Monday, July 30, 2007

Ci Vediamo

After the overall chillyness of the last painting, I decided that I wanted to be a little warmer this time. Orange and yellow predominate, though there is a bit of cobalt in the hair. Overall they are very happy colors, which gives the crying girl a less serious tone and helps us imagine that all is not lost. At least she'll be crying up a storm without worries of her tears freezing. It's coming along nicely and I have a feeling that I'll like this one very much.
This may be my last blog entry for a while. I've decided the flee the excessive heat that we've been seeing here in Greece for a small hill town in Italy where the temperatures are significantly cooler. I may make a few sketches while there, but airline weight limits being what they are these days, I'm unable to drag along a lot of painting supplies. Besides, who am I kidding. Do I really think I'll get a lot of painting done? Still, I may include a post or two about general art observations. After all, I will be in Italy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I had a potential client ask me about doing a painting where the woman was really crying up a storm. All right, I'll give you something like Ashley, the infamous crying girl from American Idol.
I'm not sure what it is, but I think that women crying brings out something primal in men. I always have to bottle up the urge to try and do something whenever I see a woman crying in public because it's such a dramatic response and usually such a private thing. Are you all right? Is there something I can do? Is there some jerk you need me to beat the crap out of for you?
Of course, I also think there's something inherently funny about someone crying because of another's political preferences.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You Better Think... Think

Once again, almost done but there's still a little cleaning up that's needed. As I said in the previous post, the color scheme on this one is a little chilly and subdued, but that's not a bad thing. I also think that it's quite pretty. Notice the main two colors are the teal and the cobalt blue (blue with a very slight tinge of purple). I added a little bit of red into the flesh of the lips and nails, but only so that it doesn't look odd. I kept it toned down to keep the emphasis on the other colors.
I haven't been in a captioning mood so I'll save that for later. I can put in some text any time. Of course you are all free to participate. Go ahead! Suggest something! If you give me an idea I can work with, I'll deny that you helped me and take all the credit myself. On that you have my word.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Making the Grade

I love putting gradation of color in my paintings. When the color, especially in the background, transitions from one shade to another (in this case though light and dark teal) or from one similar color to another (yellow, through orange, to bright red), I think it makes the painting a lot more interesting to look at. It's not something you would see in older comics, except occasionally on the cover. Now that there's a lot of computer assistance in comics, especially in the colorization and printing, so you see color gradation practically in every frame.
You would think that teal (green tinged with blue, as opposed to aqua which is blue tinged with green) would generally make a fantastic color for comic paintings, but almost every attempt in the past to use it has ended in disaster. Teal's complement is scarlet and you can't do a lot with scarlet and teal, trust me. A triad that includes teal also includes magenta and orange. Teal, magenta and orange? You're just asking for trouble.
But, I'm an experimenter (some might say tinkerer) by nature and threw out all attempts at color harmony and paired teal with cobalt blue. It's a pretty chilly combination, but it works.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The End Is Nigh

This one is almost finished. I just need to work on the hair a little more (always a nightmare), clean up a few spots that are a little rough, and then except for the captioning, it's done. Your really lose a lot in a photograph too. The actual painting is over 42" (105cm) tall and quite nice to look at.
I'm really happy with the way the colors turned out on this one. It's warm, but a little more subdued. I toned down the lips and nails quite a bit, and went with gold jewelry instead of silver. Also, the blue background is actually quite soothing. Sometimes the colors in comic paintings can be a little jarring and either too hot or too cold. This one definitely isn't, and I'm sure it's something Goldilocks could appreciate.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Grazie Per Fumare

Sometimes I like to "hide" things within my paintings. You know, little things that you don't notice at first, and may never notice at all unless you really look at the painting and have some passing familiarity with American politics. In this painting I decided that she would be smoking a particular brand of cigarettes. They don't exist except in the fertile imaginations of left-wing conspiracy theorists who see Big Tobacco as a sort of puppetmaster. All righty.
Of course, I certainly wouldn't be implying anything by any of this other than what we already know: smoking is cool and women smokers are sexy. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ojos Asi... part deux.

