Friday, August 30, 2013

Thoughts on Character Design and Illustration

www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
Clockwise from left: 
Playing Card Man, March Hare, The Caterpillar, The Hatter
 
I like characters, and I like the process of drawing them. Studying characteristics and personality, thumbnailing poses, researching clothing and objects that support believability, and finally bringing them to a finish on a surface are all part of a process that is deeply satisfying.

www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
A detail of the March Hare, private collection.

To me, there seems a difference between character design for animation or games and character illustration for books or pictures.

 Character designers must focus on the upcoming theatricality of the character. Characters in animated film appear to be players--actors on a stage, often aware of their audience. This is especially apparent in animation since the 1980s. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it seems McPackaged.
In contrast, the illustration of a character from a book or legend is often built for a different purpose. The creation of such centers on a frozen moment in which that real character exists within his or her world. Most illustrated characters don't often seem conscious of the viewer, and seldom appear to be acting a part.

Here's a detail of the Playing Card Man. Private collection.

(By the way, I know there's a marked difference between a real actor and a poser--between a Cate Blanchette and some Snookie-thing. But now there's such a surplus of pretense in the world that it's leaking into every aspect of life. The actors/personalities (chefs?) on the Food Network, the local newscasters, and even some customer-service reps slam your eyes with pre-packaged stance, facial expression, and language patterns. For me, that's beyond tiresome. Don't get me wrong, I love the legitimate art of actors, theater, animation, and movies, and I appreciate that animation character design is a different art form than illustration. But I definitely dislike seeing reality TV phoniness infecting any of it.)

I guess that's why I find illustrated characters most refreshing. They often originate in the mind of an author, and come complete with personalities, yet they go about their business within their environment, just like people--ordinary or extraordinary--caught in a candid photograph.

When I conceived the look of the fellows above, I tried to keep Lewis Carroll's descriptions in mind.  The Hare (and the Hatter) have unpredictable, vaguely threatening, (thus potentially dangerous) personalities. The card men painting roses? They are Everyman--every worker forced to do mundane and often illogical tasks. I thought about how sullen I'd feel if my job was all about bending to every whim of a crazy, spoiled, hot-tempered queen.

www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
A detail of The Caterpillar.
 
Anyway, I drew and inked these last year and somehow they got stashed in a box full of unfinished works. Now they are finished, and they'll be available at the upcoming Arvada Center Fine Art Show and Sale.

Thanks for the visit, and for letting me think out loud.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sketch Sequence: Little Guy Reading

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
Little Guy Reading sketch

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
with a bit of white,

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
and with color--in this case, watercolor.

As a kid, I thought that all the mid 19th century tinted engravings I loved in old books (like the Tenniel and Dore illustrations) were drawn with pen and ink and then watercolored. In my ignorance, I concentrated on copying the technique I thought I saw. Later, I was happy to discover that the classic illustrators (like Arthur Rackham and Warwick Goble) and modern illustrators (like Mercer Mayer and Maurice Sendak) actually used pen and ink with watercolor.

I very much like pen and ink. For this reading fellow I used a fine Rapidograph. Not my favorite choice of pen, but it's convenient when I'm drawing outside of the studio. Normally I use a steel pen tip--crow quill is my favorite--but in the past few years the quality of them seems to have severely declined--at least the most common, inexpensive brand I've always used. They wear out fast, and the ink feed is not nearly as smooth as it once was.
Any tips or suggestions on good brands to try would be much appreciated.

Thanks for reading!





Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ghost Story (right to left) Flying in Between

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
Pre-ink sketches
Pretty much have enjoyed working on toned paper this summer. And the paper that comes in sketchbook form really is more fun than working on a paper bag. 

Thanks for coming by!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Quick and Easy: DIY Artist's Light Box

Manufactured light boxes for tracing? Either not bright enough or harshly expensive.
But I've wanted one for years.

 So, taking cues from a number of DIY sites on the subject--some too simplistic and some hyper-technical, I made my own. 

My methods may be foolish. I have no idea if there is an easier way to do any of this. All I know is that it was easy for me, and that's saying a lot.

I rejected box-building as too time-consuming. Figured I could find a ready made, sturdy case. (Almost bought an old silverware box at the junk store. Its great built-in drawer almost had me sold, but the thing had thick, pink felt guts inside--maybe too difficult to remove. And at $14, not cheap enough either.)
Then it occurred to me to look around the basement...

and I found two painter's cases like this--gifts to me way back in high school (thanks Mom!). I used the cleanest one.
Before I did anything else, I called the local plexiglass supplier to see if I could try out some plexi samples before purchase. Their answer was affirmative so I dove into the project.

It was not difficult to remove the dividers with a chisel. (Luckily, the old paint tubes did not require this.)

 Had to cut the opening for the plexiglass, so was pretty happy that I have a Dremel (thanks Dad!). Even happier to find it had a tiny buzz-saw attachment that easily removed the inside of the lid of the case. I left a rim all the way around because, thinking ahead for a change, I knew I'd need a thicker edge upon which to attach the plexiglass. Oh, the blue tape is for masking it off before spray painting the inside. (Sorry, got ahead of the camera.)

