it from MSPA, but AH can make some awesome lines.

Concept Ships
Look at all those space ships. Seriously. Look at them.

Movie Screencaps: leavemethewhite.com
Did you forget how cool movies look? If you did, heres some screen caps.

Horror Movie Posters


Controlling Photoshop: Custom Brushes!

Downloading new brushes is a fun and easy way to have some fun with Photoshop, and defining them yourself is quick and easy. Getting a handle on the many options you have will enable you to take any brush and bend it to your will.

I'll link to a few custom brush sets on Deviant Art that I enjoy at the end of the entry, but first lets walk through the brushes panel:


This panel has a slew of options that you can play with when you are painting. While this isn't as strait forward as a program like painter, you can still achieve great effects. Mixing these up can turn a very simple shape thats defined as a brush into a painterly and layered stroke.

Here's a visualization of these options:

As you can see, these options can have drastic effects on a very simple brush.

Those basic options are just the start of your brush making adventures. Mess with the sliders and and options on your brushes to get new effects when you are bored. If you find something you like, be sure to click the little locks next to the presets so PS remembers your adjustments. 

The brush that may stick out from that pack is the textured brush. Defining patterns in photoshop is great for experimenting, you can fill canvases for a quick more interesting base to work on, or you can apply them to brushes like the one above. 

To make a textures brush, the first thing you need are patterns. Heres an old image I made for making seamless tiles:

While the tiles here are small, you can use this method on a square of any size. Just make sure you properly divide the canvas in half horizontally and vertically for the offset. It will probably be worth your while to make patterns as high res as you can, for use in print-ready work.

After you make a seamless tile go to Edit>Define Pattern, once it is saved you will be able to apply it to your brush. For me, these are the most important settings for the texture of the brush:

If you have a texture that you want to be clear and never muddied into a solid, be sure that "Texture Each Tip" is off. 

One last little chart, This one is for Color Dynamics. Its a difficult setting to control and use, but it does some interesting things, its nice if you feel like your strokes could use a speckle of color. 

Fade is a nice way to add a gradient to a stroke of the brush, so its a great thing to know about and play with. 

I hope these little charts are helpful reference. As promised here are some of my favorite brushsets:

If there are some great brushes you've stumbled across on the internet, Please comment! 


Trying to get a better handle on soft brushes, I'm usually very heavy handed with the hard edges


Semi useful Distractions, Google Art Project!

When I was at school, we had access to ArtStor. Unfortunately once you are off campus, you loose the means get to that huge library of art. But as you may have seen all over the internet, Google might fill the gap with The Google Art Project. It utilizes the same principals of art store, enabling you to zoom in down to the cracks in the paint. If you ever wanted to try doing a little digital master painting in your free time, This might be a good place to start.

I have a few other links. My homepage on tumblr is an ADHD bonanza of puppie gifs, pictures of food, people in various states of undress, random artists who doodle pokemon, and of course artistic inspiration. my favorite are Fuck Yeah Victorians and Fuck Yeah High Quality Pics. Tumblr is great for assaulting your eyes with visual information. Delicious overload. 


Kevin O'Neill, Part 2: Simplifying and Dynamics!

Kevin O'Neill's advice spans more than just the intense focus and attention to detail he has for light, as was covered in the last blog.

Once again, All of the following quotes were written by Kevin, as advice to fellow forumers.  I've tried to order his images into a little mini lesson. His original posts are linked at the bottom each quote, and I recommend checking out his original

Cartoons are fun! 

Yes, they are! But this collection of crits isn't just about cartoons, simplification and design apply to all sorts of illustration and art styles. Sometimes artists get caught up in how complicated things seem, and overload on details without knowing the underlaying structure of what they are working on. Of course, anatomy is generally where this comes out, but this applies to everything: environments, still lives, every composition you make will have some core elements that can be broken down. Here, Kevin starts with design on a portrait:

Below is a portrait by Jeremy Lipking. I've reduced the portrait down to 3 flat values, in order to demonstrate how the picture is designed. It is designed very clearly, that the side plane of the head is clearly lit, and the front plane is in shadow. The bottom planes of the nose, lips, and jaw are dark to show the form. The hair and the blue background are given darker values in order to frame and provide contrast to the face. The eye is reduced to a simple dark shape- he could have made the whites of the eyes white, but doing so would have been unrealistic and led to a garish, overly contrasty effect in that area.