I went on about how brown isn't a pop enough color for me, so what did I do? I painted brown eyes. Actually, they are more the color of amber, but it's the same general thing. I remember several years ago a friend of mine, I can't remember who (Laura, maybe?), was looking at some new paints that I had bought. She said, gee, you've got some ugly colors here. I threw down the gauntlet. Pick any two colors, ANY, and I'll make a nice looking painting. She did and I did and she agreed it was a nice looking painting.
I'm going to go with a more subdued palette on this one and call it an experiment. We'll see how it works out.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I like making relatively large paintings and I usually don't make them as large as I want them to be. Judy at the gallery would sometimes tell me "too big!" I don't know, to me, the whole notion of comic art screams big. I made one once that was 72" (183 cm) wide, and all I kept thinking was "gee, this would have more impact if it were bigger." You walk into a room and BOOM, "hey, that's cool!"
Additionally, except of late, I'm not particularly prolific, so I don't like to waste an effort on something that you have to stand two feet away from to look at. It's hard enough keeping the captions fresh and making a bunch of small paintings would probably lead to a lot of rehashing of the of the same old lines. Less is more. Yeah, that's right.
Oh, you might recognize that drawing on this canvas (which is stretched currently to about 48" (122cm) square. I did the smoking girl, but I was never quite perfectly happy with it. I thought it was good, but the expression didn't quite do it for me. I wanted more blasé, so instead of having the eyes looking at the viewer, I made them looking up and to the viewer's right. Bonus points for knowing what that means.

Man Flesh

The first time I painted a Marlboro Man, I used the same color of flesh tone that I used for my women characters (yes, I did about half a dozen women before I worked on a man). I looked at it and I thought to myself, "damn, he looks really, umm, dainty." I mean with his pink, dewey skin and his perfect complexion, he looked like he had just had a facial. Well, this is no good. I started looking around at people and I did notice that men's complexions generally tend to be a little darker. Of course a latina is likely to have darker skin than Hans the Swede, but overall, when taken from the same stock, men seem to be a little darker and a little less rosy. I toned down the flesh and it ended up looking a lot better. I'm thinking of giving this guy a slightly unshaven look. We'll see.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Super Hair

Did you ever notice anything strange about Superman's hair? I mean, other than it always stayed perfectly in place even when supervillains tried their best to muss it up. It was blue. Why blue? Except for little old ladies in Florida, nobody has blue hair. Well, back in the old days of three-color presses, you basically had your choice of red, yellow or blue, you could leave it white, you could do it all black, or you could make dot patterns (called Benday dots). Flesh, for instance, was rendered with a white background and red and yellow dots. Well, all black made it look like just a clump, while leaving some white in made it kind of look like gray hair. Red made it look like red hair and yellow, of course, looked kind of blondish.
Somewhere along the way they decided that "black" hair was best rendered with blue. It seems odd, but it works. You can still see detail in the hair, it doesn't look like a big clump of nothing and it doesn't look gray. I've noticed that these days with modern printing presses they sometimes still use blue, but they also sometimes go with brown. I guess I'm old school—and I've expressed how I feel about the use of the color brown in comic art—it's just too subdued.
I just want to know how come his hair was so amazingly super that it could survive flying through the sun without so much as getting frizzy, but it still went limp and soggy in the rain; especially, when he was at the 'almost losing" part of the battle.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Marlboro Man

I get emails all the time from people all over the world who look at my artwork. Sometimes they ask about certain pieces or they would like to know where they could see it in person. Sometimes they just want to say that they like it. Most of the times they are quite complimentary. One time--and I still don't know if it was a joke--I got one that said that the women I painted were impossibly pretty and that I was perpetuating negative stereotypes of women as helpless airheads. Ouch.
But the truth is, I'm an equal-opportunity stereotyper. The men I paint all look like the Marloboro Man, and we all know that all men are 6'3", ruggedly handsome, buffed-up and have a full head of wavy hair that always falls into place. Of course, I do love the juxtaposition of taking Mr. Virile and having him say something very 1950s Sandra Dee.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Almost Done

