Oct 21, 2014

On Comics

I've always had a hot and cold love affair with comics over the span of my life.
I was big into superheroes when I was quite young, dressing up like Batman, the Incredible Hulk, Spidey... Then in my early and mid-teens, most Saturdays would include me taking a train into Melbourne city to visit comic shops and spend waaaay too much money in them. I always took spare bags and boards to put the comics straight into after the comics were purchased and my collection reached into the thousands.
I still have fond memories of those trips into town. The annoying walk from home to Blackburn Station. The anticipation of what I would find while on the train, looking at the eastern suburbs of Melbourne as they flew by. The eagerness to be there already as the seemingly endless escalator at Parliament Station rose in front of me. Sitting at the bottom of the stairs at the old Bourke street Minotaur shop, securing my comics with a sigh of contentment.
Then I kinda lost interest in comics in general after my teens. I still picked up the odd book, and anything by Bart Sears was eagerly snapped up. But I just didn't have that same love of them that I once did. I never completely lost the love, but I think I just found other things (faerie and fantasy art) more appealing in my twenties and the first half of my thirties.

Today, not a huge amount has changed. I still like the idea of comics, and do pick the odd book up, but there's no use denying that my tastes have permanently changed. I'm no longer a comics reader.

But the strange thing is, my future artistic pursuits directly involve comics.
As I've mentioned a few times recently, I've been wanting to get back to that comic I created a few years ago, called The Circle. The more I've noodled with the story and the characters in my mind, the more I really like the project and what it represents. Because, to me, it encapsulates all of the things I love to draw and write about: fantasy, faerie and comics.
I recently heard a bit of advice attributed to the wonderful artist, Rebecca Guay, of whom I used to collect the Magic cards she illustrated back in the day. To paraphrase, she basically said that for an artist who may be encountering difficulty with conflicting influences and tastes (ie. me!), they should pick their three top favourite artists/disciplines/media/genres and just treat them as their desert island choices. By this I think she means that an artist that is having trouble deciding in which direction to go, may need to make an ultimatum and just stick to it.
Bloody good advice, that. And like all good advice, it is startlingly obvious once you know it.
I made my choice on my own artistic direction last year. Implementing it has been the sticky bit.

But I'm seriously working on it. Now that I've closed the doors on commissions for a little while, I've been able to get back to some of my personal projects. Numero uno is The Circle. Numbers 2 through infinity are also The Circle. There is The Circle. There is nothing else.

I had it all mapped out with how I want to get The Circle done. It all started with this year's 24-hour Comic Day. Regular visitors may recall that I made a children's book called Klogg the Troll back in the 2012 24-hour Comic Day. Well, this year, I came armed with serious intent to do a The Circle comic.
Of course, I failed miserably.

As I tend not to exactly follow the rules tied to these sorts of events, I came armed with an already written story, including page plot breakdowns (in text, not rough drawings) and a lot of the panel layouts already in my head.
I also had a fairly clear idea of how I wanted to draw the comic. I was thinking of a nice and simple style, kinda cartoony (but not really), with some rich blacks and limited detail.
Of course, it didn't take very long for those plans to going flying out the window and for me to end up with work like this-
I can barely stand to look at this stuff. It is sooo not what I intended and there's some terrible work in there.
So the 24-hour Comic Day was a total bust. I basically came out of it with nothing usable. You can hear me talk in more depth about all of this in the upcoming third episode of The Gord & Jay Talk Art Podcast.

The experience DID strengthen my resolve to do this story and to do it well, though. So it's going to be back to the drawing board with a healthy dose of development before I even attempt another page of it again. So stay tuned for lots of character studies and such in the near future. As a taster/teaser, here's the old rendition of the character Wildling, now in colour!!!!

And while we're on the topic of comics, I thought I might list my Top 5 all-time favourite comics, as it's been a while since I've done something like this... so here they are:

1. Brute's & Babes: Mael's Rage. Just an awesome comic in every way.
2. Slaine: The Horned God. Has it all, really.
3. WildC.A.T.S v X-Men: The Golden Age. Painfully good.
4. Amazing Spider-Man #347. A great self-contained single issue.
5. Dota 2: The Secret Shop. Gods, I love it!

Good Journey (still going)

Oct 18, 2014

Podcasting and technical nightmares

It's been busy times here at RoF HQ lately. I've had the past week off from work (the last one until February, sob), so I've been hard at the drawing board getting projects complete and setting up the next ones.
But the big thing has been the recording, editing and release of the very first 'Gord and Jay Talk Art Podcast.' Gord and I have managed to spread ourselves all over the interwebosphere to promote the podcast. You'll be able to find us on Facebook, iTunes and a new blog specifically created for the podcast, and on that very blog you will find all of the pertinent links and information. So instead of me putting up all of the links here as well, why don't you pop on over to the blog right here.
This is Gord's design that we went with for our logo.
Awesome, isn't it?
So we're pretty pleased with how it came out. Granted, the audio isn't super crisp, and there's a delay on Gord's voice that I couldn't work out how to fix. I think we've made a solid start. There's plenty of room for improvement of course, but that's all part of it.

Let me tell you, though, they don't make it easy, those nerdy folks. Trying to work out stuff like RSS feeds and how to get iTunes to acknowledge that feed nearly made my poor artists brain go flop-bot. Seriously, I'm not awful with technology, but I felt like a stubborn 90 year-old grandpa being forced to work out email for the first time with this stuff.
And the worst things is, I'm relatively certain I haven't done it right anyway. The first episode of the podcast IS on iTunes, but it doesn't seem to recognise it as a channel with future episodes to come. It looks like it is set up as just a once off. sigh...

So we're putting the call out to all techno-humans everywhere that may know their way around this sort of thing. We (really just me) need your help! We need somebody who can get all of this stuff sorted and make it run smoothly. We'll give you a fancy 'technical director' title and praise your obvious superiority on the podcast too.

If you're interested in lending a hand, just let us know through the FB page. And thanks in advance!

So I have a few other things on the go at the moment that I'll make individual posts about, including one on the recent 24-hour comic day (what a disaster!) and a long life-drawing session I recently attended (not such a disaster), so I'll be back soon with more stuff to show very soon.

Good journey! (yep, still on that He-Man kick...)

