Friday, February 26, 2010

Technique Files: Creating a comic/webcomic

Part 3: Populating your world

Once you have created your wonderful (or horrible-“I’d never want to live there myself but it’s really exciting”) world you’ll need to decide who lives in it. In the case of Privateer Princess we needed humans, aliens with telekinetic hair, and Offspring - hybrid human-alien crosses with huge sideways elf-ears (or just elf-ears in the Japanese style.)

If it’s a fantasy/sci-fi story like ours you’ll need to consider who is the dominant species in the world and how many of the less dominant species there are. Even though it’s more exciting and fun to draw the funky, cool-looking characters in your comic (not to mention your hero), drawing ONLY them takes the thrill out of them for the reader. What I mean is that without having at least as many “normal” characters in your story as extraordinary ones, you'll lose the feeling that your “super-cool” characters are in any way special. (This is not the case if your entire world's population is alien (or definitely not human), then ordinary humans become extraordinary!)

As in any art, contrast is the key. So don’t forget to have lots of  “ordinary” people in your story alongside your really extraordinary ones. Even if your story isn’t about aliens, or vampires, or fairies, it’s important to show your main characters (who are by definition special) surrounded by plenty of  regular guys and gals to point out how unusual they really are.

Next up: Part 4: What kind of story do you want to tell?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Technique Files: Creating a comic/webcomic

Part 2: Building a world
When you are considering creating a comic one of the first things to think about is where does it take place? Is it in the real world or a fantasy one? Or is it some combination of the two? I realize that the last choice sounds strange but it really isn’t. Our comic takes place on Earth but in an alternate dimension where aliens invaded and conquered 40 years before. So some of our locations are real but in a state of post-apocalyptic decay while others, the alien cities for example, are created whole cloth.

Matt and I took our inspirations for the Privateer Princess world from many sources. We took our time creating the world and that was really fun. Some folks don’t enjoy world-building but I certainly do. It’s a chance to sit down and figure out how things work and where things go. Today, with so many things not working in our own world, world-building can help think about how to make things work better, or at least differently! The more time you spend creating the background of your world, the more interesting it will seem to your readers. However, trying to squeeze in too many details will make your world seem confusing. Try to reach a happy balance.

Next up: Part 3: Populating Your World

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Technique Files: Creating a comic/webcomic

I'm deep into personalized pet portrait work right now. That means that I can’t share my current works here until after they are completed for my clients. But, in the interest of talking about something artistic for the next little while, I’ve decided to talk about webcomics. Specifically what I’ve learned from doing my own webcomic, Privateer Princess.

The Privateer Princess webcomic logo

Part 1: Back story
Privateer Princess went live on the web in the Fall of 2007. It is a *hybrid-shojo style manga done mainly in black and white with screen tone but with color chapter covers and other spot illustrations. It was hand-drawn but inked, toned, and lettered digitally in a program called ComicsWorks.

Currently Privateer Princess has 84 comic pages posted along with many other pages relating to the characters and the world. For a webcomic, it was slow, posting only on Fridays. After a series of family tragedies in 2009, it stalled out completely in the Fall of that year. It was written and produced by my husband and myself and although I hope we can get back to it, I’m not sure we will. In many ways that would be a great shame, but, as some artistic projects are never brought to completion, I choose to use Privateer Princess as a teaching example for others wishing to create their own comic/webcomic. If my knowledge (and mistakes) can help someone else get started in comics all the better!

*I use the term “hybrid-shojo” manga rather sarcastically. Matt and I had trouble agreeing about how “shojo” the comic should be. The end result was not quite shojo (a Japanese girl’s comic – more relationship-based) and not quite shonen (a Japanese boy’s comic – more action-based)…unfortunately.

Tomorrow: Part 2: Building a world

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recent Artworks: "Bison in a Box"

Bison in a Box, collection of the artist

Although some of my MangaPets are portraits, others serve as expressive art. This one is called Bison in a Box and is my latest expressive MangaPet. Inspired somewhat by Mondrian and somewhat by the rolling family emergencies I’ve been witness to for the past year and a half, it’s serves as a good marker of the stress I’ve been going through.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Emma Project

This Winter we moved into a new house and, after unpacking, I felt I was in desperate need of some art practice before getting back to regular work. I decided to do several pieces of the same subject in different media. In the last entry about MangaPets I introduced you to Emma, a beautiful kitty cat belonging to our dear friend Max. The MangaPet Emma was shown in the previous entry. But before I created that digital piece I also did several others, one of which is not yet completed. The first was a rough study done in charcoal and pastel.

The second, a pen & ink, is done in sepia ink as the base for a mixed media with watercolors.

I have been extremely interested in expanding my watercolor skills with much more lively watercolor mixes. I am still in the very early stages of this endeavor but hope to show some improvement as time goes by. We will see. Here is the thus far incomplete watercolor of Emma.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Story of MangaPets

Part 2

Wow, I didn’t mean for this entry to be delayed this long. Apologies. I’ll try to be more prompt next time.

Now back to the story…as I have said, I’ve always worked in the direction of tight, carefully rendered drawings in my artwork. But that can sometimes throw you into the realm of soul-less-ness if you’re not careful, or if you’re pressed for time. Keeping the joy in your artwork can be especially hard if you’re a commercial artist. This is where I received my training.