This is just a preview and I'm awaiting to see if the client likes the captioning before I proceed. I did a mock-up of the text to show what it will likely look like when I am finished. If the way I do my text and the way this text looks on screen seem very much alike, it's because they are. There's a web site,, that sells all kinds of cool ones. I used to base my text on the way Silver Age comic text was generally done, but I found it lacked pizzazz. Study the text on a Lichtenstein, for instance, and you'll see it's actually kind of boring. I went out searching for the perfect font to base my text on and after trying a number of free fonts, I stumbled upon this site. They really do great work. This font is called "wildwords," and it's maybe the best $129 I've ever invested, though I can pretty much now do the font free-hand from memory.
The painting is not done since there's a bit of roughness here and there, and the text is a bear to put in. It requires a lot of measurement and planning and lightly sketching out. Believe me, it's a nightmare.
It turns out that the individual commissioning the painting wanted something poking fun at Democrats. Fine. I don't have a problem with that. I find your stereotypical leftist to be as a (word deleted) as your stereotypical right-winger, so I don't have a problem poking at the excesses of either party. As I wrote in my blog description, I think Republicans have inherently more comedy value. The stereotype of rich, greedy and bourgeois is a lot more easy to make fun of than the stereotype of weak-willed, overtaxing do-gooder. I mean, at heart, Democrats are thought of as well-intentioned but misguided while Republicans are thought of as pragmatic capitalists. To be philosophical, Democrats are guided by virtue while Republicans are guided by efficiency. I don't know, to me, making fun of people who are trying to be nice can come off as cruel. "Compassionate Conservatism" aside, Republicans never claimed to be nice. Is the Vice President nice? Rush Limbaugh who calls himself "The Most Dangerous Man in America" and has "talent on loan from God?" Jerry Falwell? Newt Gingrich earned his reputation as a bomb-thrower. Tom Delay's nickname was "The Hammer." Oh sure, Ronald Reagan was personable and had a nice smile, but his economic agenda was motivated by a drive for efficiency and his foreign policy was not based on a policy of politeness towards the Soviet Union.
I can get some play out of the "spineless sissies" or the "untrustworthy" angle, for Democrats, but I have to work harder.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hair Day

If there's something that's going to drive me absolutely batty one day, it's painting hair. To look good, the lines have to be long and smooth and there has to be variation in the width of the stroke. There is no trick here. First, load up about a relatively stiff #8 brush with black paint that's been watered down to about the texture of cake batter. For this I like to use a relative new brush. Second, take a deep breath, hold it, start in an area where the line will be thin and go. Not too slow and not too fast. Go too slow and your hand will jitter, but go too fast and you'll lose control. Think of a conductor waving a wand during a relatively slow-paced sonata. Light pressure gives you a thinner line, but as you go around a bend, you apply heavier pressure and get a thicker line. I have to be wide awake but not too hopped up on java to pull it off.
You may wonder if I'm totally ADD because I've got wisps of hair all over the painting and there doesn't seem to be anything systematic about which line I choose to do next. Waiting in the wings is a sopping wet paper towel for not if, but when I screw up. I go to an area of the painting where everything else is dry and start there. When things go awry I grab the paper towel quickly and wipe. If I were to wipe when there were other wet areas near, I would start a cascade of smudges. That would seriously be no fun.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ojos Asi

Most of the times the eyes are the focal point of a painting so I try pretty hard to make them interesting. Traditionally, comic eyes were pretty simple. With three colors and not particularly high resolution, there wasn't a whole lot you could do other than draw them well. Newer comic books use much more sophisticated printing techniques and they are able to achieve resolutions and gradations in colors that weren't really possible before. Also, Japanese anime came along and really stylized the eyes. They not only made them bigger, they added all kinds of color gradations and glints of light. I don't draw anime eyes, but I do incorporate some of the techniques they use to make them more interesting.
For some reason this photo doesn't capture it particularly well (probably due to the flash), but the top part of the irises are a much deeper shade of blue than the bottom and there's a fairly smooth transition between the shades. This never happened in Silver Age* comics, but it gives the eyes a deep, watery translucence that i really like. The glints of white also add depth and interest.
I've been accused a number of times of preferring blue eyes to brown; that the fact that I seem to always paint blue eyes is some indication of my own personal preference. This just isn't true. The simple truth is that blue is a bright primary color that harmonizes well with other bright primary colors. Brown is more subdued and requires a different color palette. The same is true with using yellow or red for hair as opposed to brown. I've used these other colors, they just never seem to have as much impact.
*In case you were wondering, the period of the 1960s and 1970s is generally referred to as the Silver Age of comics. This is when romance comics were still quite popular and young girls were the primary market. Except for certain Japanese anime comics, the genre pretty much no longer exists.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Inside the Lines