Oct 7, 2014

How He-Man made me 'me'

I'm going through a bit of a He-Man kick at the moment, of which I do so about once every 10 years.
I don't know how it happens, it just sort of clicks and then I'm obsessed with it all over again. It usually lasts about 3 months, then I'll move onto the next re-discovered obsession.
But for the moment, it's all about He-Man, Skeletor, Stratos and my personal favourite character, that aquatic fiend Mer-Man!
Some of my very earliest memories, and certainly some of my fondest ones, involve He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I was at the perfect age and definitely the target audience for the He-Man toys and cartoons. And I happily obliged by gobbling up as much of the franchise as I possibly could.
I can vividly recall He-Man-themed birthday parties, running around the back garden with my brother, and fellow fan, Ryan, with plastic replica He-Man swords in hand. I can still see the toys aisle at the department store we used to go to and the lines of MOTU figures on display.
And those mornings when the cartoon was on. I can still almost feel the carpet beneath me as I sat in front of our huge old TV, with the twisty dial to go through the stations. There were a couple of Christmas' there that were pretty He-Man intensive. There's a few photos of our old living room after the tornado that was Ryan and I had torn through all of the presents. There's MOTU toys, wrapping paper and my brother striking an uncanny He-Man pose. I must try and find that photo.

I think that my most vivid He-Man memory, though, is the one where I recall getting Mer-Man and just loving how he smelled. Something about that particular figure made it smell different to the others. I can still remember sitting on the back seat of our car and looking at the Mer-Man figure, still in his packaging. That night, I put the figure of Mer-Man on my pillow with me and fell asleep quite the happy little lad.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was obviously a big part of my formative years. I believe that its early influence is still evident in me to this very day. Granted, I'm still a fan, so it affects me aesthetically in that respect, but I think it has deeper roots too.
As fans of the Filmation original cartoon will know, the episodes ended with a character essentially summing up the moral of the story of each episode in an outrageously overt manner. Sure, it was corny, but one wonders how much of my own moral code is based on those little monologues?
My parents managed to instill in my two brothers and I a good grounding in morality. We weren't religious at all, but somehow we grew up knowing the difference between right and wrong (the shock and horror!). But I'd say that, at an impressionable age, what kid wouldn't be influenced by He-Man's treatment of those around him, be it friend or foe?
I certainly was.

He-Manic morality aside, I think the biggest way that MOTU influenced my young and impressionable mind was through the themes and settings it contained. Masters of the Universe is essentially a sword & sorcery story. As proof, the two main combatants utilise both of these very things. He-Man, with his brute force, uses his SWORD in a variety of ways (as a weapon, a shield, a deflective devise and whatever other needs require it for.). Skeletor, that dastardly fellow, is pretty buff too, but he relies on his skills in SORCERY in battle.
Also, the setting for the original series is a land called Eternia. It is a place of wild and wondrous beauty, populated by a huge variety of beings and creatures. Essentially, it's a fantasy setting, much like Middle Earth, or Narnia for that matter.
These settings and these sorts of beings are still very much the type of thing I am still drawn too... and like to draw! In fact, I would go as far to say that the reason I am a fan of fantasy things is because of MOTU. It's possibly also the reason I tend to dislike Science Fiction, but that's the subject for another post, methinks.

So, couple together the fond memories, the moral compass and the aesthetic appeal, and you get a strong connection to the subject at hand. That's why I still have lots of the action figures, the original theme song as my ringtone, a healthy stack of comics, DVD's and books and a big chunk of my head and heart for it. I, in some way, am a product of that world.

I'd love to do a whole series of illustrations depicting the MOTU characters; but for now, this is all I have time for...

Back soon, by the power of Grayskull...

Sep 30, 2014

Larry MacDougall: My new Mentor!

That's right! You read that correctly, folks. I am the proud new owner of a shiny new mentor in the exact shape and form of one Larry MacDougall. I can't tell you how silly excited I am about this. Well... I can tell you, actually, and at length...

So for a couple of months now, I've been putting some serious consideration into seeking out a mentor to help guide me through these complex artistic times I'm currently living in.
The main reason why I think I require the aid of a mentor is mostly to do with how I think I am failing as a productive artist. I think this year of 2014 has shown me many things, including the fact that I appear to be unable to walk the walk, whilst being splendid at talking the talk. In other words, I'm full of hot air and very little substance. With this hot air inside me, I often find myself bouncing around from one thing to the other, without really completing anything or delving deep into a particular subject.
So I need somebody to ground me; to sit me down and tell me to stop floating about and just get some serious, consistent work done on a single subject.

About a month ago, I put some feelers out there.
I had a very short list of artists who could be potential mentors. Larry MacDougall was at the top of my list, but it appeared that he was very, very busy at the time, so I didn't even dare ask him. I asked another artist who I thought might be a good fit, but he, too, was very, very busy and couldn't do it. He did say that I was well on my way though, which was rather nice to hear. Thanks Mr. Ejsing!
And that is where I left it. I'd put an open call out to any artists (I have a lot of artist 'friends' on Facebook) interested in mentoring me, and it wasn't very long at all before Patricia MacDougall (Larry's wife and incredible artist herself) put their names forward.
So back in about the middle of August, I contacted Larry and briefly outlined what I had in mind. He replied that we could discuss matters further at a later point (he was, it turns, very busy after all).

Cut to a week or so ago, when I dropped Larry another line and we organised a Skype chat for the 26th, the Friday just gone. Let me tell you, reader, that one hour Skype chat we had really cemented my belief that I was right in seeking out a mentor. Larry managed, in a proportionately tiny amount of time, to speak to the heart of what I knew deep down was wrong and he did it in a way that makes me feel empowered and optimistic about what lies ahead. But Larry didn't sugar coat anything. But he wasn't harsh either. And therein lies the reason why I think Larry is of a champion breed and that we are going to be firm friends- it's because we seem to think alike in many respects. There were several points in the conversation, to my mind at least, where we seemed to be in sync with our beliefs and views.
So, yeah, I'm pretty chuffed with how things have worked out.

I'm going to lay out some plans I have made in a future post here. But for now, all that remains is for me to thank Larry, my mentor, for setting me on the right path again.
Here's to the future!

Sep 23, 2014

Podcastiness & Sketchbookery

First off, I have great news! Gord and I recorded our inaugural podcast a last week and, amazingly, it wasn't a horrible mess of stutters, giggles and gibberish. It wasn't half bad actually.

