Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Original Sin

"Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid themselves...among the trees of the garden." - Genesis 3:8

It's not often that my assignments for Lifeway's Explore the Bible series give me a chance to draw naked people. In fact, my first rough sketch of this scene, according to the client, was too revealing!


They asked for more foliage to cover them up.

Whenever I start an illustration, I try to identify the main emotion I want to convey. In this case, that emotion was guilt. So, I used some composition and color tools to reinforce this emotion.

Zooming in on the couple helped focus on their facial expressions. The shadow cast over Adam and Eve is not only symbolic, but also helps make them look like they're hiding. Having Eve looking over her shoulder was not only convenient for modesty reasons, but also made her look furtive and evasive, like she can't even look Adam in the face.

But my favorite detail is the snake in the top corner. Did you catch it?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Options for Online Art Classes

If you're looking to bring your illustration skills up to a professional level, but don't have access to an IRL art school, check out these cool art classes below. I've collected a range of classes at different price points.

Most of these online schools offer both self-taught courses and guided courses.
  • Self-taught means a bundle of downloadable videos, PDFs or other materials that you use to teach yourself in your own time. No instructor interaction.
  • Guided means that there may be scheduled live chats, assignment deadlines, an active forum or other ways for you to receive feedback from instructors and/or classmates.
(Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it an endorsement of any particular course. I have not participated in any of these websites except for Skillshare and The Lamp Post Guild. If a school sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to investigate it on your own. Also, the prices listed were accurate as of the time this blog post was published, but you should double-check the prices on the school websites.)

In order, from lowest to highest price:
  • Skillshare - This website offers online classes on a wide range of topics, not just art. Offers hundreds of free self-taught classes as well as a "premium" $8/month option, which gives you access to an unlimited amount of classes - including cool stuff like Character Design with Charlie Bowater. Classes contain videos, assignments, and forums where you can post your work.
  • The Lamp Post Guild - currently offers four self-taught classes at $99 each, from illustrious artists Justin Gerard, Cory Godbey and Chris Koelle. 
  • The Oatley Academy offers both self-taught and guided classes on the basics of composition, storytelling, digital painting and more. Self-taught classes are currently $17 per month. Guided courses are price-on-demand, and require an "audition."
  • Art Business Bootcamp - The only class on this list that focuses purely on the business side of art. Self-taught with access to an exclusive Facebook group for $197.
  • The Illustration Department - various options for one-on-one mentorship from senior art director Giuseppe Castellano, focusing on children's books. $100-$300.
  • Tutormill - guided classes on book and editorial illustration, taught by professional illustrators such as Yuko Shimizu. At $300 per class, this seems like quite a steal!
  • School of Visual Storytelling - classes range from $450 for a live twice-weekly class, to $20 for instructional videos. Topics are oriented towards children's books and animation.
  • Art Camp - run by Noah Bradley, a self-taught course with access to a student forum. Topics include basics of painting, landscapes, and concept design. Prices range from $250-$495.
  • Schoolism - boasts some pretty big names for instructors, including Dice Tsutsumi, Stephen Silver and Sam Nielson. Self-taught courses are $144 and guided courses are about $1000.
  • SmArt School - an online school run by fantasy artists and art directors. The quality of work that comes from the students is impressive, and the instructor lineup is top-notch. Plans range $595 for an "auditing" option, to $2500 for the "full intensive mentorship" option.
Have you taken any of these online classes? I'd love to hear about your experience!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Etsy shop re-opening!

It's been a while since I last opened my Etsy shop! Now you can buy prints, postcards, notecards and books directly from me. These are the same goods I sell at conventions.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

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, March 29, 2016

Personal Work: Mistborn

Whew! It's been a while since I had the time to do some personal work. As far as work goes, this year started out with a bang for me, and I was struggling just to keep my head above my deadlines.

I was looking for a new audiobook to keep me entertained during all this work. Recently I had seen a lot of gorgeous fanart of a book called Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, so I thought I should check it out. Well, turns out the book is amazing. I don't think I've loved a book this much since reading The Lord of the Rings in high school. Once I finished up a bunch of illustration assignments, I was itching to try my hand at some Mistborn fanart.

I wanted to draw the main character, Vin, wearing her trademark mistcloak and perched on a spire above the city of Luthadel. Since much of Vin's story takes place jumping around on rooftops, I thought this would be an opportunity to use some dynamic perspectives. My first idea was to look up at the character:

I also tried looking down at the character, and I liked the feeling of vertigo it could give, to see how high she was above the ground:

When I settled on this composition, (although it's almost too rough to even be called a composition at this point), I knew there would be two challenges to this piece.

The first: BUILDINGS IN PERSPECTIVE. Let me tell you a secret: I don't draw stuff like this purely from my imagination. When it comes to drawing tricky buildings, I use the 3D modeling program Google Sketchup. It is a lifesaver! I downloaded a bunch of models of cathedrals and castles and assembled them into a makeshift "Luthadel" model. Here's what it looked like in Google Sketchup:

Then I started drawing on top of that, fiddling with the building sizes and positions so they looked good around the character.

So far, so good. The second challenge was that I wanted Vin to be in a really specific position, looking like she was just starting to leap off the spire. At this extreme angle, there was no way I was going to find any reference material or stock photos online to help me with this. I was going to have to take my own reference photos.

For a few days, I pondered how I was going to get a photo a this angle. What could I cling to that would be strong enough to hold my weight, and would have a place where my husband could take a photo from above?

