Friday, April 27, 2007

Spotting a Fake

When traveling, I often pick up and flip through both the in-flight magazine and the always-entertaining Skymall magazine. I find that I’m very aware of bad Photoshop retouching of photographs, and magazines are the best place to find examples. I found two on my last flight, one a full-page ad that I forgot to tear out and now curse myself for, and the following:

*Lady not included

I love Tempur-pedic mattresses, though this seems to be a competing brand. Immediately I chuckled and imagined being the poor graphics dude or dudette who was given the job of taking two photos and compositing them so the lady was laying on the mattress. After all, what better way to sell a mattress than to have an attractive lady laying on it. It’s a common tactic I’ve noticed in other mattress ads, but these two photos should never have been paired.

The first thing to notice is that the figure was photographed in a similar angle as the bed so that the pose works well enough in terms of perspective. I might quibble about how tall she is relative to the bed—it looks as if were she to actually lay down she’d fill the bed head-to-toe and touch head and baseboards. At 6’2” that’s a problem for me in many beds, but most women are not 6’2”. Yet there are more glaring problems.

Contrasting light directions mean shadows are cast improperly

Lighting is the best way to tell a paste-up job. In this case the room is being lit by a bright warm light, one that leaves crisp shadows and clearly lights up what it hits. It is coming from a window that would be behind you and to the left if you were standing there. The lady was photographed in less-bright probably studio lighting. It is a cool highlight and doesn’t saturate the areas it hits. In fact it looks like she was photographed on a cloudy day, perhaps. The studio lighting was coming from the right side, and this is very much at odds with the room.

So, placing the figure into the environment presents two problems, the first being lighting. The other is the artist should paint in digital shadows to make the figure appear to sit within the existing environment. But this wasn’t done.

Arrows indicate light sources. I’ve indicated where her legs should roughly be casting shadows based on this.

Had the artist done this, it still would not have fixed the contrasting lighting problem because the figure itself has shadow areas that are opposite what they should be given the room’s lighting. What is in shadow on the figure should be lit, and vice-versa.

Lastly, it is always difficult to digitally cut out hair. The solution proposed here is among the least delicate.

Raggedy-Ann hair is a good indication that this photo was placed. Or that the model needs a new stylist.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Figure Drawing, pt.3

Week 3 followed a week off due to a convention I had to prepare for in Mexico. I dug up a Tombo brush-pen I picked up somewhere. I used it to practice writing my Kana in my Japanese lessons. I was nervous about trying to incorporate it into my life drawing, which meant it was an imperative that I do so. Remember what I was saying about chickening out of difficult things? Here I was, about to.

3.5x7.5” 5min. brush pen

The reason I was afraid was because pen-and-ink is a medium I rarely ever use. For illustration I haven’t had need for it and it’s not a medium I happen to enjoy using much at this point. But for life drawing it becomes difficult because it is very unforgiving. With conte or pencil you can start lightly if you’re a bit unsure and then commit later. With pen and ink you put a stroke down and you’re committed. This means that you cannot experiment, you must be confident about what you’re putting down. I figured I’d start by using the pen for the 5-minute studies. My goal was to posterize the figure, since there isn’t enough time in 5 minutes to make these confident statements of line and get into hatchwork for shading. So, anything approximately 60% black I “clamp” to black, the rest I clamp to white, creating a highly graphic image. It was more fun than I thought it would be, but a bit stressful.

4.5x4.5” 5 min. brush pen

Once that was through I went back to the usual for the 20 min. poses.

9.25x7.25” 20min. conte pencil

On this last drawing, the model was holding a rope that is set up over the modeling platform. It was a great pose, but over the course of the 20 minutes her body began to pivot since she was letting her weight hang. By the time the drawing was done it was a very different pose.

6.75x12.5” 20min. conte pencil

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Need a Little Change

Nearly two years ago, I purchased a Wacom tablet and a copy of Painter IX. It was a large outlay of money, but I was fit for once. Digital art has become all the rage among illustrators, and though I’d been using Photoshop for awhile, mainly for scanning and color-correcting and web work, I hadn’t committed to trying to do full digital work.

A part of me didn’t want to produce this type of work. I got into the industry to be a painter, and that is still what I want to be. And yet, it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed to understand what digital art was about, and needed to be able to do it.