Now all I have to do is put on my editor's cap and work out how to turn that raw file into a serviceable podcast, resplendent with music, an introduction and a bit of polish here and there.
Give us a couple of weeks to work out the kinks and we should have an actual, proper podcast on our hands. I'm excited about it and I'm really looking forward to recording future episodes with Gord.

And we decided on a name, too. We went with, after much deliberation, 'Gord & Jay Talk Art.'
We chose that name because we like the fact that it says exactly what it is on the tin. The podcast ain't trying to be something it isn't. It's a podcast that involves to friends talking about art.
So apart from the required editing, we still have a logo to design.
Here is my first swing at it:
I think I can safely conclude that I leave a lot to be desired as a graphic designer. But I'm okay with that. There are plenty of great graphic designers out there already.
Gord is going to be trying his hand at the logo too, naturally. He's really good with this sort of thing, so don't expect to see my above lame attempt anywhere else but right here!

When we get closer to launch date, I'll let you know.
Exciting times, these.

The other thing I wanted to talk about in this post is a subject I've been mulling over for a while now and I think it may solve some issues I've been encountering with my artwork in general. That thing being... sketchbooks.

I used to love working in sketchbooks. I always went for an A4 size one, hardback and with a green cover if it could be helped at all. Back then (we're talking the late 90's and early 00's), I wasn't the most prolific of artists, as I've mentioned before, so I didn't really fill that many sketchbooks really, maybe 3 or 4 big ones. I've still got them in a box somewhere, I'll have to pull them out and post some stuff here. Maybe one of those book flipping videos would be good too.

But anyway, somewhere along the way, I fell out of using sketchbooks and went for single sheets of paper in their stead. This was probably around the time when I started getting really serious about making a career in art. I think I took the conscious decision to stop with the sketchbook stuff, and just concentrate on making complete images.
I think this was like 50% a mistake. Sure, I created a lot of finished artwork, much more than I used to. But I think I should have continued with the sketchbook work AS WELL.

The reason I think I should have kept at the sketchbooks is for several reasons.
Firstly, sketchbooks are just fun. You can doodle little nothings all you want, or work out a difficult composition, a complex character design, or just let your hand make the decisions for you. The sketchbook is where an artist should feel uninhibited (not that they should feel otherwise elsewhere too, of course), an artist should let it all hang out in a sketchbook.
Secondly, you look cool walking along with a sketchbook in hand. I've heard that chicks dig it, but have had no experience with such a response.
Third, a sketchbook is considerably more neat and tidy than a bunch of loose sheets of paper.
Finally, there is something magical about a sketchbook. To look at an artist's sketchbook is to look, in a very real sense, into their soul. It's where ideas are born and problems are solved.

How an artist fills a sketchbook can vary greatly. I tend to be a fairly neat sketchbooker. I look at each page as a little piece of canvas itself. So my pages tend to be tidy and even compositional in quality. I like to work up the drawings to a degree higher than a sketchbook probably requires, but that is just me. I've seen many sketchbooks similar to mine in this regard. It's as if a sketchbook is a piece of art itself, and some artists, including myself, want to put on a good show.

The type of sketchbook used is another important element. As I said, I used to go with the A4 sized ones. But now, I find them far too big and clunky for what I want. I like to be able to fold a page, and page in the sketchbook, completely flat, to be able to fold it over, even. Hardcovers aren't great for that, especially ones with hundreds of thick pages.
I also like a more compactly sized sketchbook. One that can fit nicely into the smallish sachel I use every day. I've purchased many sketchbooks in the hope that they were the perfect fit for what I require in a sketchbook. But no matter how nice they all were, they all had at least one fatal flaw that I found too restrictive or even prohibitive at times. The main fault was in the fact that the sketchbooks I bought wouldn't fold out flat or over on themselves. This is a big problem for me and it stopped some truly lovely sketchbooks making the grade.

But I think, after much searching, I have found my brand. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Moleskine Kraft Brown XLarge Plain Cahier!

And it gave me a chance to use one of my Art Order stickers too!
These delicious sketchbooks come in packs of three, each with 120 white pages. The cover is made of toned cardboard that is very flexible, with exposed stitching on the spine. Each sketchbook measures 21 x 24.7cm, or 7.5 x 10in for those not on the superior metric system.
I really like them. I'm using one for my everyday sketching and another for the Dr. Sketchy sessions.

Now, they aren't invincible, mind. I haven't tried using watercolours on one of them yet, but I imagine it wouldn't hold up very well. I did find that markers bleed through pretty quickly on them too. But that's okay, I'll probably go ahead and use watercolours on them anyway, but mostly use them for pencil and pen.

Here are a couple of very recent pages-

Yes, the Faerie Stones are back!
Anyway. I'm really enjoying sketchbooking again. It's been far too long. I think that if I can be more consistent with the sketchbook work, in both the frequency and how I approach it, I think my bigger work can only benefit from it.
But the big reason for me getting back into using a sketchbook is so that I can really try and develop a mode of regularity with drawing. I want and need to draw more, using a sketchbook every day is part of creating that habit. I'll be writing about making an artistic routine in a later post, it might even make its way into a podcast (now that I have that awesome option).

But before I go, I wanted to say hello to my two newest followers. Greetings, CathyRae and Grandma Sandy! You are both most welcome here.

Back soon.

Sep 16, 2014

Galway Pub Scrawl turns 5!

Logo by the incomparable Mary Lillis.

On a Monday evening back in January 2012, I walked into McSwiggan's Bar in Galway for what would be my first of many, many Galway Pub Scrawls. It seems a long time ago now, but I do quite clearly recall the nervous excitement I felt as I introduced myself to the group of people already there.

Up until that point, I was one of those artists that was completely isolated from other artists, apart from through the internet, of course. But I was never really part of the cool art group at school, nor did I join any artistic clubs. I'd taken some short courses, but never really managed to find a clique that fit right.

But the Galway Pub Scrawl gang pretty rapidly changed all of that. Granted, I'd known the founder of the group, Donal Fallon, for many a year, and several of my fellow staff members at the bookshop, Patrick Gavin and Oisin Greaney, were already regular attendees. But apart from that, I was entering uncharted waters that first night.