Why, the apartment stairway, of course!

Turns out this is a very difficult pose to hold for more than a second.

Probably a good thing, since if any of the neighbors happened to walk through the area, they probably would have been like "woah, is that an allomancer???"

Having this photo reference improved the pose immensely, although I needed to work on the face to make sure she didn't look too much like myself.

From there the biggest challenges were establishing a moody color palette and making sure the background didn't get too busy and compete with the character.

Here's a process GIF, because I know you guys like those:

 Here's a closeup:

And here's the finished piece:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book cover: Stranger in the Looking Glass

This is a cover for the "Antique Shop Mysteries" series from Annie's Publishing. 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, and a "sinister element" that suggests danger.

The art order for "Stranger in the Looking Glass" was a daunting multiple-page document that included a lot of photos for me to reference. I'll just sum it up here:
  • A Colonial Revival mansion with adjacent carriage house located on a wooded, seaside estate in New England.
  • The carriage house has been turned into a busy antique store filled with rare finds. The shop or a partial view of it near the rear side of the mansion. Include a small sign on it that says "Antiques."
  • An old fashioned gas lamp in the foreground with a hanging sign that says "Carriage House Antiques."
  • A brownish/ black striped cat somewhere in the scene.
  • The "mystery element" will be a silhouette in a lit attic window.
This is the part where I tend to get a little panicky. How am I going to fit two buildings on a book cover? Two?? Surely such a thing cannot be done! "This is madness," I whisper as I scribble out thumbnails. "Madness."

Here are the roughs I sent to the client. Since a figure needed to be silhouetted in the window, that meant that the lights needed to be on in the house - so it couldn't be in the middle of the day. Since this client likes their covers to be bright and colorful, I chose to set it in the evening rather than at night - dark enough that the lights in the house would glow, but not too dark.

The client liked rough #2, with some revisions. They asked for a stone wall in the foreground, a sitting cat, and for the cat to be wearing a collar. They asked for more pine trees, more landscaped flowers, more space in the sky, and a grander entrance to the mansion.

The AD said there was too much brown going on in this color rough (looking back, she was totally right), so we tried out a few different colors for the cat, the sign and the roof.

 She liked the last one, the dark grey roof, the best. I was clear to go to final.

I put quite a lot of polish into this one!

I painted this cover over a year ago, and I haven't looked at it since then. Last month this book arrived in the mail, and I thought, "Dang, that's a pretty sweet cover." Annie's Publishing always does such a lovely job on the book design. I like how they picked a pink accent color from the sunset.

So yeah, I'm rather proud of this one, if I do say so myself.

If you would like to subscribe to any of Annie's fiction mysteries series, you can do so at their website.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Let's Talk Standing Desks

Artists, students, and anyone else who works at a desk all day, it's time to take a stand! Watch the video below. It's only 6 minutes long.

(I try not to post health-scare articles or other alarmist materials online. However, I trust HealthCare Triage, the makers of this video, because it's run by a real practicing doctor, Dr. Aaron Carroll, who is also the director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. If you watch his videos you can see that he's very serious about distinguishing between quality scientific research and pop culture pseudoscience.)

I started using a standing desk three years ago and I've never looked back. I feel much more healthy and comfortable at a standing desk, and I get tension headaches less often than I used to. When I was traveling the world last year, working at whatever desk or dining table was available, I really missed working at a standing desk!

Now, I don't stand all day. I have a tall chair that I use about half the time. I'm quite squirmy, and will switch between sitting and standing every 20 minutes or so. Sometimes I dance while listening to music - especially if I've got some Bollywood tunes playing. I'm also quite animated when listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. Sometimes I stand on one leg like a flamingo. Great story, Kelley!

Anyway, if you're interested in a standing desk, I recommend that you give it a try first by setting up a makeshift version. Just use your regular desk, and use boxes or books to lift up the monitor to eye level, and the keyboard and mouse so that your arms are at about a 90 degree angle when standing.

This was my first-ever attempt at a standing desk.

Standing will take some getting used to. You will probably feel achiness in your legs and lower back, but this should go away after a week or so. (However, if you're in a lot of pain, your setup may not be correct for your height.) Be sure to hop on and off the bar stool at frequent intervals. If you have a hardwood floor, put a rug or some other kind of cushion under your feet, or wear comfortable slippers.

If you get hooked on standing, you have two choices for standing desks: buy one, or make your own. Pre-made standing desks tend to be very expensive, especially the adjustable-height kinds. Veridesk has a fairly affordable ($350) setup which rests on top of your existing desk.

A cheaper alternative is to make your own using "IKEA hacks." Just Google "IKEA standing desk hacks" and you'll find all sorts of cheap and creative setups.

Before I got my Cintiq, my setup was very simple: a LINNMON table top ($8.99) with four OLOV adjustable legs ($15 each). My monitor rests on a EM Adjustable Monitor Stand ($25) and some books, for a total cost of $94.

Now, with the Cintiq, I use an LX Desk Mount Arm ($128) to lift the monitor to the correct height. It's a little cramped, but it works.

I also use an IKEA bar stool, which I bought used on Craigslist for $20. If you're near an IKEA, new ones cost $45.

Here's my husband's setup, which is a little more complex because he uses two computer monitors. It uses the same table legs, along with two LACK side tables ($7.99 each) and a shelf with brackets. 

If you give standing desks a try, let me know how it goes for you! You can even send me a photo of your setup. Just hang in there through the first week or two, I promise it gets better.
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