Sunday, November 30, 2014

1041 - Chickens 102

Today is Grey Cup 102, over a century of championship Canadian football.  The parties have been going on for days, the venues have been perfected, the hosts are all smiling, gracious, and ready for visitors from coast to coast to coast.  Players mingle with fans, vendors hawk all kinds of popular items, and food and drink flow freely.  What a great week!  And at the end, there's even a dramatic football game that just so happens to be our nation's most prestigious event.

Oh yes, and then there's chickens wearing sweaters.  I had to hand-build a "Cluckgary" jersey for the chicken who supports the Stampeders.  Both contenders pose with the cup, but only one will win it.  Who will it be?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

1040 - Bugs Boomy

So we have this houseplant and it's infested with a single worm that's eating the leaves.  We can't get the worm by day because he hides, and he comes out and eats the plant only when we sleep.  He's crafty that way.

So I've seen this on television before, and I think it will work.  I make a decoy worm out of things I have around the house.  I make sure she doesn't just look like another worm, but a va-va-voom blonde bombshell of a worm: long blonde hair, gorgeous eyes and a full figure that would make a bishop kick in a stained glass window*.

So I tell my wife: "We stick this little beauty in the plant, see? Then we hook her up to the dynamite and light the fuse.  The pesky guy worm will come out of his hidey-hole to see what's going on.  Then the lady worm will be all like, 'hello, sailor', and the guy worm will be all like, 'hey baby, you da bomb', and then the fuse runs out just as the guy worm makes his move, and then KABOOM!  No more worm problem.  So where do we keep the dynamite, hon?"

My wife fixes me with one of her looks.  "We're all out of dynamite." 

*Apologies to Raymond Chandler, from whom I swiped this quote.

Monday, November 24, 2014

1039 - Nativity VII

Today, JSVB gets medieval with rock and roll!  Well, rock, anyways.  I've painted in some of the rock faces for the manger in my nativity.  Orthodox nativity has the manger in a stylized cave rather than the back of a barn as is often depicted in Western nativity.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1038 - May The Force Be With Me

A long time ago...
     ...1993, to be precise...
... LucasArts, a teeny tiny division of the same people that made Star Wars, released their X-Wing videogame.  I remember spending many hours working my way through the missions until I finally destroyed the Death Star!  It was a high point of my gaming career.

Now, twenty years later, the X-Wing game has been re-released, and it's as much of a time sink as it ever was back then.  Trouble is, Red Leader is now twenty years older and fatter than he was back then.

Even though I feel I am smarter now than I was back then, these missions are still joystick-twistingly difficult.  Now I remember how I learned to "use the Force" back then.  Since the game structure is purely linear, if you fail a mission or get killed, you just go back to the main briefing and try again.  And again. And again.  After a while, through the process of learning from mistakes, you develop a sense for how the mission must unfold: target the fifth transport only, use torpedoes to kill the TIE Interceptor, turn and fly towards the Rebel rescue shuttle, protect it from the squadron of TIE Fighters, then head towards the Star Destroyer, target the three TIE Bombers and blow them up with torpedo shots before they can launch, and so on. If you make a mistake, usually the whole mission falls apart and you have to try again: Star Wars meets Groundhog Day in space. 

Fortunately, although the graphics are very pixellated by our standards, the sounds are realistic and the missions are seldom boring.  X-Wing stands today as an example of some of the best of game design ever, as far as I am concerned.

As for today's JSVB graphic, I drew it using the original Star Wars storyboards as a visual reference.  I bought a book that published all of the boards from the original movies: fascinating reading.  I adapted a board by Joe Johnston and one by Nilo Rodis (who signed my copy of the book! Cool!) and drew my fat old self in the cockpit (the glasses don't show up at all well, heck).  Twenty years ago, or maybe even longer, I recall drawing myself in an X-Wing cockpit, replacing good ol' Luke.  I have no idea where that drawing is now, though, so I re-drew this one. 

Trivia: George Lucas insisted that his boards be drawn on vellum instead of paper.  He wanted the boards to last for as long as possible.  Vellum is used for manuscripts and illuminated writing, but it's a difficult medium for sketch work since the ink takes a long time to dry and the surface is slippery.  I re-created the look of the vellum using Photoshop.  

All Star Wars related imagery is the intellectual property of Disney Studios. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

1037 - Nativity V

I think I'm almost finished with the faces for my Nativity icon.  Time go get into the monkey-work of laying flat colours for the rocks and the border.

This past week, I've fielded a number of questions about iconography:

  • The process of painting an icon is called "Writing"
  • Icons are written on hardwood boards.  In this case, canvas is glued onto the board and covered with gesso, which is a white, sticky primer that dries hard.  The gesso goes on thick and then gets sanded down to the point where it becomes smooth and featureless as glass.
  • I use acrylic paint, although icons can be painted in oil or more properly with a water-soluble pigment known as egg tempera.
  • The flat colours are laid down in a series of passes of thin paint.  For instance, the dark background is ten coats of paint, the blue is maybe five, the orange is maybe a dozen.
  • I use five or six basic pigments.  I mix compound colours by alternating layers of the basic colours.  For example, Mary's cloak is a deep red covered with a coat of blue covered again by the red covered again by the blue, and so on.  The faces work the same way.  The gradients are the result of many layers of paint of different colours.  
  • A glaze is a thin wash of paint, normally yellow ochre.  Glazing will cause the colours beneath to blend.
  • The gold areas (which don't show up well on my scanner) are 10-carat gold leaf glued and sealed to the board.
  • My icons are small, roughly 8 x 10 inches.  Some icons are larger than life.
  • After the writing is complete, the board is sealed.  An icon that is kept reasonably well should last at least a hundred years without wear, and possibly a thousand or more.  It's a hand-made time machine directly from the first millennium all the way to the third or even fourth!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1036 - Kirby-esque Sylvia In Colour!

This is the third and last pass at turning my friend Sylvia into a comic-book character in the style of Jack Kirby.  What seals the deal are the "Kirby Krackles", which are the dots in the background that define a supernatural negative space.  Master draughtsman Kirby would have rendered these by hand: I was lazy and created a custom pen in Painter that more or less emulates his technique.  

It's been a long, long time since I've tried to draw Sylvia.  Probably the last would have been their wedding portrait.  From way back in 2010, please check out JSVB Post #180 "A New Wedding Hope" by clicking here.

Oddly enough, this version of Sylvia is seen as if I were Jack Kirby.  The 2010 version, I drew her as if by The Brothers Hildebrandt.  Someday, I should do a portrait of her in my own style.

Friday, November 14, 2014

1035 - Kirby-esque Sylvia In B&W

I don't know a lot about comic book art, but I can imitate as I learn.  I do know about inking, though, since the process of clean-up for animation is very similar.

First of all, inking isn't tracing!  You're re-drawing the image where the pencil lines used to be.  Ink style is a lot different from pencil style.  With ink, you are laying lines down much more deliberately than with pencil.   The phsyics of ink demand holding the pen or brush differently than a pencil.  Pens in particular require a careful approach because ink from a pen dries much more slowly than ink from a brush, so pen ink invites smudges.  However, it can take months or years to learn to use a brush well.  

Animation clean-up seldom uses ink, but the principles are the same: you draw so slowly that it becomes nearly impossible to make a mistake, as long as the penciller has made no errors.  It requires an extremely steady hand and powerful, extended concentration to do it well.  

More and more, ink and clean-up are done digitally, as I have done with Sylvia.  The bonus is that you get an "undo" button.  With real ink, you end up fixing mistakes with white paint.  I remember seeing a Japanese manga artist at the Vancouver Art Gallery who admitted to whiting out his lines and inking them back in  twenty times without a second thought.  If you looked at the page edge-on, you could see the mound of accumulated white paint like a big old blister sitting on the paper.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

1034 - Habits Of The Ungood Artist

Not making Ungood Art says to me that boundaries are not being challenged.  This month, though, there is not much to report on the Ungood Art front.  I've been colouring inside the lines and staying within my comfort zone.  

Then I looked at my work desk as objectively as I could.  Note how I resorted to storing my keyboard on my monitor.  I seldom use the right side of the screen anyways, so why not?  Also, the sideways typing mitigates carpal-tunnel syndrome by forcing the wrist into a position that makes repetitive stress injury difficult: it's too hard to type to make any of the stresses repeat.  

So maybe my desk has a small amount of extra clutter.  I've got until next Ungood Art Day, traditionally the thirteenth of every month, to either clean the desk or make some really good Ungood Art.  I'm thinking maybe Robocop riding a purple unicorn?  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1033 - Kirby-esque Sylvia In Blue

My friend Earl and I ended up discussing what it would take to make a quick comic-book portrait of his wife Sylvia, as done in the style of legendary illustrator Jack Kirby.  

Kirby was renowned for his dynamic and fluid-looking character poses.  He knew perfectly how to balance weight with motion and action with line, and make it all look cohesive, dynamic, and appealing.  As I studied Kirby's technique, I discovered that he started his career as a low-level animator *cough* who ended up leaving the studio system because the work was too formulaic and he didn't get along with his directors *cough*cough*, and then took up illustration *cough*cough*cough* and got on with comic books and became famous for his work.  No more coughing, this is where he and I diverge.  

Kirby did hundreds of panels for romance  magazines before he got involved with Stan Lee's superheroes.  Maybe that's why Kirby developed a highly lyrical sense of composition for his work.  That, and he could work fast and draw simple, forceful characters, thanks to his training in animation. 

So, armed with this knowledge, I reverse-engineered Kirby's prototype female characters into Sylvia's portrait, and created the piece you see on today's JSVB post.

It's not Kirby in the strictest sense, but I did follow his notions of facial proportion to achieve this look.  My pencils aren't as tight as what many artists will draw, but it was a good start.  As a piece of trivia, pencils and inks in comic books will get reduced by up to 60% before publication!  That makes even a loose, sketchy penciller like me look like I've drawn a tight line every once in a while.   

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

1032 - The Maple Leaf Forever

World War One defined Canada as a nation.  In the hundred years that have followed, how far have we come?  

Canada is one of the most civilized and livable countries in the word.  Our social policies are progressive and our economy is sound.  Our people live together, a multitude of diverse peoples united by our loathing of mosquitos and minus forty degree weather (fortunately not normally at the same time). 

Yet we are faced with war from within and without.  The Ukrainian situation threatens to escalate into a new world war.  We are flying CF-18 fighter-bombers against ISIS terrorists overseas.  Our soldiers are being attacked on home soil.

Today is Remembrance Day.  There was the largest crowd I have ever seen at the cenotaph this year, easily twice as many people as last year.   Citizens want to honour our veterans, and what they have sacrificed to make Canada great. 

While our government officials seem keen to be photographed attending these ceremonies, I find it hard to believe that they are moved by all of the fine words and honest sentiments.  Veterans' benefits have been consolidated and then cut.  Yes, this creates a greater efficiency at government offices, but the throttling of funds to our soldiers and protectors serves only to help the financial picture, but not the societal one.  The efforts Canada expends in post-millennial warfare has created a new, large group of veterans, many who need immediate social assistance: medical aid, psychiatric aid, and support in civilian life.  Certainly we owe the veterans this much.

The CBC has reported that now more deaths among Afghanistan vets occur through suicide at home than did occur on that faraway battlefield.  

The Minister for Veteran's Affairs, The Honourable Julian Fantino, was booed when he showed up for a veterans' salute at BC Place.  Let's be fair, though, Veteran's Affairs is a Ministry under siege, and although Mr. Fantino does not present himself well in public, he does maintain a responsible attitude in a service that is being bled of its funding.

We citizens can complain, as much good as that will do, or we can help.  The Royal Canadian Legion is Canada's largest non-profit organization serving veterans.  Money donated to the Legion goes directly to helping the vets who sacrificed their bodies, in effect helping those who have served us so well.  The Legion also accepts membership from the public, and is a fine way to support the veterans' community.  The government can send our men and women, brothers, sisters, friends and family into harm's way.  We can choose  to bring them back with dignity.


All elements in this graphic were made with public domain images from Wikipedia. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

1031 - Nativity IV

Forward progress on the Nativity.  Will it be ready in time for Christmas?  Maybe enough of it, anyways.  I've blocked in more colours, refined the faces a bit and started painting rocks.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

1030 - A Piece Of History

As incredible as it seems, today marks the 25th anniversary of the decommissioning of the infamous Berlin Wall.  To me, it feels like those events are as recent as the evening news.  Yet a quarter of a century slips by, and what was once a deadly symbol of the Cold War now lies in pieces.  One of maybe a million of them is sheltered within a cheap display frame on my book-case.  How strange a turn of affairs is that? 

Yet what has the world learned in a score of years plus change?  We've learned about homeland security and unmanned aerial vehicles.  We've become informed on ISIS and the Taliban.  We've weathered the Desert Storm and Desert Shield.  Russia was our enemy, once our ally, is now our enemy yet again.  

Some lessons we're still learning, of yellow ribbons and red poppies in particular. 

And green.  If you're curious, you can buy one of these 25-year-old cement chunks online for around ten dollars.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

1029 - "Our Bucket List"

Once I had a friend take great pains to point out to me that art should be able to stand on its own without need for description, a most highly annoying conversational gambit.
Yet here we are; I think this piece speaks for itself.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

1028 - Nativity III

Lately, business has been very, very good to me.  However, business has also cut into my time for posting on JSVB as well as for working on my latest icon.  Here I solve both problems at once by showing my latest progress.  Mostly, it's just mixing the colours for Mary's cape by laying on alternate layers of purple and red.