Goodness me, am I glad I went in though. I think I can safely say that Galway Pub Scrawl has changed my life, in lots of ways.
Firstly, some of my very bestest friends are Pub Scrawlers: Mez, Ger and Anita to name but a few. I totally wuv you guys.
But in all seriousness, I do feel as though Galway Pub Scrawl has been hugely beneficial to not only my personal life, but also my artistic growth. Through the many and varied challenges that we manage to sign up for, I have created some pieces that I would never have thought to do if left to my own devices. And it's all been done in the company of like-minded friends.

So it was with great delight that I was there at the most recent Pub Scrawl which just so happened to be its 5th Anniversary!
Fellow Scrawler, Kieran (or is it Ciaran?) and I came up with the idea of having a sort of art swap meet where revelers bring along any art they are happy to give away and it can be thrown in the communal pot. Anybody was free to give and take whatever they wanted.
My reasoning for it was to treat it as a sort of token of my humble and heartfelt gratitude for everything that the Galway Pub Scrawl has given me over the last nearly three years. And, you know, if you're a friend of mine, you're gonna get some free art from me whether you like it or not!

So here are my friends and the pieces of art of mine they chose:
Dermot Canniffe made a late charge for this piece.

Gerard Coady. Joy bringer. Food eater.

James Newell. He has all the cool pens.

The lovely Katie Creaven. I grabbed one of her drawings too.

Kieran got greedy.

Linda was in quick for the G-Gnome.

My pal, Mez.

Mo, provider of high-brow humour.

Philip Barrett. He teaches how to make comics.

Yolande and her kewl earrings.
You wouldn't think it with this picture, but Donal Fallon is actually a massive fan of
mine and he hangs on every artistic stroke I make.

It was a really great night spent with wonderful friends, delicious food (thanks to Mez, Yolande and McSwiggan's), lively conversation and art being created in all directions.

Who could ask for more?

Sep 9, 2014

Life Drawing

I'm absolutely loving the Life Drawing classes I take at the moment. I feel as though I've come a long way, artistically, in the three or four months that I've been doing it. Which is precisely why I took the classes in the first place! After all, I'm not there for a haircut...

I am a big believer in the notion that life drawing increases your skill in a more refined way and far quicker than any other form of artistic learning or practice. It's difficult, I find, to discern or conclude why this is so, though. I mean what's the difference between drawing a model in front of you as opposed to painting a landscape? Or a still life? Heck, something from your imagination!?

I think the answer lies in this: when you have a live model in front of you, there are many contributing factors you have to address to make a convincing picture, especially if you're a realistic representational life drawing practitioner like myself.
First and foremost is the form of the figure. The human body is endlessly fascinating to study and draw; the way the muscles move, stretch and bunch, how the skeleton contorts limbs, compacting parts and elongating others. An artist can spend a lifetime in the pursuit of anatomical knowledge. It never gets old!

On top of the form, you have many other elements that contribute to the whole. You have:
  • lighting how light and shadows play on the form.
  • atmosphere and other surrounding factors.
  • style how developed you are with how you draw.
  • perspective on the form is a difficult thing to master.
  • foreshortening is perhaps even more so!
  • media what you depict the figure with.
  • technique similar to style, but less naturally achieved. It's more conscious too.
  • time how long do you have to achieve your desired result.
So while other methods of artistic learning/practice/application might cover some, many or even all of these areas, I just don't think any of them can cover it all in such a clearly refined way.
 
Personally, I prefer a long session with limited poses.
If possible, I prefer to just dive into a single pose. Many artists need to do those quick one- and two-minute poses. I think they're a lot of fun, but I do okay without them. I'm a slow going sort of artist. I like to build up tone and layers over time, and in my own time.

But saying that, I do enjoy the variety of the classes I currently attend. I have my regular Wednesday evening class that usually involves a single long pose, examples of which are the first and last images in this very post. I also have the once-monthly (not nearly frequent enough, Scarlett!) Dr. Sketchy Burlesque/Life Drawing class that entails many different poses at a variety of lengths.
I've just had another one of these the Saturday just gone (the theme of which, almost custom-designed for me, was 'Magical Creatures'). Here's an example from that session-

So while I do love the Wednesday class and its sustained poses, the sheer fun and exhilaration of the Dr. Sketchy classes are also more than worth the entry fee.

I think that the way to artistically look at the two different events is to perceive them as just that: two different events. With the Wednesday class, I can feed the classical artist in me and really knuckle down to some realistic drawing and painting.
With Dr. Sketchy's, I am only just starting to get a grip of what I should be doing at it. Because of its set-up, the classical and 'realistic as possible' way isn't going to be very effective. There's just not enough time, I find, to do this justice in any of the poses.
So I tried, at the Mythical Creatures show, to try and be more stylistically inclined toward simple line, with less detail and rendering than I would normally do. I think the results worked, with the promise of further refinement and success in this method.

The system I am using for the long poses at the moment, and what I am quite enjoying too, is drawing onto a grey paper with a variety of graphite pencils (usually an HB to begin with, then moving up to a 2B and 6B) and a white pencil for highlighting. It's a low-tech system that can have great results and has been practiced for literally hundreds of years by artists. I do plan on changing it up in the future though.

One of the other Wednesday nighters, Kathy, broke out some watercolours the other night and the results were fantastic. I'd like to give that a go at some point too. Getting some clay going might be fun as well!

For far too many years, I fell out of attending life drawing classes. I really wish I hadn't done that. I honestly believe I would be a far better artists now if I had have regularly attended classes.

But I plan on making up for lost time.

Sep 6, 2014

Podcasting

Okay... Podcasting.
I mentioned briefly a couple of posts ago that my old buddy, Gordon Mackay and I are in the planning stages of doing an art podcast together.
Well, I can happily say that things are moving along quite nicely with it.

It will be some time in the next couple of weeks that Gordon and I get to sit down and actually record our first podcast. That first one will really just be a bit of an introduction episode, for listeners to learn a little about us, what we do as artists and where we plan on going with the podcast.