It's a very simple, but very effective setup. It's well designed.
 Now, I went and repeated the process on one of your paintings. As a result of the straight-on lighting, strange things start to happen when reduced down. The lips disappear. The nose seems to be lit from both the front and the bottom. Creases in the cheek get overemphasized, the distinction between neck and jaw gets lost. 
Now, it's one thing to blame the photo, but sometimes (for whatever reason) you can't get a really good shot of your subject, and you have to work with it. What do you do? Well, in a scenario like the one above, it means looking at the problems presented when reduced down, and working around them. For example, the creases in the left cheek- if you make a decision to play the individual creases down, and play up the broader grey area on that cheek as a whole, you take away attention from the weirdness of individual features, and bring more attention to the head's form as a whole. Similarly, you could invent a shadow under the jaw to emphasize the head, similar to the Lipking- or any number of things that could improve the overall read.
What I might suggest as an exercise is to put away the photoref for awhile, and instead paint some copies of master paintings, as best you can. Doing this with an eye towards what design choices the artist makes-what they put in, what they leave out, what lighting they choose, etc. will help you more quickly figure out what's possible and what's effective in paint, rather than assuming trying to do what a camera does in paint is the only and best choice (it's not). Then when you go back to working from photos, that extra understanding will help a lot in determining your choice of photo, and what you choose to do with that photo. 

Here is the same basic concept, but applied to composition.
your best bet on learning composition is simply to look at picutres and try to figure out why the artist has composed the picture as he has. Probably the easiest place to start is with screenshots of films by all-time great directors: Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Welles, Leone, Kubrick, Coppola, Ridley Scott, Speilberg, etc. When you strip out all the details, usually it becomes very clear where your eye is supposed to go. In the Shining and the Yojimbo shots down there, it's as simple as just basically putting an arrow towards what's important. The hallway makes an arrow towards the girls, the opposing mobs create an arrow towards the lookout post where the main character is observing from.
(OP goes into much more detail about composition in general, and is a good read)

In the above examples, simplifying mainly helps you see where the focus of the viewer should be, taking a complex looking image and breaking it down to its basic building blocks. When this information starts to translate into comics and cartoons, we start talking about line of action, following curves, and silhouettes. The concepts are similar, but it is easier to see the effects of making strong design choices on iconic characters

Bob Flynn's famous characters silhouettes
Here, you can see how much of the characters essence is captured in just the simple shapes that make them up. Starting with a silhouette can help you assess if you are overloading a character with details with out an interesting foundation. 

Applying the silhouette method to both the character design and the image composition can be a great way to refresh your view of a comic panel. As Kevin shows here:
Original Panel, top left. Kevin's draw-over, top right. Bottom row, both drawings silhouetted to compare.

Details can also be streamlined to soften characters. We can see that design choices are not the same as raw technical knowledge about anatomy and light, 
The basic thing is that you appear to have a difficult time knowing when to simplify things for a stronger statement- not in the sense of making it more cartoony or less realistic, but being able to effectively emphasize that which strengthens the overall read, and de-emphasize that which hinders it. 
A good place to see what I'm on about it how you're drawing your women, since drawing women effectively- especially ones that are supposed to look fairly attractive- relies a lot on being able to pare things down in a flattering way. For example, in the two examples below you've put very hard edges indicating planar changes in the face- which is fine on an Asaro head, but not so great for drawing an attractive woman's head. Playing up the planar changes with hard edges will tend to age and make the woman look more masculine. By either softening the edges significantly, or eliminating them entirely, you'll end up with a much more feminine look. Look at some vintage black and white Hollywood actress photos sometime- you'd be hard pressed to find one where you'll find a lot of hard edged halftones. 
This goes for the body as well- I can see exactly what you're trying to do with all the detail you've added to the second drawing- you want to show the scapula edging over the back, you want to show the deltoid and the biceps and the triceps and how the muscles of the forearm insert above the elbow, you want to show how the fabric is wrapping around the body- but all of these things are overemphasized, and getting in the way of the broader statement: attractive young woman, wearing a dress, proffering her hand. Drawing that means simple, graceful curves, not lots of anatomical detail. 

This process of breaking things down also helps you see how well your characters are posed, and if they are efficiently telling the viewer what is happening. Movement and action are generally better conveyed buy smooth curves and unbroken lines. Kevin emphasizes how anatomy should aid this process and not over ride it:
 I feel like the read of a body part or a pose is being sacrificed for the sake making sure the audience knows that you know your anatomy. Don't get me wrong, knowing anatomy is great, but it's not the end-all be-all that people make it out to be, and drawing as if it is is going to lead to problems.
 I'm not sure if I know how to articulate this point all that clearly, but I feel like you tend to design your bodies as stick figures, with purely straight lines in between joints, and then expanding out some spherical-type muscles outwards from those lines. It achieves a certain sense of volume, yes- but this by itself tends to draw the eye outwards from a form, rather than down the main flow of a form. One of Erik's demos shows pretty well how to start with a sense of simple flow. These are ultra-simple quick sketches, yeah- but look at how he's designing the limbs there- not as a mass of muscles and bones, but as very simple curves and straights- establishing the flow that all subsequent anatomical detail will be subservient to, making sure the strength of the action will be preserved down the line. This isn't the only way to draw gesture, but I bring it up because understanding the principle behind it will help prevent your figures from becoming disjointed feeling. 
Exploring this concept further, we can see how posing can effect a picture overall

Here Kevin's images here are pretty self explanatory. By removing complications, it is easy to find lines that follow through the characters, helping distribute weight and define an action. 