The ability to take a drawing and tint it into grayscale quickly, tweaking and massaging along the way, is invaluable. Doing this more involved study is great because the more information an art director gets in sketch stage the better they can communicate problems, and the more you can hold them to unreasonable change requests at final, because the information was clear in the approved sketch. More often than not, changes aren’t required when I’ve done more in-depth sketches. In past years these would’ve required painting or more involved drawing. Of course Whelan makes a mint selling his grayscale studies (I have one), but he’s a rare duck in that sense. I once passed on some Darrell K. Sweet and Hescox acrylic studies because I was a flat-broke college student. I kick myself now, since they were completely affordable, going for $100 or less, if I recall correctly. But that gets across the point: you could spend the better part of a day doing a painted study and only be able to get, say, $75 for it. Now, that’s a decent chunk of change for some people in some jobs, but recall that you won’t sell them all. If your originals don’t sell like hotcakes, you won’t sell most of them.

I’m glad I made the digital move. For one thing, it’s become a necessity. Given the relatively easy methods available for making fast changes, either to sketches or finals, it seems art directors have gotten used to asking for more changes that might’ve been nearly impossible before. Consider this relatively minor request on a final piece: can you move the figure to the left a little more?

As a painter, prior to digital manipulation this seemingly simple request could quickly make you reconsider the worth of your life. Moving a figure in dried paint is nearly impossible. You would need to paint it out, match your background, and then repaint it in the new position. If you didn’t mind destroying the integrity of your original you could xacto-out your painted figure, paste it into the new position, prime and then repaint the exposed cutout area and try to massage the seams a little. That would save you some time at the expense of an ugly original. If you think that this sort of request wouldn’t happen, I got the example from a talk Richard Hescox gave years ago where he related how he was asked to do just that. In the past, this sort of change (if the position had been clearly indicated in the sketch phase and approved) would’ve required a change fee, and you can see why. Now? it’s become almost an everyday occurrence to be asked for such “trivial” changes, and not to be paid extra. If you did a painting, you still need to do the change. Why? Because if your competitor turned his in as a digital painting and agreed to make a similar change for free, because his file was in layers which could be very quickly manipulated, then you are now falling behind the competition. Digital has allowed a level of value to art directors that is now considered industry-standard.

If you paint, the only option now is to take your digital scan and manipulate it digitally. Maybe you repaint or adjust using digital tools. Maybe you’ll do a small painted piece, scan, and composite the new element. One way or another, it’s a necessity to use the digital medium. Or to work in a manner that reduces such requests as much as possible.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Figure Drawing, pt.2

Below is a 5-minute piece from the initial warm-up poses.

4.5x8” 5min, conte stick

I never did much like gesture drawing and since leaving college have basically abandoned it. I also appreciate the 5-minute starting time, as it’s enough time to do something beyond gesture. I do find that gesture is useful for getting the thrust of a pose down, but the things you force yourself to see by doing gesture should be second-nature in how you draw most things. I prefer getting something down accurately. This is echoed in how I draw even 20-minute poses; you’ll often see that I don’t draw the entire figure each time. Some artists do and you’re encouraged to do it in school. I’d encourage it too, particulary for students.

The reasons I don’t do this any longer are a few: sometimes the pose isn’t interesting top-to-bottom. Awkward leg poses can destroy a great upper-body pose. Sometimes the amount and interplay of light-and-shadow is complex enough that 20 minutes is simply not enough time to do it all justice. I’d rather focus on a portion of the figure and try to see and put it down with accuracy than get the whole thing in and not have ironed any of it out very well. Perhaps I’m just slow. Sometimes, I just like a partially-finished drawing, and how you trail a drawing from fairly rendered to empty white is an interesting exercise on its own.

5.25x8.5” 20min, conte pencil. I was happy with the way the torso faded to white here.

The reason I would suggest students shoot for the entire figure each time is simple: students have a habit of chickening-out of drawing parts they aren’t comfortable with. If they find feet hard, maybe they’ll avoid them. If they don’t like hands, maybe they won’t finish them, and so on. There are other ways in which students can chicken out, I’ll get to those in time. Don’t start excluding parts of the figure until you know you can confidently draw them if you want to, and be honest about that. In fact, if something is giving you trouble focus on that, if anything, if you want to do a partial figure. If your hands are particularly weak, forget the entire figure for a bit and concentrate on hands.

In the end, while 20 minutes is enough time to get a decent study in, it’s hardly enough time to do a “finished” drawing, one that has a full range of values, the exactitude that would go into such a work. It’s unfortunate that long poses are not more prevalent because artists can get used to the more generalized drawing done in short poses and never come face-to-face with having to scrutinize every aspect carefully. By doing partial figures, I’m allowing myself more time to get more detail in than I might otherwise.

11x6” 15 minutes, conte pencil. With another 5 minutes I could’ve resolved the legs and feet. As it stands, I like how I gradated the detail there.