We still have some kinks to work out and some technical things to overcome/learn, but the biggest thing I am finding trouble with is what we should call the podcast!?! I'm usually pretty good at coming up with names for things, but I'm encountering some serious name-creating block at the moment.
That said, here are some of the names I have come up with so far-

The Artistrators
Gord & Jay talk art
Gord & Jay make an Art Podcast
The Angry Giant Podcast
The Fantastasists (or, alternately, The Fantasists)
The Artist Path

I guess any of those would be sufficient, but we're also happy to hear anybody's ideas for names too. So leave a comment if you can think of something better!

We'll be coming up with a logo for the Podcast, whatever its name ends up being, before the podcast is launched.

I'd like to apply some small musical elements to the podcast as well, mostly for intro's, outro's and breaks. I had lined up my brother, Ryan, to produce some guitar pieces especially for us, but he unfortunately doesn't have the recording apparatus or the time. A shame, that. So I guess we'll just have to use some open license stuff, unless anybody reading this would like to contribute music?

The podcast will get its very own blog to post show notes and various affiliated items onto, and once I work out how to do it, the podcast will be available free on iTunes, naturally.

So I'm hoping to have everything up and going, including the first podcast recorded, edited and released, in the first couple of weeks of October.
I'll bring more news on this closer to the launch though.

And I'll be back here in a couple of days with a post about Life Drawing.
See you then.

Sep 2, 2014

World Art Drop Day

I know, I know... I was supposed to be writing about Podcasting in this post, but that is simply going to have to wait until the next post!
Because today, I want to talk about a fun 24 hours I've just had.
It all began, as so many cool things do, at the Galway Pub Scrawl. Our fearless leader, Donal Fallon, mentioned on Facebook yesterday that today is World Art Drop Day. WADD is this nifty event where folks create a piece of artwork and leave it somewhere for somebody to find and keep for free. People can simply stumble upon artwork, not knowing anything about WADD, and get some free artwork. Artists can also initiate a sort of treasure hunt by giving clues and images as to the artwork's whereabouts.
It really is a fun event; where generosity, goodwill and sharing are the order of the day.
So I drew up a couple of quick pieces at last night's Galway Pub Scrawl.
 

And then this morning, before work, I planted the pieces around Galway-
 
Each picture came with a little official WADD note with a brief explanation and where I can be contacted. I also included a business card and put all of the contents in a sealed plastic card sleeve so that the elements didn't get to the artwork.

I left the first piece on a sculpture of Oscar Wilde, the second was on the windowsill of Charlie Byrne's bookshop. And then I went off to work.
I can tell you, the idea of somebody 'discovering' the artwork was a really fun feeling. I had to wait several hours before I could go see if the art had been taken. I posted on Twitter all of the details and a clue to the location of each piece, and waited...
When my lunch break finally came, I dashed about Galway, only to discover that the artwork had, indeed, been taken.
Now, of course, somebody might have just picked the package up and threw it in the bin. Maybe somebody scrunched them up and kicked them along the road for a while, until they were rolled over and finally destroyed by a bus. Sure, things like that could very well have happened! But I like to think that some lovely person was simply minding their own business, spotted one of the drawings, picked it up, turned it over, read all about WADD and the finding of the artwork really made their day. That's what I hope happened. Maybe the people that found the packages will get in contact with me, maybe they won't. It's cool either way. I really didn't do this to gain a fan, it's all about the random act of sharing that attracted me in the first place.
So here I sit, writing this post, keeping an eye out for that magical little indicator number that tells me I have a new email. Could it be...?

Aug 29, 2014

An English sojourn

Greetings to you, dear and gentle reader.
I've just returned from a three day holiday in the UK, where many things were seen and even more things were done. Here's a sampling of what I got up to...

1. I visited J. R. R. Tolkien's grave.
It has been a wish of mine for some time now to visit my favourite author's resting place. It turned out to be the first thing ticked off the list after arriving at Heathrow airport. The drive up took a little over an hour (thanks to traffic and some pretty heavy rain), but the graveyard was eventually reached without any difficulty and Mr. and Mrs. Tolkien's grave was found soon after.
I must confess that I did shed a tear as I stood there. For the vast majority of my life, Tolkien has been a big part of who I am. So to be standing there, with him resting before me, hit me a little harder than I had expected. But I expressed my thanks to him for all that he had given me, and paid my heartfelt respects.

2. I got up close and personal with Stonehenge.
Well, I would have if there wasn't a barrier erected to stop people from touching the stones. Also, it was severely lashing down with rain. Proper torrential stuff.
 
You can see the rain in the shadows.
So I couldn't do all of my Spinal Tap jokes. That was a pity...

3. I found River Cottage.
My wife and I have been fans of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's programs since the first River Cottage was aired. So I was able to track down the original cottage's location on a map and managed to follow said map correctly!
This is a pretty magical spot. Hugh no longer resides here, but the place looks essentially the same and I didn't even have to do any trespassing, which is a bonus.

4. I walked through Kensington Gardens.
This was undertaken to fulfil a bit of an Arthur Rackham dream of mine. Rackham, of course, illustrated many books back in the day, including Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
It's a very impressive place, full of massive trees, people exercising, plenty of wildlife (including geese, pigeons and grey squirrels) and lots of landmarks.
The highlight for me was actually the Albert Memorial, which is just an amazing example of what can be done with realistic sculpture. It is fantastic.
 
5. I bought stuff.
It wouldn't be a holiday without me buying lots of things and stressing out about breaking or generally damaging them on the return journey. But I'm happy to announce that all items arrived safely. Here are a few choice pieces:

Some Stonehenge swag: The guide book, a commemorative coin and a cheap replica dagger.

Finds from Lyme Regis: A cool little stone sphere and a Trilobite.
Lyme Regis is on the Dorset coast, also known as the Jurassic Coast because of its abundance of fossils. I also visited a sci-fi/paleontology painter by the name of Richard Bizley's store and watched him work on a piece for a while. He has a cool set-up where he actually works in his store. So you can browse his paintings, prints and other items, while he paints away in another section of the store. It's a great marketing idea.

The Natural History Museum, in London, is pretty awesome. It's free to get in, and is probably the best Museum of its kind in the world. I went straight for the dinosaur section and finished up at the gift shop. The badger thing at the right does look like some kind of a coffee mug, but the reservoir is actually quite shallow. I'll probably use it for some artistic purpose, no doubt. Possibly a watercolours water cup.