I think this blog has become long enough. Thanks to Kevin for letting me cherry pick through his critiques and construct these two posts! Hopefully we can convince him to sit down and write some more general tutorials on specific topics. If you have any ideas for something, please comment! 

If you'd like to look through his crits and other links we pass around to each other on the forum, please check out this huge post http://forums.penny-arcade.com/showpost.php?p=12465355&postcount=1 There are many links to excellent books, posts, online tutorials and videos there. 


Kevin O'Neill, Part 1: Painting and light.

Forums are a fantastic place to find communities of artists supporting each other. There are many spread across the internet, I happen to post on a relatively little one, The PA:AC. The forum is heavily based on critique and has a small core group of active posters, making for a personal atmosphere that discourages artists to just showcase art and run.  

Kevin O'Neill keeps the mood alive. Artist and moderator, he has provided  a massive amount of helpful and pointed critiques. The following quotes are from forum posts which I will do my best to contextualize and edit down, Click the link under each to go to the original forum posts.

I highly suggest reading the accompanying quotes, but my goal is that by scrolling through, you will see a progression in the lessons Kevin has to offer. This post will be long, but you can always bookmark it and come back!  

What Does Light have to do with Painting? 

Practically everything. Light can make the mood, the forms, and the composition. It can tell you how to color, what colors to pick, and why. If you are jumping into painting, digital or other wise, having some base knowledge of light will go a long way to making believable and interesting images.

One of the better, and simple explanations of light is the section in the Itchstudios tutorial, a staple of internet tutorials. 

We can start with bacons critiques of one of my own images, just to illustrate the difference between line and painting with light:
My original image is the 3rd image, when I was still playing wow freshman year in school. The other three are quick paint overs by Kevin. He pointed out some questions about the style:

I guess what I'd say is that I kind of (and this is just a personal opinion, right?) would like to see a stronger commitment either to the line-based style, or to a more painterly, light-based style. Right now it kind of hovers in between, without gaining the full benefits from either.  
What bugs me about the current state of your work is that the combination isn't quite bold enough that it read immediately as a coherent style, but rather something vascillating between two different styles.  
Original Post 
When I got that crit, I actually went the flatter, line based direction for a while. I think the advice is still sinking in. Now that I'm getting back into painting, I'm starting to pay more attention to light in general. Here Kevin breaks down how to simplify light.

Understanding how the tone changes as the form turns away from the light is essential to creating convincing form. This requires more than simply assuming a tonal value based on the distance from the light, or distance from the nearest edge, but a thorough understanding of how the object is constructed as a three-dimensional object.

Of course, looking at light in a planar manner is only the first step. Moving on from that are hard and soft edges:

Expanding on that a bit, you may want to try doing a 2-tone value study when starting out, just to force yourself to pay attention to your edgework, without getting caught up in the full value range from the get go. Just stick to a white and a flat medium grey, and use the fluctuations of edge quality to get the form to read. Think Mike Mignola inks if he airbrushed a few edges to soften and roll the form. I did some photoshop levels magic to strip down a lot of your values and tried it on your head here.
While your edges are generally fairly soft, you can see from my breakdown where I'm making them hard on drastic changes in plane, like the top of the tip, and on cast shadows. More rounded areas, like the cheek, are made softer. Watch how some edges start hard and then soften as they go along, not staying with one edge type along its length.  
A closer example of this:
Original Posters on the left, Kevin's example on the right. 
In the original, the edges are getting confused with each other- the edge of the cast shadow of the glasses is the same firmness as the form shadow of the cheek, the bottom edge of the cast shadow of the cookie flows into the the form shadow of the chin. Also, edges of the form shadow of the face are not consistent with each other, making them two distinct 2-d areas, rather than one area broken by a cast shadow.

When applying edges try to think about what the purpose of that edge is. If you look at mine, the form shadow edge is defined by one simple soft edge. The cast shadows are a crisp edge. As a result, the form appears continuous and solid, rather than two-dimensional. You can tell where the cast shadow of the glasses (crisp) meets the form edge of the face (soft), purely by the change in edge quality. 