 So here is a group of materials, clockwise from bottom:
Blue masking tape 
Westek 36" Ultra Thin LED Strip Light; in three 12" sections. (I bought this only with the assurance of return if it wasn't bright enough. It is bright, but I can still attach one more strip if need be--nice to have options.)
High Gloss White Spray Paint; for reflectivity inside the box
Paint Case; cut up and masked off

 Here are the connected Strip lights and the recently white-sprayed interior of the case. 

I drilled a hole for the cord, then gathered all this up (along with test materials; a pencil drawing, sketch paper, a sheet of 300 lb watercolor paper) and headed to the plexi supply.
I plugged it in, and after testing many types from white to frosted, and several thicknesses, I found that 1/8" thick frosted plexiglass allowed me to clearly view my drawing--even seeing through the thick watercolor paper was not a problem. The 1/8" thick sheet was plenty sturdy for the size of my light box, so I gave the guy the measurements and the piece was cut to perfection.

 Once home, I attached the light strips to the inside of the box with Scotch brand Indoor Mounting Tape (the foam backed stuff with the green plaid paper)...

and turned it on! The lights are much more intense than this photo shows and unlike fluorescent bulbs,
they stay very cool--no vent necessary.

I pre-drilled holes in the plexiglass the same size size as the small screws (see that one in the corner), then screwed it to the top of the box. The plexi edges and corners weren't sharp, but I did sand them, rounding them a bit with very fine sandpaper.

A backtrack: This shows a makeshift grommet on the inside of the box. It's just a Scotch brand peel-and-stick rubber floor-care pad I dug out of the drawer. I cut an X in it with an X-acto knife and threaded the LED cord through. It's a simple and effective way to keep the cord in place without having to buy a grommet or tie a knot in the cord. And the final tests:
A sketch on tracing paper seen through heavy white drawing paper.
and same sketch showing through 300 lb. cold press watercolor paper. (I know this photo doesn't make it look all that clear, but it is--especially in a darkened studio.)

And there she is--finished, cheap, and beautiful! Well, functional at least.
And she's the perfect size for me at
13" x 16 3/4" x 3"

Given that most of the materials were found around the house, my total cost was minimal.
The only things I had to buy were:
 LED light strip pack: $30
Mounting Tape: $6
Frosted Plexi: $8
Gloss White Spray Paint: $7

So for only fifty-one bucks and a bit of problem-solving, I got a solid tracing box that exactly serves my needs.

If you like this but my directions aren't clear, just comment or email me--
and thanks for checking it out!










Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Fairy Tale Procession and More Art by Hermann Vogel!

 Knight and Dead Bloody Dragon. Detail from Marchenzug, by Hermann Vogel.
(Check out those medieval Skele-toes on that knight!)

Was digging around in an old box from college in the basement and
 unearthed this forgotten inspiration! I'd bought it back then and never displayed it thinking it'd just get ruined or faded in the dorm. There it was, a small card-carton, with the above picture on the lid, containing

a 5 foot long accordion-folded printed frieze by an artist I'd never heard of as a young art major:
Hermann (most often spelled with two n's) Vogel.

The origin of the three long paintings is printed on the back, along with a verse, presumably by Vogel as well. I scanned it as best I could, pretty high res, with some overlap, as I've found nothing like it on the web. It's a beautiful, detailed work that contains references to many fairy stories, herewith presented from end of procession to front:

 For attacking the witch,
The brave little duckling merits praise;
The stepmother was a spiteful hag,
So shove her in the keg!
Listen! How the black ravens shriek!
They are the seven enchanted brothers;
It is their faithful sister
Who turns them back into men.
The good fairy of the tales
Knows how to delight the hearts of children.
She even drops her flowers
Into the laps of the aged.


The Bloody Dragon has finally
Received his just desert.
Now he is stuffed for the fair,
And can be viewed for ten pennies.
Sometimes the pretty maid weeps,
And everyone is touched by her sorrow.
But then the Prince appears,
To take his bride home.

From fairy tales we learn
That virtue triumphs in the end,
And every evil thing
Receives Punishment's salty sting.

Oh look, my child, here they come!
All the old beloved stories;
In front, Tom Thumb,
Followed by the seven dwarfs making bright sounds.
You see Puss in Boots strutting,
As if he were King of the world.
Gold coins fall from the sky
As the Bremen Musicians play.
That must be Hansel and Gretel,
Freed from their captivity.
Then the Frog Prince and behind,
Maria the willful one.

Books with Vogel's illustrations seem difficult to find for some reason. Sad, because his work is incredibly detailed; full of anthropomorphic animals, little guys, and sometimes peaceful, haunting vignettes like this:
The one above and the following pic are from an old book in Italian called C'era Due Volte...(Once Upon a Time...), that I found in the local used bookstore a decade or so ago. (Didn't make the connection to the long packed away frieze at that point.)
 The book is filled with a variety of Vogel's illustrations. Some appear to be engravings of his works, but some look to be printed from his pen and ink drawings.

Detail from Giorno Di Festa Nel Bosco (Feast Day in the Woods).