Over the years I have experimented with various 3-D art techniques (including clays and polymer clays) to help change my tight perspective on rendering art. I always find working with clay very freeing, but it doesn’t relate directly to 2-D art for me. So this time, I wanted to play within the 2-D art realm while still bringing a counter note to my tight rendering style. On a whim, I started creating digital portraits of a few pets. They were only for myself so I felt freer to experiment and be as loose as I liked. The reactions to them were very interesting. Every single piece evoked an emotional reaction! People were connecting to the pieces in a new way. Some of the reactions were quite interesting. People said things like, “that cat needs to be fed!” “Oh the poor thing looks like it’s had a fright!” “Bwahahahaha!” “I want one of those!” Their visceral reactions really pleased me and made the point that the art was working!

To me, MangaPets are more about capturing the inner essence of the animal rather than its exact features. Art is about telling a story and MangaPets are a way of relating that story in a new way. They also help keep my eyes fresh by looking at my subjects in new ways.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Story of MangaPets

Part 1

In my current incarnation as an artist I am exploring pet portraits. I have done these for many years but it has been quite some time since I put up a shingle and sold them professionally. As I thought about going back into the art business I considered my style, either photo-realistic watercolor, colored and/or graphite pencils. Although I am fairly happy with that style (with the room for growth that all art should have built in), I also wanted to explore something new in the medium of pet portraits. Something more open to interpretation, more free. Since I have spent the past few years working on a webcomic in the manga style (and why is it sitting idle right now…? That’s a story for another time) I considered my Japanese influences for the use of animals in manga/anime. As seen in the illustrations below, animals are interpreted very differently in Eastern and Western comic images.

To us cartoon cats look like much more angular. They always appear to have a skeletal structure under the skin. I was most impressed when I first saw a manga/anime cat shown hanging from a child’s arms like a boneless bag. Also the weight and attitude given to lazy/sleepy cats (see the cat “Muta/Moon” in Studio Ghibli’s wonderful “Whispers of the Heart”.) To my Western eyes, this was a fresh look at a common sight. I was fascinated! I started looking at cats, dogs, and other animals with new eyes.

There was suddenly a new sense of freedom in what I saw. Working in a digital medium also broke through my old habits of rendering and slowly a new process was born. It was called MangaPets.

In part two of this post I’ll talk more directly about what MangaPets and the very interesting reactions I’ve had to them thus far.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More mouthi-ness…

Yesterday I read two fascinating blog entries about the development of drawn mouths in comics from the “western” perspective. The main article was called “Mouthing Off” by Ron Harris in his “Words and Pictures” blog. The next was James Gurney picking up the thread in his blog with “Mouth Shorthand.” I would like to continue this thread from the perspective of Japanese manga, especially shojo manga, as both a shojo fan and as a shojo/manga artist.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about manga is its short-hand symbolism. Betty Edwards in “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” speaks about children being encouraged to draw symbols instead of reality (a “box” house for example) in early art classes and thereafter lose their ability to naturally “see” what’s really there. This skill needs to be regained in order to draw accurately. Interestingly, the reason that manga works so well is because of its symbols and in many cases its exaggerated reality (at least in reference to the characters.) Manga symbols are used as an additional language that, once understood, remains constant, adding another layer of understanding to the reader. Although western comics have a symbolic language too, I find that it is much less developed, or at least less refined and consistent.

So what about manga mouths? More specifically shojo mouths? Shojo is my personal manga style of choice, and is defined by Wikipedia as “[manga] marketed to a female audience roughly between the ages of 10 and 18… Shōjo manga covers many subjects in a variety of narrative and graphic styles, from historical drama to science fiction often with a strong focus on human and romantic relationships and emotions. Strictly speaking, shōjo manga does not comprise a style or a genre per se, but rather indicates a target demographic.”

So we’re talking about comics that are specifically targeted to girls for the purpose of creating comic-style drama around relationships of some sort (friend, love, family, etc.). This requires a special language of symbols designed to heighten emotions. The mouth is frequently exaggerated in order to suggest particular emotions or sounds (not necessarily associated with words.) But with the caveat that women and girls (especially) are supposed to have small, delicate mouths so that a larger mouth is meant to indicate a more comic reaction.

Here are some examples:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

You can now visit me on FB.

I've just created a new FB page for Flying Pony Studios. Please visit it here.

Working from Dark to Light

Because this is such a very new blog and no one knows me yet, I’ve decided to spend a little more time introducing myself in this entry. Although I don’t always have the time to do it, whenever I get the chance, I love exploring new techniques. Most of the techniques I have experienced are light to dark skills including watercolor, pencil, colored pencil, carbon dust, pastel dust, silverpoint, pen & ink, etc. Although I have also worked in scratchboard and a very little in acrylic and pastel, I frequently find myself turned around when trying to work from dark to light.

After dabbling in pastels a little this winter and after a wonderful visit to Dakota Arts in Mount Vernon, Washington in January, I am beginning to get intrigued by the idea of working in chalk pastels and building pieces from dark to light. I’d like to send my thanks to Robyn Williamson at Dakota Arts for the wonderful tour and the incredibly insightful view into a beautiful medium. Thanks Robyn!

So, to honor of the process of working dark to light, from my art files here are a few of the rare examples of pieces where I’ve worked from dark to light.

 This is one of my highly rare acrylics, a study/copy of the
18th C Rococo painter, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 

This is my first real pastel piece, done this winter, with PanPastels. It’s a portrait of a
champion Great Dane named Krug who belongs to a friend of my sister’s. 

 Finally a silver scratchboard piece of an Illions carousel horse.

Happy Super bowl Sunday everyone!