Monday, December 16, 2013

Gaudete! (3rd Week of Advent)

So... my grand plan to do a completed piece every day during Advent has quickly fallen apart.  What with holiday parties, Christmas shopping, the usual laundry and errands, plus the rapid temperature drop in the evenings, it's often difficult to set myself down for a solid block of time and create art.  Drawing with stiff, cold hands can get frustrating!  Of course, the Law & Order marathons aren't helping, either... it's so easy to curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and veg in front of the TV.

Still, it's nice to draw, once I actually get into it.  Advent is a season of preparation and introspection, much like Lent but with a bit less guilt. :)  My priest says this can be a season to ask ourselves what we can give to the world, what positive things we accomplish in our lives, rather than focusing on where we have failed.   Drawing is a simple answer to that question, for me.  It's especially appropriate to give thanks for our gifts during the 3rd week of Advent, kicked off by "Gaudete" Sunday.  Gaudete translates as "Rejoice!" in Latin, and we pull out the pink chapel decorations to punctuate the happy week.

This latest work-in-progress is going to take another day or two to finish.  It's influenced by Beatrix Potter's lovely illustrations, which is why I've been playing around with watercolor tools in ArtRage to get ready.  I was even tempted to give the chipmunk a little jacket, but then thought it would be strange since Chickadee hasn't been wearing any clothing this whole time.

At this point I'm undecided as to whether I should "ink" the drawing prior to painting.  I may just leave it, Beatrix's line art rather sketchy anyway.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

ArtRage watercolor experiments

Okay, so... I've had an idea in my head for the next Advent painting, but I spent too much time fooling around with ArtRage and watching tutorial videos on how to use the watercolor tools, so the painting will have to wait once more.  As disappointing as it is (for me personally) not to consistently have a new painting every day, I'm learning a lot about techniques both in software and in "natural media," a.k.a. actual paint.  I'm excited to put the lessons to good use when I finally get around to the next Advent pic!

I spent this evening watching Stephen Berry's Youtube series and reading his posts on the AR forum.  This lesson was particularly inspiring for me:

Not so much the layer masks, since I do that in Photoshop all the time, but the idea of building up layers of neutral tone before adding color is interesting to me.  Really, his entire series is fascinating, as you can tell he comes from a traditional watercolor background and brings that knowledge to the digital medium.

I then spent some time trying out his various techniques on a test canvas.  Here are the intriguing results, quickly modified by adding different watercolor texture overlays:

So the one in the upper left is what I achieved purely with the AR watercolor brush, knife, and sticker spray tools.  The other variations followed Stephen's suggestion of bringing in a traditional watercolor overlay layer to help give some natural looking texture.  He recommends bringing it in right from the start though, as it can affect how you lay down color if you can see the texture as you're painting.  I can definitely see how the addition of the overlay would affect the tone of the painting!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent! Dec 9

Continuing the contrasty dark trees/light snow motif this evening.  I saw some cool photos of frozen streams and decided to tackle one myself.  I wasn't too happy with the color choice for yesterday's deer, so I toned down the saturation a bit for today's painting.  I may go back and adjust the other one at some point later.

When I was growing up, we had a big family group that drove up to Tahoe in the winter and stayed at a cabin right across the road from a hilly valley area, with a frozen stream at the bottom of it.  We would sled down the hills and build snow forts and have epic snowball fights there!  Our dads would carve out a "luge" which would harden up overnight for really slick sledding the next morning.  But we had to be careful to bail out before getting to the bottom, or we'd slide right into the stream!  It never got cold enough to freeze solid, so it was kind of a dangerous obstacle.

Chickadee's riding partner has decided not to risk crossing the ice, so she takes to the air once more...

Monday, December 09, 2013

Advent! Dec 8

I didn't get a chance to do a painting for December 7th, since Tommy and I had tickets to see Miyazaki's last film, "The Wind Rises," immediately prior to a friend's holiday party, which lasted until the wee hours!  The Wind Rises was amazing, as usual, but definitely a less light-hearted affair than some of his other films like Ponyo or Totoro.

Anyway, I borrowed quite heavily from Eyvind Earle for this one, having been inspired by the gallery currently on display at the Center Stage Gallery in Burbank.  That man had such a keen eye for design, line, and color!  It was simply breathtaking getting to see some of his original paintings up close.

Perhaps if I keep painting for another 40 years I might learn a thing or two. Like, what to do about shadows falling across the deer... I tried several versions but none of them looked right.  Maybe it's just that the deer doesn't fit into the stylized background at all, so having straight shadows falling across the body wouldn't ever work.

At any rate, little chickadee continues her journey, having hitched a ride with a friend!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Advent! Dec 6

Working with several tools today - oil brush, watercolor brush, palette knife and eraser. The palette knife in particular can create some interesting effects (such as the background texture).  Not exactly sure how that setting is supposed to imitate a knife on canvas, but then again I've never used a real one.

