Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Outdoor ceiling


Kids room, hand painted


Clear coated walkway


Gold textured lounge


Muddy Faces

By Jesper Ejsing

The other day I was creating another wallpaper for my screen. I try to shift the image each month choosing the latest drawing that I was happy with. Since I use the computer a lot, the wallpaper is a constant reminder of what is my best art so far. It reminds me what is good and helps me to sharpen that. To be perfectly honest I do not always know what I am doing. But focusing on the lucky ones, and staring at them each day, convinces me that I might be able to do it again.

That day I chose a wallpaper that was a zoomed in head shot of a Persian fantasy princes. It was one of those where I think I got the facial expression just right. When the face filled out my whole screen I could suddenly see all the brushstrokes and small twisted lines of transparent paint that altogether, when seen from afar or zoomed out, blends into a nicely clean face. But in the zoomed version it looked dirty and ragged.

So without thinking anymore or deeper than that about it, I skipped through a bunch of covers and plucked out all the faces, zoomed in and put them nicely together.

I am not sure what to learn from this, other than for me it felt quite good. Noticing the rough brushstrokes in the blown up versions made me feel a great deal more like an artist, and a little less like an illustrator.
Monday, August 29, 2011

Printing your work

-By Dan dos Santos

Getting a good quality print of your work can be really difficult, especially when you are not there to personally oversee the printing process. I struggled with this for years, as achieving a good print seemed to be some sort of alchemy... consisting of an elusive combination of scanning, color-adjusting and file formats.

In this post, I would like to focus on some of the technical aspects of preparing your art for print. Photographing/Scanning your work will be addressed in a separate post very soon.

Whether you are preparing your scan for web display or print, the biggest culprit seems to be the same... Gamma.

Gamma correction is quite involved, consisting of differing encoding and decoding rates (which you can read all about here)... but you don't really need to know all of that. The important part for illustrators is this: A typical PC monitor works at a native gamma of 2.2, and until very recently, a Mac works at 1.8. This means that any given image will display slightly brighter on a Mac.

This extra brightness is great when you are working digitally, because it allows you to see more details in the shadow areas than you would be able to see on a PC. The downside is that the rest of the world, including your Printer, is seeing it darker. The result is that an image which looks well balanced on a Mac will typically print dark.

Now here is the good news...

If you have a newer Macintosh operating system (after 2009), this difference is no longer an issue. Apple finally gave in to peer pressure, for once, and now uses a native gamma of 2.2 as well. The operating system, Snow Leopard, is the first to support this change and has adapted all of the graphics to accommodate the change. However, if you have an older OSX, you can still make due. There are three simple solutions to the problem:

1. Go into your 'color calibrater' and change the gamma of your display to 2.2. Viola, your monitor will look dark and shitty like the rest of the world.

2. Save a special display calibration setting just for print proofing, and toggle between it only when necessary.

3. Adjust your print file to compensate for the difference.

Now, adjusting a print file is not just a matter of lightening an image. Even though a higher gamma will result in a darker image, the darkness is not consistent over the entire value range. That is, the whites are not any less intense. Likewise, the blacks are not any darker. It's the midtones that are truly affected. So if you just lighten your print file, you will blow out the highlights in your print and lose a ton of detail (not to mention chalky color).

What you need to do is adjust the levels of your print via Photoshop. Go to you toolbar up top, and select Image > Adjustments > Levels. Here you will see a box that looks like this:

The middle slider is the midtone slider. This controls how wide the range of your midtones are. For instance, if you push the slider to the right (towards white), you are narrowing the value range between those two sliders. That means you're decreasing the range of light midtones, and are increasing the range of the dark midtones. This creates a darker image overall.

Conversely, if you slide the midtone slider to the left, you are narrowing the range of your dark midtones, and expanding the range of values between middle grey and white. This results in a lighter image overall.

The great thing about adjusting the midtones, is that it does not affect your true white and blacks. Your white will not get any brighter or darker, just the middle tones surrounding it. Ultimately, this is what gamma does to your display. So to emulate what a file will look like on a display with a 2.2 gamma, all you need to do is adjust the midtones. Personally, I have found that moving the slider 0.12 points to the left (for a value of 1.12) seems to be just about a perfect level of compensation.

Utilizing this method, I always prepare two files. One is for my personal use, and is calibrated for my display. The other, is a file saved especially for print with the necessary adjustments. I label these accordingly so as not to confuse them. ie. "warbreaker_hi_display.jpg" and "warbreaker_hi_print.jpg"

Now, as I stated, if you work on a newer model Mac, or a PC, this shouldn't be so much of an issue. What you see on your screen is pretty much what you'll get. However, there is always going to be some print discrepancy since your monitor is illuminated, and thusly produces much richer color and vibrancy... vibrancy that may not always make it to print. So how do you know what your piece will print like before sending it to your client? Three words... Instant. Picture. Maker.

