Props designed for the Waystone Inn from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Value and color comps for an alley in Tarbean from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Color variations for Kvothe’s design from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Treasure Island | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Lehua | Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine [Lehua, The story of a Woman]: A Hawaiian Noblewoman Comes of Age at a “Changing of the Gods.” and Awesome Stories
Happy New Year!
Today I conducted my first annual review on 2013 and made plans for 2014, as suggested by blogger Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Noncomformity in his essay How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. A personal Annual Review an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason, only 8% of people keep their resolutions.
The truth is that New Year’s resolutions like “Lose weight.”, “Save more money.”, and “Get better at drawing people.” don’t work because they are vague and not measurable. There’s no benchmark to measure “enough” by, nor is there a deadline or reward. Resolutions have no objective goals and deadlines, systems to make the changes happen, or consequences that lead to results. They are merely the resolve to change. Even setting more specific objectives like “Lose 20 lbs.” or “Revise my portfolio” aren’t enough because ultimately we can’t completely control the outcomes of our long-term efforts; we can only control only our actions that lead to those outcomes.
The process of a review takes time, and for good reason. A full review guides you to go deeper and deeper, defining the theme for the year; your priorities by category; goals for those priorities; and finally to the next actions to take, due dates for those steps, and metrics to gauge success. And it’s flexible enough to adjust for how you work best and adapt when your goals change throughout the year.
It took me about two weeks to do mine while juggling other projects, and I plan to start it in mid-December next time, but I think it will save me much more time in the long run because it forced me to focus my efforts and get real. It helped me see where I wouldn’t have enough time to fill lower priorities, and where I was neglecting other higher priorities. For a freelance artist who need to manage their own time between deadlines and find that elusive work-life-balance, I’m finding it an extremely useful tool.
My Annual Review also inspired me to pay it forward with the lessons that I’ve learned through earning my B.A. in Psychology, working in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry, earning my M.F.A. in Illustration, and finally working in the illustration and concept art industry. One of my “reach goals” for this year is to help others by writing a series of essays on time management for creatives, including not only prioritization systems like this one, but also how to ignore distraction, change habits, and work more efficiently. After-all, we learn best by teaching.
The Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau is a first step in that process. So check it out and plan to spend some time on it. I’ll share my review of 2013 and some of the goals I have for 2014 as an example:
What went well this year?
While I don’t have specific benchmarks to compare to, I know my artistic skills developed considerably in many areas thanks to both my formal schooling and Noah Bradley’s Art Camp, in environmental and prop design, learning ZBrush, and the workflow for developing production art for games. I produced good artwork this year! I also took control of my relationship to food and exercise and live a much more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, I lost weight, but more importantly, I am stronger, have more endurance, sleep better, and feel good. Best of all, my focus has shifted dramatically from fixating on weight to other benchmarks and I’m finding that taking the time to care of my body sustains my artwork rather than takes away from it. Lastly, I set money aside to go to out-of-state art conferences this year.
What did not go well this year?
I’ve been spending almost all of my time working on my art and learning; so much so that I haven’t kept this blog or my Facebook account very well updated. I have a very long backlog of work to share. And the backlog has prevented me from reaching out as I would have liked because it was fixed in time and I am not. This is one thing I’ve identified that needs to change this year. I also haven’t taken a true vacation with my husband in years, or gone to many cultural events, and that is something else I want to change.
In 2014 I Will Focus On Building My Career
The main theme of 2014 for me will be emerging into the industry as a full-time illustrator and concept artist, though I will also be balancing other priorities such as sustaining a healthy lifestyle, friends and family, etc.
My main goals will be revising my body of work with a total of 22 finished pieces to revise my portfolio with and share the development process for my concept art. 15 of these are for my graduate thesis, 7 are for the months following leading up to December 2014. At the same time, I’ll be cultivating my professional reputation by posting here and to my social networks regularly and attending industry conferences. These, and my other objective-goals, have specific benchmarks such as revising my previous thesis work by particular dates, and a week-by-week workflow for completing new paintings.
To balance this, I’ve set my absolute minimums for fitness time (20 min/day, 6 days/wk) to stick to even under tight deadlines, and made it easier to eat healthfully this upcoming year by overhauling my kitchen and learning one new healthful recipe a month. I’ve also set dates for attending a few plays, going on day trips, and a week-long vacation this summer. The steps that feel like “work” have set rewards for completing them. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process.