I'm kind of improvising a little story as I go along each day. Originally I'd thought maybe she could take a sprig from the wreath and start a nest with it, but I then learned that chickadees don't build nests until April. I suppose I could take liberties with that behavior, though I suppose it would seem odd for any bird to try to lay eggs in wintertime.  Now, that's not to say that I'm going to stay completely true to nature...

So, where could chickadee be taking that sprig? Stay tuned! :)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Advent Dec 5

Our church uses blue for the season of Advent instead of purple, to help distinguish it from Lent.  The color blue is often also associated with Mary, which makes it especially appropriate during this time.

Little chickadee is keeping a bit warmer inside the chapel. :)

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Advent! Dec 4

I thought I'd open up ArtRage today and see how rusty my "paint" skills had gotten.  I had been rather happy with how the cover of my mom's storybook turned out using the oil paints in AR.  This quick paint came out so-so... need to work on color palettes, brushes, and lighting.  Still pretty fun though! I think I'll keep using ArtRage this month.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Happy Advent!

I love Advent calendars.  There's something so fun about opening up a little window each day to see what surprise is inside.  I'm a couple days late, but this year I'm thinking of doing a little sketch Advent calendar and see what happens...

So here's your first surprise!  My snowman's head came out a little lopsided so I added a little chickadee friend for her. :)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

11 Second Club!

Oh hey, I have a blog or something! Let's update it, shall we?

Mostly just been doing work stuff at Sony, which I can't really talk about because NDA and all that fun stuff.  But back in August I had some free time, so I entered the 11 Second Club again to see if I'd improved since the last time (man, it would be sad if I hadn't gotten any better, wouldn't it?).

Good news, I've improved!  I managed to earn first place and got myself a critique from Animation Mentor Nicole Herr.  It's always great to get extra feedback and I took one more pass at the shot to try to incorporate her notes before adding it to my reel.

Anyway, I figured for my blog I would post a little behind-the-scenes video showing some of the steps I went through to take the shot from idea to final product.  I know there are plenty of these types of videos floating around, but hey, why not join in the fun?  Breaking it down also helps me understand my own process better, so I can continue to refine it further as I keep learning and pushing myself.

Step 1: Listen to audio line. A LOT.
Part of the fun of the 11 Second Club is coming up with a story to match the audio that they provide each month. I loved that the woman sounded like she was about to cry as she delivered her line.  I wanted to try to capture that moment.  The word "guidebook" is not something you would really use in ordinary conversation, so I pictured them on vacation where something had gone sour, and the man might be staring at things scattered around the room - maps, itineraries, plane tickets, guidebooks... meanwhile she is packing to leave early.

Step 2: Initial Cloth Test, or... "Can I really do this?"
Once I had an idea in my head, I had to see if I could actually animate someone packing things in a suitcase. I'd done a few experiments with nCloth in Maya before, but nothing too fancy.  This test gave me the confidence that I could pull it off.

Step 3: Reference footage, a.k.a. Me making a fool out of myself
I couldn't convince my husband to get in front of a camera, so I ended up shooting myself both as the man and the woman.  I'm not the best actor, so it usually requires several takes mish-mashed together into the performance I want.  Even after editing, I keep a couple variations handy in case I change my mind about certain acting choices.

I also look a lot of reference from movies where actors are doing similar things.  For this one, I studied a lot of "break-up" scenes. :)

Step 4: Layout
This is kind of a nebulous phase for me; I've seen "layouts" in other people's projects that are just characters in T-poses sliding around the scene.  I personally prefer to have at least the main key poses of the characters in place, in order to frame the shot more clearly.  So "layout" for me also includes keyframe blocking.  In this phase I had the woman turn around to look at the man... but later decided it was a bit too melodramatic.  You may notice that the woman's final pose and eyelines change quite a few times throughout the process.

Step 5: Breakdowns
It may not look like much has happened here, but this is where a lot of grunt work takes place defining the motion of the characters and getting the timing down.  I'm basically adding in more poses between the key poses that "break down" the action into bits and pieces that will help me keep control over the animation once I get into the phase of turning on spline tangents.

Step 6: Initial facial pass
This is another point of contention among animators - I've heard some people say "don't animate the face at all until the body is completely working." I've heard other people say "start with the face, because it's where the audience looks first."  I take a middle road; I'll get the body working up to a point, then focus on making sure the face reads well before getting into splines.

Step 7: Splining
This is the most time-consuming phase for me.  Transitioning from stepped keys to splined keys has never come easily; I always feel like I'm fighting the computer to get what I want.  But it's also the part where the characters finally feel alive in the world, which is cool!  Turning on splines instantly reveals problem areas with weight and timing, so I try to slide keys around just after changing tangents, to fix as much as I can before adding more in-betweens.  It's much harder to change things once you start getting into polish, so the earlier you can spot mistakes the better.  I usually spline in chunks, anywhere from 10 to 60 frames at a time depending on how much action is taking place.