A half dozen Cretacolor AquaMonolith watercolour pencils in a cloth Derwent pencil holder.
I didn't get much in the way of art supplies while I was there. Though I did visit a store called Cass Art in Charing Cross in London, just around the corner from the National Gallery. They had some great stuff and I would have bought a whole lot more if I had the luggage space.

Knights of the Dinner Table: Bundle of Trouble volumes 2 & 3
I love Knights of the Dinner Table. I first got into them when I was working at Gamer's Realm back in 2002. Anyway, I picked these two books up at a gaming store called Orcs Nest on Earlham Street in London. I already regret not grabbing more copies...

I also visited a glorious bookstore on Charing Cross Road called Henry Pordes Books. Quite simply, it is the greatest bookstore I have ever been in. That is saying a lot, obviously. But there is a justifiable reason for me saying that. It's because that bookstore has the biggest selection of books that I personally want that I have ever come across. Often, when going to a bookstore, I would normally find maybe 2 or 3 books I'd be happy owning. Well, this bookstore had about 30. There was a huge selection of Arthur Rackham early editions, the largest selection I have ever seen in one place, as well as lots of books illustrated by golden age masters like Dulac and the Robinsons, and there were a couple of gorgeous early editions of the Wind in the Willows.
It pained me to leave that store empty-handed, but the cheapest book I wanted was already way out of my range at the time. But the experience of standing there, looking up at a high shelf full of Rackham books was pretty amazing, all the same.

And now I'm back at home with paintings to paint, illustrations to illustrate, networking to network.
My next post should be a bit of an update as to the status of the podcast I keep going on about. It should be up in less than a week.
Chat to you then!

Aug 21, 2014

My Etsy store

I've taken the giant, yet incredibly simple, leap of opening up my own Etsy store. You can find it right here. It is, of course, called RealmsofFaerie.

The main reason I set up an Etsy store is so that I can have a place, aside from this blog and my gallery, where the purpose is to sell artwork.
To be honest, I was never comfortable trying to sell stuff here, as this blog is more about the process of art and the things I like (and often dislike) about it. But when it came to putting a price tag on things, I felt it sorta betrayed the whole reason for doing this blog.
But with the Etsy store, that is not a problem, that's its sole purpose. So why don't you pop on over and take a look-see at my wares. They'll be added to as frequently as I am able with sketches, sculptures, paintings, drawings and whatever else I can cook up.

Aug 15, 2014

A Starting Point

So I mentioned recently that I'm embarking on a change in media from black and white inked work to full colour paintings. I stated that I am going to be essentially beginning from scratch in this regard.
But before I start down this road, I thought it might be a good idea to put a marker in the ground at the start point, a sort of skill-level indicator that I can look back at to see how far along I have come.

So this painting below was produced using all of the current skill and knowledge I could muster.
It's a roughly 90 minute acrylic portrait from my Wednesday night life drawing class, the model's name is Ivan.I would still consider this piece unfinished. It would probably need another couple of hours to clean it up and tighten areas. But for the purpose of this exercise, it's clear enough.

It's not an awful painting, but by no means is it any good. But I'm okay with that. More than okay, actually. It shows me how much I have to learn and what I have to do to get further along the path. And my feet are very itchy...

Back soon with more! Maybe even some actual fantasy or faerie related artwork...

Aug 12, 2014

Lord of the Rings portraits

Have I mentioned before how much of a Tolkien fan I am? Yeah, I'm sure I have.
I love Tolkien to bits and am currently reading Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time. I'm one of those people that reads Tolkien obsessively and tackles LOTR every couple of years. I'm a Tolkien purist, too. That means I don't like the movies in general and consider them Peter Jackson's retelling of the story, not the story itself or how Tolkien wrote it. Essentially, I consider the movies an adaptation of one of the greatest stories ever written.

But here is the dilemma of the Tolkien purist who has seen the LOTR movies. The Peter Jackson dilemma, if you will.
I, like so many others, saw the Peter Jackson LOTR movies when they came out. I even enjoyed them! But time has not been kind to my view of them. I have no intention of ever watching them again and I have thus far given the Hobbit adaptations a very wide berth indeed. But still, it is difficult, when reading the books, not to picture images from Peter Jackson's adaptations as you go along. This is frustrating for somebody like myself who loves the books and doesn't like the movies.
I would like to read the bit about the Mines of Moria and not see Orlando Bloom as Legolas; or when Merry and Pippin flee into Fangorn Forest, I would rather not see Peter Jackson's version of it, nor his Ents, but my own.

But what is the solution to this dilemma? Well, thankfully, there are ways to get around this:
  1. Time heals all wounds. Over the years, those Peter Jackson images have faded more and more, leaving many scenes clear of his input.
  2. There is a funny irony in the fact that Jackson deviated so very much from the original story. The thing that bothers so many of us hardcore Tolkien fans about the movies is also it's saving grace. Jackson famously omitted Tom Bombadil from the movies. Great! That means that the vision of him is unsullied by Jackson's hand! The same goes for Farmer Maggot, Goldberry, the Barrow Wights and so many others. There are whole scenes, characters, settings and plots that are left alone for the reader to create their own mental imagery for.
  3. A solution I have only recently discovered and it only really applies to those of an artistic bent- One can simply draw the characters how they alone see them! This way, they can trump Peter Jackson and any other person who has depicted these characters in the past.
So that's what I have been doing...
A Mirkwood Elf and good old Gimli
Gollum
A young Frodo, A Moria Orc, Barliman and Khamul.
These little sketches have been quite a lot of fun to do and have been pretty successful in nullifying Jackson's visual influence; but what I really want to do is move up to doing proper painted portraits of some of the characters. I have ideas about how to go about doing that, of which will be covered in a later post, so look out for some painted Tolkien portraits by me in the near future!

Aug 3, 2014

The Other of One

Here's something I've been working on lately-
There's a book that was written by a fellow resident of Galway, Ireland named Brian Burke called The Other of One. It's a fantasy novel in the vein of the Narnia books and The Hobbit and is getting some great reviews.
Not my cover, I must stress!
Brian contacted me a while ago and commissioned me to produce three black & white interior illustrations for it (I'll reveal them when the book comes out soon).
Brian has since gone on to commission me to redo the cover for book 1 and possible book 2, as well as some other promotional stuff.
I'm having a lot of fun doing the work for him and it will be awesome to see the book in print with my cover (still in the works) on it.
Here's a sketch I made of one of the characters. I was going for a sort of How to Train Your Dragon vibe with it, obviously.