Finally, I’ve arranged to continue my growth after graduation. I’m completing Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and eLearning with ZBrush now and will continue on with Chris Oatley’s Magic Box. Later on, I’ll take classes at CGMA, Gnomon, and SmArtSchool. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process. The best way to learn is by teaching.
2013 was a good year for me, but I plan to make 2014 even better, and one way I can do that is by helping you. That’s an important goal to me, and this article is a step towards that goal (not just a resolution).
Did you achieve everything you set out to in 2013? What went well? What didn’t? What are your goals for 2014 and what are the first actions you can take this week towards meeting them?
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I’ve been developing the design of Kvothe, the main character in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle, for my thesis project dedicated to visually developing the story for game pre-production. Above are my color experiments for Kvothe as an adult. It’s helpful to make quick study of color combinations in the process of visual development before creating the final character painting. I chose these color combinations to compliment his hair, which is described as flame red. Some of the combinations are simple monochrome or complimentary, others schemes include more colors. Sometimes the simplest combinations are the most striking.
If you’d like to check out this wonderful series, start with The Name of the Wind here:
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
…then proceed directly to book 2:
The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2)
The overall shape, the silhouette, is the primary and most powerful way to identify an object, type of person, or creature. The ability to quickly pick out meaning from silhouettes, such as whether the thing we saw would help, nourish, or hurt us. Shapes are a kind of language that we learned first to identify, and eventually to communicate with. As artists, we need to learn this language and, how to manipulate it, to design effectively. Likewise, one helpful tip for testing if your design is clear is to look only at its silhouette and see if you (or better yet, if someone nearby) can tell what it is.
Silhouettes are created not only by strong, clear, shapes, but also contrast between those shapes and their background. That’s where negative space comes in – the shape that is not the subject itself, but what surrounds and contrasts with it.
Above are examples of strong silhouettes created by masters from the Golden Age of Illustration. From left to right are examples from JC Leyendecker, NC Wyeth, and Mead Schaeffer. At that time, artists were creating art for periodicals which needed to be quick reads (as opposed to paintings that would hang on a wall and be admired for a length of time). That meant that the artist would need to create silhouette shapes that viewers/readers could recognize very rapidly. They are great to study from.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about creating strong silhouettes (and therefore strong paintings) is to put dark things against light things and light things against dark things. That’s why Leyendecker tended to use white backgrounds, many artists like NC Wyeth choose to shape clouds around key subjects, or shine light behind them as Mead Schaeffer did here. And where shapes overlap, such as in Leyendecker’s painting, there is clear contrast – the lady’s pale skin against the gentleman’s coat. Leyendecker also made sure there were holes in the silhouette shapes, such as the crook of the gentleman’s arm and gaps between him and the lady and the lady and the flowers. NC Wyeth and Mead Shaeffer in these examples also placed different colors against each other to create clear silhouette shapes. Shapes, and character gestures, can be pushed and pulled to character traits as well – the lady in Leyendecker’s painting on the left has a larger head than is realistic, but it emphasizes her sweet child or doll-like traits.
Title: Study of Daenerys Targaryen
Size: 8.5″ x 11″
Notes: This is a study of Daenerys Targaryen I worked on from a still frame of the final scene of HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 1. In this scene rises from the funeral pier cradling three newly hatched dragons. I chose this to study this shot in order to practice my digital painting skills – particularly rendering form and texture – and because I hadn’t yet painted a dragon.
I started with a lineart sketch with the scratchboard pen, then rendered the forms with dull conte, worn oil pastel, and a touch of digital airbursh with generous blending – all in Corel Painter. Working in greyscale first helps me concentrate on getting the lighting and forms right before I introduce color. I took some small liberties with the design and adjusted the lighting slightly in order to make Daenerys and her dragon read better.
Somewhere along the way you came to believe that you can’t draw or design. Someone, maybe another kid, a parent, a teacher said something critical and you believed that your drawing was no good. Or maybe you sailed through those years confident in your abilities but ran into a wall when your work was reviewed by a professional, and then your were crestfallen. Whatever the source, you came to believe that you can’t draw or design.
Drawing is something technical, it’s a skill that can be developed over time; design is something more fundamental but also more abstract, it’s about communicating an idea and problem-solving visually. Unfortunately, the fear of failure with drawing or with design is like shooting yourself in the foot because it inhibits progress with both.
