Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Eugene Comic-Con Post Mortem

Last weekend I had an artist alley table at Eugene Comic Con. Because this was the first ever EUCON, and because Eugene is not a major city, I wasn't expecting a very big show. But the table fee was really low, and it's just a two-hour drive from Portland, so I figured it was worth a shot. My costs would be so low that I should be able to make them up easily.

But wow - the attendance at EUCON was outstanding. Attendees told me that there was a line of people wrapping around the building, waiting for a whole hour just to get in the show!

The combination of a relatively small con with a large attendance was a good recipe for sales. In fact, I started to run low on stock by the end of the last day. I should have brought more prints - like I said, I really wasn't expecting that much traffic. Busyness and Inspiration continues to be my best selling print:

The MC at EUCON was, shall we say, overzealous. He would repeatedly get on the mic and boom, "Are we having fun at Eugene Comic Con, colloquially known as EUCON??!" A few people would whoop and cheer. Then he would say, "Wow, six people are having fun at a comic con. What's wrong with you people?" About once an hour he would express his disappointment with our apparent lack of enthusiasm - even though obviously the show was going really well. "Wow, three people are having fun at a comic con! Did you guys not get your coffee this morning??"

I met a few people who were familiar with my blog, and a fan who knew my art from Storybird. I met a guy whose last name was Kelley and we commiserated about how no one spells our names correctly. Another guy told me about the rap he was writing about all the villains in Star Trek. There were some great cosplayers too:

I love that Faramir! And Theoden looks great!

Seeing all the cosplay is so inspiring, I started thinking about putting together a Katniss cosplay. I already have boots and a leather jacket, so all I would need would be to knit her one-shouldered cowl thing - which is no easy task, but there are patterns for it on Etsy. Then put my hair in braids, and get a quiver and a bow and a Mockingjay pin. What do you guys think?

Never mind, I don't care what you guys think. I'm gonna do it anyway.

Anyway, EUCON was a success and I hope I can go again next year. Congratulations to the organizers - even the MC. But seriously dude, you need to chill out.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Covers Before and After

Every few weeks I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.

Illustration by P├ętur Atli Antonsson

Illustration by Cynthia Sheppard

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Personal work: Marianne

I created this piece for the Ladies of Literature project back in 2014. Ladies of Literature is a collaborative zine where over 100 artists drew female characters from literature. I chose Marianne from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, because I thought that there would be a lot of opportunities to visually depict the contrast between Marianne and her sister Elinor. Although I drew this over a year ago, I've been refraining from posting it online because I've been waiting for the books to arrive. I should be receiving my copies in a few weeks now, and I'm excited to see them in person!

Marianne is fifteen years old, and like many teenagers, she's an idealistic dreamer who feels emotions very strongly. She believes in love at first sight, dying of heartbreak and speaking her mind. She's not selfish, but her impulsive behavior and emotional outbursts tend to constantly upstage her sister, Elinor, who is reserved, careful and considerate.

Confession time: this is not the original version shown in Ladies of Literature. For the past year I've been waiting to post this painting online until the books were closer to being ready. Last week, when I dug this painting up again, I immediately saw many areas that needed improvement, and I decided to touch it up. Here's the original version on the left.

I flipped the whole thing, improved the background and removed the clouds from the sky. Marianne's face needed to be totally redrawn. I found this stock photo on Deviantart, and the model had the perfect look and expression for Marianne, although she seems very cold:

I also used this stock photo for Elinor's scarf:

So here is the entire process behind this image.

As you can see, a year ago I was really struggling with Marianne's face. I wish I could have improved it before the book was printed. Still, it's good to see that my eye for illustration is improving.

Also, I realize that these characters look exactly like the actresses from the 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This was not intentional, but I do love that version so I guess my characters subconsciously ended up looking like them anyway! If you haven't seen it; check it out, it's a great miniseries.

When I receive my copies of Ladies of Literature, I'll be sure to show you guys!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Helpful Links for Illustrators

Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to drawing, freelancing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How to Paint Lifelike Skin Tones

November 1st was international self-portrait day. I got a little carried away on my self-portrait, because one of my favorite things to paint is human skin.

Working on this gave me the idea that I could do a little tutorial for you guys. I hope this helps you paint portraits, and I'm sorry about how many times you're going to have to look at my face in this post.

The key to painting natural, warm-looking skin is variations in color. This is because

  1. skin isn't uniform throughout our bodies, and
  2. skin reflects colors from the environment around it.

The mistake most newbies make is to choose one color for the skin, then use darker and lighter values that same color. This limited palette results in something like this.

It looks like I'm wearing wayyyy too much foundation. Or like I'm wearing artificial android skin. I AM KELLEY BOT. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

So how to we bring some life into this freak of nature? We need to add some variation in color to this face - but where do we put those colors?

The colors in people's faces tend to follow a pattern. In general, people tend to have yellow tones on their forehead, the sides of their face, and in the neck. They tend to have pink in the cheeks, nose and ears, blue underneath the eyes, and a bit of blue around the chin.

Remember this is a simplification and a generalization. Everyone is different, and their skin will look different in various light and environments. Some people will have more greenish tones instead of yellow. Some people have yellow under their eyes rather than blue. People with the darkest of dark skin tones may not seem to follow this map very much at all. The best thing to do is to observe faces for yourself.

Let's apply this map to my portrait and see what we get.