I will share more from this project as I get approval to do so.

Ciao for now.

Jul 23, 2014

The road goes ever on

So, the last post dealt with the things I would like to do with my artwork, both on a personal level and commercially. This post is all about how I plan on getting there. It requires a few changes, as you'll see.

First and foremost, I am going to be changing my main medium.
For basically all of my professional freelance illustration career (all three years of it), I have been working in black and white, with pen and ink. This has been a lot of fun and I think I've produced some decent work in that medium. But I think the time has come for me to move on to something else as my main tool of creating the images I do. This is not to say that I dislike the black and white stuff all of a sudden. It's not that all. It's just that I want to express myself artistically in a medium that can give me more.
From this moment on, coloured paints are my medium of choice. I've been wanting to move on to them for quite a while now and the thought of learning all about them fills me with excitement. And when I say 'learning,' I really mean it. It's not going to be a case of  me simply transferring my skill level from the black and white stuff over to the paints. It doesn't work like that at all. Painting and colour are their own beasts and they each have their own set of skills to learn.

I really can't wait to sink my teeth in. I'm going to be starting from the very start and being smart about how I go about learning how to do it all. And I will be joined along the way, by my best art buddy, Gordon Mackay. We've both been talking about switching to paint as our main medium, and we plan on learning together as we go. It's going to be a lot of fun and hopefully I'll have my first pieces to show in the coming months, even if they are just simple still life's or portrait studies.

So the painting covers most of the personal goals I have, but it also spills over into the commercial side of it too. Because I want to paint Magic:The Gathering card art, I want to paint book covers, I want to paint Faerie stories. So in order for me to do that, I should probably learn how to paint properly, right?
I believe I have a core ability or 'talent' (despite what Greg Manchess says) that will enable me to progress well and I honestly believe I should be at a decent enough painting level sooner rather than later. But that won't stop me from learning every beginner-level lesson I can find and developing a base of acquired skill through experience and experimentation. So there will probably be a lot of references to James Gurney over the coming months and years. Be warned.

All of this painting stuff is going to take up a lot of time, I imagine. Which is why I am going to stop taking commissions and jobs for the next little while. I have some regular clients that I will continue to honour our arrangement, but I'm afraid I won't be able to take on any new jobs for a while. But when I do open myself up for commissions and new jobs again in the future, it will be as an artist that works in colour and with paint. This will mean that I will have a new portfolio, a new product, a new price list and, hopefully, a new career.
It is my plan to open myself for painting jobs and commissions on January 1st, 2015. That gives me roughly five months to knuckle down and get some serious, intensive painting done. I imagine that the learning curve is going to be steep!

One of the reasons I am doing this is because I can envision a time when I don't have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to go and work at a retail job and come home 12 hours later and try and squeeze in a couple of hours of art before bed, if I have any energy left at all. I can envision a time in the near future when I get up at 7:30, instead, and work on my art for as long as I need over the day. Essentially, I plan on getting to a point, hopefully in the next few years, when I can be a full-time artist. If I want to seriously be a proper Faerie and Fantasy artist, I will simply have to take the plunge and change the way I live. At this point in my career/life I work long hours for little pay and the time I have for the thing I actually want to do, the art, is restricted and severely compromised. I'm not being the artist I know I can be and I don't want to live like this for too much longer. Honestly, it's what I am meant to do with my life and I will only ever be creatively content if that is what I am doing. So I plan to make that happen. And painting is the way it will happen.

But there are other things I want to do, too. I've been going on a lot lately about how much I love Podcasts. I think they're great! So great, in fact, that Gordon and I are seriously considering doing our own one. We're still working out the kinks and actual viability of it at this stage, but we're both keen to at least give it a go. The reasons I, personally, want to do a podcast are many, but really, it's mostly just about further getting my name out there. I look at a lot of the podcast presenters I listen to and how their careers have blossomed with the aid of their podcasts, and I think I'd be mad not to give it a go myself.
One of the other big reasons for doing a podcast is that it will be a part of the learning process. Hopefully, by openly discussing the process of painting and art, the lessons learned will filter back to the actual artwork. That's the idea anyway.
But I'll keep you posted on the podcast thing. If it can be done easily enough and we can do it justice, then I'd say we'll be going ahead with it in the next few months.

There's a couple of other things I have in the works, but I imagine your excitement is already at dangerously high levels, so for the sake of public safety, I'll leave it at that for now.

Back soon with paintings!
A recent Urban Sketchers painting. It sucks, but it's a good skill level marker.

Jul 17, 2014

My artistic Bucket List

This post is going to be a two-parter of sorts. Each part is going to deal with vaguely the same subject- where I want to go with my artwork and how I intend on getting there. So let's get straight to it, shall we?

PART 1: The Dream Bucket
As an artist, I am in a state of constantly striving to attain new skills, new levels of artistic knowledge, new elements to add to and refine my style. 

Most of my artistic goals are purely for my own sake. I want to have a better understanding of colour, of light, of form. I want to continue to grow, to never rest on former achievements and to always seek out new things. This is all in aid of me becoming a better artist, for the pure purpose of creating more interesting and, hopefully, more beautiful art.

But some of my goals are more to do with the world outside of my own head. I may want to see some piece of mine in a certain place, reaching this audience, or that buyer. These goals are more tied into ego, but are also bound to a willing desire to be successful through creative production, to make a living out of making art that people like. Egotistical, yes. But it's also about communicating beauty, expressing emotion, making tangible things that people may like to look at. 
It's kinda like a cake, I guess. Each one I make is hopefully a little tastier than the last, with better decorations and a nicer consistency. Part of me wants to bake to show off how good I am at it, but the other part, the far greater part, is all about sharing the cake with people. They might be hungry, they might not be. They may like the cake, they may not. One bite might be enough for some, others might come back for more. All I can do is just keep making cakes, and hope that I find enough people hungry for them. But if I don't... well, I'm more than happy to eat the cakes myself. I like cake.