Those illustrations...

this dapper fellow...

 and this great, pop-eyed witch from Hansel and Gretel, make me wonder why Vogel is not more widely known. A truly great draftsman, he seems to have inhaled the mystical breath of faery as deeply as Rackham, with different, but equally evocative results.

I love these. Hope you do too!


Monday, August 12, 2013

On the Defensive

via http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/2013/08/on-defensive.html
Bird Warrior (detail of wip). Mixed media, private collection.

Lately my days are filled with much practice, much experimenting, much self-doubt. In this drawing I was attempting that scared, wary, and defensive look. It's a representation of what seems to be a recent eruption/disruption in my subconscious--dreams and nightmares of conversations featuring me on the defensive have been frequent.
Also my conscious thoughts have strayed to the defensive--I have to admit feeling a bit self-justificative (is that a word?) about my career-direction choices over the past year.

Bird Warrior (detail). Mixed media.

via http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/2013/08/on-defensive.html
Bird Warrior in progress. (Maybe should have quit here and not added color, etc?)

All these are normal and productive ruminations really, given where I find myself on this newest iteration of the art-journey. Still, it's not a particularly comfortable place (wait--has it ever been?).  At least this is my own internal struggle--I'm not having  to defend my life with sword and axe, although that seems much simpler in a way, haha!

Anyway, thanks for the visit.









Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Classic to Learn From


via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
Illustration by Frank C. Pape, 1911.

Was talking with an artist friend yesterday about folks who trace from photos--a practice many use regularly for their paintings. It's a methodology that would not only bore me to death, but is unethical--sort of the artist-as-snake-oil-salesman--and has little to do with skill or learning. They might make a sale to an uneducated buyer, but they lose so much in real artistic potential. Thus, not my idea of being an artist.
And that's why I much admire and learn from painters who can create compositions from their imagination.

Found Pape's entire watercolor illustration pretty fascinating. Not for the subject matter, but for the unconventional composition approach that works so well. Pape chose to frame the point of interest in heavily outlined, brightly colored, very detailed foliage and flowers.

They are gorgeous, and in many cases, that detailed beauty might catch and hold the eye, becoming the area of highest interest. That almost happens here--but it doesn't! 
In this instance, the flowers lead the eye to the figures--the young girl becoming the point of interest mostly due to the contrast and movement of her hair and dress against the light of the moon.

She still attracts my eye, even though she is less detailed than the bearded Man in the Moon, and this is primarily due to his lack of contrasting values. He's standing against bright back-lighting, yet Pape chose not to dark-silhouette his figure at all--even though in a real-light (and photographed) situation this would probably be the case.
 
Using real art knowledge to bend/break convention and come up with an amazing artwork--you can't get that from tracing a photo and filling it in. That's why this is an honest and genius work--something to truly learn from.

Thanks for the visit!




Sunday, August 4, 2013

An Unslakable Thirst

https://www.facebook.com/TomSarmo.Art
Drinking Song. Mixed media on toned paper.
 
These fellows aren't perfectly drawn, but they have assuaged a certain thirst.
Still, they don't bug me as much as they're annoying their mouse-buddy. (I can relate--it's boring to be the designated driver.)

Along with  the nuts and bolts of business, which is not my favorite coursework, this summer has been one of an intense thirst--the learning kind--and study for me. Not that an artist ever quits learning about the craft of drawing and painting, but lately I've paid concentrated attention on figures, characters, and a bit of unfamiliar technique-territory.  

Some of that is in anticipation (read, fear) of an upcoming workshop I'll be attending, and some of it is preparation for some cool upcoming workshops I'll be teaching (More about that soon!). Most of it is arising from a freshly renewed --and still mounting-- excitement about drawing (which is a surprise--never thought I wasn't excited about it).

Most artists--at least those I know--are lucky enough to have an enthusiastic thirst for learning which is never slaked. That makes every day much too short, and allows bad news, dark moods, and petty disappointments to fade somewhat into the background of life. My best wishes for that ardent, unrequited longing to everyone. Drink up--

and thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Drawing at the Museum

Cassowary sketches from last week

When I'm antsy in the studio and go look at the computer, it's mostly unproductive avoidance. But sometimes I'm smart enough to get the heck away and go draw. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has been a favorite place since I was a kid. Pretty sure I drove my brother crazy because when it was my choice for a family outing I picked the museum, over and over and over...

The building with its new addition ca.1960s
 
But drawing there began when I got my drivers license. The museum became a refuge. Back then, before it transformed into its vibrant, active, modern iteration, the place seemed as still as its mounted specimens. 
I'd disappear into the various exhibits with my sketchbook and the only noise around came from my scribbling pencil.
Do I miss that? Being the ridiculously nostalgic person I am, the answer is yes! To revisit the haunted, hushed halls I remember would be a return to a personal Arcadia. 

But the building has transformed along with me as I sketched there through college, art school, and my years as a children's illustrator and teacher.  Thanks to voters and donors who recognize the importance of science, art, and community, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is bursting with new life and new discoveries. Check it out at http://www.dmns.org/ 

I love it still, and artists are welcome as always.

 The museum (and Mom) ca. 1940s

Thanks for the visit!





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