Just about every Wal-Mart or pharmacy near you will have a Fuji or Kodak instant picture maker. These prints aren't perfect and shouldn't be used as color proofs, but they are a really close approximation to what your file will print like on an offset machine. So if you have major monitor problems, this is great way to find out about it! The really great thing about these machines, is that they read images in an RGB format. So you don't need to worry about converting to CMYK and preemptively (and possibly unnecessarily) killing your colors. Just bring your file on a flash drive, and for just $4, you can rest easy knowing that your print file is pretty close.

Typically, you are told to convert your file to CMYK before printing. This is not always necessary, and I rarely do it. Many short-run printers these days are digital, and are actually designed to work off RGB files. Further more, it's important to remember that the CMYK color proofing in Photoshop is an approximation of what an off-set printer is capable of. This means you are literally removing colors from your print file, with the expectation that those colors can't be printed using a traditional CMYK process. But what happens if you are printing a vinyl banner for a convention, and your Printer is using a high-end Canon which works on 9 different inks? Well, you just took out way more color than you needed to!

My feeling is this, your Art Director and Printer know what they need better than you. A good Printer is intimately familiar with his machine, and knows exactly how it's going to react. Your AD prints dozens of covers a year, and invests as much love into their design as you did your painting. Give them an RGB file, and let them convert it if they need to.

The last issue to address is Color Profiles. Color profiles (also known as ICC profiles) are data that tells a computer how to display a certain image. If you do not add a color profile, you image will be displayed in the default setting for any particular computer, often to horrifying affect.

If you are dealing with a client that is gang printing your work, and they specifically request a CMYK file, then I suggest using the profile: U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2. (unless they state otherwise). To convert an RGB file to CMYK, do not just change the image mode. Instead, go to: Image> Mode> Convert to Profile. Select the appropriate color profile. For best results, be sure to select your 'intent' as 'Relative Colorimetric', and turn ON 'Black Point Compensation'. There are of course situations where you would use Perceptual intent, but 90% of the time, Relative Colorimetric reaps better results for me, especially when dealing with difficult reds.

Balancing your image for digital display is an equally imperfect science, but quite a bit more cut-and-dry. Ultimately, you can't control what is going to show up on someone else's screen. As I mentioned above, you don't know what gamma any particular person is viewing things at, so all you can do is balance your file with the masses in mind, and hope for the best.

For professional prepress work, Adobe RGB 1998 is the standard profile for your workspace. This is also the color profile I use when I send a print file to a client. The profile has a very wide gamut, and can achieve some very intense colors. The downside is that those colors are not only outside the range of most home printers, but often outside the range of a web-browser!

Every web-browser has a different list of color-profiles they support, though most support none at all. If your particular color profile is not supported (almost always the case), the browser displays the image using it's default setting, which can alter the saturation of colors drastically. As the recommended color space for the Internet, sRGB should be always used for all images intended for publication to the World Wide Web. When preparing a file intended for an ebook or my website, I simply take my Adobe RGB 1998 print file, open a duplicate canvas, adjust it's size for web-display, and reassign the color profile as: sRGB IEC61966-2.1

These color profiles remains tagged to an image, regardless of the ability to read that tag. So even if someone drags an image from a web browser to their desktop, when they then open it up in Photoshop it will still be displayed correctly.

For more information on color balancing digital images, check out this article.



-by Arnie Fenner

A few weeks ago Scott Taylor posted an essay on the Black Gate magazine blog, "Art of the Genre: Top 10 Fantasy Artists of the Past 100 Years." I've never put much thought into list-making myself—and I don't believe that there ever was or will ever be an absolute, unquestionable "#1" in the arts, be it painting or writing or acting—but it's always interesting to read someone else's opinions as to who they feel are the field's Top Guns. Take a look at Scott's list: do you agree or disagree? If you were making a Top 10 List, who would make your cut and why?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coolest Trophy Ever?


Patrick Wilshire just revealed the new Illie Award Trophy. This is an award given to the best traditionally created work of the year, presented at IlluXcon. This is the second year the Wilshires will be presenting this award, and they really went all out by commissioning Thomas Kuebler to sculpt it. The sculpture stands 17 inches tall, and is a one of kind original.

If you've never seen Thomas' work in real life, you are truly missing out! Knowing Thomas, I'm willing to bet this little guy has hand-punched hairs inside of his nose and ears.