It's easy when working from photoref to get caught up in rendering every piece separately, rather than putting your effort into figuring out how the form functions. The ambiguity of form and often unclear edge definition in anything but very good photoref makes putting conscious effort into how you design your edges essential, if you want to get a clear read of form. You need to make the form more clear and more understandable than the photograph.

This is a big part of the reason that it is often very obvious when people are working from photoref and not from life- simply replicating 2d shapes, rather than presenting a coherent representation of the 3d form.

Simplifying your light and properly noting your edges can help you quickly lay out a painting, here Kevin goes into the details of over detailing.
original posters on the right

I think you're running into a lot of problems as a result of trying to work out the drawing's structure and the painting at the same time, which is leading to an overemphasis on details, and too little emphasis on the light. For example, in trying to work out the folds of cloth, you've made each fold extremely contrasty and very much its own sort of object, rather than being subservient to the broader, overall forms- the block of the torso, the cylinders that make up the arms, etc. 

It's also leading to you forgetting things like the broad brim of the hat casting a shadow on the coat, the coat casting a shadow on the feet. 

I also suspect that while you're trying to design this character, you're trying to figure out the local colors- 'oh this is white, this is blue', so you stick those colors in- but when you think about the light and where it's coming form, those colors would be stuck into shadow or effected far more by the light's color than the local color, so it ends up looking out of place, and unrealistic.

I did a quick paintover here, but look at what I did with it- it looks more realistic and solid, but how I got there was stripping away and simplifying detail, not adding it. To be sure, in a more finished illustration, there would be more detail, but being able to figure out this broad, overall read is what will make the subsequent additional details hold up.
  Some step by step build up. These are rather self explanatory, but the original posts are still linked, if you'd like to see the images in context.

I think the best examples of light and mood come in his environment critiques. 

Original posters image is the top left. 
Darkness combined with bright, local manmade light sources means high-contrast, which isn't coming across here. That means you have to pay a good deal of attention to where light would be coming from in a real environment- in a place like a hospital where someone may be pulled up outside the front doors bleeding to death, there's going to be a lot of light so the emergency crews aren't screwing around in the dark. Entrances in general are likely to be lit up so they are easy to find, and general safety. Streetlamps are going to be on the sidewalks. Moonlight isn't consistent or bright enough to provide a significantly usable amount of light in a modern city, so don't rely on it in a painting of a city either.

So I threw together a paintover to add those light sources, and bring the areas that wouldn't be lit down to a more appropriate level. Note how the colors of the light sources are handled: yellow/orange safety safety light, dingy orange for the off screen streetlamps, green/blue glow of the entrance florescents.

Compositionally, the added lighting of the entrance, the color contrast of the area with the rest of the picture, and the addition of some space to the right to make the entrance more centrally placed makes it clear what the most important part of the piece is. In the original, it's difficult to tell what is meant to be the focus of the piece, which ends up giving it a rather dull, monotonous read. 

It isn't enough to simply draw the objects you want in a piece, it is necessary to establish a hierarchy of what is important and what is not in a piece through value, color, and composition. 

Up next, we can see some of the benefits of how a quick change of light can effect the mood and focus of the piece. 
Original Posters image on the right.
I would suspect it's mostly the lighting that's the biggest problem here, since it seems to just feel like this drab green-blue wash over everything. All the textures and models are great, but the lighting isn't serving to separate what's important to the scene/player from what isn't.

Given, there's limits to what you can do with light, and Maya's viewport rendering is never going to give you the lighting results you really want simply because it's not a game/movie quality renderer, but the point stands. If you can, try lighting the scene without an ambient light (or at least, have it set to emit a very,very low level of light), using directional lights for primary lighting and broad fills, and spotlights for focused areas- you can get a lot more subtle, effectively contrasting lighting this way. (This may be problematic for same game engines like Doom3 where all lighting is done in real time, but not for a good portion of them that bake lighting anyway (Quake/Source/Unreal). I believe you can also bake the lighting into texture in Maya for nicer real-time rendering than you'd get in the viewport normally.

What you might want to do is do a screengrab and do a quick paintover of what you've got in order to figure out where your focus is; ideally, you'd have a good piece of concept art to go by from the get go, but doing this mid-stream can save you some time if you just find yourself noodling around for direction. Did an example to try to center the focus around the big central crystal- maybe not the mood you're going for, but with something like this in hand, I'd have a pretty clear idea of how I'd want to set up my lights.

I believe this post is long enough, so I will leave it at that. I hope this information finds people outside of our little community and inspires them.


Its actually difficult to do a steady stream of one-off drawings and get things that really have a functional place in a portfolio. Because of this, I'm making up a game. Soon, the relationship will make sense, until then, you will just have to wonder what this book has to do with this girl: