Friday, June 14, 2013


I'm planning to move my blog off Google Blogger and over to my website in the next couple of months.  During the transition, more of my content will appear here on Studio Wondercabinet, and more of my Blogger posts will be notes directing you thither, with promises of wonders -- or at least amusements -- upon your arrival.   The Wondercabinet blog is under currently under development.  Thank you for your patience.  Studio Wondercabinet regrets your inconvenience.

Looking for updates on Heather Hudson and her art?  Try looking here --

Friday, June 7, 2013


I finally got back to Krab Jab's costumed drawing session last night, huzzah!  It was warm in the studio space but the model posed like a champ anyway, and I really enjoyed drawing her.

Victorian dress tried valiantly to transform women into furniture.
This was my first life-drawing in a couple of weeks.  I've been working in pen for the last week or so, putting together some b&w sketches for Kickstarter project rewards,  and it feels like some of that mindset crept over into my drawing last night.  This feels much more like a WIP for an illustration than most of my life-drawings.  I think it's the negative space around the head that does it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Hats

I'm spending some time revisiting a painting from a couple of years back, The Old Witch.  Here's a detail comparison, 2011 vs. 2013 ...

This progression makes me happy. 

When I painted the original Old Witch back in 2011, I had a very weak and slippery grasp on digital painting, and by this I mean "ongoing but ultimately doomed battle with Photoshop." I thought at the time that the basic idea of the piece was good, it was my technical skill that was dissatisfying.  Now that I have built up my skills in Painter and reached the point where I can focus on the painting rather than the tools, I'm revisiting the piece.

For me, the most important element now is that I have a control of edge.  Edge is one of what I consider the basic four elements of a picture; Line (or drawing), tone, hue and edge.  Edge controls a lot of nuanced information about the color masses that intersect to create it, and changes our sense of hue as well as texture.

I think this might be the start of a series of personal works based on lesser-known Grimms fairy tales.  Of course, it could also be time to finish up some of the WIPs that have been started over the last couple of years.  The important thing is to keep painting.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Laughing and screaming (in art)

Depicting expression can be hard.  Humans recognize and interpret expression very quickly, even instinctively, so you need to render it properly.  A misplaced shadow that wouldn't be noticed in the fold of a dress can change your character's happy laughter into the screams of unbearable suffering.  This is not a good thing.
Technically, this girl is probably screaming with joy... but you get the idea.

To avoid ambiguity, it helps to have a clear idea of what you're trying to achieve.  In "The Complete Guide to Facial Expression," artist Gary Faigin describes in great detail how the muscles of the face create the basic expressions of our emotions.  He lists the following points for recognizing a joyful laugh;
  • Forehead is smooth, brow is relaxed
  • Eye gently squeezes shut.  Lower lid rises across the ball of the eye, upper lid more stationary
  • In the mouth, upper teeth show from tip to base; lower teeth show only a little, and only in the front of the mouth
  • Corner of mouth points back towards ear
As the corners of the mouth pull back towards the ear, the naso-labial fold deepens and create apples in the cheeks, two wrinkles form between the lower lip and the chin, and wrinkles form at the outer corners of the eyes.

This is all very well for Santa Claus, but it can be a challenge to depict on a young or a conventionally pretty female character.  Without going into sociological analysis, we equate youth and beauty with smoothness of face, and that frequently results in a blankness or ambiguity of expression in rendering.  It takes a good deal of practice to find the point where you can indicate the shapes of happiness in the face without destroying the perception of youthful smoothness.
I find it helps to think in terms of masses rather than lines, and to work up the planes of the face with the side of the pencil.  But eventually there is a point where I have to step back and ask myself, does pushing the happiness forward make the character look too old, or even just not glamorous enough?

And then I push the happiness forward anyway.  I have a gummy eraser for gentle corrections, and an innate dislike of blank faces.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Apps for Artists

The iPad can be a great reference tool for artists, even beyond the core function of surfing the internet to steal images for which you do not own the copyright. (Hint -- use these for studies only!) The best art reference photos are taken by you, from a model from whom you get a signed release to use the images.  But there is always an emergency when you can't find a model, and you don't have a camera on your computer, and so on. Here are some of the apps I've used lately, either in emergencies or in warmup studies.

And that's how Doc Savage was born... arm and hand study from Pose Tool manikin, with some years of experience on top.

Posebook (Male)--  Photos of clothed figures with wonderful character
Posebook (Female) -- Same, with lady-people!
MARA 3D -- Manikin figures, but you can vary the lighting and the perspective -- variety of body types
Handy -- Manikin hands, for emergency hand help
Pose Tool -- Bendy manikin figure, for rough foreshortening help
Lifedrawing -- Haven't used this one much yet, but it's got a combination of photos and manikin-skeletons, and the models are well-lit and have nice musculature. 

Manikins, real and virtual, are good for figuring out foreshortening, and shadows, and the general  lines of the figure.  At best, they are a reminder of how and where to draw the anatomy that you already know from years of regular anatomy work and life drawing.  So you are not actually drawing the manikin, you are drawing platonic ideal anatomy in a similar position, and hopefully the position is not quite so stiff.  (Fun practice project -- twist up your real-world manikin, dump it on the table and try to sketch a naturalistic pose out of whatever position it lands in.  Whee!)

Traditionally it was not uncommon for an artist to turn to the work of other artists of help.  I have seen Frazetta paintings where secondary figures appear very similar to those in the works of 19th century painters, and far too many late 20th century works where the primary figure is dead similar to the work of Frank Frazetta.  Do not do this now.  There are a lot more ways to get reference at 3 a.m. on a rush deadline, and, with image-search, it's easy for the art director to figure out why that figure looks so familiar.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Surprising the art director

Art directors do not like to be surprised.
Ganesh is not only the god of free-lancers, legend says he edited the Mahabarata using one of his tusks to red-ink the manuscript;  obviously an early and divine Art Director as well.

They are generally overworked people without time or energy for drama.  If an art director chooses you to illustrate a project, it's because he thinks you're going to do the best possible art for it based on what he's seen of your work.  So if you do amazing, wonderful work that fits the project because it looks like what he expected, and turn it in on time, he will not be surprised.  Grateful, maybe, but not surprised.

Surprises I have seen, or heard about from AD friends...
   "The artwork hasn't arrived and I haven't heard from the artist..."
   "The art turned up on my desk while I was at lunch and it looks lousy..." (the classic phone-in, as in, "that work was really phoned in, wasn't it?")
   "The art looks nice but it's certainly different from the approval sketch..."
   "The art looks nice but it's certainly different from your usual style..."
   "The art looks nice but it's not right for the world, and we sent reference..."
   "Our policy is that women's armor should be a female equivalent to male armor..."
   "The mushroom/elephant tusk/sword/whatever looks kind of... suggestive..."
   "Why did you use the elven runes to write rude things in kanji?"
   "Why is this portfolio full of work that's not what I use for my game?"
   And any statement that begins "This is a family friendly game..."

As a younger artist I committed some but definitely not all of these;  try not to collect the complete set.

I've heard artists talk about the importance of Always Making Deadline, which is, yes, very very important.  But if there has been a tragic accident and you can't Make Deadline without a major sacrifice of quality in your work, what do you do?
 The best bet is to contact the art director ASAP and explain what's happened.  Ask how he wants you to handle the situation; can he extend the due date, would he like to reassign some of the work, what can you do to help fix a bad situation?  This is not something to do often, but it's better than saying nothing and turning in weak work.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Short form "How"

For any young artist who thinks my last post on illustration ran on too long...

Good things to know
  Draw a lot
  Tone arrangement is more important than hue.
  Never surprise the art director.
  Andrew Loomis' "Creative Illustration" has recently been reprinted.  James Gurney's "Color and Light" is darn good too.  Read them.
  Everybody struggles -- against despair, against poverty, against the sense of our own incompetence.  You may not be satisfied with your work, but you are never alone.

Good Luck!