To view more of Thomas' work, check out his website at:

And to learn more about the Illie Award, including how to nominate a piece for consideration (even your own), check out the IlluXcon website here:
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Small Demo

Tough act to follow with Greg’s post. Absolutely fantastic.


Here’s another recent concept from FIRE AND ICE that I saved off in stages. 


Dark Wolf (again, because besides Teegra, he was my favorite to


I won't show the whole painting yet because it hasn't been released.


Loose pencil sketch. I'd rather find out where to go with paint (or pixel paint in this case)

I laid in a simple wash for the silhouette using digital watercolor

More digital watercolor and then starting in with oil pastel

From here on till the end it's pretty much all oil pastel.

Started adding some background.

Working a little bit on the hardware.

Tweeked colors to get a liitle more juice. 

 Next post I add here will be an oil painting demo.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pirate Paintings for National Geographic Pt. 2

Gregory Manchess

The first major painting for the Real Pirates exhibition was a battle scene involving loads of figures, both pirates and non-pirates. Based on a specific, real event in the history of Black Sam Bellamy’s pirate activities, I depicted an attack against the merchant frigate Tanner, moored off Petit Grove near Haiti. The pirates sneaked up the side of the ship and washed over the rail to overwhelm the unsuspecting crew.
Overall, there were four figures and six major scenes from the history of the Whydah that the client wanted to depict for the project. Since the deadline was already looming, I started with the battle scene to get the anxiety of designing such a time-consuming scene out of the way. If something went wrong, I’d be able to adjust as I went through the rest of the paintings.

I thought I would be depicting this entire scene in daylight, from a wider vantage point. But the client wanted to see Black Sam and some of the crew from a closer pov.
And the attack occurred at midnight.
The deadline for the entire job was critical enough, but adding a night engagement to an already crowded visual was daunting. As I proceeded through it though, I realized how I could use light to highlight specific moments within the scene. In effect, it allowed me to use stage lighting.

Here’s a fast sketch to establish the general composition. Then I shot reference to match it. I got a couple of illustrator buddies in a garage in Tacoma, WA, to wear costumes and act piratical to depict a wide range of mayhem. Quite a few ‘arrrghs’ were used in the shoot. (btw, it’s pronounced “arr” even though it’s spelled with a ‘gh.’ Just stuff ya pick up when working on pirate jobs...)

I didn’t get a quick official ‘ok’ from the client for this particular sketch, but as time was short, I started it anyway, taking the risk that they would love it. Since there was no time for color studies either, this would be the first finished piece the client would see in order to judge whether I was painting in the style they wanted.
Within the first three weeks, I had to travel during to meet with the art director, Mark Lach, for another aspect of the murals for the exhibit. I brought the painting with me and unrolled it in front of him in a quiet corner of the airport. He liked it immediately and we both knew from that point on, what the art would look like. This was a great relief. I wouldn’t have to worry about what they were expecting.
The only change: remove the beards from all of the pirate faces. (More on this later. A small detail from a historian, “pirates didn’t have beards,” that became rather debatable.)
I used some reference shots taken several years earlier to design the deck scene.

The painting in progress:


The Hidden People Sketchbook

By Justin Gerard

My friend and long-time co-worker Cory Godbey recently released his 2011 sketchbook which features a lot of work from a personal project that he has been working on this year.  Some of you may remember him from the Eowyn and the Nazgul competition where he entered the following piece:

I have the pleasure of living in the same neighborhood as Cory. We have been known to set off explosive devices every now and then but we had nothing to do with the Chocolate Easter Bunny Incident of last year.  

To see more of Cory's work, check out his blog at

To pick up a copy of The Hidden People visit his Store.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great books for under $15

-By Dan dos Santos

Every now and then, I stumble around Amazon and treat myself to a few new art books. I confess, I do this more than I should. Recently, I came across several really good deals that I thought I should share. So here for you are 3 great book buys for under $15

Ilya Repin
This book is 200 pages, has great reproductions, and collects the majority of Repin's major works. 
Just $14, and free shipping.

Edmund Dulac: An Edmund Dulac Treasury
I loves me some Edmund Dulac! This Dover book collects 116 Dulac pieces, 
and in my opinion is a must own at $14. Again, free shipping!

Arthur Rackham: Rackham's Color Illustrations for Wagner's 'Ring'
Arthur Rackham definitely ranks amongst my favorite artists, and his paintings for the Wagner's 'Ring' are some of his best. In particular, his depiction of Siegfried wiping blood from his face after having slayed Fafnir will be etched in my brain forever. Just $10, and free shipping.