So anyway,  I've got goals in both respects. Personal and commercial. Let's have a look at my big goals in these areas:
 

Personal
  • I want to be proficient with oil paints. They are, to me, the pinnacle of all artistic mediums.
  • I want to be able to depict closely, through paint, images I see in my mind.
  • I want to sculpt more Faerie Stones and make other crafty things.
  • I want to get good at plein air painting.
  • Same with portraiture.
  • I would dearly love to attend the IMC (Illustration Master Class) some year. That's where the best fantasy artists go to party and learn heaps of stuff from other best fantasy artists in the world. It costs US$2,500 just to attend it though. So that's an 'if I win the lottery' one.
  • I would love to visit a couple of artists at their homes to chat and have a drawing session with them. Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Larry MacDougall, Jean-Baptiste Monge and old buddy Bart Sears, I'm talking about you!
  • If Muddy Colors were to ask me to become a contributor, or if Drawn Today wanted me to chime in on the odd podcast, I'd agree to that quite quickly.
  • Mostly, I just want be successful enough to enable me to pursue my own artistic dreams and ambitions. I don't need huge amounts of money for that, just enough to get by and be happy.
Commercial
  • First and foremost, I want my Realms of Faerie books to some day get published. This will allow me to die happy.
  • I want to have my artwork appear on at least one actual Magic: The Gathering card. I'd prefer it to be a green card, and an Elf one if it can be arranged...
  • I'd like to have at least one painting appear in a Dungeons & Dragons manual. A Pathfinder one would be sweet also.
  • I want to get a piece approved for inclusion into that wondrous annual tome, Spectrum. I'm aiming to send something for consideration for #22, out late next year.
  • I want to do something with my The Circle story.
  • I'd be cool with having a booth at something like Illuxcon or Dragon Con. I wouldn't even have to sell much, it'd still be an unforgettable experience.
  • I'd like to do an exhibition of my work and do the whole fancy opening night thing. As silly as all of that sounds to me.
  • A Tolkien book cover assignment would be nice.
  • Illustrating a new edition of The Wind in the Willows would be great too.
Yeah, some of those goals are pretty lofty. But you have to aim high, don't you?

So the next post is going to be all about how I plan to reach those goals and may contain some medium-to-large bits of news. But before I close out this post, here's some recent Life Drawing work I've done:

Chat soon.

Jul 8, 2014

The relevant worth of Podcasts

I've been self-medicating myself on a fairly heavy dose of Podcasts over the last month or so and I'm now totally hooked on them, real bad. They are fantastic to listen to while drawing and painting, and I also listen to them during my commute to and from work.

Let's get one thing straight, though: I don't just listen to any old podcast I come across. Heck no! I only choose to listen to the very finest quality podcasts; the cream of the crop, the diamonds in the veritable rough.

Naturally, the podcasts I do like to listen to are about the things I have more than just a passing interest in. For instance, there is a fellow that goes by the name 'The Tolkien Professor,' who has several hundred episodes available to listen to for free that go into incredible detail about my favourite author, J. R. R. Tolkien. So I've listened to a whole bunch of those.

But what I am really into at the moment is the fantasy art and general illustration podcasts. And, thankfully, there's a good few of them. Here are the ones I particularly like:













The WIP Podcast is the one that started it all for me. I can't recall how I ended up listening to this one, but I am so glad I did. This podcast is hosted by two married couples, Jeff & Caroline Himmelman and Pete & Ania Mohrbacher.
I've only managed to find episodes 15 through 24 to listen to on iTunes and the internet at large, but I plan on asking the creators (a couple of whom are Facebook friends) if the first 14 are available anywhere.
Unfortunately, the last episode (#24) was recorded over three years ago, so it is unlikely that there will be any new episodes from the WIP gang. I believe the Himmelman's are no longer together, which is probably why, sadly, the podcast is no more.
The thing I really love about the WIP podcast is the feeling of openness and sharing one gets from it. I've heard it mentioned in several places how the Fantasy art scene is one of the most welcoming and sharing groups in the art world; where artists are more than happy to help other artists out and strong bonds of friendship are often forged. This is very evident in the WIP podcast.
Episodes 15 to 24 are available for free on iTunes.













Ninja Mountain is another great one. There are currently 126 episodes (and counting) full of fantastic tips, interviews, discussions, theories and commentaries on fantasy art and related topics. I've only listened to maybe a dozen or so of these episodes, but they are really good and will probably be the next series I will audibly consume once the current one is complete.
All of their episodes can be downloaded from their awesome BLOG.













Sidebar Nation is more of a comic-related podcast, but it is still really good. There are a huge amount of podcasts, some with interviews with the very best comic creators around today. I just listened to a wonderful and revealing interview with the great Whilce Portacio a few weeks ago.
Sidebar is probably the best know comic-related podcast and their website can be found over here.













This is the podcast series I am currently listening to. It's bloody good and I never want it to end!
The thing I really like about the Drawn Today podcasts is the diversity of presenters and their views. They talk about important artistic subjects passionately, and there is a good mix of perspectives and respectful disagreement.
There seems to be a good roster of contributors to the Drawn Today podcast and blog, and many of them go to the big conventions and workshops like the IMC (more on this in my next post), so they bring to the table a certain level of clout and current knowledge of the industry of fantasy illustration.

So, with all of this listening to folks talking about artsing and artsistry, one would assume that I have picked up all sorts of valuable information. One would be right in thinking that! I've actually started writing the really earth-shatteringly brilliant pieces of advice down on post-its and want to make some sort of shrine to them in my studio. Let me share a couple of them with you-

"You are only going to get hired to do the same sort of artwork as is in your portfolio"
-Dan Dos Santos paraphrased, WIP Podcast #2
This is such a simple and obvious thing, but it is so important to keep in mind and has certainly had an effect on my mid-range plans. More to come on this at a later date.

"95% of all painting problems are actually drawing problems."
-attributed to an art teacher, Drawn Today #12
This is another great one to keep in mind as I try and move to a career that deals with much more paint.

"Make great art for the sake of making great art, not for where it is going to appear."
-kinda my paraphrasing of a similar statement attributed to Donato Giancola.
This is one I heard just last night and it is really resonating with me. That's the sort of artist I want to be, who cares about the art, not so much the book cover it appears on.

The next post is going to completely contradict that last quote. I'm going to talk about my artistic bucket list!
Ooh, yeah, how about I show some artwork? Here's some head roughs of one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings...

Boromir. Proud, strong, flawed, redeemed?
See you soon.