Much better. I used a deep clay red on the inside corners of my eyes, and a light pink-lavender for the highlights on my forehead and nose. On my neck, on the right side I used a yellow tone, but on the left side I used a cool blue and grey, because that side of my neck is picking up colors from the background and my blue shirt. Let's compare Kelley Bot vs. Human Kelley one more time:

Now, you don't want to go overboard with this, or else you're going to make your subjects look like they have jaundice and sunburns and five o'clock shadows all at the same time. Getting the right amount of variation in tones, not too much, not too little, takes practice. One way to improve is to be constantly observing the faces of people around you, in tv shows and movies. Caution: observing people's skin tones can be weirdly addictive. Seriously, when I watch movies, I'm only half paying attention to the plot. The other half of my brain is analyzing the actors' skin tones. This is probably why I find a lot of movies hard to understand.

Let's practice on some people who are not me:

As far as I can tell, people with extremely dark skin tones don't have as much color variation in the skin itself. However, their skin still picks up colors from the environment.

So there you have it. Vary up your skin tones, artists. Start observing people's faces. Get distracted during movies. I'm an android.

Now go paint some portraits! I want to see your self-portrait next November 1st. (Or now, if you found this tutorial helpful and you want to show off what you did.)

A lot of what I learned about skin tones comes from Lauren Cannon's excellent Deviantart tutorials on skin tones. Check them out here and here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Costs of Running A Kickstarter

(Note: The numbers below have been edited since this post was originally published. I realized I was over-calculating my expenses by about $1k.)

In August I ran my first Kickstarter, Ladies of Kirk. It was successfully funded at $11,253.

This week I finished up delivering all my rewards - the only ones left are the custom portraits promised to my highest backers. So, now is the time to look back at my expenses and ask myself that terrifying question: did I actually make any money here?

  • GROSS PROFITS: $11,253
  • Kickstarter fees: $1008
    • Kickstarter takes a percentage of all successful campaigns
  • Printing: $2,462
    • The cost of printing the books, hard proofs, postcards and bookmarks
  • Packing: $150
    • Clear plastic sleeves, cardstock and padded mailers
  • Shipping: $1,343
    • Domestic and international postage
  • Design assistance: $125
    • A friend helped me prepare the book files for the printer
  • Miscellaneous: $50
    • My costume in the Kickstarter video, music for the video, etc
  • TOTAL EXPENSES: $5,138

When I subtract those expenses from my total funds raised, I get $6,115. If I get taxed on that amount at 30%, then taxes will take roughly $1,834, leaving me with:

  • NET PROFITS: $4,281

This is almost exactly 30% of the gross profits, which is more or less what I was predicting for the project.

It's pretty cool that I was able to generate over $4k on my own intiative, not depending on clients to commission me. However, I estimate I put 150 hours or more into the entire project. That makes my hourly pay far below what I make on commissions - and on top of that, this project was often very stressful. Running these calculations definitely puts a damper on the idea of running any future Kickstarter campaigns.

But at the same time, I'm pretty dang proud of this accomplishment. You guys, I printed and shipped 350 books in about a month and a half. The Ladies of Kirk are going all over the world, including South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden and Israel. People have been receiving copies of their books this week, and seeing the pictures they post online make me very, very happy. I almost feel like it's Christmas morning, even though I'm the one sending packages, not receiving them.

It's quite a different experience from commissions. Sometimes with commissions, I complete the illustration and send it to the client. They thank me and (eventually) pay me for it, and then I may never hear about it again. I may never get to see the published product, or hear what people think of it, or get to see people enjoying and using it. I create these illustration babies, send them out into the electronic abyss, and hope for the best.

But with my own project, I have the joy of knowing that my artwork is in people's hands and that it is making them happy. And that's all I really want.

Did the Kickstarter pay off financially? Sort of.
Was it stressful? Yes. 
Was it time-consuming? Oh yes.
Was it fun? Yes.
Would I do another Kickstarter in the future? Against my better judgement, probably yes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Book Cover: Toxic Designs


It's been a while since I last posted a cozy mystery book cover on my blog. Here is the cover for "Toxic Designs," part of the "Mysteries Unraveled" series by Annie's Publishing. It's hard to believe that I worked on this cover almost two years ago!

If you haven't seen my previous cozy mystery blog posts, cozy mystery covers tend to have a quaint, small-town setting, a hobby theme (crochet in this case), and a "sinister element" that suggests danger.

For this cover, this is what the AD asked for:
  • Bright, airy kitchen setting with lots of sunlight streaming in
  • A centerpiece bouquet of oleander on the table
  • Two place settings on the table, as if someone was just eating
  • A crochet shawl or afghan draped over one of the chairs
  • The other chair should be overturned (the first sinister element)
  • Crochet supplies on the table
  • On the floor in front of the cabinets is a large (maybe 18-inch) decorative planter with a beautiful assortment of foxgloves in full bloom
  • In view in the planter is one of those small plastic stake identifiers that normally have plant name and info. In this case the stake has a skull and crossbones on it (the second sinister element)
Quite an order, as usual with these types of covers. Here are the three roughs I sent to the AD:

The AD decided that he liked the third rough best, but requested that I move the table over and change which chair was overturned onto the floor. He also pointed out that I drew the shape of the planter tag thing wrong, and I forgot to add the crocheted afghan (whoops!). He asked me to draw the afghan on the floor, as if it had fallen off the back of the chair.

 I also added a cake onto the countertop. I don't remember why I did that; I probably just wanted to draw cake. Luckily the AD really liked it, because a cake just so happens to figure in the plot in the book, which I didn't know at the time.

Half of the time spent painting this cover was probably spent on those foxgloves!

The cake!

Here is the completed cover!

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