Remember back in elementary school when they told you how important it was to color inside the black lines? They were right! When I first started doing these comic paintings it was such a pain to keep the paint inside the black lines, and lots of times I would have to go over the lines again and again and again as the color would spill over the edge. It was really irritating. When you add this the fact that many colors require a large number of layers in order to look right, we are talking serious pain in the tuchus.
Cobalt blue, for instance, isn't particularly opaque, and neither are the pigments in the deep-magenta (quinacridone) or deep-purple (dioxazine) ranges. Unlike house paints, which use cheap synthetic pigments that fade, artist quality pigments need to last for, well, centuries--which reminds me that I once became very cross with an artist friend who has sold many more works that I, when I was told the paints were purchased at the home depot. HOME DEPOT! Ugh. If these paintings are anywhere near the sun, they will be white canvasses in a matter of a few short years. The fact that a small tube of cobalt blue, which is manufactured with cobalt salts, can cost $15-$20 is an incentive to cut corners, but it's still wrong! At art supply stores you can buy reds and yellows that use cadmium pigments, or you can use paints that are still fine, but use pigments that cost maybe 1/4 as much. Maybe in a landscade showing dandelions it wouldn't matter, but in a comic painting I really value intense colors. Of course for the cost of a couple of ounces of cadmium red you can buy a gallon of red at the Home Depot.
Where was I. Oh. So cobalt blue requires many layers in order not to look blotchy. It's a beautiful color, but it's so hard to get it to look really smooth and nice on a canvas, even when you put down as many as ten layers of paint. This, and the fact that it's a very chilly color, means that I often favor warmer/happier shades of blue. Additionally, when small areas were involved I would have to use very short strokes to keep the paint within the lines, and this often keeps the painting from having a really smooth finish (I'll talk about smoothness another time).
So anyway, after going completely mad trying to keep the paint inside the little black lines, I realized that I was being a complete idiot. I should put down a simple underpainting, then add the color, and finally go back over the painting and put in the black lines after all the color is put down, all is smooth and the colors have sufficient depth. It was a revelation! I gotta say, it works great and the paintings look tons better.
Of course at this stage, the painting looks really dorky. Just you wait, though, it will look great in a few days.


Thought I would add a post concerning the "in between" stage. I showed the sketch and then the drawing on the canvas after I had spread "dip" on it. This shows a little bit more clearly what the underdrawing looks like. It's no big deal, just a drawing that's a little smudgy.
I often work on more than one painting at a time--it's both a gift and a curse. The curse is, of course, that I have a zillion unfinished paintings lying around that may or may not receive additional attention. It's a waste both in terms of time and of money. Art supplies are expensive! If someone buys a painting, they are not just supporting the time and money I spent on this one, but also the time and money of the also-rans that allowed this one to exist.
It's a gift because I don't ever get bogged down on one piece. If I have several started, I can sort out the best from the worst and prioritize which ones are most likely to come out like I like them. I want them to be aesthetically appealing and I want them to be engaging. I want people to want to look at them and I also want them to be clever. I wish there were a magic formula, but when you look at them, you know which a okay and which are really good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Over Under

The next step is doing an under-layer in black outline. I experimented a lot with the best way to produce a comic painting, and it's just always worked out for me best if I do outlines in black before proceeding to add color. I suppose it's not a necessary step, but it helps me to see where the painting is going better.
People have often told me things like "gee, that kinda looks like someone." It's true that I often "base" paintings on the features actors or fashion models, but except for a Marylin I once did, I do NOT make them look like specific people. I don't want to be known as an artist who "draws famous people."
Also, for comic paintings to look good, the features have to be absolutely perfect. A slightly bulbous nose, a crooked mouth or oddly shaped face become very much magnified when features are stripped down to a very few lines. Only very few movie stars have such perfect features--Charlize Theron, maybe? Of course, beautiful in real life and what looks good stripped down to basic lines arent necessarily the same.
Anyway, this painting was based on somebody, even though in the end it doesn't really look like her. Care to guess who it might be?


After the sketch, the picture has to get onto canvas. I used to do a lot of drawing with colored pencils, so I can copy what I see quite precisely. There's nothing tricky about it. I have some favorite pencils that I use that I'm running out of. For some reason, I really like the feel of some pencils that the Westin Hotel chain used to have and that I've been unable to purchase ANYWHERE. I was once at an event at one and went around taking all the ones I could find and ended up with about 75 of them. They are slowly all getting small though and I'm sad panicky about that.
Paint doesn't stick to pencil, so after drawing on the canvas, I have to prime it. I use a more or less equal mixture of gesso, matte medium and water, and long ago started referring to this mixture as "dip." Don't ask me why I named it after the murderous goo in a certain animated film, but I did.
The canvas is then mounted onto a temporary frame that is several inches larger than the final painting will be. The outer edges at the end will be folded around the outer edges of the final painting to give it a more finished look that i really like.
So this is where the painting is now. I have played with the contrast in the photo so that you can see the under-drawing better. In real-life it is actually quite faint. You can click on the picture to see a lot more detail.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Stu Stu Studio

If you were wondering to yourself "I wonder what the area in which such a fine artist performs his craft looks like," well here is your answer. Yeah, I know, it's pretty colorful. Would you expect anything less?