A lot of artists don’t like to talk about their fear of failure, and yet professionals have managed to learn from their failures and grow into success. I was one of those kids who drew in my comfort zone and was praised for it by everyone who saw my drawings. That’s kind of like professional success wherein you’re paid to do what people know you can do consistently and because they recognize your speciality. But I also didn’t challenge myself with different subjects or styles until entering art school. It’s hard no longer being a big fish in a small pond but I’m growing faster than I every have before since then.
These growing pains led me recently to examine my own fear of failure and I found advice of design mentors on my journey. I’m happy to share them with you here:
“Put it on!” McCaig said. “We’re all ten-year-olds when we’re drawing. It’s the rule.”
“Why?” I asked.
“‘Cause before you were ten, you probably never thought about whether you could draw or not. You simply did it. Drawing was as natural a way to express yourself as speaking. Then you hit ten and got stupid about it. Drawing was important, and if you couldn’t do it like Leonardo, you didn’t do it at all. So, I’m taking you back to ten, so I can un-stupify you.”
“Suppose I don’t want to learn to draw?”
“You don’t have to. You already know. You draw perfect people and creatures an worlds every night in your sleep. I’m merely going to show you how to do that while you’re awake.”
I must have looked skeptical, because he went on. “Dude, it’s your first language. You started scribbling pictures before you knew any words at all. Don’t you see? It’s not a magic trick, and it’s not a special ability. It’s a language, and you already know how to speak it.”
“Then why can’t I draw?”
“Because you think you can’t. It usually takes about six months, one hour a day, to change your mind.” He whooped again. “Go on. Put on the T-shirt.” …[snip]…
And yeah, I was shocked, because now I could draw. Maybe not like Leonardo, because even if you speak a language, that doesn’t make you Shakespeare. But it does mean you can communicate, which I think is his point. it’s not what the drawing looks like, but what it’s saying. If you focus on that, it’s amazing how the drawings seem to look better, too.
Ian McCaig’s point about drawing like a 10-year old moved me profoundly. It reminded me of how proud I was after successfully skiing down a difficult slope without falling once as a little girl. Yet my dad in a moment of wisdom told me “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.” When I get frustrated with my art, I think back to hitting the hard cold snow, picking myself up, dusting myself off, and trying again. I learned how to shift my weight, avoid and compensate for ice and bumps, and even jump. Every time I fell I learned something. It’s the same with drawing an with design.
No one can make your progress but you, but these words of encouragement have helped me along the way and I hope they help you too.
Do you get bored setting up your perspective lines when drawing a landscape or cityscape? Want to save time and get back to the fun part – drawing?!
Well, thanks to Johnny Quan, a member of DigiPaint, the Facebook critique and resource network I founded for Academy of Art University members, I learned about a fantastic tool today which was developed by FreddieArtMedia at DiGi Art QuickTools. And even better, it’s free! So, with thanks to his generosity and a nod to his awesome work, I’m sharing it here with you! Go to Digi-Art QuickTools here or here to download and then view the tutorial below. Enjoy!
City of Shadows Poster | Commissioned by Skeleton Crew | Featured in the 2013 Academy of Art University Spring Show
Notes: Poster illustration commissioned by Skeleton Crew for their City of Shadows web-series; text by Dustin Sklavos. The theme is a complex one - it’s about coping with psychological injury suffered through unavoidable attraction. Allyson is still recovering from her last relationship when an accident renders her comatose; as a result she must confront her demons or risk losing her life. The story is painted with surrealism and psychological horror with an understated film noir style. I wanted to capture all of these elements in a single, clear, image.
Alex is available for freelance, internship, and contract positions. If you would like to work together, send an email to email@example.com.
I'm an Illustrator and Concept Artist with 15+ years experience world-building and telling stories. I am passionate about developing memorable worlds for film, books, magazines, and games in the imaginative genres. Recently, I've begun blending 3D ZBrush sculpting into my 2D work.
I graduated from Reed College with a B.A. in Psychology and pursued a brief career in Psychiatry research before enrolling in my first formal art class. I realized my passion for digital art, visual story-telling, and interactive media and left Psychology to earn my MFA in Illustration and focused on concept art for games in the Academy of Art University. From my studio in the San Francisco Bay Area I work with a variety of clients, publishers, and studios.