Step 8: Polish
I should have talked about this earlier, but at almost every stage starting with layout, I try to get feedback from other people.  How does the shot read?  What do you think the characters are feeling?  Can you tell what they're supposed to be doing?  What isn't working?  Getting fresh eyes on your work is essential!  Early on, it's important to see if your acting choices are clear, making macro decisions about placement and posing.  In the polish phase it's about the micro decisions, and feedback is about getting those final touches of icing on the cake, the little things that take your shot from "good" to "great."

I'm fairly happy with how the shot turned out, though of course there are always things that could be better. But at a certain point I have to stop noodling and move onto something new!  Now what will that be...?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Since I had so much fun with the Father's Day diorama, I thought I'd try a little more photography magic for Tommy's birthday card, this time with a couple of his toys.  This time, Photoshop was used sparingly, only for a little color correction, wire removal, and addition of the thruster glow on the X-wing.  The streaky star lightspeed effect was done in camera!  And if you're wondering how, you can check out my Flickr set below, complete with behind the scenes commentary if you fullscreen it and click "Show Info." Enjoy! :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day diorama

Thought I'd try something a little different for this year's Father's Day card - a blend of traditional mixed media and Photoshop detailing.  Overall I'm fairly happy with how it turned out, and considering it was a pretty rushed job, I think I can do much better next time I go this route.  Making proper armatures, for one thing.  The littlest fox kept tipping over backwards.

If you don't want to sit through the WIP slideshow, you can skip ahead the finished product:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Batman's birthday party

Cranked this one out for a friend's b-day.  I experimented a little with custom Photoshop brushes trying to make it look less digital.  I think I still prefer ArtRage to PS for that kind of style, but maybe I just haven't found the right brush settings yet.  I realized when I printed this one that the brush texture looks more like a printer error than canvas.  This is one of those strange situations where the "natural media" is more apparent in its digital form.  Ah well.

Someday I should learn to draw with some kind of vector-based software such as Illustrator, for those times when I want to get crisp lines and shapes.  I suppose this could have been one of those times... but clean art takes a surprisingly long time. :P

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Searching for the ever-elusive electronic sketchbook

I've been waiting a long time for someone to make the perfect tablet that I can take on the road, one that could actually replace a good old-fashioned sketchbook.  I know artists are quite a niche market, but surely there are enough of us out there that there's some demand for this sort of thing?  WACOM and Adobe seem to do alright for themselves by catering to us creative types.

Here's my tablet wishlist:
  • Pressure-sensitive stylus, ideally with buttons/eraser
  • Bright screen (for use outdoors)
  • Lightweight
  • Decent battery life
  • Can run Photoshop/ArtRage/etc. without lagging too badly
  • Some kind of keyboard, integrated or attachable
  • Decent hard drive size or expandable storage via SD card, etc.
  • Fully functional desktop-style OS
I've been getting by with a Toshiba Portege M400 for a few years.  The pen is decent, and I believe it uses actual WACOM drivers from back when they were touting their "Penabled" tech.  The laptop itself, however, is not really the ideal portable sketchbook.  It's nearly 5 pounds, the old battery dies after about an hour, it runs hot and the screen is pretty dim.  I can sit on a couch and use it while it's plugged in, and that's been useful, but I'd really love to get a snazzy new tablet that I could take to the zoo and do some animal drawing.  Now that the general public is starting to incorporate them into their daily lives, companies are tripping over themselves to come up with new models and meet demand.  It's a good time to start shopping around for my dream machine.

But while reviews for these new gadgets have been plentiful, I've been hard-pressed to find ones that are geared towards the needs of the artist.  I've spent hours scouring the internet just trying to figure out which devices have pressure-sensitive touchscreens!  Why is this so difficult to find?  We need more artists like Jeffrey at SolidSmack who take the time to give us the info that we want.  Thanks Jeffrey :)

In the meantime, in case anybody else is also in the market for a new toy, here's a roundup of the models I'm considering that most closely meet all the items on my wishlist:

All of them are fairly light and have pressure-sensitive pen capability, although the digitizer tech varies.  A few of them use N-Trig, which I hear is pretty decent given the right hardware, though I haven't gotten to try it out yet.  The Samsung models use the proprietary S-Pen tech, which I haven't been too fond of.  I assume the Surface will have its own tech as well.  And the two Asus models use WACOM.  

The Vaio and ThinkPad X230 both have keyboards attached, which adds to their bulk and weight, but also makes it so there's less pieces to worry about losing.  I'm leaning more towards the dockable or detachable keyboards rather than integrated or separate Bluetooth ones.  The VivoTab's keyboard in particular seems enticing because it adds extra battery life when attached.

The ThinkPad X230 and EEE Slate run Windows 7, while the rest are on Windows 8, in case that's pertinent to anybody.

Price points vary based on hard drive size, RAM, processor, and other factors, so the range runs from around $750 up to $1200.  If that's too steep for you, there are always older devices available on eBay, which is how I came to own my Toshiba.  Buying used tech tends to come with some risk, though - old batteries that don't hold a good charge, chewed up cables, broken USB ports, etc.  But for the starving artist, little inconveniences are worth putting up with; you can't really beat a touchscreen computer for 200 bucks.

If you have any more recommendations, please leave a comment!